Qingyang LIN

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (MPHIL)



First Advisor

Prof. CHAN, Tak Hung, Leo

Second Advisor

Prof. SUN, Yifeng


The topic of my thesis is Arthur Waley and his translation of the Shijing, or The Book of Songs (1937), as Waley entitled it. The Book of Songs is especially noted for its philological ingenuity, anthropological insight and poetic appeal; during my preliminary research I discovered that there exists an interesting interplay between these three aspects of this translation. In this thesis, I hope to examine the textual and thematic hermeneutics of The Book of Songs.

Waley did not read the Shijing as a scriptural text inscribed with sagely intention and authority; rather, he returned it to its folkloric origin, presenting the Shijing as an anthropological document of the lives of ancient Chinese people, an imaginative expression of the desires, beliefs and values of a primitive society, and a vivid mimesis of ancient life. Waley’s philological decisions were underpinned by this general interpretive orientation, informed by his understanding of the anthropological significance of the Shijing and guided by an attentive concern for poetic cohesion. The anthropological and poetic aspects were mutually implicated. The Book of Songs displays a keen interest in the common people, and Waley’s knowledge and insight in comparative anthropology enabled the Western reader to hear in this exotic text distant echoes from their own traditions. These anthropological underpinnings help to articulate and enrich the poetics of The Book of Songs. Waley’s overall design and the poetic language he employed bring forth these anthropological aspects in a poetic manner. The “folk” elements in the Shijing were foregrounded in The Book of Songs and deemed to be aesthetically interesting. The style and voice that Waley developed in his translation communicate the naive appeal of a folk aesthetic, and convey the compositional features and modes of experience of the “primitive” imagination. In Waley’s translation, the remote, difficult text of the Shijing is transformed into natural, evocative English poetry, and the philological, anthropological and poetic aspects of The Book of Songs coalesce into a Chinese aesthetic that is fresh and spontaneous, enjoying a pristine intimacy with Nature.

Recommended Citation

Lin, Q. (2015). Philology, anthropology and poetry in Arthur Waley's translation of the Shijing (Master's thesis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from