Recently our server crashed and we lost the last two blogs. They have now been re-instated. I was particularly concerned that the tribute to our great friend Tim Gordon disappeared.

Tim’s memorial service will take place this Friday (July 7th) at 2pm at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1

Tim’s Preface to Jing Shen

On the translation of Jing Shen – chapter 7 of the Huainanzi

Our group has been meeting for more than twenty years. The thrust of our work has been the joy of learning about translation from Chinese helped by our illustrious guides, and the insights we gain from the process of producing a translation paying scrupulous attention to the original Chinese characters and text.

The group was formed after an inspiring talk from Fr Claude Larre at a Traditional Acupuncture Society conference in Warwickshire in 1982. Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée became involved as Fr Larre’s assistant from early on, took on increasing responsibilities and became our formal tutor when Fr Larre died.

Membership was originally drawn from the acupuncture community. Our first work was on the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic, (Nei Jing), but rapidly expanded to include the Daode Jing and then the Zhuangzi. Later we would venture to Liezi, Huainanzi, Guanzi and even find time for Confucius. The wider interest was reflected in a broader membership whose backgrounds included languages, sinology, music, banking, Buddhism, Daoism and just plain ‘interested’. We have worked in Paris at the Institut Ricci, in Oxford, Cambridge and latterly in London, mostly by the river where we are soothed by the making and ebbing of the tide and the passing water traffic.

We worked on Huainanzi chapters 1 and 6, and when we came to 7, realized that no reliable English translation was available. Propitiously this chapter was also the subject of Fr Larre’s doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne and the decision was made to prepare our own translation for publication. Now, some years on, it has been worked on by a skilled and diligent band of group members, and is deemed ready for the world.

The core phenomenon sustaining our group is the dedicated zeal with which Fr Larre and Elisabeth provide help with translation to folk who are not in the academic community, but who want to stick to rigorous standards and pay full regard to original texts. Their teaching is always done with elegance and a certain lightness.

So this text is dedicated to the memory of Father Claude Larre, to Elisabeth Rochat and to the continuation of the group.

Tim Gordon, London 2010

Our translation group at Tim’s house spring 2016:


Tim Gordon

Tim Gordon has been a great supporter of Monkey Press and was involved in the earliest seminars of Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée in the UK. His years as a medical doctor and researcher made him sharp inquisitor into the meanings of the Chinese medical texts, and Father Larre would often call upon him to clarity certain concepts in the light of modern science. His voice is occasionally heard in the early Monkey Press transcripts of the seminars.

With the formation of the Chinese classical study group, Tim became an avid scholar of the Chinese philosophical texts, and in more recent years, the group met in spring and autumn at Tim’s delightful house on the Thames in Hammersmith. We would slowly unravel the complexities of a classical text as we watched the ebb and flow of the tide. A constant reminder of the cycles of change so central to the texts.

During our breaks, we would sample rare teas, examine the growing collection of artefacts accumulated on Tims many foreign trips (his house a veritable museum of curiosities) and enjoy the refinement and discernment of his taste – on so many levels.

Tim’s deep intelligence, wit and occasional cutting sarcasm, helped bring the texts to life. He became a great Zhuangzi devotee, and at our most recent meeting we studied Zhuangzi chapter 2 – maybe the most challenging but certainly one of the most beautiful passages in classical Chinese. It ends with the dream of Zhuangzi, where he wonders whether he is Zhuangzi dreaming that he is a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he is Zhuangzi.

Zhuangzi holds death quite lightly – suggesting that it is just one of many transformations… Tim’s life, and I am sure his elegant death, came close to reflecting that Daoist philosophy.

yuan – source 原/元

Two characters are found with the meaning of source or origin, and both have the pronunciation of yuan – though with a different toning. Both characters can be found within the expression yuan qi, and most sinologists suggest that they are interchangeable in this context. Others suggest that yuan (元) should be translated as origin – yuan (原) as source.

Etymologically, yuan (元) is to be above everything else, the most important, the highest principle. It is found in ancient oracular inscriptions, where it is often used in relation to the original ancestry. It is metaphysical and obscure, reflecting the mysterious, deep origins of life, the universe and everything. Read more

the northern quarter

The following is an extract from the Monkey Press book The Kidneys which has recently been re-edited and reprinted. This section is on the text of Suwen Chapter 5, which deals with the resonances of the five elements/phases. Here, at the beginning of the description of the resonances of the kidneys, Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée discusses the nature of the north, water and their relationship to the origins of life.

suwen chapter 5:

‘The northern quarter gives rise to cold, cold produces water, water produces the salty, the salty produces the kidneys, the kidneys produce bones and marrow, marrow produces the liver; the kidneys master the ear.

‘In heaven it is cold, on earth it is water, among the parts of the body it is the bones, among the zang it is the kidneys, among colours it is black, among notes it is yu, among sounds it is to sigh, among movements which react to change it is to shiver, …among the expressions of will-power it is fear.

‘In the north there are always two animals – the snake and the tortoise.’ Read more

Change and Transformation

Bian hua 變 化

Bian hua is a phrase commonly found in the medical texts for all kinds of change and transformation that occur within the body.

The fu are involved with chuan hua (傳 化) – they move food through the digestive tract, chuan (傳), extracting nutrients and consolidating waste in a process of transformation hua (化). The large intestine ‘changes and transforms’ – bian hua (變 化). The spleen, working with the purer aspects of food, has the function of ‘yun hua’ (運 化) – a term which describes the transmutation, transformation and diffusion of subtle essences. Chuan moves things from one place to another, yun distributes and permeates like a shower of rain. Bian hua (變 化) is the process within the body which constantly recreates our being. Read more

表 裏 biao li

The terms biao li may be translated as outer and inner, exterior and interior, and they must be differentiated from the similar terms nei (內) and wai (外). In medicine biao/li is often used to indicate a movement of qi, which is either yin (towards the interior) or yang (towards the exterior).

The etymology of the characters can be seen in the radical they both share – that for cloth or clothing (衣). The biao (表) of a garment is its external outer appearance, the li (裏) its lining, or hidden aspect. The biao faces towards the exterior and can be seen, the li faces towards the inner and cannot be seen. Biao can also mean to be manifest, and the interesting interplay of these two characters expresses the way in which inner qualities and conditions can manifest themselves at the exterior – a very important aspect of diagnosis. Read more

a study of qi

Qi-1The following is an extract from the beginning of the book ‘A Study of Qi’, in which Elisabeth Rochat gives a short introduction to the development of the concept of qi from its early appearance as ‘wind’ in the oracle bones, to through to its key position in Han dynasty cosmology:

In order to understand the origin of qi, we must first look at the concept of wind. A character for qi itself does not appear in the early oracular and bronze inscriptions, or in the most ancient Chinese texts, such as The Book of Documents, Shujing, or The Book of Odes, Shijing. What we do find in the very ancient oracular inscriptions of the twelfth, thirteenth and even fourteenth centuries BC is the character for wind, and these early descriptions of wind have some of the qualities which will be later attributed to qi.

Read more

‘the eastern quarter’

東 方 dong fang

Neijing Suwen chapter five is the great chapter (da lun 大 論) which defines the movement and behaviour of qi within human beings in terms of yin yang and the five elements/phases. The text moves on from the four seasons, four directions of chapter four, and elaborates into the four quarters – with the addition of the central region (zhong fang 中 方), which governs the earth. The section of the text which details the five phase correspondences begins with the eastern quarter: Read more

celebrating the year of the fire monkey…

Monkeys 1Monkeys_BW

Monkey Press is named after the Monkey King – popularised in the 16th century novel ‘Journey to the West’. Monkey blends skill and initiative with irreverence and a sense of freedom – ridiculing pomposity and cutting through illusion. He particularly enjoys upsetting the hierarchical structures of both religion and government, infuriating the Jade Emperor and the Queen of Heaven by stealing peaches of immortality from their garden.

So the year of the monkey is likely to be an interesting one! And what will the fire element bring? Less havoc than wood, maybe, and hopefully an increase of that monkey intuition and clarity of perception… the ability to discriminate and refine. The fire element could make this into a highly energetic and transformative year – we just have to make sure that we use that discrimination and clarity of perception before taking a leap into the unknown!