The Art of War

The top FAQ about my new translation of the Art of War, is why the world needs another one. Apparently, Sun Tzu’s Art of War is the second most-translated Chinese book in history, after the Dao De Jing.

Well, there’s translations and there’s translations. Let me give you a passage of Chinese. Here is chapter one, verse two:



And here is the same piece of text, by several different translators:

Lionel Giles (1910)

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline

Samuel Griffith (1963)

Therefore appraise it in terms of the five fundamental factors and make comparison of the seven elements later named. So you may assess its essentials. The first of these factors is moral influence; the second, weather; the third terrain; the fourth, command; and the fifth, doctrine.

Thomas Cleary (1988)

Therefore measure in terms of five things, use these assessments to make comparisons, and thus find out what the conditions are. The five things are the way, the weather, the terrain, leadership and discipline.

And finally, this is my version:

Jonathan Clements (2012)

War is governed by five crucial factors, which you must consider and implement:

· Politics

· Weather

· Terrain

· Leadership

· Training

And that is why I think the world can wear a new translation of the Art of War. In bookshops now, and also on Kindle.

All Aboard the Gravy Train

doraemonLike some magical artefact pulled from an Anywhere Door, the Doraemon manga suddenly arrives in English, in its entirety! Yes, that’s 12,000 pages of one of Japan’s best loved comics, a valuable missing piece of the manga puzzle.

Publishing Doraemon in its entirety is a big risk, but not as big as it once would have been. E-publishing means that the owners, Fujiko Pro don’t have to print ten thousand copies of a 12,000-page manga, but can store it on a hard-drive and wait for your money. More crucially, the long-running adventures of the time-travelling blue cat arrive part-funded by a Japanese government initiative.

It’s been five years since this column speculated about the likely bail-out package for Cool Japan (NEO #60). But finally we have the Japanese Contents Localisation or Promotion fund, or “J-LOP”, as it appears to have been termed by whimsical policy wonks with a love of Jennifer Lopez. One of the few schemes to survive the collapse of the Aso administration, J-LOP offers millions of pounds to subsidise the translation or promotion of Japanese works.

J-LOP is an impressive exercise in trickle-down economics, an incentive scheme for copyright owners (not publishers or distributors) to push their work in new markets. And while it can front up to 70% of the costs, the owners still have to come up with some of the cash themselves – this is mainly going to be a scheme that benefits the rich, in the expectation that their ventures generate employment for the rest of us.

So it’s a job creation scheme to attract foreign money, thereby creating work for Japanese tax-payers on which they can pay tax. It is, according to its website at, also a tourism initiative, in order to keep foreign readers and viewers enthusiastic about Japanese stuff. One wonders if Doraemon is merely the first of many classics to get a leg-up, but I suspect that canny form-fillers will soon be at the trough, applying for subsidies not for worthy wallflowers, but for fan-bait that would have got translated anyway. A heroic tribunal will apparently be on hand to stop this happening. Now there’s an anime waiting to happen…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, published by the British Film Institute. This article first appeared in NEO #123, 2014.

"Master Sun says…"

In approaching a text in Classical Chinese, we must consider the immense differences between books and reading in our time and in that of the Art of War. There was, in ancient China, no such thing as our “book”. Classical Chinese was usually carved onto bamboo strips bound together with leather or string. Their physical appearance was closer to that of a modern rolling window blind than a “book”. One of the problems faced by modern archaeologists is the reconstruction of books from scattered fragments of bamboo – when the leather straps or connecting string decays, ancient Chinese books collapse into hundreds of scattered strips of unpaginated bamboo.

Many translators have overlooked the performance required from Classical Chinese texts. Classical Chinese is a literary language that often summarises the vernacular rather than directly quoting it. The meaning of Classical Chinese has to be unpacked and interpreted. We might consider the written Art of War less as Sun Tzu’s “book” than as his notes for a speech or for further discussion.

The first words of the text, repeated at the head of each chapter, are “Master Sun says.” Everything that follows is implied speech, delivered to an implied listener: a local king perhaps, or a group of officer cadets. This is surely the origin of many of the text’s apparent repetitions: not the meanderings of a forgetful author, but moments of call and response by a commanding orator. “This is how war is waged,” says Sun Tzu at various points, an antiphon to wake up the students at the back, just as he makes an important point. The reader is encouraged to read it out loud; it is often a text better heard than read.

While handmade copies certainly might circulate of the better known texts, the best way for a ruler to “read” Sun Tzu was to have Sun Tzu’s words spoken, in person, by Sun Tzu himself. It is such interactive performances, in which a monarch might question a philosopher during and after a reading of the philosopher’s work, that have generated the many conversations and interrogations that can often be found interpolating classical Chinese texts. There is the original, and then there are the conversations and responses inspired by the original, and then sometimes there is the revised manuscript incorporating such conversations, followed in later centuries by the annotations of others. In such a way, ancient Chinese books often bear a closer resemblance to academic working papers, and are less “published” than they are placed on a continuum of revisions and facsimiles.

From The Art of War: A New Translation by Jonathan Clements. Out now in the UK and the US.

Writing for Games

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has released some very sensible guidelines for games writers. I note with interest a number of things that I have had to hammer into the heads of certain producers, would-be producers and self-styled producers over the last ten years, now set out as gospel entitlements for professional authors, which is all to the good.

I’m not pleased with the setting in stone of “English script by” as a circumlocution for “not translated at all by” or “substandard translation knocked into shape by“. At least as far as the WGGB wording goes, a tin-eared monoglot hack who changes a couple of typos on a script gets to put his name after the words “English script by” — a pretension that has been commonplace in the anime world for 20 years. In fact, as the wording currently stands, our hypothetical tin-eared monoglot hack can actually ask to be credited as the “translator”, even if he can’t speak the language he has supposedly translated.

But otherwise very nice indeed — a truly useful document, and not only for writers; it’s very handy for producers who genuinely want to know what is considered good business etiquette. In one case from my past, it would have saved me from the embarrassing situation in which I would have been considered in breach of contract if I didn’t hand in a 100-page script only an hour after signing.

In Plain English


A while ago, a friend of mine in a large corporation asked me if it was possible for me to use my translation skills to translate an email he’d received from Management-speak into English. Herewith my best attempt. I may have changed some of the names to protect the guilty:

Large Corporation has a vision – to be the new force in banking, and at the heart of this is the diversity of our people, products and services. Treasury has its own Diversity Strategy which places a focus on excellence and aims to get the best out of the people that we have, and to be able to attract the best candidates into the organisation.

Translation: Hello. We are a bank, and there are lots of people working here. They are all different and not the same. We would like to be good at what we do. We would like to have people who are not rubbish.

To achieve this we need an environment of inclusiveness where everyone feels able to contribute. We will limit our business potential if we do not create an environment that is attractive to all. We should all value difference and recognise that people from diverse backgrounds, skills, attitudes and experiences can add positively to the business success.

Translation: It would really help if everyone was nice to the fat girls and the blokes with B.O. Please don’t take the piss out of each other. Something’s going wrong upstairs, and we’ve decided to blame you lot.

More details of the Treasury Diversity strategy are now on the HR site on the intranet which can be accessed by the following link: [snip].

Translation: Someone has written this all out again somewhere else, in words even Bob from Accounts can understand. Not that we would make that an issue with him or tell him that, because then that would not be inclusive.

To achieve this aim, we must demonstrate fairness and respect in our dealings with our colleagues, customers, shareholders, investors and communities in which we operate.

Are we not getting through yet? BE NICE TO EACH OTHER or we will fire your ass.

To achieve this aim, we must demonstrate fairness and respect in our dealings with our colleagues, customers, shareholders, investors and communities in which we operate. Therefore, a number of diversity awareness sessions have been arranged to develop our knowledge of the current issues. These sessions will be facilitated by Drama Llamas, who are leading providers of Diversity training and who will run the sessions in a fun, yet thought provoking way.

Some out-of work actors and someone who thinks he is Ricky Gervais will indulge in a futile effort to get you all playing a office-centred perversion of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, in which you will be asked to “role-play” dealing with difficult customers, and learn about “conflict resolution” in an office environment.

The only thing that will unite you with your colleagues will be your universal contempt for the people making you perform these bizarre circus tricks. However, the organisers do not give a toss because they get paid whether you enjoy it or not. And rather than admit they wasted thousands of pounds, Human Resources will report that the whole project has been a resounding success, and probably produce a chart that looks like a big pie.

Please respond using the voting buttons above to indicate which date you are able to attend, the sessions will be filled on a first come basis.

Someone with an English degree has realised that if we say “vote” and “first-come [first-served],” you might think that we were doing you a favour.

Fiona Collindale will confirm your place by email.

Fiona Collindale will be the person who reports that everything was a “resounding success”.

The sessions are mandatoy.

Because if we only singled out the people who needed them, it would be unfair on them and ruin our special inclusion policy. So *all* of you have to go through with this, even though the whole thing is only really for the benefit of Gavin from Marketing, who still refers to the post-room as “his bitches.”

if you cannot attend a session please inform Fiona of any reason why you are not able to attend any of the dates below.

Fiona will shortly realise just how much power she now has, and take great pleasure in berating people for “letting down the team” when they tell her to shove it. You are *all* going to have to do this, people, but anyone who thinks it’s bobbins will have a little mark put on their file by Fiona, who will probably be head of personnel soon enough when Management read her report about how everything was such a “resounding success.” She will then have the power of life and death over you, so woe betide anyone who gives her grief.

(For Glasgow staff, we will arrange separate training later in the year although anyone is very welcome to attend if in London)

We know that Glasgow staff will slit our throats if we try it there, so we’re going to hide for a bit, and get round to it when we have hired some bigger people with cattle-prods.

Hope that helps.

My Heart Won't Let Me Say

Another blast from the past — a song translation from 1997 when I was doing rhyming lyrics for Pioneer CDs. This is from the Oh! My Goddess video series opening and closing themes. They were for the full-length versions that I can’t actually find on You Tube. But you can get an idea from the 90 seconds that were actually used in the show. If you’re interested in methods and tricks for this sort of thing, I did talk briefly about songs in a lecture I gave to the Department of Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, a full transcript of which appears in the book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis.

By your side, but I still want more

Need your love, but I can’t be sure

Try to give my heart away

But you think it’s just a game we play Continue reading

(Bring My Love) Right Back to Me

Because the song translations I did for Pioneer were for the music division, not the anime division, they covered theme songs from other companies, too. That is the only possible explanation for Pioneer’s decision to hire me to work in 1997 on lyrics for the mad hair-metal theme to Fist of the North Star “Ai o Torimodose”. I did the best I could… and you thought Schoolgirl Milky Crisis was weird.

Shock of love! When heaven sent you it was just the start

Shock of love! Stopped me in my tracks, now you’ve got my heart

Burning fever binds me waiting for my love to find me

But now I’m giving it my all

None can stop my anger, I just point my little finger and down

They all fall

Shock of love! Just one look at you, heartbeat’s getting fast

Shock of love! Me and you as one, and it’s gonna last

Now my heart is burning with the madness they call yearning

To find the place where you’re hiding

I can’t live without you, fight the cruel thoughts that doubt you, I’ll do


Now you’re far away, a quest to save our love, and I’m here waiting for you

Tomorrow’s gone, until you bring the key

Never can forget your pretty smiling face, for I know your heart is true

Bring my love right back to me*

Shock of love! Shining light upon the shadows in my mind

Shock of love! Just the thought of you, and my thoughts unwind

When we’re back together, promise it will be forever and then

Take me in your arms

I will hold you to me and nobody’s gonna free me again

From your charms

repeat *