Buyu, the Chinese Poetry Game

Poetry cannot be translated from one language to another without losing or distorting some essential aspect of meaning. This is especially true when the languages, and also the complex web of associations and rhythms and traditions, are as far apart as Chinese and English.


The Buyu game is about translating poetry from Chinese to English. Each of the following poems comes with all the meanings of every ideogram, and it is up to you—the translator—to produce beautiful English poetry. (See also John Searle's 'Chinese Room'.) I've asked friends to translate some of these poems, and I've collected some of their wide range of alternative readings.

These poems are all taken from a collection called 300 Tang Poems. The Tang period, 618–906 AD, is the golden age of Chinese poetry. In the eighteenth century an anonymous scholar, who signed himself 'the retiring scholar of the fragrant pool', collected 300 representative poems from 77 of the greatest Tang poets. There are many versions available online, e.g.,

The poems, and our translations

  1. song ling che (IW, MAW, TDG, LJW, DJW)
  2. chang gan hang er shou zhi yi (No translations)
  3. wen liu shi jiu (LJW, IW, SMS, DJW)
  4. dan qin (LJW, MAW, DS, DS, DJW, IW)
  5. zhu li guan (S&A, LJW, MAW, DJW, IW)
  6. su jian de jiang (MAW, LJW, IW, CMW, DJW)
  7. deng le you yuan (No translations)
  8. song shang ren (MV , DJW , TDG , SMS, LJW, MAW, JEC, DJW, IW, CMW)
  9. zi ye si shi ge dong ge (DJW, PSM?, RN?, DN?)
  10. xun yin zhe bu yu (SMS, TP, JV, CO, MJH, PBG, MV+BZ)
  11. yu jie yuan (CMW, MAW, TP, DJW, IW)
  12. hang gong (No translations)
  13. song cui jiu (DD, IW, DJW)
  14. chun xiao (DJW, LJW, CMW, IW)
  15. he man zi (No translations)
  16. song xiong (DJW)
  17. ba zhen tu (MP, IW, CMW, TP, LJW, DJW)
  18. chun si (DJW, MAW, CMW, IW)
  19. zao fa bai di cheng (IW, LJW, DJW)
  20. you zi yin (DJW, S&A, MAW, CMW)
  21. xiang si (DJW)
  22. ting zheng (CMW, MAW , MAW , DJW , LJW , GS )
  23. jiang xue (No translations)
  24. yuan qing (LJW, MAW, CMW, IW, DJW)
  25. xin jia niang (DJW)
  26. ye si (PGT, ABD, OJB, MRHM, DD, SD, KH, DH, IW, DJW, CH)
  27. chang gan hang er shou zhi er (No translations)
  28. bai xin yue (RSJC, FJC, TP, TP, MAW, MAW, IW)
  29. song meng hao ran zhi guang ling (DJW, MAW, MAW, LJW, IW)
  30. ge shu ge (No translations)
  31. ye su shan si (TP, DJW, CMW, IW, LJW)
  32. deng guan qiao lou (DJW, IW)
  33. deng you zhou tai ge (CO, PBG, DJW, JV, BK, MJH, MAW, SMS, LJW, IW, JEC, CMW, DJW)
  34. qiu ye ji qiu yuan wai (LJW, SMS, MAW , IW , CMW, DJW)
  35. zhong nan wang yu xue (SD, DD, CMW, IW, DJW)
  36. yu tai ti (No translations)
  37. du han jiang (DJW, MAW, DN, TDG)
  38. zi ye si shi ge qiu ge (No translations)
  39. za shi (DJW, MAW, CMW, IW)
  40. song du shao fu zhi ren shu zhou (No translations)

How Chinese Works

Here are some absurdly simplistic things to remember when you're translating.

Note on viewing Chinese in your web browser

If these poems come out full of funny squares or question marks instead of Chinese characters, you need to install Chinese fonts.