Max K. W. Huang

In the late Qing, newly translated Chinese terms invented by the Japanese and imported into China exerted a tremendous cultural influence. Facing this invasion, Chinese officials and scholars bitterly criticized the new terms, and sometimes created their own alternatives. This competition lasted from the late Qing to the early Republican period, when most of the terms with Japanese origins were incorporated into the Chinese language.

This paper describes this semantic competition and discusses the terms invented by Yan Fu, who used both transliteration and free translation. Yan failed to unify the translation of terms while he worked for the Ministry of Education, and most of his terms were abandoned. However, the competition between the terms invented by Yan and those from the Japanese speaks to the insights contained in the pre-Qin scholar Xunzi’s view on “the correct use of names.” The methods Yan Fu used in creating new terms reveal Yan’s standard of translation, the translated terms combining transliteration and free translation with accuracy, elegance, and accessibility.