New Terms for New Ideas

Western Knowledge and Lexical Change in Late Imperial China


This volume is about the lasting impact of new (Western) notions on the 19th and early 20th century Chinese language; their invention, spread and standardization. Reaching beyond the mere cataloguing of the thousands of lexical innovations in this period of change, the essays explore the multiple ways in which initially alien notions were naturalized in Chinese scientific and political discourse.

Topics examined range from preconceptions about the capacity of the Chinese language to accommodate foreign ideas, the formation of specific nomenclatures and the roles of individual translators, to Chinese and European attempts at coming to terms with each other’s grammar.

By systematically analysing and assessing the lexical adaptation of Western notions in Chinese contexts, the book will serve as a valuable reference work for all those interested in the historical semantics of modern China.

Biographical Note

Michael Lackner, Ph.D. (1985), University of Munich, is Chair of Chinese Studies at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Iwo Amelung, Ph.D. (1999), Free University of Berlin, is Researcher in the History of Chinese Studies and Technology at Technical University Berlin. Joachim Kurtz, M.A., is Researcher in Chinese Studies at the University of Göttingen.

Review Quotes

"…it should be read widely because of its close interrogation of the intersections between language and history and because of its problematization of the role of translation in inventing linguistic commensurabilities between peoples and cultures. Borrow it from the library and read each of the articles carefully. They are filled with information and new points of view." – Benjamin Elman, in: EASTM, 2004 "A rich bibliography of both Chinese and Western publications and “Index” contribute to the high academic value of this compendium of multidisciplinary research into the transmission of Western knowledge into China accompanied by far-reaching lexical changes." – Zdenka Hermanova, in: Archiv Orientalni, 2003


All those interested in the history of cultural interaction between China and the West, historical semantics, the history of science, modern Chinese intellectual history as well as the study of terminology.

Index Card