One of the questions we may wish to approach in the study of cross­cultural language contacts is the transfer of the terminology and con­cepts of a specifie field of knowledge from one linguistic context into another. When doing so we may make the mistake of imposing the semantics and conceptual framework of a specifie term in the donor language onto the translation of the term in the recipient language. One may easily assume that the Chinese are conceptualizing the Western notion of 'rights', for instance, when they are using the term quanti fl;j<1j in a contemporary context. ln fact, however, we can only determine whether there may possibly be parallel semantic fields for the terms 'rights' and quanti in the two languages by looking at the process of terminological transfer and the context in which the term is used in the Chinese discourse.

ln the following, 1 shall attempt to show that caution is strongly advisable when making these assumptions. Finite conclusions regard­ing the relationship between a specifie term in the donor and the recipient languages may be drawn only after the history and linguistic composition of a term has been thoroughly investigated. The relation­ship between 'rights' in a Western political context and the term quanti in Chine se may be more complex than one may first assume.




A seminar on Chinese human rights in Oslo triggered my curiosity for the conceptual difference between 'authority' and 'rights' in Chinese. During a dialogue on the difference between the Western and the Chi­nese tradition of rights, the well-trained Chinese interpreter 'misun­derstood' his fellow countryman when using the term quanti in the debate. It was clearly a response to a question on 'rights' in the Chi­nese social context but the interpreter apparently heard the homo­phone term quanti fin for 'authority' or 'power'. The fact that these two homophone words quanti fl;j<1j and quanti fin may be confused by a trained interpreter seemed not to be a clear-cut case of linguistic


Michael Lackner, Iwo Amelung and Joachim Kurtz (eds.). New Termsfor New Ideas. Western Knowledge and Lexical Change in Late Imperial China. Leiden et al. 2001, pp. 125-144.

@ Koninklijke Brill. Printed in the Netherlands.




misunderstanding but rather a problem of two terms that may not be conceptually very different in Chinese, and certainly not as mutually incompatible as they are generally understood in Western languages. The apparent confusion of terms in modern spoken Chinese di sap­pears of course in writing, as indicated above. The two ti ( ;j<1j and n ) were also distinguishable in ancient Chine se pronunciation, as the former ti for 'power' was pronounced tik while the latter ti for 'profit' was pronounced tih.1 But the problem still seems to exist even in writ­ing as the short form quan may be used for both notions. My suspi­cion about the blurred distinction between the two was confirmed by a short inquiry on the understanding of quan in different contexts, espe­cially in the binomial minquan, among a number of Chinese inform­ants. This important element in the Chinese concept of 'rights' is also pointed out by Wang Gungwu: "The power and authority it [rights] stands for has to be grasped; it is the handle or lever which, when used effectively, gives its user the right to act."2 Wang sees the tradition al Chinese power-structure based upon the diffusion of power and rights: "... the total dependence on power for anyone to have rights at all...".3 The following short exposition is thus an attempt to pry into the early origins of the introduction of the notion of 'rights' in the Chinese political discourse of the late imperial period in order to iden­tif Y how the se two concepts that people in the West regard as funda­mentally different came to be articulated in the modern Chinese language.

Both binomials quanti are found in classical Chinese literature, where the quanti of 'power' carries connotations close to its present usage, while the quanti of 'rights' clearly must be interpreted differ­ently in early texts. The quanti of 'power' consists of the two charac­ters for 'authority' and 'strength'. Quan for 'authority' is derived from the term for 'a scale' and thus the verbal notion of 'to weigh', 'to deliberate', meaning to balance different options, the light and the


1 Edwin G. Pulleyblank. 1991. Lexicon ofReconstructed Pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese, and Early Mandarin. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, pp. 188-9.

2 Wang Gungwu. 1991. "Power, Rights, and Duties in Chinese History", in: id. The Chineseness of China. Selected Essays. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, pp. 165-186; 176. See also Marina Svensson. 1996. The Chinese Conception of Human Rights: The Debate on Human Rights in China, 1898-1949. Lund: Dept. of East Asian Languages, Lund University, p. 85.

3 Wang 1991,p.178.




heavy (qingzhong ~:m ), in a political context. The authority to make these deliberations is connected to the authority of a ruler, thus quanti denoting the' authority' of the ruler, as in a passage from the historio­graphical work Hanshu (Book of the Han):

¥.5L~*iiti{* ' fin£!. +J1:t~~ 04

Comparably there is nothing greater than the [states of] dukes and their

               power (quanti) is ten-fold.

The notion quanti denoting the 'authority' of a ruler is ancient and the later general term quanti for general political 'authority' is directly derived from this. The homophone term quanti for 'rights', however, is quite another matter. This binomial term may also be found in early literary sources, such as in the philosophical text Xunzi:


:fËtJ:fiflJ/ffjg{~iQ , :M~/ffjg~iQ 0 ~T/ffjgi'iiQ 05

Therefore, power (quan) and profit (Ii) may not be distorted. Common­ers and ordinary people may not move [freely]. The empire may not be shaken.

Here, the binomial is simply a combination of the terms for 'power' and 'profit'. The binomial quanti denoting 'rights' is clearly a mu ch later development of this combined notion of 'power' and 'profit' , ini­tially indicating 'power and profit' or 'giving consideration to what is profitable' .




Ernest Richard Hughes sums up the effects of the Western 'invasion' of China as follows: "Western poli tic al thought is in sorne ways the most revolutionary of all the revolutionary influences which the white races have exercised in China."6 Simple knowledge about the political systems in the West had been introduced to the Chinese readership through travelogues and diaries from trips abroad from the middle of the eighteenth century onwards.7 It was, however, not until after the


            4 Ban Gu J"JI[j'[J . 1990 [1964]. Hanshu ¥Jii (Book of the Han). Beijing: Zhonghua

shuju, p. 2232.

            5 Xunzi fj].:y:. . 1919-1936. Sibu congkan [gj'fI)JRflJ ed. Shanghai: Shangwu yin­

shuguan, 1.8.

            6 Ernest Richard Hughes. 1968. The Invasion of China by the Western World.

London: Adam & Charles Black, p. 104.

            7 For instance Chen Lunjiong [)jf[{îIû:t[i1J . 1793 [1730]. Haiguo wenjianlu ~~F>fJ5!

~ (A record of the overseas nations). Yihai zhuchen i:)~J;'K~ ed. n.p.




Opium War that Western political writings were introduced for the first time into China through translation. Lin Zexu ** fjlJ1* (1785­1850), when taking upon himself the insurmountable task of curbing the British opium trade in Canton in 1839, saw the importance of acquiring a better understanding of Western learning and tradition in order to deal with the foreign barbarians and therefore started compil­ing and translating information on the West. A first partial translation of Murray's Cyclopaedia of Geography was enlarged by Wei Yuan ft i}]\ (1794-1856), a close friend and associate of Lin, and published under the title Haiguo tuzhi m:~iJ;:&; (Illustrated treatise on the mari­time countries) in 1844 in 50 chapters (juan :g).8 The compilation was enlarged to 60 chapters in 18479, to 100 chapters in 185210, and finally to 125 chapters in 1895.

Haiguo tuzhi discusses legal systems in an article from the maga­zine Chinese Repository (Aomen yuebao i~ r~ ,Fj ¥~) 1839/40.11 The author claims that the division of Europe into small nation-states is a result of an inadequate legal tradition in the West. 12 The text does not discuss or go into details of the actual inadequacies and content of that tradition, and thus it is not very informative for its Chinese readership with regard to knowledge about the West. These arguments and the fear of potential national disintegration are, however, well-known from the Chinese tradition and indicate what miserable scenarios Chi­nese intellectuals anticipated in view of Western influence and aggres­sion. Intellectuals in 1840 did not see any flaws in the Chinese legal tradition that needed to be supplemented from the West. The reason why the Haiguo tuzhi contains a very short text on Western law,13 a translation from Vattel's The Law of Nations 14 entitled Geguo lüti ;@t ~1!f:7U and ascribed to a certain Huadaer if~m (Vattel), is presuma­


            8 Wei Yuan ftiJjj( (ed.). 1844. Haiguo tuzhi ~~I!i;E; (Illustrated treatise on the

maritime countries). 50 juan. Yangzhou: Guweitang.

            9 Wei Yuan ftiJjj( (ed.). 1847. Haiguo tuzhi ~~I!i;E; (Illustrated treatise on the

maritime countries). 60 juan. Yangzhou: Guweitang.

            10 Wei Yuan ftiJjj( (ed.). 1852. Haiguo tuzhi ~~I!i;E; (Illustrated treatise on the

maritime countries). 100 juan. Yangzhou: Guweitang.

            Il ln juan 49 in the 1844 edition, injuan 51 in the 1847 edition, and injuan 81 in

                                    the 1852 and later editions.

            12 Haiguo tuzhi 1852, 81.1a-2a.

13 Injuan 52 in the 1847 edition and injuan 83 in the 1852 and later editions. This text was added to the Haiguo tuzhi for the first time in the 1847 edition, and thus not to be found in the 1844 edition.

            14 Emer de Vattel. 1863. The Law of Nations. Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnsen.




bly not that the compiler saw the need to supplement the Chinese legal system. The introduction of Western ideas on international law was only seen as a tool to obtain a better understanding of how to de al with international aggression and trade.

This translation is likely to be the earliest piece of Western political literature introduced into China.15 A surprising feature of this rela­tively short text is that Wei Yuan has, in that very short chapter on international law, found place for basically the same text translated twice by two different translators, Peter Parker (1804-1888), the first medical missionary to China, and Yuan Dehui R1~*1!! , imperial inter­preter of Western languages at the Colonial Office (Lifanyuan JJI[ ¥i ~ ) in Beijing.16 Their very different style of translation may have urged Wei to include both these early attempts at interpretations of Western legallanguage in his book. Chang Hsi-t'ung has shown that both Parker and Yuan have misunderstood technical features in the way Vattel's book is organized.17 He has also pointed out that while Parker's translation is more "vitiated by foreign phraseology", Yuan's wording "fails in many places to reflect the lucid precision of the orig­inal", which is not surprising taking into account the different mother­tongues of the two. These features, however, do not seem to be a suit­able characterization of their treatment of the notion of political and legal 'rights', a term appearing altogether nine times in the passages translated by Parker and twenty-two times in the paragraphs translated by Yuan. Parker seems to have been distressed by the lack of an ade­quate term for 'rights' in Chinese and has in most cases reformulated the respective passage using terms like 'in cases of' (dang ... zhi ti &" . .. ~ 1JU ) and 'wishing to' (yu iO\ ), for instance in the passages"... gives men a right to employ force...", translated as "men all have a desire to fight" (ren ren jie yu zhan AA ~iO\Jï!.x ), or "for the preserva­tion of their rights", translated as "wish to secure themselves and pro­


15 Cf. Chang Hsi-t'ung. 1950. "The Earliest Phase of the Introduction of Western Political Science into China", Yenching Journal of Social Studies 5, p. 1417-44; 1429; Cao Nianming l'ï;&:Bjj .1992. "'Geguo lüli' shi Zhongguo zuizao fanyi de guojifa zhuzuo" «~~ *{7~» 1i!: r:p ~J\jPf'.tJj1i¥I¥J~ ~*âdffF ('The law of Nations' is the earliest Chinese translation of a work on international law) , Lishi daguanyuan 3, p. 51.

16 Cf. Chang 1950, pp. 1427-31. See also Wang Weijian .:E#.t{~ .1985. "Lin Zexu fanyi xifang guojifa zhuzuo kaolüe" #~Uf*tJj1i¥j7!.j1J~~*$iff'plJm! (Some remarks on Lin Zexu's translation of a work on internationallaw), Zhongshan daxue xuebao 1, pp. 58-67.

17 Chang 1950, p. 1429.




tect their property" (yu zi bao qi shen zi hu qi di iO\ El {\j?: ~ ~ El ~I ~

j:t/1 ). Yuan has attempted to apply a specifie term translating the notion of 'rights' and chosen to use daoti mfJl[ , or the abbreviated form ti fJl[ , strictly throughout his text, altogether in twelve places, except for the last two paragraphs printed separately at the end of the text. The term daoti would not have been such an inappropriate choice, since the term was already known in the sense of 'principle' or 'reason', thus being close to the logical connotations of the term 'rights'. Certainly, it is too general in semantic scope to be considered a good representa­tion of the Western notion of political 'rights', but one may argue that it would potentially have been better th an the present confusion with 'power'. Parker has, however, certainly not solved the problem by sim­ply avoiding the term. Two passages which are integrated as parts of the original English text are printed separately towards the end of Yuan's Chinese text. Added to the fact that the strict system of translating 'rights' as daoti is broken in these passages, it may be an indication that these are appended to Yuan's translation from another source or translator before printing. Regardless of the source for the se two pas­sages, however, they bear witness of possibly the earliest translation of 'rights' as quan which is used twice in one of these sentences:


Thus the sovereign power alone possesses authority to make war. ... [I]t is from the particular constitution of each state, ... that is author­ized to make war in the name of society at large. The Kings of England, whose power is in other respects so limited, have the right of making war and peace. Those of Sweden have lost it.1S ~Jî~~~J1:tfi 019

One may argue that the use of quan in these passages could as well be translated back into English by using 'power' or 'authority', and the translator may have understood the passage in that way because of the correlation between the sovereign power authorized to make war and the King of England possessing the right of making war and peace. The translator's intentions may naturally not be assumed. Still, the graphie features of these passages printed separately from the rest of the text and the inconsistency in the way the term 'rights' is being


18 Vattel 1863, p. 292. The ordering of the Chinese and English text in quotations indicates which text is translated from which. ln this instance the Haiguo tuzhi pas­sage is a translation from Vattel, hence the English text preceding the Chinese.

19 Haiguo tuzhi 1852, 83.21b.




translated may indicate the earliest translation of 'rights' into the Chi­nese term quan.




It is generally acknowledged that W. A. P. Martin's (Ding Weiliang T Jm~ , 1827-1910) translation of Wheaton's International Law, published in 1864 under the title Wanguo gongfa ~~0i! , represents the first systematic attempt to explain Western political thinking to a Chinese readership.20 It has also been claimed that Martin was the first to translate the notion of political 'rights' into Chinese,21 which is clearly not the case as we have seen above. These and later transla­tions of Western politicalliterature introduced a wide variety of West­ern political terms and concepts into the Chinese language; terms that later became an integral part of the modern political discourse. These texts and translations also instigated a political debate heavily influ­enced by Western political thinking, a debate that has affinity with the ongoing debate on jurisprudence and rights in contemporary China.

W. A. P. Martin of the American Presbyterian Mission is attributed with the translation of the Wanguo gongfa into Chinese, in spite of the fact that a group of Chinese associates assisted him in his work with this text, which was first published by the Chongshiguan ~Jf ~'ê with imperial support in 1864. The term 'rights' is consistently translated into quanti, or short quan, throughout Martin's rendering, for instance where Wheaton discusses the 'absolute international rights of states' (zhuguo ziran zhi quan ~~~ EI~~fl):


The rights, which sovereign States enjoy with regard to one another, may be divided into rights of two sorts: primitive, or absolute rights; conditional, or hypothetical rights.22



20 See Chang 1950; Federico Masini. 1993. The Formation of Modern Chine.\'e Lexicon and Its Evolution Toward a National Language: The Periodfrom 1840 to 1898. Berkeley: Journal of Chinese Linguistics (Monograph Series, no. 6), p. 47; Lydia H. Liu. 1995. Translingual Practice. Literature, National Culture, and Translated

                                    Modernity-China, 1900-1937. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 279-80.

21 Svensson 1996, p. 84.

22 Henry Wheaton. 1866. Elements of International Law. Boston: Little, Brown,

and Company, p. 75.

            23 W. A. P. Martin et al. (trs.). 1864. Wanguo gongfa ;1!'!;~0$ (International

Law). Beijing: Chongshiguan, 2.1a.




The sources and inspirations for Martin's coinage of terms during his service at the Tongwenguan are not known. With regard to the new term quanti that he introduces to translate 'rights' we can only specu­late that he may have been influenced by Yuan Dehui's translation in Haiguo tuzhi. There are, however, no other indications that he was influenced in any way by the Haiguo tuzhi translations of Vattep4 Already at this stage we can perceive the possible confusion between 'power' and 'rights' in Chinese, a diffusion of terms that was upheld for a long time and which was possibly utilized by Chinese authorities to curb demands for extended political rights in modern times; no rights (quan) without power (quan)!

The translation of Wheaton's work also introduced the distinction between absolute and condition al rights, a philosophical debate whether rights can be understood as inherent in man or only exist as political options under certain social conditions. The early translated texts from the Tongwenguan were probably not widely read among Chinese intellectuals. Only towards the end of the nineteenth century were these texts reprinted and distributed in large numbers in China. The dissemination of Western knowledge accelerated faster in Japan.




Japanese students had been sent to the West to study as early as 1862, but the first introduction of Western international law terms was a Japanese translation of Wanguo gongfa by Nishi Amane "ES ml (1829­

1897) published in 1868. Thus the term for 'rights' was introduced in Japan via China in 1868, and kenri (fl;j<1j ) is still the current Japanese term for political 'rights'. The translation of Wheaton's text did not, however, put a premature end to the debate on the nature and meaning of the Western notions of political and legal 'rights' in Japan. ln his book Conditions in the West (Seiyo jijo "ESi~JJ'IJ!f), published in 1870, Fukuzawa Yukichi Wî~tiJfrJ2f (1834-1901) debated the many aspects of the notion of 'rights' in Western languages, discussing both ethical correctness as well as political 'rights' such as freedom and independ­ence, inherent in man by birth. However, he does not apply the Japa­


24 See Chiu Huangdah. 1967. "The Development of Chinese International Law Terms and the Problem of Their Translation into English", Journal of Asian Studies 27,pp.485-501;486-7.




nese term kenri in this publication. Similarly, James Hepburn's A Japanese and Engtish Dictionary, published in 1867, does not include the term kenri for 'rights'. The Japanese words corresponding to the Chinese daoti and ti (dori, ri) for 'rights', parallel to Yuan Dehui's translations in Haiguo tuzhi, are present in all these contexts. The term kenri for 'rights' was included only in the third edition of Hep­burns's dictionary published in 1886.25 The Japanese term kenri was rendered by two different Chinese characters for ri, tlj and JJI[, in early Meiji texts. The second alternative was presumably introduced to cope with the negative connotation given to the term by the Confu­cian disapproval of seeking ti tlj 'profit' .26 Finally, however, Martin's originally Chinese term quanti fltlj or kenri also became the standard Japanese term for political and legal 'rights'.

When Komuro Nobuo IJ\ 'j[ 113 J;c and other Japanese intellectuals wrote a petition in 1875 suggesting that Japan should establish a par­liament and introduce elections for its members, they argued that the ordinary people had 'rights' which should be made effective through education and changes in the political system. ln October 1882, Kata

Hiroyuki' s 1JD)Jj5L~ (1836-1916) work Jinken shinsetsu A fl*JT~)t ( A

new interpretation of natural rights) instigated a heated debate on nat­ural rights in Japan when he turned against his earlier arguments for natural rights and claimed that man could only acquire rights through struggle. ln this, Kata was influenced by Bluntschli's statism, whose work had been translated into Chinese two years earlier. The transla­tions of Western texts in China did not have any major effect on the political debate in China herself, whereas in Japan the Meiji-reforms after 1868 were clearly influenced by Western legal and political phi­losophy initially introduced to Japan via China. It was not untillater that retuming Japanese students began introducing Western learning directly into Japan. During the first two decades of the twentieth cen­tury, law terms not previously or only inadequately translated were rendered into Chinese via Japanese.27 It also seems that the Chinese term for 'rights' was brought back into the Chinese political debate via discussions in Japan.


            25 According to Yanabu Akira tPDX:~. 1996. "The Concept of 'Right"'. Translated

by Joshua Fogel (unpublished manuscript), pp. 3-8.

            26 Suzuki Shüji Jit*{@')j,: . 1996. "Terminology Surrounding the 'Tripartite Sepa­

ration of Powers"'. Translated by Joshua Fogel (unpublished manuscript), pp. 47-9.

            27 See Chiu 1967, pp. 489-90; Svensson 1996, pp. 96-104.






It seems that our Western distress regarding the blurred distinction of quan as 'rights' or 'power' was not that apparent to late Qing intellec­tuals, precisely because the term quan retained its early meaning of 'power' while gaining the meaning of 'rights' from the 1860s onwards. One may suppose that after the notion of 'rights' had been introduced by Martin in 1864, it would come into general usage as it did rather soon in Japan. ln fact, however, it took several decades before the notion of political and legal 'rights' became an integrated part of the Chinese political discourse, and then only inspired by the ongoing debate in Japan. Quanti was only applied to translate the foreign con­cept of 'rights' in translations of works on international law in the decades following Martin's translation. Martin was also responsible for the Chinese translation of Theodore Dwight Woolsey's (1801­1889) Introduction to the Study of International Law: Designed as an Aid in Teaching, and in Historical Studies under the Chinese title Gongfa bianlan 0: i!1~. , published by the Tongwenguan in 1877. ln the introduction to the Chine se version, the Chinese translators expressed their distress with the strangeness of the language being created for the purpose of introducing international law into China. They are specifically uncomfortable with the notion of 'rights':


01H~5jU~-f4~U!i!\\~Wffl~*t~ 0 tJ:i*Xpgfl-lj~¥~xJifiJ{jji~~ 0 IZSI~ ffl*fi111~~!11I~$ 0 J1PPD-fi* 0 iFpg/f~:t~~j'1]JiM~~fi 0 3'f:t~fLAJ'.!I! m!i!\\m~~o~~~-~*~mmA*~~.~~~o~~*~W~~/f Àêo.~~~~/fmB~ffl~iQon

Public law is a separate field of study and thus a specific vocabulary should be devised for this purpose. Therefore, when there are occa­sional passages in the original text which are difficult to render com­prehensively in Chinese, then the translation may sometimes seem strained. Take for instance the character quan.ln this book it carries not only the meaning of someone being in power but also the meaning of the share ordinary people ought to obtain ('rights'). Sometimes a char­acter Ii tU is added to this meaning, such as in the passage 'the rights enjoyed by the common people', etc. Passages and terms like this may seem awkward at first but wh en one has encountered them several times one cornes to realize that there is no other way th an to use such an expressIOn.


28 W. A. P. Martin et al. (trs.). 1878. Gongfa bianlan 0$~'I: (A practical intro­duction to public law). Beijing: Tongwenguan, "Fanli" fL{7~ ,pp. 2b-3a.




The same explanation is repeated in the introduction to the 1880 Tongwenguan edition of Johann Kaspar Bluntschli's (1808-1881) Geschichte des allgemeinen Staatsrechts und der Potitik, translated into Chinese under the title Gongfa huitong 0-i!fItm .29 It is thus clear that quan is consciously used in both these two meanings, and that the term quanti is eventually introduced in the early Chinese vocabulary on internationallaw, at least by the Tongwenguan translators. When, however, the Jiangnan Arsenal under the supervision of John Fryer (Fu Lanya 1W JSj!Ji , 1839-1928) published Chinese editions of Wil­liam Chambers' Homely Words to Aid the Government (Zuozhi chu­yan 1tr:1"Éî~g ) in 188530 and Robert Phillimore's Commentaries upon International Law (Geguo jiaoshe gongfalun ;@t ~ 51: 1& 0- i! i'iîÎH) in 189431, quan and quanti were not applied in the meaning of 'rights' . On the contrary, the Jiangnan Arsenal translators used the inverse binomialtiquan ;j'HI for 'rights'. ln most cases, however, they refor­mulated the terms 'rights' (jensuoyingde 51 pJT JJ!1~ , 'the share one should obtain') and 'duties' (jensuoyingwei 51pJT JJ!A , 'the share one should contribute') into explanations rather than translated terms. These explanations were included in sorne dictionaries as translations of 'rights' and 'duties' but were later discarded from the standard lan­guage, possibly because of their awkward and impractical format and certainly because of the later influence from Japan. An example of the use of the se terms in Jiangnan Arsenal translations is found in a pas­sage from the preface to the Geguo jiaoshe gongfalun:


The necessity of mutual intercourse lies in the nature of States, as it is of individuals, by God, who willed the State and created the Individu al. The intercourse of Nations, therefore, gives rise to International Rights and Duties, and these require an International Law for their regulation and their enforcement.32

A/ffjg~:fz:Jn'üt ' ~U~Y:1JF~$ 0 AWA~Y:1JF ' ~W~~Y:1JF 0 Y:1JF9=I ~5tpJT!i!\\~ ' W5tpJT!i!\\1~1'1I. , ~~01~J;.J5E~ 0 01~?F- A -~pJTfjg5E ' JJ~pJTffn~~ 0 ~~~J;.J~~ ' J1:t!1P01~iQ 033


           29 W. A. P. Martin et al. (trs.). 1880. Gongfa huitong 0$Wrm! (An interpretation

of public law). Beijing: Tongwenguan.

           30 John Fryer and Ying Zuxi Bi':tJ:JJJb (trs.). 1885. Zuozhi chuyan {t!:mWi"i

(Homely words to aid the Government). Shanghai: Jiangnan zhizaoju.

           31 John Fryer at al. (trs.). 1894. Geguo jiaoshe gongfalun ~~:-y:):iy0$iiffij (A dis­

cussion of public internationallaw). Shanghai: Jiangnan zhizaoju.

           32 Robert J. Phillimore. 1879. Commentaries upon International Law. London:

Butterworths, "Preface", p. xv.

           33 John Fryer et al. 1894, "Yuanxu" ffiJ:J¥; (Original preface), p. la.




Yan Fu ~1~ (1853-1921) attempted a different rendering of the notion of 'rights' when he translated the term into zhi ~ , zhi H or minzhi ~ H .34 Yan Fu is known for his innovative renderings of Western terms in his translations. His desire was to keep the language of Western learning within the classical Chinese tradition with regard to terminology and literary style. His translations are explicitly not composed for the common Chinese readership but rather for the weIl educated intelligentsia of late Qing times, and are composed in a highly elegant style not overtly faithful to the original text, in spite of Yan's own ideals of being 'faithful to the text' (xin 1~ ), 'comprehen­sive' (da ~) and 'eloquent in style' (ya .m). Precisely because of his literary conservatism in times of great change, with strong influences both from the West and Japan streaming into China, his translations of terms rarely survived and were not accepted in the politicallanguage and discourse of his time.35 That was also the fate of his renderings of the notion of 'rights'.




Following the Meiji reforms in Japan after 1868, the fight for jürun minken El EI3 ~ fi came to be a central part of the political demands raised by Japanese inteIlectuals. The notion of minken (or Chinese minquan ~fl ) is a Japanese innovation, drawing on the already imported Chinese term for 'rights', ken/quan, in order to create this new notion of 'people's rights'. By the time the notion of 'rights' and the debate on natural and political rights was introduced into China through translations from Western texts, the debate in Japan focused on the more political notion of people's rights, heavily influenced by ideas on civil and democratic rights from the West.

Guo Songtao ~B ~:iii (1818-1891) was the first Chinese diplomat to live in Europe for an extensive period of time, serving as the Chi­nese ambassador to England from 1876 to 1879 and to France from 1878 to 1879. His Lundun yu Bati riji 11fB~W e::~ B ~a (London and Paris diaries), published in 1879, had a lasting impact on the political


34 Cf. Svensson 1996, p. 85.

35 Cf. He Lin ~II!J\\ . 1925. "Yan Fu de fanyi" )\\j(f31:l¥JmJJ1i¥ (Yan Fu's translations),

Dongfang zazhi (The Eastern Miscellany) 22.20 (25 November 1925). Reprinted Taibei 1971, pp. 75-87; 79.




debate among Chinese intellectuals. Guo described the democratic systems of government and the various forms of elections in the West, using the term minzhu ~.:t. 'democracy'36 in opposition to junzhu B .:t. 'autocracy' or 'monarchy'. The term minquan appears in a passage in his diary from 1878: minquan chang zhong yujun ~fl1ji;:mJR'B ,37 This passage, however, is not an early Chinese example for the use of the later notion of 'people's rights', as suggested by Xiong Yuezhi.38 Rather, minquan is here simply a binomial describing the power of the people as compared to the power of the emperor and has thus nothing to do with the Japanese notion of minken/minquan. Once again, one may observe the possible confusion of terminology created by the ambiguous semantics of quan.

The notion of minquan became the key term for the introduction of democratic rights in China under the rulership of an enlightened emperor, as advocated by Huang Zunxian j'f ~ 1{ (1848-1905), Xue Fucheng iWmî~ (1838-1894) as well as Kang Youwei ~~~ (1858­1927), Yan Fu and Liang Qichao ~mUm (1873-1929), as 1 will dis­cuss below. ln contrast, the notion of minzhu was despised by all these intellectuals. The contempt for minzhu is less probably a misinterpre­tation of the Western concept of democracy, as suggested by Xiong.39 Minzhu, or min wei zhu ~~.:t. as it may be interpreted, contrasts with

junzhu, or jun wei zhu B~.:t. , and is thus inherently in opposition to the rulership of an emperor. This was simply no viable political posi­tion in China prior to the 1911 revolution. 1 agree with Liang Qichao in his interpretation of the two terms in late Qing scholarship:

xEÇfiWEÇj::=~ 0 ~wll~#.1:1~ 040

The connotations of the two terms minquan and minzhu are fundamen­tally different.


36 This term was also introduced in Chinese in Martin's Wanguo gongfa of 1864. Cf. Xiong Yuezhi H~ J=j Z . 1986. Zhongguo jindai minzhu sixiangshi r:p ~m:1-1:~::tJGI, ;tJ!'1: (A history of democratic thinking in modern China). Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, p. 10.

37 Guo Songtao !j!~i;~ .1984. Lundun yu Bali riji {îIû!j&WE:J~ B~c (London and Paris diary). Changsha: Yuelu shushe (Zou xiang shijie congshu Jtr'Dt!tWJRii . From

                                   East to West-Chinese Travellers Before 1911), p. 76.

38 Cf. Xiong 1986, p. 11. 39 Ibid., pp. 13-4.

40 Liang Qichao W:,Ijj(M:) . 1899. "Aiguolun san: lun minquan" ~~iiffij:= : iiffij~ti

(Third discussion on patriotism: a discussion of 'minquan'), Qingyibao (The China Discussion) 22, p. 3a. Reprinted in Zhongguo jindai qikan huikan r:p~m:1-1:WJflJl1i.flJ (Earl y modern Chinese journal series). 1991. Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju.




Minzhu, as 'rulership of the people' , was not a political issue among Chinese intellectuals in the late nineteenth century and was thus only used to de scribe the democratic, or rather republican, systems of Western nations.

Huang Zunxian, who served as attaché at the Chinese embassy in Japan from 1877 to 1882, wrote the first comprehensive Chinese sur­vey on Japan, the Riben guozhi B :2js:~;:&; (Treatise on Japan), pub­lished in 1890, in which he advocated minquan for China. Xue Fucheng, who wrote the preface to Huang's work, also favoured the introduction of minquan in China. Minquan was primarily se en as the rights and power that the common people had to fight to obtain, and were not interpreted as part of natural human rights. Only later, at the beginning of the twentieth century, did sorne Chinese interpret min­quan in terms of natural rights, then influenced by the debate on natu­rai and political rights in Japan. Most famous for advocating the con­cept of minquan in China is of course Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan 1* r::p lU, 1866-1925) who included minquan among his 'Three Principles of the People' (sanminzhuyi =: ~.:t.~ ).

Initially the term minquan was used in China to indicate political rights, the right of political participation. However, the term has been used with different connotations by different authors at different times as a translation of the Western terms 'civil rights' or even 'democratic rights' and 'democracy'. While the term minquan was employed in its early political sense denoting 'rights', one may also find instances in which the earlier connotation of 'power' is strongly present, for exam­pie, when minquan is opposed to junquan Bfl or less apparently when it is used in opposition to guoquan ~fl 'national rights'. Liang Qichao's use of minquan in opposition to guoquan in an article from 1899 may carry both the se connotations:

~~Wo~~~~iQo~~~Wo~~ffl~$iQo~~~Wo~~~~~ iQ 0 i&~fi~~IJ~fi:fz: 0 ~fi~~IJ~fiL 041

What is a nation? It is formed by the congregation of people. What is the government of a nation? It is that its people manage their own mat­ters. What is patriotism? It is that its people take care of themselves. Therefore, when people's rights/power (minquan) prosper, then natio­nal rights/power (guoquan) are confirmed. And wh en people's rights/ power (minquan) deteriorate, then national rights/power (guoquan) dis­integrate.


41 Ibid., p. la.




Later in the same text, however, Liang clearly refers to the Western concept of political rights when discussing the people's obligation to strive for their rights:


~~m~~.o~~~WiQo~/f*~~~.o~~~WiQo~~~* Bo~mA~~.~~o~.~~Wo~~.~~.~~o~~~~o~ ~tjj~~!!JtI:~Am-iQ 042

When the government suppresses the people's rights (minquan), this is a transgression on the part of the government. When the people do not strive for their rights, then it is a transgression on the part of the people. Western philosophers say that to violate the freedom and rights of peo­ple is the greatest of ail transgressions. But for a pers on to discard his freedom and rights is an equally grave transgression. These are ail cases of eradicating the Ways of Heaven.

Kang Youwei, in his exposition of the Datong shu (Book of Great Unit y), applies minquan juxtaposing junquan with clear 'power' con­notations:



~'$~*¥~.m~~~.~:~:fË~..ff'~~*~'~~mili' Iii; B ~ 0 :jç ~~'f1îfi ' ~ ~f1- ~ifE~ : ;fifJ=l.~~fi ' ~1J~qp~~~ 0 ~~ fJ=I.~*flJ~ '~IJ{=A{~*~~~flJ ' ~fjg~'¥A{" : *~t!5£{~' A~~~ ~~*~~To~~.~m'.$~~'~:M~~~m'w~*~~~. iQo;fi~.''f1î~~B..'~W~~~~:~B'f1î~~~~~..~M ~*~~ 043

The power of the people (minquan) from bottom and up is the forerun­ner of the principle of Great Unit y (datong). Wh en the power of the people develops, it cornes from below and moves upwards. That is the naturallaw. Therefore, after America was established and the French revolution had taken place, every nation followed this pattern. There­upon, constitutions were established everywhere, republics flourished, the theory of the equal distribution of property was suggested and labour parties became more powerful day by day. If a nation is ruled by a monarch (junquan), then everybody becomes selfish and the nation is difficult to unite. But if a nation is ruled by the people (minquan), then it is easy to unite. The common people strive for profit, but when the benevolent man advocates the joy and benefits of Great Unit y , this nat­urally reflects the mind of the people. When the main tendency is set, th en the common people will follow it like water running downstream. Therefore, the instigation of the power of the people (minquan), the establishment of constitutions, the union of the people and the principle


42 ibid.

43 Kang Youwei }jj.t1'J~ . 1956. Datong shu 7\i"Jii (Book of Great Unit y). Bei­

jing: Guji chubanshe, 2.70.




of the equal distribution of property are ail heralds of the Great Unit y . Once a constitution is established, the monarch will have lost his power (quan), and this nothing else th an the rulership of the people (minzhu). Sorne day the monarchy will inevitably crumble and ail will settle in Great Unit y .

When discussing the notion of minquan, Chinese scholars have a ten­dency to emphasize its 'power' aspects by claiming that the quan in minquan means 'power'; thus minquan is taken to mean 'people's power in politics' (zhengzhi shang renmin de quanti jf3Uiî 1:. A~ é1 fi n ) and equals the two terms minquan and minzhu ~.:t. combined.44 Moreover, many Chinese dictionaries will explain minquan in terms of 'power' fin, while others will again apply the notion of 'rights' fi ;j'Ij . Western scholars, on the other hand, emphasize the 'rights' aspect of quan by interpreting junquan, as opposed to minquan, as the 'right of the ruler' .45 ln fact, the term minquan entails ideas from Western 'civil rights' or 'democratic rights' discourse but gives the notion of 'people's rights' specifie Japanese and/or Chinese connotations, embracing all of these interpretations depending on the context.




The distinction between natural and political rights emerged in Japan when Kata argued against the application and suitability of natural rights within the Eastern traditions. Liang Qichao, who had been arguing for the value of absolute rights, was influenced by Kata and his Social-Darwinist ideas when propagating the rights of the strong­est (qiangquan ~$fl ) in an article of 1899. During the first two dec­ades of the twentieth century the debate on 'rights' flourished in China. Minquan was advocated by most Chinese scholars (and criti­cized by Zhang Zhidong), but the debate on the value and existence of natural rights and their relationship to the right of political participa­tion was hotly debated. Liang Qichao declared the debate to be a con­troversy between two protagonistic groups: one advocating the 'rights of equality' and the other advocating the 'rights of the strongest'. The former was influenced by Rousseau, regarding the state as based upon a social contract between the ruler and the ruled, while the latter was


44 For instance Xiong 1986, pp. 11-3. 45 Svensson 1996, p. 87.




under strong Social-Darwinist influence and Yan Fu's translations of Herbert Spencer. Liang himself supported the views held by the latter group. Extensive quantities of Western philosophy were translated, mostly via Japanese, and led to a debate on rights that was gradually more and more strongly influenced by the European debate on natural and political rights. Both the "French Declaration on the Rights of Man" and the "American Declaration of Independence" were trans­lated into Chinese soon after the turn of the century. During the first decade of the twentieth century, William Edward Hall's International Law (Gongfaxinbian 0i!*JTt~ ,1903)46, Montesquieu's De l'esprit des lois (Wanfa jingti ~i!TI!fJ'JI[ , 1905)47 , the American and the Japa­nese constitutions (Meiguo xianfa ~~I{i! , 190248, and Riben xianfa yijie B ::<ts:l{i!~m , 190549), and many more Western and Japanese works were translated into Chinese. Three works by the German pro­fessor of law and legal positivist Georg Jellinek entitled Geguo xianfa yuanquan sanzhong hebian ;@t~l{i!i}]\* =:f*ftt~, translated via Jap­anese and published in Shanghai in 190850, introduced his negative views on naturallaw and his emphasis on the law. Through the trans­lation of Jellinek's work Das Recht der Minorittiten, the notion of 'minority rights', shaoshuzhe zhi quanti Y lJl ~ ~ fl;j'Ij , was intro­duced to the Chinese readership.

The integration of terms on 'rights' into Chinese political discourse was a graduai process. When a version of the Japanese constitution annotated by Ito Hakubun 1j1" )Jjtf X was translated into Chinese with explanations of central terms in 1905, 'rights' seemed to have become an integral part of the J apanese political vocabulary, whereas in China quanti still had to be explained in terms of its etymology. Duties were se en as a necessary complement to rights in China by the turn of the century, as duties without rights make man a slave:


            46 W. A. P. Martin et al. (trs.). 1903. Gongfaxinbian 0$~M,ffii (A new compen­

dium on internationallaw). Shanghai: Guangxuehui.

            47 Zhang Xiangwen iJHllz et al. (trs.). 1905. Wanfa jingli ;1!'!;$:fi'tJW (Essential

principles of law). Shanghai: Wenming shuju.

            48 Wu Chengzhang ,~t'!1:&! et al. (trs.). 1902. Meiguo xianfa ~~I($ (The Amer­

ican constitution). Shanghai: Wenming shuju.

            49!tÔ Hakubun WJffimx . 1905. Riben xianfa yijie B *I($~m (An exposition

of the Japanese constitution). Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan.

50 Lin Wanli #;1!'!;l.J:!. et al. (trs.). 1908. Geguo xianfa yuanquan sanzhong hebian ~~:W$iJjj(~::::fli3"f,ffii (A collection of three works on the origins of constitutions in different countries). Shanghai: Zhongguo tushu gongsi.




AA&fT~J'.IBfi 'AAm\UI~J'.IB~ 0 ~fIUIJiHIJ ' t!zBfiflJ 0 ~~~IJ ~T% ' t!zB~T% 051

The principle that everybody should follow is called quan (rights/ power), and the principle that everybody should fulfil is called yi (duti­fulness). When one has quan, then one obtains ti (profit), and that is why we speak of quanti (rights). Wh en one has yi, then one obtains wu (tasks), and that is why we say yiwu (duties).

One may also follow the introduction of 'rights' in the general Chi­nese written language by probing into dictionaries of the Chinese lan­guage from this period. ln general, only a few dictionaries published before 1903 include entries on 'rights' /quanti, while all dictionaries published after 1908 include the 'rights' lexicon. One exception is the Vocabulary and Handbook of the Chinese Language, edited by Justus Doolittle and published in two volumes in 1872-1873. Doolittle had the translator W. A. P. Martin write a section on political and legal terms in Chinese, and Martin naturally included his own terminologi­cal innovations on 'rights' which were apparently still not current in the Chinese common language.

The term 'human rights' only came into frequent use in the West after the Second World War. The term usually considered as the Chi­nese translation of human rights, renquan Afl , however, was used in China much earlier. Many different terms were used in the Chinese language around the turn of the century to denote what we may sim­ply call natural rights or naturally endowed rights, in contrast to polit­ical or given rights. These were tianfu zhi quanti 3'ÇM~fl;j'1j , tianran zhi quanti 3'Ç~~fl;j'1j , ziran zhi quanti EI~~fl;j'1j , guyou zhi quanti [lIL) ~ ~ fl;j'Ij , yuanquan DJI: fi and other variants, but in addition also combinations with renquan, such as tianfu renquan 3'ÇMAfl . The term renquan must thus be understood in the broad sense of natural rights rather than as an equivalent of the post-war usage of the term in the West. We may, however, conclude that the Chinese vocabulary applied in the translation of the Western philosophie al debate on natu­rai and political rights was formed during the first two decades of the twentieth century and provided Chinese scholars the lexical tools to translate, debate and create notions of Western political and social theory.


51 !tô Hakubun WJffimx . "Xianfa mingyi" !Oids~ (Constitutional terms), in: id. 1905, pp. Ib-2a.






This short exposition on the introduction of political 'rights' in Chi­nese political discourse has shown that the terms translated from the Western notion of 'rights' appeared in China shortly after the Opium War. But the Chinese debate on 'rights' did not immediately follow the introduction of this notion. The Chinese discourse in the late nine­teenth and early twentieth centuries cannot be said to have conceptu­alized 'rights' parallel to contemporary debates in the West. The debate in China was heavily influenced by the Japanese debate during the Meiji reform movement. Only in late imperial and early Republi­can times did the Western debate find a more direct parallel in Chi­nese discourse. The terms introduced in the Chinese debate were coined both in China and Japan and retained strong Chinese/Japanese conceptual connotations. These connotations, in which the notion of 'rights' is etymologically and politically closely connected to the notion of 'power' , are still prevalent in the political and social reality of China.