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HRA 5 Modern Chinese Scientific Terminologies

The distribution of Western Knowledge in Late Imperial China

Coordination: Joachim Kurtz, Jens Østergaard Petersen, Kaja Müller-Wang, Iwo Amelung


The distribution of Western Knowledge in Late Imperial China

The WSC-Project (Wissenschaftssprache Chinesisch / Modern Chinese Scientific Terminologies) aims to understand the distribution and transformation of Euro-American knowledge in late imperial China (ca. 1600–1911) through the reconstruction of Chinese scientific terminologies coined, altered, disputed and successively refined since the early nineteenth century. Due to the vast amount of relevant sources, the project will limit its scope for the time being to the disciplines of philosophy, logic, physics, chemistry, geography (i.e. "knowledge on foreign countries"), politics and international law. In addition, it will concentrate on the formative period of modern Chinese scientific vocabulary between ca. 1840 and 1930.


The bibliography:

In its current phase, the project focuses on the revision of a bibliographical database documenting translations of Western science and thought into Chinese during the period of investigation. Other data like biographical information on the authors and translators, or new terms developed and employed in these writings, are stored in related databases linked to the bibliography, which will be prepared for online access in two planned future stages of the project. Once completed, the three repositories will make the transmission of knowledge transparent and accessible by providing comprehensive information on the media, institutions, people, texts, terms, sites and images involved in diverse instances of distribution, adaptation and appropriation of knowledge from Euro-America and Japan in late Qing and early Republican China. 


The WSC databases:

Access (old version):

Overview of the WSC databases: structural diagram.

The WSC-Databases contain data on 130,000 lexical items, more than 6,500 primary and 2,000 secondary texts, including about 800 late imperial Chinese periodicals, as well as biographical information on approx. 2,300 authors and translators.

Through the newly designed eXist interface, users working with the database can conduct searches starting from a keyword or field of knowledge, a translated work or original text, or a particular translator or author. They will also be able to find related works or translations on the same topic or from the same time period and list all works translated or written by certain persons.

The data will be arranged in such a way as to facilitate the planned integration with the as yet unrevised biographical and terminological data stored in the internal WSC database files. Once completed, the online publication of all three parts of the WSC databases will be an essential tool for scholars interested in circulations of new knowledge in late nineteenth and early twentieth century China.

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