The historian and the philologist who study the written record of China's past in different ways and to different ends both face the problem of intractable Chinese texts. The mutual sympathy that this engenders is not unmixed with complacent condescension on the part of each toward the way the other goes about solving questions that are the concern of both, especially in the realm of translation. The historian's habit of translating the names of offices functionally (Imperial Chancery rather than Sanctum of Penetralian Scriptures for chung-shu sheng) and of simply not translating such terms as era names (nien-hao) outrages spirited philologues, who declare that the characters of which these era names are composed are words with “very transparent meanings” which can and should be captured in translation. Some years ago, having been impressed with this argument, I decided to try to translate the name of an era I was studying. What happened was that my search led me to a philologically sound, but, as it turned out, entirely erroneous interpretation.
Edward H. Schafer, “Chinese Reign-Names—Words or Nonsense Syllables?” Wennti, Yale University, No. 3 (July 1952), pp. 33–40.
See also his
On the historic changes in the character of era names, see
Derived from suggested standard table, Schafer, “Reign-Names,” p. 39.
Schafer, “Reign-Names,” p. 35.
Shih-lu, T'ung-chih, 6.34b-40a.
I-wu shih-mo, T'ung-chih, 2.46b-47a.
Yüeh-man-tang jih-chi pit (photolith. reproduction, Peiping, 1936), ts'e 12.
North China Herald (Shanghai), Nov. 30, 1861.
Wade's translation of Wen-hsiang's note of Nov. 25, 1861, enclosed in Bruce to Russell, No. 25, 1861, Public Record Office, F.O. 17/357, No. 173. Brackets in original. Professor Masataka Banno of Tokyo Metropolitan University happened to notice this document while he was working recently in the Public Record Office on another subject, and he kindly called it to my attention.
Compare Legge's version: “Acts of goodness are different, but they contribute in common to government.” The Chinese Classics, III, Part II (Hongkong and London, 1865), 490.
This statement seems to me nearly conclusive. I do not question Wade's translation of a diplomatic note, and Wen-hsiang certainly knew the “real” meaning of the era name. I can see no reason why he would invent a tall tale that might get him into trouble. Neither the coeval rule of the two empresses nor that of the Chinese and Manchus was any secret to foreigners; if the era name referred to either, why would not Wen-hsiang have said so?
F.o. 17/357. No. 173.