On the Chinese Translations of The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School from the Perspective of Paratext


As the first work on ancient Chinese economic thought overseas written by a Chinese, The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School attracted huge attention of Western researchers, however the studies of the content and opinions on this work at home are not expanded until the late 20th century, which mainly concentrated in the field of economics and philosophy. Since the publication of three Chinese translations in 2009 and 2010, this work gradually come into public readers’ scope, but there are few researches study from the perspective of translation studies. This paper will take three different translators’ first Chinese versions as the case study to compare the paratext in each translation. Paratexts, acting as the mediator between the text and readers, explains cultural values and reveals the translators’ translation ideas and strategies. This study aims to describe and analyse the paratext of translation products and explore the reason behind it, in order to provide references for the transmission and communication of texts on social sciences.

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Wang, W. and Liu, J. (2023) On the Chinese Translations of The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School from the Perspective of Paratext. Chinese Studies, 12, 12-27. doi: 10.4236/chnstd.2023.121002.

1. Introduction

Paratexts acting as the coordinator between the text and readers, refers to all materials used to indicate text proper, including cover design, titles, acknowledgement, introduction, prefaces, advertisements, list of contents, illustrations, back cover, footnote, etc. (Genette, 1997). On account of variously historical and cultural context, the paratext of translations plays a special role as mediators between the text and the reader (Kovala, 1996). The researches on paratexts, not only can be applied in texts within a single culture for examining the construction, transmission and reception of the case (Armstrong, 2007; Huang, 2022), but also in translations, which is more urgent for mediation. The studies of paratexts in translations benefit the analysis of the translator’s action (Han, 2020; Liu & Sun, 2021; Ge, 2022), the exploration of translation context in certain times and, understanding the function of cultural adjustment and development (Geng, 2018; Huang, 2018; Yu, 2019; Hu, 2020), which show translators’ views on poetics, translation and readers. Recently, studies of paratexts are not limited to translation products, but translation process, interpreting studies and literary criticism (Gray, 2010; Birke & Christ, 2013; Gross & Latham, 2017). Among these researches, several scholars reviewed relative literature on this field, summarizing the categories and questions of present researches, and provides expectations and enlightenment on future studies (Xiao, 2011; Geng, 2016; Yin & Liu, 2017; Batcher, 2018; Liu, 2020). This study aims to examine paratexts in three translations of The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School. The researches on paratexts of translation product explore elements of peritexts, like the cover, prefaces, annotations, appendixes, and epitexts, such as interviews, diaries, and translators’ identities (Zhu, 2016; Shi & Yang, 2021; Lin & Xu, 2022; Ma, 2022), which is able to embody the translation context and recreate information in the source text, benefiting readers’ understanding, studying translation ideas during the translation process. At the same time, studying the translation product from the perspective of paratexts clarifies the construction function of paratexts to translations’ form and structure, and the transmission and acceptation of the translation (Zhang & Wen, 2018; Jiang, 2022; Zhao & Wu, 2022).

As the first work on ancient Chinese economic thought published overseas written by a Chinese scholar (Hu, 1984), Chen Huan-Chang (Figure 1), The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School attracted broad attention as soon as its publication abroad. Professor Friedrich Hirth and Henry Seager wrote the foreword and preface for this work and many economist and sinologist reviewed (e.g. Williams, 1912; Ross, 1912; Bullock, 1912; Keynes, 1912; Franke, 1912; Picard, 1912; Ball, 1913) or regarded it as an important reference (e.g. Schumpeter, 2006; Weber, 1995). Until the present day, there are still scholars from different fields who cite information or opinions in The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School (e.g. Witzel, 2003; Rae & Witzel, 2004; Thompson, 2013). However, few researches at home study this work in depth at that time. Since Hu (1984) firstly introduced this work from the point of academic history, this work gradually came back to the scope of researchers. Recently, as the Chinese translations are published, there are increasingly researches on Chen’s work (Li, 2000; Liang, 2008; Zeng, 2011; Yuan, 2020; Liu, 2022), but studies of analyzing this work from the perspective of translation studies are still few. Except Han’s translation, both Zhai and Song’s translation only have one version (Table 1). Han’s translation was firstly published by Zhonghua Book Company in 2010, and then by The Commercial Press in 2015 and 2017. The later version was collected in the Selected Books of Modern Chinese Learning, in which the translator’s preface in the previous version was deleted, so this version may affected by the standard of this series. Therefore, in order to better compare the translation ideas of translators themselves, the paper will choose the first three translations in Table 1: Zhai Yuzhong’s translation (Central Compilation and Translation Press, 2009), Song Mingli’s translation (China Development Press, 2009) and Han Hua’s translation (Zhonghua Book Company, 2010). In this study, three translations’ paratexts information will be explored which carry information about the source text, providing better understanding for the reader and indicating the translator’s intentions, in order to describe translation products, examine translation processes, and explore factors which may influence the translations.

Figure 1. Chen Huan-Chang.

Table 1. The Chinese translations of The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School.

2. Paratexts Carrying the Information about the Source Text

During the translation process from the source text, the translator transmits information written by the author to the target reader. The paratext including the cover and prefaces are similar to the “threshold” to the target reader when they get access to read translations, which visualize the author and the source text.

2.1. The Cover

In translations, the information of the original text is delivered in the target language to target readers. Compared to the text, The cover passing the first image of a book to the consumer and the reader, which contains and highlights the key content in the book, manifesting its own identity. The cover as a important part in paratexts, provides the reader a straightforward sense about message from the work itself and displays the translator’s ideas.

Both the cover color of Zhai’s translation (Figure 2) and Song’s translation (Figure 3) are divided into the top and the bottom parts, choosing brown to imply the historical and profound content of this work, while the cover color of Han’s translation (Figure 4) was divided into the left and right sides in white and blue. As for the font color, Zhai’s translation and Song’s translation use different colors to highlight the significant information and draw consumers’ or readers’ attention, whereas the font color on the cover of Han’s translation is all black. The image of Confucius is used both on the cover of Zhai’s and Song’s translation, but Han’s translation places a picture of plowing with the ox, which represents small-scale peasant economy in ancient China. All covers use images from the title “孔门理财学”. Zhai and Song reflect “孔门” (literal translation: Confucianism), while Han highlights the rest part of the title, “理财学” (literal translation: administering wealth), which reflects the divergence among publishers and translators on the source text and emphasis in the target texts (Zhu, 2016).

The characters on the covers among three translations are almost identical, but of course, there is still some information differing from each other (Table 2). On the front cover, all translations are titled “孔门理财学” (literal translation: “Confucian theory of administering wealth”), which is translated by the author, Chen Huan-Chang. Zhai’s translation also directly translates the title of the source text, “The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School” (“孔子及其学派的经济思想”) as the subtitle, which may provide further information about the content of this work. The status and influence of the source text are introduced on the cover of Zhai’s and Song’s translations, while Han’s translation provides the table of contents translated by Chen Huan-Chang himself to help readers to understand the details in the book. On the front flap, the information of the author and translators are provided, but in Song’s translation, there is only author’s introduction. Song’s and Han’s translation offer comments or book reviews by prominent scholars, which promotes the acceptance of the translation (Yu & Dong, 2020).

Table 2. The Information of the cover in three translations.

Figure 2. The cover of Zhai’s translation.

Figure 3. The cover of Song’s translation.

Figure 4. The cover of Han’s translation.

2.2. The Preface

A preface or a foreword is placed before the text, presenting some basic but important information about the author or the translator, content, academic value and purpose of this book. In Chen’s work, the preface possesses three parts in the source text including two prefaces from Chen’s professors and author’s preface. In author’s preface, Chen further summarizes the substance in his book, explaining ideas conducting the writing and purposes. All three prefaces are retained in Zhai’s and Han’s translations with adding the translators’ prefaces ahead. In the translator’s preface, Han introduces the publication and strong influence overseas of the source text, and cites reviews by famous scholars at home. Chen’s academic ideas and writing though in author’s preface are mentioned and emphasized. The translator also indicates the cultural and social context of Chen’s time, showing Chen’s dignity as a Confucian. In the end, Han puts forward some explanations of the translation, including the source text, translation purpose, and some changes compared with the source text. Zhai introduces the academic experience of Chen Huan-Chang. As a scholar with the Western and Chinese knowledge, Chen creates this work with both academic and practical value, showing his high writing level. The translator enumerates some opinions in the book and provides interpretation by himself to inspire readers’ thinking. Zhai also mentions his modification to the source text, for example, adding translation of ancient Chinese prose in modern Chinese and translator’s annotations, deleting some notes in the source text, and the literature sources are replaced by those in the target context. In Song’s translation, Keynes’ book review replaces prefaces by Friedrich Hirth and Henry R. Seager, which illustrates economic points in the book and praises the contribution of Chen Huan-Chang, providing guide reading for the reader and inspiring readers’ interest. The prefaces in translations reflect the translators’ understanding on the source text and translation strategies in translation process, manifesting values of the source text.

3. Being Reader-Friendly

After the reader is exposed to the information about the translation, who will have some expectations on the book, which includes the content of the book and also the translation strategies of the translator. The three translators choose different methods to render the source text and support a better understanding of the reader from each perspective.

3.1. Table of Content

Chen Huan-Chang (1913) translated the table of contents in Chinese and published it on Confucian Association, which exactly corresponds to that in the source text. The source text has two volumes with five parts, introduction, consumption, production, public finance and conclusion, exploring ancient Chinese economic thought based on the Western economic principles. These three translators basically follow the structure of the source text, but there are some variations, as shown in Table 3. Zhai’s translation and Han’s translation possess the original structure. However, Song’s translation changes the structural design of the source text, which omits the part title in the source text, and merges the final part into Book IX, which is separately presented in Part V. Zhai’s translation combines the table of contents translated by Chen Huan-Chang with which in the source text to avoid expression of half classical and half vernacular, which is as close as possible to the expression of the target context. Chen Huan-Chang translated the table of contents in 1913, so his expression may not clear enough to today’s readers. Zhai according to the content and the table of contents in the source text, renders the section title clearly and briefly. For example, the title of Chapter 26 “论庸”, which is “Wages” in the original text. The word “庸” once had the meaning of “reward”, “be hired”, and “money paid for toil”, but these meanings no more existed in modern vernacular Chinese. Therefore, Zhai translates the title under the target context as “工资” (literal translation: “wage”); the meaning of the word “专利” also changed, which was understood as “Monopoly” at Chen’s time, but now it will be rendered as “patent”. Zhai translates

Table 3. The composition of the source text and Chinese translations.

this title as “垄断” (literal translation: “monopoly”) because Chen’s translation may confuse the reader. In contrast, the table of contents in Song’s translation are literally translated from the source text. In “Chapter IX Economics Development as the Chief Cause of Progress” (literal translation: “经济发展是进化的 首要原因”), Chen translated the title as “理财为进化之母” (literal translation: “administering wealth is the mother of progress”), while Song renders the chapter title directly as “经济发展是进化的首要原因” (literal translation: “economic development is the primary reason of development”); In Chapter XIII “Happiness for Both Rich and Poor” (literal translation: “富人和穷人的快乐”), Chen’s translation is “贫富皆有乐地” (literal translation: “there are both happiness place for the rich and the poor”), while Song’s translation is “富人和穷人的快乐” (literal translation: “happiness of the rich and the poor”). Han completely follows the table of contents translated by Chen Huan-Chang, although there are some expressions which are not easy to be understood at present.

Zhai’s and Song’s translation expurgate part after the text in the source text. Zhai attaches the table of contents translated by Chen Huan-Chang, Keynes’ book review and Chen Huan-Chang’s speech in 1913 “The Purport of The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School” after the translation text, while Song selects the speech and some prefaces and reports as appendixes. Both of these two translations provide relative information beyond the source text so readers are able to have abundant information in and out the text. In Han’s translation, the two appendixes are still after the main body, but the index is deleted. Chen wrote his work as a dissertation under the Western writing standard, so there are different aims between the source text and the target texts. After the appendixes, Han’s translation (Zhonghua Book Company) is added a postscript to record the feelings and gratitude during the translation process, attaching some other works of the translator (Chen, 2010). The additional information in the appendixes in translations are methods used by the translator for readers to get rid of a flat and single reading mode and shows a vibrant image of the author (Lin & Xu, 2022).

In conclusion, among three translators’ versions, Han’s translation remains much more messages in the source text and follows the structure and the opinions of the author in the source text as closely as possible, while the editions by Zhai and Song vary the table of contents more extensive. These translation strategies chosen by the translator are influenced by each translation purposes and produce different translations. Three translations possess extra information compared with the source text, which intends to provide enough background information to construct an overall viewpoint for the reader. All these information aims to help readers to comprehend the transformation of Confucianism in modern times and Chen’s initial intentions during his creative writing.

3.2. Annotation

Annotation as one of main expressions of paratexts, is a way that the author communicates with readers. In the translation, translators add additional information because they think these messages are needed by the target reader. The studies on annotations in translations present translator’s ideas about the location of the reader and their understanding of the source text.

3.2.1. Translator’s Note

Translator’s note is included in Gérard Genette’s paratext, as the result of communication between the translator and the source text, assisting the reader to perceive the target text (Zhou, 2021). Zhai adds a large number of annotations, of which a total of 47 are explicitly marked with “translator’s note” in the text. The translator’s notes in Zhai’s translation can be generally divided into three categories: first, the background knowledge, in which Zhai annotates information such as names, places, time, historical events, documentary sources, and explanations (Example 1 - 4 in Table 4), or translates words in ancient texts to reduce the burden of understanding for the reader. The second category instructs mistakes made by the author (Table 5). Zhai points out four mistakes in the source text, three of which are mentioned in the translator’s note without direct modification (Example 1 & 2 in Table 5), but in the Example 3 of Table 5, the mistake is corrected in the translation avoiding misconception of the ancient Chinese economic policy. The last category explains the translator’s translation strategy (Table 6). By contrast, there are 2 translator’s notes in Song’s translation (Table 7) and 14 in Han’s translation (Table 8), all of which are used to supply additional information for better understanding (Ma, 2022).

Table 4. The translator’s notes in Zhai’s translation.

Table 5. The translator’s notes in Zhai’s translation.

Table 6. The translator’s notes in Zhai’s translation.

Table 7. The translator’s notes in Song’s translation.

Table 8. The translator’s notes in Han’s translation.

3.2.2. Footnote

There are large number of footnotes in the source text providing information like literature sources, ideas of the author, historical figures, etc. Zhai substitutes Chinese sources of the quotations in the target context for English versions of Chinese ancient books as references. In his translation, Zhai also adds extra documentary sources which are not mentioned in the source text and provides intralingual translation of some classic Chinese. There are 386 footnotes deleted in Zhai’s translation, which is explained in the translator’s preface that “the translator removes some insignificant notes, especially those for the Western readers” (Chen, 2009a: p. 4). Only 73 footnotes are preserved in Song’s translation, and numerous literature sources of quotations were omitted. The existing footnotes contain author’s opinion, background information and evidences of historical records. Song does not add references of the quotations in text or paratexts, which weakens the credibility of the source text and may confuse readers with translation text that is not lucid enough. Han’s translation have 1115 footnotes. Han remains the Western literature sources of the quotation and annotates Chinese sources in the text, deleting some repetitive notes, which preserves the original appearance of the source text and provides the target reader references to learn about ancient Chinese economic thought.

4. Paratexts Indicating the Translator’s Intentions

The researches on peritexts of the translation, like the cover, annotations, appendixes, reveal the translation strategy and purpose of the translator. However, the epitext may directly present the translator’s purpose during the translation process. Through the identity and interviews of the translator, this study explores the academic experience and translation purpose of the translator, which provides more evidences for interpreting the translation.

4.1. Identity of Translators

Zhai Yuzhong is known as a Chinese study expert and financial commentator, working as a contributing researcher in Center for Chinese & Global Affairs, Peking University. Zhai published books on Chinese traditional culture and financial issues, like Taoist China: The Revival of Chinese Civilisation in the 21st Century (“《道法中国: 二十一世纪中华文明的复兴》”, 2008), and A New Theory of the Wealth of Nations (“《国富新论》”, 2013) and The Way of Rites: The Reconstruction of Chinese Rites of Passage (“《礼之道: 中华礼义之学的重建》”, 2014). Zhai’s knowledge on Chinese traditional thought and economics contributes his translation. Han Hua is a research librarian at the National Library. She graduated from Sichuan University with a PhD in history, and later became a postdoctor in the Institution of Qing History of Renmin University of China. Han Hua took an early interest in this work before the translation. Han (1999) introduces Chen Huan-Chang and his work, exploring Chen’s opinions and solutions on financial issues at that time and affirming Chen’s attempt to interpret modern connotation. This essay introduces Chen and his work to contemporary research horizons and offers a new research path for those involved. After that, Han’s studies on Confucianism (Han, 2002, 2003, 2007) benefit her not only a historical framework but also documentary knowledge, building a solid foundation of the future translation. As for Song, his identity is not presented in the paratexts but only his name, which is not clear whether it is a pen name. There is no translator’s preface in the whole translation, so the relative information of this translator is not accessible.

4.2. An Interview

In the interview, the reader can get closer to the translator and the translator may explain the translation purposes and ideas according to the questions made by the interviewee. In 2017, Han Hua was interviewed by Dazhong Daily. In the interview, Han mentioned her motivation for translation. She noticed Chen Huan-Chang and his work during Master’s research stage, and took a systematic and in-depth study of the Confucian Association and the national religion movement in the early Chinese Republic during PhD’s study. When she was in the National Library, Han worked on the replenishment of overseas Chinese studies books. Since Chen’s work cited plenty of Chinese classic works overseas, like James Legge’s The Chinese Classics, Han realized the translation of The Economic Principles of Confucius an His School was a good approach to search Chinese studies bibliography abroad and continue the study on Chen and his thought. Later, Han selected the earliest published English version in the National Library collection as the source text. Han also indicated that she pursued the original and authentic translation, and tried to restore Chen Huan-Chang’s writing style. She searched and collected Chen’s work including books, newspapers, journals and so on, reading books on Western economics, law and sociology, in order to achieve adequate elaboration of Chen’s economic thinking rather than simply recounting the contents of the book (Lu & Pang, 2017).

From this interview, Han’s translation ideas and process are revealed. Han pursues restoring the appearance and style in the source text, which echos her translation strategies of dealing with elements like table of contents and footnotes. Han’s translation follows Chen Huan-Chang’s style of expressions and design of this work, displaying Chen’s spirits. In the translation, Han keeps the structure, expressions and literature sources of the source text, which potentially reflect the academic nature in the original text, and thoughts of the author on Confucianism. The extensive reading of Chen’s work and relative knowledge on economics, sociology and law contributes to comprehend not only ideas in the source text, but also translate the source text in to Chinese with personal style of Chen Huan-Chang himself. The interview provides the reader and the researchers a chance to explore the translation process and translation ideas of the translator. The translator becomes visible carrying her comprehension about the source text and the author.

5. Conclusion

Addressing the issue of paratexts, this study examined the peritext and epitext among three Chinese translations of The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School. Through the comparison of the target texts, it can be shown that translators have positively adopted various translation strategies to avoid misunderstanding caused by the differences of time and space between the source context and the target contexts, facilitating the reading of target language readers. For instance, Han’s addition of literature sources under the target context, Zhai’s translation of ancient Chinese texts, and the translation strategy of domestication used in the translator’s note in three translations. However, the translations also influenced by translators’ subjectivity, which may be formed by their personal experience and academic background. For footnotes, three translators have different choices. Han aims to achieve the author’s writing style as close as possible, so in the translation, nearly all footnotes in the source text are kept, while Zhai deletes notes which are originally provided for the Western readers. From the comparison between the source text and the target texts, Han’s translation prefers to preserve the structure and language style of the source text, while Zhai’s translation and Song’s translation alter the original text in varying degrees to gain better understanding for target readers. During the translation process, translators will be affected by factors like social culture, preferences and the author’s ideas, which appear not only the text of translations but paratexts. Due to the various forms and special function, paratexts exert a potential influence on the target readers during the reading process. The exploration of paratexts helps to demonstrate more visually the characteristics of the translation and the translator’s creativity, which contributes the analysis and exploration in the communication and transmission of Chinese social sciences texts.

Fund of the Project

This paper marks a stage in a research that was made possible by the funding supported by National Social Science Program (grant #20BYY027); Program of Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the Mongolian literature and classics translation (grant#2022), Education Bureau of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Youth Elite Program (grant #NJYT-20-A01).


*Corresponding author.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.


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