The use of the word culture to render the Old Chinese term wen 文 in English translations of The Analects increased dramatically from one instance in 1861 to 93 percent in a translation from 2003. This development illustrates how historical changes in word meanings and epistemic assumptions profoundly influence modern Western understanding of early Chinese thought. Semantic changes in the English word culture enabled nineteenth-century translators to discover a concept of high culture—culture as a civilization of assumed universal scope—in The Analects. Subsequently, over the course of the twentieth century, the idea that Old Chinese wen means culture became almost universally accepted. However, since the prevalent concept of culture is now the relative, anthropological concept of culture as a way of life, this assumption is potentially leading to misunderstandings and the propagation of problematic culturalist ideas about culture in early China.


自 17 世紀至 21 世紀,《論語》的英譯本將「文」譯為 culture 的比例陡增。 這說明字義和認識觀念的歷史演變,對現代西方理解早期中國思想的影響甚鉅。 19 世紀的譯者把「文」理解為文明,而 20 世紀則普遍理解為文化。因此 culture 的語義演變会導致西方對早期中國形成的「文」這一概念的誤解。


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