The Chinese Repository/Volume 1/Number 5/Literary Notices

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September 1832

2448565The Chinese Repository, Volume 1, Number 5 — Literary Notice1832


The London Court Journal.—This frivolous and superficial newspaper has ventured on the task of Chinese criticism, for which notable ability it avows itself indebted to 'Professor Neumann of Berlin.' The passage we particularly refer to, in No. 144, p. 72, begins thus.—"The Emperor of China. It is a vulgar error to mistake the words Taou-kuang for the name of his celestial Majesty. They only designate the Emperor's span of dominion, and really imply "the light of reason."—Why, we could have told the court Editor,—and every reading man in England, excepting the "vulgar" people about court, knew,—more than ten years ago, that Taou-kwang means "Reason's glory;" and that the appellation is the title assumed on his present majesty's ascending the throne.

As to the Chinese term Celestial empire,—we were not aware that any difference of opinion existed respecting the genuineness of the expression, until we observed the following extraordinary paragraph in this said Court Journal;—"No such ridiculous compound exists in China as the 'Celestial Empire,' though it is customary so to translate the words 'Tian-hia.' Their real meaning is, however, 'heaven beneath' or 'beneath the sky,' implying nothing more nor less than 'country;' it is perfectly ridiculous, therefore, to force this expression into any thing so removed from its genuine import as 'celestial empire.'

It is an unpleasant task to correct the errors of learned men; but it is a task which should not be too readily shrunk from: and since Professor Neumann has denounced the term 'Celestial empire' as a ridiculous combination, and the use of as a popular error, we think it necessary to defend its genuineness, and the propriety of its use. To force Tian-hia (more properly Teen-hea), to express such a meaning would indeed be absurd; but the Chinese words so translated are not Teen-hea; they are, as every Chinese scholar knows, Teen-chaou, the 'heavenly dynasty,'—the 'celestial empire;'—the word chaou, a dynasty, being always applied more generally; to denote the possessions of a dynasty,—an empire.

We must here, also, call the professor to task for another mistake which he has committed. Teen-hea, correctly rendered 'beneath the sky' or the heavens, does not simply imply 'country; but it implies 'the world,'—'all beneath the sky:' and it is used by the Chinese to denote their own empire, in the same exclusive way that the Romans considered their dominion as including the whole world, that is, the whole civilized world.