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Subject: Physics
Class-ID: Phy052
Compiled by: Iwo Amelung

Terminological Data:

Entry term: Mechanics
Modern Chinese: 力學 lixue
French: mécanique, f
German: Mechanik, f

(earliest known occurences of Chinese terms)

1627 力藝 liyi
重學 zhongxue
1866 力學 lixue
1869 工藝之學 gongyi zhi xue
1878 機械工學 jixiegongxue
1886 機藝之學 jiyi zhi xue
技藝 jiyi
機器之學 jiqi zhi xue
1895 機械 jixie
1900 物體運動之學 wuti yundong zhi xue
1906 機械學 jixiexue
1913 器械學 qixiexue

Additional Data:

The history of Chinese terms for the important subject of mechanics is one of the more confusing stories in the process of the reception of Western technical terminology. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that the concept of m. underwent significant changes over time. On the other hand, it has to do with the facts that a number of competing translations survived for an unusually long period and the two most important translation for m. were used for subdivisions of the field as well.
Western knowledge on m. first came to China in a work called Yuan Xi qiqi luzui (An illustrated explanation of the wonderful instruments from the West), a partial translation of several Western works, including Vitruv's De Architectura, Stevin's Hypomnemata Mathematicaand others, which was colloborately prepared by the Jesuit Johann Schreck and the Chinese convert Wang Zheng. [1] With liyi 力藝 ("the craft of forces") and zhongxue 重學 ("the study of weight") the book, which first was published in 1627, offered two translations for the term m., noting that its function was to "move weights", which of course was a reflection of the classical Western concept of mechanics as the art of the human genius to trick nature. [2] It is not clear however, whether the use of the term zhongxue重學 was influenced by the medieval terminology for mechanics/statics which frequently was referred to as scientia de ponderibus.[3]
The next translation of a Western work on m. was not undertaken until 1852 to 1854 when the protestant missionary *J. Edkins (Ai Yuese) in colloboration with the mathematician *Li Shanlan embarked on the translation of W. Whewell's An elementary treatise on mechanics, which was finally published under the title Zhongxue in 1867 and was the first introduction of Newtonian mechanics in China. According to his own preface, *Li Shanlan was not acquainted with the term zhongxue 重學 which was explained to him as "the study of weights and measuring". [4] Although by no means a perfect translation for m.the term zhongxue 重學 rapidly gained prominence in China. It was already used in the 1850s by the famous reformer *Feng Guifen in his "Cai Xixue yi" (Proposal to adopt Western learning) [5], applied as a translation for m. until the middle of the twentieth century and widely used in Japan as well.
In 1866, however, W.A.P. *Martin (Ding Weiliang) introduced the competing term lixue 力學 ("the study of force") in his Lixue rumen (Introduction to Mechanics) [6], most likely because it was a more convincing rendering of Newtonian m. than the older term. It soon became widespread as well. [7] Most other terms that can be found in dictionaries and translations, such as gongyi zhi xue 工藝之學 ("the study of work and crafts") [8], jixiegongxue 機械工學 ("the study of machines and work") [9], jiyi技藝 ("skills and crafts"), jiqi zhi xue 機器之學 ("the study of machines") [10] and qixiexue 器械學 ("the study of utensils and implements") [11] hark back to the original meaning of m.as applied m. Nevertheless, some of these terms like jixie機械 ("machines and implements") [12] and jixiexue機械學 ("the study of machines") were used to denote physical m. as well. [13] Dictionaries such as Hemeling's English-Chinese Dictionary of the Standard Chinese Spoken Language and Handbook for Translators, including Scientific, Technical, Modern and Documentary Terms (1916) are further testimony of the terminological confusion by listing several different terms as translations for m. Hemeling proposed zhongxue 重學, lixue 力學 and jixiexue 機械學. [14] During the late nineteenth century the terms zhongxue 重學 and lixue 力學 were frequently used interchangeably. Thus, in several collections on Western sciences *Martin's Lixue rumen was introduced as Zhongxue rumen. [15] Additional confusion was caused by the fact that the term zhongxue 重學 was often simultaneously used as a translation for *statics [16], and the term lixue 力學 came to serve as a translation for *dynamics as well. [17] The confusion becomes apparent in works, such as the Xifa cexue huiyuan (Digest of Western knowledge for policy questions, 1898), an obviously pirated collection of earlier translations on Western sciences, which classified Taixi lixue and Taixi zhongxue as different fields of learning, although the works included in both sections were clearly all dealing with Western m.[18] The introduction of the somehow clearer term wuti yundong zhi xue 物體運動之學 ("the study of the moving bodies"), proposed in the first comprehensive textbook of modern physics in 1900 failed, in part probably due to its inconvenience of use. [19]
In 1906 the translator of Philip Magno's Elementary Lessons in Mechanics *Yan Wenbing had become so exasperated with the situation that in his preface to the book he says that only completely new translations for physical and applied m. would be able to solve the problem. Although with jishuxue 機術學 ("the study of the methods of machines") and jili 機理 ("the principles of machines") he tentatively suggested two new terms, he luckily refrained from using them in his translation. [20] Only in the 1920s lixue 力學 slowly became the accepted translation for m. and in 1932 it was included into the standardizing Wulixue mingcihui (Dictionary of physical terms). [21] Interestingly, however, the Tianwenxue mingci (Dictionary of astronomical terms) of 1933, which was also compiled for the purpose of standardization, still lists lixue 力學 as a translation for *dynamics. [22]

[1] Zhang Baichun, "Wang Zheng yu Deng Yuhan 'Yuanxi qiqi tushuo luzui' xintan", in: Ziran bianzhengfa tongxun 1996.1, 45-51.
[2] Deng Yuhan (Johann Schreck), Wang Zheng."Yuan Xi qiqi tushuo luzui", in: Ren Jiyu (ed.), Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui. Jishu juan I, Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu 1993, 610.
[3] Cf. Moody, Ernest A., Clagett, Marshall (eds.), The Medieval Science of Weights (Scientia de Ponderibus), Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press 1952.
[4] Ai Yuese (Joseph Edkins), Li Shanlan (trs.), Zhongxue, Shanghai: Meihua shuju 1867, xu (orig. Whewell, William, An elementary treatise on mechanics).
[5] Feng Guifen, "Cai Xixue yi", in: Feng Guifen, Jiaobinlu kangyi, Taibei: Wenhai 1981, 148.
[6] Ding Weiliang (W.A.P. Martin), Lixue rumen, in: Gewu rumen, Beijing: Jingshi Tongwenguan, 1866.
[7] Cf. e.g. Zhang Deyi, Suishi Ying E ji (Zouxiang shijie congshu), Changsha: Yuelu shushe 1986, 605 (orig. ed. 1878) and Zheng Guanying, Yiyan (sanshiliu pian ben), in: Xia Dongyuan (ed.), Zheng Guanying ji, Shanghai: Shanghai renmin 1981, 108 (orig. ed. 1880).
[8] Cf. Lobscheid, Wilhelm, Ying Hua zidian. English and Chinese Dictionary with Punti and Mandarin Pronounciation, 2 vols, Hong Kong 1866-1869, 1163.
[9] Cf. Guo Songtao, Lundun yu Bali riji (Zou xiang shijie congshu), Changsha: Yuelu shushe, 1984,462.
[10]Cf. Schlegel, Gustave, Nederlandsch Chineesch Woordenboek met de Transcriptie der Chineesche Karakters in het Tsiang-Tsiu Dialekt, Leiden: Brill 1886.
[11] Cf. Morgan, Evan, Chinese New Terms and Expressions, with English Translations, Introduction and Notes, Shanghai: Kelly&Walsh, 1913, 19.
[12] Cf. Zheng Guanying, Shengshi weiyan in: Xia Dongyuan (ed.), Zheng Guanying ji, Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe 1982, Vol. I, 260 (orig. ed. 1895).
[13] Cf. Nakamura Tamekuni, Jiangsu shifan jiangyi - wuli, Jiangsu xuewuchu, 1906, Vol. IV, 54.
[14] Hemeling, Karl, English-Chinese Dictionary of the Standard Chinese Spoken Language and Handbook for Translators, including Scientific, Technical, Modern and Documentary Terms. Shanghai: Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs 1916, 856.
[15] Cf. Ding Weiliang (W.A.P. Martin), Zhongxue rumen, in: Zhong Xi xinxue daquan, Shanghai: Hongwen shuju 1897, vol. 89.
[16] Cf. e.g. Lobscheid, 1670.
[17] Cf. e.g. Donghua yishushe (tr.), Wulixue wenda( Bianyi chuji jiaoyu baike quanshu), Shanghai 1903, 12a.
[18] Gu Qiyi, Wu Wenzao (eds.), Xifa cexue huiyuan er ji, Shanghai: Hongbao shuju 1898, vol. IV and V.
[19] Iimori Teikozo, Fujita Toyohachi, Wulixue (Transl. Wang Jilie), Shanghai: Jiangnan jiqi zhizao zongju, 1900, I:6a.
[20] Yan Wenbing (tr.), Lixue kebian, Beijing: Xuebu bianyi tushuju 1906, (orig. Magno, Philip, Lessons on mechanics).
[21] Sa Bendong (ed.), Wulixue mingcihui, Beiping 1932, 85.
[22] Guoli bianyiguan (ed.), Tianwenxue mingci, Shanghai: Shangwu 1933, 15.


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