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Ann Sci. 2018 Jan;75(1):1-20. doi: 10.1080/00033790.2018.1428358. Epub 2018 Feb 8.

Newton in China: Translating the Principia into Chinese (c. 1855-2015).

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a Lanzhou Jiaotong University, China; The University of Oxford , UK.


This paper provides an account of Chinese translations of Newton's Principia produced over the past century and a half within the larger context of the dissemination of Newtonian philosophy in China. Given its fundamental importance in the history of science, the Principia, originally penned in Latin, has been translated into a number of other languages. While in all these languages no more than two full translations have appeared, as many as four complete versions in Chinese have been produced since the 1850s, when first attempts were made to translate the Principia in late imperial China. They include a 1931 version in semi-classical Chinese completed during the Republican era and three rival versions in modern Chinese published in contemporary China. This rich history of translating the Principia into Chinese, which remains little known to scholars in the West, is for the first time reconstructed and presented in English. This account is based on a meticulous scrutiny of manuscripts, historical records, secondary literature and interviews with some of the contemporary translators. It demonstrates that Chinese translation of the Principia is a complex process that involves scientific traditions, linguistic peculiarities, translators' subjectivity, readers' expectations and even the role of the market.

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