Publication details [#11653]

Semizu, Yukino. 2006. Invisible translation: reading Chinese texts in ancient Japan. In Hermans, Theo, ed. Translating others 2. Manchester: St. Jerome. pp. 283–295.
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Article in jnl/bk
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Target language


The ancient Japanese did not have their own script. Their intellectual development began when eleven volumes of Chinese writings were presented to the emperor's court around the end of the fourth century. Chinese classics continued to be the foundation of education in Japan until the mid-twentieth century. Japan has never shared a common language with China, yet reference to translation is rarely found in the intellectual history of Japan. This is due to a unique reading method that the Japanese developed. The method allows the Japanese to read the original Chinese text without knowing the Chinese language. Consequently, although a linguistic transfer occurs, no parallel text is produced. The essay explains why translation in Japan took this unusual form and direction. It does this by exploring the nature of the Chinese writing system and the historical background into which this new knowledge arrived. The essay also examines the reading method in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the diverse nature of translation as a tool of acquiring new knowledge.
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