Publication details [#12710]

Semizu, Yukino. 2001. Invisible translation: reading Chinese texts in ancient Japan. CTIS Occasional Papers 1 : 95–112.
Publication type
Article in jnl/bk
Publication 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 4th century. Chinese classics continued to be the foundation of education in Japan from that time until the mid-20th 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 developed by the Japanese which allowed them to read the original Chinese text without knowing the Chinese language. Consequently, although linguistic transfer occurs, no parallel text is produced. This article seeks an explanation as to why translation in Japan took this unusual direction. It does this by exploring the nature of the Chinese writing system and the historical background into which this new knowledge arrived. It also examines the reading method in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the diverse nature of translation as a tool for acquiring knowledge.
Source : Abstract in journal