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Discourse of Civilization in 19th Century Europe and the Conceptual Change of Wenming in Late Qing Dynasty

By Liu Wenming

Published in Journal of Capital Normal University, Vol.203, No.6 (2011)

Abstract: With Western European countries becoming supreme powers of the world in nineteenth century, European view of civilization as a world discourse became a standard to measure all societies in the world, which divided the world into three parts of the civilized, the semi-civilized, and the barbarian. In this view, Europe was on the top ladder of civilization and the white man was of superiority over other race. Thus the concept of civilization became a European ideology, and under this circumstance it diffused to China. The word civilization was translated into Chinese word Wenming in Japan and introduced into China in late Qing dynasty, thus the original meaning of Weniming was replaced by that of civilization in China, as a new concept in an old framework. Intellectuals and officers who involving foreign affairs of late Qing dynasty, who seeking a reform to Qing dynasty under the influence of the civilized standard of international law and the demonstration of Meiji Restoration of Japan, were active agents to introduce this new idea of civilization into China.

Full Text in Chinese