The Chinese People’s “Great Geographical Discovery”
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The modern Chinese language uses 文化 (wenhua) as a term that corresponds to the Western notion of “culture,” and 文明 (wenming) as the term that corresponds to “civilization.” Despite their foreign origins, both 文化 (wenhua) and 文明 (wenming) are terms that convey notions of profound significance. The notions inscribed in wenhua and wenming—terms that have been widely adopted by today’s Chinese—are very different from notions expressed by terms relating to “culture” in ancient China. This fact points to semantic change that took place in the second half of the nineteenth century when Chinese writers of that time translated these two important, modern Western concepts, “civilization” and “culture”. To say so amounts to saying a few introductory words about the “great geographical discovery” of the nineteenth century Chinese. Doing this will help readers to understand the changes that occurred with respect to these two concepts and to trace their origins.