Distinguished Lecture Series: “Translation and modern Chinese history: from the Chinese translation of the Letter of Credence of the Macartney Mission” by Prof. Lawrence Wong


8 Apr 2015





Undoubtedly, the 1793 Macartney (George Lord Macartney, 1737-1806) Mission plays a significant role in the history of Sino-British relations. Numerous scholars have conducted research on this major historical event, but the translation issues in relation to the event have long been ignored. One of the topics that are worth in-depth exploration concerns the Chinese translation of the letter of credence written by King George III to Emperor Qian Long, which was carried by Macartney. Since it was the information directly addressing Qian Long by the British, it was definitely able to influence his perception of the Mission and even of the UK.

This paper explores some untapped or previously unnoticed historical material – i.e., a Chinese translation of the letter of credence stored in the archives of the British Foreign Ministry – and thoroughly discusses several important issues surrounding the Chinese translation of the King’s Letter of Credence: what the process of translating the letter of credence was, who produced the Chinese translation, what the earliest version of the Chinese translation looked like, how it differed from the “Translated Letter of Credence of the Great Britain” (譯出英吉利國表文) stored in the file of edicts of the Grand Council in the Forbidden City in the past, and what significance lies in the differences. We attempt a more precise and deeper understanding of the Macartney Mission by answering these questions.

Finally, the paper aims to use this case study to demonstrate the important role that translation played in modern Chinese history, and proposes how we can strengthen translation studies on modern Chinese history and promote a more precise and more comprehensive understanding of modern Chinese history.




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