Translation and Modernization in East Asia

Principal Investigator

  • Lawrence Wang-chi WONG (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Co-Principal Investigator

  • Uganda Sze-pui KWAN (Nanyang Technological University)


  • Iwo Amelung (Goethe University Frankfurt)
  • Natascha Gentz (The University of Edinburgh)
  • Joshua Fogel (York University)
  • Huang Ko-wu, Max (Academia Sinica)
  • Theodore Huters (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
  • Peter Kornicki (University of Cambridge)
  • Joachim Kurtz (Heidelberg University)
  • Zou Zhenhuan (Fudan University)

Programme Duration


The present research programme studies the role played by translation in the modernization of the three major East Asian countries, China, Japan and Korea, in the 19th and early 20th century.

In the 19th century, the West undeniably represented the modern. Accordingly, modernization in East Asian countries was, in the main, a process of learning from, and even imitating the West. Translation played a crucial role in this process, as it was necessary to import Western ideas, knowledge, concepts and practices. However, the lack of research on the role played by translation has been a major weakness in our understanding of the history of modernization in the East. For example, to learn what was considered important for modernization, we need to ask such questions as why were certain works chosen for translation? We also need to examine how certain Western works were adapted or modified in the translation process to ascertain the attitude and stance of the East Asian countries towards Western ideas and concepts. We also need to look into such issues as who the initiators of translation were (to identify the forces of modernization), who the actual translators were (to understand the background of those people who brought in Western ideas), how the translations were received in these countries (to establish the effectiveness of the modernization process), and how the introduction of the new ideas through translation affected the process of modernization.


  • Focused Investment Scheme, Scheme C, CUHK
  • RCT Research Programme Fund, CUHK