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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Yen Fu’s Understanding of The Wealth of Nations

Vol. 29 No. 1   6/1999  


Yen Fu’s Understanding of The Wealth of Nations


Cheng-chung Lai









Key words

Adam Smith, Yen Fu, Chinese translation of The Wealth of Nations (1776)


      Adam Smith’s The wealth of Nations was translated into Chinese by Yen Fu in 1897 and published in 1902. Yen Fu wrote 310 copious translator’s notes, which count about 60,000 Chinese words. I select some representative samples from these 310 notes to show the particularities of Yen Fu’s understanding of this famous book. Some of Yen Fu’s notes are quite opinionated; they are helpful for Chinese readers to see Yen Fu’s own economic ideas. Some other notes also show that Yen Fu misunderstood Smith’s arguments either by way of misreading or due to his insufficient knowledge in political economy. A major imperfection is that he omitted some essential concepts of Smith’ an economics, such as the notion of “self-interest”, the “invisible hand theorem” and the “diamond-water paradox”. It is argued that Yen Fu’s reading emphasized more on the aspect of “wealth of nations”, and considered that theoretical economic analysis are less relevant to Chinese readers.



Author: Cheng-chung Lai
Genre: Article
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