East Is East and West Is West:
Did the Twain Ever Meet?
The Declaration of Independence
in China

Frank Li

Geopolitics and geo-economics apart, ideologically the East and the West never met in China. Not before and not now. The dispositions of China, on the one hand, and of the United States and the West European countries, on the other, toward the natural rights of men have never converged. The concept of natural rights has been consistently alien to the Chinese mind. One can hardly argue that the majority of the governing and intellectual elite in China from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day had a basic understanding of the philosophy expounded by the Declaration of Independence, let alone aspired to see it realized. Their philosophical and economic backgrounds shielded them from comprehending and accepting the philosophy embodied in the Declaration of Independence no matter how the document was and is translated.

Yet within that elite, from the mid-nineteenth century until now, a few people have grasped and cherished the ideas of the declaration. Some of those attracted to the declaration were important in shaping the history of twentieth-century China. The history of both the predominant Chinese indifference to the Declaration of Independence and the sporadic, enthusiastic embrace of it shows how difficult transcultural diffusion of ideas and institutions may be.

It was not until the late Qing dynasty (mid-eighteenth century to 1911) that Western natural and social sciences entered China on an appreciable scale. This was not a voluntary act of China but a consequence of the gates of the pompous Middle Kingdom being blown open by yi (Western) warships and the "center of the universe" suffering humiliating defeats at the hands of Western powers and Japan. Then and only then, an important part of the Chinese elite came to know that elsewhere in the world powers much stronger than the Middle Kingdom existed. They decided it was high time for China to learn from the natural sciences of these Western powers so as to turn China into a "strong country." A handful did admire or aspire after the political and social system of the West. But that was it. Nothing of substance came to pass.

Confucian philosophy and the Chinese monarchical system were as incompatible with Western philosophy as fire and water. The emperors and elite found even the natural sciences inimical to Chinese society and their rule. To resolve this dilemma, the enlightened elite proposed the theory that "Chinese learning is the fundamental structure. Western learning is for practical use." The intention behind this sophistry was simple: Use Western learning to strengthen China so that she can successfully defy Western powers, while maintaining the dominance of Confucian philosophy and the Chinese way of government. To achieve this end, "Western learning was gradually introduced into China." 1

The crux of Confucian philosophy is "rite" ( li ) and "benevolence" ( ren ). Rite prescribes the differences between social strata and statuses and the hierarchical obligations attaching to them. Benevolence according to Confucius is filial duty, loyalty to the sovereign, and a commitment never to rebel against authority.

For several thousand years Confucian philosophy urged moral cultivation on the part of the ruler, which, it said, would result in righteous government. It advocated the "rule of sages." According to the Confucian philosopher Mencius, "Only the benevolent may occupy the supreme post." It put forth what it believed to be an integral and logical whole: "Cultivate one's morals, manage the family, rule the country, and bring peace under heaven." Such government lays heavy emphasis on the duty of the ruler toward the ruled. Duty was required, not by law, but by moral obligation. Fulfillment of duty resulted from the ruler's never-ending practice of self-perfection. 2

Fulfillment of duty by a ruler rested on one precondition: Only when political power was in the hands of a few and the majority posed no challenge to the absolute power of the ruler could the ruler be called upon to devote himself to public duty and to manage the country according to rites and with benevolence. This was what Confucius meant when he advocated the rule of rites and opposed the rule of law. According to the Confucian philosophy, law is needed only when fairness and justice have to be judged in conflicts of individual rights and obligations. By practicing benevolence, humanity, and the doctrine of the mean (the ideal of moderation), rulers and subjects would avoid conflict and live in harmony. This was the ideal state. Nothing remotely related to the natural and civil rights of the individual, including the right to be ruled by consent and the right to overthrow a government that abuses its power, was mentioned.

Natural and civil rights were terms that could not be found in the vast sea of Chinese political, social, philosophical, and literary writing. Yet, on rare occasions, the word "freedom" ( ziyou ) was used in poetry and other literary works to denote an unconstrained atmosphere. The word had no political or philosophical connotations. The word "equality" ( pingdeng ) was used only as a Buddhist term to indicate "all creatures were originally without difference" and as a rallying cry when peasants rose in rebellion against their oppressors. Ziyou and pingdeng acquired political meaning only in the late nineteenth century when some Chinese began agitating for liberty and equality.

1901: The American War Proclamation of Independence

A translation of the Declaration of Independence appeared in the first four issues of the Guomin Bao, a monthly journal published in Tokyo in 1901 by Chinese students. 3The translator or translators are unknown. Translations during the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth were mostly done with a foreigner who understood Chinese explaining a text to a Chinese who did not understand the language of the text. The Chinese wrote down what he understood from his foreign colleague. Furthermore, all translations in that period were in wenyan, or classical Chinese, an elegant literary and academic language. Nothing written in the vernacular was deemed presentable to the public, especially to the elite, including the emperor.

In the 1901 translation the word "declaration," instead of being translated as the present-day xuanyan (manifesto), was translated as xiwen (a war proclamation setting forth the purpose of the expedition and enumerating the crimes of the enemy). Translated back into English the title is the American War Proclamation of Independence. The translation says more than the original or later titles in English: the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America and the Declaration of Independence. As far as I can determine, the American War Proclamation of Independence, done in slightly modernized wenyan, was the first published translation. 4For readers unable to read Chinese, I have done the following retranslation into English. (Some portions of the translation are followed by commentary.)

Although the retranslation shows numerous mistakes and omissions in the Chinese translation, the translation remains a milestone marking a brave and noble effort to show the Chinese public a philosophy then unknown and unappreciated in their country. It was part of the ice-breaking, heroic, and sometimes lethal endeavor of many Chinese to introduce into China so-called Western ideas, which in many instances were universal truths and which were much needed in China to take the place of the outdated and reactionary parts of the traditional ones.

The American War Proclamation of Independence

The course of world events is daily advancing, civilization is daily progressing. From now on, the people of our country will be forever freed from the fetters of the politics of another country and will stand among the powers of the earth, for the sake of making complete our nature and the unfettered and equal station bestowed on us by God, cannot but with them. Meaning separation from England and protect our right of independence. According to the reasons of the day, we proclaim to far and near, because we sincerely feel that we do not dare slight world opinion.

In the Chinese translation the passage "cannot but . . . England" is incomprehensible. I decided to translate the phrases as they appear in the Chinese.

The truth of the following points is as clear as day, they should be complied with and nothing should substitute for them.

The original Chinese of "as clear as day" is an idiom: ming ruo guan huo (as clear as looking at a fire).

All countrypersons [my coinage from guo, meaning country or state, and ren, human being] are equal, none of whom are high or low, superior or inferior.

As a result of the use of "countrypersons," a basic concept of the Declaration of Independence, namely, that "all men are created equal," is lost. Such a concept is alien to Chinese philosophy. It is, therefore, understandable that the translator used the word "countrypersons" instead of "men." The Chinese word "countryperson" inadvertently avoids specifying the gender and thus is politically correct in the modern sense.

The word "created" was not translated. The translator might have deemed it too obvious an indication of the Christian God, a concept in conflict with the dominant ruling philosophy, Confucianism. Over the centuries, Confucianism evolved into a philosophical system of its own, worshipping its own founder. It was opposed to all religious worship, including Buddhism.

"High or low, superior or inferior," does not appear in the Declaration of Independence. It was probably an attempt of the translator to emphasize the word "equal," that is, his / her understanding of "equal."

The unseizable rights of the individual are bestowed by Heaven.

The original Chinese is tianfu. It can be translated as "bestowed by heaven" or "endowed by the supernatural." Tian in its traditional Confucian meaning is a supernatural or mystical force with the power to decide men's fate. It can also denote the ultimate celestial being of China's religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. Here it can be understood as a translation of the word "Creator," but it is much less explicit than saying "the Creator" or "God."

Life, liberty, and all interests are rights bestowed by Heaven.

The Chinese translation of "Happiness" here is liyi ("interests"). This seeming mistranslation may reflect the fact that the present-day translation of "happiness," xingfu (xing -- fortunate, lucky; fu -- good fortune, blessing), was probably coined in the early twentieth century.

Jefferson did not rule out the right to acquire, keep, or transfer property championed by John Locke. It is an important and integral part of freedom. An outstanding example was the Chinese people's communes. They were initiated in 1958 and gradually disbanded after the disastrous Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. During their existence, the landowning peasants who existed in the few years following the founding of the People's Republic disappeared. Land ostensibly belonged to the collective peasantry. But the central party and government apparatus were de facto owner of the "collectivized" land. As a result, they were in firm control of the work done by the peasants, the harvests, and even the physical beings of the peasants. This structure relieved the central authorities of any fear of losing power in the countryside. After the economic reforms started in 1978, the communes gradually ceased to exist and agricultural production grew. Land can now be cultivated through contracts with the collective; harvests are no longer controlled by the collective; and the peasants are free to move around the country. But the peasants are still forbidden to own land. The right to acquire, maintain, or transfer land as a symbol and source of freedom has yet to be attained.

Individual rights must be protected. Must have the consent of the people to establish government and give it powers for the sole protection of the people's interest.

The first sentence is a mistranslation of "That to secure these rights." This passage is badly translated and punctuated.

At whatever time when the behavior of the government runs contrary to the above points, the people may make revolution and overthrow the old government, and satisfy their desire for safety and happiness. When their safety and happiness are secured, reorganize power after public discussion and establish a new government. This is also a right of the people.

Although this is a bad translation of the original, it was the first appearance of such an idea in China. The Qing dynasty, the last one, was overthrown in 1911. Before its demise, Chinese emperors for centuries ostensibly ruled by the mandate of heaven and divine right. Dynasties tumbled when they became riddled with corruption and mismanagement. Some were tipped by armed rebellions. But the victor of a rebellion or court intrigue invariably sought the throne of a new dynasty and a new mandate of heaven. No philosopher remotely resembling John Locke appeared to challenge them. No founding person remotely resembling Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or James Madison emerged to serve as a two-term president instead of an emperor. After 1911, it has been consistently "political power comes out of the barrel of the gun."

If after the establishment of a government, the public rises in revolution at the slightest variance with its opinion, and changes take place morning and night like the vacillation of a chess player, it is of course not the way to run a country. There is not a thing under heaven which is free of abuse. Tolerance is valuable. If the abuses are of no great harm to the people, then rather than overthrow the government of the old and exercise power and interest, it would be better to exercise tolerance. If, however, a government insists on its abuses, imposes tyranny, and exercises indiscriminate authority, and places the entire people of a country under autocracy, then it is the greatest right of the people and their heaviest obligation to rise and overthrow it, establish a new government, so as to keep their wish to preserve their right and interest. The privations suffered by Americans are extreme. Since [they made] revolution and [gained] independence, they will never reconcile themselves to continue to suffer under an autocratic polity. This is why the polity of the past has to be changed.

The translation for the English word "evil" in "to suffer, while evils are sufferable" is bi. The Chinese word is not as strongly negative as the English one. Its meaning ranges from fraud to abuse, evil, malpractice, disadvantage, harm, and malady. In this case the translation seems close to "abuse."

The reference to "the polity of the past" suggests that the translator too readily equated the situation of the American revolutionaries with that facing China in his day. Yet, though the natural rights principles mentioned in the Declaration of Independence are universal, the American Revolution should not be identified with the Chinese people's struggle against the corrupt, retrogressive, and tyrannical rule of the emperors and efforts to form a republic. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century Chinese revolution was not a revolution for independence, neither did China have a ready-made Lockean-style government in reserve. After the demise of the Qing dynasty, the enlightened Chinese elite had to design a government suited to the purpose of modernizing China. Many of them then and later intended to do so along Lockean lines, but the men who had guns and money or simply brute force won out.

The British king spared no pains in imposing tyrannical government on us Americans. At his utmost, he was recklessly cruel and despotic. He considered us Americans as meat on the chopping block and fish in the cooking pot. We cite a few facts to the civilized world.

The word in the original document is "candid," in this instance meaning honest, impartial. Substituting "civilized" changes the intention of the drafters of the document.

He has refused his assent to all laws of absolute necessity to the public good.

[He] has procrastinated the date of execution without cause and [his] local officials specially issued urgent decrees to prohibit them, though that country has assented [to certain laws]. After delaying several months the law(s) became dead ones.

Both written and spoken Chinese have many sentences without grammatical subjects. There are several ways of dealing with them in translation. The simplest is to supply a subject, as is done here by adding "he."

The people have refused to easily give up the right of election. [He] has refused to recognize the election right of the people in large places of election. This right is feared by tyrants and corrupt officials and looked upon with great importance by the people.

The "election right of the people" is a mistranslation of the original "right of Representation in the Legislature." The Chinese reader could not and cannot deduce that the mention of "large places of election" (in the original, "large districts of people") actually conveyed a strong desire for the continued westward expansion of America.

The gist of his policy is to fatigue us Americans. He has called together legislatures in places where official documents cannot reach. Furthermore, he has not given advance notice, causing haste when the time came. It is hard to list all of the inconveniences.

The phrase "into compliance with his measures" was not translated, thus leaving out the alleged purpose of the king in fatiguing the colonists.

He has infringed upon people's rights in the legislature, carried on endless debates, and for three or four times dissolved legislatures.

The dissolution of legislatures cannot abolish legislative powers. All exercise powers continue to be retained by the people. He has caused long delay and forbade the election of new legislators. During those times, we Americans were tossed about in the midst of foreign invasion and internal strife: That we did not perish was our luck.

This last sentence does not exist in the original document. It is an interjection of the translator.

He has forbidden the propagation of the population of America, and has henceforth instituted laws forbidding the naturalization of foreigners.

The Chinese here is fanzhi (reproduction). The translator probably misunderstood the meaning of "the population of these States" in the original document. "Population" here means "the act or process of populating." The translator must have understood the word as "the total number of persons inhabiting any district or area." As a result he / she had to use a word such as "reproduction" to make sense, erasing the true meaning of this charge, namely, that the king had interfered with the freedom of immigration to America. The misunderstanding disassociated the second half of this sentence, "and has henceforth instituted laws forbidding the naturalization of foreigners," from the first. The second part of the original charge ("refusing to pass others . . . Lands") was not translated.

He has put many restraints on legislative powers so as to harm the judiciary system.

"Legislative powers" is a mistranslation of the original "Administration of Justice."

He has set on his own authority without public discussion regulations regarding the tenure of judges, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has appointed and sent on his own authority to all parts [of the colonies] officials with the intention of worm-eating the financial resources of us Americans.

The word is du, which appeared in ancient Chinese classics as the name of an insect that eats through wood and clothing. By extension du means people who deplete public funds and property. Du continues to be used in modern Chinese. "To harass our People" was not translated.

He has quartered standing armies among the people without the consent of the legislature.

"In times of peace" was not translated. English common law prohibited keeping a standing army and quartering troops among the people in peacetime. Leaving out "in times of peace" removes the underlying reference to common law. "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power" was not translated. As a result, another reference to English common law, which provides for the subordination of the military to the civil government, was left out. The concept of an independent national army has never been a part of the Chinese philosophy of government. The Chinese armed forces have always sworn allegiance to a monarch, a commander, or a political party. Little wonder that the translator paid scant attention to this charge. Without an independent national army under the rule of law, a Lockean-style government is unimaginable.

He has conferred with legislators of his country and, violating the constitution and on his own authority, exercised control over Americans with laws not permitted by Americans.

The original reads "combined with others." By "others" Jefferson and his colleagues meant the English Parliament.

Quartering large bodies of troops among the people, armed all the time. Though they murder inhabitants, they are not punished.

Preventing us from trading with all countries.

Imposing taxes on his own authority without public discussion.

Depriving us of our rights and benefits of judgment (that is, trial) by jury (that is, joint hearing).

China never had trial by jury. The translator was wrong in equating "jury" ( peishen ) with "joint hearing" ( huishen ). A joint hearing in China was a trial with representatives of relevant yamens (government offices) sitting in judgment.

Transporting the concerned abroad to discriminate or exonerate guilt and offenses.

The word "pretended" is not translated.

He is imposing on the various states arbitrary law, and has abolished the free system in Canada so as to enlarge the boundaries of arbitrary [government].

The phrase "free System of English Laws" was not correctly translated. The original document meant that the English king had instituted a Roman system of law in Quebec in place of the English common law. The original charge did not mention Canada. The extension of the boundaries of Quebec into what later became the Northwest territory of the new United States was a threat to the westward expansion of the United States. This charge augments the seventh charge about westward growth. The Chinese translation cannot convey this idea.

For taking away our rights and interests, abolishing our laws. All fundamental lands of the Americans are occupied by the Americans. Though we have the right of legislation, we cannot decide for ourselves. He said that we Americans willingly entrusted him with our right of legislation, so as to relieve the attack of public opinion.

It is a gross error to translate the word "Charters" into "rights and interests." The focus of these two charges is the British infringement on the charters, laws, forms of government, and legislatures of the colonists.

He has abdicated the colonial government, and has declared that from now on England will no more be a protector of the Americans and has threatened us with troops.

He has plundered our seas, seized our coasts, burned our towns, and killed our people.

The killings and tyranny cannot be found in even the most barbarous countries, but a civilized nation takes the lead and does it. It is thus understandable how hated the brutality and cruelty was. Having done this, his desire is satiated. He then proceeds to attack the American continent with his large armies.

A specious translation. Lacking the knowledge of what happened, the translator went awry.

He has captured our fellow citizens, slaughtered our friends and brethren, and furthermore has forced them to kill each other, so as to induce them to change sides.

He has excited domestic insurrection amongst us. Regardless of men or women, old, young or weak, their chopped-off heads were the only things that counted. He also brought barbarians to invade our frontiers and gave full rein to their merciless hearts.

The charges against the English king were also a list of American values and commitments. They were no less important than the paragraphs on natural rights. Enlightened Chinese intellectuals and revolutionaries at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century found common ground with the American colonists when they read the charges, even though the historical background was vague to them.

Despite the cruelty of oppression, we Americans nevertheless used gentle and modest words to plead for the people and made appeals for the sake of slightly alleviating the utter misery. Though repeated petitions were submitted, they were answered with refusal, and the cruelty of oppression intensified with each passing day. Every action and every nonaction was met with intervention. A free people is thus subjected to the oppression of a monarch. If he can do this, what may he not do?

"A Prince . . . is unfit to be the ruler of a free People" is not translated.

The Chinese of the question is Shi ke ren, shu bu ke ren? It is a phrase used in The Analects of Confucius and echoed in other Chinese classics. 5This is one of many instances in the translation where classical Chinese phrases and quotations are employed. Elegant as it is, the phrase is nevertheless out of place. Modern English / Chinese translators keep away from classical Chinese in general and classical Chinese quotations and phrases in particular to avoid lending a misleading native Chinese ring to the translation or making full comprehension of the translation hard.

We Americans have communicated with Britain and have admonished them. We denounced the behavior of their legislature in not conforming to the limits of its authority, obstructing the propagation of our population. We also used words of benevolence and uprightness in our manifold attempts of persuasion to arouse their conscience. We said that Britain and America are compatriots and that they should conform to the limits of authority. Otherwise, our ties of affection will end, neither of which is in the interest of England. However, they have been utterly deaf and blind. Though we talked till our tongues and lips were parched, we could not change a tiniest bit of their oppressive nature. We therefore cannot but separate ourselves from that country, which is commonly understood by all countries in the world. From now on we hold that country enemies in war, in peace friends. Representatives of the United States of America in the American Congress have nothing to do with Britain. We explicitly declare to the world the items on the left.

The mention of tongues and lips parching is a literal translation of a semiclassical phrase that could also be translated "wore ourselves out in pleading." It continues to be used in elegant writing nowadays. Chinese was written from right to left and from top to bottom. "Items on the left" is therefore equivalent to "the following items."

"Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions" is not translated. This is the third time that the Christian God is mentioned in the original document. In the first two instances, the reference was not translated or translated with a vague word. This time it was simply left out. It has been suggested that "any document calling on God as a witness would technically be a covenant. . . . One could argue . . . that the Declaration of Independence is in fact a covenant." 6Might the translator, aware of the meaning of "covenant" -- the agreement between God and the ancient Israelites, in which God promised to protect them if they kept his law -- have deliberately omitted reference to a concept so alien to Chinese tradition?

"And by Authority of the good People of these Colonies" is not translated.

The United Colonies are a free and independent country.

All obligations of submitting to the British King are totally absolved.

All political connections between the United Colonies and Britain are totally dissolved.

The free and independent country has full powers equal to that of any other major country to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and all other matters that an independent country should do.

Alas! We Americans have long since been unable to enjoy equal rights. Now by relying on divine Providence above and the efforts of compatriots on earth, we have been able to gain our present achievements. As a result, on this great earth there suddenly appeared an independent new United States. Oh, what magnificence! We hope that following generations will forever abide by this covenant and protect our lives, safeguard our property, restore our reputation, and defend the free and independent country that will exist with heaven and earth. We should remember the privations of the past and not forget today's difficulties. All should do his work and none should be derelict. May heaven, earth, ghosts, and supernatural beings be our witness.

The interjection "alas" here is wuhu, a typically classical Chinese exclamation no longer used in writing or conversation. It again illustrates the classical nature of the language used in the translation.

The Chinese for Providence here is hao tian zhi ling (the spirit of heaven). It is not exactly a translation of "Divine Providence," which means God omnisciently directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence. This is the fourth time the translator had to deal with the Christian God, and again he / she tried to equivocate.

"His" (in "his work") is the translation of jue (identical with qi ). It is the collective expression of "his," "her," "its," and "their." The Chinese term inadvertently achieves political correctness.

The last paragraph is couched in beautiful classical Chinese, but it has little to do with the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Nonetheless, it expresses the admiration of the translator and is a powerful call for freedom and independence.

The Declaration of Independence was not the first piece of Western writing translated into Chinese, but it was definitely the first piece of Western writing, in translation or otherwise, to appear in China that pronounced in no uncertain terms the truth that "all men are created equal" and that they possessed "unalienable rights." The American Constitution was translated in the latter half of the nineteenth century. That document dealt with the powers granted by the people to the government. The Declaration of Independence may be considered a preamble of the Constitution, since it laid down the values and commitments of the American people. It is therefore of particular significance that its translation finally appeared in 1901.

1901: Zou Rong and The Revolutionary Army

In 1900 an expedition by eight foreign powers suppressed the nationalist, antiforeign Boxer Rebellion. In the face of this unbearably humiliating defeat, the nationalism of the Han ethnic group, 90 percent of the population, vis-à-vis both foreign forces and the Manchus, the ruling ethnic minority in the Qing dynasty, found an articulate and radical proponent in Zou Rong. Zou studied for a year in Japan in 1902 after China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. He was able to lay his hands on the works of Western philosophers and the Declaration of Independence. As a result, he acquired an understanding of the reciprocal relationship between the government and the governed and the rights of men. However, he unfairly singled out the Manchus as the root cause of all China's ills and woes. In 1903 he wrote a short book The Revolutionary Army. To escape arrest and swift execution by the Qing authorities, he wrote and published his book in the foreign concession area of Shanghai. It was later reprinted several times to satisfy popular demand. We are interested here, not in Zou's racist condemnation of the Manchus, but in his advocacy of Western ideas for the good of China and in the similarity of parts of his book to the Declaration of Independence. 7

I have translated some passages I thought illuminating.

I am glad that my countrymen have met with the powers of the world. I am glad that my countrymen have acquainted themselves with civilized political systems and civilized revolutions. I am glad that my countrymen have acquired Rousseau's The Social Contract, Montesquieu's Defense of the Spirit of the Laws, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, the history of the French revolution, the American War Proclamation of Independence, and other books. Is it not a great fortune for my countrymen to be able to read the translations?

Zou said: "Heavy tea taxes, arbitrary stamp duty, and stationing soldiers among the people without the consent of the legislature were the reasons why Americans argued against the British and finally . . . achieved independence." From his book, we can be sure that the Declaration of Independence had a tremendous impact on the enlightened elite in the early twentieth century. The impact was at least on a par with that of The Social Contract, The Spirit of the Laws, and On Liberty. In practicality, the document probably exceeded those three works. 8

The following are undeniable marks of familiarity with the Declaration of Independence. Zou called upon his countrymen to get rid of the Manchus in order "to reclaim our rights bestowed by Heaven, to regain our freedom which we possessed since birth, and to acquire the happiness of all men are equal." Rights conferred by Heaven and the pursuit of happiness are repeatedly mentioned. He proclaimed "At the time of birth everyone is free, everyone is equal. There is no such thing as emperors and subjects." He admonished readers that only by "conscientiously imitating the American Revolution and independence" could the Chinese make revolution and achieve "independence." He listed twenty-five demands that must be carried out to achieve a new polity, some of which echoed the 1901 translation of the declaration. Among the demands were:

A president, vice-president, and members of the legislature should be freely elected.

All countrypersons are equal regardless of male or female, none of whom are high or low, superior or inferior.

The unseizable rights of the individual are bestowed by Heaven.

Life, liberty, and all interests are rights bestowed by Heaven.

Individual freedom such as speech, thought, and publication may not be infringed upon.

Individual rights must be protected. Must have the consent of the people to establish government and give it powers for the sole protection of the people's interest.

At whatever time when the behavior of the government infringes upon the rights of the people, the people may make revolution and overthrow the old government, and satisfy their desire for safety and happiness. When their safety and happiness are secured, reorganize power after public discussion and establish a new government. This is also a right of the people.

The constitution shall be framed according to the constitution of America with reference to the nature of China.

Laws of self-government shall be enacted according to the laws of self-government of America.

All matters related to the individual, to negotiations, and to the establishment of government offices and delegation of duties shall be handled according to America. 9

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the Republic of China, greatly admired Zou Rong and his book. He distributed The Revolutionary Army among overseas Chinese communities, and it became one of the most influential works during the period of the 1911 revolution. It was estimated that over twenty printings and well over one million copies were sold, which made it the number one best seller among the revolutionary works of that time. 10

"Common Sense" and the Failure of a Democratic Revolution

Like Zou Rong, many a Chinese intellectual was ecstatic over the Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen when the Chinese discovered the documents a century after they came into existence. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was translated in 1903 by a woman under the pen name Xiao Pin and was first published in 1903. In 1907, a Shanghai newspaper serialized it with annotations to every paragraph and item. As a result of the spread of the two declarations and other translations and Chinese essays on Western works, many Chinese came to understand and to accept the concepts that all men are created equal, that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed, and that people have a right to freedom and liberty. Those concepts became powerful weapons in the fight against the Qing monarchy and for the establishment of a democratic republic.

Sun Yat-sen was outstanding among these intellectuals. What he did was representative of how the revolutionaries of his time understood human rights, and it had a powerful impact on the democratic movement. His first essay on human rights was written in English and published in America in 1904. The title was The True Solution of the Chinese Question: An Appeal to the People of the United States. It was translated first into classical wenyan Chinese and later into vernacular baihua Chinese. In it Sun said that after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, China should establish an American-style government, "because you [Americans] are freedom and democracy fighters." Like the Declaration of Independence, his essay enumerated the "crimes" committed by a government, among which were offenses against life, liberty, property, and freedom of speech and assembly. He explained that his Three Principles of the People -- Nationalism (anti-Manchu and China for the Hans), People's Rights (a republican China), and People's Livelihood (equalization of landownership) -- drew on the progressive thoughts of Europe and America. As he put it, "The three great principles have the people as their basis." In 1906 he said that the revolution he led had as its aim: "freedom, liberty and fraternity." 11

The revolutionaries led by Sun assumed once the Qing dynasty was overthrown and an American- and French-style democratic republic was established, the Chinese people would be free of the yoke of feudal monarchy and China would turn into a prosperous and independent country. So in January 1912, when the provisional government of the Republic of China was established, it was modeled after the American political system with a two-house parliament and separation of the three powers. It adopted the first democratic constitution China ever had, with human rights as its base. It proclaimed: "The sovereignty of the Republic of China belongs to all its citizens" and "All people of the Republic of China are equal without difference of ethnicity, class, and religion." It promised freedom of person, property, business, speech, press, assembly, association, communication, residence, and religious belief and the right of petition and the right to vote and to stand for election. 12

Sun's views on human rights and citizen rights changed dramatically during his lifetime. After Yuan Shikai made himself emperor in 1916, Sun believed it was "all because [party members] did not obey my orders." He demanded that all party members follow him absolutely. He proposed to create within his party "premier party members," who would become "founding citizens" with political privileges; "associate party members," who would become "meritorious citizens" with the right to vote and stand for election; and "ordinary party members" with only the right to vote. For a time nonparty members would not be allowed to become full citizens. Following the Soviet example, Sun came to believe that all Chinese must abide by the party line, that government officials must be party members, that the party must be above the state, and that opposition parties must be abolished. In his speech to the Whampoa Military Academy cadets in November 1924, he implored his audience to contribute all their equality and freedom to the party, allowing the party full powers to use it. Only then, he said, would the party's revolution have the hope of success. 13

Sun was disillusioned with the West and its democratic institutions, and toward the end of his life, he mistakenly concluded, "the failure of our revolution was not caused by bureaucrats and military men. It was defeated entirely by two ideologies: liberty and freedom." He concluded "that China was not yet ready for democracy." Yet, till his last breath, Sun had a dream of eventually "returning state power to the people" through a republican constitutional government. 14

The ultimate tragedy of Sun Yat-sen was that he failed to understand why democracy as defined by the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution succeeded in the United States, why China was not ready for that kind of democracy, and what China needed to achieve it. The American Revolution succeeded because the philosophy embodied in those two documents was, as Jefferson put it, the "common sense of the subject" and "harmonizing sentiments of the day." The British colonists, since they had disembarked from the Mayflower in 1620, had lived under governments based on such a philosophy, and their forebears had been fighting for rights and liberties for centuries. 15

No such "common sense" and "harmonizing sentiments" existed among the Chinese at Sun's time. They had been living for millennia under an entirely different philosophy to which human and civil rights and freedom and liberty were completely alien. They too had fought from time to time against their rulers, but not for rights and liberties, only against oppression. The victor invariably became the new monarch of a highly centralized feudal state. If China was not ready for democracy, then it was because her people lacked the Jeffersonian definition of "common sense." Dr. Sun Yat-sen's way of preparing the Chinese people for a constitutional government was definitely not the right one.

The Praiseworthy Yang Zonghan

Yang Zonghan is praiseworthy because he translated into Chinese Carl Becker's book, The Declaration of Independence. The Chinese edition was published in Hong Kong in 1966. Among his other works, Yang, a professor at Hong Kong University, compiled and translated collections of American documents in 1959 and 1964. When the first printing of Yang's Chinese edition of The Declaration of Independence appeared in Hong Kong, Mao Zedong was initiating the calamitous Cultural Revolution, which by 1976 ended with the loss of countless lives, a further depletion of China's pitifully small number of intellectuals, and utter economic ruin. Against this backdrop Yang, who had moved in eminent scholarly circles on the mainland in earlier decades, worked quietly but probably with the belief and foresight that his works would one day come in handy in the country of his birth. He certainly would have been branded a "rightist" and persecuted during the Cultural Revolution had he not gone to Hong Kong in 1950. Instead, he made a priceless contribution to his people, even though they might not realize it for the time being. Yang Zonghan, his beliefs and achievements, should be made known to all who are interested in the meeting of minds between the East and the West. 16

Yang translated Becker's book, using the vernacular baihua Chinese instead of the classical wenyan, making it readily understandable to all. His translation was as close as one could get to the original. Even the two so-called Rough Drafts with their corrections and the report of the Committee of Five with parts omitted and added by Congress were done exactly as in the book. This is a monumental work of historical and enduring significance to the Chinese.

Other Translations

A number of contemporary translations are available in the People's Republic of China. A few of the works are identical, and the others show only minor differences. I am sure that the translators did not do their work while fearing political persecution and that they had no prejudice that might have prompted them to mistranslate the document. The differences are the result of their understanding of the wording of the document and the philosophy embodied in it. I know translators of the First Amendment who nearly two or three decades after completing their translations are still asking people whether their understanding of certain words was correct and their translations suitable. For many translators the nagging anxiety that they might have gotten something wrong in translating an important essay or document such as the Declaration of Independence is perpetual. A translation is never an exact replica of the original. At best it is an accurate interpretation. Few if any deliberately mistranslate out of prejudice or malice, or due to external political pressure. 17

The need to distort a document such as the Declaration of Independence does not arise in Chinese. It can, however, be ignored. A year after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China was at war with the United States in Korea. A mass movement against America was launched in China. A succession of political campaigns followed that were aimed at China's intellectuals, the propertied classes, "class enemies," "counterrevolutionaries," and those in the upper echelons of the Communist party who, Mao deemed, were plotting against him. The entire country was in a pressure cooker for three decades. I doubt if anyone in the People's Republic thought of translating and publishing the Declaration of Independence during those tumultuous years. It would have been a risky undertaking. After the Cultural Revolution came to an end in 1976, many intellectuals thought, talked, and wrote about the West, including its social and political philosophy and system. However, since 1976 there has never been a major undertaking to popularize the principles of the Declaration of Independence. But there have been earlier flurries of interest in the declaration, notably at the turn of the last century. In times of crisis and transition from one regime to another, many Chinese, including major figures such as Sun Yat-sen, have responded to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. At such times, perhaps, East and West may almost touch. Yet it might take a miracle or generations before the philosophy Jefferson wrote into the Declaration of Independence becomes "common sense" and "harmonizing sentiments" among the Chinese.

Frank Li is a senior fellow and senior translator at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing.
I am indebted to Professor Nelson W. Polsby and the Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California at Berkeley; Professor Richard E. Neustadt and the Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Without the years I spent with them and at their institutions, I would not have been able to collect the material I used in this essay and, more important, I would not have understood America and subsequently China as I do now. My wife, Grace, was most helpful in locating and collating data and in offering her great store of knowledge of China's past and present. Without her assistance this essay could not have been written.

1. Ding Weizhi and Cheng Song, Zhong xi ti zhi jian (Between Chinese and Western learning) (Beijing, 1995), 139 - 73, esp. 143- 49; Rong Hong, Xi xue dong jian (Western learning gradually goes to China) (Changsha, 1981).

2. Si shu (The four books): Da xue (The great learning): Kong jing (The text of Confucius) (Changsha, 1992), 2 - 4.

3. Guomin Bao (Tokyo) (nos. 1 - 4, 1901), 1 - 6.

4. Neither Xiong Yuezhi of the Institute of History, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, an expert on late Qing China, nor I have found an earlier translation. Xiong Yuezhi to Frank Li, March 7, 1997 (in Frank Li's possession).

5. Si shu: Lun yu (The Confucian analects): Bayi di san (Book III, Bayi), 78.

6. Donald S. Lutz, "The Declaration of Independence as Part of an American National Compact," Journal of Federalism, 19 (Winter 1989), 58.

7. Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York, 1990), 236 - 37.

8. Zou Rong, Geming jun (The revolutionary army) (Shanghai, c. 1905), 4, 46. Zou used "war proclamation" instead of "declaration" or another word, which shows that he had read the 1901 translation and not an earlier one.

9. Ibid. , 47-50.

10. Spence, Search for Modern China, 237; Xiong Yuezhi, Zhongguo jindai minzhu sixiang shi (History of contemporary Chinese democratic thought) (Shanghai, 1986), 388.

11. Institute of History, Guangdong Province Academy of Social Sciences; Institute of Contemporary History, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and Division of Sun Yat-sen Studies, Department of History, Zhongsan University, comp., Sun Zhongsan quan ji (The complete works of Sun Yat-sen) (Guangzhou, 1981), 243 - 55; Xiong, Zhongguo jindai minzhu sixiang shi, 378.

12. Shao Demen, Zhongguo zhengzhi zhidu shi (History of Chinese political systems) (Changchun, 1988), 298 - 306.

13. Spence, Search for Modern China, 295; Sun Yat-sen, Sun Zhongshan quan ji (The complete works of Sun Yat-sen) (4 vols., Shanghai, 1928), VI, 80 - 81.

14. Sun, Sun Zhongshan quan ji, II, 3 - 5.

15. Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (New York, 1942).

16. Carl L. Becker, Duli xuanyan (The Declaration of Independence), trans. Yang Zonghan (1966; Hong Kong, 1974). On Yang Zonghan, see Wu Xuezhao, Wu Mi yu Chen Yinque (Wu Mi and Chen Yinque) (Beijing, 1996), 144, 39, 78, 52. Yang is little known. The information in the text and the fact that he graduated from Qinghua University in 1920 and at one time headed the Foreign Languages Department of the Normal College in Beijing came to me by word of mouth or from rare books. I would appreciate any other information about him.

17. The following are examples of works containing contemporary translations. The list is far from exhaustive. United States Information Service, ed., Meiguo lishi wenxian xuancui (Living documents of American history) (Hong Kong, 1979); United States Information Service, ed., Meiguo lishi wenxian xuanji (Living documents of American history) (Hong Kong, 1985). This edition updates and supplements the 1979 version. Supplemental portions were translated by the China Translation and Publishing Corporation, Beijing. Wang Delu and Jiang Shihe, eds., Renquan xuanyen (Declaration of human rights) (Beijing, 1989); Dong Yunhu and Liu Wuping, eds., Shije yuefa zonglan (General collection of constitutions and laws on human rights) (Sichuan, 1990); M. D. Peterson, ed., Jie Fei Xun ji (Thomas Jefferson: Writings), trans. Liu Zuochang and Deng Hongfeng (Beijing, 1993); Ruan Zongze, Minzhu zhi hun Jie Fei Xun ( Jefferson, the soul of democracy) (Beijing, 1996); Zhao Yifan, ed., Meiguo de lishi wenxian (American historical documents), trans. Pu Long et al. (Beijing, 1963).