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Wanguo gongfa


Subject: International Law
Class-ID: IntLaw 002
Date of first edition: 1864
Compiled by: Rune Svarverud

Bibliographical Data:

Title: Wanguo gongfa 萬國公法
Title translation: (Public Law of Nations)
Author(s): Henry Wheaton (1785-1848)
Author(s) transcribed: Huidun 惠頓
Editor(s): --
Editor(s) transcribed: --
Translator(s): William Alexander Parsons Martin (Ding Weiliang 丁韙良) (1827-1916), assisted by He Shimeng (何師孟), Li Dawen (李大文), Zhang Wei (張煒), and Cao Jingrong (曹景榮). The final manuscript was proofread by Chen Qin (陳欽), Li Changhua (李常華), Fang Junshi (方濬師), and Mao Hongtu (毛鴻圖) appointed by the Zongli Yamen.
Original text(s): Elements of International Law. 6th edition annotated by William Beach Lawrence (Luoensi 羅恩斯) (1800-1881). Boston: Little, Brown, 1855.
Intermediary text(s): --
Imprint: 454 pages in 4 juan
Preface(s): English preface by Martin dated 1864, 3 pages. Chinese preface by Dong Xun (董恂) dated 1864, 3 pages. Chinese preface by Zhang Sigui (張斯桂) dated 1863, 13 pages. Technical information on the translation in Chinese (凡例), 3 pages. Maps and descriptions of the Eastern and Western hemispheres, 2 pages.
Place of publication: Beijing
Publisher: Tongwenguan (同文館)
Printed by: --
Date of publication: 1864
Further edition(s), reprint(s): Reprinted in the series Xixue dacheng (西學大成) (1888, 1895). Reprinted by Shanghai Xinxue shuhui (新學書會) in 1898 with two supplementary texts; Gushi gongfa lunluee(古世公法論略) by Martin and Gongfa zonglun (公法總論) translated by John Fryer. The 1864 edition was reprinted in the Korean Series of Modern Law Texts Han'guk kundae popche saryo ch'ongso (韓國近代法制史料叢書) vol. 1 in 1981.
Location(s): The 1864 edition is generally available in Chinese libraries. Xixue dacheng1888: FAU Erlangen. Xixue dacheng1895: Beijing tushuguan (科 10.5/894). 1898 edition: Shoudu tushuguan (丙二 3435). Korean reprint, Berlin Staatsbibliothek, University of Washington Law Library.


W.A.P. Martin started to translate Wheaton's text as a private initiative in Shanghai in 1862. He had originally intended to translate Emmerich Vattel's The Law of Nations but was advised by John E. Ward, United States Minister to China during the 1860 crisis, to choose Wheaton's text. Martin had been working as Ward's interpreter and took his advice as representing the American government's official view. Wheaton does not pretend to hide national American interests in his work and was thus regarded a better choice for American trade and diplomacy in China. Martin also found Wheaton more up to date and practical as a guide for a first introduction to the Western system of international law in China. Robert Hart, at that time chief assistant to the inspector general of the Chinese Maritime Customs, had earlier translated 24 sections on the rights of legation, chapter 1 of part 3 in Wheaton's text, for the Zongli yamen. When Zongli yamen in spring 1863 requested the American minister in Beijing, Anson Burlingame, for advice regarding a suitable text on international law for translation into Chinese, he also suggested Wheaton. It became at the same time known that Martin was already working on the translation in Shanghai. Martin's unfinished translation was consequently brought before Prince Gong and the Zongli yamen, who appointed four officials (for names see above) to proofread the translation and granted a sum of 500 taels for printing and publication. There was a certain hostility towards Martin's translation among Chinese officials and the imperial sanction for publication was not granted until a case where the text proved to be applicable to resolving a case pertaining to China. The situation was that Prussia has captured three Danish ships off Dagu port outside Tianjin in spring 1864 as prizes of war because of Bismarck's war with Denmark in Europe. Prince Gong maintained that Prussia had no right to capture Danish ships within Chinese maritime jurisdiction. His arguments were based on China's treaty with Prussia and Wheaton's arguments for territorial neutrality in time of war. The case was successfully resolved and Prince Gong won acceptance for the publication of Martin's translation that same year. It is, however, not known whether Martin's translation of Wheaton was later used directly in resolving cases involving international law disputes in China. Wheaton's Elements of International Law was first published in 1836. Martin's translation is based on the 1855 edition of Wheaton's work, which is the 6th edition of Wheaton's text and the first annotated edition by William Beach Lawrence. Martin translated all sections and chapters of Wheaton's text and only omitted extensive and detailed explanatory cases from European international law history. A number of neologisms were coined for essential terms in international law, such as quanli (權利) for 'rights', juwai (局外) for 'neutrality', and wanguo gongfa (萬國公法) for 'international law'. Prince Gong found Martin's language disorderly and difficult to grasp and complained that it would need to be explained in person. Martin's semi-classical style is simple and paraphrastic and will not have posed great linguistic problems for the contemporary literati. The text is not particularly faithful to Wheaton's language of international law and reflects Martin's association with the Natural Law School of international law. But the text will have given its contemporary Chinese readership a fairly accurate introduction to the laws and regulations of Western international law. The first Japanese kambun edition of Martin's translation was published in Kyoto in 1865, and the first partial Japanese translation was published in Tokyo in 1868. Through the Japanese editions Wheaton's text also found its way to Korea and thus secured the influence of Wheaton upon the development of international law in the Far East. Martin's translation was widely distributed in China and is the single most influential work with regard to terminology as well as principles and practice in international law.

Further reference(s): Hsue, Immanuel C.Y., China's Entrance into the Family of Nations: The Diplomatic Phase 1858-1880, Cambridge, Mass., 1960, pp. 125-138. Spence, Jonathan, The China Helpers: Western Advisers in China 1620-1960.London 1969, pp. 129-140. Hughes, E.R., The Invasion of China by the Western World, London, 1968, pp. 104-109. Liu, Lydia, "Legislating the Universal: The Circulation of International Law in the Nineteenth Century", in Liu, Lydia (ed.), Tokens of Exchange: The Problem of Translation in Global Circulation,Durham: Duke University Press 1999, pp. 127-164. Masini, Federico, The Formation of Modern Chinese Lexicon and its Evolution Toward a National Language: The Period from 1840 to 1898,Berkeley, 1993, pp. 46-48. Chiu, Hungdah, "The Development of Chinese International Law Terms and the Problem of Their Translation into English", in Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 27, 1967, pp. 486-491.


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