When Dialectica and Logica Travelled East

An Early Modern Chinese Translation of ‘Logic’ in Mingli tan


  • XU Zhemeng KU Leuven, Belgium




mingli, Aristotelian logic, Chinese philosophy, intercultural, translation history, history of concepts


Mingli tan 名理探 (Investigation of Name-Patterns) is the first Chinese work dedicated to introducing Aristotelian logic. It was largely forgotten after being published in the 1630s, only rediscovered more than two centuries later, and then considered by modern academia more or less a failed project. However, through the lens of mingli, the key term to translate ‘logic’ in the book, this paper argues that despite the scarce readership and influence of Mingli tan, its translation practice should not be deemed as a failure. Instead, it is a work that reveals how translators can intervene with conceptual paradigms creatively and meaningfully. This paper provides a thorough examination of mingli, a culturally loaded term, by contextualizing it in the late Ming (1582‒1644), a time of significant Sino-European cultural contacts. In doing so, it sheds light on the neglected philosophical value carried by the term through translation, and highlights the translator—Li Zhizao李之藻 (1565‒1630)—and his pioneering effort in infusing it with a novel Aristotelian and Christian sense. Mingli is also examined in the broader intellectual history. Through an investigation into its traces in later Chinese translations of ‘logic’ starting from the 19th century until the 1980s, this study reveals a line of changes in the Chinese reception of logic suggested by the shift from the use of mingli to the phonetic translation luoji 逻辑 to denote logic, indicating that mingli can serve as a meaningful clue to track the transition of Chinese thought from traditional to modern paradigms.


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6. 05. 2024



Translating and Transreading between China and the West

How to Cite

Xu, Zhemeng. 2024. “When Dialectica and Logica Travelled East: An Early Modern Chinese Translation of ‘Logic’ in Mingli Tan”. Asian Studies 12 (2): 63-92. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2024.12.2.63-92.

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