Chinese Translation of Communist Manifesto Unearthed

A Shanghai library discovered a first edition copy of the Chinese translation of The Communist Manifesto, a book of continuing influence in the People’s Republic of China.

The library of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) — China’s oldest institution for the humanities and social sciences — announced recently that it has discovered a first Chinese translation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles’ The Communist Manifesto.

Translated by 29-year-old Chen Wangdao 陳望道 in August of 1920, almost a year before the Communist Party was founded, the book earned recognition for the widespread dissemination of Marxism throughout China in the 20th century.

From 1915-19, Chen studied in Japan and obtained bachelor’s degree in law. During his time at at Waseda University, Toyo University and Chuo University, he came across the Japanese version of The Communist Manifesto, then returned to China and began the translation.

Measuring 18 centimeters long and 12.4 centimeters wide with a photo of Karl Marx on a red cover, the first edition contained a typographical error that printed the Chinese characters for “Communist Party” and “Manifesto” out of order as 共產黨宣言 rather than言宣黨產共.

Originally printing only 1,000 copies of the first edition, the publishing house in Shanghai went on to print 17 more editions. Another notable change would have come in 1949 when the Communist Party implemented simplified Chinese characters, which now read 共产党宣言.

In 2018, an exhibition was held in Shanghai to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the first printing of The Communist Manifesto, as part of an effort led by President Xi Jinping to popularize Marxist theories and Chen’s story. According to China Daily, President Xi has called for CPC members “to conscientiously study Marxist theory and the histories of the Party, New China.”

Though the origin of the book is not clear, the curator of the library said that it was found among publications related to Marxism in China. Citing the name “Youlu” written on brown paper covering, library researchers believe the book to have belonged to the former manager of Commercial Press Wang Yunwi, who went by the nickname.

Jonathan Pyner
Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.


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