In the 19th century, the English term “literature” and its Chinese equivalent “文学” (wenxue) had their respective connotations and prehistories and did not belong to the same discursive genealogy, although the two concepts later mixed together and have since been inter-translated by scholars. This paper attempts to examine literature as an independent system of representation by analyzing historical materials of English sinology to identify their special meanings in the 19th-century English context. To ensure the wholeness of the examination, this paper divides the collected materials into three categories; annotations in English-Chinese dictionaries, denotations in works with the word “literature” in their titles, and explanations in articles and chapters (of works) with the word “literature” in their titles. Such an examination inevitably involves some key issues related to semantics, history of translation and cross-cultural studies. It is hoped that this study can help further a general understanding of the dissemination history of literature as a concept.



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