Daniel Leese

Preface to the English Edition

In an article on the development of encyclopedias in China published in the Journal of World History in 1966, German Sinologist Wolfgang Bauer (1930-1997) characterized the fundamental aim of encyclopedic writing as transmitting a "sphere of knowledge" defined by a group of specialists for the purpose of general education. Within the Chinese tradition, encyclopedias have occupied a most important position and were often compiled on imperial command. It was especially during the Song and Qing dynasties that works of truly awe-inspiring scope were created, such as the Taiping Yulan or the Gujin tushu jicheng . Yet, besides the organizational brilliance and meticulous scholarship displayed in these works, Bauer considered the predominance of encyclopedic writing in China after the 10th century as indicative of the highly conservative and dogmatic character of Neo-Confucianism, which no longer strove for new and challenging interpretations but for the perpetuation of "the values of antiquity." Although many of these works came to serve for the imperial civil-service examinations, they were primarily directed at ordering and preserving a generally accepted cosmos of knowledge and thus contributed to a "deceleration of intellectual development". However, in Bauer's analysis this deceleration is not synonymous with popular 19th-century Western stereotypes which perceived China exclusively in terms of stagnation and decline. Instead Bauer emphasized the necessity of looking beyond the confines of the orthodox writings, which, although useful research tools, present a highly distorted picture of a culture which by no means remained static.

Stagnation and decline probably present the very antithesis to what is nowadays generally perceived as the course of development of (especially mainland) China since 1978. Change has become the only continuum in China for the past three decades, and it is probably thanks to this development that those scholarly works attempting a comprehensive overview of modern China have by and large focused on specific topics such as religion, literature, or Chinese overseas. It was during the mid-1970s - i. e. at a time when, after thirty years of continual changes of policy, Communist China tried to preserve the revolutionary vigor but the late Mao Zedong's mass campaigns increasingly resulted in political in-fighting and stasis - that the first few handbooks and encyclopedias on modern China were published in the West. Among these was the German precursor to this volume, the China-Handbuch, published in 1974. Yet with the advent of Deng Xiaoping's politics of economic reform after the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Party Congress in December 1978 and the following end of the Maoist model of autarchic development, the boundaries of what had previously been considered "generally accepted knowledge" about China shifted again.

In the wake of ever-increasing world-wide political and especially economic interaction, the need for an authoritative reference work providing both easy accessible and thoroughly researched information on modern China and its unique transition process has become more and more pronounced. The present volume owes its existence to this background. The German edition of Das Grosse China-Lexikon was among the first attempts to close the gap of comprehensive information on modern China. Published in 2003 so as to provide the German public with a reference work on the historical background and present political and economic situation of China, it was immediately received with great appreciation and has since then become an indispensable tool for research and information not only about mainland China but also about Greater China. Based on the success of the German edition and the lack of a comparable work on the Anglo-American book market, Brill decided to publish a translation of the China-Lexikon for the English-speaking public.

It has been the publisher's decision to opt for a faithful translation of the German edition. Thus it was clear from the outset that Brill's Encyclopedia of China, just like the German original, would primarily be aimed at offering solid and well-documented background information on a wide range of topics regarding Chinese politics, law, economics, culture, and history. Changes regarding content or the respective length of the articles were therefore beyond the scope of this project. Only one article has been written specifically for this edition (Economic Law). Most of the articles of the original edition having been written between 1997 and 2002, they reflect the status of "generally accepted knowledge" at that time. Yet in view of the enormous changes which have taken place in China even within the last five years, a limited number of about 40 articles have been updated by the authors themselves. On the other hand, in a number of cases and for a number of reasons several authors were unable to revise their entries, which have therefore either been kept in their original form, or a short editorial note has been added to reflect recent changes. Another 50 articles offering a first introduction to the various Chinese provinces, directly-controlled municipalities, autonomous regions, and important cities have been updated with regard to statistical numbers. This updating was based on the China Statistical Yearbook 2007; however, not all regional data could be updated in a similar fashion, given that the respective provincial yearbooks were not available. The printed edition is accompanied by an online edition, keeping users well-informed on new insights and developments relating to the vast subject.

The publication of the translation of a German encyclopedia in English comes with a number of difficulties, in particular if accomplished on a tight time schedule. A large share of the plight rested on the translators, who had to cope with some 1200 pages of often highly complicated technical terminology. Florian Schneider rendered incredible services in translating the largest share of the German texts and further acted as back-up language editor. Karin-Irene Eiermann, Klaus Klein, Richard Schaefer, and Laura Stokes equally contributed with their timely translations and thoughtful comments, as did Ursula Wokoeck, and Anthony Vivis. During the final months, Duncan Smart translated numerous sections at short notice and with great speed and expertise and also served as back-up language editor. On the whole, the task of language editing and copy-editing rested with Duncan Freeman and Thomas Gruber, who efficiently and with great sophistication took on the difficult and time-consuming task of checking the consistency of the German and English versions and of rendering typically German expressions and technical terms without proper English equivalent. In doing this they have acted on the maxim that semantic accuracy should take precedence over syntactic elegance. As the project manager, Eveline Kamstra at Brill's coordinated the work-flow between all persons involved and showed admirable patience in dealing with innumerable requests. Her editing of the lemma bibliographies was of great value. She was supported by the Content Management System created by Stipp bv. Further help regarding technical matters was provided by Daan Vernooij. Albert Hoffstädt in close cooperation with the editors and publisher of the German edition (WBG, Darmstadt), kept the whole project on the track. Brunhild Staiger remained the vital link for contact with the authors, and she and her colleagues Hans-Wilm Schütte (courtesy of Volkswagen-Stiftung) and Axel Kapteina in Hamburg provided constant help and support. The color plates in the mid-section, the physical map, and the graphic on the Human Development Index were prepared most professionally by Matthias Scheibner, cartographer at the Institute of Geography at the University of Bremen. The indices of persons and Chinese geographical names were compiled by Ruud de Klerk. Additional help with indexing and assistance in finding up-to-date statistics was provided by Kathrin Messing and Andreas Siegl. Brill's Encyclopedia of China owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all of them.

It is the hope of the editors that Brill's Encyclopedia of China - just like its German predecessor - will turn out to be a valuable reference work for the wider public, for anyone who takes an interest not only in the most recent statistical and political changes themselves but, above all, in the reasons behind them, which may help to understand why and how China has set out on its unique path of development, a path which has come to astonish the world time and again.

Munich, March 2008

Daniel Leese