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Wasei-kango (Japanese: 和製漢語, "Japanese-made Chinese words") are those words in the Japanese language composed of Chinese morphemes but invented in Japan rather than borrowed from China. Such terms are generally written using kanji and read according to the on'yomi pronunciations of the characters. While many words belong to the shared Sino-Japanese vocabulary, some kango do not exist in Chinese while others have a substantially different meaning from Chinese; however some words have been borrowed back to Chinese.

Chinese name
Simplified Chinese和制汉语
Traditional Chinese和製漢語
Literal meaningJapanese-made Chinese words
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetHòa chế Hán ngữ
Chữ Hán和製漢語
Korean name
Japanese name

Meiji era[edit]

During the Meiji Restoration, Japanese words were invented en masse to represent western concepts such as revolution (革命, kakumei) or democracy (民主, minshu). Towards the end of the 19th century, many of these terms were re-imported into Chinese. Some consider that as the form of the words entirely resembles that of native Chinese words in most cases, Chinese speakers often fail to recognize that they were actually coined in Japan.[1] However, some scholars argue that many of those terms, which were considered as Wasei-kango by some people, were in fact created by Chinese and Western scholars. During the 19th century, officials from Japan had been purchasing Sino-English dictionaries such as "A Dictionary of the Chinese Language (1822)", "An English and Chinese Vocabulary in Court Dialect (1844)" and "Vocabulary and Handbook of the Chinese Language (1872)" from China in order to absorb Western civilization.[2]


Pre-Meiji period[edit]

Since antiquity, the Japanese have supplemented their native vocabulary, known as yamato kotoba, by borrowing many words from Chinese. After integrating the Chinese words into their vocabulary, they began creating their own kango.

One source of wasei-kango is the reinterpretation of yamato kotoba via on'yomi readings of the characters as opposed to the original kun'yomi. For example, the archaic word for Japan, 日の本 (ひのもと Hinomoto), has become the modern 日本 (にほん Nihon or にっぽん Nippon). Another example is the word for daikon, 大根, which changed from おおね ōne to だいこん daikon. Sometimes, an inversion of the character order is necessary, as in the construction of 立腹 (りっぷく) rippuku from 腹が立つ (はらがたつ) hara ga tatsu, for anger. Terms have also been coined for concepts in Japanese culture such as geisha (芸者), ninja (忍者), or kaishaku (介錯).

Meiji Restoration[edit]

As Western influence began to take hold in Japan during the 19th-century Meiji Restoration, Japanese scholars discovered that they needed new words to translate the concepts imported from Europe. As Natsume Sōseki once wrote in his diary,

law は nature の world に 於る如く human world を govern している

[citation needed]

or in English, "Law governs the human world as the natural world." Eventually, once these European concepts became fully naturalized in the Japanese worldview, it became possible to write the above sentence as it would be in modern Japanese:


Japanese officials and scholars also imported new terms coined by Chinese and Western scholars from Sino-English dictionaries from China. Many of these terms are still commonly being used by both countries nowadays.[2]

Sometimes, existing words were repurposed to translate these new concepts. For example, 世界 was a Classical Chinese Buddhist term which became the modern word for "world", and kagaku (科学, science) was taken from "欽定千叟宴詩". Other words were completely new creations, such as tetsugaku (哲学, philosophy) and denwa (電話, telephone). The majority of wasei-kango were created during this period. Following the Meiji Restoration and the Japanese victory in the First Sino-Japanese War, many of these terms found their way into the modern Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese languages, where they remain today.


Chinese characters Mandarin Chinese Japanese Korean Vietnamese Meaning
革命 gémìng ㄍㄜˊㄇㄧㄥˋ kakumei かくめい hyeongmyeong 혁명 cách mạng/mệnh revolution
民主 mínzhǔ ㄇㄧㄣˊㄓㄨˇ minshu みんしゅ minju 민주 dân chủ democracy
共和國 gònghéguó ㄍㄨㄥˋㄏㄜˊㄍㄨㄛˊ kyōwakoku きょうわこく gonghwaguk 공화국 cộng hòa[a] republic
主義 zhǔyì ㄓㄨˇㄧˋ -shugi しゅぎ juui 주의 chủ nghĩa ideology; -ism
世界 shìjiè ㄕˋㄐㄧㄝˋ sekai せかい segye 세계 thế giới world
國際 guójì ㄍㄨㄛˊㄐㄧˋ kokusai こくさい gukje 국제 quốc tế international
出超 chūchāo ㄔㄨ¯ㄔㄠ¯ shutchō しゅっちょう chulcho 출초 xuất siêu trade surplus
銀行 yínháng ㄧㄣˊㄏㄤˊ ginkō ぎんこう eunhaeng 은행 ngân hàng bank
電話 diànhuà ㄉㄧㄢˋㄏㄨㄚˋ denwa でんわ jeonhwa 전화 điện thoại phone
廣告 guǎnggào ㄍㄨㄤˇㄍㄠˋ kōkoku こうこく gwanggo 광고 quảng cáo advertisement
病院 bìngyuàn ㄅㄧㄥˋㄩㄢˋ byōin びょういん byeong'won 병원 bệnh viện hospital
哲學 zhéxué ㄓㄜˊㄒㄩㄝˊ tetsugaku てつがく cheolhak 철학 triết học philosophy
物理 wùlǐ ㄨˋㄌㄧˇ butsuri ぶつり mulli 물리 vật lí physics
工業 gōngyè ㄍㄨㄥ¯ㄧㄝˋ kōgyō こうぎょう gong'eop 공업 công nghiệp industry

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vietnamese does not use the term cộng hoà quốc 共和國 for republic, but rather Vietnamese uses cộng hoà 共和.


  1. ^ Chung, Karen Steffen (2001). "Chapter 7: Some Returned Loans: Japanese Loanwords in Taiwan Mandarin" (PDF). In McAuley, T.E. (ed.). Language Change in East Asia. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. pp. 161–179. ISBN 0700713778. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b 陳力衛《語詞的漂移:近代以來中日之間的知識互動與共有》,〈學苑〉, 2007-05-29


  • Robert Morrison "A Dictionary of the Chinese Language" (1822): 使徒, 審判, 法律, 醫學, 自然的, 新聞, 精神, 単位, 行為, 言語
  • Samuel Wells Williams "An English and Chinese Vocabulary in Court Dialect" (1844): 內閣, 選舉, 新聞紙, 文法, 領事
  • Walter Henry Medhurst "English and Chinese Dictionary" (1847-1848): 知識, 幹事, 物質, 偶然, 教養, 天主, 小說, 本質
  • Wilhelm Lobscheid "English and Chinese Dictionary, with Punti and Mandarin Pronunciation" (1866-1869): 蛋白質, 銀行, 幻想, 想像, 保險, 文學, 元帥, 原理, 右翼, 法則, 戀愛、讀者
  • Justus Doolittle "Vocabulary and Handbook of the Chinese Language" (1872): 電報, 電池, 光線, 分子, 地質論, 物理, 動力, 光學, 國會, 函數, 微分學