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George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville, Tennessee
The cumbersome terminology developed i n f ml l y by
h i c a l teachers and workers i n China has been replaced
y a systematic nomenclature, for the most part ofi&lly
dopted by the Ministry of Education. The Chinese char-
cters now used for chemical ttrms are a minimum num-
er for each, are descriptive m.th few exceptions, and are
+a1 i n the naming of related substames. The former
tethod of imitation of sounds f r m other languages i s
bandoned mcept for rare objects and the proper names of
+ + + + + +
LTHOUGH modern chemistry has been studied
and practiced in China for more than half a
century, a sound, stable, and e5cient Chinese
hemical nomenclature has hardly yet been established.
for many years Chiiese chemical terms were all ob-
ained through imitation of the sounds of English
m s . This system not only required too many
!hinese characters, but produced imitated syllables
rhich did not indicate to the Chinese mind any proper-
ies of the substances they represented.
The inconveniences and disadvantages of this type
f nomenclature were seen by the early teachers and
~ioneer workers in chemistry in China; hence a new
ystem was gradually developed. In the year 1915 the
Xinistry df Education appointed a Committee of
levision, and some years later their recommendations
oncerning a comprehensive list of terms were officially
dopted. New needs for terminology constantly arise,
however, and new texts and published works add to the
hemical nomenclature.
Although a few pamphlets and bulletins on Chinese
hemical terms have been published in China, to the
Vestern world the Chinese system is practically un-
=own. Prof. Adolph's brief account1 of the diicul-
ies of a foreign teacher of chemistry in a Chinese uni-
wsity is the most recent discussion of the problem in
he English language. The main object of this paper
E to explain to English-speaking people some represen-
ative principles underlying Chinese chemical terms
ccording to the usage in approximately thirty Chiiese
1. All chemical terms shall be represented by as few
Chinese characters as possible.
2. The Chinese terms shall indicate something
about the classification, properties, or usage of the
objects they represent.
3. The method of imitation of sounds from other
languages shall be abandoned, except for rare objects
and the proper names of foreign scientists.
4. There shall be a logical, systematic, organized
plan for the naming of related substances (such as
homologous series).
Whatever p r o p s has been made in the develop-
ment of chemical science in China during recent years
is due to the wide acceptance of these principles by
chemical teachers and workers.
I t is natural that the names of certain elements known
from ancient times should be retained as common
names. A few of these are shown in Table 1, Section A.
In the modem simplified nomenclature one Chiiese
character is assigned to each element; this is a com-
pound character in two parts: (1) a symbol, one of
four, classifying the element as of the "metal," "gas,"
A. Lom-known Elements
carbon 2% gold &
sulfur %w
zinc . 1EF
B. kbdern Names of Elements
Metsl ( & ) group: antimony ; bismth
meta1:"ti"- metel: "bi"
Gas ( 5 ) group: fluorine ; hydmaan a
p l s : fu @s:l i @t
Stone (;f; ) group: carbon stone:charcoal 3 ; iodine z*
stone: " d i d
Water ( 5 ) group: brodne 7 .
extbooks, a few dictionaries, and numerous catalogs
md price lists of chemical apparatus and supplies.
- C. -- Elements as hymen ~ e a d Then
- - . .
boron /baA "stone o? the ; iodine ?? 'stone of the
friend lam"
The fundamentals of the new Chinese chemical
anti- , I $& "metel of the ; caleim &5 "metal O; the
~omenclature mav be summarized as follows:
mony y owe r brother" begs?
~ O L P H . WILL& HENRY. "Synthesizing a chemical ter- radon "@a 0;. the ; brai ne iji "natsr o!
ninolorr in China," J. CHBM. EDUC., 4, 1233-9 (Oct., 1927).
east stench
# <
stone," or "water" groups; (2) an imitation of the
sound of one syllable in the English or Latin name of
the element, or a single briefly descriptive word.
There are 69 elements of the "metal" group, 11 of the
gas" group, 9 of the "stone" group, and 1 of the
"water" group. The Chinese names of the two ele-
ments most recently discovered-virginium and ala-
bamine--have not been adopted officially. Repre-
sentative elements of each group are shown in Table 1,
Section B.
Even as his contemporaries in other lands, the
Chinese layman is likely to find chemical terms dis-
tinctly mystifying. Few of the names of elements
are to be found in the dictionary. Most of the Chinese
characters are compounded, and the meanings are
usually-though not always-derived from the mean-
ings of the parts. The "group names" are recognized
by any Chinese reader, but the imitation of an English
sound may bring in a most incongruous-and wholly
unintended-meaning. A few of these names with
literal translations as they would appear to the Chinese
"man in the street" are given in Table 1, Section C.
As in other languages, the Chinese names of com-
pounds fall into two groups: (1) common names, usu-
ally descriptive, and often of great antiquity (Table
2, Section A); (2) technical names, which should be
lime 'stone ashes' BqSi04 ,&& 'silicon acid'
C. ~ h s Comraoti~e A&
- --
'% & #lJ *t o cha@e by uniting subatanoea'
h a ho "0
D. Simple b r p n i o Ssl t s
- E. Inoresnic
,= ,z
CuO $I. 4& &!g .oxygen of NaOH RA~~Lhydropn- oxygen
coppers of sodium'
"18 (t& "",,fur of KOA %%%&y 'hy$yyry$en
NaCl @, "chlorine of N%~~~~f @"hgdr mw- oqe n
sodium of Gmonium
KI &?a 57 'icdim of ~a(~)&?~<~8~hydro~en:o~gen
pt as s i m" of cslo~urn
consistent with a systematic nomenclature by which
every compound may be designated.
The technical names of inorganic chemical com-
pounds in Chinese symbols fall into two groups: (a)
the acids; (b) the salts and bases.
The acids are named by adding the character which is
translated "acid" to that character which represents
the most significant element of the acid. "Sulfur
acid," "silicon acid" are typical literal translations.
Certain of these are shown in Table 2, Section B.
The inorganic salts are written with three char-
acters: (a) the negative element; (b) a connecting
symbol, pronounced hwa, the first of hwa ho wo mean-
ing "to change by uniting substances" (see Table 2,
Section C); (c) the positive element. This order is
never varied, and-it may be observed-is opposite
to the English system of naming the metal first, al-
though a similarity to non-technical usage (as "sulfate
of iron," "chlorate of potash) is to be noted. A
series of salts is shown in Table 2, Section D.
The bases are named according to the same plan,
except that the two characters for hydrogen and
oxygen precede the connecting symbol hwa. Certain
bases is shown in Table 2, Section E.
In cases where it is necessary to distinguish between
those related salts in which higher and lower valences
of the metal influence the formula numerals are placed
before the names of the negative radicals. Section F
of Table 2 shows the Chinese numerals from 1 to 10
inclusive, and Section G presents a few characteristic
chemicals to which this plan applies.
The names of oxygen acids include characters to
imply "less" and "more," equivalent to similar prefixes
in English nomenclature. These always precede in the
sequence of characters. Table 2, Section H, makes
this plain.
The salts of oxygen acids are named by combining the
necessary characters, buteliiinatingtheconnecting hwa.
No practical system of writing equations using these
characters has been devised by Chinese chemists.
The characters are names, not symbols. The chemical
symbols employed throughout the world have been
adopted by Chmese authors and publishers, and the
equations in a Chinese text-ven including the Arabic
numerals involved-would be wholly familiar to a
chemist of any nationality.
As is characteristic of other languages, the common
names of familiar organic compounds are somewhat
This is shown in Table 3, Section A.
The technical names for organic compounds are still
under development in China. No official list has been
adopted by the Committee on Scientific Terms. Re-
cent texts, however, are using a systematic nomenclature,
certain principles of which may be illustrated briefly.
The Hydrocarbons
All names of hydrocarbons contain the character
huo, meaning "fire." To this the character wan,
meaning "complete," is added, implying saturation of
the $arafins. The combination of these two char-
acters form one new character. An unsaturated hydro-
carbon is a similarly combined new character com-
posed of huo ("he") and hsi, meaning "scarce," im-
plying the deficiency of hydrogen in the olefins. The
acetvlenes are named as huo ("fire") and ch'ueh meaning
"laiking" in a more prono&ceddegree of emphasis.
These characters are shown in Table 3, Section B.
A member of a hydrocarbon series is not adequately
designated until the number of carbons in its chain is
these derivatives ;'team.pufling.three.in-a-chariot fire-
known. In Chinese writings "The Ten Astronomical wheels."
Stems" are much used to show sequences, grades, and
Certain cyclic and aromatic compounds are shown in
the like.* These ten signs are used to number the
~ ~ b l ~ 4, sections A and B.
carbon atoms in a hydrocarbon chain. The ten signs
are given in Table 3, Section C, and their applications
Cvc~rc arm AaoYarIc Colasoon~s
are shown in Section D.
The position of a double or triple bond is indicated
a kLk km!.?&
B. The drolintic
- --
by a small superior Arabic numeral at the right of the
x g &
character. 'fire' 'ring' 'eyelie'
x 4%- R&
' fi re* 'wheel" "benzene"
Oxygen Derivatives of the Hydrocarbons
$ &
Alcohols are indicated by the long-established Chimese R2 @ 0 "s i wl e fire-wheel'
characters meaning "strong wine"; the "ten astronomi-
3d fire-ringm(cycloprow)
* Their most common use is in connection with the Chinese
calendar, in which the ten stems are combined with twelve names
of animals to give a cycle of sixty years. Beginning every sixty-
first year the combined names are repeated in the same order.
Most of the year 1933 is included in "the tenth chicken year."
cal stems" designate the number of carbons. The
names of aldehydes are made up of an "astronomical
stem," the "wine" character, and a character referring
to the fragrance of a wild weed. The names of ketones
possess the "astronomical stem." the "wine" character,
and a character pronounced in imitation of the "-tone"
syllable. Aliphutic acids utilize an "astronomical
stem" and the symbol already accepted for the inorganic
Ethers add to the "wine" character another, meaning
"to be unconscious." Esters add "salt" to the wine,
or the individual esters are named by adding together
the characters representing the acid, and the hydro-
carbon portion of the alcohol radical. Acid anhydrides
add the character meaning "dried" to the characters
that represent the acids. For the number of carbon
atoms the "ten astronomical stems" still serve. Ex-
amples of these compounds are given in Table 3. Sec-
tion E.
The Aromatic Comfiounds
The Chinese have made an important distinction
between "ring compounds" and "wheel compounds."
In the Chinese sense, any closed chain may be called a
"ring," regardless of its shape, but a "wheel" must be a
closed chain that approaches roundness. From their
point of view a three-point, enclosed figure is a tri-
angular ring, a four-point figure a square ring, a five-
point figure a star ring, but a six-point figure is a wheel.
The radicals huo ("fire") and hwan ("ring") following
the proper "astronomical stem" indicate the cyclic
compounds; the radicals hw, ("fire") and lun ("wheel")
are present in the name of aSl the true aromatic deriva-
Benzene itself is "a single fire wheel" when con-
sidered as a nucleus. The characters for naphthalae,
literally translated, mean "the team-of-two-horses
fire-wheel." The side-by-side position is definitely
implied by the characters. Anthracene's characters
are derived from the three riders in ancient war char-
iots--one to drive, one to fight, one to defend. The
"horse" character is a part of the compound, and we
are not straining the literal translation in caU'mz
CHEMICAL APPARATUS liquids, the name remained. The names of soecial
Most of the chemical equipment now used in the
laboratories of Chinese schools and industries is manu-
factured in China. Many items are the same as those
used in the homes and factories, and naturally are
known by their common names. For other forms of
apparatus first introduced from abroad three methods
of naming have developed: (a) substitution, (b) direct
translation, (6) descriptive translation.
_B w. ( a) bushel
; (b) leaklrg bvshel
C. Old llama* for U m hns . (a) cruoi bl s *%@ .earthen resssl
$a 'iron allk mt ' ; ( e) rubber tubs Hl j ~q 'rubber-tree ski n
The substitution of older names of practical objects
long used in China, instead of an attempted transla-
tion, is very common. For example, a balance is
called a "heaven level" because of the leveling of an arm
in weighing, and the inference that the instrument's ac-
curacy makes its determinations acceptable in heaven.
An analytical balance is a "changing substance heaven
level"; a specific gravity balance a "comparing heavi-
ness heaven level." These names are shown in Table 5,
Section A.
In a similar logic a funnel is called "a leaking bushel,"
because a wooden device, four-sided, with large boitom
and smaller open top, used for measuring grains, was
reversed to pour them into narrow-mouthed sacks.
Soon after its invention the "leaking bushel" found its
way into the wine, soy-bean oil, and vinegar industries,
and although the construction was modified to handle
- .
funnels used in chemical manipulations are given in
Table 5, Section B.
Certain other chemical apparatus to which the old
names have been applied are presented in Table 5,
Section C.
Many items of chemical apparatus were unfamiliar
to the Chinese, and almost literal translations were
made in naming them. As a rule they resemble but
slightly, if at all, common objects used in the homes of
China. Certain of these names are given in Table 5,
Section D.
For a very large number of the unfamiliar items
used in chemical laboratories the Chinese adopted
names which were distinctly descriptive-a valuable
principle in nomenclature. Their ideas of what the
apparatus resembled was in many instances quite
different from the notions of the western world. Some
interesting modified translations of this nature are
given in Table 5, Section E.
The nomenclature of a science must not only provide
for its objects, but its ideas as well. There is a large
group of principles in chemistry, many of which must
be taught clearly before the science may be understood.
The task of translating the terms by which chemical
laws are expressed has been particularly difiicult for
the Chinese. To begin with, the English term has its
limitations in clearly expressing what is meant. Then
the established meanings of the Chinese characters
available must be considered. Since the Chinese
language is built upon an entirely different set of con-
cepts from the English language, it sometimes appears
impossible to express the true meaning of an English
scientific word in a limited number of Chinese char-
acters. The best translations may be only approxima-
tions of the original meanings.
About forty terms representing chemical relation-
ships and principles (as contrasted with actual com-
pounds) were listed by the Ministry of Education of
Chma in 1932 as a minimum number of important
characters to be understood by students of high-school
chemistry. St i i other terms might he added because
of their high frequency of use in modern Chinese text-
books of high-school chemistry. Selected examples
are presented in Table 6, Section A.
In no scholarly translation may liberties be taken
with proper names. When the characters permi-as
between the nations using the Roman alphabet-there
is little trouble in typography, although much in
pronunciation. Chinese and Roman characters used
for printing have nothing whatever in common, and
the differences in application to the printed page are
nowhere modified by bonds of resemblance. I n the
field of personal names there are even additional handi-
caps to translation due to the systems involved.
There are only a small number-approximately
me hundred-"family names" (surnames) used in
a, and the characters representing them are con-
lequently very familiar. No imitated sound of a for-
Tm NI- 0s Wmo P L B s AND MBN
8. hmrtant Pr i nc t Js s (a) atom)z ""oripiml prt i cl s ' ;
:igner's name appears to a Chinese reader as a true
?roper name unless it resembles one of the Chinese
'amily names.
All Chinese names have definite meanings, and the
3election of a given name for a chid is made with
peat care according to principles which a foreigner
vould hardly understand. The family and given names
:oupled together have a real significance to the Chinese.
[n contrast, the given names of the western world are
selected by the preference of parents, and together
with the family name have long ago lost any significance
they may have had. The Chinese characters for a
full name are never more than four in number, whereas
the full name of an American or European may be
many syllables in length.
In translating the names of chemists into Chinese,
only the sounds of their last names are imitated. One,
and often two, Chinese characters are required to
Dresent each syllable as the s~oken name sounds to the
'Chinese ear. - A list of ceitain chemists frequently
mentioned in the Chinese textbooks is given in Table 6,
Section B.
Although each Chinese character (selected merely
because when spoken it resembles a portion of the
foreign name) has its own meaning, the sequence of
these characters usually forms a set of mere "nonsense
syllables" to which the Chinese student probably re-
marks, "What an odd name." At times, however,
the syllables as spoken will have an accidental meaning
in Chinese. The name of the Frenchman, Charles
(1746-1823), as pronounced Ch'a Li in Chinese, means
"search for truth."
Not all chemists are so fortunate when their names
are spoken for Chinese ears to hear. The three syl-
lables that represent Lavoisier (1743-94, founder of
modem chemistry) are first understood by the Chinese
layman as follows: &-"to drag;" wa-"a tile;"
hsi-" tin;" that is, "to drag a tin tile." A very rough
translation of the French is probably "one who lives
in the neighborhood." The whole matter revives the
ancient question, "Is there anything in a name?"
The Town Residence of Cavendish, at the Corner of Gower Street and
Montague Place, near the British Museum
Many of Cavendish's mearches on air and water were carried
ont in this house, whose furnishings were reported, by the few for-
tunate~ who gained access during his lifetime, to consist chiefly
of books and apparatus. The house is now used for office pur-
poses, but its historical significance is recalled by a tablet set in
the outside wall.
(Contributed by Rabh E. Ocrpcr)