Wa (Japan)

Wa (Japan)

Japanese ] .

ui Shu

The 636 CE "Sui Shu" 隋書 "Book of Sui" records the history of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) when China was reunified. "Wōguó"/"Wakoku" is entered under "Eastern Barbarians", and said to be located off of Baekje and Silla (see Hogong), two of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

Wa-kuo is situated in the middle of the great ocean southeast of Paekche and Silla, three thousand "li" away by water and land. The people dwell on mountainous islands. [倭國在百濟新羅東南水陸三千里於大海之中依山島而居] During the Wei dynasty, over thirty countries [of Wa-kuo] , each of which boasted a king, held intercourse with China. These barbarians do not know how to measure distance by "li" and estimate it by days. Their domain is five month's journey from east to west, and three months' from north to south; and the sea lies on all sides. The land is high in the east and low in the west. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:28)

In 607 CE, the "Sui Shu" records that "King Tarishihoko" (a mistake for Empress Suiko) sent an envoy, Buddhist monks, and tribute to Emperor Yang. Her official message is quoted using the word "Tiānzǐ" "Son of Heaven; Chinese Emperor".

"The Son of Heaven in the land where the sun rises addresses a letter to the Son of Heaven in the land where the sun sets. We hope you are in good health." When the Emperor saw this letter, he was displeased and told the chief official of foreign affairs that this letter from the barbarians was discourteous, and that such a letter should not again be brought to his attention. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:32)
In 608, the Emperor dispatched Pei Ching as envoy to Wa, and he returned with a Japanese delegation.

The Japanese "Nihongi" (22, tr. Aston 1972 2:136-9) also records these imperial envoys of 607 and 608, but with a differing Sino-Japanese historical perspective. It records more details, such as naming the envoy Imoko Wono no Omi and translator Kuratsukuri no Fukuri, but not the offensive Chinese translation. According to the "Nihongi", when Imoko returned from China, he apologized to Suiko for losing Yang's letter because Korean men "searched me and took it from me." When the Empress received Pei, he presented a proclamation (tr. Aston 1972 2:137-8) contrasting Chinese "Huángdì" "Emperor" with "Wǒwáng" 倭王 "Wa King", "The Emperor [皇帝] greets the Sovereign of Wa [倭王] ." According to the "Nihongi", Suiko gave Pei a different version of the imperial letter, contrasting Japanese "Tennō" "Japanese Emperor" and "Kōtei" 皇帝 "Emperor" (Chinese "tiānhuáng" and "huángdì") instead of using "Son of Heaven".

The Emperor [天皇] of the East respectfully addresses the Emperor [皇帝] of the West. Your Envoy, P'ei Shih-ch'ing, Official Entertainer of the Department of foreign receptions, and his suite, having arrived here, my long-harbored cares were dissolved. This last month of autumn is somewhat chilly. How is Your Majesty? We trust well. We are in our usual health. (tr. Aston 1972 2:139)
Aston quotes the 797 CE "Shoku Nihongi" history that this 607 Japanese mission to China first objected to writing "Wa" with the Chinese character 倭.
"Wono no Imoko, the Envoy who visited China, (proposed to) alter this term into Nippon, but the Sui Emperor ignored his reasons and would not allow it. The term Nippon was first used in the period … 618-626." Another Chinese authority gives 670 as the date when Nippon began to be officially used in China. (1972 2:137-8)

Tang Shu

The custom of writing "Japan" as "Wa" 倭 ended during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). Japanese scribes coined the name "Nihon" or "Nippon" 日本 circa 608-645 and replaced "Wa" 倭 with a more flattering "Wa" 和 "harmony; peace" around 756-757 CE (Carr 1992:6-7). The linguistic change is recorded in two official Tang histories.

The 945 CE "Tang shu" "Book of Tang" 唐書 (199A) has the oldest Chinese reference to "Rìběn" 日本. The "Eastern Barbarian" section lists both "Wakoku" 倭国 and "Nipponkoku" 日本国, giving three explanations: Nippon is an alternate name for Wa, or the Japanese disliked Wakoku because it was "inelegant; coarse" 不雅, or Nippon was once a small part of the old Wakoku.

The 1050 CE "Xin Tang Shu" 新唐書 "New Book of Tang", which has a "Riben" 日本 heading for Japan under the "Eastern Barbarians", gives more details.

Japan in former times was called Wa-nu. It is 24,000 "li" distant from our capital, situated to the southeast of Silla in the middle of the ocean. It is five months' journey to cross Japan from east to west, and a three month's journey from south to north. [日本古倭奴也去京師萬四千里直新羅東南在海中島而居東西五月行南北三月行] (145, tr. Tsunoda 1951:38)
Regarding the change in autonyms, the "Xin Tang Shu" says.
In … 670, an embassy came to the Court [from Japan] to offer congratulations on the conquest of Kogurō. Around this time, the Japanese who had studied Chinese came to dislike the name Wa and changed it to Nippon. According to the words of the (Japanese) envoy himself, that name was chosen because the country was so close to where the sun rises. [後稍習夏音惡倭名更號日本使者自言國近日所出以為名] Some say, (on the other hand), that Japan was a small country which had been subjugated by the Wa, and that the latter took over its name. As this envoy was not truthful, doubt still remains. [或雲日本乃小國為倭所並故冒其號使者不以情故疑焉] [The envoy] was, besides, boastful, and he said that the domains of his country were many thousands of square "li" and extended to the ocean on the south and on the west. In the northeast, he said, the country was bordered by mountain ranges beyond which lay the land of the hairy men. (145, tr. Tsunoda 1951:40)
Subsequent Chinese histories refer to Japan as "Rìběn" 日本 and only mention "Wō" 倭 as an old name.

The word "Wa"

The Japanese endonym "Wa" 倭 "Japan" derives from the Chinese exonym "Wō" 倭 "Japan, Japanese", a Chinese character that had some offensive connotation, possibly "submissive, docile, obedient", "bowing; bent over", or "short person; dwarf".

倭 and 和 characters

The Chinese character 倭 combines the or "human, person" radical and a "wěi" "bend" phonetic. This "wěi" phonetic element depicts "hé" "grain" over "nǚ" "woman", which Bernhard Karlgren (1923:368) semantically analyzes as: "bend down, bent, tortuous, crooked; fall down, throw down, throw away, send away, reject; send out, delegate – to bend like a 女 woman working with the 禾 grain." The oldest written forms of 倭 are in Seal script, and it has not been identified in Bronzeware script or Oracle bone script.

Most characters written with this "wěi" 委 phonetic are pronounced "wei" in Standard Mandarin:

*"wèi" ("Cao Wei" radical) "Cao Wei(one of dynasties of China)"
*"wēi" ("motion" radical) "serpentine; winding, curving" [in "wēiyí" 逶迤 "winding (road, river)"]
*"wěi" ("plant" radical) "wilt; wither"
*"wěi" ("sickness" radical) "atrophy; paralysis; impotence"
*"wěi" ("speech" radical) "shirk; shift blame (onto others)"
*"wèi" ("food" radical) "feed (animals)" The unusual "Wō" 倭 "Japan" pronunciation of this "wěi" 委 phonetic element compares with:
*"wō" ("foot" radical) "strain; sprain (sinew or muscle)"
*"wǒ" ("woman" radical) "beautiful" [in "wǒtuǒ" 婑媠 "beautiful; pretty"] A third pronunciation is found in the reading of the following character:
*"ǎi" ("arrow" radical) "dwarf, short; low; inferior"

Nara period Japanese scholars believed that Chinese character for "Wō" 倭 "Japan", which they used to write "Wa" or "Yamato", was graphically pejorative in denoting 委 "bent down" 亻 "people". Around 757 CE, Japan officially changed its endonym from "Wa" 倭 to "Wa" "harmony; peace; sum; total". This replacement Chinese character "hé" 和 combines a "hé" 禾 "grain" phonetic (also seen in 倭) and the "mouth" radical 口. Carr explains.

Graphic replacement of the 倭 "dwarf Japanese" Chinese logograph became inevitable. Not long after the Japanese began using 倭 to write "Wa" ∼ "Yamato" 'Japan', they realized its 'dwarf; bent back' connotation. In a sense, they had been tricked by Chinese logography; the only written name for 'Japan' was deprecating. The chosen replacement "wa" 和 'harmony; peace' had the same Japanese "wa" pronunciation as 倭 'dwarf', and - most importantly - it was semantically flattering. The notion that Japanese culture is based upon "wa" 和 'harmony' has become an article of faith among Japanese and Japanologists. (1992:6)

In current Japanese usage, "Wa" 倭 "old name for Japan" is a variant Chinese character for "Wa" 和 "Japan", excepting a few historical terms like the Five kings of Wa, "Wakō" (Chinese "Wōkòu" 倭寇 "Japanese pirates"), and "Wamyō Ruijushō" dictionary. In marked contrast, "Wa" 和 is a common adjective in compounds like "Washoku" 和食 "Japanese cuisine", "Wafuku" 和服 "Japanese clothing", "Washitsu" 和室 "Japanese-style room", "Waka" 和歌 "Japanese-style poetry", and "Washi" 和紙 "traditional Japanese paper".


In Chinese, the character 倭 can be pronounced "wēi" "winding", "wǒ" "an ancient hairstyle", or "Wō" "Japan". The first two pronunciations are restricted to Classical Chinese bisyllabic words. "Wēi" 倭 occurs in "wēichí" 倭遲 "winding; sinuous; circuitous; meandering", which has numerous variants including "wēiyí" 逶迤 and 委蛇. The oldest recorded usage of 倭 is the "Shi Jing" (162) description of a "wēichí" 倭遲 "winding; serpentine; tortuous" road; compare (18) using "wēituó" 委佗 "compliant; bending, pliable; graceful". "Wǒ" 倭 occurs in "wǒduòjì " 倭墮髻 "a woman's hairstyle with a bun, popular during the Han Dynasty". The third pronunciation "Wō" 倭 "Japan; Japanese" is more productive than the first two, as evident in Chinese names for "Japanese" things (e.g., "Wōkòu" 倭寇 "Japanese pirates" above) or "dwarf; pygmy" animals.
*"wōqī" 倭漆 "Japanese lacquerware"
*"wōdāo" 倭刀 "Japanese sword"
*"wōguā" 倭瓜 (lit. "Japanese melon") "pumpkin; squash"
*"wōhémǎ" 倭河馬 "pygmy hippopotamus"
*"wōzhū" 倭豬 "pygmy hog"
*"wōhúhóu" 倭狐猴 "dwarf lemur"

Reconstructed pronunciations of "wō" 倭 in Middle Chinese (ca. 6th-10th centuries CE) include "IPA|ˀuâ" (Bernhard Karlgren), "IPA|ˀua" (Zhou Fagao), and "IPA|ˀwa" (Edwin G. Pulleyblank). Reconstructions in Old Chinese (ca. 6th-3rd centuries BCE) include *"IPA|ˀwâ" (Karlgren), *"IPA|ˀwər" (Dong Tonghe), and *"IPA|ˀr" (Zhou).

In Japanese, the Chinese character 倭 has Sinitic "on'yomi" pronunciations of "wa" or "ka" from Chinese "wō" "Japan" and "wǒ" "an ancient hairstyle", or "wi" or "i" from "wēi" "winding; obedient", and native "kun'yomi" pronunciations of "yamato" "Japan" or "shitagau" "obey, obedient". Chinese "wō" 倭 "an old name for Japan" is a loanword in other Sinosphere languages including Korean 왜 "wae" or "wa", Standard Cantonese "wai1" or "wo1", and Taiwanese "e2".


Although the etymological origins of "Wa" remain uncertain, Chinese historical texts recorded an ancient people residing in the Japanese archipelago (perhaps Kyūshū), named something like *"IPA|ˀWâ" or *"IPA|ˀWər" 倭. Carr (1992:9-10) surveys prevalent proposals for "Wa"'s etymology ranging from feasible (transcribing Japanese first-person pronouns "waga" 我が "my; our" and "ware" 我 "I; we; oneself") to shameful (writing Japanese "Wa" as 倭 implying "dwarf barbarians"), and summarizes interpretations for *"IPA|ˀWâ" "Japanese" into variations on two etymologies: "behaviorally 'submissive' or physically 'short'."

The first "submissive; obedient" explanation began with the (121 CE) "Shuowen Jiezi" dictionary. It defines 倭 as "shùnmào" "obedient/submissive/docile appearance", graphically explains the "person; human' radical with a "wěi" 委 "bent" phonetic, and quotes the above "Shi Jing" poem. "Conceivably, when Chinese first met Japanese," Carr (1992:9) suggests "they transcribed "Wa" as *"IPA|ˀWâ" 'bent back' signifying 'compliant' bowing/obeisance. Bowing is noted in early historical references to Japan." Examples include "Respect is shown by squatting" ("Hou Han Shu", tr. Tsunoda 1951:2), and "they either squat or kneel, with both hands on the ground. This is the way they show respect." ("Wei Zhi", tr. Tsunoda 1951:13). Koji Nakayama (linked below) interprets "wēi" 逶 "winding" as "very far away" and euphemistically translates "Wō" 倭 as "separated from the continent."

The second etymology of "wō" 倭 meaning "dwarf; short person" has possible cognates in "ǎi" 矮 "short person; midget, dwarf; low", "wō" 踒 "strain; sprain; bent legs", and "wò" 臥 "lie down; crouch; sit (animals and birds)". Early Chinese dynastic histories refer to a "Zhūrúguó" 侏儒國 "pygmy/dwarf country" located south of Japan, associated with possibly Okinawa Island or the Ryukyu Islands. Carr cites the historical precedence of construing "Wa" as "submissive people" and the "Country of Dwarfs" legend as evidence that the "little people" etymology was a secondary development.


An article by Michael Carr (1992:1) "compares how Oriental and Occidental lexicographers have treated the fact that Japan's first written name was a Chinese "Wō" < *"IPA|ˀWâ" 倭 'short/submissive people' insult." It evaluates 92 dictionary definitions of Chinese "Wō" 倭 to illustrate lexicographical problems with defining racially offensive words. This corpus of monolingual and bilingual Chinese dictionaries includes 29 Chinese-Chinese, 17 Chinese-English, 13 Chinese to other Western Languages, and 33 Chinese-Japanese dictionaries. To analyze how Chinese dictionaries deal with the belittling origins of "Wō", Carr divides definitions into four types, abbreviated with Greek alphabet letters Alpha through Delta.
*Α = "dwarf; Japanese"
*Β = "compliant; Japanese"
*Γ = "derogatory" Japanese"
*Δ = "Japanese"For example, Alpha (A) type includes both overt definitions like "The land of dwarfs; Japan" ("Liushi Han-Ying cidian" 劉氏漢英辭典 [Liu's Chinese-English Dictionary] 1978) and more sophisticated semantic distinctions like "(1) A dwarf. (2) Formerly, used to refer to Japan" ("Lin Yutang's Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage" 1972). Beta (B) "compliant; Japanese" is illustrated by "demütig" [humble; submissive; meek] , "gehorchen" [obey; respond] " ("Praktisches zeichenlexikon chinesisch-deutsch-japanisch" [A Practical Chinese-German-Japanese Character Dictionary] 1983). Gamma (Γ) "type definitions such as "depreciatingly" Japanese" (e.g., "A Beginner's Chinese-English Dictionary of the National Language (Gwoyeu)" 1964) include usage labels such as "derogatory," "disparaging," "offensive," or "contemptuous". Some Γ notations are restricted to subentries like "Wōnú" 倭奴 (in modern usage, derogatively) the Japs" ("Zuixin shiyong Han-Ying cidian" 最新實用和英辭典 [A New Practical Chinese-English Dictionary] 1971). Delta (Δ) "Japanese" is the least informative type of gloss; for instance, "an old name for Japan" ("Xin Han-Ying cidian" 新漢英詞典 [A New Chinese-English Dictionary] 1979).

Carr evaluates these four typologies for defining the Chinese 倭 "bent people" graphic pejoration.

From a theoretical standpoint, A "dwarf" or B "submissive" type definitions are preferable for providing accurate etymological information, even though it may be deemed offensive. It is no transgression for an abridged Chinese dictionary to give a short Δ "Japan" definition, but adding "an old name for" or "archaic" takes no more space than adding a Γ "derogatory" note. A Δ definition avoids offending the Japanese, but misleads the dictionary user in the same way as the "OED2" defining "wetback" and "white trash" without usage labels. (1992:12).

The table below (Carr 1992:31, "Table 8. Overall Comparison of Definitions") summarizes how Chinese dictionaries define "Wō" 倭.

Half of the Western language dictionaries note that Chinese "Wō" 倭 "Japanese" means "little person; dwarf", while most Chinese-Chinese definitions overlook the graphic slur with Δ type "ancient name for Japan" definitions. This explicitly racist A "dwarf" description is found more often in Occidental language dictionaries than in Oriental ones. The historically more accurate, and ethnically less insulting, "subservient; compliant" B type is limited to Chinese-Japanese and Chinese-German dictionaries. The Γ type "derogatory" notation occurs most often among Japanese and European language dictionaries. The least edifying Δ "(old name for) Japan" type definitions are found twice more often in Chinese-Chinese than in Chinese-Japanese dictionaries, and three times more than in Western ones.

Even the modern-day Unicode universal character standard reflects inherent lexicographic problems with this ancient Chinese "Wō" 倭 "Japan" affront. The Unihan (Unified CJK characters) segment of Unicode largely draws definitions from two online dictionary projects, the Chinese CEDICT and Japanese EDICT. The former lists Chinese "wo1" 倭 "Japanese; dwarf", "wokou4" 倭寇 "(in ancient usage) the dwarf-pirates; the Japs", and "wonu2" 倭奴 "(used in ancient times) the Japanese; (in modern usage, derogatively) the Japs". The latter lists Japanese "yamato" 倭 "ancient Japan", "wajin" 倭人 "(an old word for) a Japanese", and "wakou" 倭寇 "Japanese pirates".


*Aston, William G. 1924. "Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697." Charles E. Tuttle reprint 1972.
*Carr, Michael. 1992. "Wa 倭 Wa 和 Lexicography," "International Journal of Lexicography" 5.1:1-30.
*Forke, Alfred, tr. 1907. " [http://books.google.com/books?id=KxoNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP5&dq=lun+heng Lun-hêng, Part 1, Philosophical Essays of Wang Ch'ung] ". Otto Harrassowitz.
*Karlgren, Bernhard. 1923. "Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese". Dover Reprint 1974.
*Nakagawa Masako. 2003. [http://chinajapan.org/articles/15/nakagawa15.45-55.pdf The "Shan-hai ching" and "Wo": A Japanese Connection] , "Sino-Japanese Studies" 15:45-55.
*Tsunoda Ryusaku, tr. 1951. "Japan in the Chinese Dynastic Histories: Later Han Through Ming Dynasties". Goodrich, Carrington C., ed. South Pasadena: P. D. and Ione Perkins.

External links

* [http://www.unicode.org/cgi-bin/GetUnihanData.pl?codepoint=502D Unihan data for U+502D] , Unihan Database entry for 倭
* [http://www2.u-netsurf.ne.jp/~kojin/e-wajinden.html English translation of the "Wei Zhi"] , Koji Nakayama
* [http://gias.snu.ac.kr/wthong/publication/paekche/eng/hi5-3.pdf Queen Himiko as Recorded in the Wei Chronicle] , Wontack Hong
* [http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/theses/available/etd-09022004-124406/unrestricted/13ancientjapaneseandkoreanconnection.pdf The Relatedness between the Origin of Japanese and Korean Ethnicity] , Jaehoon Lee
* [http://home.comcast.net/~winjerd/Gishi.htm The Chronicles of Wa] , Wesley Injerd
* [http://core.ecu.edu/hist/tuckerjo/thirdlec.htm Japan in Chinese and Japanese Historic Accounts] , John A. Tucker
* [http://www.ourorient.com/articles/relations/chinaandjapan.htm The Early Relations between China and Japan] , Jiang Yike
*ja icon [http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~t_tajima/nenpyo-2/ad239s2.htm 「三国志・魏志」巻30 東夷伝・倭人] , Chinese text and Japanese translation of the "Wei Zhi" 魏志 account of "Wa"
*ja icon [http://inoues.net/yamahonpen4.html 邪馬台國研究本編] , Chinese text and Japanese translations of Chinese historical accounts of "Wa"
*ja icon [http://www.ceres.dti.ne.jp/~alex-x/kanseki/menu01.html 日本古代史参考史料漢籍] , Accounts of "Wa" from 15 Chinese histories

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