Hefa Quanyi: More than a Problem of Translation. Linguistic Evidence of Lawfully Limited Rights in China
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This essay addresses the legal meanings of the phrase hefa quanyi (lawful or legitimate rights and interests), an important Chinese legal phrase that is frequently found in many Chinese laws and legal documents, and whose interpretation is claimed by various scholars to affect the alienability of people’s rights. It first challenges the existing translations of the phrase into Italian and English. It secondly delves into its history and etymology, studying the legal meanings that the phrase has had in the various texts of the Constitution of China. It is suggested that hefa quanyi is not the semantic and legal equivalent of Western ‘rights and interests’, but rather that the phrase retains its etymological meaning of ‘power and negatively-connoted profit’. It is further argued that the adjective hefa (lawful) in the phrase is used to impose constraints on the rights and interests that the Chinese people are entitled to.
KeywordsRights and interests Rights in China Limitations to rights Legal semiotics Legal translation
This study is part of a 3-year research project on Chinese legal language that I carried out at the University of Perugia, Italy, under the co-supervision of Professor Deborah Cao (Griffith University, Australia), to whom I am deeply grateful for her generous guidance and advice. An earlier version of the paper was presented at a roundtable at the Institute of History and Philology of the Academia Sinica of Taipei in February 2018 during my stay as a visiting scholar. I would like to thank the participants for their feedback and suggestions. The fund Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Perugia (2015–2018), which enabled me to carry out the project in Chinese legal language is also gratefully acknowledged. A special word of thank goes to Professor Ester Bianchi (University of Perugia) for her treasurable support and confidence.
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