A Collection of Common Phrases in Chinese and English

Josh Stenberg

Ashfield & District Historical Society (NSW) holds a book of which the title page, below, is Huaying tongyu jiquan 華英通語集典 (A Collection of Common Phrases in Chinese and English), printed in the Jiashen year of the Guangxu reign (1884) in Hong Kong, by Wenyu tang 文裕堂.  It is indicated that it is a “revised edition” (重訂). Neither an original of that title or this revised edition have at present been identified in any library.

It is fortunate that there is some knowledge of the copy’s provenance, since the (back?) cover is inscribed “Alf Hughes/From his employer/Quong Tart/City.” Quong Tart (or Moy Quong Tart) was the Anglicised name of a prominent Ashfield citizen (pinyin Mei Guangda 梅光達). At present nothing more is known of Hughes, or why Mei would present him with this phrasebook.

Numerous other 19th century Cantonese-English phrasebooks are known, some of them printed in diaspora. Some of these are digitised, such as Osaka University Library’s 1849 華英通語, also from Hong Kong. Even closer in history are the phrasebooks by 朱瑞生 (Zhu Rui-sheng), 广肇英语 (English through the Vernaculars of the Canton and Shiuhing Prefectures, Guang-zhao yingyu) donated to the Chinese Museum in Melbourne, and dating from c. 1860[JS1] . Also digitised are the first Chinese-English phrasebooks known to be printed in Australia, two editions of the Self Educator by Sun Johnson (孫俊臣 Sun Junchen) in 1891 and 1892.

The most complete scholarship in this area has come from Japanese-language journals. Digitisation will allow greater understanding of this category of book, and to allow us to understand whether, for instance, Sun’s Sydney textbooks borrowed materials from Hong Kong-printed phrasebooks circulating in the Australian colonies.