I wanted to add '大同世界' as an entry to a Chinese dictionary a group of editors and I are working at. At first, I thought 'Utopias' could be one of its definitions. But I searched 大同世界 on the net and found no reference that translates '大同世界' as 'Utopias'

Google Translate: 大同世界 --> Datong World

大同世界: 大同是中國古代思想,指人類最终可達到的理想世界,代表着人类对未来社会的美好憧憬。基本特征即为人人友爱互助,家家安居乐业,没有差异,没有战争。這种状态称为“世界大同”,此种世界又稱「大同世界」

大同世界: 描绘的大道之世,人人有德,人人敬老,人人爱幼,无处不均匀,无人不饱暖的理想社会。

Utopias: is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens

大同: Great Harmony; Great Unity; 世界: World

Question: What is the fundamental difference between 大同世界 and Utopias that preventing dictionary editors from equating the two terms?


From Google Translate:

Utopias -->烏托邦

理想邦 --> Ideal State

I often equate 烏托邦 with 理想邦, is that wrong too?

  • The terms 烏托邦 and 理想邦 both describe an "ideal state exists in the advocate's dream only", that is "可望不可及". On the other hand, 大同世界 was a goal that was thought it could be achieved through teaching the people and the emperor how to behave, which was the main philosophy of the Confucianism. – r13 Mar 18 at 23:51
  • As you can see from above, while 大同世界 is an "ideal state" too, it is not perfect, as the emperor was taught how to "govern", and the people were told/taught to "obey". – r13 Mar 19 at 0:04

Tl;dr: Terms that share apparently similar meanings but are each specific to their own culture should not be considered as synonymous.

  1. The reason for incomparability is that the context or purpose of the two usually differs. E.g., the Chinese concept of zhongyong (中庸, doctrine of the mean) should not be equated with the Aristotlean concept of the golden mean, which 'also' refers to a desirable middle between two extremes. While some of the examples in the golden mean may overlap with Confucian virtues, the Aristotlean golden mean is intended to be a solution in ethics, i.e., how to be ethical (i.e., doing the ‘right’ thing) between two vices (say being courageous between cowardice and recklessness), in order to achieve 'happiness' (eudaimonia) in life. Zhongyong is simply an advice on the Way of life, does not provide concrete examples like its Aristotlean analogue, and does not aim to achieve eudaimonia. That is to say, 中庸 is not an ideal translation of the Aristotlean golden mean.

  2. Here I argue datong (大同), despite its seeming overtness in literality, is in fact culture-specific. It is classically a Confucian concept first appearing in The Book of Rites (禮記) (sadly a fact overlooked by many) and is juxtaposed to another societal form, xiaokang (小康) (note: NOT the modern meaning). Both datong and xiaokang societies seem ideal and harmonious (utopian, if you may), but datong is the better of the two. Why? Because people in datong aims for the common good (天下為公), and there is spontaneity in their practicing the Confucian principles (e.g. 仁義 and 五倫). That is to say, these principles need not be deliberately advertised or codified into laws and rules, as in a xiaokang society. In fact, Confucius was expressing regret in the obsoletion of a datong society, as he considered the society he was in a xiaokang one.

  3. The modern use of datong as we know it originates from Kang Youwei (康有為). Kang's Datong shu (大同書) outlines the hypothetical datong society where radical compassion (Kang's interpretation of 仁) should be applied to all. In Smith (2019):

In The Great Unity ([D]atong shu), Kang discussed the future datong as a utopia in which states will no longer exist; families will be completely different, as men and women will be equal and same sex marriage will be accepted; robotic birds will take the place of servants; and animals will be treated well by a world of vegetarians. Although often full of radical compassion in a way unlike other literature of his contemporaries, Kang and his book were products of their time, and included terrifying prescriptions for the elimination of the black race through a centuries-long programme of eugenics. Kang’s utopia was both highly imaginative and deeply troubling.

  1. Kang's datong society was not exactly that of the Republic of China, but it is definitely utopian. A utopia must be imaginary (Thomas More intended it to be imaginary when he first coined the term; it comes from Greek οὐ 'not' and τόπος 'place' which translates as 'no-place') and contrasted to the flaws of the existent society. It also depends on the ideals of the thinker, so there may exist a plethora of utopias. The universalisation of English has perhaps also made its use loose and diverse. On the other hand, the concept of datong, be it Confucian or Kang's, is relatively stable (despite both being imaginary like utopias, with the Confucian one being historical, and de novo in Kang's). That is to say, utopia is an umbrella term. There are similarities and differences between datong and utopia; equating the two terms is not sound.

  2. Similarly, 理想國 is technically a type of utopia. Classically it is the title translation of Plato's Republic, but in modern speech the specificity has decreased and has become similar to meaning utopia.

Reference: Smith CA. Datong and Xiaokang, in Sorace, Franceschini, Loubere (eds) Afterlives of Chinese Communism. AUS; 2019.

  • 1
    I think it is true that cultural difference makes the two terms unique. I always feel translating 徒弟 as 'student' or 'disciple' is somewhat lacking – Tang Ho Mar 19 at 3:29

Sorry for my poor English, below are my understanding to 大同世界 and Utopias, hope this can help. 大同世界 is a perfect society people wish to achieve; Utopias is a place where people wish to find. Both world can mean a perfect place for the people.

大同世界 is more refer to the place where people share the same mind. The ultimate goal that the world without war, everyone can live happily, enough food etc. It is a world that people wish to achieve. For example, emperor want to make the world into 大同世界

Utopias is 乌托邦 in chinese, a 'perfect' place. However, everyone can have different definition to 'perfect'. For example, if emperor's goal is opposite of 大同世界, and only wish for war. Then when people find the perfect place without a war can be their utopias.

In general, both can mean the same where the 'ideal' place. But with 大同世界 you can only try to achieve it; with Utopias is referring to a place, and maybe you can find this perfect place.

Question: often equate 烏托邦 with 理想邦, is that wrong too? It is not wrong, 理想邦 can mean an ideal place. a 大同世界 and Utopias can be a 理想乡. Since both are a perfect place.

  • if the emperor's goal is the opposite of 大同世界, and only wish for war. Then when people find the perfect place without war can be their utopias.-- Ah, the term comes to my mind for this is 世外桃園 (the land of everlasting peace and happiness) – Tang Ho Aug 26 '20 at 9:19
  • So, to sum it up, 大同世界 is the perfect society people wish to create; 烏托邦 is the perfect society people wish to find.Correct? – Tang Ho Aug 26 '20 at 9:32
  • Correct, that is what I meant. Hope below example can help: 大同世界 can be a really good stake house environment, and I am a steakhouse owner. I and my employees work hard to make my steakhouse to meet 大同世界. 乌托邦 can be a really good steakhouse, and one day i walk pass by to a really good steakhouse which meet my expectations. Then this steakhouse is my 乌托邦. – SCH Aug 26 '20 at 10:04
  • While I am not sure about how the terms 大同世界 and 乌托邦 may correlate to utopia, a utopia need not necessarily be found but can be built as well. We also have the English phrase "trying to create a utopia", which usually has a negative connotation. That is, we have had many dystopian stories that include a group of people trying to build, or having built, their own utopia. However, this utopia for one group of people turns out to be a hell for many others. So, "trying to create a utopia" indicates an attempt to realize some ideological ideal that is either unattainable or will backfire terribly. – 2ndQuantized Mar 18 at 18:15
  • In terms of finding an ideal place, I think "finding heaven" or "finding his/her heaven" tends to appear more. A found place can be described as a utopia, but someone who loves candy and then walks into a giant candy shop and is happily surprised by what they find is often metaphorically described as feeling "like they died and went to heaven." In contrast, when finding a "utopia", there is often an expectation set up in the mind of the reader/watcher that there is some sinister underbelly existing, because such a trope has been used so often in stories. – 2ndQuantized Mar 18 at 18:25

The first time the human being talked about this 大同世界 on this planet was when Confucius added his reflection as one of the "Ten Wings" to the 13th Dexagram of I Ching, 易经. It was about 480BC. The name of this 13th Hexagram is 天火同人. It is leading to the talking about the unity of the world, the TaiJi, the peace of the world, the unity of the human with nature and the universe. I Ching puts humans in the middle of heaven and Mother Earth and introduces a harmonized balanced mutual relationship between humans and the world. From a modern point of view, we may expand our understanding based on the recent science and civilization development, that this unity roots from the unity of human body and mind, human physical and mental health, to the unity between people, between organization, regions, countries... Deep down, humans are part of nature. The harmonized balance between the human and nature starts from harmonized thoughts in everyone's hearts and minds.

About 2000 years later, "Utopia" was put into as a new "concept" in the 16th century, which initiated new thinkings in the western world for an ideal world to discover and pursue for the human being. It is a signal that the cultural development of the East and the West will eventually be unanimous for the common development of the beautiful, harmonious and prosperous mankind.

Being the classic of the classic, the origin of the origin, of all Chinese culture, ancient science, traditional Chinese medicine, philosophy, and etc, I Ching's theories and concepts emerged everywhere in the Chinese and China world over thousands of years, through the social and civilization development. It has always been the key moral and social quality and value of this ever-lasting great cultural country. 天人合一,has been one of the major tags of Chinese characters. 天人合一 is the best reflection and the practical principle of the 大同世界.

  • Your post is insightful but doesn't directly answer the question: 'What is the fundamental difference between 大同世界 and Utopias that preventing dictionary editors from equating the two terms?' Are you suggesting 'Utopias' is an extension but not the equivalent of '大同世界', similar to 'gun' is a type of weapon but weapon include items other than guns? – Tang Ho Mar 18 at 17:07
  • What value will an answer give? But in reality, if we are working for this great unity, starting from everyone's unity of body and mind, mental health and physical health, unity among people, business, society, and countries, that makes real value for such a world. Only if we made one, shall we be able to say what it is. – Helen Q Mar 18 at 17:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.