Who Invented the word “Hangtianyuan”?




According to Wikipedia, the word “astronaut” has a special translation in China: hangtianyuan (航天员), or, perhaps, hangtianaut as called by some Chinese. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is often called “taikonaut” (太空人). The later was invented perhaps by Chiew Lee Yih or Chen Lan. In fact, Chen Lan indicated in his blog that it was his invention. But who invented the word “hangtianyuan”? It was unknown for a long time.

On Oct 31, China’s father of space program Qian Xuesen (钱学森) died at the age of 98 sparked a huge amount of articles in memory of him. I myself wrote one too: “Father of Chinese Space Program Qian Xuesen Died“. One of the articles gives the answer: It was Qian Xuesen. According to the story told by the first Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei (杨利伟), Qian Xuesen favored the word “hangtianyuan” which translates “sailing personnel in space” literally. His reason was: In China, we used to distinguish the space (天), the sea (海), the sky (空). He believed that the word “hangtianyuan” made more sense.

Aviation Week has an obituary on Qian’s death. It says “According to the physicist Theodore von Karman, Qian was ‘an undisputed genius whose work was providing an enormous impetus to advances in high-speed aerodynamics and jet propulsion.’ But the U.S. government suspected him of communism and arrested him in 1950 — though the suspicion seems unfounded in light of his subsequent attempt to stay in the United States rather than go home and help China.” Finally in 1955, Qian was deported, “happy to go home and happily received by China. There he became the central figure in the creation and administration of a scientific and industrial complex which, with Soviet help in its early stages, grew from virtually nothing in 1956 to launching a satellite in 1970.”

An interesting extension of something-naut is butterflynauts.

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7 Responses to “Who Invented the word “Hangtianyuan”?”

  1. Qian Xuesen handpicked Wang Yongzhi as chief architect « Paviavio           Says:

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    […] mission, you for sure have seen one of the photos above in which the first Chinese astronaut (hangtianyuan) Yang Liwei stepped out Shenzhou 5 capsule himself. They were taken by Xinhua News Agency […]

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