When we search for the phenomenon of slavery, what are we ideally looking for? Is it the “Slave” that matters or is it the reality of the condition behind it. The soldiers and administrators of China’s Ching Dynasty which rules from 1644 to 1912, they were technically slaves of the dynasty and proudly referred to themselves as such. This title was later applied to all the descendants of Ching China, but the word had to connection to the reality of the situation. This was the ruling class of the empire and they all called themselves slaves.
When we come across a word which loosely translates to slave in English, does it necessarily mean what we mean by slavery? Dr. Jonathan Brown through his lecture Jonathan Brown Slavery urges his audience to think about this. He asks how you would know what word to translate into slave. The word slave in English comes from the Medieval Latin word for the Slavic people, since they were the population from which European slave traders drew their cargo up to the 13th century.
The common English definition of slave is someone who is legally owned by another person and who is forced to work for that person without pay. This has then been construed by many to mean slaves in the most degrading way possible. This notion of slavery as reducing human beings to things owned by people has been a major theme in how this whole concept of slavery has been understood. But the roots of this definition go further back to the roots of the western heritage. They lie in Roman law which divided people into two categories, The Free, who has the natural right to do as he pleases and Slaves, who exist as the property of others, the property of their masters, and the property of the free group.
However, Dr. Jonathan Brown thinks, this whole concept of slavery in terms of ownership of one person by another, when understood through its definition leaves more questions than answers. This, ambiguous understanding of the term “Slavery” is where Dr. Jonathan Brown thinks lies the problems of Slavery.