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Evolution and Ethics and the Transformation of Knowledge in Modern China

  • Professor Max. K. W. Huang
Date
19 October 2016
Time
Series
China Seminar
Address
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
Room
104 (Verbarium)

Yan Fu’s Theory of Natural Evolution, a translation of Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics, was an important work and famous for its inaccuracy. It was widely read and encouraged Chinese people to understand natural evolution to strengthen themselves and to save their race. In this talk I will analyze the features of this Chinese translation and its impact on knowledge transformation in modern China. Yan’s translation was strongly influenced by his prior study of The Book of Changes and Xunzi. Yan emphasized the importance of ethical values in the process of evolution. He criticized Spencer for overemphasizing natural evolution at the expense of moral autonomy, and established a link between his emphasis on ethics, individual freedom, and Huxley’s theory of social cooperation. In this way, Yan’s understanding of evolution placed equal emphasis on self and group and led to an accommodative approach to policy and cultural reform. His ideas influenced both revolutionaries and constitutionalists in the late Qing, as well as liberals and New-Confucians in the Republican period. Moreover, Yan’s view of natural evolution along with his other translations of J. S. Mill, Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer led to the widespread adoption of a linear view of historical studies, as well as the rise of sociology, economics, political sciences, and religious studies in Modern China.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Max K. W. Huang was born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1957. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in History from Nation Taiwan Normal University. He subsequently pursued his studies in the United Kingdom and the United States, receiving a second master’s degree from Oxford University and his Ph. D degree from Stanford University. He is a distinguished research fellow at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica. His major fields are Ming-Qing studies and Modern Chinese intellectual history. He has published six books and more than 80 articles. Dr. Huang’s most recent book is If It’s not Dirty, It’s No Joke: Humor, Desire, and the Body in the World of Modern Chinese Masculinity. His latest book is Government and Politics in Taiwan (Rouledge, 2011). He has a new co-edited volume titled Migration to and from Taiwan (Routledge, 2014).