The Origin of Evolutionary Misunderstanding: Translating the Origin of Species into Chinese

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Xiaoxing Jin, University of Notre Dame
Darwinian principles do not develop in isolation from the people who use them. The earliest references to Darwin in China appeared in the 1870s through the writings of Western missionaries who provided the Chinese with the earliest information on evolutionary doctrines, with Christian beliefs encoded into their texts. Meanwhile, Chinese ambassadors, literati, and overseas students contributed to the dissemination of evolutionary ideas with modest effect. The “evolutionary sensation” in China was, instead, generated by the Chinese Spencerian Yan Fu's (1854-1921) paraphrased translation and reformulation of Thomas Huxley’s Romanes lecture, “Evolution and Ethics,” in 1896. It was from this source that “Darwin” became well known in China—although it was Darwin’s name, rather than his ideas, that entered Chinese literati’s households. The Origin of Species itself began to receive attention only at the turn of the 20th century. Nonetheless, the translation process was haphazard between 1902 and 1920, with the full text of the sixth edition of the Origin published only in September 1920. The translator, Ma Junwu(1881-1940), incorporated non-Darwinian doctrines, particularly Lamarckian, Spenserian and Huxleyian principles, into his edition of the Chinese Origin. This partly reflected the importance of the pre-existing Chinese intellectual background. In this paper, I will elucidate Ma Junwu's culturally-conditioned reinterpretation of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and situate his transformation of Darwin’s principal concepts—variation, adaptation, the struggle for existence, artificial selection and Natural Selection—in China's broad historical context of the first two decades of the 20th century.
See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions