East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

East Asia Workshop: 1/23, Xiaoxing Jin, “The Origin of the Evolutionary Misunderstanding: The Origin of Species in China”


East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society presents


The Origin of the Evolutionary Misunderstanding: The Origin of Species in China”


Xiaoxing Jin

History PhD Student

University of Notre Dame


4:30-6:00p.m., Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Pick Lounge, 5828 South University Ave.

*Food will be provided*



Darwinian ideas were developed, transformed, and even distorted when they were transmitted to the alien intellectual background of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century China. In China, the earliest references to Darwin 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 Huxley’s 1893 Romanes lecture. 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 twentieth century. The translator, Ma Junwu (1881-1940), incorporated non-Darwinian doctrines, particularly Lamarckian and Spencerian 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 the Origin, 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.

*To learn more about the workshop, please visit our workshop website: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/eastasia/

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*Questions and concerns can be addressed to the student coordinator Haitong Xu (xuhaitong@uchciago.edu) and Yang Xiang (xiangalan@uchicago.edu)


Faculty sponsors:

Xi Song (Sociology), xisong@uchicago.edu

Dali Yang (Political Science), daliyang@uchicago.edu

Dingxin Zhao (Sociology), dzhao@uchicago.edu


The East Asia Workshop is sponsored by the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance please contact the student coordinator in advance.



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