ahorbinski: A picture of Charles Darwin captioned "very gradual change" in the style of the Obama 'Hope' poster.  (Darwin is still the man.)
Bibliographic Data: Jones, Andrew F. Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Main Argument: "This book is a historical enquiry into the development of this discourse [of development] in the Chinese literary and media culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly as refracted through and subject to criqitue in the work of Lu Xun and many of his contemporaries" (3). "Development" is "a way of knowing, narrating, and attempting to manage processes of radical historical change" although "the term is haunted by its own semantic instability" (ibid). Jones notes that devleopmentalism has become the sovereign logic of China (and of other countries), with ruinous consequences; thus the book also "initiates a genealogical critique of developmental thinking by tracing its origins in the translation of evolutionary biology into Chinese letters in the late nineteenth century…and suggesting how it gave rise to new narrative forms, lent its structure to the historical imagination, and tragically limited ideological horizons" (4). Moreover, Chinese intellectuals were not doing this in isolation; it was part of global process in which evolutionary thinking "was translated and assimilated to local discourse throughout East Asia and a host of other locales" (5).

Historiographical Engagement: Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power; Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China; Lydia Liu, Translingual Practice; Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern; Shu-mei Shih, The Lure of the Modern

Might there still be someone who hasn't eaten human flesh? Save the children. )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent book that makes some very complex arguments, complex enough that these notes most assuredly do not capture all of what Jones is saying. I think the fact that there is no conclusion as such is very much on point--in its own way, this book is a critique of the present as much as of the past. "'Might there still be someone who hasn't eaten human flesh? Save the children.'"

Further reading: Miriam Hansen, "Vernacular Modernism"

Meta notes: Evolution has no preordained goal, and extinction is the fate of all species.

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Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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