Lei Ying, postdoctoral fellow at Fudan University in Shanghai, will give a talk titled "Karma in Translation: Buddhism, Darwinism and the Rediscovery of Children in Modern China."
When Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics was translated into Chinese at the end of the 19th century, thanks to the ingenious efforts of Yan Fu, it became an immediate hit among Chinese intellectuals who were preoccupied with China’s fate in a colonial world order.
This study traces how evolutionary thinking entered China through Buddhist translingual practice and brought with it unexpected implications, when Huxley’s invocation of the notion of karma stirred the power of darkness in Lu Xun. The leader of “New Literature” who championed the call to “save the children” was torn between a widespread developmentalist faith among his contemporaries and his own deep-rooted fear for karmic inheritance and a spectral past that constantly returns to haunt the present. This study highlights the global circulation of Buddhist ideas as a distinct facet of the modern age. Moreover, in revisiting some of Lu Xun’s best-known and lesser-known works, it celebrates literature as a vehicle for spiritual reflection and pays homage to writing as existential courage.