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Yan Fu’s Uses of “Gezhi” and “Kexue” (Science)

Mon, June 22, 4:05 to 6:00pm, South Building, Floor: 5th Floor, S519


The essays and translations of Yan Fu (1854-1921) introduced a wide range of Western concepts to the Chinese, particular political ideas but also “science.” Yet Yan Fu’s translation of Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics (Tianyan lun, 1898) lacked even a single use of the term “kexue.” A possible reason for this was the absence of concepts directly related to “science” in Huxley’s original work. Of several dozen uses of “the investigation of natural phenomena” (gezhi), “the investigation of things” (gewu), and “investigating natural phenomena to attain knowledge” (gewu zhizhi) in Yan Fu’s translation, only a few matched Huxley’s original text. Yan began to use the term “science” (kexue) in his 1901 essay “On Wealth.” The neologism kexue (J. kagaku) had originated in Meiji academic discourse, which Yan often rejected. Did Yan’s use of kexue represent a new attitude of reception of Western Learning on his part? Or did it represent the establishment of his scientific viewpoint? This paper explores this issue, further examining the influence of Francis Bacon on Yan Fu’s scientific viewpoint.