On June 18, 2021, the tenth lecture in the Academic Frontier series was held online. The lecturer was Lin Shaoyang (林少陽), a professor at City University of Hong Kong, specializing in the history of East Asian thought and East Asian literature. He talked about Zhang Binglin (章炳麟)’s criticism of evolution.
About Zhang Binglin?
Zhang Binglin (1869-1936）is a theorist and revolutionary of the Chinese Revolution of 1911. He confronted Western thought with ideas based on Buddhism and Daoism, and criticized the imperialism and colonialism of his time. He was also the chief editor of the revolutionary group newspaper Minbao (『民報』) published in Tokyo. In 1907, when Minbao was published, he established Asiatic Humanitarian Brotherhood (亜洲和親会), a union that aimed to liberate people in weak countries and to raise Asian solidarity against imperialism.
His Unique Criticism of Evolution Theory
Zhang Binglin criticized the Western theory of evolution from Hegel to Spencer and Darwin. In his essay “Kubun shinkaron (倶文進化論),” he opposed Western evolution and insisted that evolution is not one straight line. According to him, if good evolves, evil also evolves, and if comfort evolves, suffering also evolves. Zhang Binglin criticized the optimistic view of Western evolutionary theory by explaining the evolution of good and evil, and of comfort and suffering.
In addition, he criticized the oppression of individuals due to evolution and insisted on individual freedom by positioning evolution as one of the “four puzzles (四惑)” that justified the oppression of weak minorities.
Zhang Binglin’s idea of respecting the individual also leads to his way of thinking about the state. According to Zhang Binglin, each individual has an “independence (主体),” and the nation-state is nothing more than an illusion. Nevertheless, he also referred to patriotism. He said that patriotism must not be in a strong country, but in a weak country, because people in weak countries will be invaded by imperialist countries if they don’t have patriotism. These thoughts reflect Zhang Binglin’s idea that nationalism must be internationalism based on sympathy for weak peoples and weak countries.
Looking Ahead Thirty Years
Zhang Binglin insisted on the “independence” and individual “sovereignty” of the Asian people as a counter to Western imperialism and colonialism. At the end of the lecture, Lin asked how Zhang Binglin’s criticisms of “evolution” and “modernity” would be suggestive for us looking ahead thirty years. He raised some examples, such as the development of technology that means military power, the problem of national particularism, and environmental destruction due to “evolution.” Zhang Binglin’s melancholy premonition of evolution is now becoming our reality.
Reported by Moeka Ishii (EAA Research Assistant)