This paper examines the translation practice of Yan Fu(1854-1921), a Chinese enlightment thinker and translator in the late Qing Dynasty, predicated upon a theoretical framework of translation in postcolonial context. It mainly discusses Yan Fu’s TianYanLun(天演論, 1898), which translated Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics(1894).
Yan Fu published a Chinese translation entitled TianYanLunto transform the Confucious view of the world of the times in order to appeal to China’s intellectuals for China’s national self-strengthening in the late 19th century. Yan Fu mainly introduced Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinism in TianYanLun. Spencer’s social Darwinism provides that the struggle for existence, natural selection and survival the fittest are the fundamental principles of human society. Huxley argued that the struggle for existence and self- assertion need to be restrained to ensure continuity of human society in Evolution and Ethics. He thought that an excessive struggle for existence can lead to a destructive effect and called for an ethical behavior in human society. However, these aspects were ignored and modified in Yan’s comments in TianYanLun. Yan Fu was in favor of Spencer’s optimistic vision of the struggle for existence in TianYanLun. Yan Fu was desperate to appeal to China’s intellectuals so that they would have an objective understanding of the situation facing endangered China. He introduced an world of evolution to China by explaining a linear view of history as a counter-discourse. He criticized a circular view of history which claims “period of good order followed by one of confusion(YiZhiYiLuan, 一治一亂)” in the Confucian worldview, while searching for the wealth and power of China to make a modern China.
Yan Fu’s autonomous and inventive translation practice corresponds to the role of a postcolonial translator as a social activist. His role as an activist and translator represents that of the postcolonial translator who is publicly engaged in the construction of discourses. Yan Fu’s postcolonial stance is conspicuously reflected on typical translation tactics in postcolonial context, in the double process of deconstruction of dominating discourse and reconstruction of counter-discourse. Yan Fu’s autonomous and inventive translation practice challenges the conventional notion and general perception of translation in translation theory, and raises the need for a deep understanding of translation.