Translating the Naked Body: the Nudist Movement in Early Twentieth Century China

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

In the early twentieth century, East Asian intellectuals encountered new knowledge from the West, which they often adapted to fit existing vocabularies and systems of thought. As science gained a new and privileged position in China and Japan, these intellectuals opened the door to an array of ideas through translation. This paper examines Chinese works on nudism, a new idea that was gaining prominence in Germany, France, and England through the anarchist writings of such figures as Edward Carpenter and Elisée Reclus. Chinese books and articles on nudism in the 1910s, including pieces from the famous Eastern Miscellany 東方雜誌, are translations from English and Japanese. In the late-Qing and early Republican periods, translators introduced these texts to Chinese readers with two crucial themes. Their emphasis on nudism as a product of rational scientific enquiry comes as no surprise. However, translators such as Zhang Xichen 章锡琛 and Qin Tongpei 秦同培 also chose to emphasize that nudism, as the great return to nature, was also a return to Eastern civilization and a rejection of the material civilization of the West. This study of translation and the Orientalist understanding of nudism offers insight into early twentieth-century intellectuals’ use of science and the growing belief in polarized civilizations. It also shows the ways in which translation could be employed in larger political debates.

About the speaker

Craig A. Smith is a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World. He is interested in early twentieth century Chinese intellectual history and the history of translation. His work has appeared in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Twentieth-Century China, and Cross-Currents.

Before the seminar

All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House from 3.30pm for an informal discussion with the guest speaker before the seminar.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.