restricted access 4. Translating Weisheng in Treaty-Port China
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4 Translating Weisheng in Treaty-Port China Beginning in 1880, new treatises on weisheng appeared in China’s treaty ports. A few curious Chinese readers in Tianjin would have noted their arrival .The basic content of these works was the same:Each informed the reader that chemistry dictated the proper path to health.The word weisheng on the cover signaled that these works contained wisdom on how to strengthen the body and prevent disease. But beyond the title page, readers encountered a world far removed from correlative cosmology, yin and yang, Hot and Cold. Here air, soil, water, and food were composed of specific combinations of discrete chemical elements. Understanding how the human body thrived by transforming these chemical elements was the key to guarding life. These texts, British and American popular science tracts translated by an Englishman and his Chinese associates in Shanghai, marked the beginning of an altered set of meanings for weisheng in China. Weisheng still meant “guarding life.” It still signified what the individual should do in order to be healthy, without reference to social or political context. This weisheng did not mark a race or a people as fit enough for modernity, it did not exclude Chinese from membership in “civilization” due to habit or health. However, with these translations, the basic concepts associated with weisheng began to shift away from an entirely Chinese context and moved to embrace an authority generated by the laboratories of Europe. The phrase “the Way of Guarding Life” (weisheng zhi dao) might still conjure up tales of Daoist masters and maxims from the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon, but now it was also used to convey the proper consumption of proteins and the use of chemicals to remove odors. By providing a new set of explanations for eating,drinking,excreting,and even breathing,translated weisheng carried with it the possibility of becoming an alternative logic for the ordering of daily existence. 104 The content of early translated weisheng texts reveals how the meanings of the word may have shifted at this early juncture. Translations of Western science were produced in Shanghai and circulated in treaty-port cities such as Tianjin. Ultimately weisheng as “hygienic modernity” had a tremendous power to shape political and social realities in China, but it was imbued with this power only after the turn of the century, when new terms of habit and being were enforced by occupying armies. In order to understand the production,through translation,of an altered textual tradition for weisheng, it is essential to sketch out two contexts: the nineteenth-century “science” of hygiene in Europe and the United States reflected in the original texts, and the conditions for dominance, association, segregation, and influence in the early treaty-port worlds of Tianjin and Shanghai. Scholars have long ceased to think that the translation of science involved the simple transfer of ideas from one culture to another.Questions of power relations and the impact of imperialism have come to the fore in the study of translation between Europe and the rest of the world. Some studies of science translation in the colonial context have highlighted the ambivalent role of the native translator: He must convey knowledge that he has enthusiastically embraced,even though this knowledge often dictates the conditions of his inequality. At the same time, language and translation have provided a vehicle for thwarting a colonial vision of unobstructed domination . As Gyan Prakash has observed for scientific translations in India, the hegemony of Western science “could not be established through imposition ” but was a possibility only through the generative participation of Indian translators who figured science into their own terms. The shifts, challenges , and hybrid forms produced through translation resulted in “the undoing of dominance with the establishment of dominance” by creating an elite who questioned the logic of colonialism itself.1 Lydia Liu would question whether such conditions of dominance were established at all in China. In the process of translation under conditions of imperialism in China,Chinese became a “host language,” a medium of considerable power that invented its own meanings within its own environment and eventually created its own modernity, a modernity that was “not necessarily un-Chinese.”2 This was made possible by the semicolonial environment of China. Since colonial domination was not total and since Chinese in China never switched to conducting their lives in English, linguistic and intellectual space was present in greater abundance and was infused with less ambivalence...