Simply put: you should read Andrew F. Jones’s new book, Developmental Fairytales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture (Harvard UP, 2011).
It is both an immense pleasure to read, and a truly brilliant study of the ways that a discourse of development was taken up from evolutionary works of Lamarck, Darwin, Spencer, and Huxley and translated or vernacularized into narrative forms of modern Chinese literature. Jones guides us through magic shows, children’s primers, films about toys, science fiction, and many other sources for understanding the ways that development emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a mode of narrating history in China. In the course of our conversation, we ranged from x-ray technologies that could detect qi, to a natural history museum including peng birds, to a man who was, for me, easily The Most Awesome Historical Figure In Recent Memory.
Here’s the “Modern Sketch“ visual archive at the MIT Visualizing Cultures website that Jones mentions in the interview.