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Developmental Fairy Tales

Developmental Fairy Tales

Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture

Andrew F. Jones

ISBN 9780674047952

Publication date: 05/02/2011

In 1992 Deng Xiaoping famously declared, “Development is the only hard imperative.” What ensued was the transformation of China from a socialist state to a capitalist market economy. The spirit of development has since become the prevailing creed of the People’s Republic, helping to bring about unprecedented modern prosperity, but also creating new forms of poverty, staggering social upheaval, physical dislocation, and environmental destruction.

In Developmental Fairy Tales, Andrew F. Jones asserts that the groundwork for this recent transformation was laid in the late nineteenth century, with the translation of the evolutionary works of Lamarck, Darwin, and Spencer into Chinese letters. He traces the ways that the evolutionary narrative itself evolved into a form of vernacular knowledge which dissolved the boundaries between beast and man and reframed childhood development as a recapitulation of civilizational ascent, through which a beleaguered China might struggle for existence and claim a place in the modern world-system.

This narrative left an indelible imprint on China’s literature and popular media, from children’s primers to print culture, from fairy tales to filmmaking. Jones’s analysis offers an innovative and interdisciplinary angle of vision on China’s cultural evolution. He focuses especially on China’s foremost modern writer and public intellectual, Lu Xun, in whose work the fierce contradictions of his generation’s developmentalist aspirations became the stuff of pedagogical parable. Developmental Fairy Tales revises our understanding of literature’s role in the making of modern China by revising our understanding of developmentalism’s role in modern Chinese literature.


  • Andrew Jones’s rich and complex genealogy of developmental thinking in modern China is destined to travel far beyond Chinese studies. His imaginative negotiation of the traffic between evolutionary thought and narrative experiments in late Qing and Republican China—with the legendary figure of Lu Xun at the center of his analysis—will speak to larger questions of civilization and belatedness that have typically marked debates on modernity outside of the ‘normative’ West.

    —Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago


  • Andrew F. Jones is Professor of Chinese at the University of California, Berkeley.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press