Knowing the World's Past and Future: H. G. Wells's "The Outline of History" and Its Reception in Interwar China

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Abstract Summary
"The Outline of History" (1920) by H. G. Wells is an ambitious title narrating the "whole story of man" from prehistory to the Great War. Wells adopted an unconventional approach comprising the natural world and human civilizations together. Before introducing the dawn of early civilizations, the book starts with what we regard as "popular science" today: the Earth in the Universe, the evolution of life, and human origins. Wells's approach reflects an evolutionary perspective of historiography in the early twentieth century, which regards human society and natural environment as a coherent entity governed by scientific laws and patterns. His political agenda also shaped the title's cosmopolitan theme, particularly in the proposals of global security and peace initiative. Well's unconventional treatment of history writing received mixed responses. "The Outline of History" was a phenomenon not only in the Anglosphere but also among Chinese intellectuals during the interwar period. Fu Ssu-nien (1896-1950) and Chen Yuan (1896-1970), who studied in London, assisted Wells in the writing of ancient China. Fu and Chen belonged to a group of liberal intellectuals advocating the New Culture Movement, which appealed for radical Westernization of Chinese society to achieve modernity. New Culture intellectuals regarded Wells's works as accessible inspirations for scientific thinking and social reform. Some Chinese pacifists and religious groups shared Wells's anti-war agenda and concerns for the abuse of scientific advances. My research shows how Wells's narrative of universal history influenced different Chinese readers' perceptions of science, progress and civilizations.
Abstract ID :
HSS248
Submission Type
Chronological Classification :
20th century, early
Self-Designated Keywords :
H. G. Wells, popular science, universal history, progress, evolution, New Culture Movement, pacifism

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