Dr. Helen Zhang - Postdoctoral Associate, Council on East Asian Studies
When Richard Wilhelm (1873 - 1930), the German translator and commentator of Chinese classics, equated the Daoist “Eccentric” with Nietzsche’s “Superman” in 1912, was this just a fascinating misunderstanding? Curiously enough, his contemporaries such as Lu Xun (1881 - 1936), the “father of modern Chinese literature,” Feng Zhi (1905 - 1993), the “founder of German studies in China,” Xu Fancheng (1909 - 2000), the Chinese translator and interpreter of Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) and the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo (1872 - 1950), all initiated similarly dramatic encounters of Asian and European “Supermen.” This lecture will explore the “eternal return” of the concept of Superman, which involves a cycle of “kindred spirits” and interlocutors across epochs and continents. It aims at unpacking the assumptions, beliefs, and expectations that created the scenario in which the “Superman” came into being and spread, and at expounding the associations, implications, and speculations which the concept of the “Superman” crystallizes at different places and in different moments. In short, it intends to retrace and reconstitute a circuit of translations, ideas, and intercultural transformations.