by Zhang Jianhua
The Old Royal Naval College has opened Britain's first major exhibition on the life of Yan Fu, a renowned Chinese thinker, educator and translator who served as a cultural bridge between China and Britain more than 100 years ago.
Yan Fu, born in 1854, was one of the first ever Chinese students to study in Britain. In 1877, he was sent to the then Royal Naval College in Greenwich in London to study naval expertise and went on to become one of the most influential intellectuals in modern China.
The exhibition, named Yan Fu andChinese Imperial Students at the Royal Naval College, showcased a myriad of historical documents, books, artefacts and photographs, seeking to portray the life and times of this extraordinary thinker and his fellow Chinese schoolmates.
After finishing his studies in 1879, Yan Fu returned to China and became an accomplished "enlightenment" thinker, translating and introducing to China Evolution and Ethics, The Wealth of Nations and The Spirit of the Laws among many other works.
The two years he spent in London helped shape his ideas and deepen his understanding of Western culture and society that contributed to his future career.
Through his writings and translations, Yan Fu presented the people of China with insights into Europe's natural, social, and political sciences as well as theories of economics and philosophy, which were much needed in China at the dawn of its turbulent journey to modernity.
Yan Fu is still highly regarded in China today for his pioneering role in Chinese modern history.
At the opening ceremony for the exhibition, Chinese ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming said Yan laid the intellectual foundations for the changes that were in desperate need in Chinese society a century ago.
"Imperial China and British Empire are both no more. Down here in Greenwich much of the Royal Naval College has become the University of Greenwich. But, those larger-than-life figures and their life's work are as relevant and inspiring as ever," Liu said.
The Chinese envoy noted that Yan Fu will be remembered for his openness and inclusiveness, his courage to herald reform, and his commitment to promoting understanding between cultures and civilisations.
"Instead of one Yan Fu, we have thousands of them well versed in both cultures and working hard for the betterment of our relations in business, education, culture, science and technology and many other fields," he added.
The exhibition, curated by a group of experts on Yan Fu, was organized by the Old Royal Naval College in partnership with the Yan Fu Foundation. It runs until 1st February next year.