Translation and the British colonial mission : the career of Samuel Turner Fearon and the establishment of Chinese studies at King's college, London
Kwan, Uganda Sze Pui
Date of Issue2014
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
The University of London was the first institution in the United Kingdom to establish a professorship in Chinese. Within a decade of the first half of the nineteenth century, two professorships in Chinese were created at its two colleges: the first at University College in 1837 and the second at King's College in 1847. Previous studies of British sinology have devoted sufficient attention to the establishment of the programme and the first Chinese professorship. However, despite the latter professorship being established by the same patron (Sir George Thomas Staunton; 1781–1859) during the same era as the former, the institutionalisation of the Chinese programme at King's College London seems to have been completely overlooked. If we consider British colonial policy and the mission of the Empire in the early nineteenth century, we are able to understand the strategic purpose served by the Chinese studies programme at King's and the special reason for its establishment at a crucial moment in the history of Sino-British relations. Examining it from this perspective, we reveal unresolved doubts concerning the selection and appointment of King's first Chinese professor. Unlike other inaugural Chinese professors appointed during the nineteenth century at other universities in the United Kingdom, the first Chinese professor at King’s, Samuel Turner Fearon (1819–1854), was not a sinophile. He did not translate any Chinese classics or other works. His inaugural lecture has not even survived. This is why sinologists have failed to conduct an in-depth study on Fearon and the genealogy of the Chinese programme at King’s. Nevertheless, Samuel Fearon did indeed play a very significant role in Sino-British relations due to his ability as an interpreter and his knowledge of China. He was not only an interpreter in the first Opium War (1839–1842) but was also a colonial civil servant and senior government official in British Hong Kong when the colonial government started to take shape after the war. This paper both re-examines his contribution during this “period of conflict and difficulty” in Sino-British relations and demonstrates the very nature of British sinology.
Journal of the royal asiatic society
© 2014 The Royal Asiatic Society. This paper was published in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society and is made available as an electronic reprint (preprint) with permission of Cambridge University Press. The paper can be found at the following official DOI: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1356186313000746]. One print or electronic copy may be made for personal use only. Systematic or multiple reproduction, distribution to multiple locations via electronic or other means, duplication of any material in this paper for a fee or for commercial purposes, or modification of the content of the paper is prohibited and is subject to penalties under law.