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Wang Mingming: Welcoming Marshall Sahlins  

2008-09-23 22:22:54|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Wang Mingming: Welcoming Marshall Sahlins (spoken in Chinese,this is a draft translation)

 

 

Dear colleagues:

 

I feel so honored to have the opportunity to open the twolectures by our distinguished guest, Professor MarshallSahlins.

 

These two closely related lectures, the first to be delivered inthe next two and half hours, and the second in the same period oftime tomorrow afternoon, share one title:“Intercultural Relations of Order and Change”.

 

“Intercultural relations”, what an enlightening perspective! Welive in a world in which relations of the kind have made powerfulimpacts. The intercultural relations have been described in somefamiliar ways. Inequality and equality, war and peace, differencesand similarities, “barbarianism” and “civilization”, discriminationand “self-awareness of culture”… We have become so accustomed tosuch pairs of words. Even in this very university for “ethnicminorities”, in which the natives within a family of nationalitiesare disciplined, with the hope to become useful strangers to their“mother-groups”, such “logical” concepts of contradiction andviolence have become accepted as common sense realities.

 

We all have some sort of “conceptual burdens”.

 

If we can say that anthropology is a “mind-liberating science”,then we must also say that Professor Sahlins perfectly suit thetitle of “leading member of its central committee”. Here in thiscontext, he brings with ideas of alterity and schismogeneris, withthe perspectives of which “we-group” identities can be examinedfrom a humorously realistic way. To see in contradictions anddifference “intercultural relations”, if I understand right, iswhat the concepts are about. 

 

For two years, we have been waiting for the person Sahlins toinaugurate this forum, “Master Lecture”, which correctly only had aname but not a speaker until today.

 

Professor Sahlins is twenty years younger than my formal oldcolleague Professor Fei Xiaotong. By way of our custom of“generation calculation”, we see that compared with Professor Fei,Professor Sahlins is a younger generation anthropologist. I meantnot only age but also thought.

 

Professor Sahlins was born in 1930, in the great city ofChicago. Unlike quitesome of today’s Ph.D candidates who gain their degrees near the ageof retirement, Sahlins gained his doctorate as young as twentythree. Since his graduation of ColumbiaUniversity, he has taught at the University ofMichigan and the University ofChicago. He is now the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of AnthropologyEmeritus.

 

In China, Professor Sahlins' work became first known becauseProfessor Fei’s professor, Mr. Wu Wenzao, wrote an article about“Post-war Ethnology in the West”. This important article appearedin the beginning of 1980s. Professor Wu Wenzao was known as aperson with all kind of virtues. As one of the aspects of his goodperson, in his article, he, as the teacher of an old teacher, couldeven be so modest to pay tribute to a younger and foreignprofessor, Marshall Sahlins, then, just 50, just 4 years older thanI am today, to forget our tradition of “generation-calculation” andacknowledge the potential contribution the foreigner could make toour “native” anthropological thinking. One shortcoming exists inhis article, however. This is that somehow it did not inscribe thehistoric moment in which Sahlins launched a related and differentintellectual project from what was known as “neo-evolutionism”. Infact, in his works, Professor Sahlins has “focused on demonstratingthe power that culture has to shape people's perceptions andactions”.

 

In our country, Sahlins can be said to be a young master alsobecause his main pieces did not get known until the mid-1990s anddid not appear in Chinese academic bookstores until the end of the20th century (I am proud of myself;  I was theorganizing editor of the Chinese versions of several of Sahlins’works).

 

There is a pity. Currently, only four but not all of Sahlins’works have been available in Chinese. These include Culture andPractical Reason (1976), Historical Metaphors and MythicalRealities (1981), Islands of History (1985), How"Natives" Think: About Captain Cook, for Example (1995), andThe Sadness of Sweetness (1996). Good news is that a groupof young anthropologists in China are translating his Stone AgeEconomic (1974), and Apologies to Thucydides: UnderstandingHistory as Culture and Vice Versa (2004).

 

But I am optimistic about the publication of a fuller Collectionof Sahlins’ Writings in Chinese in a few years time, when ProfessorSahlins is slightly older.

 

Professor Sahlins is not our first foreign guest, but he is adifferent one. In my view, Professor Sahlins is one of the veryrare masters of Western anthropology whose ideas havetrans-cultural implications and trans-historical relevance. As thedirector of both hosting programs, the National Center forTheoretical and Methodological Inquiries in Anthropology at CMU andof the National Key Point Research Program “InterculturalInteractions in the Multi-Ethnic Areas” at Peking University, Iwould like to extend to the great man our warmest welcome.

 

For the two lectures, we also have the honor of having ProfessorWang Hui from Tsinghua University to make summaries andcomments.  Professor Wang is not merely the formalchief editor of Dushu, the most influential academic reviewjournal in the Chinese-speaking world.  He is ahighly respected scholar of literature and history of ideas whohave paid a usual amount of attention to the different ways ofmodernity and the history of mutual relations of concepts. We mustalso be so grateful to the two translators, Professor Liu Yonghua,who flied the long way this morning from Xiamen just to translate,and Ms. Liu Qi, a Ph.D candidate at Peking University who has readquite some of Sahlins’ works.

 

What more can I say? Perhaps not more than that, these lectures,themselves representing a certain intercultural relation, are goingto be a festival, here in Chinese anthropological circle.

 

September 21, 2008

 

 

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