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Wang Mingmming: Anthropology in China  

2008-10-20 21:38:13|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Anthropology in Mainland China in the Past Decade: A BriefReport

 

 

 

Wang Mingming

Original published in Asian Anthropology

Wang Mingming is professor of anthropology at Peking University.He has co-authored Grassroots Charisma (Routledge, 2001)with Stephan Feuchtwang and has published many Chinese works onanthropology and anthropological studies of China, includingSocial Anthropology and Sinology (1997), ProsperityBygone (1999), Beyond Rural China (2003), and TheLineage of Xicun (2004). His email address is<wangmingming@263.net>.

 

Anthropology began to be known to Chinese intellectuals throughtranslation near the end of the 19th century. In the1930s and the 1940s, the discipline enjoyed a period of expansion.During the period, a generation of Chinese anthropologists grew upand produced many international standard works. In the 1950s,anthropology was restructured by the ideological apparatus of thecommunist state as a part of minzu yanjiu (nationalitystudy) whose chief aim was to classify and order ethnic groups(nationalities). Between the 1960s and most of the 1970s,anthropology was repressed as a “bourgeois subject” (zichanjieji xueke). Around 1979, after over 20 years of absence,anthropology reappeared in mainland China.

In the 1980s, the advocates of anthropology were a generation ofhistorians and ethnologists who used to study under the instructionof the first generation of Chinese anthropologists such as WuWenzao, Li Anzhai, Fei Xiaotong, Lin Yaohua, and Lin Huixiang. In1979, in Beijing, the Chinese Ethnological Society, whose chiefcalling was to revitalize evolutionist social historical studies ofnational minorities and their historical relations with themajority (the Han) as well as nationality policies, had beenendorsed as an official organization. In 1980, anthropologists –mainly those from South China - jointly established the ChineseAnthropological Society and placed its secretariat in XiamenUniversity where anthropology gained a lot of support. In 1981, thefirst national conference of anthropology was held in Xiamen.Zhongshan University and Xiamen University created their owndepartments of anthropology respectively in 1981 and 1984. Some oldclassics and new textbooks of Western anthropology were translated.Anthropologists from the West and from Taiwan and Hong Kong wereinvited to deliver lectures to Chinese professors and students.Abstract discussions of the political usefulness of anthropologyfor China’s reforms were presented.  

The achievements of the 1980s should not be under-estimated.Nonetheless, somehow the “disciplinary reconstruction movement”(xueke chongjian yundong) proved to be quite distant from asuccess. Between 1989 and the early 1990s, due to complexideological, political economic, and educational institutionalreasons, anthropology re-entered a period of crisis. One of the“symptoms” of the crisis was the elimination of Xiamen University’sdepartment of anthropology in 1989. Another was the long pause ofthe work of building departments and research centers. For severalyears, publication of anthropology also underwent a decline. Thesituation did not change until the mid-1990s.

Since the mid-1990s, anthropology in the mainland has enjoyed amore continuous and prosperous period of development. The beginningwas the promotion of anthropological concepts by scholars workingin non-anthropological disciplines. Especially in comparativeliterature (or comparative cultural studies) and in legal culturestudies, old and news ideas from Western anthropology weretranslated and discussed as what was hoped to inspire there-conceptualization of Chinese culture. Within anthropologicalcircle, things also began to change in a positive direction. In1992, in Beijing University, Institute of Sociology andAnthropology, which had established by China’s most well-knownsociologist of the 20th century, Fei Xiaotong initiallyto promote “the Chinese school of sociology”, created a Center forAnthropology and Folklore. Since 1995, with the support of theMinistry of Education, The Ford Foundation, and the Wenner-GrenFoundation, ISA organized 6 advanced workshops on social andcultural anthropology. Many major anthropologists from abroad havebeen invited to speak to young anthropologists from differentregions of the country. Many prominent scholars from comparativeliterature and legal culture studies have also been included in thelists of workshop participants. Driven by the dynamics inanthropological and non-anthropological circles, anthropology as adiscipline has come into a new stage of development.

As Harrell has noted, “since the mid-1990s, there has been afurther shift, with the establishment of more anthropologyprograms” (Harrell, 2001:141). Apart from Zhongshan University andBeijing University, many other universities have created their owndepartments, institutes, or sections for anthropology. Notably,Central University for Nationalities, Yunnan University, GuangxiCollege for Nationalities, Shanghai University, Nanjing University,Sichuan University, Wuhan University, Northwestern University forNationalities, Beijing Normal University, Qinghua University,Shandong University, and many other places, all have developed anewtheir own programs of anthropology. In major national socialscience research institutions such as the Chinese Academy of SocialSciences (CASS), more than one programs of anthropology have beenorganized. CASS’s Institute of Sociology created its Center forCultural Anthropology in 2002 and soon its Institute of NationalityStudies, which had been more conservative concerning the promotionof Western style anthropology, changed its name into the Instituteof Ethnology and Anthropology.

In the past decade, along with the extension of its “sphere ofinfluence”, anthropology in the mainland has made significantprogresses in the following aspects:

 

Teaching

 

One aspect of the work that the departments, institutes, andcenters have done has been the development of teaching programs. Inthe past 10 years, many universities have developed their owncourses on anthropology. Sociology, archaeology, history, law, andliterature departments in many universities have also had their ownintroductory anthropology courses. In the 1980s, both theanthropology departments in Zhongshan University and XiamenUniversity had offered undergraduate courses in anthropology. Sincethe mid-1990s, Yunnan University, Central University forNationalities, such degrees have also been available. Just recently(April, 2005), Xiamen University’s department of anthropology hasbeen re-established and it has decided to re-formulate itsundergraduate curricula. Graduate degrees in anthropology have alsodeveloped. Zhongshan University, Xiamen University, CentralUniversity for Nationalities, and Beijing University began in themid-1985s to train graduate students to work in the field ofanthropology. But the doctoral degrees that these universitiesoffered were either historical or sociological ones. Since themid-1990s, M.A and Ph.D programs in anthropology have been formallyapproved by the Ministry of Education. So these universities havehad developed independent graduate teaching programs. Progressivelyalso, except for Zhangshan University which has insisted on the“four field ideal”, many programs have turned their attentiontoward more focused training of social and cultural anthropology.In the 1980s, the training of anthropology was limited tointroductory courses. Since the mid-1990s, specialized courses ofkinship and social organization, economic anthropology, politicalanthropology, religious anthropology, ecological anthropology, andanthropology of tourism and globalization have been emphasized.More and more, ethnographic fieldwork has become a requirement fordoctoral degree studies. Ph.D theses are written in Chinese and arebasically unknown to scholars outside the Chinese-speaking world.But they are of increasingly high quality.            

 

Research

 

      In the past decade, anthropological research has also advanced incertain positive directions. Among the various topics of study,ethnographic and social historical studies of Han communities inthe so-called “Eastern parts” (dongbu) of China have beenthe most eye-catching. Lineage, popular ritual, and state-societyrelationships, which have received attention from Westernanthropologists since the 1950s, have become popular researchtopics among Chinese anthropologists. Influenced by youngeranthropologists who obtained their Ph.D degrees in the West andJapan in the reform decades, many anthropologists are now keenlyinterested in new topics such as social memory, ethnicity,political economy, gender, urbanism, everyday life, and lifehistory. The so-called “Western parts” (xibu) have recentlyre-emerged as a core region for ethnographic studies. Manyanthropologists working on these regions have continued toconcentrate on historical studies of national minorities. But moreand more scholars have become involved in applied studies ofdevelopment and tourism and have turned to Western sources forreflecting on “Chinese problems” such as modernity,state-nationalism, “ethnic identity”, and globalization.

As previously, most research projects have focused on theChinese “national self” and have “nativistic characters” (Wang,2002). Their majority interest has been in the “inner” – the Han -and “outer” - the non-Han - zones of Chinese civilization. Alongthe boundaries between the Han and non-Han, prior to 1949, roughlythere had been a division of labor, with the “Northern School” (BeiPai) led by Wu Wenzao of Yanjing University paying more attentionto rural communities, and the Southern School (Nan Pai)concentrating on ethno-historical studies of ethnic groups. In the1950s, anthropologists from both pre-1949 schools were sent toconduct “nationality identification” (minzu shibie) researchamong the ethnic minorities (Wang, 2000). In the 1980s, both ruralstudies and nationality (minzu) studies were re-promoted.But at the stage, dialogues between the two schools were rarelyheard. By contrast, since the mid-1990s, there has been an obviousshift toward a synthesis. In the past decade, there has in additiona move backwards toward pre-1949 anthropology. Classical examplesof Chinese ethnography have been reprinted and re-gained theirpopularity. Many anthropologists have restudied the old famoussites of pre-1949 ethnographic research. In most examples, thesestudies have been conducted without reference to Westernethnographic re-studies, in a way, simply to follow up thepost-1949 social changes, or simply to revisit the places withoutrethinking their interpretive models. Nonetheless, these revisitshave contributed to a newly emerging trend toward theoreticalrethinking through re-studies in the past few years (Wang,2005).

 

Publications and Journals

 

Certain ideological restrictions on publishing criticalethnographies have continued to be effective. But other obstaclesof the 1980s’ sort have mostly been cleared. The decrease ofdifficulties in publishing has resulted the rapid increase of thenumber of anthropological books in the bookshops. Translations ofWestern, and to a lesser extent, Japanese, works on anthropologyhave continued to grow in their numbers. In the 1980s, bookstranslated and published were mainly American evolutionist,historical particularist, and neo-evolutionist classics. Since themid-1990s, structural anthropology, interpretive anthropology,historical anthropology, and post-modernist anthropology havebecome central to translation projects. Many publishing houses haveplayed an important role in producing anthropological monographswritten by Chinese scholars themselves. To publishing houses suchas Sanlian, Shanghai People’s Publishing House, Chinese SocialScience Press, Nationality Press, and many university presses,rural anthropology and ethnographic notes on ethnic minoritycultures have been the most interesting titles for publication.      

In 2000, in the national conference of anthropology held inXiamen, the Chinese Anthropological Society made a decision tocreate a specialized journal of Chinese anthropology and in 2002 itsucceeded in publishing its first issue (the journal is entitledRenwen Shijie, or The World of Culture). Regrettably,so far the second issue is still waiting to be edited. In spite ofthe lack of a specialized journal of anthropology, manymulti-disciplinary academic journals - including universitybulletins - have created special columns for the subject. In theNorth, Sociology Research (CASS), NationalityResearch (CASS), Du Shu (Sanlian), NorthwesternNationality Research (Lanzhou), Folklore Research(Shandong) have included many research articles and book reviewswritten by anthropologists. Most bulletins of universities fornationalities have developed extensive sections of anthropology.Among these bulletins, the Bulletin of Guangxi College forNationalities and the humanity and social science journal ofYunnan University (Sixiang Zhanxian) have been the mostactive among all in publicizinganthropology.  

 

Seminars and Conferences

 

Most departments, institutes, and centers of anthropology in themainland have organized their own seminars (but so far none of suchseminars have been held on a regular weekly basis) and conferences.Since the 1980s, the Chinese Anthropological Society has organized6 national conferences. In the late 1990s, the influential“National Advanced Workshop on Social and Cultural Anthropology”toured from Beijing to Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast of thecountry, and was a success. The topics discussed during theworkshop periods included anthropological theory, fieldwork,interpretation, cross-cultural comparison, and regionalanthropology in China. Most of the lectures and papers presented atthe workshops have been published in special collections (includedin Sociology and Anthropology Series, Beijing University). TheAdvanced Forum for Anthropologists initially created in Guangxi hasalso toured to other parts of China and become influential. Inaddition, since the mid-1990s, there have also been morespecialized conferences or workshops, deriving from largeinternational joint research projects. 

 

*                 *                 *

 

In view of the growing number of anthropologists and that ofteaching, research, and translation products, in the past decade,the prosperity of anthropology in the mainland can be said to beunprecedented. By now, the Chinese anthropological circle hascomprised diverse groups of anthropologists who have come fromdifferent generations and educational backgrounds. In 1989, whenJacques Lemoine wrote his review, he expressed his worry about “thedifficulty of finding successors among youthful students” (Lemoine,1989: 111). After 15 years, his worry seems totally out of date.Old style ethno-historians and ethnologists have continued some oftheir earlier practices such as studying minzu wenti(nationality issues). New generation social and culturalanthropologists, either trained abroad or in Chinese universities,have produced interesting monographs and research articles.Undoubtedly, tensions between and within different generations haveexisted. But such tensions seem not to have much impact on theproductivity of Chinese anthropological circle. Reconsiderations ofthe place of anthropology in Chinese history have also emerged as anew topic of research, and many texts have also involved debatesconcerning many theoretical issues such as those of indigenizationof anthropology, ethnic identity, and globalization raised byanthropologists in other countries.

Like Chinese economy, Chinese anthropology is booming and, if ithas any problems, many of them must have also derived from its“over-heatedness”. Reflecting on his experience in promotingsociology in post-reform China, Fei Xiaotong has recentlycriticized post-reform Chinese sociology as something that has beentoo “rapidly accomplished” (su cheng) to have sufficientknowledge accumulation needed to set good foundation for its ownconstruction. A discipline that has been “rapidly accomplished” isbound to lack solid foundation of knowledge (Fei, 2001). LikeChinese sociology, post-reform Chinese anthropology has also been“rapidly accomplished”. In mainland china, systematically trainedanthropologists are still a minority and, to a great extent, theproductivity of anthropological works and students has been higherthan the quality of the products. Teaching programs that have beenaimed to benefit studies have often been disrupted by internal andexternal problems. The enterprise of Chinese anthropology willcontinue to expand in the near future and teaching and researchingstaff and students and research projects, monographs, articles, andtranslations will continue to increase. But as I would venture topredict, for the very reason that Fei has specified, the disciplinewill also encounter some of the problems that it had experienced inthe late 1980s. How can we create an “anthropology with Chinesecharacteristics” without totally de-anthroplogizing it? How can wemake anthropology “useful” and “popular” without also making it asort of propaganda or a part of the work of the state? … Suchquestions remain to be debated.       

 

 

References

 

Fei, Xiaotong, 2001, Shicheng, Buke, Zhixue (Learning,Restudying, and Researching), Beijing: Sanlian Shudian.

Harrall, Steven, 2001, “The anthropology of reform and thereform of anthropology”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30:139-61.

Lemoine, Jacuqes, 1989, “Ethnologists in China”,Diogenes, 177:83-111..

Wang, Mingming, 2000, “Xixue Zhongguohua de lishi kunjing (Thehistorical dilemma in the ‘sinification’ of a Western science)”, inWang Mingming Zixuanji (Selected Writings by WangMingming), pp. 1-39, Guilin: Guangxi Normal UniversityPress.

____2002,“The third eye: towards a critique of ‘nativisticanthropology”, Critique of Anthropology, Vol.22, Issue 22,PP.149-174.

_____2005, “Jicheng yu fansi: ji Yunnan sange renleixue tianyegongzuo didian de zaiyanjiu (Inheriting and reflecting: notes onthe ethnographic restudies of three Yunnan communities)”, inShehuixue Yanjiu (Sociology Research), 2005(2):132-254.

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