The Saga of Anthropology in China: From Malinowski to Moscow to Mao

By Gregory Eliyu Guldin | Go to book overview

Introduction

The Chinese experience of anthropology is an exemplary one, for the Chinese have experienced, in succession, four distinct approaches to the anthropological sciences. Before 1949 the Chinese adopted Western approaches wholesale, but with the triumph of revolutionary forces the advisability of the entire Western perspective was placed in doubt, and the Soviet model replaced it completely. With the Sine-Soviet split of the late 1950s and the radicalization of Chinese life, Mao Zedong Thought became the new standard by which to judge the social sciences' worth, and this new yardstick was applied to anthropological work. Most recently, the reforms of the 1980s turned China and anthropology onto yet another track, this time emphasizing a Chinese model that incorporates foreign elements.

This book traces the growth of the anthropological sciences in China from the vantage point of these different approaches to the discipline. It does not aim to be either comprehensive or definitive on the history of anthropology in China, 1 and there are undoubtedly some key figures who are unreported or underreported and others who are perhaps overreported. Based in part on interviews and the written memoirs and scholarly articles of the Chinese who made this history, as well as on the author's own observations, this volume instead attempts an in-depth look at how the varied anthropological sciences of human evolution, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics have fared when transferred to a non‐ Western milieu of colonialism, war, and social revolution. 2

To humanize this academic tale, this book personalizes the development of anthropology in China by focusing on the life of an elder scholar in the field, the late Liang Zhaotao of Zhongshan University. His life was interwoven with the fate of the very discipline he championed: From his undergraduate experience in

-xi-

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