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

By Gregory Eliyu Guldin | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

In the Field

Language Fieldwork and Reforms

The whole era of Soviet influence and contact occurred simultaneously with an explosion of opportunities to put into practice the ideas and suggestions raised by Soviet advisers, teachers, and colleagues. After the minorities identification work was carried out, two other major projects followed: one concentrating on language and the other on social history. These were perhaps the most extensive series of fieldwork projects ever conducted anywhere on earth.

The language projects were certainly unparalleled in China's history. There were large-scale general surveys of the minority nationality languages throughout the country, and there was extensive training by universities and institutes of research workers from the minority nationalities for scientific research on their own languages. In the 1950s a coordinated effort was made to analyze the dialects of the languages studied, to devise scripts for those languages that needed them, and to undertake and implement reforms in the Han writing system. Linguist Fu Maoji maintained that "this work could only be done after the founding of the New China. The socialist system and the Party's policies of nationality solidarity, nationality equality, and mutual development made possible the commencement and development of this work" (Fu 1990:177).

Fu is correct when he says that only with the full support of the government and Party could such an undertaking be accomplished. Such support included the approval and funding of institutions to train field personnel and to analyze the data collected. CIN, as the preeminent nationality training and research organization in China, was also the main minority language training and research

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