A Conversation with Huang Weiwen: Reflections on Asian Paleolithic Research
Miller-Antonio, Sari, Schepartz, Lynne A., Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific
HUANG WEIWEN IS PROFESSOR OF PALEOLITHIC ARCHAEOLOGY at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Academia Sinica, Beijing. He was born in 1937 in Guangdong Province, China. As an early student of the preeminent archaeologist Jia Lanpo, Huang was one of the first to be trained specifically in Paleolithic archaeology in the PRC. The discoverer of" Lantian Man (Homo erectus) from Gongwangling, Lantian County, Shaanxi Province, he is one of the foremost Paleolithic archaeologists in China. He directed the fieldwork station at Zhoukoudian from 1974 to 1979. From 1992 to 1996, he was the director of the Laboratory for Paleolithic Archaeology at the IVPP. He has worked in all regions of China and has traveled extensively to research comparative collections and visit archaeological sites in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the U.S. Among Huang's notable publications are The Story of Peking Man (1990) (coauthored with Jia Lanpo), Bifaces in China (1987), Middle Pleistocene Acheulean-like Stone Technology of Bose Basin, South China (2000), Archaeological Evidence for the First Human Colonisation of East Asia (1997), and Excavations at Panxian Dadong, Guizhou Province, Southern China (1995). He is currently the senior Chinese director of both the Panxian Dadong and Bose Basin collaborative projects. This interview took place in Beijing in June 2002.
How did you first become interested in archaeology?
I grew up near Guangzhou City in the south. I was preparing to take my exams to finish middle school in 1954. It was usual for teachers to give students suggestions about what to study--I was interested in geography, but the headmaster said, "We suggest archaeology."
Did he give this suggestion to other students?
No, only me. He said, "We suggest you study archaeology because your thinking is creative." But I think he suggested that because my work in chemistry and physics was not as good.
So where were you sent to study?
At that time in China, only one university had archaeology--Peking University. However, they only selected students from North China in 1954, so I went to Zhongshan University near my hometown in Guangdong Province to study history. There was no paleolithic archaeology program of study at Zhongshan, only Neolithic and Dynastic. Pei Wenzhong, discoverer of the first skull of Peking Man, and Jia Lanpo, co-researcher of the Zhoukoudian Project since 1931, invited me to the IVPP in Beijing for training, with the plan that I could return to Zhongshan University and start a program of Paleolithic archaeology there.
I went up to Beijing in 1960. I was only supposed to stay two years, but at that time, social and economic conditions in China were very difficult. Zhongshan University had to stop some proposed programs including Paleolithic archaeology. Pei and Jia allowed me to stay for four years during these very hard times. I spent most of my time [three years] studying geology and geography! I liked geology and geography because they involved fieldwork and the ability to travel widely and work in many regions. This was what I wanted for my career--not to confine my research to one place--and Paleolithic archaeology was the one area of archaeology that allowed you to do this kind of travel.
How did you meet Jia Lanpo?
In December 1959 I was selected to attend the thirtieth anniversary of the discovery of the first skull of Peking Man at the Zhoukoudian site near Beijing. I was already a teacher in history then at Zhongshan University. I went to the meeting with my teacher, Professor Liang Chaotao. He was an anthropologist who promoted my chances to learn at the IVPP and he also introduced me to Jia.
What was your impression when first meeting Jia?
Jia was very famous. I was just a young man. Later that year, Jia went to northern Guangdong Province. He was coming to confirm several Paleolithic and Neolithic sites so we continued to meet before I went to Beijing. …