FW: Book review: On the South China Track
- -----Original Message-----
From: J Martin [SMTP:hjm2@...]
Sent: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 8:34 PM
Subject: Book review: On the South China Track
A review of:
_On the South China Track; Perspectives on Anthropological
Research and Teaching_
edited by Sidney C. H. Cheung at the Chinese University of Hong
Kong is included in the body of this message.
If anyone is interested in a formatted version, drop me a line.
I can supply Word 6 pc, Mac AppleWorks, rtf and txt formats.
_On the South China Track; Perspectives on Anthropological
Research and Teaching_
Sidney C. H. Cheung, ed.
Howard J. Martin
901 Pump Road, 193
Sidney C. H. CHEUNG, ed., _On the South China Track; Perspectives
on Anthropological Research and Teaching_. Series title: Hong
Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies Research Monograph, no.
40. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1998. vii +
279 pp., with Chinese glossary, contributor profiles, index,
maps, references and tables. ISBN: 962-441-540-4 (pb). Price:
This collection of thirteen essays provides an insider?s look at
anthropology and how it is practiced in Hong Kong and South
China. The essays are edited versions of papers presented at a
pre-retrocession 1997 conference on anthropological research and
teaching held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Three to
four essays each are collected in four sections: Indigenous
Culture Within a Changing Context, Traditionism and Modernity,
Other Issues in South China and Teaching Anthropology in the
Chinese World. Perhaps befitting Hong Kong?s importance as an
international Mecca, the contributors are an international lot;
they include anthropologists (and one sociologist) from
universities in the Hong Kong SAR, The People?s Republic, Japan,
Canada and the US. Scholars from institutes and schools in
Taiwan are, very unfortunately, absent. The essays chronicle
current anthropology in the region, exemplify the kinds of
studies done and preview what South China anthropology might
On the contents.
A first thought is that South China anthropology is vigorous and
doing well. The range of issues writers address is broad and
enticing. South China is a big area to cover and provides
fitting contexts for most any kind of study likely to interest a
researcher. (Obviously, imagining boundaries for ?South China?
would be an exercise in empty scholasticism). For example,
authors address mainline ethnographic issues such as lineage
relations across national boundaries and kin-based economic
adaptation, identity and its post migration transformation, and
tensions between Hong Kong?s market and the PRC?s statist
ideologies. Other contributors reflect on changing frames of
reference in the transformation from student to degree holder and
an all-too-brief account of pioneering Chinese anthropologists
and their attempts to disengage from Western thinking. Although
the essays are unevenly polished, these topics (and others not
mentioned) illustrate the wealth of opportunities for doing
ethnography in South China. This by itself makes the book
A second observation is that new approaches challenging staid
traditions of localized participant observation are queried and
dissected. No less than three contributors provide analyses of
identity, ethnicity, sociality and change in virtual,
transnational communities linked by modem and the internet.
Rather than being trendy fluff, these three essays show that
anthropological analysis of such non-centered communities makes
sense. They also remind one that advanced technology is global
technology but the way it is used crucially depends on
participant needs and desires.
Third, three authors address how anthropological pedagogy and
research practice are changing or should change in the People?s
Republic of China and, generally, in South China. The essays
make clear that anthropological research and teaching in China
continues to import western ideas and methods. But the authors
also show that Chinese anthropologists have invented and continue
to invent theories and models fitting current practices and
visions of future needs - and these inventions are articulated to
fit the local context. Joseph Bosco?s essay ?Anthropology among
the Natives: The Indigenization of Chinese Anthropology?provides
a useful, crisp summary of indigenization and how and why issues
local practitioners select differ from Euro-American concerns.
Two important essays.
I select two essays here for fuller discussion because they
portend future directions in South China anthropology. The first
is ?Road to Reform of the Teaching of Anthropology in Mainland
China? by social anthropologist Zhuang Kongshao, Director of the
Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Central University for
Nationalities (CUN), Beijing. Director Zhuang begins with a
laundry list of ?...irrational educational practices...? current
in PRC higher education including ?...the spoon feeding teaching
method, the sea-of-exercises method and the score-oriented
method...? (p. 211). His important plaint is that the existing
system stifles student and teacher creativity.
Important changes in the anthropology curriculum and pedagogy got
underway at CUN in 1994-95. The number of courses offered to
students rose while the number of weekly in-class hours dropped.
Content was redefined after comparisons with anthropology
programs elsewhere, both domestic and foreign. Student-teacher
interaction increased when seminar classes were introduced and
other forms of static, hierarchical arrangements (lectures and
copy sessions) were downgraded. Zhuang also (pp. 216-218)
outlines ?salvage? ethnology carried out by an interdisciplinary
team working ahead of the completion of the controversial Three
Gorges Dam on the Yangzi. The team?s cooperative efforts are
important because archaeological, historical and ethnological
projects were integrated to develop a comprehensive account of
the area soon to disappear under water.
The essay?s final section is an ?interview? with Zhuang
re-affirming reforms that are contemplated or have been launched.
In a very telling passage on pages 219-220, he remarks on the
debilitating effects the politics of personal relations (guanxi
politics) have on attempts to reform an ossified system:
"In some universities, more attention is paid to the balance of
personnel relationship than to the accomplishment of teaching and
scientific research. Hence, the judgment and decision of the
university are influenced and confused. In recent years, the way
to successfully handle personnel relationship and the
relationship among offices has been fervently practiced. This is
a conspicuous reflection on the incapability of the system.
Moreover, it diminishes teachers? courage to express their
personal view independently."
I think this essay is important because Director Zhuang speaks
from a position of authority and as a knowledgeable advocate. He
provides good information on the path curriculum reform will
Gregory Guildin (Professor of Anthropology at Pacific Lutheran
University) contributed ?Serving the Xiang Government, Serving
the People: Applied Anthropology in a Changing China?. This
essay appears early in the volume and provides a nicely practical
counterweight to Director Zhuang?s rendition of pedagogical
reform. Guildin argues that anthropology in China may prosper
best if it, like other scholarly endeavors, is put to use in the
service of society. He proposes varieties of anthropology that
make suitable candidates for non-academic work in China?s context
of rapid change, development and dislocation: ?Anthropology in
China should move vigorously to develop its own urban and applied
anthropology and place them in the service of the nation.? (p.
49). He makes pragmatic suggestions for implementing this
proposal, many of which point to ensuring that anthropology in
China engages world anthropology. Guildin also proposes that
establishing new, nation-wide standards to assist scholars in the
work of building effective anthropology programs should be a
priority. It is difficult to disagree with this thought.
Finally, Guildin?s concern for the well-being of Chinese
university students who choose (or fall into) anthropology as a
course of study lies brightly on the surface of this essay. He
suggests paths that might make anthropologists vital partners in
understanding and managing change and development in China; these
paths could establish Chinese anthropology as a coveted career
choice rather than an impractical, non-remunerative one. This
essay and Zhuang?s essay should be read as a pair. Zhuang?s
offers a view of improved pedagogical standards and practices for
China; Guildin?s ideas point to actual destinations such new
practices might strive to reach.
The essays in this book vary in quality but are all worth reading
for the reason that they provide great insight into anthropology
as it is now practiced in South China and what future practices
may be. The range of research interests is, as I remark above,
fittingly broad. However, major lacunae exist; Taiwan
anthropology is absent and there are no essays devoted to
religion and ritual, gender relations or to China?s national
minorities, to name a few central topics. But this is not a
criticism. Conference participants present their ideas in this
book; readers familiar with current fieldwork in China will know
that the range of work being carried out is broader than even On
the South China Track illustrates.
This volume is more substantial than a journal review article but
less complete than a monograph-length intellectual history. It
is worth recalling here that books like this one show why
specialized academic institutes and university presses are so
valuable. South China specialists will find this book to be more
than useful; with exceptions noted above, it benchmarks much of
anthropology in South China at the turn of the twenty first
century. It also prominently showcases several younger scholars.
On the South China Track can be ordered directly from the
publisher, the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies. The
HKIAPS web site (http://www.cuhk.edu.hk/hkiaps) has ordering
Note: I requested a review copy of this book from the editor but
have no stake in its success or failure.
Howard J. Martin
Richmond, VA, USA
>>>>>> To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send the command <<<<<<
>>>>>> UNSUB ANTHRO-L to LISTSERV@... . <<<<<<