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FW: Book review: On the South China Track

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  • Ann Popplestone
    ... From: J Martin [SMTP:hjm2@EARTHLINK.NET] Sent: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 8:34 PM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: Book review: On the South
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 24, 1999
      -----Original Message-----
      From: J Martin [SMTP:hjm2@...]
      Sent: Tuesday, March 23, 1999 8:34 PM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      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.


      Book Review

      _On the South China Track; Perspectives on Anthropological
      Research and Teaching_

      Sidney C. H. Cheung, ed.

      Reviewed by:
      Howard J. Martin
      901 Pump Road, 193
      Richmond, VA
      USA 23233
      (804) 740-0170

      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:
      US $9.00.


      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
      especially useful.

      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.

      Final Thoughts.

      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
      March, 1999

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