Disciplines and Politics: From Malinowski to “People’s Anthropology”

Part of the New Directions in East Asian History book series (NDEAH)


This chapter reconstructs the rise of twentieth-century Chinese anthropology and the spread of Western scholarship to China in a bifurcated narrative, focusing on the process of Chinese anthropology’s transformation toward a “people’s anthropology” on the mainland. Early Republican China saw the rise of social investigation, which was furthered by the May Fourth Movement that emphasized social engagement of cultural elites. Under the influence of Western anthropologists, the budding sociology and anthropology fields in China adopted the methodology of fieldwork and participant observation and the structural-functionalist approach to study non-Han borderland peoples. These Western-trained Chinese anthropologists, however, also differed from their mentors due to their common background of having grown up in a weak and disorderly China. Chinese anthropologists’ nationalist sentiments converged with the Chinese socialist state’s adaptation of non-Chinese models and theories in building and studying minority nationalities while retaining some basic assumptions of their earlier academic training of functionalism.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Allegheny CollegeMeadvilleUSA

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