Presentation on theme: "Fei Xiao Tong November 2, 1910 – April 24, 2005 Chinese anthropologist and public intellectual."— Presentation transcript:
Fei Xiao Tong November 2, 1910 – April 24, 2005 Chinese anthropologist and public intellectual
Who was Fei Xiao Tong? Fei Xiao Tong was one of China's best known and respected anthropologists. His doctoral thesis, supervised by the functionalist anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics, was published as Peasant Life in China (1939) In his preface, Malinowski described the book as..a landmark in the development of anthropological field-work and theory. Among Fei Xiaotong's contributions to anthropology is the concept that Chinese social relations are based on networks of personal relations or guanxi.
Who was Fei Xiao Tong? This brought him recognition outside China and he lectured in Britain and in the USA before returning to take up an academic post at Tsinghua University. This was enhanced with the publication in the USA of Earthbound China (1945) and Chinas Gentry (1953). A patriotic Chinese who recognized the need both for Chinas modernization and for her protection against imperialism, Fei regarded himself as an intellectual bridge between Chinese culture and Western social science.
Who was Fei Xiao Tong? He became politically active through the China Democratic League, a party of intellectuals. This saw itself a rational middle way between the nationalist Kuomintang and the Communist Party. In March 1949, Fei did not flee to Taiwan as did so many other academics, but remained at Tsinghua. He believed, perhaps naively, that he could give critical support to the communists in the construction of a new China was, he said later, a year of revelation during which he understood that it was in 'serving the people' that both personal and social change could take place.
Fei Xiao Tong as Public Intellectual In 1950 he joined the newly established Central Institute of Nationalities and began an active life of public service. He also acquired public recognition through his popular articles on current public issues This began his first period as a public intellectual in which he argued the potential of the social sciences for Chinas development. For example, Feis analysis of village society and economy in his ethnographies convinced him that rural industry was needed to supplement agricultural earnings.
Fei Xiao Tong as Public Intellectual It was Feis many lively and popular articles which brought him both public recognition and official notoriety in China, as his detailed ethnographies were to remain unpublished until after the Mao Zedong period. In fact, after 1949, Fei and other Western-trained academics were an endangered species, with the social sciences abolished as university disciplines. During the Hundred Flowers period Fei was outspoken during the red or expert controversy when political ideology was preferred to professional expertise in appointments and promotions.
The Hundred Flowers In the two articles, A few words on sociology and Early Spring weather for intellectuals, written for a public readership in February and in March, 1957, Fei argued for the restoration of the social sciences as academic disciplines and called on academics to be outspoken and active in public life. He and others like him were subjected to a storm of political criticism and abuse, often from former colleagues in public articles such as Criticizing Fei Xiao Tongs comprador sociology and The sinister and detestable Fei Xiao Tong. (The Dilemma, 1979).
The Cultural Revolution His academic work was attacked for its foreign imperialist inspiration and he was accused of élitism and of class arrogance. Fei bent before the storm. In an address to the National Peoples Congress on 13 th July 1957, published as A Confession to the People, (The Dilemma, 1979) Fei admitted his political guilt. I deeply detest what I have done, and I must change my viewpoint...I am grateful to the Party for unhesitatingly opening wide the doors of reform and for magnanimously educating those of us who committed errors and fell into the rightists morass.
The Cultural Revolution During the Cultural Revolution, after being stripped of his honours and status, he spent two and a half years undergoing political re-education in a 7 th May Cadre School. Fei Xiao Tong disappeared from view and many outside China believed him to be dead. He had in fact returned quietly to the Central Institute of Nationalities. In 1964 he was even elected a member of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Committee.
The Return of the Public Intellectual In 1972 a delegation from the Committee of Concerned Asian Anthropologists met him there and reported this in Current Anthropology. In the years that followed, China experienced dramatic changes, especially following the Deng Xiao Peng era and the Opening Up of China. Many of the issues with which Fei had been concerned once again became current and this enabled him to return as a well-known academic and influential public intellectual.
The Return of the Public Intellectual Fei took a leading part in the reconstruction of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in post-Mao China and was Professor of Sociology at Peking University until his death in His books and articles were re-published in China and abroad. Two in particular, examples of his popular writing, are considered briefly here, as illustrating Fei Xiao Tong as a public intellectual. The dilemma of a Chinese intellectual (1979). Towards a peoples anthropology (1981). From the soil: the foundations of Chinese society (1992).
Towards a Peoples Anthropology...under our social system, theory is linked with practice; in a society where science is made to serve politics, it is necessary for a scientific worker to estimate the effects of his work on society. This is not just a question of personal morality but also a question of what is good or bad for the majority of the people. Only when the truthfulness of theories is being constantly examined in practice can we steadily push research work in a scientific direction and make it a prime mover of social progress (p. 17).
Towards a Peoples Anthropology To train and educate national cadres means to train and educate outstanding members from the laboring masses of the minorities who are closely bound by flesh and blood with their own people, fully acquainted with the latters language and conditions, and knowing how to impart a rational understanding of actuality and to help them get organized and show a whole-hearted devotion to their own peoples well- being. The social reform of Chinas minorities was successfully accomplished by means of this mass line. (p. 53).
From the Soil Rural people not only know each other intimately; they also get to know other aspects of rural life equally well...Knowledge acquired from familiarity is specific and is not deduced from abstract general principles. People who grow up in a familiar environment do not need such principles. They only need to know the specific relationship between means and ends within the scope of their activities. They do not seek universal truths. (p. 45).
From the Soil The basic methods of human interaction in rural society rest on familiarity...These methods cannot be used with a stranger. China is undergoing a rapid transformation that is changing a fundamentally rural society into a modern one. The way of life that has been cultivated in rural society is now giving rise to abuses. Created by strangers, modern society cannot incorporate the customary basis of rural society. Rejecting the customary ways of rural life, modern people denigrate everything rural. The rural villahe is no longer a place to which successful people want to return. (p. 44)
What is a Public Intellectual? To be a public intellectual it is not enough to simply be a celebrity, which Fei Xiao Tong certainly was. A public intellectual also seeks to influence opinion and policy for the public good in a consistent and pro bono way through the popular dissemination of professional expertise. Fei again certainly attempted this and in the specific conditions of Maoist and post-Maoist China. His experience raises fundamental questions about the role and capacity of the public intellectual in an authoritarian state and about definitions of the public good in such societies.
What is a Public Intellectual? As a popular educator his aim was to highlight general trends. He repeatedly argued the case for applied sociology and anthropology in China if modernization was to succeed. He published accessible articles and books on rural industrialization, small towns, national minorities, and on developing frontier areas. An example is the influence he brought on the Chinese government to promote rural industry, the rapid growth of which in the 1980s raised the income of hundreds of millions of villagers throughout China.
What is a Public Intellectual? In an interview published in Current Anthropology (1988, pp ), Fei observed: Now I have support from the population, from the farmers themselves, and that gives me a sense of worth and confidence. Confidence comes from society, from social influence!...I am getting new ideas, very practical ideas, and am encouraged by others, by people with responsibility. They appreciate that we sociologists have the ability to point out important relationships, to describe functional relationships that are easily overlooked by others.
Conclusion Robert Redfield described Fei as: A man who has written widely, talked much and acted fearlessly toward the solution of the immense social problems of China. Fei regarded anthropology and sociology as tools for the public good and his intellectual mission as being to ensure that they were used as such. Certainly, after 1980, his life was once again that of the public intellectual, with influential appointments, such as deputy chairman of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference and with effective contacts with policy makers at all levels of the Chinese state.
Conclusion Fei continued as a leading Chinese academic until his death, writing, lecturing and also broadcasting. He travelled, including outside China and received international honours such as the Malinowski Medal and the Huxley Memorial Medal. He has, however, a further significance as a prominent Chinese public intellectual both before and after the Cultural Revolution. It should be noted that, while his first period was marked by optimism, his second was characterized by caution as he re- established his academic reputation and public influence.
Some Books The dilemma of a Chinese Intellectual, (translated by J.P. McGough, M. E. Sharpe, New York, Towards a peoples anthropology, New World Press, Beijing, From the soil: the origins of Chinese society, University of California Press, Berkeley, Fei Xiaotong and sociology in revolutionary China, R.D. Arkush, 1981, Council on East Asian Studies, Massachusetts.