Sydney C.H. Cheung (ed.): On the South China Track — Perspectives on Anthropological Research and Teaching

On the South China Track is not an invitation to
literally go travelling, either for ethnographic or tourist purposes, along the
byways of South China. The exploration to which this selection of 13 papers given
at a conference held in June 1997 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong invites
us is that of the new tendencies which are surfacing in the academic field of
anthropological studies in today’s South China, and the desirable future
directions.

The reader will especially derive from this work the benefit
one might expect from an exercise appraising recent developments in the anthropology
of South China (Huanan), a field that has been booming over the past decade and
a half. The breadth of the field of investigation, in terms of subjects and themes
of study, of which several articles offer an overview, illustrates the vitality
of an area of research whose recent development is linked on the one hand to redefining
the field of the discipline and on the other to the massive changes in the economic,
political and cultural situation of societies in the Chinese world. The evolution
of anthropological studies on South China, like that of its teaching, reflects
the development of a discipline whose range now takes in the whole of the social
field, both close at hand and far-flung. Leaving the well-trodden paths of the
discipline, this series of essays favours the exploration of new ground which
is today opening up to the anthropology of contemporary societies of South China.
The new directions in the anthropology of South China, particularly in the research
program of the future, define it as an anthropology of modernity. The anthropological
exploration of contemporary Chinese societies is clearly setting out new pathways
when it hazards, as do two of the volume’s contributors, Lozada and Cheung,
into the virtual field of electronic communication highways, the one showing the
role of the Internet in the expression and revitalisation of the ethnic identity
of the Hakka diaspora, the other wondering, based on the example set by a community
of Japanese net surfers, about the social implications of this new form of sociability.
However, such a trend cannot yet be taken for granted in an anthropological community
that remains in part divided as to the definition of the discipline’s objects
of study. The shifts in perspective which have marked recent developments in anthropological
studies of the societies of the Chinese world by bringing about a repositioning
towards modern urban settings are not, however, the sole result of this redefining
of the discipline’s field. The anthropology of South China is today taking
place in a context in which societies correspond less and less to the label of
“traditional”, such as those which made up the classical subjects of
our discipline. The often spectacular reconfigurations of the social, economic
and cultural field produced by industrialisation and urbanisation have made it
necessary for anthropological research to analyse the new phenomena created by
these new situations. Another important development in anthropological studies
of the societies of South China to which this work draws attention is their engagement
in the deterritorialised field of transnational areas featuring networks of exchanges
and relations, given renewed impetus by economic considerations, between the members
of the Chinese diaspora and their home regions.

Another change has occurred in the course of the past decade
and a half to shake up the activity of the anthropology of the societies in the
Chinese cultural sphere. This is the rise of anthropological studies and research
in these societies themselves, due neither to the geographical extension of the
sphere nor to the proliferation of its subjects of study. Without forming the
crux of the work as such, the phenomenon of the indigenisation of the anthropology
of contemporary Chinese societies nevertheless runs through it and underlies it,
in so far as it breathes a new dynamic into this field of research that it enriches
with new approaches and new ways of seeing. In this connection, Joseph Bosco sets
the ball rolling in a very timely fashion with an article which examines the issues
and implications of the flowering of an indigenous practice of anthropology in
a discipline constructed on the basis of the study of other cultures, be they
“barbarian”, “savage”, “primitive” or “traditional”,
by outside observers from Western countries who shared among themselves the singular
privilege of the anthropological endeavour. Such is perhaps, in the final analysis,
the principal lesson of this pioneering attempt at appraisal by confirming, through
the recent achievements of the anthropology of the contemporary societies of South
China, and the desirable directions it is taking, the vitality of a discipline
based on the tenet of the unity of mankind.

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