Fortress Village - The Ethnic Minorities of Southwest China  

Ling Chun-Sheng

Ling Chun-Sheng was born in 1901 in Wujin County, Jiangsu Province. Right after he graduated from Southeastern University in 1923, he headed to Paris to pursue an advanced degree with Marcel Mauss. His return coincided with the establishment of the Academia Sinica, where director Tsai Yuan-Pei was so enthusiastic about promoting research on ethnology that he started an ethnology division within the Institute of Social Sciences and took on the position of the chair himself. Noticing that Ling had Western training in ethnology, and was recommended by several renowned professors, such as Paul Rivet, Tsai invited him to be a researcher in his division.

At the time, the Academia Sinica strongly encouraged researchers to gather first-hand scientific data. The first issue of the Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology (August, 1928) mentioned: “We are against making explanations of the material. We believe that as long as we prepare the material well, the truth will naturally reveal itself.” With the support of Tsai Yuan-Pei and the Institute of Social Sciences’ Tao Meng-He, Ling went to northeastern China to study the Hezhe (Goldi) people. This trip is considered China’s first ever formal ethnological field study, and Li Yi-Yuan believed that this trip was “a breakthrough for the Academia Sinica in the research of ethnology and cultural anthropology.” Ling Chun-Sheng’s The Goldi Tribe on the Lower Sungari River is the first “scientific” ethno¬graphy, making Ling the creator of Chinese scientific ethnography. Li Yi-Yuan noted that from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, this book was an important reference for every Chinese ethnologist who was doing studies on the ethnic groups on China’s southwestern and northwestern borders. Ling Chun-Sheng’s research methods and publications not only dictated the direction of anthropological research of the time, but also was a typical case of ethnological research at Academia Sinica.

If we observe this on a larger scale, Ling Chun-Sheng and Academia Sinica’s research method, i.e. leaning towards creating ethnographies by focusing on ethnic minority groups and gathering data on their traditional customs and history, is only one of many methods used by Chinese anthropologists. According to Tang Mei-Jun (1976: 9), before the year 1949 the field of anthropology was divided into two main schools (Northern and Southern) due to difference in research subjects, topics, and theories. The Southern school was centered on Academia Sinica, and was closely related to the “historical school,” while the Northern school was centered on Yanjing University, and was strongly influenced by “functionalism.” Huang Ying-Gui (2000: 287- 288; 2003: 12) thinks that The Goldi Tribe on the Lower Sungari River perfectly demonstrates the characteristics of the historical school. Although the book states that “culture is a bunch of artifacts and rules that mankind created in order to deal with life,” its descriptions of materialism, spiritualism, family, and society are so vague that one cannot know what kind of life caused the creation of the aforementioned culture. The fact that Ling Chun-Sheng only focused on how to clarify issues regarding ancient Chinese religion by utilizing the sources that he had of certain ethnic groups makes some think that he was trying to “recover important lost principles in the rough, less refined things.” He viewed the “primitive peoples” that he studied in his anthropological and ethnological research as the “remains” of the culture of an ancient society, something that can serve as the key to understanding many unsolved puzzles about pre-historic times. This type of “origin-tracing” research and the communication and evolution theories behind it was brought to Taiwan from the mainland, and for the next fifty years influenced research on the ethnohistory of southwest China. The result was that the depiction of these peoples often became Han-centered viewpoints that strengthened the self-identity of those who considered themselves “real Chinese.” (Ibid 2003: 200). This also caused a gap between the research that Ling did before he returned to China and the research he did afterwards. After he returned, Ling did not continue using what he had learned in France. His writing on the Hezhe people had nothing to do with his instructor Mauss’ functionalism theory, and he neglected existing anthropological theories, employing instead the “anti-interpretation” method that was popular at Academia Sinica at the time. More than anything he cared about solving China’s historical problems, which is perhaps due to the fact that as a scholar, he felt that he had the urgent obligation to apply what he had learned to benefit the country. However, the anthropology that he applied to the construction of the nation was short on theory and stressed science and history instead. Using scientific methods to study history was an important breakthrough in the academic world back then. Fu Ssu-nien once remarked:

The original intention of establishing Academia Sinica was to improve modern science, not to promote knowledge that already exists. In the case of the Institute of History and Philology, if the subject turns out to only involve repeated studying of what we already know from history, and cannot produce any new breakthroughs, then it is worthless compared to the natural sciences, and Academia Sinica should not have built an institute for it as if it were astronomy, geology, physics, or chemistry. However, since the Institute of History and Philology is established, we are now treating history and philology with scientific methods. This may be an old subject, but it has now taken on a new life.

Given that they believed in the existence of a “purely objective view of history,” Ling and his fellow researchers would always define ethnic groups according to the “objective guidelines” that they agreed on, and pay no heed to the subjective views of the subjects who were being studied. Due to the limitations set by this “objective scientific approach”, the research on China’s ethnic minority groups showed no improvement in Taiwan until the 1980s (Ibid 2003: 206). The strange thing is, although the research that they did was in fact “scientific,” it never escaped the influence of the nationalistic mentality of “self” and “other” (Ho 1999). Regardless of that, Huang Ying-Gui also pointed out that researchers after Ling still had much to learn from Ling’s research. He was able to efficiently utilize existing historical documents, something that many anthropologists conducting Chinese studies failed to do. In 1934, Ling’s work was already outstanding (Ibid 2003: 12). Ling believed that before getting to know the culture of the Hezhe people, it was important to gather information on ancient northeastern tribes and the Hezhe people, and study it in detail in order to understand their histories and relationship with each other (1934 Preface).

After coming to Taiwan, Ling’s main interest turned to Pacific culture. He used many cultural characteristics as evidence to show that all ethnic groups on the Pacific Rim originated from China. Huang Ying-Gui thinks that although this type of research may boost the egos of the Chinese people, it reveals too many problems with the diffusion theory (2003: 18-19). He neglected “cultural borrowing,” and took similar cultural characteristics as proof that these cultures came from the same origin. He was too eager in equating different ethnic groups and different language families, and even though he could claim that “the Taiwanese aboriginals had come from China during pre-historic times,” he should not have been so sure that “the entire Proto-Malay people had migrated from the Asian continent to the South China Sea islands.” Ling’s way of turning currently existing aboriginal culture into live historical material for studying pre-historic history in order to understand the development of history and pre-historic society was leaning towards being dependent on minority reports and historical documents, something that evidently expressed views of the diffusion theory school as well as nationalism.

If we want to have a more in-depth understanding of Ling Chun-Sheng’s research methods and direction, and his nationalistic views, we could compare him with Rui Yi-Fu. The two were about the same age—Rui being three years older than Ling—but their educational background was different. After Ling graduated from Southeastern University, he went to study in Paris with renowned French anthropologists Marcel Mauss and Paul Rivet, as mentioned. In 1929 he obtained his Ph.D. and returned to China. Rui also once studied at Southeastern University, but the school was disbanded before he had a chance to graduate. He later found a job at the Qinghua University Library, and studied lingustics with Zhao Yuan-Ren (Li 1998: 740-743). Li Yi-Yuan says of Rui:

Mr. Rui was an academic who worked hard on his own and eventually succeeded, while Mr. Ling was an academic who was able to go abroad and return gloriously to his country in his early days. The two naturally had very different personalities and backgrounds, and on top of that, their attitude towards academia differed distinctly as well. (Li 1998: 741)

In terms of their attitude towards research, the two differ the most on the fact that Rui was influenced by American anthropology and was “cautious and detail-oriented” in his research, while Ling was deeply influenced by European views on anthropology and culture, and that he liked to study a broader range of topics, including the cultural history of southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim (Li 1970, 1998). Despite their differences in their research attitude, they were field research companions, and collaborated for many years. Together, they had gone to western Hunan to study the Miao people, Zhejiang to study the She people, and western Yunnan to study the Va, Jingpo, Lahu, Baiyi, and Lisu people. They had also formed a survey group together and gone to investigate the culture of the Qiang people in Lifan County, Sichuan, and the Jiarong people around Big and Small Jinchuan.

The fact that the two had such field experiences together and yet such different academic directions makes one curious about their opinions on the debate over Chinese ethnic groups during the beginning of the anti-Japanese war. Rui YiFu participated in the discussions on how the Chinese were formed with his knowledge of southwestern ethnic groups. In an article on the components of the Chinese ethnic groups, he pointed out that “the Chinese can be considered one ethnic group, or not, because the definition of ethnic group is ‘a large group of human beings who are willing to come together,’ and therefore although the Chinese many be divided into twelve different ethnic groups, the fact that everyone is willing to come together and identify with each other makes it one single ethnic group” (Rui 1972: 68- 69). We can explain Rui’s “the Chinese can either be an ethnic group or not” theory with the fact that he was both an anthropologist and an advocate of nationalism, because although his ethnological training told him that there are many other ethnic groups in China besides the Han, as a nationalist he had an obligation to prove that China was a ethnically homogeneous nation. His fundamental stance leaned towards Fu Ssu-nien’s view that China is a multiethnic country, instead of the views of Wu Wen-Zao and Fei Xiao-Tong. From Ling’s article “The Culture of Chinese Borders” we can get an idea

Ling Chun-Sheng thought that he could derive a fact from his many years of research on the Chinese borders: The Chinese Nation is a blend of the Han and the various ethnic minorities in China. He believed that science had already proven that the Han and the “barbarians” came from the same origin, a theory that used to be seen as nonsense (Ling 1942:62). The Chinese are an impressive ethnic group in terms of population, culture, and space, and the Han were not the only ethnic group involved in the forming of it. He said:

Today the Chinese borders are important because both its resources and its ethnic minorities act as the country’s lifeline. Furthermore, the people living in the marginalized regions were once our brothers, and because they are currently wandering around the borders, we should teach them culture and make them more civilized so that they can once again be part of the Chinese family, with equal rights as Dr. Sun Yat-sen had hoped. (Ling 1942:62).

On the complexity of ethnic minority culture, he explained from a scientific point of view that behind the chaos, there is just one simple source. He said:

The names, languages, and culture of the ethnic minorities in southwestern China are much diversified, but they all came from the Sino-Tibetan language families. With the sources that we have on our hands, we can study it from two dimensions—time and space. If we trace carefully, we can eventually see that the Sino-Tibetan ethnic minorities, in southwestern China all originated from one source, but branched out as time went by.

The reason why the ethnic groups we see today are so diversified is due to the “difference of time” and “geographical isolation.” Because of the same reason, besides branching out individually, each ethnic group also had opportunities to interact and blend with other ethnic groups, resulting in an even more complicated situation. Therefore, although in the geographically complicated southwestern region of China there are many different ethnic groups and cultures, Ling believed that these people are all related to one another to some degree. Although the exact location of their origin cannot be confirmed, it is highly likely that their migration route was going southward from Central Asia (Ling 1942:55). It was Ling’s interest to trace back to the source, and this interest, which led to the conclusion that all ethnic groups in China originated from the same source, was seen as evidence that supported Chinese nationalism. From this we can also see that during this time period, the focus of ethnology and China border studies was to find the relationship between the ethnic minorities and the Han, in other words, to find the answer to whether all ethnic groups in China originally came from the same source. Such a research approach, although seemingly focused on and caring about ethnic minorities, is in reality Sino-centric.

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1968 中國古代與印度太平兩洋的戈船考。臺北市:中央研究院民族學研究所。
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不詳 清代之治藏制度。臺北市:不詳。
不詳 近年來民族學論文集。臺北市:不詳。
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凌純聲 改編
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