Fortress Village - The Ethnic Minorities of Southwest China  

Rui Yi-Fu

Rui Yi-Fu was originally from Liyang, Jiangsu Province. He completed his studies at the Foreign Languages Department of Southeastern University (which was later reformed and became National Central University). Li Yi-Yuan once said, “The birth of a great scholar often occurs under special circumstances.” Rui Yi-Fu, who was working at the library of Qinghua University at the time, began to take an interest in ethnology when Tsai Yuan-Pei published his “Introduction to Ethnology” article and started the trend of scientific ethnology. Rui Yi-Fu first began his academic career in the field of ethnology when he joined Ling Chun-Sheng’s fieldwork project to do a language analysis of the Hezhe (Goldi) people. This was the start of his sixty-year-long interdisciplinary research career in anthropology and ethnology. These sixty years can be divided into two periods, reflecting the year he moved to Taiwan. In each period, Rui had a different academic focus due to the environment as well as his own personal experiences.

In 1930, one year after he was hired to work at Academia Sinica, Rui Yi-Fu began to help Ling Chun-Sheng with his research on the Hezhe people, analyzing and organizing linguistic data. In 1933, Rui Yi-Fu, Ling Chun-Sheng, and Yong Shiheng went on a three-month trip to several locations in western Hunan Province to study the lifestyles and social situation of the Miao and Yao peoples. For this research the three each had their assigned duties: Ling Chun-Sheng was responsible for investigating the Miao people’s geographical distribution, lifestyle, customs, drums, and dances; Rui Yi-Fu was in charge of gathering data to research their languages, songs, and folktales; Yong Shi-Heng served as the photographer, filmmaker, and illustrator. The monograph, The Miao Tribe in Western Hunan, which was based on the findings from this trip, is the first report done by Chinese researchers on the Miao people. Furthermore, it was also the first time for Chinese ethnologists to use a motion picture camera and film From 1935 to 1936, Rui Yi-Fu participated in China’s and Britain’s joint investigation of the southern border of Yunnan and Myanmar. For six months, Rui followed the team on their expedition to Mengding, Gengma, Mengyun, Menglian, and the Kawa regions of Banhong and Banlao, visiting the villages of the Baiyi, Lahu, Lisu, Hani, Shantou, Benglong, and Wa peoples. Due to time limitations, they only completed a detailed investigation and recordings of the physiology of the Lahu people and the language of the Lisu people. During this period, Rui Yi-Fu actively participated in long and difficult field investigations, and devoted much energy to the gathering and initial analyses of linguistic data. This was a period of enlightenment for Rui, and the experiences that he gained formed a solid foundation for his future research career.

In 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident occurred, which led to the outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese War. Due to the war, the Institute of History and Philology was moved to Kunming, Yunnan Province, and Nanxi Li village, Sichuan Province. There, Rui Yi-Fu began a new stage of the research. Because he was conveniently located in China’s southwestern region, he continued his fieldwork on the various ethnic groups living in places such as Nanbuxing Mountain, Sichuan. He also started to realize his initial dream of studying ethnology—in other words, solving the puzzle of Chinese nationality, figuring out the bloodlines and distributions of the Chinese, and researching southwestern ethnic groups and languages, and the ethnic groups of Myanmar as well. This was a turning point in Rui’s academic career, for from this point, he went from simply recording and collecting data of different ethnic groups to applying analytical and systematic tools to the data, and trying to compare the different peoples based on their ethnographies in order to find similarities and differences, as well as overall relationships and impacts. Under this transition in academic focus, Rui began to use concepts and theories of modern cultural anthropology to analyze the kinship system of China. Over time, he published several papers on this topic. In addition, as a legislator, he also put deep thought into nationality policies, and published another series of papers based on issues of the Chinese border.

In 1950, when the Institute of History and Philology was moved to Taiwan, Rui Yi-Fu’s academic focus shifted again due to the change in geographic location. In addition to serving as the head of the Institute’s fourth division, he also taught at the Department of Anthropology at National Taiwan University, and thanks to his effort a good foundation for anthropological research in Taiwan was set up. His job at the Department of Anthropology allowed him opportunities for planning internships for his students, as well as leading research studies, and because there were many chances for him to collaborate with Taiwanese colleagues in the field, Rui’s academic focus at this time was mostly on issues regarding the social organization of Taiwanese aboriginals.

In 1964, Rui retired from teaching and administrative duties. The then sixty-five-year-old Rui was at a peak in terms of his integrative thinking and analyzing abilities, and he decided that it was finally time for him to put all his effort into integrative research on ethnicity, culture, and society in China. Many of his holistic and theoretical papers were completed during this period. In his late years, Rui coordinated the compilation of historical material on various ethnic groups found in the twenty-three official histories and the Qing history. This provided a fundamental, complete collection of data for future research on non-Han ethnic groups in China.

From the brief overview of Rui’s sixty-year-long academic career, we can see the broadness of his research topics. However, Li Yi-Yuan thinks that despite the variety of topics, Rui’s research was always centered on one main theme, which was China’s ethnicity, society, and culture. Rui Yi-Fu approached this theme from two angles—one was the holistic and integrative approach mentioned above, and the other was an in-depth study of each ethnic group. The former refers to the systematic analysis of China’s various ethnic groups from an anthropological and ethnological point of view. Integrative research on China’s ethnic groups relies greatly on long periods of field study, during which researchers collect detailed information on each and every ethnic group, from those located in the northeast, northwest, southwest, to Taiwan. These studies were what Rui Yi-Fu diligently worked on throughout his career.

In a broader sense, Rui Yi-Fu can be considered a key figure in the history of China’s and Taiwan’s ethnology and anthropology, judging from his academic work in the two fields. He was a pioneer, having been one of the first to prefer actual fieldwork and first-hand collection of data, thus not being limited to documents. By collecting first-hand material through fieldwork, such research on the one hand may be seen as confirming and dialoguing with ethnological theories and ideologies just introduced into China from the West, while on the other hand it built the foundation of the science of Chinese ethnology by accumulating a great number of ethnographies. With regard to Taiwan, Xie Shi-Zhong believes that Rui “was a key figure who represents a turning point in the history of the Taiwanese anthropology field in the mid-twentieth century.” He also said that “Rui, his assistants, and students were stuck in between an awkward confrontation of conventional Chinese ethnology with Japanese anthropological studies, trying to reconcile both sides to create an integrative field of Taiwanese anthropology.”

Rui Yi-Fu’s students saw him as a knowledgeable but humble teacher who was always willing to have discussions with them. Rui, whose expertise ranged from physical anthropology to philology and ethnology, often tended to go off on a tangent during his lectures as he was so eager to share all his knowledge with his students. Because of this, his students were often on the one hand impressed by his great wealth of knowledge, and on the other hand slightly annoyed at his tendency to stray far from the original topic. However, thanks to his multifaceted teaching, his students also went on to pursue deeper studies in various fields, including archaeology, physical anthropology, lingustics, and cultural anthropology. “Modesty” is another trait of Rui’s that his students remember very well. Xie Shi-Zhong had a few opportunities to interview Rui as the editor of the book Anthropological Studies: Essay Collection in Honor of Professor Yih-fu Ruey, and he was deeply impressed when Rui said to him humbly, “You must have learned many new things that I don’t know of in the United States these years, and I would like to learn from you. Also, please feel free to start criticizing me, because without criticism, I cannot improve academically.” Rui spent his entire life on meticulous and in-depth research, and in his later years, he even boldly asked his students to examine and judge his work impartially, which showed that he was truly who he said he was—“a teacher for one day, and a friend for life.”

1981 中國的民族、社會與文化:芮逸夫教授的學術成就與貢獻。收錄在中國的民族社會與文化:芮逸夫教授八秩壽慶論文集。台北:食貨出版社。
1989 序一。收錄在人類學研究:慶祝芮逸夫教授九秩華誕論文集。台北:南天書局。
1997 中國民族學史 [上卷](1903~1949)。昆明:雲南教育出版社。

1972 中國民族及其文化論稿。臺北縣:藝文印書館。
1960 排灣族研究資料集。不詳:不詳。
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1973 苗蠻圖冊。臺北市:中央研究院歷史語言研究所。
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不詳 中國民族誌。手錄本。
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