Fortress Village - The Ethnic Minorities of Southwest China  

Sergei M. Shirokogoroff
Sergei M. Shirokogoroff and Categorization of Studies on Ethnic Groups in China

Sergei M. Shirokogoroff was born in 1887 (some say 1889) in Suzdal in the Russian Empire. He received training in anthropology at the University of Paris, and upon graduating in 1910 he returned to Russia and worked at the University of St. Petersburg and the National Academy of Sciences, going on several research trips to Siberia and Manchuria. After the October Revolution, Shirokogoroff held a teaching job in Vladivostok. In 1922 he escaped from Russia, found a refuge in Shanghai, China, and later began to teach at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, where he was invited by Fu Ssu-nien in 1928 to be a researcher at the institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica. In 1930, he went to teach at Qinghua University, and passed away in Beijing in 1939 (Wang 1998:170-172; Fei 1997:215).

For a long period time, Sergei M. Shirokogoroff did research on physical anthropology in northeast China and Siberia. Wang Dao-Huan described Shirokogoroff’s research as “is similar to that of Li Ji’s. However, Shirokogoroff not only pointed out the fact that the physiological composition of modern Chinese people’s bodies is complex, he went one step further and used statistical methods to analyze the various body types of people living in northern China, Manchuria, eastern China, and Guangdong Province, and to find the connection between physical characteristics and the process of group migration. According to Shirokogoroff’s study, Chinese people’s skeletal structure—Type A—originated from the upper reaches of the Yellow River and later spread out in three directions, east, north, and south, and eventually resulting in the physiological diversity that we see today. This was what Shirokogoroff was really interested in—theory of ethnicity” (Wang: 1998:171).

Shirokogoroff’s interest in categorizing ethnic groups based on physical differences could also be seen in his teaching. Fei Xiao-Ttong has written that “Shirokogoroff planned a six-year-long training for me; the first two years were for me to learn physical anthropology, the following two years were for linguistics, and the final two years were to be devoted to research on society and culture.” Shirokogoroff placed much emphasis on linguistics because “he believed that anthropology is a type of ‘historical method.’ There are many ethnic groups that appear to be homogeneous. However, physical anthropology is like a prism that disperses rays of sunlight—a seemingly single-color ray of white light goes through the prism and is split into seven different colors. After one finds the components that make up each ethnic group, one can go ahead and reconstruct the history of those ethnic groups. However, the more crucial problem occurs only at this point—How did all these different physical characteristics manage to form an ethnic group that appears to be homogeneous? Cultural differences are also a tool used to distinguish between different ethnic groups, and culture itself comes from each group’s unique mentality. According to Shirokogoroff’s theories on ethnic groups, language is also an unstable ethnic characteristic—some ethnic groups may resort to changing their language in order to protect their ethnic identity under certain circumstances” (Wang 1998:171).

Shirokogoroff believed that as an ethnologist, he must employ an analytical method that focuses on the evolution of history in order to understand such a complex subject. With this as a basis, the following are six points that Shirokogoroff considered utmost priorities: One, collecting and comparing maps of ethnic groups published by different regions. Two, collecting ethnographies written throughout the Chinese dynasties and produce a systematic historical bibliography. Three, training ethnologists to carry out field studies. Four, establishing a professional library. Five, establishing a museum of ethnography. Lastly, six, to provide instruction on current research studies (Kryukov 1998:241-242). From these points, we can discover that the formation of ethnic groups exemplifies the word that Shirokogoroff invented—ethnos. He saw “ethnos” as an active term, indicating that every ethnic group has its own special mental and physical characteristics, and he could trace its path of evolution, i.e. ethnos, from the characteristics that he observed (Shirokogoroff 1935:1).

From the above descriptions of Sergei M. Shirokogoroff, we can see that what he cared about was the formation of ethnic groups. In other words, he sensed that every ethnic group was connected to another despite the ethnically diversified situation one could observe in China. Shirokogoroff’s analysis of the similarities and differences between ethnic groups proves that the various ethnic groups in China might have evolved from one single group of people, but had eventually branched out and developed distinct physical characteristics in order to survive in the various environments they had migrated to. Therefore he believed that in order to understand the series of migrations and mergings of ethnic groups throughout history, one needs to first understand each component that makes up each group as well as the complicated context that these mechanisms are situated in (Shirokogoroff 1935:1).

1996 費孝通學術歷程與著作提要,收錄於潘乃谷、馬戎主編的社區研究與社會發展-紀念費孝通教授學術活動60周年文集(下)。
1998 史語所的體質人類學家-李濟、史祿國、吳定良、楊希枚、余錦泉,收錄於杜正勝、王汎森主編的新學術之路-中央研究院歷史語言研究所七十周年紀念文集(上冊)。
1988 經歷•見解•反思:答客問,中央盟訊1988:7。
1997 人不知而不慍-讀後憶師,附於史祿國著、高丙中譯、劉小萌校滿族的社會組織-滿族氏族組織研究。
Kryukov, M.
1998 The Academic Style of the Institute of History and Philology and S. M. Shirokogoroff,收錄於杜正勝、王汎森主編的新學術之路-中央研究院歷史語言研究所七十周年紀念文集(上冊)。
Shirokogoroff, S. M.
1935 1935 Psychomental complex of the Tungus. London : Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner.
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