Key Issues in Historical Anthropology: A View from “South China”

Helen Siu, Yale University

I was asked by Professor David Faure, the organizer of a panel on the historical anthropology of Chinese society at the AAS-in-Asia conference held in Singapore (July 17–19, 2014), to briefly provide a framework for the papers. This brief essay organizes and summarizes the analytical themes about which a group of us who work on Chinese history and culture have given much thought.

Download essay (871.53 KB)
Article Preview

In 1985, David Faure and I bonded with young historians from Zhongshan University (later renamed Sun Yat-sen University) in Guangzhou, China. At the time, we were inspired by the French Annales School of historical research, in particular the anthropologically oriented work of Marc Bloch. Just as French historians were exploring the multiscalar factors in economy, society, and culture that underlay the unfolding of historical events, anthropologists were moving away from evolutionary, functional, and structuralist views of culture. These scholars began to stress culture’s processual, negotiated construction in time and space. Anticipating synergy, we focused on the purposeful, meaningful actions of individuals and groups who make history as they make their lifeworlds....