Fei Xiaotong and the vocabulary of anthropology in China

Fei Xiaotong and the vocabulary of anthropology in China

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Journal of China in Comparative Perspective > Vol.1 > Issue 1 > Page 77-89

Fei Xiaotong and the vocabulary  of anthropology in China

Stevan Harrell

Journal of China in Comparative Perspective (JCCP) is the only peer-reviewed academic dual language journal for social scientific, humanities and comparative studies of China in the world, published biannually in June and December in print and electronic versions from 2015 by the Global China Press. Electronic articles can be accessed online from the JCCP website after you have subscribed to the journal. For institutions, we will need your IP address/es, either on-campus, off-campus or both.

JCCP DOI https://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP Crossref

DOI http://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP.2015.1.5

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Abstract

Fei Xiaotong’s series of essays, based on his lectures on ‘Rural Sociology’, was published in the 1940s as Xiangtu Zhongguo. It is a landmark for the indigenization of anthropology in non-Europhone countries and cultures, in that it begins the process of creating a technical anthropological vocabulary in the Chinese language. Fei, having obtained his doctorate at the London School of Economics, understood clearly the English-language vocabulary of anthropology, and thereby understood where that vocabulary was and was not appropriate to understanding Chinese society. He realized that direct translation of English terms into Chinese could sometimes create confusion and misunderstanding, and so in addition to using conventional Chinese translations of English terms, he invented a series of new Chinese terms he considered more appropriate to the analysis of Chinese society.  Unfortunately, the Communist Revolution interrupted Fei’s indigenization project, superimposing translations of terms from the Marxist ethnological tradition developed in the Soviet Union. Today, however, as anthropology everywhere outside Euro-America continues its quest to indigenize, Fei’s early attempt at indigenization can serve as a partial guide to creating an appropriate anthropological vocabulary in Chinese, and perhaps as an example for how to create such a vocabulary in other languages.

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Abstract: Fei Xiaotong’s series of essays, based on his lectures on ‘Rural Sociology’, was published in the 1940s as Xiangtu Zhongguo. It is a landmark for the indigenization of anthropology in non-Europhone countries and cultures, in that it begins the process of creating a technical anthropological vocabulary in the Chinese language. Fei, having obtained his doctorate at the London School of Economics, understood clearly the English-language vocabulary of anthropology, and thereby understood where that vocabulary was and was not appropriate to understanding Chinese society. He realized that direct translation of English terms into Chinese could sometimes create confusion and misunderstanding, and so in addition to using conventional Chinese translations of English terms, he invented a series of new Chinese terms he considered more appropriate to the analysis of Chinese society.  Unfortunately, the Communist Revolution interrupted Fei’s indigenization project, superimposing translations of terms from the Marxist ethnological tradition developed in the Soviet Union. Today, however, as anthropology everywhere outside Euro-America continues its quest to indigenize, Fei’s early attempt at indigenization can serve as a partial guide to creating an appropriate anthropological vocabulary in Chinese, and perhaps as an example for how to create such a vocabulary in other languages.

Keywords: vocabulary, translation, indigenization, anthropology, China

Stevan Harrell 郝瑞 is Professor of Anthropology, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington. He was Curator of Asian Ethnology at the Burke Museum. Currently he works on international scholarly and educational exchange and to research on human-environment interactions in the US, China, and Taiwan. He is the author of many books, including, Afterword: China’s Tangled Web of Heritage, Cultural Heritage Politics in China (2013), Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China (2002), Mountain Patterns: The Survival of the Nuosu Culture in China (2000), and Human Families: Social Change in Global Perspective (1998).

Cite this article

Stevan Harrell
Fei Xiaotong and the vocabulary  of anthropology in China
Journal of China in Comparative Perspective
Vol.1 Issue 1. 2015, p77-89
DOI: http://doi.org/10.24103/JCCP.2015.1.5
Crossref

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