Front and Back Covers, Volume 27, Number 6. Decemver 2011


Front and back cover caption, volume 27 issue 6

Front cover


China has its own anthropology ancestors, revered today well beyond the discipline. In this photograph, former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Gu Xiulian and former Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng jointly unveil a statue built to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Fei Xiaotong, China's most celebrated anthropologist.

Official sources declared that the statue was intended to highlight the academic achievements of this nationally celebrated anthropologist. The Wujiang Municipal Party Committee and the Wujiang municipal government also dedicated a ‘Cultural Garden’ to ‘further expand the popularity’ and ‘enhance the influence’ of Kaixiangong village, the village in which Fei did most of his fieldwork.

The Culture Garden is made up of an Exhibition Hall of the History and Culture of the Village, built in memory of Fei Xiaotong's sister, Fei Dasheng, and the Fei Xiaotong Museum. The museum explores the anthropologist's extraordinary life, highlighting in particular Fei's 26 visits to Kaixiangong.

However, many Kaixiangong residents, and some government officials, were not enamoured of the commemorative statue that was erected on 23 October 2010. In his official standing pose, Fei Xiaotong was deemed ‘too distant’, and unlikely to ‘find repose’. Wu Weishan who had carried out the original official commission (and whose 31-foot statue of Confucius was inexplicably removed from Tiananmen Square earlier this year), then visited Kaixiangong village and consulted its residents, after which he sculpted free of charge what was generally felt to be a more fitting replacement. The new statue depicts Fei relaxed and smiling in an armchair, echoing the Chinese ‘big-tummy Maitreya Buddha’. Villagers believe this statue to be a more apt tribute to Fei's memory, and have expressed the hope that it will bring happiness to their village.

Back cover


Civilization is the name of a successful series of computer games (more than nine million units sold globally: see Over the past two decades, the games have become increasingly sophisticated, not only in terms of programming, but also with respect to the background history, sociology and economics. For example, irrigation can increase food production, and granaries enable surpluses to be stored and populations to increase. The moods of the citizens matter too: ‘If a city has more happy citizens than content ones, and no unhappy ones, the city will throw a celebration for the ruler called “We Love the King Day”, and economic benefits ensue.’ Featured civilizations range from the Aztecs to the Zulu.

It is not known whether Sid Meier (‘the father of computer gaming’) and his fellow game designers have ever studied anthropology. Even if they had, it is unlikely, as Chris Hann points out in his editorial in this issue, that the concept of civilization would have figured prominently in their curriculum. Civilizational analysis is a lively subfield of sociology and has never really gone away in archaeology, but it largely disappeared from anthropology in the second half of the twentieth century. Hann discusses some of the reasons for this, and lends his support to recent efforts to revive anthropologists’ interest in the concept.

For all its variation, Sid Meier's addictive gameplay exemplifies the fiercely competitive, often violent ethos of today's capitalist civilization. The aim of each game is to rule the world in the name of just one civilization. Hann sees affinities with recent popular books engaging with world history, which rely heavily on contemporary readers’ familiarity with IT. The big question is whether ‘killer apps’ (Niall Ferguson) and the rise of silicon intelligence at the expense of carbon (Ian Morris) will eventually eliminate civilizational pluralism.