Applied Anthropology in China


  • Wang Jianmin,

  • John A. Young


This chapter examines the development of applied anthropology in China through the political twists and turns of history and politics during the last eight decades. Chinese anthropology has always had a strong applied emphasis. It began with a mandate to study the political-economy of ethnic groups in frontier/border regions in the 1920's and 1930's for national security reasons, and it continues today with the objective of cultural preservation and comprehensive development to raise living standards and bring these groups more fully into the national economy. After taking over in 1949, the communist government sent anthropologists throughout the country to provide the ethnographic evidence for conferring official minority status, determining political representation and establishing autonomous regions, counties and districts for ethnic groups. Soon thereafter anthropologists began a nationwide investigation of the history and social organization of already identified ethnic groups as preparation for implementing massive social and economic transformations planned by the government. The Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957 ended these investigations, pushed Marxian social philosophy to the forefront, and sidelined anthropology until its post-Cultural Revolution revival in 1978. In the 1980's and 1990's Chinese anthropologists began to interact with their Western counterparts, adopting multiple theoretical perspectives (not just Marxian), turning to a variety of empirical methods, conducting ethnographic research, and building anthropology as a policy science.