From palaeoanthropology in China to Chinese palaeoanthropology: Science, imperialism and nationalism in North China, 1920-1939

Hsiao Pei Yen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Before the establishment of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory (Xinshengdai yanjiushi) in 1929, paleoanthropological research in China was mainly in the hands of foreigners, individual explorers as well as organized teams. This paper describes the development of paleoanthropology in China in the 1920s and 1930s and its transformation from the international phase to an indigenized one. It focuses on the international elite scientist network in metropolitan Beijing whose activities and discoveries led to such transformation. The bond between members of the network was built on shared scientific devotion, joint field experience, and social activities. However, such scientific internationalism was not immune from imperialistic and nationalistic interests and competition as most members of the network also belonged to institutions of the dominant hegemonic powers, such as the French Paleontological Mission and the American Museum of Natural History, operating by the logic of international system of imperialism. While these foreign institutions enjoyed relatively unrestricted access to the Chinese frontier and Mongolia in the early 20th century to discover and collect for the establishment of what they saw as universal scientific knowledge, in the late 1920s rising Chinese and Mongolian nationalisms began to interpret these activities as violations to their national sovereignty. The idea of establishing a "Chinese" institute to carry out paleoanthropological research in China took shape in such milieu. This paper highlights the entanglement between scientific internationalism, imperialism, nationalism in China in the early 20th century and the complicated process of knowledge formation at various national and personal levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-56
Number of pages36
JournalHistory of Science
Volume53
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015

Keywords

  • Expeditions
  • International elite network
  • North China
  • Paleoanthropology

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