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Long-term Exhibitions

Archival Exhibition of China’s Southern Frontiers in the 1930s

Prior to the Academia Sinica’s moving to Taiwan, it had dispatched researchers to the border areas of China to conduct ethnological surveys. There were ten such surveys from 1929 to 1946. In addition to Dr. Ling Chun-sheng’s (Ling Shun-sheng) 1930 expedition to the Hezhe people of northeastern China, these surveys focused on the borders and interior of south and southwestern China in Zhejiang, Hunan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan and Xikang provinces. Two themes characterize this pioneering era of Chinese anthropology: borderland ethnic group surveys motivated by the upsurge of the new Chinese nationalism, and ethnographic research under the guideline of scientific anthropology.

These trailblazers emphasized firsthand investigation and a “seeing is believing” approach. They collected artifacts, linguistic material and photographs, creating a precious anthropological record of the people of south and southwest Chinese border regions. Specifically, there are more than 1,700 artifacts, more than 800 indigenous scripts and more than 5,000 photographs.

The purpose of this exhibition is to serve as a witness to that pioneering era of scientific Chinese anthropology, and to highlight its significance in the discipline’s history. The artifacts and photographs come primarily from collections made during four separate expeditions conducted in the 1930s. These expeditions are: (1) “A Survey of the She People in Zhejiang” (1934); (2) “Survey Trips Investigating the Living Conditions, Social, Racial and Linguistic Aspects of the Frontier Peoples” (1934 - 1935); (3) “Investigation of the National Boundary between Yunnan China and Burma, the Southern Section” (1935 - 1936); and (4) “A Survey of the Miao and Buyi People in Guizhou” (1939 - 1940). The artifacts and photographs displayed focus on the theme “Border Bazaars and Daily Life.”

On the one hand, the exhibition is divided into four units, mirroring the four expeditions. These artifacts and photographs provide a glimpse into the life of the specific people of that time and place. On the other hand, the slides of the markets portray the regional economic lives and cross-ethnic dynamism of the uplanders and the lowlanders of that decade. (We thank the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica for authorizing the use of all the digital photos, their captions and explanations in this exhibition.)