A Quick Trip to Beijing
Late last month, I was fortunate to have a chance to return quickly to Beijing as a member of an Indiana University delegation visiting the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Happily CASS is a scholarly powerhouse in general and it possesses special strengths in folklore studies/ethnology. It was a whirlwind visit during which I spoke four times in four days.
My first engagement was not at CASS but with the world-renowned folklore program ( Institute of Folk Literature, formerly the Institute of Folklore and Cultural Anthropology) at Beijing Normal University. There my host was Professor YANG Lihui, a leading figure in international folklore studies and a key interpreter of the history and theory of the field. Professor YANG has helped explain developments in U.S. folklore studies to her colleagues in China and, reciprocally, worked to make the field as practiced in China more legible to non-Chinese scholars. (For example, see this article in Asian Ethnology with AN Deming.) My topic was the relationship between museums and folklore studies in the United States. My timing was auspicious, because in their coursework with Professor YANG, many of the graduate students had recently been reading and discussing just this topic (including work by by Barbara Kirshshenblatt-Gimblett, whose efforts were also touched on in my talk). The discussion that followed my presentation was rich and I greatly appreciated this chance to visit a leading program in our shared field. An account of my visit was kindly prepared by one of the participating students and published on the webpage of the School of Chinese Language and Literature.
On my second full day in Beijing, I was a participant in a rich conference during which CASS and IU scholars across the breadth of the social sciences shared background on their home departments and institutes, as well as brief glimpses of their own scholarly work. I spoke about the work of folklore studies in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, the cultural anthropology faculty and training in the Department of Anthropology, and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. Each of the IU faculty participating were paired with a CASS colleague. I was thrilled to be matched with an outstanding folklore scholar who has deep knowledge not only of the field, but about its status at Indiana University. Like Professor YANG at Beijing Normal University, Professor AN Deming was a visiting scholar in the IU Folklore Institute and has maintained close ties with IU colleagues. Drawing on his background in folklore studies and his ties to IU, Professor AN’s warm remarks to the conference attendees really set the stage well for exploring possible initiatives that might link scholars at both institutions. We were the first pair of scholars to speak. In the presentations that followed, we learned a lot about CASS but also research expertise from an interesting range of scholars from across the full breadth of the social sciences, from the philological study of ancient scripts to the study of contemporary global economic shifts.
On my third day, I was the guest of the Institute for Literature, one of the homes for folklore studies at CASS. The folklore studies group in the Institute of Literature is led by Professor AN and his students and colleagues came out in significant numbers to attend my talk and to discuss it afterwards. My subject related to complementary theories of cultural heritage. I am very thankful for their generous welcome and the opportunity to discuss shared interests with them. Later in the day, I was able to meet with another key colleague at CASS. This is CHAO Gejin, the leader of the Institute for Ethnic Literature and also the President of the China Folklore Society. In the later role, Professor CHAO is at the heart of the important partnerships that link the CFS and the American Folklore Society for joint work. It was a pleasure to meet with Professor CHAO and learn more about the folklore studies work being done in his institute. (For background on folklore studies at CASS and the units in which it is housed, see the essay by AN Deming, SHI Aidong, YE Tao, and YIN Hubin included here.)
On my final day in Beijing, I addressed a large group of (mostly) graduate students enrolled in the University of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. My topic was again ways of thinking about the concept of cultural heritage. As reflected by the photograph I share above, the University went to great lengths to promote the talks that my colleagues and I delivered. They branded our week of campus visits as “UCASS Indiana University Academic Week” and were extremely generous hosts. I appreciated the chance to learn about the graduate and (new) undergraduate programs at CASS and to see their immaculate campus in the Beijing suburbs. With my colleagues C.T. and P.W., I enjoyed a wonderful bowl of noodles in the campus restaurant. How great it would be to have such noodles on one’s campus!
I close by recording my appreciation for all of my hosts, both those colleagues with whom I enjoyed rich disciplinary discussions and the staff of CASS, BNU, and the Indiana University Beijing Gateway who worked hard to make these undertakings a success. I also enjoyed traveling with a wonderful group of IU faculty colleagues. 谢谢