Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, History, University of Massachusetts / Amherst

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2001
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of California / San Diego
The People's Peking Man: Popular Paleoanthropology in Twentieth-Century China

The project is a social and cultural history of scientific studies of human origins produced in the People's Republic of China (PRC) from 1949 to the present. I will investigate how political priorities, social experiences and relations, and cultural orientations have shaped (not merely "distorted") knowledge about human origins, particularly in the field of paleoanthropology. In addition, I will examine materials produced for scientific and lay audiences to determine how such scientific icons as Peking Man have influenced the changing ways people in the PRC have conceived of humanity, society, and China's place in the world. To expand on the popular dimension of the project, I will complement the study of theories of human evolution with an exploration of "scientific" investigations into the postulated existence of yeren -the Chinese kin to Bigfoot. A final element will be an investigation of how Chinese studies of living primates have contributed to changing understandings of humanity and humans' relationship to the natural world. The research will help put such contemporary debates as the "out-of-Africa" vs. regionalist hypotheses in historical perspective. It will also provide a socially and culturally more nuanced picture of science in the PRC than that which appears in previous scholarship.