Yesterday the New York Times had an article on a new scholarship that is being created that will enable non-Chinese to study in China.
“The private-equity tycoon Stephen A. Schwarzman, backed by an array of mostly Western blue-chip companies with interests in China, is creating a $300 million scholarship for study in China that he hopes will rival the Rhodes scholarship in prestige and influence.”
The Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious scholarship that supports study at the University of Oxford. So does the creation of this new scholarship indicate that the work of scholars in China is now on the same level with that of their counterparts in places like the UK? Are Chinese scholars now equal players in the international world of scholarship (whatever that means)?
I was wondering about that this morning when I visited the blog Tiếng vọng Kattigara and saw a translation there of an article that Li Hui, a professor at Fudan University, wrote entitled, “Common Origin of the Austronesian and Daic Populations.” This was a conference paper that was published in a journal called Communication on Contemporary Anthropology, “a peer-reviewed open-access journal both for professional and public authors.”
I am interested in trying to understand how the various peoples who today inhabit Southeast Asia got there, and where they come from, etc., so I decided to read this article. The abstract states that “In this paper, we found a close relationship between the Austronesian and Daic populations in the south of East Asia, and reconstructed the phylogenesis of the two population groups using paternal Y-chromosomes and maternal mitochondrial DNA.”
So it is a paper that employs information obtained from DNA to examine the past. I don’t know much about this, so I can’t really evaluate this type of scholarship, but I decided to read the paper anyway.
When I actually read the article, I found that it contains no footnotes, no references, and no discussion of methodology. At the same time it is extremely detailed. Here is an example:
“During the time from five to three thousand years ago, Min-Yue in Fujian and Nan-Yue in Guangdong were polarized, and gave birth to some new groups migrating out of the core region. These new populations were usually called Ou, which meant the outside people. Eventually, the Eastern-Ou migrated northward out of Min-Yue to south Zhejiang, and the Western-Ou traveled westward out of Nan-Yue to Guangxi. The Western-Ou mixed with the Luo-Yue and became the ancestors of the Zhuang-Tai. At about the same time period, the Kadai went northwest to Guizhou and founded several Kingdoms such as Yerong (Ye-Lang). They assimilated a large number of Phu aboriginal populations there, whose mother tongues were Proto-Austro-Asiatic. These findings were determined based on the duality of the Kadai genetic structure.”
This is all extremely problematic. Li Hui is completely uncritical in his use of the names of polities and peoples that we can find in ancient texts, like Nanyue and Ou (“Ou” meant, “the outside people”? To whom? How do we know that?). In other places he does the same with assemblages of archaeological artifacts (Liangzhu, etc.). Li Hui also connects current ethnic groups with past peoples, something that scholars in places like North America have argued against for decades by now.
Given that Li Hui does precisely the type of things that scholars outside of China dismiss, I am certain that this article could never get published in a place like North America, and yet Li Hui has published in North America.
In particular, he wrote an article on a similar topic – “Paternal Genetic Affinity between Western Austronesians and Daic Populations” – that was published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. Actually, Li Hui was one of several authors of this article, but apparently he worked with others to carry out “the molecular genetic studies,” he “participated in the design of the study and [together with others] performed the statistical analysis,” he helped collect the samples, and he “read and approved the final manuscript.”
Unlike the article published in China, this article has extensive footnotes, the methodology is clearly explained, and it does not use ancient terms like Nanyue, Minyue, Ou, etc. It is a completely different type of study (in both content and quality), even though it is about essentially the same topic.
Here it is interesting to note that the “chief advisor” of Communication on Contemporary Anthropology is Li Jin, a geneticist whose work on the mummies from the Tarim Basin has also not been uniform. He has talked of an “East Asian lineage” that one can find in the DNA of these mummies in some contexts, but not when publishing in North America (This blog post talks about this issue to some extent.).
So what is going on here? Are Chinese scholars duplicitous? Or is this just what they have to do in order to survive?
The proposed new scholarship that I mentioned at the outset of this post is something that I’m sure the Chinese government desperately wants. When it comes to education and scholarship, countries in Asia are trying so hard these days to gain ranking and prestige. But in the case of China, and some other places, this is taking place in a society that simultaneously works very hard to control education and scholarship.
So I’m wondering if Li Hui’s two articles are a sign of where all of this is going. Chinese scholars will produce strong studies that will get published in places like North America, Australia and the UK at the same time that they will publish rubbish at home.
This all seems so inefficient. People will grow up learning rubbish, and then at some point will have to un-learn what they have learned, so that they can then learn something new so that they can produce “international quality” scholarship. But at the same time that they do that, they will still have to remember the rubbish that they grew up learning because they will still have to publish more of that at home.
There has got to be a better way.