Fei Xiaotong


Fei Xiaotong
▪ 2006

      Chinese social anthropologist (b. Nov. 2, 1910, Wujiang district, Jiangsu province, China—d. April 24, 2005, Beijing, China), wrote extensively about village life and advocated a policy of rural industrialization. Fei's contributions to anthropology ranked among the most important of the 20th century. After completing graduate studies at Qinghua University in Beijing and at the London School of Economics (where he studied with noted anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski), he took a position at Yunnan University in Kunming, where many academics had retreated from the Japanese occupation of northeastern China. There he researched and wrote his most highly regarded works on village life, notably Peasant Life in China: A Field Study of Country Life in the Yangtze Valley (1939). His work brought him to prominence in China, and when he spoke out against the brutality of the Nationalist government in 1945, he was forced into a brief exile in London. Later he joined the faculty at Qinghua University and initially held some advisory positions in the communist government of Mao Zedong. In 1957 Fei was denounced as a “rightist” and stripped of his right to teach, publish, or hold any position of influence. In the early 1960s some of his privileges were restored, but during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), he was sent to the countryside for rehabilitation. He returned to Beijing in 1972 and resurfaced in 1980 as a university professor and adviser to the reformist government of the post-Mao era.

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▪ Chinese social anthropologist
Wade-Giles romanization  Fei Hsiao-t'ung 
born November 2, 1910, Wujiang district, Jiangsu province, China
died April 24, 2005, Beijing

      one of the foremost Chinese social anthropologists, noted for his studies of village life in China.

      Fei graduated in 1933 from Yanjing University in Beijing and did graduate work at Qinghua University (also in Beijing) and the London School of Economics. In 1945 he became professor of anthropology at Qinghua but was forced to move to England the following year because of his opposition to Chiang Kai-shek's government. He eventually returned to China, and in 1949 he was made deputy dean at Qinghua. Following the rise to power of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong, however, the field of sociology was banned. Fei became a victim of the antirightist campaign in 1957 and later the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), but he resurfaced in 1978, when he was rehabilitated. He was made a professor and the director of the Institute of Sociology of Peking University and chairman of the Chinese Democratic League.

      Fei first undertook fieldwork in 1935, studying the Yao in Guangxi province. His work ended in disaster, however, when he was injured by a tiger trap and his wife drowned while trying to help him. After recuperating, he turned his attention to peasants, making particular note of their economic situation. His findings formed the basis for the seminal book Peasant Life in China (1939), which was originally written in English. Fei continued to conduct research on anthropology and sociology, although the political situation in China often hindered his work. A translation of one of his classic texts, Xiang tu zhongguo (1947), was published as From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society (1992). Among Fei's other books originally written in English are China's Gentry (1953), Chinese Village Close-up (1983), and Small Towns in China (1986).

Additional Reading
Fei Hsiao-t'ung (Fei Xiaotong), The Dilemma of a Chinese Intellectual (1979), selected and translated by James P. McGough; R. David Arkush, Fei Xiaotong and Sociology in Revolutionary China (1981).

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Universalium. 2010.

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