Thursday, February 28, 2013

In the Press: Doing Fieldwork in Liyuan

Qingdao Daily wrote a report about the fieldwork of our PhD candidate Philipp Demgenski, called "A German Guy Lives in Liyuan" (德国小伙住里院).

Philipp Demgenski, who came from Germany, is now living in Qingdao where he is collecting data for his PhD thesis that focuses on the transformation of urban space and the meanings and discourses of “urban liveability” revolving around this issue in today’s China. He has been living and doing fieldwork in a courtyard-style house, known as Liyuan, situated right in the historic centre of Qingdao. As an area that is currently undergoing transformations, it has drawn quite a bit of media attention. So it happened that the Qingdao Daily wanted to carry out an interview with the “exotic anthropologist” to learn about what he is doing and what it means to carry out fieldwork.

Philipp is particularly interested in the Anthropology of Space and has been keeping a blog about topics related to the study of space and place:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Invited Seminar: Sympathy, Injury, and Quackery

Dr. Trang X. TA
Lecturer, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, and
Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Hong Kong

"Sympathy, Injury, and Quackery: A Political Economy of Hope in Contemporary China"
1 Feb 2013

How to understand the meanings of “hope” (and “hopelessness”) with an anthropological approach? Does it only make sense in personal life, or is it possible to examine the political economic meanings of it in a whole society? What could this special perspective teach us about the transforming China? Dr. Trang X. Ta’s talk “Sympathy, Injury, and Quackery: A Political Economy of Hope in Contemporary China” has opened some avenues for examining questions of this nature. With three ethnographic cases of “hope”, Dr. Ta illustrated how individuals struggle and suffer in their efforts to secure their health and livelihoods in contemporary China.

The first case is about “sympathy” or rather about obtaining sympathy. A family from rural Anhui came to Beijing and “lived” on the street outside a popular shopping center, with the hope of getting medical attention for their young son with leukemia. They exhibited themselves in this very public way with the hope that it would attract media attention which might result in a private donation to help cure their son’s disease. However, as Dr. Ta suggested, this story is not only a family tragedy. Rather, it is just one of numerous cases in the transformation of the Chinese health care system.

Dr. Ta’s second case is also set in Beijing and it is about “injury”. It focuses on the story of an elderly man whose leg was amputated following an agricultural accident. The farmer felt that his leg had been unnecessarily amputated as a means of cost savings by rural doctors. After failing to claim damages from the rural medical system, Dr. Ta explored how petitioners like this man put their last hope in the system “shangfang” (上访 or the system of petitioning progressively higher levels of government for assistance). She also examined how individuals caught within the complexity of the Chinese medical system suffer from (and also make use of) the moral stasis between an equivocating bureaucratic system and a nascent legal system in today’s China.

The third case is about “quackery” in Shenzhen. Dr. Ta described a community clinic healer who offers affordable Chinese medicine treatments that he learned from a beggar. In this case, the healer had been a school teacher who took in a beggar living on the streets. The beggar felt he had no way to repay the kindness of a stranger except by giving him his knowledge of Chinese medicinal therapy. The teacher found his new abilities to be miraculous and opened a business. Unfortunately, his business was accused of “quackery” even though some of his patients preferred it to the expensive medical care provided by the state.

The three different cases are interrelated when Dr. Ta highlights the “political economy of hope” in each one. That is, she critically examined how personal “hopes” are perceived, understood, challenged, and manipulated in the context of China’s large-scale political-economic transformations. It brought three quite different cases together to try to tease out the common aspects of hope, thereby adding to our understanding of the anthropology of hope.

Feng Xiangjun (M.Phil. Candidate)
Edwin Schmidt (PhD Student)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Publication: 世界中心的貧民窟:香港重慶大廈

Prof. Gordon Mathews's book Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong has been translated into Chinese by our alumna Nicole Yang, which was recently published as《世界中心的貧民窟:香港重慶大廈》. Please find more details of the book below.


重慶大廈是一座位於香港旅遊區中心的殘舊的十七層商住建築,也是各色人群的家園。來自亞非各國的商人、勞工和避難者在那裏生活和工作,甚至背包旅行 的遊客,也在這所或許是世界上最全球化的地點租房間。然而正如《世界中心的貧民窟》一書所指出,大廈與耀眼奪目的跨國企業總部大相徑庭,它是世界上大多數 人可體驗到的全球化的縮影。通過具教育意義並令人入迷的故事,麥高登揭露大廈居民與國際商品、金錢、理念有何等錯綜複雜的聯繫。


重慶大廈位於香港其中一個最繁忙的商旅區市中心——尖沙咀,匯聚來自五湖四海的各色人群,南亞、非洲、印度,商人、避難者、臨時工,還有囊中羞澀的 各國背包客。一個擁有多元文化的世界性聚居地,卻是一個會令香港人感到不屑或恐懼的地方。本地人敬而遠之,麥高登教授作為一名旅居於香港的外籍人士,卻身 體力行深入這少數族裔的人群,了解他們的生活,以至在這個物質城市的生存方式。揭露許多外界無從得知的,重慶大廈的秘密。



Gordon Mathews
麥高登是香港中文大學的人類學教授,著作包括《全球文化/個人身份:在文化超市中尋求家園》(Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket)、《人生的意義是什麼?日本人和美國人如何理解他們的世界》(What Makes Life Worth Living? How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds)及《中國香港:培育國家認同》(Hong Kong, China: Learning to Belong to a Nation),並合編過多本書籍。


這座曾被《時代雜誌》選為「全球化最佳例子」的大廈、收容的住客來自百多個不同國籍的紀錄,卻是不可多得的國際關係教材,不同國籍住客在這座「小聯 合國」如何互動,亦足以成為一個「另類聯合國」的田野調研。雖然重慶大廈就在香港的鬧市中心,但內部運作自有規律,介乎合法和非法之間的活動不勝枚舉,和 尖沙嘴仿佛屬於兩個世界,成了特區中的特區。在重慶大廈活動的人,縮影了三千宇宙,那些尋求庇護的人,自然各有傳奇出處;慕名而來找廉價旅館的遊客,會發 現香港對第三世界最包容的地方;依靠重慶大廈地下經濟生存的異鄉人,則往往有著比獅子山下更勵志的故事。
閱讀本書時,除了關注大廈本身,作者與重慶大廈的關係,也是上佳的思考課題:要不是這位洋教授以「他者」的視角發掘了「我們」這座大廈,隨著香港回 歸的變遷,它難免慢慢喪失獨特性,也不會再有多少人理會。這本書的中譯本出版特別教人欣喜,因為研究重慶大廈所需的宏觀視野、跨學科背景和人文關懷,正是 這一代香港人急切需要培養的,希望這版本能讓更多朋友接觸到重慶大廈,以及它帶給我們那些不尋常的啓示。
「麥高登在這本精彩的書中構建出一個有趣的研究計劃:在香港這一座有點破舊,但又眾所周知的大樓中的日常生活,如何度過、被相連、被夢想、被否定、 被追悔及被捍衛。重慶大廈的居民在經濟上與城市其他區域相隔開來,且常常受到種族歧視,那麽這群被邊緣化的人們如何生存、甚至蓬勃發展?這正是《世界中心 的貧民窟》的根本謎題。麥高登的解決之道在於活靈活現地描繪出,人們在大廈昏暗的走廊、餐館和商鋪中如何生活,並從更廣闊的層面分析他們工作中的物質及政 治力量。書本引出的故事既充實又有啟迪性,同時妙趣橫生。」
《一個中國城市的性別、死亡和階層》(Sex, Death and Hierarchy in a Chinese City)之作者
「重慶大廈是全球化的一個縮影,但有種不同的味道:它收容和養育了生存在跨國資本主義低層的微不足道的玩家。後殖民時代的香港仍然是手提箱商人的平 臺,他們環遊世界以牟取利益和業務聯系。在經營香港的巨頭們眼中,大廈也許看起來危險破舊,但正如麥高登清晰指出的,這是一個以最低預算進行商務旅行的天 堂。任何想要探索全球資本主義軟肋的人都應該閱讀此書。」
《香港的村落生活》(Village life in Hong Kong)之合著者。

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Invited Seminar: Globalization of Milk: Milk and Modernity in South China

Dr. Veronica Mak
Part-time Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, CUHK
"Globalization of Milk: Milk and Modernity in South China"

23 Nov 2012


It was interesting to listen to Dr. Mak’s talk a week after Sidney Mintz had received the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology at the 2012 American Anthropological Association Meeting. His “Sweetness and Power” is an influential book in the discipline that has provided a new perspective on food studies in the global context. Dr. Mak’s study was clearly inspired by this approach. Her presentation “Globalization of Milk: Milk and Modernity in South China” focused on the production and consumption of cow’s milk in Shunde, South China, illustrating the continuation and reinvention of tradition under globalization, identity construction, and the building of modern state.

Firstly, Dr. Mak pointed out the common impression that milk was a newly accepted food in the “modernized” China was wrong. Indeed, the consumption and production of milk in China did increase dramatically over the recent decades, cow milk nonetheless has had a long history in China, often being used as medicine. For example, in Daliang, a town of Shunde, the use and production of buffalo milk had long developed due to the prosperity of local industries such as silk and paper production, which, similar to buffalo raising, needed a lot of water.

However, after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the collectivization of buffalos and the state-imposed division of labor hit the local milk production badly. The open-up reform and urbanization has further marginalized the buffalo raising since the 1980s.

Interestingly, buffalo milk played an important role in Shunde again in the global era. Buffalo milk has become an important part of the local identities. It was popular among Shunde people to bring friends to the reinvented, yet “authentic” buffalo milk cuisine and showcase their knowledge of the cuisine and food rituals; migrant workers from this area regarded Daliang buffalo cheese as nostalgic food, which contributed to a stable demand for the good; merchants, such as the one who invented instant double-layered milk powder, seized the economic opportunities of branding the buffalo milk culture as souvenirs of the place. The state and the local government also took shares by building up culinary heritage and national pride.

Gloria TSANG
M.Phil. Candidate

Upcoming Seminar: How Thai Farmers Reframe Health Risk in Contexts of Chemical Use in Fruit Production

"I’m More Afraid of Having Nothing to Eat: How Thai Farmers Reframe Health Risk in Contexts of Chemical Use in Fruit Production"

Speaker: Chingchai METHAPHAT, PhD, MPH
Department of Health Education, Faculty of Public Health
Burapha University, Thailand

Time: 12:30 p.m., Friday, 1 March 2013
Venue: Room 401 Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK


Based on an ethnographic fieldwork in a Thai fruit production community, I explore risks in the everyday life among fruit farmers. Instead of viewing farmers’ behaviors as evidencing ignorance of chemical risks or demonstrating non-compliance to the advice given by health professionals on chemical protection, I argue that the use of chemical pesticides among fruit farmers is shaped and informed by both local understandings and beliefs about how to minimize health risks of chemicals, and by their sense of how best to reduce their economic risks.

Feel free to bring your box lunch or sandwich to eat during the talk

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Event: Turkish Night

On 11 Jan 2013, the Anthropology Department organized a “Turkish night” with the support of a Turkish cultural association called "Anatolia Cultural and Dialog Centre" (or ACDC), which is like a British Council office for Turkey. They demonstrated a number of food specialties, as well as Turkish tea and the well-known Turkish coffee. The event was hosted by the CUHK school of hotel management in their wonderful teaching kitchen, where our students, exchange students from New York University in the US and volunteers from ACDC all had a wonderful and informative night.

Dr. Bosco in our department made some interesting anthropological observations about “Turkish cuisine,” which we share with you below. To read the full blog post, Cooking Meat Without Heat, please visit his blog Anthropological Fragments.

Mr. Mehmet Soylemez from ACDC
introduces Turkish Cuisine
Exchange students from NYU
I had two anthropological observations. One was of how "Turkish cuisine" was being constructed by the ACDC speaker. He began by saying that Turkish cuisine is one of the great cuisines of the world. I'm not a foodie or a food expert, so am perhaps ignorant, but I found this surprising. It made me wonder how many "world cuisines" there are, and if soon every nation-state will have its "traditional cuisine." He mentioned that Turkish cuisine is based on Ottoman cuisine, and that it is "rich" because it is "not just one taste" but incorporated many dishes and specialties from different parts of the Ottoman empire: the Balkans, Mediterranean, and the Middle East. He then stumbled slightly, and it became clear that, well, these dishes were not originally from Turkey, and are still eaten in Armenia, Syria, etc., so he added that though they are originally from different places, "they are still Turkish cuisine." It is not that the Turks "invented them, but they became Turkish." Everything he said was unobjectionable, but it does show the constructed nature of "Turkish cuisine," especially as it later turned out that not only are many "Turkish" dishes originally from non-Turkish parts of the Ottoman empire, but even within modern Turkey, there is great variation in cuisine. Southeaster cuisine is much spicier, for example. So what, really, is "Turkish"? It is clearly pointless to deny there is something called "Turkish cuisine," and yet, the variation in origins and in current forms makes it difficult to pin down. This is so typical of culture generally, that it could be the topic for a treatise on the nature (and ambiguity) of culture.
The "male" dish çiğ köfte
Preparing sarma

The second observation came as I discussed one of the dishes we saw prepared. This was çiğ köfte, a dish made with raw beef or lamb and eaten wrapped in a salad leaf. We had a vegetarian version, made with potato instead of the usual beef. As part of the preparation, they had explained that it needs to be mixed, kneaded really, and we had a strong young man demonstrating the heavy work that is required. We were also told that this tends to be a "male" dish, something menmake when they get together, as opposed to sarma, which is more commonly made by women. So far so good; we know about gendered foods (in fact, when I tell Chinese that I like "sesame oil chicken", they usually laugh, because that is a food prepared for women in the month after childbirth, so not something men usually eat, or like).
"Cooking"  çiğ köfte

In talking to some Turkish friends afterwards, they mentioned that it is supposed to be much spicier than the version we got, and that one recipe even calls for a proportion of 2 kg of meat (and they said the meat had to be special, high quality and lean, with no fat or tendons), 1 kg of bulgur wheat, and 300 to 400 gr of peppers. Then they said you need to knead the meat to cook it.  I said, "Cook it? But there is no heat." "Yes." Start over. Why do you knead it? Another friend tries to help explain this, and he says you need to "kill the meat."  What? The meat may be fresh, but once it is ground up, it is surely quite dead! After some further exploration, they explained that in Turkish, the word is literally to "cook" the meat, even though it does not involve heat. What changes in the meat, however, is that it no longer tastes like meat. I wondered if Turks thought beef tastes bad, as some Italians do (which is why they prefer veal, and why they often fry it or put lemon on it, I suppose). But they confirmed that Turks like the taste of meat, and that it is not to mask an unpleasant taste. In this case, however, it is raw (though very fresh), and so perhaps there is something in the taste of raw beef that needs to be hidden. I'm not entirely sure why raw beef that has been mixed with bulgur wheat and peppers is considered "cooked." But I found it fascinating that, in speaking in English, they borrowed words like "kill" and "cook" which made no sense to me, but that capture the idea of making the beef edible. And that was exactly how they explained the term: they said they needed a term to describe making it edible, and so chose those terms. Levis-Strauss (author of The Raw and The Cooked) must be smiling. He long ago described how the term "cooked" was used to describe making something edible, and here we have another example.

Mr. Mujdat Yelbay, Director of ACDC presents gifts to Prof. Sidney Cheung,
the chairperson of Dept. Anthropology.
Students learn how to make sarma.
Turkish Delights

Friday, February 1, 2013

Invited Seminar: 信任、認同與“他者”

Prof. FAN Ke 范可教授
"信任、認同與“他者”——關於族群、民族的一些思考 "
25 January 2012