Minorities Studies and Tibet Research in the People’s Republic of China: A Seminar on Minzuxue

News item posted on: March 23rd, 2010

Liu Zhiyang
Zhongshan University

Tashi Rabgey
University of Virginia

On January 28, Visiting Professor Liu Zhiyang led a seminar on minorities studies and Tibet research in the PRC. The seminar provided UVa students and faculty a opportunity to learn about a research and scholarly field that has undergone a significant transition over the past generation.

A professor at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, Liu Zhiyang himself specializes in Tibetan studies and has conducted extensive field research, both in Lhasa and in the Tibetan-Yi corridor of Pingwu county and elsewhere on the Sino-Tibetan frontier. He has been resident at the University of Virginia through the Tibet Center over the past academic year.

In his seminar, Professor Liu discussed the meaning and direction of minzu xue in China. He also spoke on the direction that China’s Tibetan studies (zang xue) are heading. In particular, he discussed the complexity of the term minzu. The concept has denoted different meanings at different times. Its translation into English has, correspondingly, led to some confusion. Today, according to Professor Liu, it is a politicized concept.

Liu Zhiyang contrasted the development of minorities studies with the discipline of anthropology (renleixue). Considered politically suspect, anthropology was eliminated as a field of study in China in favor of minorities studies. Today, the two fields have converged, with the one clear distinction that Chinese anthropology also includes within its purview the study of cultural difference among the “Han” nationality, while minorities studies does not.

Professor Liu recently returned to Guangzhou where he will continue teaching anthropology, minorities studies and Tibetan studies.