In the 1920s an international team of scientists and miners unearthed the richest evidence of human evolution the world had ever seen: Peking Man. After the communist revolution of 1949, Peking Man became a prominent figure in the movement to bring science to the people. In a new state with twin goals of crushing superstition and establishing a socialist society, the story of human evolution was the first lesson in Marxist philosophy offered to the masses. At the same time, even Mao's populist commitment to mass participation in science failed to account for the power of popular culture – represented most strikingly in legends about the Bigfoot-like Wild Man – to reshape ideas about human nature.
The People's Peking Man is a skilled social history of Chinese paleoanthropology and a compelling cultural – and at times comparative – history of assumptions and debates about what it means to be human. By focusing on issues that push against the boundaries of science and politics, The People's Peking Man offers an innovative approach to modern Chinese history and the history of science.
1. "From 'Dragon Bones' to Scientific Research": Peking Man and Popular Paleoanthropology in Pre-1949 China
Celestial Clouds and Zip Wires
A Willingness to Change
Nationalism and Internationalism
Tradition, Superstition, Science
Who Discovered Peking Man?
Presenting Peking Man
2. "A United Front against Superstition": Science Dissemination, 1940–1971
A Role for Scientists in Revolution
Ghosts into People, Apes into Humans
The Who and How of Science Dissemination
Darwin "Strikes A Blow" for Materialism
Scientists Feel the Heat
The Pursuit of Monsters
3. "The Content of Human": In Search of Human Identity, 1940–1971
The Question of a Universal Human Nature
Labor as the Core of Human Identity
Peking Man as a National Ancestor
All the World Is One Human Family
4. "Labor Created Science": The Class Politics of Scientific Knowledge, 1940–1971
Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches to Popularizing Science
Science Dissemination for Whom, by Whom?
Ivory Towers and Cow Sheds
Paleoanthropology and Popular Culture
5. "Presumptuous Guests Usurp the Hosts": Dissemination and Participation, 1971–1978
Cultural Revolution Science on Its Own Terms
A Favorable Time for Popular Science
Dissemination: Fossils Magazine Strikes a Blow for Popular Science
Dissemination: Dinosaurs and the Masses at Zhoukoudian
Dissemination: Learning about Humanity at Zhoukoudian and Beyond
Mass Participation: Laborers and Hobbyists
Mass Participation: Criticism of Scientists
The Missing Link
6. "Springtime for Science," but What a Garden: Mystery, Superstition, and Fanatics in the Post-Mao Era
Some Other Spring
Tensions of Reform
The Strange and the Mysterious
"Labor Created Humanity" and Its Post-Mao Fate
Mass Science and Its Post-Mao Fate
7. "From Legend to Science," and Back Again? Bigfoot, Science, and the People in Post-Mao China
Replacing Superstition with Science
The Scientific Significance of Yerén
From Mass Science to Scientific Heroism
Popular Culture Goes Wild
8. "Have We Dug at Our Ancestral Shrine?" Post-Mao Ethnic Nationalism and Its Limits
The Scope and Limitations of Chinese Ethnic Nationalism
Earliest Origins of Humanity
The Origin of Modern Humans
Ethnic Nationalism, Defensive and Assertive
Making a Contribution: China as a Research Center
Making Connections: China as a Center for the Human Family
Ancestors, National and Personal
Choices and Interpretations
Sigrid Schmalzer is assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
"In this ambitious study of the introduction of Darwinian thought to China, Schmalzer aims to change the way historians of science and Sinologists both look at their disciplines. She demonstrates that knowledge of science dissemination practices is necessary for understanding larger questions of modernity and cultural transformation in China. At the same time, by placing Chinese science in its unique political and cultural context, she challenges the historian's perception of how the popularization process operates. In the course of telling the story of paleoanthroplogy against the backdrop of the turbulent path of twentieth-century Chinese history, Schmalzer successfully deals with a series of important issues, such as the state's use of popularization to undermine superstition and embrace socialism, the nationalist symbolism surrounding the 'Peking Man,' and the tensions between top-down science dissemination and bottom-up mass science."
– Bernard Lightman, York University
"A passionately argued story of human identity, popular science, and politics in twentieth-century China, delightfully out of step with our cynical times and certain to captivate even the most skeptical reader. Schmalzer's work combines intellectual curiosity mentored by the imagination with serious scholarship firmly grounded in the empirical."
– Michael Schoenhals, Lund University
"This wonderfully original book takes a seemingly arcane topic – paleoanthropology and the changing political and cultural meanings of Peking Man – and uses it to explore the changing political cultures of republican, Maoist, and post-Maoist China in a new and subtle way. The author ranges confidently across issues as diverse as evolutionary theory and the search for yetis, illuminating, as she goes, major issues concerning the relationship between science and politics, the relationship between academic elites and citizens who lack scientific knowledge, and the ways in which science is represented and visualized in popular culture. In a consistently thought-provoking fashion, she uses the Chinese case to grapple with fundamental questions concerning the democratic control of science in modern societies."
– Steve Smith, University of Essex
"This is one of the few books on science in twentieth-century China, a burgeoning area of research, and the first book on popular science in China. The People's Peking Man unquestionably breaks new ground."
– Fa-ti Fan, State University of New York, Birmingham
"A highly original book [...] Schmalzer's book finds a great deal to say about issues as diverse as the historical significance of Chinese fossil humans, the search for yetis (called yeren, or 'wild people' in China), changing concepts of human identity, and the conflict between top-down science dissemination and bottom-up mass participation in Chinese science. She also explores other diverse issues that include the connections among science, politics, religion and culture, and the relationship between professional scientists and the general public. Schmalzer presents all these topics in a lively, accessible and thought-provoking way."
– Xu Xing, Nature
"Peking Man, then, is a wonderfully charged focus for this absorbing study of ideas about popular science, evolution and human identity in 20th century China [...] An extraordinarily rich, perceptive and highly readable book, that takes in ideas about yeren (the Chinese yeti), the evolutionary link between labour and humanity, the government's response to Falun Gong and much more."
– Mike Pitts, British Archaeology