The People's Peking Man
Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China
The People’s Peking Man is a skilled social history of twentieth-century 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.
Social Science History Association: Allan Sharlin Memorial Award in Social Science History
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”