The direct study of society through observation and interview is usually called ethnography, or sometimes ethnology (minzuxue). In China this has been limited largely to study of ethnic minorities; study of the Han has been considered part of sociology while in the United States it would often fall under anthropology. In the 1920s and 1930s, modelled in part on German folklore studies and on Western anthropology, a large number of studies of minority cultures were undertaken, especially in the southwest. In 1928 Academia Sinica’s Institute of Social Science was established; it carries on studies of rural and urban Han and minority society in Taiwan in the Institute of Ethnology, under the Institute of History and Philology, as well as in the Institute of Sociology, founded in 2000.
Minzuxue was connected with radical social change; Cai Yuanpei, founder of Academia Sinica and organizer of Beijing University in its current form, was a reformer who sought to reinvigorate China through discovery of the strength of rural and minority cultures. One of the most famous Chinese ethnographers is Fei Xiaotong, who studied social anthropology with Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. Fei conducted fieldwork on rural China, under the category of sociology. In 1952 anthropology and sociology were declared ‘bourgeois sciences’ and were abolished. Sociology was reinstated in 1979; anthropology has gradually been gaining acceptance.
During the 1950s and 1960s, for the purpose of classifying and identifying minorities, a process known as minzy shibie, hundreds of researchers were sent to the countryside to identify such groups and to study their languages. With the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), this was discontinued, and the more autocratic imposition of Han culture was implemented.
However, beginning in the 1970s, these programmes have gradually been restored, usually under the auspices of central or regional Nationalities Institutes (minzu xueyuan) or Academies of Social Sciences (central or regional). Since the late 1980s some anthropological studies of urban life have been undertaken. Vibrant programmes of social cultural anthropology have been established, mostly in the south, for instance at Zhongshan Daxue in Canton, Xiamen Daxue in Fujian, and Yunnan University in Kunming. Peking University’s Department of Anthropology includes both archaeology and ethnology (cultural anthropology). The Chinese University of Hong Kong has a Department of Anthropology with international connections to prominent scholars.
Ethnographic study in and of China focuses on minority culture, rural life, food in culture, religious practice, medical and botanical systems, tourism and identity, using direct observation as well as surveys.
Guldin, Gregory Eliyu (ed.) (1990). Anthropology in China: Defining the Discipline. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
——(1994). The Saga of Anthropology in China: From Malinowski to Moscow to Mao. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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(especially as regards manners and customs or external peculiarities)

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