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Folklorist Wu Bing’an

Author  :  Yang Xiu     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2015-02-25



  (Sketch of Wu Bing’an, by Gou Ben)

Wu Bing’an (1929- ) is a well-known Chinese folklorist of Mongolian descent. He is the author of Introduction to Folklore, Chinese Folklore, The Mysterious World of the Shaman, Theories and Methods of Intangible Cultural Heritage Conservation, Chinese Folk Belief and others. He is a professor at Liaoning University.

I remembered it was in 1998 and the summer was just coming. During an academic conference in Qingdao, Wu Bing’an and some of his old friends gathered in his room and they were in deep conversation. Wu noticed some young scholars were lingering in the doorway. They had come for advice but did not dare interrupt. He encouraged them with humor and said: “Please feel free to ask me questions. Don’t be shy. I’m for everyone, and each of you can have a share of me.” This anecdote just reflects his relentless pursuit of “one for all.”

In the winter of 1929, Wu Bing’an was born in a Mongolian family in Hohhot. Times were hard for his family in his youth because of famine. In the end of June in 1949, he left home for Beijing and worked part time while he prepared for the university entrance examination. In consideration of his family’s financial situation, Wu decided not to attend Yenching University, which charged higher tuition, and chose instead to enroll in Hebei Normal College in Tianjin, where he was able to receive the maximum scholarship. He was among the first crop of university students to graduate after New China was founded.

He only spent three and a half years completing all undergraduate courses and became one of the first graduate students after the establishment of New China, under the supervision of famous folklorist Zhong Jingwen (1903-2002). Since then, Wu Bing’an has forged a close connection with folklore, folk literature and art.

After graduation in 1955, Wu Bing’an was assigned to work in the Department of Chinese at Shenyang Normal University, which afterward merged into Liaoning University in 1958. In 1980, Wu Bing’an initiated a series of lectures on folklore in Liaoning University and established the folklore society in the university. The next year, he opened a Chinese folklore course to all university students, marking the very first time that folklore was offered as an elective since the foundation of New China. In the autumn of 1982, Liaoning University was given approval to recruit graduate students in folklore.

As a graduate advisor and academic trendsetter, Wu took responsibility for teaching undergraduate, graduate and international students folklore.

In the meantime, Wu served as the doctoral supervisor for Chinese folklore with the Institute of East Asian Studies at the Free University of Berlin and cultivated more than 40 graduate students at home and abroad, including five doctoral candidates from the Soviet Union and Mongolia and three Japanese master’s students.

Moreover, he has held six advanced seminars on folklore, and more than 100 attendees from 17 provincial administrative regions, including Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan, Hui, Miao, Qiang, Uyghur and Salar people, completed their studies through the seminars. And now these people have become a core force in the field of folklore in China and abroad.

Published in 1983, Wu’s Series of Folklore was based on secular events that happen in people’s daily lives. It tells stories and teaches people to solve problems and expound upon theories of folklore. With its colorful language, the series reflects Wu Bing’an’s linguistic skill.

At the time, People’s Daily and Guangming Daily commented that the Series of Folklore was the first book focusing on the study of folklore in China. In an effort to enrich and revise the series, Chinese Folklore was published in 1985. This book is a textbook that introduces the basics in the field of folklore. In reviewing the book, academics said: “it differs from any other theoretical work in the publishing history of Chinese folklore. It is distinctly original, pioneering and shows real Chinese characteristics.” Thirty years have passed, and this book is still regarded as a reference for university teaching. His works have contributed greatly to the disciplinary establishment of folklore.

In addition, Wu is not solely concerned with the study of folklore. He is also engaged in social affairs. In the 2000s, he devoted himself to the government-led conservation of intangible cultural heritage. His endless contributions to the study of folklore and intangible cultural heritage have exerted a guiding influence.


Yang Xiu is from the Art and Anthropology Center at Chinese National Academy of Arts.

Editor: Yu Hui

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