Global News

Human Nature and Habits Roundtable

Old black and white picture of man in a suit

Academic Exchange with Fei Xiaotong (Fei Hsiao-Tung)’s Followers

On May 2nd, 2019, a special assembly of scholars from China visited the University of Chicago to honor their former teacher Fei Xiaotong (Hsiao-Tung, 1910-2005), a renowned Chinese sociologist and anthropologist who’s early works, Peasant Life in China (1939), From the Soil (1947/1993), Earthbound China (1945) and China’s Gentry (1945), are widely known at home and abroad. Professor Fei has also pioneered the methods of local people doing fieldwork in their own home environments and has made influential academic contributions in the study on “cultural self-consciousness” in the context of globalization. However, his many later works have dialed to be systematically introduced to the English-speaking world. For decades, Professor Fei’s disciples (PhD students or Postdoctoral researchers) have built on different aspects of his academic legacy and have developed their own research of “humanity and habits” in China, Japan, India, Middle East, Europe and the United States. Professor Fei’s disciples have now come to UChicago to follow in his footsteps in visits to the U.S. and United Kingdom for academic exchanges between Chinese and non-Chinese scholars, that will deepen and widen existing research.

The scholars were excited to trace Prof. Fei Xiaotong’s rich history of scholarly collaboration with the University of Chicago, beginning with their visit to the Special Collections Research Center in the Regenstein Library. Where they viewed papers, notes and gifts that document his travels and the correspondence between Prof. Fei Xiaotong and Margaret Park Redfield, a longtime friend and English translator of China’s Gentry (1945). This gave the delegates a great opportunity to view some original copies of Prof. Fei Xiaotong’s work, as well as the many photos taken when Prof. Xiaotong and his family visited the Redfield family in the U.S. Allowing Mr. Zhang Zhe, a member of the delegation and the only grandson of Prof. Fei Xiaotong, the chance to view photos of his family that he’s never seen.  

After the library visit, the delegation eagerly spoke with Professor James M. Redfield, son of Margaret Park Redfield, who told stories of his experience when his family meet with Prof. Fei Xiaotong’s family in Beijing. Astoundingly, the Redfield family flew out on the very last plane allowed to fly to the Chinese region at the time. Prof. James Redfield also showed the delegation a sentimental portrait of his father Professor Robert Park, a sociologist and long collaborator of Fei Xiaotong that studied under UChicago Lab school founder John Dewey.

The delegation left Prof. Redfield’s office, and was treated to a tour before participating in roundtable event, hosted by the Center for Eastern Studies, to present and receive on comments on their research in context to “Human Nature and Habits.” There were may faculty and students in attendance that expressed they were deeply humbled to be a part of this historical event and felt inspired to further collaborations with the progeny of Prof. Fei Xiaotong’s legacy. Emblematic of Prof. Fei Xiaotong’s studies, this multicultural event represents the benefits of multicultural convergence and the potential to construct human knowledge on anthropology and sociology on a global scale.

Following the roundtable event, the delegation had a private meeting with Professor Marshall Sahlins, an America anthropologist known for his work in the Pacific, where they continued their discussion of academic exchange while also exchanging appreciative gifts.

The disciples properly concluded their time on the UChicago campus by attending the opening reception of the Centennial Colloquium on [John] Dewey and participating in the Arts of Dewey’s Experience workshop. Where they reflected on John Dewey’s role in education and his relevance in China.

After the delegation’s departure, Saul Thomas, a UChicago graduate student that attended the roundtable, informed the Center for East Asian Studies of a book he bought at the library many years ago with an inscription saying this book is a gift from Robert Park to “Hsiao-Tung Fei”. Followed by a long inscription in Chinese signed 孝通. He is very enthused to share this gift with Professor Fei’s disciples and wishes to share this treasure (see

below) with them in Beijing, China.

UChicago Global would like to thank everyone for their time and investment in this event. We hope that Professor Fei’s disciples and the UChicago community had a fruitful experience that was filled with both nostalgia and anticipation for the future partnerships that will globalize their work.

Mandarin handwritten in a book

Delegation Members

  • Mr. Liu Qirui
  • Professor Fang Lili
  • Professor Wang Yanzhong
  • Professor Liu Neng
  • Professor Zhai Xudong
  • Professor Ding Yuanzhu
  • Professor Xu Ping
  • Mr. Zhang Zhe
  • Professor Xiangqun Chang


Other visitors:

  • Mr. Liao Jiangman
  • Ms. He Aifang
  • Ms. Yu Yue
  • Mr. Tu Yexing
  • Mr. Lin Xueshu
  • Mr. Sun Weihao
  • Mr. Zhu Yang
  • Ms. Zhang Xiaolin