- Zhixue de menjing yu qufa: Wanqing minguo yanjiu de shiliao yu shixue (Methodologies of Historical Writing: Sources and Historiography on Late Qing and Republican China) by Sang Bing
In Methodologies of Historical Writing, Sang Bing, a well-established historian at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, offers alternative methodologies to historical writing. These methodologies are not really “new,” but are traditional Chinese ways of doing historical research. For most scholars today who have been overwhelmed by Western approaches, these traditional ways might provide new inspirations. Sang Bing compares this phenomenon to “someone who has a golden mountain at home but so ignored as he is that he holds a bowl like a beggar, asking for food at one door after another.” Based on his own experience in studying the history of late Qing and Republican China, Sang Bing believes that the only right way of doing Chinese history is not by applying Western approaches to Chinese history but by following the methodologies of former worthy scholars, such as Gu Jiegang (顧頡剛), Fu Sinian (傅斯年), Chen Yinque (陳寅恪), Qian Mu (錢穆), and Yan Gengwang (巖耕望). The book addresses the following issues: a review of the state of the field on late Qing and Republican history, methodologies on how to use source materials, and detailed comments on several specific fields.
In Chapter 1, Sang Bing demonstrates the status quo and general trends in the field of historical studies. Chapter 2 examines the types of source materials and how to handle the numerous materials that are available for historians. Chapter 3 is about the importance of guantong (貫通), the status of having obtained a thorough knowledge of history. Chapter 4 discusses how to use primary sources, such as diaries, telegrams, archives, newspapers, and journals. Chapters 5 through 12 focus on how to study several subfields: the Revolution of 1911, China’s foreign relations, intellectual history, studies of historical figures, the history of education, gender studies, nation and frontier, cultural history, and legal history. These chapters elaborate on how Chinese ways of doing history is different from its Western counterparts.
The main point Sang Bing makes in this book is that guantong is the most important and useful methodology for a historian, regardless of the field he or she works on. In other words, only when a scholar has a [End Page 280] thorough knowledge of Chinese history and world history, from ancient times to the present, can one understand a specific field. The author strengthens this main point in three respects.
First, whereas most historians adopt either a problem-oriented approach or a source-oriented approach, the author strongly suggests a reading-oriented method (fangyan dushu 放眼讀書). The problem-oriented approach is most commonly used: The first step is to read the secondary literature to formulate a specific historical question; The second step is to find and study the relevant sources. The problem with this approach, according to the author, is that without a general picture of the primary sources, the only practical method is to seek them by topic or by keyword. By doing this, it is very possible that one will miss key materials that are not easy to be located either by topic or by keyword. Furthermore, directly-related materials may lead the historian to an identification close to the concerns of the organization that produced them. In either case, this may result in the historian making partial or even wrong conclusions. Nor is the source-oriented approach perfect, as the author maintains. Lead by this approach, historians often take one source or group of sources that fall within his or her general area of interest and extracts whatever is of value, allowing the content of the sources to determine the nature of the enquiry. For the author, this approach may be better than the former approach but the problem remains that the historian has not read enough before undertaking the research. The best way, Sang Bing suggests, is a reading-oriented...