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  • In MemoriamZhang Zhongpei 张忠培 (5 August 1934 – 5 July 2017)
  • Li Longlam

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Zhang Zhongpei at the Erdaojingzi site, Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, 18 September 2009 (Photograph by B. F. Zhao)

remembering professor zhang zhongpei: a scholar who made great contributions to chinese archaeology

On the morning of 5 July 2017, a message shocked the Chinese archaeological and heritage community. At the age of 83, Professor Zhang Zhongpei had died from an illness in Beijing. Zhang was one of the pioneering Chinese archaeological scholars and a great teacher of archaeology who founded the Archaeological Department of Jilin University. He was also the former director of the Chinese Archaeological Society, a professional association established under the State Administration of Cultural [End Page 201] Heritage (Guo Jia Wen Wu Ju 国家文物局). Zhang had once served as the president of the National Palace Museum. The President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, as well as present and former prime ministers Li Keqiang, Wen Jiabao, and Li Peng all expressed their grief over the loss of Zhang; they were joined by thousands of people who had worked in the cultural and archaeological fields nation-wide.

Zhang was born in Changsha, Hunan on August 5, 1934. He remembered a childhood marred by the turmoil of World War II. When the Japanese invaded China, his family fled Changsha and moved to the countryside in order to avoid Japanese air raids, which occurred four times while he was still in primary school. He thus received his primary school education in six different schools. From that experience, he became determined to use his knowledge to serve his country. Since he was fascinated by archaeology from an early age, that would be the realm in which he would make his mark and contribution.

Zhang graduated from Peking University in 1956 with an undergraduate degree in Archaeology. As a doctoral candidate, he was supervised by Professor Su Bingqi, one of the greatest scholars in Chinese archaeology. Zhang later joined the Peking University team on his first field investigations and excavations in Huaxian 华县 and Weinan 渭南, Shaanxi. These enlightening field experiences sparked his interest in the lesser-known area of pottery typology. After years of research starting in 1959, he finally produced a synthesis of the social organization of the cemetery at Yuanjunmiao 元君庙(Yuanjun Temple). Subsequent excavations and research at many sites revolutionized the way we understand the ancient history of central China.

He finished his graduate degree in 1961 and was then assigned to the History Department of Jilin University as an Associate Professor, later becoming Full Professor. In 1972, he presided over the establishment of a professional archaeological section in the department, where he established the practice of “field archaeology as the basis of modern archaeology” (Zhang 1983b:68). This ideology became the style at Jilin University and resulted in students of Chinese archaeology graduating with strong field abilities. Zhang included the latest findings from scientific research in the context of his teaching. He also followed the teaching methods set by Su Bingqi, Su Bai, and other founders of the Archaeological Department of Peking University. Through these connections, the teaching methods in the History Department of Jilin University are similar to those of Peking University. These two universities became the main cradles for training archaeologists in China. In 1987, Zhang transferred to the Palace Museum, the site of the so-called Forbidden City, in Beijing to become its director. As the fourth director since the establishment of the Palace Museum in 1925, he became a renowned cultural heritage expert.

It was said in the Analects that “The determined scholar and the man of virtue will not seek to live at the expense of injuring their virtue [志士仁人, 無求生以害仁]” (Legge 1861:16). Throughout history, there have been uncountable stories of Chinese officials determined to live up their beliefs. Tao Qian 陶渊明 of the Six Dynasties, who “never bows for five dou of rice [不為五斗米折腰]” (Fang 648:n.p.) was a notable exemplar. Zhang was just as determined to abide by his moral values as Tao had been a thousand years earlier. For example, during the student movement in 1989, students and protestors gathered in Tiananmen Square for...


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