A Major Anthropology Conference in China Faces Postponement

May 07, 2008

In what might be another sign of pre-Olympics tension in China, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences has warned its members that a major conference planned for July is likely to be postponed.

The association, which was formed in Brussels in 1948, meets every five years. This year’s meeting is scheduled for mid-July at Yunnan University, in Kunming, a city in southwestern China not far from Tibet. Kunming was the site last month of large demonstrations against the Tibetan independence movement and perceived anti-Chinese bias in the West.

On Tuesday the association’s Chinese affiliate wrote to the group’s international executive committee, saying that it had “encountered complex difficulties hard to resolve in its preparation work recently, which makes it impossible for us to hold the congress at the time originally planned.”

The executive committee has rejected the idea of a postponement, but it has not yet received a reply from its Chinese colleagues. “We still have no concrete information about the results of our plea not to postpone the congress,” wrote the association’s president, Luis Alberto Vargas, a professor of physical anthropology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in an e-mail message to The Chronicle today.

Mr. Vargas and other members of the executive committee declined to comment further, citing the delicacy of the situation.

The conference’s program includes a number of panels on potentially sensitive topics, including dozens of papers on ethnic and linguistic diversity and four papers specifically on Tibet.

The association’s newsletter published last month a May 2007 memorandum that outlined 20 points of agreement between the association and its Chinese affiliate, including an understanding that Chinese scholars would organize a conference panel titled “The Achievement of China’s Policy Toward Ethnic Minority Groups and Ethnic Administration.” —David Glenn