Fred Blake

Fred Blake, PhD 柏桦

Former Professor

Curriculum Vitae

Selected Biliography
Courses Taught


PhD University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois (1975)
MA Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri (1966)
BA University of Hawaii, Hawaii (1964)

My sense of the big picture

I have long been interested in how historical structures of domination (especially the modern system) are reproduced in, and thus distort, the everyday lives of ordinary people. My academic work focuses on the interpersonal microcosms where (to paraphrase Marx) people make, unmake, and remake their worlds under historical conditions that they do not themselves choose. I became acutely aware of this problematic as a Peace Corps Volunteer on Agrigan Island in the Northern Marianas (1966-68) where I lived with people who showed a certain resilience in the face of overwhelming global challenges to their way of life.

Later, as a graduate student at the University of Illinois my area focus gelled around China's modern revolution, which at the time pinned its success on ideology and organization in opposition to the emphasis of "modernization theory" on international capital and technology. I have long been interested in how the shifts in historical formations, from a highly developed feudal formation to a state capitalist formation was accomplished by the “disappearing mediation” of a communist party and how ordinary people participate(d) in this process.

My Perspective on Cultural Relativism

One of the mainstays of anthropological thinking is cultural relativism. I divide this concept into three ways of thinking. First is old fashioned methodological relativism in which the ethnologist suspends his or her sense of reality and truth for the length of time it takes to gain an understanding and appreciation of another people’s sense of reality and truth. This methodology lies at the heart of the ethnological enterprise. Second is epistemic relativism which holds that there is no essential truth; every truth, every meaning; every reality is simply a way of knowing things based on the way we talk or write about them. This level of relativism is discursive or literary and is attributable to postmodern or post-structural thought which became fashionable among American academics in the 1980s and ‘90s and left an indelible mark on anthropology. Third is moral relativism which holds that since there is no universal or essential truth, there is no way and no point in judging the moral worth of different ways of living. 

My perspective in these matters holds to methodological relativism as a professional necessity. I find important insights in epistemological relativism but on the whole, I reject the notion that there are no essential truths, even if we cannot fathom exactly what they are. Some are given by intuition, some by an act of faith freely undertaken. Some are more or less discoverable by various methodologies, e.g., phenomenology, dialectics, and positive science. The scientific methodology discovers universal, positive truths because its methods are public and severely self-limiting – the spirit of science is not to ask if something is true in any absolute sense, but to ask on what grounds can we say it may be true. Where I draw the line against epistemic relativism is in the trendy notion that reality is discursive and its ‘truth’ is its power to dominate, which I find trite, prosaic, and banal. Finally, I reject moral relativism as an ethic because if we found people actually practicing it, we would have to change everything we know about being human and it would invalidate the profession of anthropology. As for truths that go beyond the limits of science, I agree with the late Roy Rappaport that we need to revive a sense of the sacred sphere in communities of faith and free-thinking. 

Selected Bibliography

Academic Publications (Monographs)

1981    Ethnic Groups and Social Change in a Chinese Market Town. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

2011    Burning Money: The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

Academic Publications (articles in refereed journals)

1978     "Death and Abuse in Marriage Laments: The Curse of Chinese Brides," Journal of Asian Folklore Studies, 37(1): 13-33.

1979     "Love Songs and the Great Leap: The Role of a Youth Culture in the Revolutionary Phase of China's Economic Development," American Ethnologist, 6(1): 41-54.

1979     "The Feelings of Chinese Daughters toward Their Mothers as Revealed in Marriage Laments," Folklore, 89(2): 91-97.

1993     “The Chinese of Valhalla: Identity and Adaptation in a Midwestern American Cemetery,” Markers: Journal for the Association of Gravestone Studies, 10: 52-89.

1994     "Footbinding in Neo-Confucian China and the Appropriation of Female Labor," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 19(2): 676-712.

2011     “Lampooning the Paper Money Custom in Contemporary China,” Journal of Asian Studies, 70 (2): 449-469.

Academic Publications (chapters or articles in books)

1981     "Graffiti and Racial Insults: The Archaeology of Ethnic Relations," In     Modern Material Culture: The Archaeology of Us., eds. Richard Gould and M. Schiffer, 87-100. New York: Academic Press.

1984     "Leaders, Factions and Ethnicity in Sai Kung," In Leadership on the China Coast, ed. Goran Aijmer, 53-90. Scandinavian Institute for Asian Studies.  London: Curzon Press.

1997     [Reprint] "Foot-binding in Neo-Confucian China and the Appropriation of Female Labor," In History and Theory: Feminist Research, Debates, Contestations, eds. Barbara Laslett, Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, Mary Jo Maynes, Evelyn Brooks Higginsbotham, & Jeanne Barker-Nunn, 187-223. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

2000     [Reprint] "Foot-binding in Neo-Confucian China and the Appropriation of Female Labor," In Feminism and the Body: Oxford Readings in Feminism. ed. Londa Schiebinger, 429-464. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2008     “Foot-binding.” Oxford Encyclopedia of the History of Women. ed. Bonnie G. Smith, Volume 2: 327-329. Oxford University Press.

2008     “Lucy Parsons.” Oxford Encyclopedia of the History of Women. ed. Bonnie G. Smith, Volume 3: 417. Oxford University Press.

Academic Publications (instructional guides)

1976     Islands in the China Sea. Hanover, New Hampshire: Wheellock Educational Resources.

Academic Publications in the Chinese Language (* original in Chinese)

1999     新儒教時期的纏足与婦女勞動 [Neo-Confucian Period Foot-binding and Women’s Labor]. In 漢學研究[Chinese Studies] 3: 263-300, Beijing: 中國和平出版社.

2005*  先靈公司与中國八仙 [The Schering Corporation and the Eight Chinese Immortals], 裝飾 [Journal of Art] No. 150: 68-69 (co-authored with Ranfan 冉凡)

2005*  紙錢的符號研究 [The Semiotics of Paper Money Offerings] 廣西的民族學院報 [Journal of Guangxi University for Nationalities], 27(5): 43-49

2006*  紙錢的符號研究 [Reprinted] 文化研究 [Cultural Studies] 中國人民大學書報資料中心 [Chinese People’s University Information Center for Social Sciences] No. 4: 9-16.

2007*  人纇學与時裝尚的研究  [Anthropology and the Study of Fashion], 廣西的民族學院報[Journal of Guangxi University for Nationalities], 29(1):31-42.

2007* Proceedings: 二、论坛所涉及的所有问题都具有人类学的学术价值
Second Address, Summarizing the Academic Value of All the Topics Discussed in the Forum. 开放、边缘、民间: 第四届人类学高级论坛之观察员评论 [Openness, Marginality, and Rural: Comments on the Fourth Summit Anthropology Forum] by 朱炳祥 [Bing-Xiang Zhu] 柏桦 [C. Fred Blake] 蓝达居 [Da-Ju Lan]. In 廣西的民族學院報 [Journal of Guangxi University for Nationalities], 29(1):11-15.

2008*  森林人 [introduction and translation with Ranfan (冉凡) of The Forest People by Colin Turnbull]. 民族出版社 [Ethnic Publishing House].

2008*  Proceedings: 人类学的中国话语-第六届人类学高级论坛圆桌会议纪实 [On the Discourse of China in Anthropology--A Recording of the Sixth Summit Forum on Anthropology, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, October 26-30.

2008* 美国文化人类学的当代理论趋势 Meiguo Wenhua Renleixue de Dangdai Lilun Qushi [Contemporary Theory in American Anthropology]. 中南民族大學学报[Journal of South-Central University for Nationalities], Vol.28, No. 4: 5-18.

2008*  美国文化人类学的当代理论趋势略述 [Brief Review of Contemporary Theory in American Anthropology]. In 国外社会科学 [Social Sciences Abroad] 中国社会科学院文献信息中心 [Center for Documents and Resources in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences], Beijing, pp. 47-52.

2009* 乌鸦印簟安人 [introduction and translation with Ranfan (冉凡) of The Crow Indians by Robert Lowie]. 民族出版社 [Ethnic Publishing House].

2009*  Reprint: 美国文化人类学的当代理论趋势略述 [Brief Review of Contemporary Theory in American Anthropology]. Reprinted in Zhang, Shuhua and Yang, Yanbin (eds.) 当代国外学术论丛 [Series of Contemporary Social Science Research Abroad] 中国社会科学文献出版社 [Chinese Social Sciences Academic Press], Beijing, pp. 769-777.

Publications for the Public Interest

1979     "Empress for a Day: Continuity and Change in Chinese Wedding Rites," In Traditions for Living, eds. M. L. Chung, D. J. Luke, and M. L. Lau, 38-40. Honolulu, Hawaii: Association Chinese University Women.

1980     "Racial Victimage in Hawaii: The Role of the Comic in Reducing Violence," In Proceedings 1980 Humanities Conference, Hawaii Committee for the Humanities, 148-153. Honolulu: Hawaii Committee for the Humanities.

1996     "Interethnic Humor in Hawai'i."  In The Comic in the Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i at Manoa Summer Session 1996 Humanities Guide.

2000     "There Ought to be a Monument for Alla Lee." In Chinese American Forum. 15(3): 23-25.

Academic Publications (book reviews and commentaries)

1975     "Ritual, Religion and Art" (Review of Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village by David Jordan). Journal of American Folklore, 88(350): 430-432.

1977     "From Farms to Restaurants" (Review of Emigration and the Chinese Lineage by James L. Watson). Asian Student, 25(14): 11.

1977     Business and Sentiment in a Chinese Market by John A. Young. Journal of Asian Studies, 36(3): 560.

1977     "Sex Incest and Death: Initiation Rites Reconsidered" (Comment on). Current Anthropology, 18(2): 198-199.

1981     The Woodcarvers of Hong Kong: Craft Production in the World Capitalist Periphery by Eugene Cooper. American Ethnologist, 8(4): 825-6.

1983     The Anthropology of Taiwanese Society, ed. Emily Ahern and Hill Gates, Journal of Oriental Studies, 21(1): 80-82.

1988    The Structure of Chinese Rural Society: Lineage and Village in the Eastern New Territories, Hong Kong by David Faure, The Journal of Asian Studies , 47(1): 117-118.

1994    Urban Anthropology in China ed. by Gregory Guldin and Aidan Southall China Review International, 1(1): 130-4.

1994    The Three Inch Golden Lotus by Feng Jicai, China Review International, 1(2): 108-11.

1995    Knowing Practice: The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine by Judith Farquahar, American Anthropologist, 97(2): 404-5.

1996    Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People's Republic by Susan Brownell, China Review International, 3(2): 367-9.

1997    Imagining Women: Fujian Folk Tales by Karen Gernant, China Review International, 4(1): 136-8.

2003    A Society without Fathers or Husbands: The Na of China by Cai Hua, China Review International, 10 (1): 103-106.

2007    Southern Fujian: Reproduction of Traditions in Post-Mao China. China Review International, 14 (2): 558-561.

2009    For Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors: the Chinese Tradition of Paper Offerings by Janet Lee Scott. China Review International, 16 (2): 259-263.     

Academic Publications (film reviews)

1990     "Chen and China's Symphony: The Central Philharmonic in America" by Jerry Schultz, American Anthropologist, 92(4): 1102-3.

1990     "Chinaman's Choice" by Lori Tsang, American Anthropologist, 92(4): 1103-4.

Academic Unpublished Papers

n.d.       “The Life and Times of Alla Lee: The First Chinese Citizen of St. Louis, Missouri: 1857-1880.” Unpublished manuscript.

Courses Taught

Anth 152 (Culture & Humanity)

Explores the nature of being human by studying how human cultures deal with problems of survival and meaning. These include problems of how we understand other cultures, especially from the Age of Discovery circa 1500 C.E. to the present, how we make our worlds meaningful, how we work and make things and attach value to things, how we deal with social inequalities, how we form relationships and a sense of community, and deal with rifts like illness, violence, and death

Teaching Goals:

Many of today's problems, especially problems of identity, relationship, and survival, are bio-cultural problems. Anthropology, which is the study of a being that is human-like, deals with these problems by understanding them as bio-cultural problems. This means that before we rush into finding practical solutions, we become bio-culturally informed. Being thus informed is a two-sided coin. On one side it means holding up our everyday assumptions--these are the "truths" we live by--to critical scrutiny. On the other side it means becoming cognizant of and conversant with human limitations--a popular American assumption is that there are no such things as "human limitations." To become bio-culturally informed, to be critical of everyday assumptions, and to be cognizant of human limitations is "to think anthropologically." My goal is to inspire this way of thinking.

Economic Anthropology 416

My version of this course does not restrict the analysis of economic activities to "non-Western, non-industrial societies" as per the catalog description. My horizon is drawn more along the line of political economy, the inter-disciplinary study of historical formations (culturally-organized and politically-driven modes of production / exploitation) in terms of the origins, functions, structures, and teleology of social inequality, and the theories of value, alienation, and ideology embedded therein. Anthropology offers useful insights into the study of economics because it seeks to explain and understand how people in different material circumstances produce, distribute, and consume the things they define as useful and valuable. This section of the course explores the relationship between anthropology and political economy.

Anthropology of Religion 422

My approach to the anthropology of religion begins with the history of how religion has been studied mainly by social anthropologists but including the other social and behavioral sciences and, where relevant, the perspectives of theology and philosophy. These discussions lead to questions about the scope of religion within a more comprehensive anthropology of world view and its concerns with modes of cognition and realization. Our discussions focus on the phenomena of ritual, magic, myth, commonsense, belief, faith, sacrifice, aesthetics, ideology, and rationality.

Anthropology of China 488

Surveys Chinese traditions at the domestic and interpersonal levels. This includes a brief introduction to the culture history and regional expressions followed by a more intensive focus on the family system, gender identities, rites of passage, folk religion and the heating arts. Lectures and discussions are based on a series of readings, mostly well-known accounts of life in twentieth century China. The readings are a mix of Chinese-authored dramatic stories and ethnographic monographs including some foreign-authored accounts. Our task is to see how much we can glean from these stories and accounts about social life in China during the twentieth century.

History of Anthropology 490

Historical survey of watershed ideas, intellectual genealogies, and personalities that form the modern discipline of anthropology. This includes an understanding of the historical and discursive contexts for the advent and spread of these ideas and the personalities whose published writings received the most notoriety. Although our emphasis is on the modern discourses (e.g., theories of social evolution, structural functionalism, structuralism and semiotics, linguistic and cognitive, cultural materialism--ecological, functionalist, and Marxist--and practice theories), we also take up the postmodern challenges and intellectual currents in interpretive ethnography, literary and feminist and other critical theories that have redefined the calling of anthropology. Classes are mostly lectures (based on PowerPoint presentations). This is a rigorous academic course which requires active learning.

Ethnology 601

Follows in rough chronological order the development of various schools and theoretical subdisciplines in ethnology or cultural anthropology. Our goal is to develop a broad grounding in the theoretical underpinnings of the discipline so that students are prepared to undertake their own work from an informed perspective of both what has already been accomplished and what is currently shaping the discipline. There have been paradigm shifts in cultural anthropology over the past century. The post-1960s challenge includes philosophical and political questions about subjectivity and power in society and culture and anthropological studies thereof. A portion of the second part of the course is devoted to reading and discussing these recent issues. Weekly course work includes readings, written précis, student presentations and discussions on the theories, backgrounds, historical contexts, subsequent influences and critiques.

Ethnology of China (750 D: Research Seminar)

This seminar is open to graduate students who have done or who are planning to do ethnographic field work in China. This includes work among Han and non-Han groups, and we welcome students who work in Vietnam or have an interest in comparative cultures in East Asia. The primary facilitator’s focus is Han China and studies of “folk” and “popular religions,” although students with other ethnographic/ethnological interests are welcome to pursue theirs. We expect a lot of discussion concerning the topics, methods, ethics, techniques, logistics, and theoretical paradigms involved in our work. In addition, students are expected to become familiar with the ethnographic literature, old and new. We will have, for example, an occasion to discuss the history of ethnographic work in China and differences in contributions of foreigners and native Chinese anthropologists. Each student is expected to help facilitate discussions, especially those topics that he or she has some access to, experience or knowledge of. Also, each student is expected to produce an article-length monograph on his or her topic of ethnographic research or to write a research proposal aimed at doing ethnographic research in China or related culture areas. The culture area includes Han-Chinese, non-Han-Chinese, and non-Chinese neighbors. Recognizing that subaltern-hegemonic, ethnic and national, identities, boundaries, and borders evoke strong passions does not blink the probability that such differences are inversely related (or in dialectical relationship) to the culture-historical materials that pass between them. After all, boundaries, borders, and identities are formed from interaction and exchange, not from isolation.