Chen Gaohua, male and from the Han ethnic group, born in March 1938, is a native of Wenling, Zhejiang Province and not a member of any party. In August 1960, he graduated from the department of history of Peking University as a graduate student. He is a researcher and PhD student advisor of the Institute of Chinese History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Director of the Association of Chinese History, President of the Institute of Chinese Overseas Transportation History, and consultant of the China Society of Yuan History. His academic expertise is in ancient Chinese history. In 1990, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award. Since 1991, he has started to enjoy a special allowance awarded by the State Council.
Achievement Is Founded on Diligence
Liu Xiao (hereinafter referred to as Liu): Hello, Mr. Chen. As your student, I am very glad to have this opportunity to seek advice from you. I hope you can talk about some of your thoughts with respect to your path of life, research field and your principle of conducting yourself in society, among others. First of all, what I am very interested in is why you chose the history of Yuan Dynasty, the subject that seems to be a little more unfamiliar in the ancient history of China as your direction to pursuing studies in the future in the first place?
Chen Gaohua (hereinafter referred to as Chen): In 1955, I was admitted to the Department of History at Beijing University. At that time, with respect to the courses, what the freshmen and the sophomores learned was the basic course and the students needed to learn the ancient history of China for two years. Four teachers including Zhang Zhengliang, Tian Yuqing, Deng Guangming and Xu Daling took charge of giving lessons section by section. Mr. Zhang and Mr. Deng had been professors who had enjoyed high reputation at that time. Mr. Tian and Mr. Xu were still young teachers. Mr. Xu gave us lessons in the field of the history of the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. I was very interested in the history of the Ming and Qing Dynasties while I was not so interested in the history of the Yuan Dynasty. As far as I was concerned, the people’s names, the names of nationalities and the events of the Yuan Dynasty are too complex. At that time, there was still a course called “the history of primitive society and the history of nationalities”. This course was offered for learning in accordance with the experience of the Soviet Union. The teachers who gave lessons included the teachers Lin Yaohua, Song Shuhua and Chen Yongling from Central Institute for Nationalities. They are all famous scholars in the field of nation science. They made introduction to the social and historical conditions of the national minorities in China and it made me greatly widen my horizon. Then, I got an initial understanding of the important significance of researches on nationalities on the researches on history. In 1958, the upsurge of the Great Leap Forward on the upgrade all over the country, the researches on the national minority that the National Ethnic Affairs Committee took charge of should also follow the pace of the “Great Leap Forward”. It was planned to compose the brief history and brief records of every national minority. For this purpose, the survey of social history of the nations was carried out in the whole country. However, the power that was engaged in the survey and researches of nationalities was limited. Therefore, it was determined that the students from the Department of History in the Beijing University and the Department of History in the Central Institute for Nationalities to take part in the activity. I was distributed to the survey group of Xinjiang. My task was to compose the history of nationality of Kazak. Kazak is a nomadic nationality. The Kazak people mainly live in the northern part of Xinjiang. From August 1958 to July 1959, I had been working in Xinjiang for nearly one year. I have gone to many places in Xinjiang and I became very interested in the history of the Central Asia and the history of nomadic people.
After I graduated from the university in 1960, I was allocated to the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (the predecessor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), where I have been engaged in the works in the Institute of History. When the leaders asked for the suggestions of every new comer, I expressed my hope that I wanted to engage in the researches of the history of nationalities. At that time, there just was a group for the history of nationalities in the Institute of History. The reason was that in 1956 the three countries including China, the Soviet Union and Mongolia entered into an agreement of composing a General History of Mongolia with their joint efforts. The Institute of History set up a group for the history of nationalities which was taken charge of by Mr. Wang Dujian for the purpose of preparing the data and making the other academic preparations. After that, the plan of composing the historical work with the joint efforts of the three countries was aborted. However, the group for the history of nationalities has been maintained so far. It is mainly engaged in the researches of the history of Yuan Dynasty and the history of Mongolia. In addition, it is also occupied in the researches on other nationalities in the southern and the northern parts. I was arranged to take a post in the group for the history of nationalities. It is certain for me to choose the history of Yuan Dynasty as my own major.
In the 20th century, the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty in China has experienced for many generations. The first generation is Mr. Wang Guowei and Mr. Chen Yuan. They are the real masters in the academic circles of China and they have laid a foundation for the researches of the Yuan Dynasty in China. The second generation is Mr. Weng Dujian, Mr. Han Rulin, Mr. Shao Xunzheng and Mr. Yao Congwu etc. They all have good mastery of traditional cultures and all of them also used to accept the stick training of science in the western countries. They deserve to be regard as the people who have a thorough knowledge of both western and traditional Chinese cultures. The researches engaged in the history of the Yuan Dynasty in Chinese Mainland are mainly the students of the three masters Mr. Weng, Mr. Han and Mr. Shao now. Mr. Yao, on the other hand, is the teacher of great learning and integrity for those who are engaged in the researches on the history of Liao Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty and the Yuan Dynasty in Taiwan. Mr. Weng Dujian has held the post of a leader in the Institute of Nationalities for a long period of time. He makes important contribution to the research developed in our country in the field of the history of the Yuan Dynasty, the history of Mongolian Yuan nationality and even the history of nationalities. During the five years when I was studying in Beijing University, I spent the most majority of my time in taking part in the movements and going to the countryside (including the survey of nationalities). I was in a lack of professional training of foundation in the field of historical science. Though I had a great passion towards the scientific researches, I did not know how to commence. After I was allotted to the group for the history of nationalities, I was taught and instructed by Mr. Weng when I gradually took the way of doing researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty. Therefore, I regard Mr. Weng as the person who guides me to the path of academics from beginning to end.
Liu: In the long way of development of Chinese history, the history of the Yuan Dynasty only takes up a very small part of it. However, its influence on the later generations is profound and lasting. I still remember that I used to see many scholars’ point of view at this aspect. Some of them mainly hold a negative attitude towards the history of the Yuan Dynasty. Some of them acknowledge the historical achievement of the Yuan Dynasty to unify China but hold a negative attitude towards Mongolian crusaded to the western part. Some scholars have the opinion that such analysis that divides the Yuan Dynasty into two parts is, as a matter of fact, to adopt double standard. What is your opinion towards the influence of the Yuan Dynasty on the history of China and even its influence in the world?
Chen: With respect to the historical role of the Yuan Dynasty, there has always been a great controversy in the academic circles in our country and all over the world. As far as I am concern, such controversy will last in the future. This issue cannot be clarified just by some simple sentences. If I have to declare where I stand, in my opinion, the Yuan Dynasty and its predecessor – Yeke Mongol Ulus under the reign of the first four emperors of Mongolia have a close relation with each other but there are also obvious differences between them. The Yeke Mongol Ulus is a large international empire while the Yuan Dynasty is one of the dynasties in the history of China, which is the same as the Ilkhanate in Iran. The Yuan Dynasty put an end to the separated situation in China that had been lasting for several hundred years and realized the grand unification in terms of political. In addition, it has laid a foundation for the territory of current China. (For example, Tibet was under the jurisdiction of the central government officially in the period of the Yuan Dynasty under the reign of Mongolians). It is an extraordinary great event. The Yuan Dynasty is a period when the great migration of nationalities and the great reorganization of nationalities took place. There were not only the sever crashes among the nationalities but also the close communication even national amalgamation. Nowadays, the situation that many nationalities are spreading over our country came into being in the Yuan Dynasty by and large. It is also an every important thing. We often say that China is a unified multinational country. The unified multinational country has its process of gradual formation and development. The Yuan Dynasty places an extremely important part in this process, which cannot be denied. With respect to the evaluation of the politics, economics and culture in the Yuan Dynasty, we can make further discussion and the detailed and meticulous researches are necessary.
In the 13th century, the appearance of Yeke Mongol Ulus is a significant event in the history of the world. The military activities of Yeke Mongol Ulus extended all over a great number of countries in Asia and Europe. The consequences resulting from this shall be analyzed in detail. We cannot treat different things as the same. However, it is certain that the activities of Yeke Mongol Ulus promoted the economic and cultural exchanges between the eastern countries and the western countries and had a profound and lasting influence in the history of the world. The Travels of Marco Polo that came into being at that time is a very good example. In recent years, the academic circles at home and abroad have taken notice that there were not only China, Korea and Japan in the eastern world but also the Arabian Peninsula, Africa and even Europe in the “Honil Gangni Yeokdae Gukdo Ji Do” (“Map of Integrated Lands and Regions of Historical Countries and Capitals”) that was created at the beginning of the 15th century. As it were, it can be regarded as a map of the world. It was made on the basis of the map of Yuan Dynasty. It is very good physical evidence to proof that the communication and association between the eastern and the western worlds was strengthened at that time.
Liu: As far as I am concerned, you have wide interests. You have involved in nearly in each filed in the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty to different degrees. However, in addition to the field of researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty, you have many works that have great influence. Would you please talk about your achievements in every filed as well as your unique academic opinions?
Chen: My main specialized subject is the history of the Yuan Dynasty. On the earlier stage, I was mainly engaged in the researches on the peasant war, the social economy and the Sino-foreign relation in the Yuan Dynasty. After that, I gradually transferred my focus on the history of culture and the history of legal system. I always hold the opinion that I shall be engaged in a more extensive field of researches instead of focusing on the narrow scope. Each department of the social life are relating to each other. The researches in different fields can get effects that can promote each other. My requirement for my own thesis is one word that is new, including new subject, new data and new opinion. In a word, I shall have new point of view and the spirit of innovation. If I go with the tide, it will be meaningless. Looking back my researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty, I laid greatest emphasis on the field of the history of economics. It can be said that I have made some progress compared to my predecessors. As for the book Khan Balik, though the length of the book is not long, it presented a relatively overall perspective of Khan Balik, the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty (which is Beijing now). This book has been translated into Japanese and Mongolian and published. In recent years, some exploration and discussion over the aspects of the history of culture (religion, custom and imperial examination etc.) and legal system in the Yuan Dynasty have some value to certain degree. As you said, “I have involved in nearly in each filed in the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty to different degrees.” It is exaggerated to certain degree. There are many issues that shall be researched on in the history of the Yuan Dynasty. There are still a number of important fields, such as the social structure of Mongolia and the history and geography of the Yuan Dynasty, among others. So far, I am still pacing up and down outside the door.
The books I read are diverse and my interest are varied as well. In addition to the history of the Yuan Dynasty, I also do desultory reading in the field of the history of Central Asia, the history of overseas communication and exchanges as well as the history of paintings. As I mentioned before then, when I was a student I had participated in the survey of nationalities in Xinjiang for one year when I became greatly interested in the history of central Asia. In the 1980s, I acted under orders to join in the Editorial Committee of the History of Civilization in Central Asia which is subordinate to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as the representative from China together with Mr. Ma Yong, when I became attached to the history of central Asia once again. At the Editorial Committee of the History of Civilization in Central Asia, I disagreed in the opinions of the representatives from the Soviet Union for many times and we argued with each other vehemently. It enabled me to have a more in-depth understanding of the realistic significance of researches on the history of central Asia. It was in the 1980s when the newly composed historical data of Xinjiang completed by me and the several theses I wrote were published one after another. The history of Xinjiang in the Ming Dynasty is a weak part in the reaches on the overall history of Xinjiang. The Historical Data Records of Hami and Turpan in the Ming Dynasty that I compiled made public many data that had not been used by the predecessors and played a part in filling in the gaps. Therefore, it has been brought to the forefront. In 1970s, the sunken boat of Song Dynasty was discovered in Quanzhou, Fujian, which brought about the great mass fervor of the researches on the history of overseas communication and exchanges in our country. I made some researches related to this and cooperated with Mr. Wu Tai to write the Overseas Trade in the Song and Yuan Dynasties, which is a monograph of overseas communication and exchanges history in the academic circles in our country that was published in a relatively early period of time. Therefore it is often referred to in different works. After that, I wrote the Chinese History of Overseas Communications and Exchanges with the joint efforts of Mr. Chen Shangsheng from Shandong University and this book was published in Taiwan. I also made some efforts for the purpose of doing researches on the history of overseas communication and exchanges, such as organizing the researches groups and set up publications etc. From the end of the 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s, the activities “Comprehensive Survey of the Silk Road” themed by the communications between the eastern and the western sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. One of the activities is the “Survey of the Silk Road”. As the Chinese representative, I took part in the overall process and made the preparations in China. This survey has further promoted the development of the researches on the history of overseas communications and exchanges of our country.
My involvement in the history of ancient paintings begins from the later period of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, the normal researches paused at that time, so I took the collecting of ancient painting materials as my diversion. After the end of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, I sorted out the materials relating to the painters in the Yuan Dynasty and published them. It is my first book Historical Records of Painters in the Yuan Dynasty. After this book was published, it has received favorable comments from the academic circles at home and abroad. Han Hongang (the pen name of Ren Daobin, a professor from China Academy of Art said, “I met with the Japanese scholar Suzuki Kei, the American scholar Li Zhujin, the Taiwanese scholar Bo Shen from our country when I was abroad, all of them spoke highly of this book. As far as they are concerned, it is a reference book necessary for the researches of the history of painting in the Yuan Dynasty. It makes the search convenient and has made a great contribution.” Three masters who were mentioned here are all acknowledged persons of authority in the field of Chinese history of painting. I used to come into contact with Mr. Suzuki Kei and Mr. Li Zhujin. After that, I compiled and published the Historical Records of Painters in the Song, Liao and Jin Dynasties and the Historical Records of Painters in the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Mr. Fu Xinian, the Director of National Committee of Cultural Relics and an academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering said, “For compiling the Mr. Chen Gaohua the Historical Records of Painters in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the Historical Records of Painters in the Song, Liao and Jin Dynasties and the Historical Records of Painters in the Sui and Tang Dynasties and the Historical Records of Painters in the Yuan Dynasty, he had collected a great number of materials in this field and they are very helpful for us to understand the materials in this field.” There are two characteristics of these books: on one hand, they are compiled by the original historical records and the author did his best to make they complete; on the other hand, the author put forward his own point of view from the prospective of historical science on the painters and the history of painting, which made the author have a great number of differences from the researches in the field of the history of art. After that, I supplemented and revised the Historical Records of Painters in the Yuan Dynasty and changed its name into the Collection of Historical Records of Painters in the Yuan Dynasty before republished it. I used to intend to compile the Historical Records of Painters in the Ming Dynasty and I had made some efforts, however since the other works were very heavy, I stopped it in the halfway. Now it seems that I have no energy to complete it.
Liu: What are your opinions towards the current situation of the researches on the history of Yuan Dynasty at home and abroad? Compared to the past, what are the progress that have been made in the field of the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty in our country? What are the obvious shortcomings? How shall we strengthen it in the future? Your point of view in this field is very important for us young scholars to do researches in the future so would you please talk about it in detail?
Chen: Europe (including Russia – the Soviet Union) and Japan are ahead of China with respect to adopting modern scientific approach in the researches on the history of Yuan Dynasty and the history of Mongolia. Till the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Europe and Japan had been ahead of China with respect to the researches on the history of Yuan Dynasty and the history of Mongolia, which is a truth that cannot not be hided. Even, as it were, the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty in the modern China develops with the help of influence by the international study of Mongolia. In the past, when Mr. Weng Dujian talked about the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty, he often encouraged us to try our best to change this situation so as to make the Chinese researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty a center of the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty all over the world. Since the reform and opening up, especially in the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, this situation has been greatly changed. On one hand, the teams that do researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty in our country has gone from strength to strength and the research field has been expanded while the achievements has been increased. On the other hand, with the older generation of scholars passing away, the lever of the Sinology and the Mongolian Studies of Europe has obviously fallen. The Japanese academic circles lay emphasis on the academic lineage. In general, the research can be maintained at a relatively high level however the supersession of the old by the new gives us a feeling of temporary shortage to a certain extent. With respect to the current situation, the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty in our country have made outstanding achievements and some aspects have taken the leading position in the world as it were.
However, the shortcomings of the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty in our country are also very obvious. In general, the following aspects shall be strengthened with great efforts.
First is the exploration and settlement of historical records. With respect to the usage of historical materials in Chinese, Tibetan language and Mongolian, we have advantages with particularly favorable natural conditions. In the part, the great achievements made in the field of the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty benefited by, as it were, this advantage to a certain degree. In recent years, there are some new historical materials that attract our attention in the field of researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty. For example, the publications in the Yuan Dynasty the Lao Qi Da and the Zhi Zheng Tiao Ge that were found out in Korea and the Literature of Heishui City Collected Russian that was published with the joint efforts of Russia and China, among others. Some of those new literatures and materials that came out have been introduced into the research filed by the scholars. In addition to the new materials, I still have a lot of works to do in the field of sorting out the literatures. For example, the Decrees and Regulations of Yuan Dynasty, which is a fundamental literature in the Yuan Dynasty has had no version with punctuations that is sorted out on an initial stage so far, not to speak of the proofreading and modification on this basis. With respect to the collected works that written by many important persons we shall make proofreading and compiling in a good way. With respect to the literatures in the Yuan Dynasty such as the local chronicles as well as the metal and stone chronicles, we shall make greater efforts to compile them in a comprehensive and systemic way; in addition, since the chronicles of the same region complied in different period of time have similarities and differences among each other with respect to the collected literatures, we must not be satisfied with looking up one of them. With respect to the inscriptions on tablets and the rubbings in the Yuan Dynasty that scattered over the country and have not been compiled yet as well as the inscription on the gravestone and the inscriptions on tablets, among others that are unearthed newly, the quantity of them is considerable. As far back as the beginning of the 1980s, Mr. Weng Dujian had ever advocated to compile the Collection of Inscriptional Writings in the Yuan Dynasty. However, it is a pity that there is no one who is engaged in the works in this field so far. The sorting of literatures and materials in Chinese can be proceeded from different aspects so that the scholars can make use of it as a principle. The Writings of the Yuan Dynasty and the Poetry of the Yuan Dynasty that are being complied at present constitute a good approach. The classification and sorting of materials are also necessary. For example, the publishing of the book Revision and Supplement of Metal and Stone Summary in Taoist School used to promote the researches of the history of Taoism in the Yuan Dynasty to a great extent. There are also a great number of metal and stone literatures of Buddhism in the Yuan Dynasty that have been kept so far. If we manage to collect them all and compile them into books, they are certain to promote the researches on the history of Buddhism in the Yuan Dynasty as well. The “historical records in foreign countries” are a large treasury house for the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty. With respect to the sorting and application in this field, the foreign scholars have made great and rich achievements and are ahead of us to a great extent. Therefore, Mr. Weng Dujian used to offer the suggestion that we should proceed in two steps. On one hand we shall translate the achievements of the researches done by the foreign scholars into Chinese. On the other hand, when the conditions are mature, we can translate the original documents directly. We have only completed the first step of the works in this field so far, namely the translation from the western languages. In addition, the categories are very limited. There are only some important works such as the Historical Records Collection and the History of Conquerors in the World, among others. In the future, we shall strengthen the works in this filed. We are supposed to not only add the categories and the quality of translations but also proceed to the second step gradually, which is the direct translation from the Persian and Arabic texts directly. We shoulder heavy responsibilities in the works in this field. It is necessary for us to make persistent efforts for a long time. In addition, the “historical records in foreign countries” are rarely kept in every large library in our country. In the past, the scholars usually obtain the records through the persona channel when doing researches. The limited availability brings great inconvenience to the research. Therefore, it is necessary to build a material center that relies on certain university or certain research institute in the future and collect the copies or block-printed editions of the “historical records in foreign countries” that are kept in the countries all over the world in a wide range so that it will be convenient for the scholars in our country to do research.
The second one is the absorption and reference of the achievements in the field of archaeological studies. The archaeological discoveries not only provide new materials for the historical research but also make it possible to discover many new problems. Since Mr. Wang Guowei put forward the “Dual Evidence Method”, the combination of historical literature and archaeological discoveries has been an important approach for historical researches. There is no doubt that the research on the history of the Yuan Dynasty is no exception as well. Compared to that in other dynasties, the archaeology in the Yuan Dynasty can be regarded as a little weaker. There is no doubt that there are some objective reasons for this, for example the Yuan Dynasty ruled the country for a relatively shorter period of time; all the emperors were buried in the northern part of Mohe River; the Mongolians usually do not have coffin chamber so the archaeological studies in the field of tombs are not advanced, as well as many other reasons. However, it does not mean that there is on work for us to do in the field of the archaeological studies in the Yuan Dynasty. After the establishment of new China, the most important archaeological discovery in the field of the Yuan Dynasty shall be the literature of Heicheng. The literature of Heicheng cannot be mentioned in the same breath with the literature of Dunhuang in the field of the Tang Dynasty with respect to their quantity; however, the content of the former mainly show the common society in the Yuan Dynasty so it is highly valuable with respect to the academic researches. The religious stone carvings discovered in Quanzhou etc. as well as the cultural relics in the Yuan Dynasty excavated and collected from all over the country are rich in quantity as well. They are applied by the scholars in the researches in the field of religious customs and social life etc. in a broad range and they have gotten good effects. The researches on the history of capitals including Khanbaliq, capital city of the Yuan Dynasty, the central capital and the Shangdu, among others have made up for the deficiency in terms of literature records to a great extent due to the archaeological discoveries. Only in recent years, the research has realized rapid development. In addition, the discoveries of the sunken boat of the Yuan Dynasty in Suizhong and the Pigeon Hole in Longhua, Hebei are also important results in the field of archaeological work of the Yuan Dynasty in recent years. As shown from the foregoing situations, the archaeological studies in the Yuan Dynasty are not something that may or may not be needed but full of promise. On this basis, it is necessary indeed for us to start the compiling of the Collection of Illustrative Plates of Cultural Relics of the Yuan Dynasty that was advocated by Mr. Weng Dujian. In addition, we shall combine it with the archaeological discoveries and drive the researches on the history of the Yuan Dynasty to go further.
The third is the deepening of monographic study and exploration of new field. Even though we have made a lot of achievements in the field of monographic study at present, the shortcomings are obvious as well. The researches in different fields have not been developed in a balanced way. Even in the field where a lot of researches have been done, the achievements are not in equality either. For example, with respect to the history of political system in the Yuan Dynasty, the researches on the central institutions mainly lay emphasis on the important institutions at the level of province, council or station etc. The special researches on the institutions at the level of department, temple and directorate turn to be extremely weak. The problems at this aspect are ubiquitous in other fields to different degrees. Take the researches on the region economic and financial systems in the history of economy for example. In recent years, a lot of progress has been made, but there are still many aspects that shall be deepened. The researches on the history of legal system in the Yuan Dynasty have just started. There are many problems from the legal compiling, the criminal penalty system to the substantive law researches etc. that have not been made clear yet. With respect to the researches on the history of religion, the researches on the Buddhism inland are very weak. Even with respect to the Chan sect that the scholars have laid more emphasis on, there are still a great number of problems that have not been discussed in detail. The hygiene and medicine in the Yuan Dynasty are rich in content however they have never been attached importance to so far by the historical science circles so far. Some dynastic history books of the Yuan Dynasty that have been published so far have been spoken highly of by the academic fields. In a fairly long period of time from now on, we shall lay the most emphasis on deepening the monographic study and making up for the defect resulting from the unbalanced researches. In addition, the history of each Mongolian subordinate Wulusi has a very close relationship with the history of the Yuan Dynasty. It will benefit us a lot with respect to our understanding and command of the history of the Yuan Dynasty if we deepen the research on the history of the four Mongol Khanates. It is a pity that our researches on each subordinate Wulusi are mainly very weak expect for the large development in the field of the history of the Chagatai Khanate. There is no doubt that the spoken and written language barriers as well as the limitation of the literature and materials are the major reasons, however the low degree of attaching importance to it is one of the reasons as well.
Liu: Thank you very much. On the way where you have being pursuing the academics for nearly five years, you must have some thoughts or in other word, experience of your own. Would you like to give us young scholars some inspirations at this aspect?
Chen: I have ever talked about my experience and thoughts at this aspect in an article. To sum up, there are mainly three aspects.
The first one is that we shall attach great importance to the collection and sorting of historical materials. I remember a sentence that Mr. Fu Sinian said, “The historical materials are history.” To put it in an objective way, this sentence he said is too absolute and is not completely correct and accurate; however the researches on the historical science shall be based on the historical materials and shall regard them as premise. It is an indisputable truth however. If you have no hand you can't make a fist. Without the historical materials, the researches on the historical science will be “water without a source and a tree without roots”. With respect to the historical materials, we shall do our best to master as completed and systemic as possible and shall know how to distinguish the true from the false as well as eliminate the false and retain the true. In addition, we shall not only be aware of the known historical materials but also make greater efforts to find out the unknown and new historical materials. The solution of many old problems and the proposing of many new problems both depend on the re-cognition of the known historical materials as well as the discovery of new historical materials. In the 20th century, the new subjects including the studies of the inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty, the studies of the inscriptions on bamboo and silks, the studies of Dunhuang, the studies of Turpan, among others have appeared. The new historical materials, as a matter of fact, are the catalytic agent for all of these subjects. During the process when I am writing a thesis, I try my best to use the new historical materials that are different from those used by the predecessors. The compositions of some theses result from the discovery of new historical materials. The hope of making breakthrough with respect the historical materials is always my motto when I doing my researches.
The second one is that we are supposed to insist on taking the materialist conception of history as the theoretical direction. The theory of the Marxist materialist conception of history with respect to the economic foundation and the superstructure, the productivity and the relations of production, as well as the classes and the class struggle are of extremely important significance for the researches on the historical science. So far, there has been on such as theory that can take place of the historical materialism. There is no doubt that we shall avoid the ossified theory when doing researches and avoid applying mechanically. Instead, we shall proceed from the reality and combine theory and practice. With respect to my own researches, from the exploration and discussion on the peasant war at the very beginning to the researches on the history of legal system in recent years, I try my best to analyze various historical phenomena by means of the materialist conception of history. In the future, I will continue to do in this way. There are many young people who are in lack of the knowledge in this field now. In their spare time, they shall read more classic Marxist works and enrich themselves constantly. It will be beneficial for their future researches to a great extent.
The third one is that we shall try hard to learn the theories and methodologies of the other subjects. The interpenetration between different subjects has been a trend of the science development in modern times. The object of study of the historical science is the historical development of the human society. It covers a lot of ground. The scope ranges from the economic foundation to the superstructure. It is more necessary for us to be aware of the theories, the methodologies as well as the research findings of the other subjects. In this way, we can make progress in our own researches. During the process when I am doing my researches, I often run into some interdisciplinary theoretical issues, such as the issues in the field of politics, economics, the science of law and the science of folk custom, among others and I force myself to learn more additional knowledge in the field of various subjects with respect to their theories and methodologies. Thus, I have a deep feeling and realization that such additional knowledge learning is of great importance. At this aspect, I also hope that our young scholars can attach importance to it.
Liu: Since the beginning of the 1980s, you have taken charge of various leading works in the Institute of History for a long time. In addition, you also hold the post of President of the Chinese Research Institute of the History of the Yuan Dynasty and President of the Chinese Research Institute of the History of Overseas Communication and Exchanges, among others. Up to the present, you also hold the various posts including the permanent member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, etc. Though you are always busy with the administrative affairs as well as the social activities, you still keep full of beans and you are universally acknowledged as one of the high-production authors among the peers in the circles of the history of the Yuan Dynasty in our country. Therefore, I think highly of you from the bottom of my heart. In addition, I am very curious about how you can keep a balance relation between the two.
Chen: As the scholars from the last generation often instruct, when pursuing the studies, one shall stay at an indifferent post for ten years and be willing to suffer from loneliness. Only those who can devote themselves to what they do can succeed in making some academic achievements. I used to hold the administrative post and hold some concurrent posts in the society as well. It is true that it took me a lot of time. Therefore, I often felt worried for being unable to stay at an indifferent post. After that, I straighten out my thinking. With respect to time consumption, the administrative affairs and the concurrent posts in the society must conflict with the academic researches. In order to solve this conflict, one has no other method but to adjust him and lay emphasis on the word “diligence”. There is one sentence in the Scholar's Apologia written by Han Yu in the Tang Dynasty – “Achievement is founded on diligence and wasted upon recklessness”. That is so right on. Do not comfort us the excuse of holding the administrative post and the concurrent posts in the society so as to relax with respect to the academic pursuit of our own. While trying our best to fulfill the tasks of the administrative post and the concurrent posts in the society that we hold, we shall lose no time and study hard. Every day, we shall complete a few things and many a little makes a mickle. Then, the accumulation through one year can be considerable.
Liu: I am afraid that it is not so easy for us young people to stay at an indifferent post. You know, in the academic circles nowadays, there is a widespread fickleness. The quantity of works and the popularity level of publications seem to be the absolute standard to measure the level of a scholar. Therefore, all of us feel the great pressure. Would you please talk about your thoughts at this aspect?
Chen: I always hold the opinion that all of those who are engaged in any academic researches need a process of long-term accumulation. The hurriedly-written essay completed in haste without the academic accumulation is of no academic value and vitality. At present, there is a widespread fickleness in the academic circles. They are in pursuit of the research with little investment but quick result as well as the market effects. It is a truth with objective reality. The generation of fickleness is a reflection of commercialization in the society. There is no doubt that it also related to the academic assessment system and the ranking system of the title of a technical post currently in effect to a certain degree. The results of fickleness make the simple style of study impacted more and more fiercely. It is certain that it will result in the prevailing of creation in a rough way. In the short run, it is possible for this phenomenon to create the false appearance of prosperous academics. In the long run, it will do a great harm to the academic researches.
To solve the problem of fickleness in academics, our long term and unremitting efforts are necessary. On one hand, we shall sum up the experience with care and make appropriate adjustment to the academic assessment system and the ranking system of the title of a technical post currently in effect. For example, attaching importance to the quality of works and the grading of publications and so on is inadvisable. On the other hand, we are supposed to advocate that the researcher shall be autonomous and make the good academic atmosphere come into being. Mr. Fan (Fan Wenlan) said that one shall stay at an indifferent post when pursuing the studies and be ready for eating the cold bath chap. It means that we shall be willing to suffer from loneliness and struggle for a long time or even be unbeknown before his death. I am afraid that it is not easy for us to keep in such state in the age when the market-oriented economy is highly developed; however, the researches shall be carried out in strict accordance with the academic standards. The excessive pursuit of figures and the excessive pursuit of economic effectiveness shall be avoided. In this way, it can be realized by our efforts.
Liu: What is your plan for the researches in the few years from now on?
Chen: In recent years, I have two things that I want to do. One is the sorting of the Decrees and Regulations of Yuan Dynasty. The Decrees and Regulations of Yuan Dynasty is the compilation of the legal instruments of the Yuan Dynasty. It is rich in content and relates to various aspects of the social life in the Yuan Dynasty. It is of a very important significance for the researches on the history of Chinese legal systems. However, this book is always famous for being illegible since a most majority of the book was written by a kind of special literary form at that time, i.e. the “literary form of the official document with hard translation”. In addition, a lot of special systems in the Yuan Dynasty were involved in this book. It has been several decades for the Japanese academic circles to discuss and research the Decrees and Regulations of Yuan Dynasty. They are most diligent in making efforts and they have published some of the research results. There are also some others who are engaged in the researches in other countries and Taiwan of our country. I have taken the charge of study class of the Decrees and Regulations of Yuan Dynasty in the Institute of History for ten years. There are more than twenty people who take part one after another including the scholars from China, Japan, Korea and the USA. Some of the study results have been published. It is planned to complete two results. One is the Revision and Interpretation of the Ministry of Revenue in the Decrees and Regulations of Yuan Dynasty and the other is the selection revision of Decrees and Regulations of Yuan Dynasty. The latter has been put into the key programming for ancient books arrangement of the “Eleventh Five-Year Plan” and the key publishing plan of the “Eleventh Five-Year Plan”. Related to this, I also intend to do some researches on the Zhi Zheng Tiao Ge that was discovered in Korean in recent year. The Zhi Zheng Tiao Ge is an important legal literature issued by the official organ in the Yuan Dynasty. It used to be put down in record of the Si Ku Quan Shu Cun Mu (the Complete Library in the Four Branches of Literature) and it has been lost and not kept in the archives in China for a long time. By means of the sorting and researches on the Zhi Zheng Tiao Ge, we can have a lot of new knowledge with respect to some issues such as the composition of laws in the Yuan Dynasty. The second one is that the revision of the Chinese selected revision version of the History of the Yuan Dynasty. The Dynastic Histories from Remote Antiquity till the Ming Dynasty is the most important historical books and records with respect to the ancient China. The selected revision version that was published by the Zhonghua Book Company in the 1970s is universally acknowledged as an important contribution to the spread of Chinese culture. Recently, the Zhonghua Book Company plans to make an overall revision of the Dynastic Histories from Remote Antiquity till the Ming Dynasty from 2007. It is a big event in the field of sorting of ancient books and records in our country. I take the charge of the part of the History of the Yuan Dynasty. This task has great difficulties however it is my duty so I have to exert my utmost fulfilling this task. For the foregoing two things, I cooperate with the young people. While fulfilling the tasks, they are also enabled to grow up in a better way.
Liu: Thank you very much for managing to find time to talk with me. In addition, I wish you good health and that you can have more and better research results to come out.
Liu Xiao male, was born in 1970. He is from Yantai, Shandong and is a doctor of historical science. He is the associate researcher in the Institute of History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as well as the council member and deputy secretary general of the Chinese Research Institute of the History of the Yuan Dynasty.
(Translated by Xu Jin)
(Translated by Xu Jin)
Editor: Wang Daohang