Monday, October 09, 2006

Traditions vs. Academia

I watched an interesting show on TV last night. A panel was discussing whether or not Chinese researchers should open the tomb of Tang empress Wu Zetian. There was also a live audience holding little signs that looked like ping pong paddles, with "agree" on one side and "disagree" on the other.
The pro argument was that by this point, Chinese technology and expertise are up to the job. Furthermore, things inside are only going to decay further, so why wait any longer?
The con arguments were varied. Some said that objects from previously exhumed sites had not even been properly catalogued and preserved yet, so why add to the pile? Others--and I thought this was interesting--thought that opening the tomb would be disrespectful of "our" Chinese ancestors and should never be done, no matter what discoveries might be made.
It is easy for non-Chinese academics to stand outside the tradition and study it "objectively." But must Chinese academics have to consciously step outside their tradition in order to study it? If they do, what do they step into?

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