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Photo Mair Victor Mair

Victor Henry Mair is Full Professor and a Consulting Scholar at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from Dartmouth College, Mair entered the United States Peace Corps in 1965 and served as a volunteer in Nepal for two years. In the fall of 1967, Mair entered a program of Buddhist Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he studied Indian Buddhism, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan, and Sanskrit.

In 1968, Mair went to England as a Marshall Fellow to study Sanskrit at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, from which he received an Honorary B.A. (1972) and his M. Phil. (1984), both in Chinese. Mair received his Ph.D. in Chinese literature from the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1976.

Mair taught as an assistant professor in the department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and in the Religious Studies Program at Harvard for three years. In 1979, he moved to the Department of Oriental Studies (now the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies) at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1995-1996, Mai was a Fellow at the Institute for Research in Humanities (Jinbun Kagaku Kenkyujo) of Kyoto University in Japan. Since 1997, Mair has also been a Concurrent Professor in the Department of Chinese at Sichuan University (Chengdu, China).

Mair is married to Li-ching Chang (Zhang Liqing, born in Changyi, outside Qingdao, Shandong) and has one son, Thomas Krishna Mair.

     

For links to Victor Mair's home page and other related infomation please see our resources page.

Mair responds :

11/02/01 Joyce asks:
My spinning and weaving guild is researching in order to make a Yurt. I saw one featured on the show. How can I get more information on its construction?

Mair's response:
YURT is a Turkic word for a round, portable house made from a collapsible frame of wooden poles covered by thick felt. In Mongolian, the same structure is called a GER. There is currently a major exhibition concerning Mongolian culture and history at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. The exhibition includes a couple of yurts/gers. If you want to see them, go to this site: http://www.upenn.edu/museum/Mongolia/section4.html#4.2

11/1/01 A. Waters asks:
I teach race & ethnicity and spend the first weeks deconstructing the concept of race, using Montagu, Boas, and more recent writers. Yet on television I see archaeologists glancing at an unearthed jaw and making summary judgments like "Black" or "White", as if these had real biological meaning. I guess it is because some sites might include representatives of two types of widely disparate migrants to the area. But when you are dealing with "clinical" distinctions, it can't be as clear-cut as it looks on television. My first question, I guess, is: why are these TV programs making my job harder by making racial difference seem immutable and more real than they really are? My second question is: where can I find an article about the Chinese case that I can have my (college) students read? Thanks!

Mair's response:
I realize that we are taught NOT to believe that "race" has any meaning. The problem is that Europeans and East Asians (for example) -- by and large - ARE physically distinguishable. They were so 3,000 years ago and they are so today. When you visit a number of archeological sites and contemporary societies in Central Asia and China, you can see the physical differences with your own eyes. Scientists (in particular physical anthropologists) precisely measure these differences with instruments. If you are interested in learning more about the physcial anthropology of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age inhabitants of Eastern Central Asia, I can help you gain access to the decades of work on this subject bythe distinguished Chinese scholar, HAN Kangxin. More immediately, I recommend that you read chapter 7 of the following book:

J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair, THE TARIM MUMMIES (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000).

When all is said and done, however, I do sympathize with the predicament in which you find yourself.

11/1/01 A. Waters asks:
How is or how will the war with Afghanistan affect your work in western China? What are the odds of important archeological sites being destroyed? Also, the Chinese government seemed to have been cracking down on a number of scholars with ties to the U.S. in 2000 and 2001. How has that government's policies affected your work?

Mair's response:
Already before the war in Afghanistan tensions in the area where the mummies are found were quite high, and they have been so for at least the last 5 years. Indeed, the conflict between the central Chinese government and separtist-minded Uyghurs (who are Turkic Muslims) goes back much further in time. These are very sensitive and controversial problems that I try to stay as far away from as possible, but I cannnot deny that the current events in Central Asia have made life for archaeologists who work there much more complicated. The preservation of all sorts of cultural monuments and archeological artifacts, including human remains, is more difficult now than perhaps it ever has been. (Recall the tragic destruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan by Taliban troops.) Although we all fervently wish for political stability in the region at the earliest possible date, there are many forces at work which will make that hard to achieve in the near future.
Sincerely yours,
Victor H. Mair Professor

11/1/01 A. Waters asks:
How is or how will the war with Afghanistan affect your work in western China? What are the odds of important archeological sites being destroyed? Also, the Chinese government seemed to have been cracking down on a number of scholars with ties to the U.S. in 2000 and 2001. How has that government's policies affected your work?

Mair's response:
Already before the war in Afghanistan tensions in the area where the mummies are found were quite high, and they have been so for at least the last 5 years. Indeed, the conflict between the central Chinese government and separtist-minded Uyghurs (who are Turkic Muslims) goes back much further in time. These are very sensitive and controversial problems that I try to stay as far away from as possible, but I cannnot deny that the current events in Central Asia have made life for archaeologists who work there much more complicated. The preservation of all sorts of cultural monuments and archeological artifacts, including human remains, is more difficult now than perhaps it ever has been. (Recall the tragic destruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan by Taliban troops.) Although we all fervently wish for political stability in the region at the earliest possible date, there are many forces at work which will make that hard to achieve in the near future.
Sincerely yours,
Victor H. Mair Professor
University of Pennnsylvania


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