Dr. Bernard Gallin: Faculty Emeritus Profile

The Gallin's in Taiwan,Photo by B. Gallin, used with permission

The Gallin’s in Taiwan, via Dr. Gallin

After graduation from City College of New York (B.S. 1951), Dr. Bernard Gallin began his graduate studies at Cornell University, majoring in anthropology and China studies. One year later, in 1952, he enrolled in a 10-week summer Chinese language program at Yale University, intending to return to Cornell. Because of the Korean War, however, he was drafted into the army for two years (1952-54). Given his Chinese language training, he was assigned to Tokyo, Japan, as a China research specialist. As a result, his commitment to a career in China studies and anthropology crystallized.

Soon after Dr. Gallin’s army discharge and return to graduate work at Cornell, he and his wife and research partner, Rita S. Gallin, (MSU Professor Emerita of Sociology), spent two years in Taiwan, where he did his Ph.D. dissertation field work. In the spring of 1959, they returned to Cornell, where he began writing his dissertation.

Like other graduate students at the time, he left the dissertation unfinished to teach at Wayne State University, followed by another year teaching at SUNY Binghamton. Finally, in Fall, 1962, he arrived at MSU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, which shortly thereafter became the Department of Anthropology.  In the 12 years that followed Dr. Gallin’s arrival, he taught, served as the department’s chair, and made multiple trips to Taiwan to conduct research. Since retiring from the university in 2002 as Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Dr. Gallin has continued his research on Taiwan. Based on his years of fieldwork, he has authored and co-authored numerous publications with Rita.

As the first Western anthropologist to do a Taiwanese village ethnography, his dissertation research focused on Taiwanese culture in a single village and that community’s relationships with other villages in the local area and with its urban migrants. With Taiwan’s industrialization, he continued research in the same village as well as with migrant families from the village living in Taipei and its suburbs.  In the late 1990s he also followed villagers to several southeastern industrializing centers in Fujian Province on the China Mainland (People’s Republic of China or PRC). There they pursued temporary work and business opportunities and joined tours to sightsee and to participate in religious activities.

As an aspiring China specialist, why, in 1956, did Dr. Gallin opt to work in Taiwan rather than on the PRC Mainland where the Taiwanese people’s ancestors had originally emigrated?  Between 1949 and the late 1970s, research on the China Mainland was impossible for almost all Westerners.  The PRC refused to admit Western researchers, and the U.S. would not permit Americans to go to the PRC.  Further, most American China-oriented-scholars were unwilling to work in Kuomintang-held Taiwan. They considered it a police-state controlled by the corrupt and dictatorial Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist  government.

Dr. Gallin agreed with their sentiments but decided to go to Taiwan for China field research. In his view, Taiwan would be the closest he could get to Mainland China to conduct research. He believed that the socio-cultural life of Taiwan’s main population would likely approximate that of the southeastern Mainland area of Fujian Province, from which most of the ancestors of the Taiwanese population had migrated, beginning in the mid-1600s.  In the years since his original field work, American China researchers flowed to Taiwan to carry on research.

During Dr. Gallin’s years of research, as with many anthropology field workers, he gradually became involved in the villagers’ lives.  Before the end of his first year of field work, a serious village problem developed, in which he inadvertently became involved. For Dr. Gallin the situation raised issues regarding a researcher’s personal intervention, or even involvement, in field situations. In this situation, Dr. Gallin felt he had no choice, if he was to continue living in the village and carry on his work successfully. Luckily, his intervention had a very positive effect and  he realized how much better off he was by becoming involved. That decision helped him over the next 50 years to continue research with residents in the village area and its migrants in Taiwan’s cities, as well as in the PRC. That initial instance of intervention made him understand the necessity for flexibility in field research. In the years that followed, his involvement brought him the villagers’ respect and confidence, attributes necessary for successful field work. In 2006 the County government made his wife and himself Honorary Citizens of Chang-hua County.

The Gallins’ research findings from their many years of Taiwan field research provided valuable analysis of Taiwanese society and cultural life as it is compared to that of both traditional and PRC Mainland China, especially now as the PRC rapidly develops a capitalist-like socio-economic system, although under continuing Communist political rule.  His own findings have demonstrated that much of the socio-economic and cultural patterns of family, kinship, economics and religion, whether in Taiwan or in various related PRC Mainland areas, appear to be undergoing much of their developmental and socio-cultural change along similar lines.

[Included in the Spring 2014 Dept. of Anthropology Newsletter, see complete newsletter here]

05.02.14