Montgomery Fellow to teach this term

by Kascha B. Semon | 10/1/98 5:00am

This term's Montgomery Fellow Professor Li Xueqin picked the hardest career he could find.

"This is my character: I like everything difficult," Li said. But when he chose his specialty, Li said with a laugh that he "was too young to know the extent of the difficulty."

While some historians peruse old journals, Professor Li reads the scapula of oxen engraved in bronze with obscure Chinese characters understood by few scholars. Ancient Chinese made cracks in bones with hot instruments, and then read the patterns for signs of the future. They then inscribed the bone with their interpretations.

"These were the instructions of the gods," Li said. Oracles could foretell many things such as the success of a hunting trip or a childbirth.

Born in Peking, China, Li attended a medical missionary school where he learned English as a small child, and later received a degree in philosophy from Tsisinghua University. At the university, he studied a mathematical form of logic, but its study was outlawed by the Soviets, forcing Li to switch disciplines.

Currently, Li studies a range of topics from archaeology to paleography to Sinology (the study of Chinese culture). He focuses on the period of three dynasties from 2000 B.C. to 221 B.C.

Li wrote his first book at age 20 and earned degrees at several venerable Chinese Universities. He currently directs the institute of Chinese History and holds a professorship at the Tsisinghua University where he established an institute of Sinology.

During Fall term, Li is co-teaching Chinese 52, a course in early Chinese culture, with Professor Sarah Allan, an Asian language professor. The class of fewer than 10 students explores the origins of Chinese culture and its distinctive characteristics.

"He is considered the most important Chinese historian working today in China and in the west," Allan said. Li has written several more books in Chinese, as well as two books in English: "Eastern Zhou" and "Introduction to Chinese Bronzes."

Li said that Dartmouth classes and the structure of the university are similar to Chinese universities, but he also said that because Chinese classes are much larger, professors only lecture and students have few chances to ask questions or discuss. Although Li teaches a few courses in China, he focuses on research, specifically in the oracle bones.

Li and his wife, who has accompanied him to Dartmouth, have two sons, one of whom edits a renowned archaeology magazine at the rival university in Peking.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!