Students and Alumni
WU Huanyu

B.A. in English (minor), South-Central University for Nationalities, China, 2007
B.A. in Ethnology (major), South-Central University for Nationalities, China, 2008
M.Phil. in Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, HK, 2010
Home town: Hainan, China
Email: wuhuanyu86’at’163.com

Having been obsessed with old things since childhood, I decided to combine this personal passion with my intellectual pursuit: studying the lives of antique collectors! During the past three decades, China has witnessed a national craze of antique collecting, in which the matter of “authenticity” has always been the center of debate, and is also “the question of life and death (生死攸關)” for collectors. Who has the power to define authenticity? What kind of people could have become antique authorities and how did they manage to success? My fieldwork was conducted in a small city of Guangdong, focusing on a local association of antique ceramics collectors. Using this association as their platform, two founders of the association, originally of “grassroots” background, have successfully become renowned antique authorities in the city. How did they gain antique knowledge as grassroots at the very beginning? And most importantly, how did their “knowledge (眼力)” get public recognition and legitimacy?

The success, in fact, are based on four significant exhibitions which allowed their “knowledge” to be approved by the elder generation of authorities. During the selecting process of exhibitions, however, they had encountered serious moral choices: when senior authorities offered forgeries, how are they suppose to react? If accepted, their knowledge and morality will immediately be questioned, but if rejected, they will probably lose support from some senior authorities. What did they choose? And what is the result? Exploring questions as such allows me to realize the significance of moral struggle in the process of legitimization, which is, according to Bourdieu, the process of converting other forms of capital into symbolic capital. But Bourdieu never point out how morality is part of the conversion. For me, it is a very interesting starting point to write my Ph.D thesis — Contesting Authorities: An Ethnographic Study of Symbolic Capital within Antique Collection in Reform China. I am, therefore, interested in practice theory, symbolic capital (authority), and moral discourse.

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