By Hong Xu |
From November 12th to 15th the School of History, Classics and Archaeology of Edinburgh University hosted the ninth biennial Leventis Conference in the John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh. The four-day event, entitled “Ancient Greek history and contemporary social science” drew together many of the key themes and featured a wide array of speakers of excellent quality and attendees from across the world. The most fascinating part of the Conference was the idea raised to apply modern social science methods to Greek Antiquity, which facilitates new perspectives of interpreting and understanding of the ancient Greek world for a scholar originally from the Chinese education system.
In terms of Classical studies in China, there is still a lot of benefit to be gained from learning from the way academics from different countries approach the subject.In the early twenty-century, some Chinese scholars started to introduce Greek philosophy and literature to China, but it stopped in the 1960s and 1970s due to the turbulent Cultural Revolution happening in China. Since 1978, China has implemented ‘Reform and Opening-up polices’ in order to rejuvenate China’s economy, politics and culture. The first school of Classics emerged in the Northeast Normal University of China in 1984 by the requirement of Lin ZhiChun, a Chinese Classicist and historian. We have been inviting western scholars to give lectures and teach ancient Greek and Latin . On the one hand, the Chinese classicists like to translate some of the masterworks of ancient authors and modern western scholarship into Chinese, on the other hand, we tend to compare the Greek civilization to the early Chinese civilization, especially to find out if there was democracy in the Warring States Period (445-221 BC). Now there are more and more universities in China establishing Classics as a subject in the Humanities and an increasing number of Chinese students that go abroad to study classics. I am one of them.
Personally, as a visiting Chinese scholar, this conference gave me a great insight into the scholarship of my Western peers and I enjoyed the vibrant discussion on offer. I also enjoyed the opportunity to talk to my colleagues about differences in the way in which Asians view the Classics and the possibilities available when looking at the same sources through different perspectives. The traditional Chinese approach to historical study is to a large extent about underlining the manoeuvring in power politics and benign polices of governing states. Because of this, I suppose Chinese scholars could help to understand the intricate situation of Hellenistic period and ancient Roman Empire, two periods, which are rife with multi-faceted political intrigues. Furthermore, I believe that the study of the classics by scholars of a non-European background is beneficial to the subject as a whole as it can help break down certain ideas that are ingrained in Western thought and also include a new group of scholars in a discussion that has mostly taken place in the western world.
As for my thesis, I have been deeply influenced by an American approach, as it is an application of the Realist theories to Hellenistic international relations. When it comes to particular case studies, the theories can bring a new perspective on the interpretation and understanding of the Hellenistic histories, but all of this has to be based on the accuracy and familiarity of the relevant ancient sources, which is what the traditional classicists highlight. Without them the Classical study is inane and we would lose the nature to comprehend the ancient world.
This conference was the highlight of my trip to Edinburgh and was certainly academically stimulating to all involved. For me this conference was a pleasure to attend and I am looking forward to reading some of the work discussed. I would like to thank the organisers for holding a great conference I look forward to coming back to see what topics will be discussed.
Hong Xu is a PhD student in Classics at University College Dublin, and is currently visiting the University of Edinburgh. She works on Polybius and her thesis is entitled ‘The Foreign Policy of Philip V of Macedon, an application of the Realist Theory to the Hellenistic International Relations.
(Images: © Hong Xu)