Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies

Brief Biography of Enzheng Tong

Enzheng Tong was internationally renowned for his work in ancient Chinese archaeology. He excavated sites in southwestern China that revealed the existence of civilizations from approximately three-thousand years ago that predated the arrival of Han Chinese influences. Tong's excavations and surface surveys of prehistoric sites in Tibet marked the beginning of modern archaeological research there, and scholars worldwide view the results of his work in Tibet as classics in the field. In more recent years he had demonstrated the existence of a southern "Silk Road" from India to southwestern China, showing that Buddhism had entered China via this route. This overturned the previously accepted view that Buddhism had entered China only from routes located further west.

In China, Enzheng Tong was popularly renowned as a writer of essays, science fiction, and movie screenplays. These works served as a vehicle for the expression of ideas concerning social philosophy. He used them to discuss the place of freedom, human dignity, and the individual in society, combining the perspectives of traditional Chinese thought and Western ideas.

Professor Tong's academic reputation was the result of his uncompromising pursuit of truth, no matter what the political and ideological implications and consequences. From early in his career he shunned the state-supported Marxist-Leninist dogma that other Chinese archaeologists held and instead focused on combining his own social thought, Western archaeological ideas, Chinese intellectual traditions, and the archaeological evidence to reach conclusions about ancient society in China.

As a result of his intellectual integrity, he and his family suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution in China (1967-1977), at which time he was labelled an "enemy of the people." After this, he spoke out publicly against political repression and the effects of unrestrained economic growth on the environment, and supported reforms directed at improving conditions in both areas. During the late 1980s, Enzheng Tong supported the Democracy Movement, and in 1989 he wrote a letter, signed by over 100 scholars, to the Beijing government in support of this movement. After the June 4 Massacre in Tiananmen Square, the government pressured him to make a public statement denouncing the Democracy Movement. Professor Tong refused, feigning illness. Soon after this the Beijing government made him an object of persecution and he escaped first to Japan and then to the United States. In recent statements, Professor Tong said that he considered himself on self-imposed exile until the Beijing government formally apologized for the June 4 Massacre.

While in the United States, Enzheng Tong also continued to make people aware not only of political conditions in China but also of the growing problems of environmental pollution and the impact of economic development on the natural environment. He strongly and openly opposed China's Three Gorges Dam project, not so much for the damage it will bring to archaeological sites but for the impact it will have on people's lives through deforestation and the disruption of agriculture.

Professor Tong had served as the Director of the University Museum and as Professor in the Department of History at Sichuan University. In 1987-88, Professor Tong had been a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. He returned to reside in the United States after the Tiananmen Incident in 1989. Before coming to Wesleyan in 1995, had been a visiting professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Washington, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and West Virginia University. At the time of his death in 1997, he was the Luther Gregg Sullivan Fellow of the Art Department at Wesleyan University.

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