Francis L. K. Hsu (Xu Hongguang)

Photo from the Francis L. K. Hsu Facebook page

Chinese American, Anthropology, Folklore

Francis L. K. Hsu (Xu Hongguang)


Francis Hsu is generally known as an anthropologist. His psychological approach to folklore and folklife and his ideas about diasporic Chinese communities have not only expanded anthropological studies, but also influenced studies of Overseas Chinese, or Chinese/Asian Americans. Born and raised in China, Hsu studied sociology in Shanghai and later anthropology in England (1937-1941) with Bronislaw Malinowski and Raymond Faith. After earning his PhD from the London School of Economics, Hsu taught in China for three years before moving to the US in 1944. In 1947, he joined the faculty at Northwestern University, Evanston, where he taught until his retirement in 1978.

Hsu’s academic contributions are deep and wide, especially as one of the founders of psychological anthropology. He was elected President of the American Anthropological Association in 1977. His scholarship includes publications about family and social systems in China, social organization in India, and family traditions in Japan. He also produced comparative investigations of American and Chinese cultures (1981) and diasporic Chinese communities (1998). Through his comparative and folklore-based studies, Hsu developed his theories of “psychosocial homeostasis,” “kinship dyad,” and “national character.” He courageously criticized “rugged individualism” in American society and “white anthropology” in American anthropological studies. And his scholarship provided an important non-Western perspective to the study of human behavior.  

In fact, Hsu was truly a folklorist. His theories were developed from his extensive fieldwork centered on family ties, religious life, everyday ritual practice, and folk narratives. Early in his career in the 1940s, he began publishing articles and reviews on witchcraft, applied psycho-analysis, Chinese festivals and tales in the Journal of American Folklore. In his work, Hsu brought these subjects to consideration on a global and cross-cultural level, not just within anthropology or any specific culture. He was concerned not simply with promoting anthropological theories, but also in advocating cross-cultural exchange in a diverse multiethnic society. Based on his fieldwork in Hawaii, he proposed that by integrating qualities of the Chinese in Hawaii into the greater American heritage, “we may yet achieve a greater America, […] form a solid foundation for the peace and prosperity among mankind as a whole” (1983: 57).   Indeed, his scholarship has significantly influenced some recent studies on Chinese/Asian Americans as folk groups and reinforced the idea that their folklores are an integral part of American folklore, culture, and history.

Among his works related to diasporic identity:

Hsu, Francis L. K.. The Challenge of the American Dream: The Chinese in the United States (1971).

———–. Americans and Chinese: Passage to Differences (1981).

———-. Rugged Individualism Reconsidered: Essays in Psychological Anthropology. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983.

———. and Hendrick Serrie. The Overseas Chinese: Ethnicity in National Context (1998).

Juwen Zhang

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