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Centenary development of Chinese sociology

Author  :  WANG WEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-03-08

Sociology and the Great Transformation of China

Written by Li Peilin, a Member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Sociology and the Great Transformation of China outlines the basic logic and development framework of Chinese sociology and social practices, from the perspective of the emergence and evolution of Chinese sociology and changes in Chinese society.

The book is comprised of five chapters: sociology and Chinese experience, the eastward dissemination of Western learning and the birth of Chinese sociology, Chinese sociology in the first half of the 20th century, great centenary transformations of traditional China, and social changes in contemporary China.

Generally, the book is divided into two sections. The first mainly discusses sociology’s arrival in China, from the West, and the formation process for early Chinese sociology schools. The second part observes, from a sociological perspective, the trajectory and experience of China’s transformation from a traditional to modern society.

Sociology, impacted by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, has had an obvious evolutionary influence since its birth. In 1897, the Chinese scholar Yan Fu translated Herbert Spencer’s The Study of Sociology into Chinese, which was the earliest sociological work in China. Meanwhile, Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays, another book translated by Yan, mentions “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest,” which is at the core of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Western sociology and sociology translated by Chinese intellectuals both share a clear evolutionary color.

Affected by the theory of evolution, sociology divides human society into traditional and modern society, and believes that it moves from a primitive, underdeveloped, and closed traditional society to a civilized, advanced, and open modern society. In Western sociology, modern society, as opposed to traditional society, typically refers to capitalist society, which is presented as the ideal form of human society and whose modernization path is for latecomers to learn, imitate, and copy.

However, the development of modern China shows that Chinese experience and reform, with distinctive Chinese characteristics, differs from Western paths. China’s unique experience is demonstrated by progressive reforms, “crossing the river by feeling for stones” under the CPC’s leadership, continuous integration of interests, as well as the combination of top-down advancement and bottom-up spontaneous changes. All these are not intentionally constructed as the opposite of “Western experience,” nor do they seek to replace it, but are revisions to the logic of Western modernization, providing countries around the world with an alternative of development paths.


Wang Wei is from the Bureau of Scientific Research Management at CASS.

Editor: Yu Hui

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