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Rural sociology promotes reform and development in rural China

Author  :  MING HAIYING     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2019-05-07

The academic mission of rural sociology is to explore the laws of rural social development from the perspective of sociology and provide practical scientific methods for rural social construction.

Lu Yilong, a professor at the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China, said that the four core categories of rural sociology lie in the structure, change, function and problems of rural society. Statically, it studies the components and the formation mechanism of rural society. Dynamically, it explores and reveals the mechanisms and laws of rural social operation and their changes. 

Li Yingsheng, a professor at the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China, said that at present, some Western developed countries have begun to experience suburbanization after completing the urbanization process. The urban population’s movement towards rural suburbs contributes to forming a new type of rural society. Western scholars believe that this kind of society should also be an object of research for rural sociology.

Rural sociology is undergoing a historic transformation across the world—in developed countries in particular. Gu Zhongyuan, a professor at the School of Public Administration at Central South University, said that since the 1960s, with the decreased agricultural population in developed countries and the changed nature of rural social life, the original rural social problems have been solved. Therefore, the traditional research fields of rural sociology are facing severe challenges. In the United States, for example, many rural sociologists have turned their eyes to developing agricultural countries while others to new rising problems in American rural areas. 

As a branch of sociology, rural sociology adopts the important research method of sociology, namely, the method of the survey. Lin Mingang, a professor at the School of Government at Nanjing University, said that in the survey, scholars usually choose one or several rural communities to study comprehensively. Lu added that this paradigm has established a micro-sociological research method system, which regards the community or the village as a micro-society to get an overall understanding of society and culture.

Rural sociology should use a systematic approach to study the interrelationship between rural society as a whole and its components. For example, the combined action among economy, politics and culture can be used to explain the changes in the characteristics of rural residents and their impact on rural social life. The interaction among production mode, living standards and social ethics can be used to analyze the changes of rural family structure and their impact on rural production, elderly care and children’s education, Lin said. 

Rural sociology emerges with the realistic need for rural reforms and evolves amid the deepening of rural reforms. Before 1949, the research of China’s rural sociology mainly focused on rural class structure and power structure. Little attention was paid to other aspects of rural social structure, such as social changes and population, cultural, psychological and occupational structures. Li added that, in recent years, many foreign scholars have paid close attention to rural reform in China and explored the possibility of applying China’s rural development model to other developing countries’ rural areas.

Gu said that entering the 21st century, as the Chinese government began to focus on building rural areas, rural sociology changed its academic mission. Today’s rural sociology should not only be a rational tool for people to understand rural society, but also provide decision-makers and reformers with practical methods to promote rural social development. Therefore, to adopt a practical research paradigm, rural sociology should not be limited to studying the foundation and basic characteristics of rural society. More importantly, it should study community composition and its behavioral expression, confirm the specific environment of rural social construction and clarify the social forces on which rural social development depends. It should also be committed to preventing the emergence of various social problems that interfere with the development of rural society. 

The focus of rural sociology should shift from understanding rural society to developing rural society, from introducing rural social elements to exploring their development laws. In this way, rural sociology can become an applied sociology promoting rural social construction, Gu said.



(Edited by YANG LANLAN)

Editor: Yu Hui

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