Sociology in China

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In the People's Republic of China, the study of sociology has been developing steadily since its reestablishment in 1979 (it had been previously banned by communist authorities as a bourgeois pseudoscience). Chinese sociology has a strong focus on applied sociology, and has become an important source of information for Chinese policymakers.


Sociology became a subject of academic interest in China in 1920s, [1] and in 1947 sociologist Fei Xiaotong published a book, From the Soil, that sought to establish a framework for detailing Chinese society and its moral and ethics. A few years later, in 1949, the Communist party established control of Mainland China, and by 1952 sociology was banned by communist authorities as a bourgeois pseudoscience, similar to what happened in other communist countries (see for example history of sociology in the Soviet Union or sociology in People's Republic of Poland).[1][2] Existing sociologists were discriminated against during the Cultural Revolution and their works restricted.[1] In 1979, Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping noted the need for more studies of the Chinese society and supported the reestablishment of the discipline.[2] That year, in March, Chinese Sociological Association (CSA) was reestablished.[1] Since then, sociology has been widely accepted as a useful tool for the state, and sociology graduates have often been employed in government institutions.[2] Reestablishment of the field was also aided by the growing cooperation between Chinese and American sociologists.[1]

However, sociology suffered another setback in China after the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989.[2] Sociology was seen as a politically sensitive discipline, and was replaced in the role of primary social science state adviser by economics.[2] In the recent years, with socio-economic policies such as the socialist harmonious society, sociology has been coming back to graces with Chinese policy makers.[2]


As of 2008, Chinese universities and social science academies (such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) employ over 6,000 sociologists and their programs offer 74 bachelor’s degrees in sociology, 87 master’s degrees, and 16 doctoral degrees.[1][2]

China has two premier sociology journals: the Journal of Sociological Research (JSR) (Shehuixue Yanjiu, published since 1986) and Society (Shehui, since 1982). There are also hundreds (about 900) university- or institute-sponsored social science journals in which sociological research is often published, most notably, Chinese Social Sciences, Shanghai Social Sciences and Social Science Frontiers.[1]

Focus and research[edit]

Chinese sociology, since its reestablishment in 1979, concentrates on applied, policy-oriented, empirical research, to justify its support by the state.[2] A notable example of the use of sociology by state planners was the impact of works by Fei Xiaotong on the polices of industrialization and urbanization of the rural countryside.[2] In the recent years, policy priorities have been shifting from efficiency and growth to social justice, in order to reduce social tension and maintain political stability.[2] In particular, sociological research in China focuses on issues related to socioeconomic developments, such as social stratification, social mobility, community construction, state-society relations, migration and economic sociology.[1][2]

In 2003, a large Chinese General Social Survey program has begun.[1][2]

Chinese sociology has also been steadily moving from overemphasis on Marxism (see also Maoism and Marxist sociology).[2]

On the other hand, there is a notable lack of theoretical research in Chinese sociology, as it is still looked upon unfavorably by the state.[2]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Yanjie Bian. “Sociological Research on Reform-Era China,” Issues & Studies (2003) 38/39: 139–174.
  • Xueguang Zhou and Xiaomei Pei. “Chinese Sociology in a Transitional Society,” Contemporary Sociology (1997) 26: 569–572.
  • Nan Lin, Victor Nee, William Parish, and Elena Yu. “The Development of Sociology in China: A Delegation Report,” Ford Foundation (1993)
  • Anthony Oberschall, Teaching Sociology in China, China Exchange News, v14 n3 p5-8 Sep, 1986
  • Alice S. Rossi, ed. Sociology and Anthropology in the People’s Republic of China: Report of a Delegation Visit, (National Academy Press, 1985).
  • Lucie Cheng and Alvin So. 1983. “The Reestablishing of Sociology in the PRC: Toward the Signification of Marxian Sociology,” Annual Review of Sociology (1983) 9: 471–498.
  • Maurice Freedman, Sociology in China: A Brief Survey, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1962 (JSTOR)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Yanjie Bian, Lei Zhang, Sociology in China, Contexts Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 3, Summer 2008, pp. 20-25
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Xiaogang Wu, Between Public and Professional: Chinese Sociology and the Construction of a Harmonious Society, ASA Footnotes, May–June 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 5