The Interpretations of "Culture": American Conceptual Influences in the Formation of Chinese Sociology, 1929-1949

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Hon Fai CHEN, Lingnan University, Hong Kong
In both intellectual and institutional terms, there has been a strong American presence in the development of Chinese sociology ever since its inception. Such was the case in the formative period of 1930's-40's, when leading Chinese sociologists such as Sun Benwen and Wu Wenzao drew upon the works of their American counterparts to build up a more rigorous and coherent foundation of the discipline. The concept of culture in interwar American sociology played a pivotal role here, as it was appropriated and adapted to various academic projects. These included the attempt to work out a theoretical synthesis, the formulation of a scientific approach to social problem, the deployment of sociological knowledge in public discourse, the articulation of "culturology" as an interdisciplinary field, and the renewal of social survey as a viable research programme of community studies. This paper sets out to examine these competing projects and the manifold ways in which Chinese sociologists interpreted the relevant works of William Ogburn, Robert Park and other American sociologists in accordance with their emerging perspectives on culture and society. On the whole these interpretations and applications were equally tenable. But the restructuring of the national university system under changing conditions of state-building and war-making shifted the balance away from sociological theorizing in favor of anthropological fieldworks. By pinpointing how institutional factors and historical contexts shaped the strategies and outcomes of intellectual competition, this paper contributes to a deepened understanding of the global diffusion of social scientific knowledge and the formation of national sociological traditions.