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From the Soil

From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society

A Translation of Fei Xiaotong's Xiangtu Zhongguo
Gary G. Hamilton
Wang Zheng
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: 1
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    From the Soil
    Book Description:

    This classic text by Fei Xiaotong, China's finest social scientist, was first published in 1947 and is Fei's chief theoretical statement about the distinctive characteristics of Chinese society. Written in Chinese from a Chinese point of view for a Chinese audience,From the Soildescribes the contrasting organizational principles of Chinese and Western societies, thereby conveying the essential features of both. Fei shows how these unique features reflect and are reflected in the moral and ethical characters of people in these societies. This profound, challenging book is both succinct and accessible. In its first complete English-language edition, it is likely to have a wide impact on Western social theorists. Gary G. Hamilton and Wang Zheng's translation captures Fei's jargonless, straightforward style of writing. Their introduction describes Fei's education and career as a sociologist, the fate of his writings on and off the Mainland, and the sociological significance of his analysis. The translators' epilogue highlights the social reforms for China that Fei drew from his analysis and advocated in a companion text written in the same period.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91248-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    G. C.H. and W.Z.

    The bulk of this book is a translation ofXiangtu Zhongguo, a set of essays written by Fei Xiaotong shortly after World War II. In writings about Fei and his works, the book's title is usually rendered in English as "rural China," but this rendering is inexact.Xiangmeans "countryside" andtumeans "earth"; but the combination,xiangtu, is a set phrase meaning "one's native soil or home village." By usingxiangtuto modifyZhongguo(China), Fei is conveying a subtle meaning to his readers: that Chinese society has grown out of its ties to the land. Should any of...

  4. Introduction: Fei Xiaotong and the Beginnings of a Chinese Sociology
    (pp. 1-36)
    Gary G. Hamilton and Wang Zheng

    The book translated here,Xiangtu Zhongguo, began in the 1940s as lecture notes for an introductory class in Chinese rural society. The instructor of that class and the author of this book is Fei Xiaotong. The book that grew out of Fei's effort to introduce sociology to Chinese students is no ordinary textbook, and Fei is no ordinary sociologist.¹ He is the finest social scientist to emerge from China in the twentieth century, andXiangtu Zhongguois his chief theoretical statement about the nature of Chinese society. This is a book written by a Chinese for a Chinese audience about...

  5. 1 Special Characteristics of Rural Society
    (pp. 37-44)

    Chinese society is fundamentally rural. I say that it is fundamentally rural because its foundation is rural. Several variations have arisen from this foundation, but even so, these variations retain their rural character. Moreover, in the past hundred years, a very special society has formed as a consequence of the encounter between East and West.¹ For the time being, however, I am not going to discuss the characteristics of these variations, but instead will concentrate exclusively on rural society and on those so-called hayseeds, the people living in the countryside. They are truly the foundation of Chinese society.

    We often...

  6. 2 Bringing Literacy to the Countryside
    (pp. 45-52)

    In the eyes of those living in cities, country people are "stupid"(yu). Even those people who advocate rural work regard stupidity, sickness, and poverty as symptoms of everything that is wrong in Chinese rural villages.¹ We can, of course, objectively measure sickness and poverty, but on what grounds can we say that country people are "stupid"? When peasants, walking in the middle of a road, hear a car honking behind them, they become so nervous that they simply do not know which way to jump. Then the drivers of those cars slam on the brakes, stick their heads out...

  7. 3 More Thoughts on Bringing Literacy to the Countryside
    (pp. 53-59)

    In the last chapter, I said that written language develops when time and space put limits on direct human communication. I only discussed, however, how space influences this development. In rural society, which is a face-to-face society, people can talk directly to one another and do not need to rely on a written language. But how does separation across time influence the process of human communication?

    There are two aspects of this question that we need to discuss. First is the spread of time over a person's lifetime, and the second is the spread of time across generations. Let me...

  8. 4 Chaxugeju: The Differential Mode of Association
    (pp. 60-70)

    Selfishness is the most serious shortcoming of country people. That is the opinion of those intellectuals who advocate rural reconstruction.¹ When we think of selfishness, we think of the proverb "Each person should sweep the snow from his own doorsteps and should not fret about the frost on his neighbor's roof." No one would deny that this proverb is one of the Chinese creeds. Actually, this attitude is held not only by country people but also by city people. The person who only sweeps the snow from his own door is still regarded as having high social ethics.

    Ordinary people...

  9. 5 The Morality of Personal Relationships
    (pp. 71-79)

    The basic structure of Chinese rural society is what I have called "adifferential mode of association"(chaxugeju). This pattern is composed of distinctive networks spreading out from each individual's personal connections. It is quite different from the modern Western organizational mode of association(tuantigeju). In such a pattern, personal relationships depend on a common structure. Peo-J)le attach themselves to a preexisting structure and then, through that structure, form personal relationships. The concept of the citizen, for example, necessarily follows the development of the state. It seems likely that this type of organizational pattern grew out of primitive tribal formations....

  10. 6 Patrilineages
    (pp. 80-86)

    In the last two chapters, I discussed first the relations between groups and individuals and then patterns of social structure. I proposed several concepts-in particular, "differential mode of association"(chaxugeju)and "organizational mode of association"(tuantigeju). I knew that these unfamiliar terms would cause troubles for my readers, but I had to create them in order to conceptualize clearly those contexts that are currently absent from sociological terminology. I am not entirely satisfied with the terms I used, and I know they can lead to some misunderstandings. For instance, after reading my analysis in the last chapter, a friend of...

  11. 7 "Between Men and Women, There Are Only Differences"
    (pp. 87-93)

    In the previous chapter, I said that Chinese rural society is composed of groups devoted to activities, to enterprises. Wherever they exist, such groups must maintain discipline, and discipline necessarily excludes personal sentiments. With this point, we face the basic question about the orientation of emotions within the Chinese tradition. I discussed this question briefly in the last chapter. In this chapter, I will elaborate further.

    By using the termemotional orientation, I want to point out that people develop a direction or orientation to their feelings. This direction is shaped by cultural norms. Therefore, when we analyze these cultural...

  12. 8 A Rule of Ritual
    (pp. 94-100)

    It is conventional to contrast "a rule of people" to "a rule of law" and to categorize Western societies as ruled by laws and our society as ruled by people. Actually, this contrast is not very accurate. A rule of law does not mean that the law itself rules and maintains social order but, rather, that human relationships in the society are sustained according to laws. Laws depend on political power for their support and on people for their execution. Therefore, rule by law actually means both thatpeople use lawstoruleand, of course, that human factors are...

  13. 9 A Society without Litigation
    (pp. 101-107)

    In rural society, if a person mentions the wordsongshi, a litigation monger, everyone thinks of a troublemaker, of someone who creates discord. Such people have no social status in this kind of society. In cities, however, not only do you have lawyers who promote litigation but you add the words lithe honorable" to every lawyer's name, and what lawyers say and do is reported on the front page of every newspaper. Moreover, ordinary companies and individuals ask lawyers to serve as their permanent advisers. All this gives the impression to traditionally minded people that cities are full of disputes...

  14. 10 An Inactive Government
    (pp. 108-113)

    Scholars who analyze political power can be divided into two groups, each with a different perspective. One group emphasizes social conflict; the other, social cooperation. Depending on the emphasis, what the two see as the nature of political power is quite different.

    Those who emphasize a social conflict perspective see political power as the outcome of a struggle between unequally ranked groups and classes. Let us call this kind of power J1dictatorial power." Those who come out on top are the ones who have power, and they use their power to dominate those beneath them. They give orders and, through...

  15. 11 Rule by Elders
    (pp. 114-119)

    To understand the power structure in rural society, one needs to go beyond the two concepts of power that I discussed in the previous chapter-ciictatorial power and consensual power. We may use our understanding of the nature of rural societies as a means to explain the actual limitations of authoritarian govemments in agrarian societies. But demonstrating these limitations does not lead us to infer that the power structure of rural society is somehow "democratic." Democracy is a form of consensual power. In a traditional agrarian society, although government rule may be dictatorial at the top, the force of that power...

  16. 12 Consanguinity and Regionalism
    (pp. 120-127)

    In a static culture, substantial social differences appear between people who differ only in age. The older people wield imposing power over the younger. This is the foundation of a consanguineous society. Consanguinity(xueyuan)means that people's rights and obligations are determined by kinship. Kinship is the relationship constituted through reproduction and marriage. Strictly speaking, consanguinity only defines the relatedness that derives from reproduction, from the parent-child relationship. And in truth, in a society having a patrilineal kinship organization, kinship derived through reproduction is valued much more highly than that derived through marriage, so much so that we can call...

  17. 13 Separating Names from Reality
    (pp. 128-133)

    It is convenient to regard rural society as basically static, especially when we contrast it with modem society. But, in fact, no society is entirely static. Rural society simply changes more slowly than modem society. Although slow, the pace of change in rural society is indicative of something more. Different rates of change may indicate different types of change. In this chapter, I am going to discuss the type of change that occurs in the slow transformation of rural society.

    When I discussed the nature of power, I proposed three types: dictatorial power growing out of social conflict; consensual power...

  18. From Desire to Necessity
    (pp. 134-140)

    My previous discussion of temporal power makes me think of an additional dimension of social change. This dimension is implied in a set of terms that we now hear used a lot, terms such associal planningand, even more extreme,social engineering. Obviously, such terms have a modem meaning that is unfamiliar in a rural society. They indicate that a profound change has occurred in the way people think about their society. We must examine this change in per…ception if we want to understand the differences between temporal and patriarchal power.

    Humans have discovered that society can be planned....

  19. Epilogue: Sociology and the Reconstruction of Rural China
    (pp. 141-152)
    Gary G. Hamilton and Wang Zheng

    Fei wroteXiangtu chongjian(Reconstructing rural China) at the same time that he was writingXiangtu Zhongguo. Xiangtu chongjianalso first appeared as essays published in newspapers and periodicals. In these essays, instead of providing an ideal-typical analysis of <:hinese society, Fei offered solutions to political and economic I)roblems that China was facing in 1948. The two books, however, are directly related in the sense that Fei's proposals were based on his sociological theories of Chinese society. The linkage between the two books is so obvious that they have been frequently published as a set.¹

    Even though chapters appear in...

  20. Glossary
    (pp. 153-156)
  21. Index
    (pp. 157-160)