Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
A Passion for Facts

A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation-State, 1900–1949

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Passion for Facts
    Book Description:

    In this path-breaking book, Tong Lam examines the emergence of the "culture of fact" in modern China, showing how elites and intellectuals sought to transform the dynastic empire into a nation-state, thereby ensuring its survival. Lam argues that an epistemological break away from traditional modes of understanding the observable world began around the turn of the twentieth century. Tracing the Neo-Confucian school of evidentiary research and the modern departure from it, Lam shows how, through the rise of the social survey, "the fact" became a basic conceptual medium and source of truth. In focusing on China's social survey movement,A Passion for Factsanalyzes how information generated by a range of research practices-census, sociological investigation, and ethnography-was mobilized by competing political factions to imagine, manage, and remake the nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95035-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    We take it for granted that the gathering of social facts is indispensable to everyday life, and even more so when it comes to governance. From United Nations yearbooks to U.S. Gallup polls, governments and institutions constantly occupy themselves with facts, so much so that some have referred to the contemporary world as a fact-based society. In recent years the Chinese government, too, has begun to deploy public opinion polls to popularize its policies and legitimize its rule. Individuals, for their part, govern themselves by religiously checking nutrition facts, stock indexes, and an infinite pool of numerical data, believing that...

  6. 1 The Rise of the Fact and the Reimagining of China
    (pp. 19-49)

    When Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote about the importance of “seeking truth fromfacts” in guiding the Communist revolution in 1941, he was describing a brief that was already widely shared by Chinese intellectuals from a broad political spectrum. For them, political and military solutions were insufficient in themselves to address the social dislocation and political breakdown caused by the encroachment of colonial powers, the collapse of the longstanding dynastic order, the bitter power struggles among contending warlords and political parties, and now a total war with Japan. They believed that if China were to survive...

  7. 2 From Divide and Rule to Combine and Count
    (pp. 50-74)

    When the Manchus defeated the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) in the seventeenth century, they not only acquired additional populations and territories, but they also inherited perhaps the most sophisticated bureaucratic apparatus in the early modern world.¹ The existing Chinese bureaucracy and its governing ideology was indeed indispensable to fostering and maintaining a self-proclaimed universal empire that incorporated Manchus, Mongols, Muslims, Tibetans, and other Inner Asian ethnic groups, with their various lordships, political centers, and forms of authority, into a Confucian and cosmopolitan regime.² In other words, despite the prominence of a Chinese bureaucracy and Confucian ideology, the Qing empire was...

  8. 3 Foolish People versus Soulstealers
    (pp. 75-90)

    Shortly before midnight on May 19, 1910, hundreds of villagers, beating drums and shouting vulgar words, burst into the home of He Mingdao. They demanded that He, an appointed census taker for the ongoing national census, hand over the register that contained their stolen souls. When the villagers found out that He had already sent the register to the county police headquarters, they began to loot and demolish his home. Fortunately, He and his family survived the mob assault. The next day He rushed to the county seat, crying and begging for help. As the county prefect dispatched police officers...

  9. 4 The Nationalization of Facts and the Affective State
    (pp. 91-116)

    On April 15, 1932, the archaeological fieldworkers from the national government who were working about a kilometer east of Wuguang village in Anyang county, Henan province, knew that they were onto something important when they observed the soil color as well as the ceramic remains nearby.¹ They had every reason to believe that this was one of the many sites that could help historians confirm the existence of the Shang dynasty (1576–1046 B.C.E.) with concrete evidence, and hence ennoble Chinese history by extending it further back in time.² But as they began to dig a tenmeter-long trench in order...

  10. 5 Time, Space, and State Effect
    (pp. 117-141)

    In July 1928, shortly after the Nationalist regime consolidated its military control over a crucial part of China and reestablished its capital in Nanjing, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Neizhengbu) officially called for a national census to be completed by the end of the year. According to the official plan, the census was to be carried out by local authorities based on guidelines and census forms established by the ministry. One important function of the census, to be sure, was to enable the regime to collect information for its ongoing campaign against the Communists. But, more importantly, the census designed...

  11. 6 China as a Social Laboratory
    (pp. 142-170)

    “No investigation, no right to speak,” Mao Zedong declared in 1941.¹ Although this comment was a response to the skeptics within the Communist Party who questioned his fixation on the Chinese peasantry as the driving force for China’s revolution, the statement also revealed the tremendous faith of a generation of Chinese intellectuals and political elites in social survey research as a guide for political action. Behind this sense of confidence and certainty was the presumed unity of social scientific knowledge, the belief that there was only one correct model of science that could accurately unlock the hidden mechanisms of the...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 171-174)

    In 1978, when Deng Xiaoping announced his “Four Modernizations” project, launching China into a period of unprecedented economic growth, he stated that the party and the people must follow the principle of “emancipating the mind, seeking truth from facts”(jiefang sixiang, shishi quishi)to further develop the nation.¹ At the same time, new social science academies designed to serve the so-called socialist modernization project sprang up all around the country. Academic disciplines such as sociology, once condemned as “bourgeois pseudoscience,” were allowed to be taught and practiced again. When Li Jinghan’s Ding county survey was reissued in 1986, as part...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 175-222)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 223-226)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-252)
  16. Index
    (pp. 253-263)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 264-264)