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Social Change in Contemporary China

Social Change in Contemporary China: C.K. Yang and the Concept of Institutional Diffusion

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 336
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    Social Change in Contemporary China
    Book Description:

    Social Change in Contemporary Chinaoffers a wide-ranging examination of Chinese institutional change in areas of education, religion, health care, economics, labor, family, and local communities in the post-Mao era. Based on the pioneering work of sociologist C. K. Yang (1911-1999), and his institutional diffusion theory, the essays analyze and develop the theory as it applies to both public and private institutions. The interrelationship of these institutions composes what Yang termed the Chinese "system," and affects nearly every aspect of life. Yang examined the influence of external factors on each institution, such as the influence of Westernization and Communism on family, and the impact of industrialization on rural markets. He also analyzed the impact of public opinion and past culture on institutions, therein revealing the circular nature of diffusion. Perhaps most significant are Yang's insights on the role of religion in Chinese society. Despite the common perception that China had no religion, he uncovers the influence of classical Confucianism as the basis for many ethical value systems, and follows its diffusion into state and kinship systems, as well as Taoism and Buddhism.

    Writing in the early years of Communism, Yang had little hard data with which to test his theories. The contributors to this volume expand upon Yang's groundbreaking approach and apply the model of diffusion to a rapidly evolving contemporary China, providing a window into an increasingly modern Chinese society and its institutions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7306-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  2. 1 Introduction: The Diffusion of Institutions in Contemporary China
    (pp. 1-14)

    C. K. Yang pioneered the application of the functionalist approach to the study of China. One of his primary contributions is his assertion that formal institutions are only one way to serve social functions. As long as other, informal practices serve the same functions, they should be treated as diffused institutions and not be neglected (Yang 1961). By identifying the common functions any society has to serve, Yang used China as a case study under a comparative structure-functionalist framework.

    Yang’s important contribution to the study of China and institutional change was not a random finding but flowed directly from his...


    • 2 C. K. Yang: Sociology in China and the Encounter of Civilizations
      (pp. 17-29)

      Yang Ch’ing-k’un, known in the West as C. K. Yang and among his friends simply as C. K., lived and worked during one of history’s greatest intercivilizational encounters: that between China and the West. I am using the termintercivilizational encounterin the strict sense the sociologist Benjamin Nelson uses it:

      Sociology is at a turning point in respect to the horizons it is obliged to confront and the perspectives and methods it is obliged to adopt in order to make sense of the perplexing and tumultuous sociocultural processes of our time. We dare no longer suppose that these processes...

    • 3 Institutional Restructuring, Organizational Integration, and the Chinese Revolution: C. K. Yang’s Theory of Social System Change
      (pp. 30-56)

      The Chinese revolution and the social changes that followed constitute the central theme in the lifetime work of C. K. Yang. From the early 1930s to the late 1980s Yang conducted extensive empirical research on the radical changes occurring in Chinese society. Although his intellectual interests shifted over the years, he remained focused on the transformation of the social system. The system perspective guided his studies on the various aspects of social life.

      Institutional and organizational change are the key concepts in Yang’s social system theory. Social institutions are reconstituted in different phases of revolutionary movements. This process in China...

    • 4 A Sociological Paradigm in the Study of Chinese Religion: C. K. Yang’s Religion in Chinese Society
      (pp. 57-62)

      Professor C. K. Yang’s contribution to the world of scholarship certainly is not confined to the study of Chinese religion, but his work on this topic stands out as a remarkably distinct and masterful achievement. His bookReligion in Chinese Society,published in 1961 by the University of California Press, has become a modern classic. Indeed, it has secured a paradigmatic status in the sociological study of Chinese religion. We still find it refreshing, relevant, rich in scholarship, and innovative in sociological theory, reading it forty years later. The problems Yang dealt with, the interpretations he presented in the book,...


    • 5 New Institutions in Practice: Migrant Workers and Their Mobilization of the Labor Law
      (pp. 65-88)

      One major lesson that can be drawn from C. K. Yang’s studies is the necessity of adopting a dynamic, open, relational definition of institutions. Indeed, the concept of institution is a core concept in Yang’s work, and although his efforts were not devoted to elaborating a theory about institutions, how they act and influence society, his writings reveal a subtle and cautious approach to such processes, an approach that anticipated many of the debates arising among sociologists in recent years. These debates have benefited from recent developments in such fields as cognitive science, anthropology, and sociology. As a consequence, new...

    • 6 Social Capabilities and Chinese Economic Growth
      (pp. 89-103)

      During the last four decades of the twentieth century, China’s economy produced a truly remarkable sequence of events. The Great Leap Forward of 1958–1960 initiated a twenty-year interlude of widespread hunger and deprivation. Twenty years later, the reform policies of the late 1970s triggered a massive and unexpected economic boom that catapulted several hundred million people from absolute poverty. This experience raises profound questions about the links between culture, institutions, and economy, a central focus of C. K. Yang’s distinguished research career.

      Recent studies document the scale and impact of China’s 1959–1961 famine. The persistence of hunger and...

    • 7 Institutional Change and Income Inequality
      (pp. 104-124)

      Sociologists interested in social transformation and stratification dynamics in post–state socialist countries are familiar with the “market transition debate.”¹ This theoretical discussion was triggered by Victor Nee’s formulation of “market transition theory” (Nee 1989, 1991, 1996). The central idea of Nee’s theory, presented in his first work (1989), is that a market mechanism will gradually replace a state redistribution mechanism in market-oriented transitions and thus become the dominant causal force of social stratification in post-socialist societies. Following Ivan Szelenyi’s logic of state socialist redistributive economy (Szelenyi 1978), Nee assumes that a market economy and a state redistributive economy are...

    • 8 Categorical Sources of Income Inequality in Urban China
      (pp. 125-152)

      As recently as the early 1980s, China, as well as the Eastern European socialist societies, were among the world’s most equal societies in terms of economic equality.¹ Yet in slightly more than a decade’s time China had transformed, by most measures of income distribution, from one of the most egalitarian to one of the more unequal societies in the world. By the mid-1990s, after less than two decades of reforms in its economic and political systems, China was believed to have joined Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United States as among the countries with the highest levels of income...

    • 9 Local Response to a Global Agenda: Changing State-Education Relations in Mainland China
      (pp. 153-175)
      KA-HO MOK

      Some globalists have stressed the limitations of a state-centered approach in analyzing socioeconomic developments, thereby pointing out that the external constraints on states have significantly reduced the state’s capacity to respond to the changing and far more complicated socio-political-economic environments. For those radical globalists, the increasing interdependence and connectedness of nation-states have made the state less of an autonomous decision-making body, and local policies are increasingly shaped by global trends (O’Brien 1992; Ohmae 1995). Nonetheless, recent comparative studies on education policy show that even though there seem to be similar patterns and trends in education development in East Asian societies,...

    • 10 Chinese Diffused and Institutional Health Care and Global Change
      (pp. 176-196)
      RANCE P. L. LEE

      The health care system of a society can be broadly defined as a set of ideas, practices, and organizations developed to deal with problems of health and illness. Numerous studies by medical historians and social scientists have shown that although the content of health care systems vary from one society to another, their structures appears to have at least one feature in common, that is, the availability of more than one form of medical care for use by the population (Kleinman et al. 1975; Leslie 1976; Fulder 1996; Cant and Sharma 1999; Goldstein 2000). This is the case in both...


    • 11 When a House Becomes His Home
      (pp. 199-218)

      In December 1978, twenty years after Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Deng Xiaoping took the first steps to dismantle the people’s communes and recommodify property relations throughout China. In the first decade of reform, privatization of urban real estate was not a major objective, and even after twenty years of market reform, only a third of urban homes were owner occupied.¹ Nevertheless, the nationwide experiments to sell existing housing stock to sitting tenants begun in the mid-1980s, and the subsequent expansion of a private housing industry to stimulate the economy and attract foreign investment had a profound impact on contemporary urban...

    • 12 Family Social Capital in Urban China: A Social Network Approach
      (pp. 219-232)

      To measure the Chinese family’sguanxinetworks and their embedded social capital, we present an approach that stresses the role of event-based positions. Our approach is in contrast to approaches that define networks in terms of content-based name generators; previous applications of this approach to discussions of networks among Chinese urban residents have concluded that ties to kin and family were insignificant. Using an event-based position-generator approach to measure Chineseguanxinetworks and embedded social capital among 386 households during spring festival, we dispute these other conclusions and find kinship ties to be powerful assets in accumulating social capital. We...

    • 13 When to Give and Why: Intergenerational Transfer of Resources in Urban Chinese Families
      (pp. 233-260)

      Despite rapid economic development and tremendous cultural and social upheaval in China during the last half century, the level of economic solidarity between Chinese parents and their adult children remains remarkably high. For example, while it is usually the case that economic intergenerational exchange takes place within the multigenerational households on an almost daily basis, adult children who live in separate household also continue to maintain frequent contact and extensive exchange of resources with their parents (Bian, Logan, and Bian 1998; Davis and Harrell 1993; Unger 1993). Indeed, in terms of intergenerational support, new research evidence suggests that adult daughters...

    • 14 Local Community and Communal Solidarity in Rural China
      (pp. 261-274)

      In 1933, C. K. Yang took part in the Zouping Project, one of the earliest sociological fieldwork studies conducted in China. A report of this study was published in Chinese during the war years of the Japanese invasion of China; unfortunately, this version is not available for us to use. However, an English version summarized the longer Chinese report and was published in 1944 by the Institute of Pacific Relations in cooperation with the Yenching-Yunnan Station for Sociological Research (Yang 1944).

      The report focused on rural marketing activities, which knit a cluster of local fairs into a network. In this...