Sociological Research on Reform-Era China

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This essay reviews post-1980 and especially post-1990 scholarship in the two interrelated fields of sociological study about reform-era China: sociology in the People's Republic of China and China studies in Western sociology. Sociology as a subject of study was officially banned shortly after the 1949 communist revolution in the PRC, and its rebirth in 1979 was part of the post-Mao leadership's new reform policy to modernize China. Since then, sociology has been under the ideological and political influence of a durable communist party-state, but its development surely has been shaped by a persistent search for both a rooting in Chinese society and a recognition by and acceptance into the world community of sociology. Meanwhile, China studies in Western and especially American sociology has moved into the mainstream of the discipline, benefiting from the adoption of standard survey methods to collect systematic data and from theoretical and substantive analyses about such issues as institutional change, changing patterns of social stratification, mechanisms of social mobility, and the centrality of social networks in social life. Looking ahead, the author calls for closer scholarly dialogue between Western and Chinese sociologists, arguing that such communication will not only benefit each side but also create opportunities for advancing new sociological explanations of a fast-changing Chinese society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-174
Number of pages36
JournalIssues and Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2003


  • China studies
  • Chinese sociology
  • Mobility
  • Networks
  • State of the field
  • Stratification


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