By Tong Lam
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Additional resources for A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation-State, 1900-1949
You can forget about asking questions about such things as population density, gender ratio, or age distribution, for this country has no idea what its exact population is. ” The rest, he lamented, neither had knowledge of their own society nor themselves and were therefore helplessly plagued by superstitious ideas, wicked doctrines, and exploitation. 47 Li’s mockery was not sarcastic, however, but instead conveyed a sense of utmost urgency. How could a deficiency of facts be a laughing matter if it was indeed a root cause of China’s backwardness?
Even more important, by constructing the categories of superstition and backwardness, cultural sameness and difference, these various kinds of surveys essentially helped to legitimize the bureaucratic state by elevating it as the vanguard of modernity and progress, as well as racial harmony and national unity. Given the political disunity of the Republican period, surveys conducted by the Nationalist government, however important, were only part of the story. The final chapter is an examination of other major players in the Chinese social survey scene, including American social scientists, who played a central and direct role in funding and training their Chinese counterparts.
14 During the first half of the nineteenth century, the simultaneous rise of statistical thinking and of the social question was particularly heightened Lam, A Passion for Facts 8/18/11 12:58 PM Page 25 The Rise of the Fact / 25 by the frequent unrest and revolutions that were raging across Europe. 15 By the second half of the century, when the earlier waves of revolution had subsided, there was a strong consensus among liberals and conservatives that a new science of society was needed to comprehend and manage the disruption of the social field brought about by industrial capitalism.