In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sociological Research on the Chinese Society

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Earlier Works
  • Journals
  • Networks, Social Relations, and Labor Markets
  • The Sociology of the Chinese State
  • Local Bureaucracy and State-Society Relationships
  • Social Movements and Collective Action
  • Demography, Migration, and Family
  • Interpreting China’s Transformation

Sociology Sociological Research on the Chinese Society
Xueguang Zhou
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 November 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0107


The sociology of China is part of an interdisciplinary field that examines different aspects of Chinese society. There have been noticeable changes in both research focus and research styles over time in this field. Earlier studies were characteristic of “area studies” and appeared mostly in area studies journals or in books aimed at readers in that particular field. Since the late 1980s, major work in the sociology of China in the English-language literature has appeared in sociological journals, informed by and integrated in mainstream sociological research. Research tends to be divided according to historical eras in contemporary China, noticeably the Mao era, from the inception of the People’s Republic in 1949 to the late 1970s, and the post-Mao era (or the era of economic reform) since the 1980s. Many studies compare and contrast changes across these two periods. Two features characterize this bibliography on the sociology of China. First, because of the interdisciplinary nature of Chinese studies, selected publications from other disciplines (e.g., anthropology, political science, economics, and history) are included that have a significant overlap in topics and/or a significant impact on sociological research on China. Second, also included are a significant number of studies published in Chinese. Although sociology is a young discipline in China, Chinese sociologists have made significant contributions in particular areas because of their sustained, close observations and sense making.

General Overviews

China is vast and multifaceted, and it has undergone tremendous changes in its modern history. No comprehensive overview presently exists that can do justice to the complexity of Chinese society. The works included here focus on different aspects of Chinese society or on scholarship in particular fields. Chan, et al. 2009 and Davis 2000 offer glimpses into changes in rural and urban life in China. Naughton 2007 and Lin, et al. 2003 are two different overviews of the Chinese economy under transformation. Finally, Ying, et al. 2011 is the best collection of key research in Chinese sociology from the 1940s to the present.

  • Chan, Anita, Richard Madsen, and Jonathan Unger. 2009. Chen village: Revolution to globalization. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    The authors trace drastic changes in one village in southern China, from collectivization, political turmoil, and campaigns in the Mao era, through the early reform era of decollectivization, to the most recent era of globalization, when the village has become a manufacturing site for the export industry. A vivid portrait in microcosm of social changes in rural China over the sixty-year history of the People’s Republic.

  • Davis, Deborah, ed. 2000. The consumer revolution in urban China. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Given the tremendous changes in urban life in the reform era, there are relatively few studies of everyday life in contemporary urban China. This edited volume offers glimpses into different aspects of urban life in the era of rapid economic growth and what the editor deftly labels “the consumer revolution.” Topics range from housing, children’s education, weddings, and food, to manners of sociability through greeting cards, bowling, dancing, and other colorful images of a gilded era.

  • Lin, Justin Yifu, Fang Cai, and Zhou Li. 2003. The China miracle: Development strategy and economic reform. Rev. ed. Hong Kong: Chinese Univ. Press.

    Similar in scope and overlapping in topics with Naughton 2007, this is an introduction to China’s economic reforms and developmental strategies by a group of Chinese economists, reflecting an official view of the trajectory of change in economic institutions and policies in the People’s Republic of China.

  • Naughton, Barry. 2007. The Chinese economy: Transitions and growth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    A comprehensive, authoritative overview of the Chinese economy under transformation and the path of institutional changes in the reform era, drawing on extensive research in the English-language literature.

  • Ying Xing 应星, Zhou Feizhou 周飞舟, and Qu Jingdong 渠敬东. 2011. Zhongguo she hui xue wen xuan (中国社会学文选). Beijing: Zhongguo ren min da xue chu ban she.

    The most comprehensive, authoritative selection of representative sociological work in Chinese sociology, from the 1940s to the present, including both classics on the making and crises of traditional Chinese society and contemporary work on social transformation in the past three decades.

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