Please note: UC Press e-books must be purchased separately from our print books, and require the use of Adobe Digital Editions. If you do not already have Adobe Digital Editions installed on your computer, please download and install the software. To complete your e-book order, please click on the e-book checkout button. A charge will appear on your credit card from Ingram Digital Group.
The Rise of the Fact and the Reimagining of China
To take such [a scientific] attitude is to seek truth from facts. "Facts" are all the things that exist objectively, "truth" means their internal relations, that is, the laws governing them, and "to seek" means to study. We should proceed from the actual conditions inside and outside the country, the province, county or district, and derive from them, as our guide to action, laws that are inherent in them and not imaginary, that is, we should find the internal relations of the events occurring around us. And in order to do that we must rely not on subjective imagination, not on momentary enthusiasm, not on lifeless books, but on facts that exist objectively.
When Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote about the importance of "seeking truth from facts" 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 its chaos, its political leaders had to be guided by the right approach, an approach purportedly grounded in science and objective truth instead of in the ostensibly timeless tradition or false ideology that they blamed for the nation's disintegration. Only by examining facts carefully, they insisted, could the truth about Chinese society and the proper way of remaking it become self-evident.
But this conviction that empirical facts somehow held the key to social reform and nation building, however prevalent by this time, was actually remarkably novel on the Chinese intellectual and political scene, even though the expression of "seeking truth from facts" had long been used by Neo-Confucian scholars to describe their empirical inquiries into the human and natural worlds. Just a century earlier, when American missionary and linguist Samuel Wells Williams (1812-84) first published his monumental study of China, The Middle Kingdom (1848), one of his biggest complaints was that Chinese censuses were full of "discrepancies and inaccuracies." Written at a time when statistics and social science were still geminating, Williams's work was not so much a social scientific analysis of China but instead was in line with the tradition of political arithmetic that sought to use numbers to compare state strengths. Nonetheless, his comment, made at the onset of China's violent encounter with the industrial West, was evidence of the growing frustration among Western observers who considered China incomprehensible due to the absence of reliable facts that were commensurable with their own conceptual framework. This idea of China as a place without facts not only frustrated Western social experts and practitioners; eventually it also compelled Chinese authorities and intellectuals to scramble for facts about their country, for they hoped that these facts could help to elucidate and transform the moral and material conditions of Chinese society.
This chapter is an examination of the rise and transformative power of the fact as a conceptual medium in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in order to provide a context to make sense of the profound cultural shift and ramifications that will be discussed in later chapters. Although my focus here is on the moment of epistemological encounter and its political effects, my intention is not to approach this historical episode in terms of the essentializing binaries of East versus West or tradition versus modernity by suggesting that empiricism and quantitative precision were innate only to European civilization. It is important to emphasize that both Europe and China, in part because of mutual economic and cultural influences, had experienced rapid changes in the centuries leading up to their violent encounters in the nineteenth century. Moreover, just as early modern European thinkers had reversed their earlier skepticism about empirical evidence and called for quantitative precision in political thinking, their Chinese counterparts also increasingly came to affirm the role of empirical evidence in statecraft and scholarship. Meanwhile, the "culture of fact" that first emerged in Europe during the early modern era had also undergone drastic changes in the subsequent centuries. As a result of economic and political upheavals starting at the end of the eighteenth century, the older paradigm of "political arithmetic" that used numbers and measurements as the basis of political discourse was replaced by a new statistical science that was inseparable from the new realities of the emerging nation-based empires, colonialism, industrialization, and global capitalism. While economic development followed a rather different path in China, territorial expansion, economic prosperity, and population growth during the early and mid-Qing dynasty (1644-1912) also led to innovations in statecraft theory and practice. My discussion of the rise of the fact as a conceptual medium to make sense of China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is situated precisely at this historical juncture where multiple changing cultural paradigms, economic systems, and political structures converged and collided.
Particularly, I argue that the perceived Chinese factual deficiencies became an obsession not only for Chinese cultural and political elites; the desire to overcome this weakness also provided a new condition for the masses to make sense of their social and political existence afresh. Central to this process was the rise of a certain kind of conceptual thinking, what Talal Asad has called "strong languages," exemplified by statistics and social science that could afford to ignore all local differences in order to produce a standardized and commensurable framework of knowledge that claimed to be universally applicable. Compelled by this strong language, the late Qing regime was the first in China to embark on new census and survey projects to reconceptualize and convert its diverse populations and territories into a unified social body and geobody. In the decades after the collapse of the Qing in 1912, the Nationalist and Communist regimes, as well as a broad spectrum of intellectuals who may or may not have been connected to any of the contending political parties, also urgently carried out their own surveys. In fact, it was during this time that discussions about the meanings of facticity as well as the importance of surveys found their full articulation. The passion for collecting facts about China eventually led to a social survey movement that peaked in the 1920s and 1930s, when competing political factions and intellectual parties used surveys to assemble the empirical contents of the social world that they were striving to construct and govern.
Evidential Practices in Early Modern China and Europe
For those who are familiar with imperial Chinese history, Euro-American assertions that the Chinese possessed little empirical knowledge about themselves and their empire certainly sound preposterous. With a long tradition of centralized bureaucracy, successive Chinese dynastic regimes had produced an enormous amount of empirical knowledge about different aspects of the empire. While such cultural and political stocktaking was often compiled in the form of local gazettes and travel writings by scholar-officials who needed to demonstrate their scholarship and officialdom, the imperial authorities also were directly involved in censuses and territorial surveys for purposes of statecraft. By the time of the Qing dynasty, the growing complexities of the empire further encouraged the imperial state to carry out mapmaking, ethnographic surveys, and other large-scale knowledge projects that were comparable to similar efforts undertaken by European states.
In addition to these statecraft projects, there also were plenty of empirical inquiries into, as well as scholarly discussions of, legitimate and suspect forms of empirical knowledge. Charlotte Furth, for example, observed that empirical and specialist knowledge in imperial China was articulated in terms of "cases" (an), as opposed to facts, in legal and medical discourses. Benjamin Elman has shown the prevalence of empirical studies known as evidential research (kaozheng) since the late seventeenth century. This particular approach to empirical inquiry, known as shishi qiushi (commonly translated as "seeking truth from facts"), emphasized the search for authenticity, interpolations, and original meanings of the classical texts as the basis for reconstructing the truth established by the ancient sages. While the so-called "fact," or shishi, in this approach was mostly textual evidence, such empirical inquiries also flourished in the fields of natural studies, mathematics, and medicine.
In other words, while empiricism as a general philosophy and methodology could appear in many forms, what imperial China lacked was the particular mode of empirical knowledge production that the industrial powers insisted upon. Elman, for his part, argues that China's indigenous intellectual development nonetheless prepared it for a rapid adoption of European science and technologies in the nineteenth century. The main concern of this book, however, is not a comparative study of different modes of evidentiary practices and their commensurabilities, even though these important questions have yet to be adequately examined by scholars. Instead of asking whether or not indigenous Chinese empirical thinking was compatible with its European counterpart, this study is more interested in how and why the indigenous mode of empirical inquiry, however prominent and useful it might have been, was suddenly rendered invalid and irrelevant by European scientific thinking around the turn of the twentieth century. Why, moreover, when elements of the indigenous knowledge system resurfaced in the new context, did they have to be refashioned as modern science in order to remain relevant?
It is indeed hard to imagine today how we could possibly study human, social, or natural sciences without respecting facts by collecting, classifying, and analyzing them. Yet, as common as empirical facts appear to be in modern societies, recent works by cultural historians demonstrate that our preoccupation with the fact as the conceptual medium for understanding the world has specific or even peculiar cultural and historical origins. Lorraine Daston, for example, has shown that fact and evidence were closely linked to prodigies and miracles in Christian theology prior to the seventeenth century. She explains that medieval and even early modern European thinkers routinely regarded facts as divine manifestations because these observed particulars defied comprehension based on conventional wisdom. It was through the development of natural philosophy in the seventeenth century, she argues, that facts were gradually naturalized and emptied of their marvelous connotations. As formerly bizarre anomalies with religious significance gradually evolved into mundane facts, they were also "the mercenary soldiers of argument" that were ready to be enlisted in accordance with their evidentiary fitness. Similarly, Mary Poovey has traced the history of the fact in a wide-ranging survey of cultural practices from the first manual on double-entry bookkeeping to economic writings and statistical discourses in early modern England. She also illustrates how the fact as an "epistemological unit" acquired the prestigious qualities of being universal and value neutral over time and became what she has referred to as "the modern fact." This modern fact, which also became increasingly interchangeable with numerical fact, has been the conceptual medium through which our lives are now understood and governed.
The development of the category of the fact from its specific medieval and early modern meanings into an instrument for a broad range of cultural practices such as news reportage, travel writing, history, ethnography, science, and even fiction in the eighteenth century marked the beginning of a fact-based culture. In the area of human affairs, this "culture of fact" was manifested especially in the seventeenth-century ascendancy of political arithmetic. Leading political arithmeticians such as John Graunt (1620-74) and William Petty (1623-89), among others, argued that governance should be based strictly on numbers and measurements instead of theories and rhetoric. As a device to study the relationship among population, disease, and wealth, political arithmetic was critical to thinkers and practitioners of political economy in their bids to strengthen the power of the state.
The question of state strength remained central even when political arithmetic was losing ground to the emerging branch of knowledge known as statistics in the early nineteenth century. After all, it was no coincidence that the term statistics was derived from the German Statistik, which referred to the use of science in politics during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indeed, in much of the nineteenth century, when the term statistician was yet to be invented, British statisticians were called "statists." Their work, accordingly, was to describe the conditions of a particular country within a particular timeframe. For example, immediately after the Statistical Society of London was established in 1834, it began to promote statistical science as an objective and noble undertaking because of its critical role in examining and managing the well-being of nations and empires. In the inaugural introduction to the Journal of the Statistical Society of London, published in 1838, the society stated that statistical science was by no means "inferior in usefulness to any other science" precisely because it produced facts that helped to "determine and explain the civilization, riches, power, and happiness of our own and of other nations." To further illustrate its point, the same inaugural issue also included reports and tabulations such as "Statistics of the British Empire" and "Statistics of Nations" as well as "Progress of the Nation" as exemplars of fine statistical studies that illustrated the strength of the British empire in relation to its rivals. In this respect, in the early days of the institutionalization of statistics at least, the need to tabulate and compare the strengths of states was actually used by the builders of the discipline of statistics to justify the existence of their methods. At any rate, the fact as a conceptual medium had come a long way from its humble and provincial origins to arrive at its modern association with facticity related to science and governance in a broad range of contexts.
Statistics in the Age of Revolution and Empire
In spite of the continuous interest in the question of state strength among British statisticians in the early nineteenth century, the imperatives of industrialization and urbanization had increasingly compelled European thinkers to move away from the old paradigm of political arithmetic. Instead of trying to augment the wealth and power of the state by governing population growth through the manipulation of demographic processes, they now acknowledged that population, however susceptible to state intervention, was itself an independent social realm subjugated by its own laws and mechanisms. These hidden trends, which could become legible only through the collection and analysis of social facts, must therefore be respected. Under this new conceptual premise, governing entailed the calculation and management of the inevitable risks and contingencies that would arise from the social field. Probability discourse, not surprisingly, became an important element demarcating statistics from political arithmetic.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the simultaneous rise of statistical thinking and of the social question was particularly heightened by the frequent unrest and revolutions that were raging across Europe. In contrast to members of the radical left, who approached the social question as an opportunity for radical action, liberals and conservatives regarded the social field as a challenge to their desire for gradual change or even preserving the status quo. 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. In a statement made during his inauguration as the president of the Statistical Society of London in 1872, the British medical statistician William Farr (1807-83) laid out precisely such sentiments: "Politics is no longer ... the game of audacious Revolution for the sake of change; so politics, like war, has to submit to the spirit of the age, and to call in the aid of science: for the art of government can only be practised with success when it is grounded on a knowledge of the people governed, derived from exact observation."
It is no surprise that Farr himself was an epidemiologist, a man who built his career on studying and controlling the spread of disease in populations. Michel Foucault has noted that the emergence of biopower and its incorporation with disciplinary power is a central characteristic of the modern liberal state. Whereas disciplinary power that emerged in earlier times sought to produce normative individuals by subjugating them to predefined parameters through methods of training, surveillance, and punishment, biopower regulated social life from the interior of the individual by compelling the individual to embrace and reenact such power. In other words, the ultimate objective of biopolitics was no longer about the disciplining of the body of the individual but the regulating of life at the general level so that the entire population could be governed as a species. In this context, statistics, which provided the condition for conceptualizing the entire population as a conglomeration of generalizable and serializable individuals, was particularly indispensable to biopolitical interventions.
Significantly, the new regime of empirical knowledge was vital not only to the European governments that were managing the inherent dangers of capitalist modernity in the major urban centers. As the age of revolution gave way to that of empire, industrializing European powers with imperialist ambitions constantly found themselves in fierce competition with one another both at home and abroad. In order to acquire new materials, labor, and markets, these industrial powers routinely set up colonial administrations to run their overseas empires. Statistics was deployed to measure and compare the status of the state continuously against imperialist rivals and mobilized to govern the empire through its perceived ability to render incommensurable cultures into a supposedly universal and scientific temporal and spatial order conducive to the logic of capitalist production and exchange. In the same fashion, statistics also enabled the colonial powers to overcome their sense of fear and alienation vis-à-vis the native populations whom they neither understood nor were able to conquer by sheer military force.
These colonial powers, needless to say, did not use statistics to actually attempt to understand cultural differences in local terms or to confront the incommensurability question. As Talal Asad has argued, statistical methods enable ignoring the commensurability question altogether by redefining the problem in a different framework. Moreover, as the building blocks for embedded narratives and arguments, statistical facts are far from neutral. What statistical analysis often provided in the nineteenth century was the moral justification for interventions based on a colonial logic that stipulated that all societies be mapped onto a civilizational hierarchy defined by the industrial West. The purpose of the collection and comparison of facts, as the Statistical Society of London put it, was to "illustrate the condition of mankind" and to "develop the principles by which the progress of society is determined," as well as to identify "the character of uncivilized nations."
In this regard, the question of state strength inherited from political arithmetic clearly did not disappear entirely. Like the question of population, it found its way into the discourses and practices of colonialism. Together, civilizational status and population constituted the parameters, justification, and framework through which the industrial powers set out to conquer and govern a large part of the world. As a result, the statistical science that emerged in the nineteenth century was more than just a new "style of reasoning," tending to reduce the complexities of the human world into simple and calculable data. It was also a "style of domination," for it helped to produce a hierarchal order through the essentialization and reification of categories such as race, culture, and nation and subjugated those at the bottom to colonial conquest, governance, and the civilizing mission. In the same inaugural speech, Farr declared confidently, "Asia will be gradually drawn into the domain of science in the north by Russia, while in the south and east she is enlightened and led out of Oriental immobility by England. If China has really an authentic census ... it is of little scientific value. But we must not despair; the statistical flag may yet float over that multitudinous empire."
In no uncertain terms, Farr used the desire for conquest as a metaphor to articulate the desire to use statistical facts to establish a global order. His critique of the Chinese census, or the lack of thereof, far more so than Samuel Wells Williams's similar observation made a few decades earlier, ominously spelled out the underlying logic of statistics as a discursive intervention in the age of colonialism and industrial capitalism. It foretold a story in which the civilizing mission of statistics and social science would extend well beyond the formal empire of the European nation-states, leaving no territory uncharted, no individual unenumerated, and no indigenous mode of knowledge unshaken.
American Social Science and China's Factual Deficiencies
Indeed, even when Farr was making his projections, modern statistics was making inroads into China. In addition to being used heavily by the colonial administrations in the treaty ports, modern statistics, or at least elements of it, was incorporated by Qing reformers to update indigenous statecraft practice as part of their ongoing bureaucratic reform. For the most part, however, the development of survey-based social science was due to American influences. Since the turn of the twentieth century, driven by a sense of evangelical responsibility and the goal of American economic expansion, American policy thinkers and social scientists found themselves increasingly engrossed by the so-called "China problem," believing that any modification of the social life and structure of this immense country by means of social science would help to make the world safer for the American vision of industrial capitalism.
Although the American conception of social science was not epistemologically different from that of its European counterpart, American thinkers and social scientists were generally not sympathetic to the often crude and overtly racial categories associated with European colonial governance. As latecomers to the game of imperialism, those in the United States were more interested in expanding the country's influence by constructing a global order based on the propagated ideology of equality among nations rather than a hierarchy among empires. The Wilsonian doctrine of national self-determination was a clear manifestation of this American world order. After World War I (1914-18), American social scientists further distanced themselves from what they regarded as the ideology- and conflict-imbued Old World. Driven by the tenet of American exceptionalism, they believed that they could stay aloof from ideology and religion and construct their own enterprises of social scientific knowledge production by emphasizing objectivity, specialization, and professionalism.
In many ways, the development of American social sciences early in the twentieth century has to be understood against the larger backdrop of the era's unprecedented expansion of industrial capitalism. The intensification of industrialization as well as the rise of liberal activism during the American Progressive era (1890s to 1920s) led to a demand for a new way of governing the population and new applicable social knowledge. As a result, independent research institutions, granting agencies, and foundations came into being as the brokers for a new kind of cooperation among academics, government, and business. As the prototypes of the modern think tanks, these early nongovernmental organizations consciously distanced themselves from traditional religious charities and devised their policy recommendations and social programs based on extensive research conducted by social experts and scientists. At the same time, the global expansion of industrial capitalism propelled many of these foundations into roles as major players in the development, promotion, and implementation of social science research and social engineering programs outside the United States. A prime example was the Rockefeller Foundation, with its extensive involvement in social engineering projects in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
Even though most donors to these American foundations were motivated by a sense of evangelical calling as well as a belief in American Manifest Destiny, the foundations they sponsored seldom articulated their overseas interventions in the terms of culture and race that constituted the underpinning logic of European colonialism. The Rockefeller Foundation, for instance, presented itself as a promoter of the "well-being of mankind throughout the world." Rhetorically speaking, this invocation of humanity was not much different from the aforementioned claim to use social statistics to study the condition of mankind, human happiness, and progress made by the Statistical Society of London. In practice, however, it was a radical departure from the European colonial discourse. Whereas European colonialism used social science and social statistics to demarcate "uncivilized" societies from "civilized" Others, the American version of the civilizing mission was framed in terms of universal rights and modernization that mirrored the progressive social activism of domestic politics.
In this sense, despite the fact that the European colonial civilizing mission of the nineteenth century and the American modernization project of the twentieth century both deployed empirical social science to legitimize the existing structure of colonial domination and style of intervention, they were guided by rather different conceptual and ideological principles. Specifically, rather than focusing on direct colonial governance through the management of differences, American social science practitioners placed far greater emphasis on training, collaboration, and native participation in their attempts to deploy social science and engineering projects to uplift and remake non-Western societies.
Despite these fundamental differences, American social scientists, like their European predecessors, constantly complained about the absence of social facts about China and regarded the Chinese social world as a mysterious frontier waiting to be surveyed, studied, and reformed. They called this "big unknown" of the Chinese social question an enormous "opportunity" for the West to construct a liberal democratic and modernized China through a broad range of social interventions such as public health programs, mass education, public opinion management, and social science training. And, as chapter 6 will show, it was through these U.S.-supported institutions that Chinese social sciences-especially sociological and economic studies-reached their full-fledged development.
Even if the American influence on the development of Chinese social science did not really begin until the 1920s, colonial assertions that the Chinese people were irrational, unscientific, and ignorant of facts about themselves had had an impact on Chinese intellectuals since the end of the nineteenth century. Those who brought these messages to China in the second half of nineteenth century were mostly American missionaries, regarded as China experts, or so-called "China hands," because of their determination to venture beyond the foreign-occupied treaty ports and seek direct contact with the local population. Samuel Wells Williams, for instance, who considered himself sympathetic to the Chinese people and rejected the notion that the Chinese were "the apes of Europeans," called the Chinese "disregard of truth" the most deplorable aspect of their character. When his influential work The Middle Kingdom was updated and revised in 1883, nearly four decades after its original publication, he again reminded his readers that no alteration had been made to the chapter on censuses, "for until there has been a methodical inspection of the Empire, important questions concerning its population must be held in abeyance."
Among those writers who propagated the idea that China was a land without facts, Arthur Smith created the most vivid images in his derision of Chinese "national character." First published in 1894, Smith's Chinese Characteristics, supposedly the culmination of his years of close observation of the Chinese people when he worked as a missionary in south China, postulated that the manners and customs of a people were the moral dimension of geography and history. The book instantly became the most widely read book on China in English, and it was translated into many other languages, including Chinese and Japanese. Smith's mockery of the inability of Chinese to understand and cite facts properly in their daily lives was quickly perceived by Chinese intellectual elites as an insult to the Chinese national psyche, and it prompted many of them to believe that China's severe deficiencies in factual knowledge were responsible for the country's backwardness. Like Williams, Smith contended that if there were such a thing that could be "dignified with the title of a Chinese 'census,' it could only be 'the last guess at the case.'" He, too, believed that neither facts nor the conception of the fact had ever existed in China. Indeed, according to Smith, his primary contribution was precisely to fill in the blanks by providing "illustrations of a Chinese social fact" that would reveal "the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth" about the Chinese people and their society. Smith and Williams, in a strange way, were therefore linked not just by their Christian faith, but also by their faith in the ability of facts to reveal the truth about China as well as convert the Chinese to the supposedly universal logic of science.
Indeed, for Smith, the people's indifference to factual accuracy was both a cause and a manifestation of the extent to which Chinese society was in total chaos. According to him, living in China was a constant frustration, for there were no statewide standards for language, currency, or units of measurement, nor were there consistent names for cities and towns. In chapters with titles such as "The Disregard of Time" and "The Disregard of Accuracy," he offered a parade of examples to demonstrate just how indifferent to precision the Chinese people were. He not only remarked that Chinese civilization had not advanced enough to be acquainted with the Western idea that "time is money," but he also contended that the Chinese were ignorant of the importance of accurate spatial measurement. He observed that distances between locations in China were often calculated not in absolute spatial terms, but instead were reckoned according to the relative difficulty of traveling between them. He alleged that in this land without facts even the distance from A to B could be different from that of B to A when it came to a hill slope or in a river. As someone who grew up in a rapidly industrializing world, Smith seemed to have had difficulty understanding or appreciating that the Chinese practice of using transportation costs and time as units of measurement, although utterly incompatible with the conceptions of time and space associated with capitalist modernity, was just as rational in a highly commercial but preindustrial context.
Smith was also very distressed that the Chinese were ignorant of the most basic numerical knowledge of their bodies. Here are some of his most satirical and memorable testimonies to the factual deficiencies of the Chinese national character:
An old man is "seventy or eighty years of age," when you know to a certainty that he was seventy only a year ago. The fact is that in China a person becomes "eighty" the moment he stops being seventy, and this "general average" must be allowed for, if precision is desired.... A few people are "ten or twenty," a "few tens," or perhaps "ever so many tens," and a strictly accurate enumeration is one of the rarest of experiences in China.
A servant who was asked his height mentioned a measure which was ridiculously inadequate to cover his length, and upon being questioned admitted that he had left out of account all above his shoulders! He had once been a soldier, where the height of the men's clavicle is important in assigning the carrying of burdens. And since a Chinese soldier is to all practical purposes complete without his head, this was omitted.
Sarcasm aside, Smith's remarks clearly emphasize the importance of facts and their inherent relationship to governance. Specifically, his comments implied that social facts not only allowed the state to deploy new ways of conceptualizing and governing the social world using exact knowledge; it also anticipated the arrival of a new kind of political subject, individuals who were capable of embracing and reactivating the same governing framework for understanding and identifying themselves. As we shall see, for Chinese intellectuals, although the category of "national character" was already outmoded by this time, negative remarks such as Smith's clearly motivated Chinese intellectual elites to overcome this alleged fault of the so-called Chinese national character.
[Place figure 1 near here.]
Four Hundred Million as an Enumerative Imaginary
The absence of an accurate census did not prevent European and American observers from imagining China in statistical terms. Many of them, drawing on missionary and Chinese sources, began to introduce their own estimates of the Chinese population. Although these estimates at times varied by hundreds of millions, four hundred million stands out as the most commonly cited estimate of the Chinese population at the turn of the twentieth century. In fact, this number would continue to stand in as the population estimate for the next half century. For many foreign observers this estimate not only reminded them of the lack of a reliable census in China, but it also conjured up images of opportunity and fear because of the enormity of the Chinese population. In 1903, for instance, the American diplomat John Watson Foster described the potential peril of the China problem: "Four hundred millions, sturdy, and passionately devoted to ancient customs, might be changed into a warlike people bent upon avenging their wrongs." In 1937 Carl Crow, an American market surveyor, published a book called Four Hundred Million Customers, highlighting the Western fantasy of the vastness of the Chinese market. Similarly, when China was engulfed in a bitter full-scale war with Japan, a pro-Chinese documentary called 400 Million (1939) was made by Jors Lvers to show the heroic Chinese resistance against the Japanese invasion and the vast humanitarian crisis created by the war.
Meanwhile, the Chinese quickly picked up this enumerative imaginary of four hundred million to express their own hopes and fears. For many, the idea of four hundred million was a political trope for China's potential national strength and social solidarity. This number seemed to capture the political imaginations of bewildered pro-Qing reformers and anti-Qing revolutionaries alike. Zou Rong (1885-1905), one of the most vocal and radical Han Chinese nationalists to call for a revolution to liberate the Chinese from Manchu rule, was among the first to use this figure to articulate a nationalist agenda. In his provocative The Revolutionary Army (Geminjun), published in 1903, Zou Rong called upon his countrymen to overthrow the Qing dynasty and expel the ruling Manchus: "You 400 million of the great Han race, my countrymen, whether man or woman, aged or elderly, in the prime of life, young or child, carry out this revolution. It is the bounden duty of one and all." And he was not alone. Anti-Manchu revolutionaries who adopted a strong racist tone often referred to the political state of China as the subjugation of four hundred million Han Chinese by five million corrupt and incompetent Manchus. They therefore called for the establishment of an exclusively Han republic based on blood ties.
Likewise, many Manchu elites who tried to speed up the reform of the dynasty called for the integration of the five million banner people into the social body of Qing China in order to create a seamlessly inclusive and united constitutional state of four hundred million people to counter the encroaching foreign powers. In practice, it did not seem to matter whether the five million banner people were added to or subtracted from the nation of four hundred million; the number four hundred million was a powerful trope for both the Qing and Chinese nationalists in envisioning the strength of the respective political communities they sought to produce. The significance of this number, in other words, did not rest on its statistical value but on its ability to enunciate the potency of the imagined community vis-à-vis the menacing outside world.
For others, a nation of four hundred million, or even just half that number, could also be enormously burdensome. Many male writers, for example, used the same enumerative logic to characterize the Chinese female population as two hundred million useless women with bound feet. In response, some female thinkers rejected this male-centered characterization and highlighted the unique power of the "200 million women comrades." Other female writers accepted many of the male premises but called for reform and education for China's "200 million sisters," so women, too, could exercise their rights and duties.
No one seemed to play a greater role in inscribing in the Chinese consciousness the number four hundred million, including the dangers and opportunities that came with it, than the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen. In numerous political speeches and writings Sun constantly repeated the catchphrase "four hundred million compatriots" (siwanwan tongbao) to arouse the public and make them aware of the necessity of forging a vast and cohesive political community. But he also frequently reiterated his view that the present population of four hundred million was nothing but "a plate of loose sand" that was disorganized, chaotic, and dysfunctional. Although Sun eventually dropped the idea of building an exclusively Han nation and instead opted for a multiethnic nation incorporating all the populations of the Qing empire, his political aspiration remained the building of a strong social body of "four hundred million compatriots." When Sun's party overthrew the Qing and established a republic in late 1911 and early 1912, this image was perfectly captured by a newspaper editorial on New Year's Day of 1912, an editorial in which the author declared that the entire Chinese population was now "four hundred million newborn babies," immature yet hopeful.
Significantly, as I will show in greater detail in the next chapter, despite the endless Western criticisms of China's factual deficiencies, as part of its New Policies the Qing government had launched a comprehensive national census using mostly Western census techniques imported from Meiji Japan as well as some preexisting ideas from indigenous statecraft. For the first time, therefore, the idea of a bounded and quantified social body appeared as an object of state knowledge. This notion of population, based on the modern political principles of abstract equality and autonomous citizens and made possible by statistical thinking, replaced the older statecraft approach that had defined the state and its people using the vague, infinite, and all-inclusive idea of tianxia (all under Heaven). The outcome of the nearly completed census received little attention, however, as it was neither put to use nor widely circulated due to the collapse of the dynasty in 1912. Therefore, despite the Qing's frenetic efforts to reconceptualize the entire population in modern enumerative terms, the significance of the enumerative imaginary of four hundred million rested on its reference to the health and strength of the Chinese aggregate social body, not its statistical value.
The Idea of Factual Deficiencies as Epistemic Violence
The use of four hundred million as a political trope to connote an upbeat vision of China's potential and hope did not, in any event, last long. The collapse of China's longstanding dynastic order and the founding of the new Republic brought neither peace nor solidarity as promised by the revolution. Almost immediately after the founding of the Republic, the dream of building a strong and democratic nation was tarnished by the politics of betrayal, terror, and factionalism. Internally, the nation degenerated into a period of warlordism and militarism without a functioning national government between 1916 and 1928. Externally, the continuous deterioration of sovereignty and the loss of national prestige were exemplified by the Treaty of Versailles (1919), according to which German-occupied Shandong province was handed over to Japan rather than returned to China by the Allied powers, even though China supported the war efforts of the Allies by supplying them with laborers. Against this distressing domestic and global backdrop, many Chinese intellectuals began to question the wishful idea that China could soon become a nation four hundred million strong. For them, it became painfully clear that a top-down political revolution led by intellectuals and urban elites, as was the case in the Republican Revolution in 1911, could not possibly forge a strong and cohesive nation capable of defending itself against foreign intruders. They also pointed their fingers at what they regarded as Chinese tradition, which, according to them, was the main obstacle to China's reform and modernization. In short, if China needed to be reconstituted in order to survive in a social Darwinist world, the people themselves had to be remade first.
For the initial generation of Chinese social scientists, many of whom were trained outside China, and especially in the United States, the remedying of China's factual deficiencies and the remaking of the Chinese people would require all Chinese to embrace scientific and rational thinking. For them, the number four hundred million, rather than being a metaphor for the potential strength of the Chinese social body, was a symbol of China's factual deficiencies and backwardness. The prominent U.S.-trained social investigator Li Jinghan, for instance, launched a vehement attack on the catchphrase "four hundred million" in a university textbook that he wrote especially for students of social survey research:
When I went to elementary school at six, the Chinese population was said to be four hundred million. And the expression "four hundred million compatriots" could be heard everywhere. By the time I graduated from elementary school, the Chinese population was still four hundred million. When I graduated from middle school, I read my younger brother's geography textbook. It still said our country's population was four hundred million. When I graduated from university, my little niece's textbook still stated that the Chinese population was four hundred million. When I returned to China after a few years of studying abroad, I took a glance at the textbooks used by my nieces, and even some grandnieces. The Chinese population remained four hundred million.
Li, furthermore, provided an international context for his ridicule of the Chinese fixation on the notion of four hundred million. Returning to China after studying in the United States, he was well aware of the negative implications of factual deficiencies when it came to governing and state building:
In 1926, the customs office estimated that China had a population of 4.48 hundred million. In 1927, the post office claimed that it was 4.87 hundred million. A British statistician, however, contended that it would be an exaggeration even to say that China had a population of three hundred million. Previously, a German scholar, based on the statistics on salt consumption, determined that the Chinese population was only 2.32 hundred million ... . Readers! The United States is believed to be the strongest and wealthiest nation in the world and its population is no more than 1.1 hundred million. The discrepancy between our [lowest and highest] estimates alone has already exceeded two hundred million. 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. Not even an approximation.
According to Li, the Chinese disregard for the most basic social facts was an indication that the Chinese people were a "muddleheaded people." Not unlike Liang Qichao and other late Qing thinkers, he contended that Chinese society was in complete disarray because China was "a republic without citizens," since only a small portion of the population could be considered "qualified citizens." 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. Significantly, although Li did not cite Arthur Smith directly in his depiction of the Chinese people, he actually repeated each one of the negative and memorable images of the so-called Chinese national character created by Smith, including even the example in which a Chinese soldier had neglected his own head when he reported his height to the interlocutor. 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? As Jing Tsu has noted, failure and weakness could often become the impetus for nationalism, propelling change and actions.
Li was certainly not the only intellectual to deride the Chinese inability to be exact as a way to draw public attention to China's alleged factual deficiencies. Almost a decade earlier the prominent philosopher and student of positivism Hu Shi had published a very popular short story called "The Tales of Mr. Chabuduo" (1924). In this satirical story Mr. Chabuduo was given his name because he loved to use the expression "cha bu duo," which means "almost," "about," or "nearly," in his daily life. The "virtue" of Mr. Chabuduo, in a nutshell, was his inexactitude. According to Hu Shi, Mr. Chabuduo was the most famous Chinese person because he represented all Chinese. Ultimately, Mr. Chabuduo died of illness because his neighbor went to an address that was similar to the one he was supposed to go to and brought back the wrong doctor, one who specialized in cows rather than humans. Mr. Chabuduo, nonetheless, was content to be treated by the doctor because his name was almost the same as that of the doctor he had wanted. As he died, Mr. Chabuduo expressed no regret. "A living person and a dead person are almost the same" were his famous last words.
Indeed, since the publication of the story, Mr. Chabuduo has become a symbol of the failure of Chinese culture. Even decades later, the rural reformer James Yen, whose rural reconstruction project and related surveys will be discussed later in this book, lamented that the frequent use of the expression "cha bu duo" was an indication of the Chinese people's lack of appreciation for the importance of facts and exactitude. Like other Chinese intellectuals, he contended that the Chinese people were as alive as they were dead, and that the nation would never recover from its illness unless its people could get rid of their chabuduo attitude. In this regard, by appropriating the colonial gaze deployed by Western observers, intellectuals like Li Jinghan, Hu Shi, and many others did more than just internalize and reproduce the discourse of deficiencies. They also used the negative aspects of the Chinese character invented by the industrial West to critique China's social ills, hoping that the public's awareness of its own lacks and failures could lead to energy for national revival. All of these impulses were summed up succinctly in an illustration in one of Li's books, which attempted to show the importance of social survey research by invoking the popular image of China as the "sick man of Asia" waiting to be diagnosed by science (see figure 2).
[Place figure 2 near here.]
As part of his attempt to persuade readers to take social survey research seriously, Li wrote a long autobiographical preface to his social survey textbook. The most compelling passage is when he recounts his personal experience of how the lack of factual knowledge about one's country could be tremendously embarrassing and humiliating when subjected to a foreign gaze:
I used to enjoy sitting in the front row of the classroom when I was studying in the United States. One day, when the male and female ratios of different countries were the subject of discussion in the graduate seminar on social problems, the instructor suddenly inquired about the male-to-female ratio in China.... Since there were no such statistics in China, I could only say that I had no knowledge of it. Some days later, when the instructor asked about the wage index in China, I could not answer either.... Every time the instructor inquired about Chinese statistical data, I would be terrified and sweat.... Soon, I chose not to sit in the front row and instead moved to the middle section of the room and eventually to the back.... Other countries have statistics on the various kinds of social problems, but we do not have statistical data for even the most basic subjects of our country.... This situation surely is a great shame to our nation.
Li's personal experience resonated with those of other Chinese social scientists. In 1930, when the nineteenth meeting of the International Statistical Institute was held in Tokyo, the statistician Chen Huayin, the Chinese representative to the meeting from the Nationalist government, ended up quarreling fiercely with his Western colleagues about the exact population of China. Being publicly derided by Western statisticians for ignorance about their own population statistics was seen by the Chinese as a huge embarrassment for China. This encounter was even cited in the guidelines for the 1931 census of the city of Guangzhou as a reminder to officials and census takers about the critical importance of censuses in modern governance.
Li's recounting of the life-changing experience that galvanized him to become a career social investigator is also vividly reminiscent of a well-known and widely examined case that has often been cited as the moment of the birth of modern Chinese literature. In the preface to his collected short stories Call to Arms, the prominent Chinese writer Lu Xun recalls the incident that caused him to permanently alter his career path, inspiring him to make the change from medicine to writing. Around the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), when Lu Xun was studying medicine in Japan, his teacher showed him and his classmates a slide of a public execution by the Japanese military of a Chinese man who allegedly had spied for the Russians. Not only did the violent and racist image upset Lu Xun and prevent him from joining the cheering of his Japanese classmates, but he also found appalling the completely apathetic Chinese bystanders who seemed to enjoy the spectacle of the execution. Lu Xun hence concluded that it was the minds of the people rather than their bodies that needed to be cured: "The people of a weak and backward country, however strong and healthy they might be, could only serve to be made examples of or as witnesses of such futile spectacles; and it was not necessarily deplorable if many of them died of illness."
Li's confession, although rarely noticed by historians, uncannily resembles Lu Xun's on many levels. First, Li's argument suggested that although China might have a population of four hundred million, as long as they remained inept, incapable of embracing science and social facts, China would remain weak and undeveloped. Moreover, in their own ways, both stories illustrated episodes of colonial violence. Even though Li's teacher had no intention of embarrassing him, the sense of humiliation Li felt was hardly self-inflicted. Rather, he was a victim of what Gayatri Spivak has called "epistemic violence" as a consequence of the colonial encounter. That is to say, even though China was not fully occupied by the colonial powers, the colonial gaze essentially broke down and remade the old Chinese epistemic order according to its own image. As a result, not only was the native society depicted in an unfavorable light, but native intellectuals-those historically responsible for safeguarding the native system of knowledge-were made to feel ashamed of their inability to converse based upon the new knowledge framework that was being imposed on them. Furthermore, both incidents revealed the degree to which the self was implicated and embedded in the political imaginary of nationhood in the minds of modern Chinese intellectuals. Just like Lu Xun, Li not only had internalized the symbolic violence against the Chinese imagined community, but he was also compelled to reproduce the violence and humiliation and pass it on to his countrymen, demanding that they reform themselves and become modern citizens of the nation. Finally, for both Li and Lu Xun, their encounters with symbolic violence not only compelled them to pursue a lifelong career that would enable them to testify against the violence of colonialism. Their experiences also legitimized their intellectual and political claims, as they elevated themselves, respectively, into a self-appointed social investigator and a fiction writer on a heroic mission to awaken and rescue what they considered the apathetic, muddleheaded, and helpless masses. In so doing, they effectively turned themselves into active agents rather than passive victims of the colonial civilizing mission.
The narratives by Li Jinghan and Lu Xun about their personal experiences were in many ways powerful testimonies that colonial violence was never just military and political. The outcome of epistemic violence was that while the Chinese could continue to claim ownership of their culture and history, they could no longer control the meanings of their culture and history or how cultural and historical knowledge was produced. In short, if we see trauma as an extensive breach in the ego's protective shield, the imaginary Chinese national psyche suffered a complete breakdown and became disoriented in the wake of the epistemic violence inflicted by the Euro-American powers.
In her study of the widespread emergence of trauma in the twentieth century, Cathy Caruth notes that one characteristic of trauma is its recurrence as traumatized victims continually recall their painful experiences. When it comes to a society as a whole, Caruth notes that collective historical trauma actually produces a discontinuity or generational fault line that marks the beginning of ongoing testimonies in which those who did not experience the trauma firsthand nonetheless become the new witnesses. In this respect, if the personal testimonies by Lu Xun and Li Jinghan appeared as two narratives based on the same overarching script, it was not simply because they were responding to the negative depictions of Chinese society and national character invented by Smith; instead, it was also because both authors were witnesses to an ongoing historical episode of epistemic violence, of which Smith's caustic remarks were simply a manifestation. Thus, whereas Lu Xun renarrativized the disarray of Chinese society and Chinese national character through the spectacle of the beheading of a fellow Chinese in front of an apathetic Chinese mob, Li reanimated the deficiencies of China and its people through his confession of his own classroom experience. The experience of epistemic violence inflicted on China, in other words, is a collective trauma frozen in time, one that could be retold, reactivated, and relived continuously.
A salient effect of historical trauma of this magnitude was its role in the constitution of new subjects. By using their alleged personal experiences, modern Chinese intellectuals such as Li Jinghan and Lu Xun invited or even forced their readers to confront and witness the colonial violence themselves, awakening them to the subject position of politically aware citizens who feel ashamed about their nation's deficiencies and at the same time are determined to strengthen the nation. As Caruth argues, since traumatic experience exists outside of time, a new subject is born when "a subjectivity 'gives time' to an event that is frozen outside of it." For Lu Xun, modern fiction was a way to make individual readers politically conscious and critical of their own society. For Li, numeracy was virtually a form of political literacy, as he argued that the mastery of social facts was a basic requirement for becoming a Chinese citizen. According to Li, the Chinese people, especially the rural population, had no knowledge about the world, their nation, their county, their district, or even their own village. Surveys should therefore be used "to present the local conditions vividly in front of the eyes [of the masses], moving their hearts, arousing their passions and interests in the locality." Social facts, he further contended, could instill in members of the public pride as well as shame, turning them into "qualified citizens."
Seeking Truth and Facts
The idea that social facts could be used to cultivate both pride and shame about one's location and the nation implied that social scientists themselves, not unlike fiction writers, were essentially the arbiters of the narratives that social facts were supposed to reveal. Indeed, Li Jinghan and his fellow social scientists knew full well that in order for China to recover from the destruction brought about by epistemic violence, they had to seize control of the epistemological order by producing facts about Chinese society themselves, even though this meant that they had to adopt the very structure of knowledge that traumatized them. To put it somewhat differently, even as Chinese social scientists were traumatized by the images of China and the Chinese people depicted by Europeans and Americans, they were galvanized to resist and rework the colonial images imposed on them through the use of the same political technologies. This new paradigm of knowledge, however, was hardly an innocent enterprise of fact collection built in an intellectual vacuum. Rather, it was developed at the expense of the indigenous cosmology and knowledge system. This overwriting of one knowledge system upon another was captured in Li's discussion of the contrast between social survey research and indigenous scholarship:
In the past, Chinese historical records were mostly documentations of the rise and fall of dynasties. There was hardly any fact about the livelihood of the people. When such facts did exist, they were fragmentary and unreliable. And when numbers were involved, they were particularly inaccurate.... Since China had plenty of local gazetteers, one imagines that they would provide plenty of useful material. That was not true, however. Most of these documents focused on the sages and local heroic figures. Next, they focused on rivers and mountains, history, the military, and calamities. There was very little information about the social structure and the people's livelihood.
Li's criticism of the neglect of the social world in indigenous scholarship highlighted an expansion into an entire field of knowledge that was inconceivable in the past, even as Chinese concepts of empirical inquiry had evolved over the centuries. Historically, the Neo-Confucian art of government was based on a set of moral principles that was believed to be derived from the classical knowledge of the sages. The compilation of the classics and the writing of history were therefore vitally important for an imperial regime that needed to assert itself as the arbiter of history as well as the gatekeeper of knowledge in order to legitimize its claims to moral authority and heavenly mandate. By the early modern period, however, the emphasis on classicism increasingly was being challenged by a growing number of scholars who questioned the validity of using only a few selected texts compiled in recent centuries to understand the past. These scholars argued that rather than simply applying hermeneutics and interpretive skills to a small canon of works, the original classics that presumably contained the ancient wisdom first had to be reconstructed and authenticated using the method of evidential research (kaozheng). This philological approach of "seeking truth from facts" (shishi qiushi) was further vindicated by the defeat of the Ming dynasty by the Manchus in 1644, which many scholars regarded as a sign of the Ming's failure to adhere to the wisdom of the sages. History, in this respect, remained didactic, for it was used to explain the rise and fall of previous dynasties through their success or failure at adhering to the moral principles of high antiquity.
This new emphasis on empirical, albeit mostly textual, evidence did more than simply introduce an alternative approach to retrieving the ancient wisdom in order to guide the present. It also led to the rise of specialized academic fields such as philology, archaeology, mathematics, and astronomy, and it ultimately led to an intellectual atmosphere that was highly conducive to the development of science and technology, which, as Benjamin Elman contends, laid the groundwork for the rapid embrace of European science and technology during the Self-Strengthening Movement in the second half of the nineteenth century. Yet, as the assaults on indigenous approaches to history and classics by Li Jinghan and others clearly indicate, eclecticism was out of the question emotionally and politically for iconoclastic thinkers of the Republican period. After all, the shift of a knowledge paradigm is never negotiated on purely epistemological grounds but is instead driven by political urgency and cultural sensibilities. Neo-Confucian statecraft might have coexisted rather unproblematically with European science and technology during the Qing's Self-Strengthening Movement, but this was no longer the case with the arrival of social science, when Chinese intellectual elites believed that China was fighting for survival as a civilization and a nation. Their sense of urgency compelled intellectuals to ask new questions, embrace new methods, and deploy new evidence in order to adopt a social scientific epistemology that changed the temporal and spatial locations of "truth" and "fact," as well as the very meanings of "truth" and "fact" themselves.
In sum, while the categories of truth and fact remained constant, their meanings had changed drastically in a matter of decades. Specifically, whereas the old truth resided in the moral principles established by the sages, the new truth was now contained in the ideologies of scientism, social Darwinism, and the progressive view of history. The pervasiveness of this newly established regime of truth was further demonstrated, often violently, by the wealth and power wielded by the global system of the nation-states and industrial capitalism, which in turn was held up as the highest form of ethical order. Similarly, whereas Neo-Confucian statecraft relied on philological evidence and textual analysis to retrieve the truth established in the past, the new rationality of government focused on the collection and analysis of the positive facts of geographically bounded societies that respective states claimed to represent and govern. Under this new epistemological order, the old cosmological order that celebrated antiquity and imperial hierarchy was declared invalid. In its place was a new universal order that privileged progress and popular sovereignty. The social survey movement that took place in the first half of the twentieth century served to assemble and reify this new conception of time and space by producing empirical knowledge of the Chinese social world, as well as by locating the temporal and spatial specificities of China in the new universal order.
The impact of this new regime of truth on indigenous knowledge was far-reaching. In addition to elevating the social fact to a category for conceptualizing the human world, it also dictated what were to be considered as social facts and hence admissible evidence, how to generate them, how to present them, and what to do with them. Thinking with social facts, in short, entailed new political motives, new questions, new modes of representation and reasoning, and even a whole new experience of being in a community and in the world. When Chen Changheng, a U.S.-educated economist, published A Treatise on Chinese Population in 1918, for example, even scholars trained in the indigenous knowledge system acknowledged the new social scientific representation as visually striking. Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940), a progressive thinker who was trained in the indigenous scholarly system, drove home precisely this point when he endorsed Chen's new book. Although Chen's book was the most comprehensive introduction to the Malthusian controversy ever published at the time, Cai never mentioned its arguments, instead raving about its style. The most significant contribution of Chen's work, Cai contended, was that it introduced a whole new way of representing knowledge by using statistical charts and tabulations.
According to Cai, there was no shortage of attention to the population question in Chinese statecraft scholarship. What was missing were these captivating representational techniques. He lamented that although China had long prided itself as a "literary country," the old-style scholars really did nothing but waste their time polishing their essays. He also chastised these scholars for being inattentive to the validity and accuracy of their methods and theories. During his tenure as the Republic's first education minister, Cai repeatedly berated the old Chinese education system as vulgar, disordered, superficial, fearful, discouraging, and deceptive. Although he had studied in Germany briefly, he was an admirer of the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859-1952) and believed that ideology, politics, and religion had no place in education, scholarship, and social reform. Later, as the chancellor of Peking University, Cai was instrumental in the creation of an intellectual hotbed for the New Culture Movement from the mid-1910s to 1920s as well as the May Fourth student protests of 1919. Disillusioned by the failure of the Republican experiment and what they considered the persistence of "traditional" culture, Cai and other progressive intellectuals forcefully called for the embrace of science and democracy as a way to save the nation. It was within this context that Cai cherished Chen's representational style, for it seemed to epitomize precisely the New Culture ideals of rationality, science, and accessibility. He concluded that Chen's book was an extraordinary accomplishment because it had made the Chinese population problem "understandable at a glance" (yi mu liao ran).
This emphasis on form over content is reminiscent of Bruno Latour's observation of the epistemological transformation associated with modern science. Latour questions the conventional claim that the ideas of the great thinkers were primarily responsible for the so-called scientific revolution in the first place. He instead credits the rather contingent invention of new inscriptions as a crucial factor that made the scientific revolution possible. According to Latour, "The rationalization that took place during the so-called 'scientific revolution' is not of the mind, of the eye, of philosophy, but of the sight." This revolution involved the combined use of scientific inscriptions such as numbers, charts, maps, and images both to render the complex, unfamiliar, and invisible human condition into a simple and legible picture, and to create a new condition whereby social scientific knowledge of the human world could be understood. Latour particularly emphasizes how scientific inscriptions were produced, juxtaposed, circulated, and consumed. In this regard, even though Cai characterized Chen's work as a breakthrough in representational style, this change of style was not a trivial matter, as it was linked to a whole different mode of knowledge production and circulation.
A New Style of Reasoning
First and foremost, the emergence of the social fact, itself intimately related to modern statistics, represented the arrival of what Ian Hacking has called a particular "style of reasoning" that was simultaneously enabling and limiting, a style that had with drastic intellectual, cultural, and political implications. It was enabling because social scientific and numerical abstractions enabled studies that utilized modeling, comparison, taxonomy, derivation, and so forth that were otherwise inconceivable. It was also limiting and excluding, however, because it was by definition incommensurable with other styles of reasoning. Most Chinese intellectual elites in the early twentieth century experienced the enabling effects of social scientific thinking. Specifically, social science allowed Chinese intellectuals to construct a new epistemological foundation for the emerging social and political order to replace the one that had been discredited and invalidated as a consequence of the collapse of the Qing. The social scientific mode of knowledge production and representation also enabled Chinese political and cultural elites to produce new narratives of China's past and present in the larger global narrative of progress.
Nowhere was this more vividly demonstrated than in a series of illustrations included in a 1927 social science textbook by Cai Yucong. In one case, for example, the quality and quantity of the Chinese population were compared to those of several major world powers, each represented by the icons of their national flags (figure 3). While the image obviously encouraged readers to imagine the existence of a homogenous Chinese social body that was dividable only in terms of literacy (the illiterate were represented by a large rectangle wrapped by the flag of the Republic, the literate by a significantly smaller supporting base that appeared to be made of bricks), it simultaneously highlighted the shortcomings of China compared to other nations. By placing the huge cube representing the illiterate on top of the much smaller one representing the illiterate, the image conveyed a sense of crisis and unsustainability, as if the Chinese nation were facing an imminent collapse if it continued to be overburdened by a huge ignorant crowd. Similarly, in another illustration (figure 4), Cai Yucong highlighted the role of state-sponsored education in national progress. Here the number of years of free education provided by a state was symbolized by the length of its respective train, a common symbol of modernity and progress at the time. China, represented by a significantly shorter train, lags behind in its race toward the future. These pictures, in short, were not only representations of China but also illustrations that advanced a linear view of history and a social Darwinistic argument about the strength of the nation in a global context.
[Place figure 3 near here.]
[Place figure 4 near here.]
What was significant about this change in representational style was more than just the prioritization of the social fact as an epistemological unit. In presenting narratives of the laws of nations, social mechanisms, historical progress, and racial struggles, these social facts presupposed such newly emerged analytical categories as race, nation, and society as part of ontological reality. Indeed, when Benedict Anderson argues that the census and map as methods of "totalizing classification" were among the most pivotal political technologies of nationhood, an important part of the underlying mechanisms that actually made the imagining of the nation possible through these technologies was the social scientific mode of knowledge production and representation. Particularly, it was through the display of social facts using abstract inscriptions such as numbers, charts, and graphs that a sense of togetherness and simultaneity among members of an imagined community was being developed and articulated. Individuals and groups that previously belonged to different temporal and spatial realms, in other words, were now linked together as subjects and observers of these social facts.
The social scientific style of reasoning would not have been so effective and persuasive had it not also provided the condition for a new kind of visual experience in which strategies of seeing also became those of knowing, namely, Cai Yuanpei's "understanding at a glance." Closely related to this process was the catalyzing role of print capitalism. Since the late Qing, the circulation of a huge quantity of empirical facts generated by various surveys and censuses had been facilitated by the development of modern print media such as newspapers, journals, magazines, books, and posters. As technologies improved, these printed media were able to deliver not only text but also compelling illustrations and photographs to an ever-expanding audience at an accessible price. The advancement of printing technology led to the dissemination of social scientific knowledge not only to the urban population but also to rural dwellers. In rural areas, where the reproduction and circulation of such information was hindered by low literacy and the lack of resources, Chinese intellectuals and social scientists routinely carried with them simple statistical charts, graphs, and diagrams so that they could communicate social facts about China to the public through exhibitions and lectures. These education campaigns were effective means of enlightening the masses with new narratives about their social and political existence. In short, technologies of mechanical reproduction and scientific inscriptions together made the social scientific way of reasoning, seeing, and knowing increasingly available to all members of the imagined community in ways that were not possible before.
In the span of approximately a century starting in the mid-nineteenth century, the political landscape of China went through a rapid transformation against the basic backdrop of the transition from dynastic empire to nation-state. At the center of this process was the shift from the notion of the Mandate of Heaven to that of popular sovereignty as the basis for political legitimacy. Under the premises of this new political order, as the people emerged as both the source of political authority and the object of governance, contending political parties had to produce the empirical contents of the social world they claimed to represent and govern in order to justify their political programs and indeed their very political existence.
Politicization of the population meant that a once amorphous populace was now regarded as a social field with hidden mechanisms waiting to be decoded. It was through this social field, which was legible and comprehensible only through social facts and methods of social science, that the future of the Chinese nation was articulated, conceptualized, and debated. This rise of the social as a field of knowledge and practice involved the drastic refashioning of the old paradigm of "seeking truth from facts" into a new paradigm of knowledge production and circulation. Unlike their Neo-Confucian predecessors who upheld ancient wisdom as truth and classical texts as facts, Qing and Republican intellectuals-regardless of whether they were reformers or revolutionaries-were now compelled to search for a very different kind of truth and facts.
The rise of the social scientific fact in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century China, in this respect, was an event of monumental significance particularly because of its epistemological, cultural, and political ramifications. Specifically, the new paradigm of knowledge production and circulation associated with social survey research not only enabled new ways of reasoning, seeing, and knowing, but it also entailed a new mode of being in the community. In other words, social surveys became a political necessity in this context not only because they produced empirical knowledge of the social world for the state, but also because they provided new specifications for how individuals and groups should relate to the state and to one another. And since social facts produced by surveys are, by their nature, prescriptive rather than merely descriptive, these facts never just innocently disclosed the nation to itself, as they seemed to promise, but actually constituted arguments about the nation and prescriptions for social life. For this reason, despite the trust we have placed in the modern notion of facticity, the history of the production of social facts in China was inseparable, as I will show, from the nation's political and cultural history.
Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more