Building on a creative synthesis of sociology and anthropology, community studies represented an early attempt in the indigenization of social science under non-Western settings. In this paper, I review the historical development of community studies in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Yenching School of Sociology had actively promoted the field study of local communities as a viable way of understanding Chinese society and culture. With the suspension of sociology in mainland China, the tradition of community studies was kept alive but significantly transformed in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Local, expatriate and émigré sociologists and anthropologists utilized the two cities as substitutes for traditional Chinese society and as social laboratories for charting modernization and social change. With the expansion of higher education, the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a proliferation of field research on rural and urban communities in Taiwan and Hong Kong. While community studies in Chinese contexts were devoted to the broader aim of indigenization or sinicization, institutional building and theoretical breakthroughs were often dependent on Western connections rather than the anti-hegemonic initiatives of non-Western sociologists.
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In 1966-1969, the government offered a sizeable grant of over one million Hong Kong dollars for the CUHK to set up the Social Survey Research Centre for a large-scale sample survey of urban family life. The purpose of the Family Life Survey was to study the impacts of industrialization on the family, and on that basis to improve welfare services in Hong Kong. The survey was directed by an American sociologist Robert E. Mitchell. While no local scholars were involved, a total of 400 students from the CUHK, the University of Hong Kong and Baptist College interviewed nearly 4000 people. As CUHK’s sociology department was the major base of operation, the survey offered an opportunity to build its academic reputation.135 It was followed by similar projects aiming to provide basic information about social conditions, covering for instance housing and hawker problems.136 Following the same impetus, the University of Hong Kong founded the Centre of Asian Studies in 1967 to address a whole range of urban issues, though its focus wasnotalwaysstrictlysociological.137Mostoftheselarge-scalesurveysweresponsoredby international agencies such as the Asia Foundation, Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. The Family Life Survey was supported by the Ford Foundation to further expand its scope and interview 11,000 respondents in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei and Malaysia.138
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- Chinese society and culture
- community studies
- sociology and anthropology
- transnational connections