Understanding China: Social Science That Starts from Practice
The field of Chinese studies both inside and outside China has long relied on theories from the modern West and has not been able to formulate its own body of theory. In the opinion of this author, mainstream modern Western theory generally starts out of the construction of man as Rational Man and takes that as the premise for all knowledge. In recent years, Western theorists have themselves raised a number of questions about this kind of “Enlightenment modernity.” In the field of sociology, Pierre Bourdieu has proposed that theory be based on practice. That view actually comes close to the distinctive epistemological method that evolved out of the Chinese revolutionary movement after its failure in the period of the “Great Revolution”: asking that knowledge proceed from practice, thence to be raised to the level of theoretical concept, and then to be returned once more to practice to be tested for its validity. In terms of its method of investigation, that epistemological tradition approximates the “participant observation” method of modern anthropology. In terms of scholarly research, it was exemplified to a considerable extent by the kind of modern Chinese sociological research undertaken by Fei Xiaotong. It is precisely this tradition that shows us the way ahead: to build social science and theory that starts from practice.