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b1919 Paradoxes of China’s Prosperity: Political Dilemmas and Global Implications
Chapter 7
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by NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE on 10/26/17. For personal use only.
Politics Against Science: Reflections
on the Study of Chinese Politics
in Contemporary China
In a country where domestic politics had been in command since
1949 and have retained a prominent place in the post-reform era,
the study of domestic politics in contemporary China, as opposed
to studies of international and foreign-country politics, is, ironically, underdeveloped.1 Even insofar as the historical turning point
in 1978 that marked the beginning of the post-Mao era of China’s
shift of so-called “national focus” from class struggles to economic
development, it seems that few among the Chinese elite feel that
there is contradiction or incompatibility with its economy-centered
governance when the Chinese regimes repeatedly “emphasize
politics” (jiang zhengzhi).2 Politics still prevail in the China that
seeks material accomplishments; this does not imply, however, the
scholastic accomplishment of the political study in China. Rather,
the dominance of politics in social life and its penetrating ramifications in academic studies often prevent, or at the very least impede,
the development of the study of domestic politics from becoming
an academic enterprise. How has the study of Chinese politics been
able to develop in China during recent decades? Is the study as an
academic field of political science able to match the status of China
as a political superpower in the world, particularly in comparison
to the study of domestic politics in other world powers, such as in
the United States? Why is the scholarship of its own national politics underdeveloped while China constantly emphasizes politics,
rigorously seeks leadership in world politics, and invests in the
promotion of research of sciences? What does this contradiction
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reveal about our understanding of both political science as an academic discipline and Chinese politics as a subject of scholarly scrutiny? Lastly, what programs would work well to promote the
development of the study of Chinese politics in China as a field of
political science?
In an effort to search for answers to these questions, this article
is a preliminary investigation and an intellectual reflection of the
state of the field of Chinese domestic political study conducted in
the Chinese language in mainland China. In particular, it focuses
on the imbalance between the significance of Chinese politics in
domestic and global life, both real and reflective, and the underdevelopment of the study of Chinese politics in the academic
world. It also focuses on the contradiction between politics as a
subject of social science scholarship and politics as a factor of
hegemonic intervention in such scientific enquiries. It argues that,
with political science being generally backward in comparison to
other social science and humanity disciplines, such as economics,
sociology, and history, the study of domestic politics of China is an
extremely underdeveloped domain of political science in China,
and ironically, that the state of Chinese political studies is in sharp
contrast with the state of politics prevailing in the Chinese academic world. The lack of academic autonomy makes this scientific
field a highly sensitive one, and even risky and prohibited; the
examination and questioning of the state, regime, and public
power are often overwhelmed by the very subjects of scrutiny
themselves. This contradiction suggests, therefore, that scholarly
independence and academic professionalization, rather than anticosmopolitan and anti-globalization sinonization (Zhongguo hua)
or indigenization (bentu hua), is the way to promote the study of
Chinese politics in China.
In the pages that follow, this paper will first assess the state of
the field of the study of Chinese politics in mainland China, and
will then move to an analysis of the factors that hinder the intellectual development of this scholarship. In making the argument
that political factors are the major hindrance to the development of
the scholarship of Chinese politics in China, the article will turn to
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discussions of both academic highlights in the research on Chinese
politics and the intellectual autonomy of doing such research.
Overall, this article attempts to call for attention to the intellectual
and practical importance of the study of Chinese politics in China’s
nation-building, identity search, and modernity, and to stimulate
the discussion of the state of this scholarship for the purpose of
developing the study of Chinese politics in the Sinophonic world.
7.1 Underdevelopment of the Study of Chinese
Politics in Contemporary China
In China, a political superpower, political science had been absent
since 1949, or at the latest since 1952, when the “adjustments of
universities and departments” (yuanxi tiaozheng) took place partially for the purpose of pushing the new party- state’s control into
higher education.3 In recent years, due to the efforts of academics
and the impacts of globalization, there has been an improvement in
the development of political science in China, particularly in the
subfields concerning China’s relations to the world, such as international relations and foreign policy.4 The study of Chinese domestic politics, however, is far behind, though some preliminary efforts
have begun to appear in making the study a subfield distinguished
from others.5 Even these efforts, however, have done more to demonstrate the immaturity of this study, rather than its development.
Attempts at improvement often suffer from a shortage of wellgrounded empirical investigations, due to questionable research
methodologies, weak attempts at conceptualization and theorybuilding, and from the exogenous troubles concerning agendasetting and the endogenous problems regarding disciplinary
norms. In every sense, it is impossible at this stage that the scholars
of domestic politics of China are able to edit a series as their counterparts in China’s foreign policy have done. In this section, this
essay selects three parameters of “hardware” to measure the most
significant factors that instantiate the underdevelopment of the
study of domestic Chinese politics. These parameters are put in
unsystematic comparisons (rather than systematic comparisons,
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which are beyond the scope of this article) with the study of
domestic politics in some English- speaking nations, particularly
the study of American politics in the United States. These three
parameters involve human capital, institutional resource, and outputs of production respectively, and they are primarily concerned
with: how many scholars develop their academic careers based on
their research on domestic politics (Chinese domestic politics in
this case); how the major higher education institutions develop
their curriculum on Chinese politics; and how academic journals
cover domestic political studies.
Contemporary political science, developed in the United States
predominantly since the end of the Second World War, is, as we
know, commonly divided into four major fields: American politics,
comparative politics, international relations, and political theory.6
American politics is often the best developed field of political science, both in terms of the standard of its scholarship and in terms
of its social and academic influence; for example, its influence over
the field of comparative politics has been substantial, and even
“revolutionary,” at various stages of this younger, sister field’s
development of scholarship.7 This “hegemony” of the study of
domestic politics is actually not uncommon in many other countries, as in the cases of British politics in the United Kingdom and
Canadian politics in Canada. This hegemony is also inevitably
reflected in the human capital invested in these different fields of
political science, as the number of scholars in American Politics
roughly equals, if not much more surpasses, the number of scholars working in each of the other three fields, which means that
domestic politics deserves academic attention equal to what the
study of other countries’ politics together may receive. According
to the APSA’s (American Political Science Association) updated
statistics of members’ distribution of major research fields, 20% of
all APSA members work on American Politics, and 22% on
Comparative Politics, roughly equal to each other as both are the
largest fields of the entire discipline of political science.8
In universities, therefore, faculty members specializing in their
domestic politics often comprise the largest group in a department
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 149
of political science (or of government, as exemplified by Harvard,
or of politics, as at Princeton), and the courses about domestic
politics are usually listed in prominent positions of curriculums in
which they form the basis for beginner, mandatory courses. A website survey conducted by my research assistants shows that, in a
hundred American universities that were ranked best by the journal American News & World Report in 2006, all departments of
political science offer a fundamental first-year course on American
politics.9 In Canada, the situation is closely similar, as courses like
“Introduction to Canadian Politics” are always offered as the most
fundamental ones, and the composition of faculty members in different fields of political science is similar to that in the United
States, except in Canada the field of “American politics” is, of
course, replaced by “Canadian politics.” Generally speaking, there
is no such university in the United States or Canada, as long as it
has a department of political science (in fact, in countries like the
U.S. and Canada, almost all universities have a department of
political science, though some smaller universities combine the
discipline of political science with other related disciplines into one
department), that exists without professors specializing in their
own domestic politics, even though such a department can be so
small that it does not have professors in other fields of political science. To provide an extreme example, imagining an American
university (or a Canadian university) which had such a tiny
department of political science that it had only one faculty member,
there is no doubt that the faculty would primarily specialize in
studies of American politics (or Canadian politics).
By contrast, it is still uncommon practice in Chinese higher
education institutions to offer political science courses on Chinese
politics; with only a small number of exceptions, there is no such
field of Chinese domestic politics in academic and educational
institutions. Moreover, there are a few departments of political science as a whole in China, as most such departments prefer to be
entitled “public administration.” In a department or research institute of political science and public administration, teachers and
researchers specializing in Chinese domestic politics are often
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outnumbered by those specializing in Western and ancient Chinese
political thought, in public administration, and, growingly in recent
years, in international relations and foreign policy.10 This differs
significantly from the China focus in other social science and
humanity disciplines in mainland China. In economics, sociology,
history, and literature, for example, China experts often comprise a
large group in comparison to their colleagues focusing on other
countries whenever this kind of national specialization applies.11
Investment of human capital in research, after all, does not necessarily mean the prosperity of academic scholarship, as the latter
must come with the flourishing of education and, more directly,
relevant publications. Thus we have the third parameter to measure the development of the study of Chinese politics: the coverage
of the study by major academic journals. In the countries like the
United States, the division between academic and non-academic
publications is relatively clear, and, more and more, the publication
of peer-reviewed journals has become one of the most significant
indictors of both the quantitative and qualitative development of
the scholarship of an academic discipline. There are, therefore,
numerous journals of political science edited and published in the
United States, and more significantly, they usually devote more
(for many, perhaps too much more) than a quarter of their space to
American politics, one of the four major fields of the discipline.12 In
addition, some leading journals exclusively focus on the study of
American politics, as some others focus exclusively on other fields,
such as comparative politics or international relations. Apparently,
numerous articles are published through these avenues on various
subjects of American politics. The situation in Canada is similar
concerning the study of Canadian politics, though, due to the
much smaller size of the population and the academia there, the
numbers of journals and articles are fewer than their U.S. counterparts. However, this does not affect the primary position of the
study of domestic Canadian politics vis-à-vis other political science
fields, nor the prosperity of political science as a discipline vis-à-vis
other disciplines of social sciences.
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 151
Peer-review journals are a relatively new phenomenon in
Chinese academia, particularly regarding social sciences and
humanities. However, now there are some journals claiming “blind
reference,” although few of them specialize in political science.
Those journals specializing in political science, even accounting for
those that are non-peer-reviewed, are actually few in number,
despite the fact that the book and periodical publishing industry
has been in prosperity for decades. Zhengzhi xue yanjiu (Research of
Political Science), edited by the Institute of Political Science of the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is probably the only one with
“zhengzhi xue” (political science) in the journal title, and without
doubt, there is not a single journal with a keyword of “Chinese
politics” in its title to publish original research articles.13 The content analysis of this leading journal, Zhengzhi xue yanjiu, further
demonstrates the underdevelopment of the study of Chinese politics in China. In my survey of the journal from 1996 to 2005, with
some issues being missed, statistics show that, quality of the articles’ scholarship aside, the quantity of publications on Chinese
politics is at best occasional and dispersive, far from being substantial enough to shape a distinguished field of academic research.14
While it is unfair to say that the academic study of domestic
Chinese politics in China is completely blank, the evidence above
has suggested that this field is weak and underdeveloped, or, at the
very best, still in a burgeoning stage. Curious, however, is that even
in comparison to the study of Chinese politics in the United States,
which is a comparatively small field of research, the study of
Chinese domestic politics in China is still more undeveloped
within the three parameters discussed above. The publication of
Journal of Chinese Political Science in the United States is already a
good example of this comparison, since, as indicated before, there
is not a single Chinese-language academic journal on Chinese
politics in China. The special issues of the journal devoted to “The
State of the Field: Political Science and Chinese Political Studies”
have further demonstrated and reviewed the development of the
field in the English-speaking world, mainly in the United States,
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and, while a relatively underdeveloped field in the entire discipline of American political science, it is already at a level which
the study of Chinese politics in China is unable to match in its current incarnation.15
7.2 The Politics that Requires “Study”
but Refuses Scrutiny
One may argue that there are many courses in Chinese universities
on current Chinese politics, for instance, prominent curriculum
courses such as “Zhonggong dangshi” (the history of the Chinese
Communist Party), “Makesi zhuyi zhengzhi jingji xue” (Marxist
political economy), “Kexue shehui zhuyi” (scientific socialism), and
“Guoji gongyun shi” (the history of international Communist movements), which have for a long time composed a major and required
part of college education for all students crossing disciplines,
including natural sciences, engineering, medical school, and the
like.16 These courses touched upon different aspects of contemporary Chinese politics in varying degrees. In recent years, more
updated courses in this line have been introduced into university
curriculum, which include, as students call them, “Mao gai” (as an
abbreviation of Mao Zedong sixiang gailun, or Overview of Mao
Zedong Thought) and “Mao, Deng, san” (an abbreviation of Mao
Zedong sixiang, Deng Xiaoping lilun, he sange daibiao zhongyao sixiang,
or Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, and “Three
Represents” Important Thought).17 In a similar vein, journals of
social sciences publish a quantity of articles on the timely topics of
politics, which are often entitled with keywords such as “xuexi”
(studies, learning) and “tihui” (seemingly there is no proper English
word to exactly translate it), and they are often formatted in newspaper essays rather than scholastic papers.18 In my above discussion they are not considered publications of domestic political
studies, but some may dispute my criteria and argue that they
should be treated as “studies of Chinese politics.” With that line of
reasoning, the study of Chinese politics in China can be argued to
be flourishing, with numerous course offers and publications.
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 153
This confusion may be partially caused by the linguistic ambiguity of the meanings of the word “study” — in English it can
mean both learning (or acquisition of existing knowledge) and
research (or exploration of new knowledge), while its Chinese
counterpart “xuexi” has a stronger implication of knowledge acquisition than exploration. This lexical explanation is obviously superficial, however, as there are substantial differences between the
courses like “Mao, Deng, san” and the articles as “tihui,” on one
hand, and political science courses and publications on the other
hand. In my view, the most significant difference lies in their relationship with practical politics, especially with political authorities
of government and state, as we will briefly discuss below.
Political writings vary in type, and, roughly speaking, there are
four major categories of political writings that we can observe in
the differentiation among political writing as practical politics,
political writing as reflective opinions, political writing as policy
discussions, and political writing as scientific scholarship. The first
category includes all those writings of political practitioners for
various political purposes, such as policy statements, governmental documents, politicians’ speeches, and partisan platforms.19
Their formulation is a political process, and they are the subjects of
scrutiny for both public opinions and political science scholarship.20 Then there are political opinions on various public issues,
usually independent from political practitioners (though this is
often not the case in China where the Party-state makes every
effort to dominate and even control public opinions), and they
form the second category of political writings which is often called
“popular political writings” and here I term as “reflective political
opinions.”21 Both forms of political writings are significant; actually, in real life they are often much more influential than academic
studies, and they could be high-quality intellectual works (just as
scholarly writings could be in poor quality). However, that will not
allow them to qualify as part of “political science.” The second
type of political writings is parallel to political science studies in
terms of their similarity as intellectual reflections of real politics,
but it has different social and intellectual functions. This “popular”
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writing about politics as a genre of intellectual activity follows a
distinguished style that the academic publications on politics will
generally not adopt, while, on the other hand, such writings
should not be mixed with the first type of political writings as
political practice.
Back to the Chinese situation, those “xuexi” and “tihui” articles
at best belong to the second category, if they apply critical thinking.
More often than not as we have seen in China, however, they simply endorse government statements. In this sense, they are a special genre of political writings that functions to elaborate political
documents without criticism and reflection. This can perhaps be
termed “affiliated governmental statements” if there is a need to
distinguish it from authentic government documents. We may not
agree with an old-fashion term that called these writings of education and publication “brainwashing,” but it definitely does little for
brainstorming in comprehending both the nature and operations of
politics. It works more as “thought work” than as training for
critical thinking:22 it is an indoctrination of rather than an introduction to politics.23 Partisan political values dominate such education
and publications, in a comparison to political science studies,
which struggle against any such kind of domination.
Generally, in contemporary China, such values and the education of endorsing them are, to a large extent, free from political or
intellectual challenges in the state-sponsored educational institutions and research organizations.24 In recent years, this tendency
not to question has restored itself even to the degree that government-sponsored political campaigns to “study” Party-state documents and Party-state leaders’ speeches have reemerged in Chinese
educational and academic life. It is, so to speak, “politics per se as
political science,” as political leaders are leading political thinkers
in the way that is opposite to the Platonian ideal: they gain the
prestige of being “philosophers” simply because they are kings
who have political power, not vice versa. The students of politics in
such circumstances “study” — in the meaning of knowledge acquisition and value indoctrination — the leaders’ instructions as
political scientists are trained with the reading of Plato and Hobbes.
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 155
The fundamental difference here, however, is not about whose
works the students have to read; the critical matter concerns how
they read and treat the works. For people of science, to determine
what is scientific and what is not is simple and clear: all conclusions of scientific studies can be discussed, criticized, argued, and
counter-argued.25 If there are no such discussions, criticism, or
debates, for whatever reason, there cannot be such a thing as a
scholarship of “political studies.” The Chinese way of mixing
“affiliated governmental statements” with political science research
highlights not only the absence of “reflective public opinions” in
China’s public discussions, but also the poverty of scholarship in
the study of domestic politics.
Another kind of confusion occurring in reform and post-reform
China concerns the differentiation between policy research and
political science scholarship. In post- Mao China, policy consultation organizations began to appear to support governmental policy
making,26 and the emergence of such “think tank” organizations,
although a relatively new phenomenon in China, has developed
very quickly, thereby attracting money, brains, and the spotlight.
Thus we come to the third category of political writing which is
policy discussion in search of practical solutions for public issues.
This kind of discussion, as well demonstrated by the rise of think
tanks and policy elite in the United States, usually aims to make
itself adopted by government as policy suggestions, but it differs
from governmental policy statements because it is not official policy.
Rather, it often works to criticize and remedy the weaknesses of
official policy [34, 35]. It also differentiates itself from “reflective
public opinions” as it contributes “constructive” solutions to public
issues. Furthermore, it is not part of political science scholarship, as
its fundamental approach to politics is pragmatic in the sense of
serving political and governance practice, while political science
scholarship goes beyond such practical concerns. In China, however, there seems to be no discernable boundary between policy
discussion and scholarly studies, even in those relatively welldeveloped fields of political science such as international relations
and foreign policy studies, let alone the study of domestic politics of
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China which is underdeveloped as a field.27 This policy-scholarship
proximity in political science studies is not necessarily negative to
either policy studies or academic research, but the connections and
interactions between them must not grow to the degree that policy
studies are simply regarded as a replacement of political science
scholarship. In other words, the flourishing of policy studies in
today’s China must not be perceived as a conclusion that scholarship on the study of Chinese politics is also prosperous.
More importantly, policy study institutes in China are mostly
affiliated with government, often as a branch of the Party-state
organizations. So-called “minjian” (nongovernmental) research
organizations began to appear in recent years, but the resulting
hostile, non-democratic political circumstances created by the
Party-state says more about political interventions in policy studies
rather than a relaxation of public discussions.28 We may assume
that these Party-state affiliated policy research institutes are also
doing some scholastic researches, but that would further contribute to a lesser independence of the study of Chinese politics as an
academic field.
The confusions discussed above, to my point of view, point to
the fundamental question regarding the relationships between
politics as a practice of power and politics as a subject of pondering, between government authorities and academic autonomy, and
between state penetration and scholarly development. In contemporary China, political intervention has always been a critical problem for all disciplines of humanities, social sciences, and even
natural sciences, often due to the violation of scientific norms by
Party-state power, although there has been a decline of such intervention from Mao’s years to the reform era.29 The totalitarian institution established by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949
features Party-state penetration into society and an official ideology as a doctrine to monopolize the explanatory power of everything ranging from political issues to the entire universe [41, 42].
This feature of the monopolization of not only political power but
also of “truth” is fundamentally anti-science, if we agree with Max
Weber who emphasizes the “incompleteness” of scientific research
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 157
in terms of discovering “truth”, and that this epistemological feature
allows for debate and progress within scholarship [43]. Various
norms, measures, and mechanisms, therefore, have been developed
in contemporary China to institutionalize such state penetration
and “truth” monopolization in every aspect of social life, including education and scientific research. The entire discipline of political science was thus omitted in Mao’s China with this totalitarian
tradition.30
When political science came back to China in the reform era,
history saw a transition of Chinese politics from the monopolization of everything including “truth” to the monopolization of, primarily, political power, or a transition from totalitarianism to
authoritarianism.31 This change allows much space for natural
sciences, humanities, and many disciplines and fields of social sciences, but not so much space for that research focusing on the
political power itself. As we have seen from other parts of the
world, authoritarian politics is hostile to the study of national
domestic politics,32 and China is simply not an exception in this
regard. Here intellectual study of domestic Chinese politics is still
the most vulnerable to political intervention, as it by nature scrutinizes the state that imposes such intervention. As scholarship, it
investigates the operations of the state and regime, and examines
and questions political power, which is an unwelcome criticism for
the political power that holds the monopoly. As residual institutions of totalitarian control over education and scientific research
continue,33 many of the confusions discussed above can be
regarded as “institutional innovations” of political authoritarianism against any scientific scrutiny upon itself.
7.3 Struggling for Intellectual Autonomy:
Indigenization and Professionalization
Authoritarian politics, in comparison with totalitarian politics,
allows some space for political studies, and various elements that
range from social diversity and financial abundance to intellectual
consciousness and the limited market of ideas also help to promote
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the study of political science in today’s China, including the study
of Chinese domestic politics. The Chinese academics disagree,
however, over how to develop political science in general and the
study of Chinese domestic politics in particular. Some emphasize
the dominant and even guiding role of communist ideology that
should be further and better reflected in political studies, and this
line of reasoning aligns itself with the governmental programs of
“Marxist political science with Chinese characteristics.”34 Some
others call for “sinonization”, “indigenization” and “localization”
of political science in China in the form of resistance against
Western influences in the study of Chinese politics.35 To provide an
alternative way to their ideas, here I would suggest “open-minded
independence of scholarship” as a major program to promote the
development of political science in China in general and the study
of Chinese domestic politics in China in particular. With this program of scholarship, “independence” means professional autonomy resistant to non-academic interventions, firstly to the
interventions from state power and political authorities, and “open
mind” refers to scholastic tolerance within the discipline for a
diversity of approaches, theories, and methodologies regardless
their cultural, ethnic, ideological, political, and any other orientations. This attitude does not deny the significance of Marxism to
political studies, nor does it refuse other non-Marxist Western theories for their applications in the study of Chinese politics; it calls for
“professionalization” of academic research, while it also urges
“localization” of political science in China in its fundamental
meaning of studying Chinese domestic politics which is local to the
nation of China. There will be a long way to go for the Chinese students of political science to develop a discipline of political studies
containing a research agenda with that much attention given to the
study of domestic politics of China. It will be equally challenging
to build a tradition of research containing a rich diversity of theories and methodologies all independent from state ideology and
governmental policies. Two steps, however, are the most urgent
and decisive in order to march toward that direction, which will be
briefly discussed in the rest of this section.
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 159
The first priority in building the discipline of political science,
with the study of Chinese domestic politics as one of the most
important fields therein, is academic professionalization. Here
“professionalization” is understood as the professional autonomy
and academic independence of scholarly activities from other nonacademic intervening factors, which may include commercialization, populism, and, primarily, state power intervention. Further,
such professionalization should be institutionalized at various levels, rather than being merely reflected in individual academics’
professional ethics though this individual factor is also very important. In the institutional meaning of “professionalization,” the program, I would argue, concerns, first of all, how political scientists
organize their research and educational activities, and, at the same
time, differentiate their identity as scholars of political studies from
other groups working on politics either at a practical or intellectual
level. The university system naturally stands at the center of this
institutionalization of divisions of labor between academics and
other professions of a political nature, if the scholars of political science regard themselves first as scholars similar to their counterparts
in, say, natural sciences, rather than first as someone simply in proximity to politics. In the United States and, generally, the Western
industrial world, the university system provides the major institutional hub for political science studies, while other kinds of political
commentators are usually affiliated with non- university organizations. Although the growing prominence of universities is argued
as a cause of the declining number of great thinkers in the Western
tradition [53], the enormous contributions of the Western university
system to human progress, especially to higher education and scientific research, are beyond dispute.36 What is relevant here is that,
as the almost exclusively leading organization of human education,
the university system that originated from thirteenth century Italy
and France has developed, and now offers institutional guarantees
to safeguard academic autonomy, which is integral in an industrial
society for academics’ accomplishments of scholarship.
That partly explains why today in the United States, where
contemporary political science is prosperous, the overwhelming
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majority of political scientists are affiliated with universities rather
than other research organizations. Standing prominently in the latter category are think tanks, but, as one of their major focuses is
policies rather than the scholarship of politics, their contributions
to political science are tremendously limited, and the size of such
organizations as well as the number of the political scientists affiliated with the organizations are much smaller than universities and
their faculty. The current institutional infrastructure of political
studies in China, as we have previously discussed, is greatly concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party and government
organizations, which institutionally reduced the autonomy and
independence of the scholarship of political science in general, and
of Chinese politics in particular. The institutional design in which
studies are organized by research institutions of the ruling party
and government may empower political scientists in several
aspects, such as the convenience of getting access to research data
and the ability to influence policy-making through institutional
connections, but it nurtures a culture that equates political authorities to scholarly authorities of political studies.
In addition, one must be aware of the absence of party competitions for governmental power when talking about the Party-state
affiliated research institutions in China. The Chinese university
system is also affiliated to and run by the government, as university presidents and party secretaries are, first of all, party-state
cadres.37 Despite this institutional similarity between non-university research organizations and universities, this author still
believes that greater space for academic autonomy can exist in
universities than in party-state sponsored policy research institutes. For this article, it can be said that when the study of Chinese
politics in China is dominated by universities with academic independence and free spirit, and not by research institutions affiliated
with political parties or governments, then the studies of Chinese
politics in China could possibly have the basic features of social
science studies.
The other significant step which is equally decisive for the institutionalization of professional autonomy, and especially for the
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 161
promotion of political study scholarship, concerns “internal institutional building,” by which I mean the norms, principles, and
procedures that govern qualifications and assessments of human
resources, research projects, scholarly publications, and educational offers in the study of Chinese politics. A perhaps superficial
issue in this regard is about the format and professionalism of
research articles: in China there are still numerous articles published in leading political science journals like Zhengzhixue yanjiu
that lack any format for academic reference — in other words, no
any footnotes or bibliography. A scholar would not argue that this
is a purely trivial problem, because reference notes not only indicate the source of information and make arguments with evidence,
but they also ensure the continuation of intellectual development
which allows for the accumulation and progress of knowledge.38 A
more significant issue concerns the assessment and evaluation of
scholarship: It is not the government or the ruling political party
that has the authority to assess and evaluate the quality of scholarship. This is easy to understand in a system with academic autonomy and freedom, but it is definitely not natural in contemporary
China. In a similar vein, financial sponsors or university administrators are also unable to do such assessment and evaluation. To
establish the peer-review system in China is not some form of
“Westernization;” it is rather an urgent step of “localization” and
professionalization of scholarship.
There are many other tasks that should be performed in order
to establish the institutional infrastructures inevitable for the
development of scientific research. Academic journals are among
these, and the publication of book reviews by academic journals
must also be accounted for. In this aspect, those norms and procedures practiced in the English-language academic world have their
problems, but they are definitely better than the practice without
consistent academic norms and procedures as that is observed in
today’s China.
All of these are common for any discipline of natural sciences,
humanities and social sciences in industrialized nations, which follow similar academic norms and ethics. In the Chinese context,
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however, it seems much easier for natural sciences to do that, as
nobody disputes against those norms and further, research agenda
and research issues calling for “indigenization” of physics, chemistry, or biology, even though one may argue that Chinese people are
biologically with Chinese characteristics. Even in humanities, one
rarely hears something like “anti-Westernization” or “indigenization” of Chinese historical research or Chinese literature studies.
The uniqueness of political studies in today’s China, as I have tried
to demonstrate, is the very weak presence of the study of domestic
Chinese politics. If “localization” is necessary for Chinese political
science, isn’t it the most urgent task to focus on Chinese politics,
the “local” politics of China in comparison with foreign and global
ones?
Being autonomous and independent, in my view, does not signify the exclusion of external influences. To develop the study of
Chinese politics, the students of this field can learn from sister
fields, such as Chinese foreign policy studies in China, and sister
disciplines such as economics, sociology, and history in China.
In fact, the studies of political sociology and modern Chinese history are able to offer good examples to the study of Chinese politics. In a similar vein, the resistance to learning from Western/
American studies of Chinese politics will not help improve the
Chinese study of Chinese politics either. “Indigenization” should
not mean “anti-foreignism”; rather, there are three excellent examples demonstrating how foreign influence enriches political studies
in the United States or enlightening how China may learn from
international experience in terms of contributing to political science. The first example is the American response to Tocqueville’s
study of American democracy, which is regarded by the highly
indigenized academics on American politics as an indispensible
classic [56]. Another example is the study of peasants: James Scott
and Samuel Popkin, two leading American scholars in the regard,
have respectively investigated peasant politics of Southeast Asia
(Malaysia for Scott, and Vietnam for Popkin), and have made great
contributions to comparative politics through their contending
theories, “the moral economy” and the “rational peasants.”39 As a
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 163
nation with a long history, rich culture, and the dynamic politics of
peasants, will China contribute some more in this regard? A third
example comes from the study of Latin American politics, which
has contributed much to the international scholarship of comparative political studies, with the theories such as “bureaucratic authoritarianism” and “dependent development.”40 Many important
findings of these were achieved and published by Latin American
scholars who lived in their home countries, but they were quickly
accepted worldwide. These works were translated into English and
have been widely read in U.S. classrooms of political science. Are
they achievements of anti-Western “indigenization” of the study of
Latin American politics?
7.4 Concluding Remarks
This chapter has above tried to make three arguments concerning
the development of the scholastic study of domestic Chinese politics in contemporary China: first, the field of the study of Chinese
domestic politics as a branch of political science in contemporary
China is underdeveloped; second, the major obstacle for the field’s
scientific development is political intervention; and, third, academic autonomy & institutionalized professionalism are most
needed for improving the scholarship of political science discipline. In making the first argument, this paper has compared the
study of Chinese politics in China with the study of American
politics in the United States, and found that the former is far
behind the latter in terms of human resources, courses offered, and
academic publications. As the latter enjoys an intellectual hegemony among various fields of political science in the United States, a
country which keeps a global leading position in the research of
political science, the study of Chinese politics in China is, by contrast, at best a research and educational field at its primitive stage
of underdevelopment.
Meanwhile, a Party-state dominated enterprise of political
writings has been prosperous, and, in the Chinese context, it is
often, intentionally or not, misunderstood as “political science.”
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This article has identified the intellectual and political blurring
between politics and science as a major obstacle for the studies of
Chinese politics in China from becoming a scientific, independent,
and mature field of scholarship, as this ambiguity allows a large
space for political interventions into academic studies. For clarifying the boundaries between academic studies of politics as political
science and other publications on politics, the paper has tried to
distinguish four categories of political writings, and discovered
two non-democratic traditions that have been shaped in contemporary China overwhelming the study of political science. From
totalitarian China continues a tradition of official ideology intervening in all sciences, so that Party-state leaders are authorities of
political thinking, and political indoctrination has been worked out
to applaud and “study” (or xuexi) Party-state’s political statements.
With the transition to market-authoritarian China, Party-state
sponsored policy research arises, and this new tradition also helps
much to marginalize academic research on Chinese politics. With
both traditions, politics takes command of political writings, and
political inquiry, if there is any, is subordinated to state power and
official ideology, either voluntarily or involuntarily. As politics
requires intellectual subordination but refuses scientific scrutiny,
and as the subject of political inquiry becomes the master of political thinking, the study of politics as political science has no space
to grow. The second argument of this article is, therefore, that
political intervention hinders the development of political science
in China.
Thus comes the third conclusion: the improvement of political
inquiry requires academic autonomy, independence, and freedom, which can be partially and practically gained through the
establishment of scholarly professionalism. The paper suggests
“open-minded independence of scholarship” as the direction
toward which political science in general and the study of Chinese
politics in particular can be promoted, as this spirit allows academic diversities within the discipline while narrowing down the
back door from which non-academic, primarily political, interventions otherwise reach in. This argument emphasizes universities
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 165
as the institutional bases of modern academic research, and it
further stresses professional norms and standards. Political science as the scientific political inquiry must follow the “scientific”
standards and make theoretical relevance to the scholarship of the
entire world’s academic community, not simply to a country with
its characteristics, and thus the scientific inquiry is an open process, and does not have national boundaries, such as Western
mathematics and Eastern mathematics, or American physics and
Chinese physics. In this sense, “indigenization” or “localization”
must channel its energy into the development of the study of local
politics, which is Chinese politics for Chinese and in China. As
those examples such as the study of Latin American politics has
demonstrated, the hope to create a “Chinese school” of political
science lies here rather than with the rejection of foreign influences in political studies.
From both the practical and epistemological points of view, the
importance of Chinese politics as a subject of social science is selfevident. For political science as a discipline, the poverty of comprehension of Chinese politics undermines our understandings of
human political phenomena. For China studies as an interdisciplinary endeavor, research on Chinese politics is an indispensable element for a better grasping of China’s economic, social, and cultural
developments. From the perspective of practice, the rise of China
has attracted worldwide attention, and China’s unfinished economic, social and political transitions demand tremendous intellectual support. The study of Chinese politics has been developing
rapidly in many countries, but so far, not in China.41 This is a great
irony, not for other countries, but for the Chinese nation. Is that possible that one day the Chinese language will become the primary
language of academic publications on Chinese politics? Is that possible that one day China’s homeland will become the major venue
where the study of Chinese politics is programmed, funded, conducted, and taught? Is that possible that China will contribute some
influential ideas, concepts, theories, and “schools” to the global
study of Chinese politics and, more generally, to comparative
politics and the entire discipline of political science? This article’s
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answer is optimistic and confident, but it maintains that the precondition must be met first, which is: Chinese politics is a subject of
critical thinking and independent inquiry, rather than the guide of
political thinking and “academic” research. Political science is a science of politics; it is not the politics of science.
Notes
1. For the dominance of domestic politics in Chinese life in Mao’s years,
see, for example, [1, 2]. Here, following the classic tradition of
Aristotle, “politics” is mainly understood as “the art and science of
government,” though it opens to other domains of human conflicts.
2. For the “sanjiang” (three emphases, or three talks) campaign that
included “jiang zhengzhi” (emphasizing, or talking, politics) as a priority in post-reform Chinese politics, see, for example, [3, 4].
3. This “adjustment” campaign is still an under-researched historical
event in the history of the People’s Republic of China, though in recent
years there has been a growing number of articles and essays discussing it. For the negative impacts of the “adjustment” over higher education institutions in general and over political science in particular, see,
for example, Song Ni, “Gaoxiao sangshi zizhuquan: 1952nian yuanxi
tiaozheng huimou [Higher education institutions lost autonomy: retrospect of the 1952 adjustments of universities and departments],”
http://book.people.com.cn/GB/180741/11199266.html, posted
March 23, 2010; accessed March 18, 2011. For the pre-1949 efforts of
discipline building of political science in China, see, for instance, [5].
Also, see [6]; and He Zijian, “Beida bainian yu zhengzhixue de
fazhan” [One hundred years of Beijing University and the development of political science], Dushu, March 1999.
4. For a Chinese overview of the study of China’s foreign policy and
international relations as an academic field in China, see, for example,
[7], a series of 8 vols.
5. For example, several conferences and roundtable forums were organized to generally discuss “Chinese political studies,” which included:
“Roundtable: Political Science and Chinese Political Studies,” Fudan
University, Shanghai, March 29, 2009; International conference
“Chinese Political Research: Theories and Methods,” Nankai
University, Tianjin, September 25, 2010.
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 167
6. See, for example, [8].
7. Ibid, particularly p. 39, where a table summarizing the evolution of
comparative politics in the United States indicates American politics
as the major intellectual source for two “scientific revolutions” that
comparative politics has ever experienced.
8. http://www.apsanet.org/imgtest/IA3.pdf, accessed April 26, 2011.
The percentages of distribution of other fields are: international politics, 19%; methodology, 6%; public administration, 5%; political theory, 11%; public law, 5%; public policy, 12%.
9. The survey was conducted in the academic year of 2009–10 by Gabriel
Botel, a MA student, and Nanchu He, a Ph.D. student, both with the
Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria, Victoria,
British Columbia, Canada. Their division of labor followed the line
that Botel searched the U.S. universities’ websites, while He did those
university websites in China. At the same time, I randomly surveyed
the websites of Canadian universities for the same purpose. I would
like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to both Botel and
He for their excellent jobs in the website survey and in collecting a
database. However, I take the full responsibility for the interpretations of the database and for the possible mistakes in doing so. In the
following, the information from this database will be cited with the
note “the author’s database”.
10. The author’s database.
11. Ibid.
12. In journals like American Political Science Review, the American
Political Science Association (APSA)’s flagship journal, this percentage is obviously higher than one fourth. This imbalance titling toward
the prominence and even, as some put it, hegemony of American
politics is one of the causes leading to the Perestroika movement arising in 2000 to criticize the APSA and the journal. For the Perestroika
movement, see [9].
13. The Renmin University of China publishes a series of periodicals to
digest and republish various news, essays, and articles in groups of
different subjects, in which there are several including “Chinese politics” within the title. But they are not original publications, nor
research journals.
14. The author’s database.
15. Sujian Guo and Jean-Mark F. Blanchard [10]. Especially, see [11]. Also,
[12]. For some earlier investigations of the field, see, for example,
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16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
Paradoxes of China’s Prosperity: Political Dilemmas and Global Implications
[13–16], especially Harry Harding, “The Evolution of American Scholarship on Contemporary China,” pp. 14–40, and Nina P. Halpern,
“Studies of Chinese Politics,” pp. 120–137; [17–22]; and [23].
The author’s interviews of various Chinese college graduates, on
various dates during 1993 to 2010, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong.
Ibid.
The author’s database.
An anecdote is perhaps useful to understand that the writers who are
writing political speeches should be regarded more as “politicians”
rather than intellectuals, as William Safire, a well-known contemporary U.S. intellectual, self-identifies as a “politician” when referring to
his own White House speechwriter experience. See [24], cover blurb.
See an analysis of this process as that taking placing in reform China
in [25].
That does not mean that academics do not comment on public issues.
For the “phenomenon of academics’ writing outside their field” or
“writing for a general audience,” see a discussion in [26].
For “thought work” in contemporary China, particularly in the
reform and post-reform China, see, for instance, [27].
For a thoughtful discussion of political indoctrination, see [28].
A caveat is that such challenges are arising from political and intellectual peripheries, often via the channels of the Internet, but both
state hegemony and state censorship make it extremely difficult and
even politically and legally risky to pose such intellectual challenges.
After all, these challenges appear more as “reflective political opinions” in public discussions, if applying our categories of political
writings, than academic publications in political science scholarship.
For this feature of scientific research, see, for example, [29].
For an early case of think tank organizations in the 1980s China, see
[30]. Also, [31]. For the later developments of think tanks in China,
see, for example, [32, 33].
For this policy-scholarship proximity in these fields, see, for example,
Wang Jisi, “Zhongguo chidu, quanqiu shiye: Zhongguoxuezhe kan
shijie congshu daolun” [Chinese scales, global visions: Introduction
to the series of World Politics: Views from China], in Wang Jisi, Zhongguo
xuezhe kan shijie.
For the importance of the democratic context for the upsurge of think
tanks in the United States, see Ricci, The Transformation of American
Politics.
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Reflections on the Study of Chinese Politics in Contemporary China 169
29. For political interventions in the studies of natural sciences in contemporary China, see, for example, [36, 37]; for that in humanities, see, for
instance, [38, 39]; for that in social sciences, see a historical record of
the reform era in [40].
30. This seems a common practice in communist countries, as Alfred
Stepan also states, as referring to Eastern Europe, that “Under the old
communist system, political science was either not taught at all,
because it was not trusted, or, if it was taught, anyone holding a university-level position in that field belonged to the nomenklatura.” See [44].
31. For the distinction between totalitarianism and authoritarianism,
see [45].
32. Guillermo O’Donnell also recalls that in authoritarian Argentina
“there were no Political Science departments.” See [46].
33. Guo, Post-Mao China.
34. See, for example, [47–49].
35. Zhang Jingru [50]; Li Xisuo [51]. For a critical discussion of “indigenization” and “localization” of political science in China, see [52].
36. On the origin and features of universities, see, for example, [54].
37. For example, see Xie Yong, “Dangdai wenxue yanjiu de xin shijiao [A
new perspective of the studies of contemporary literature],” foreword
to Xing Xiaoqun, p. 4. He also discusses the impact of the institutions
of publishing over academic freedom.
38. A historian has written a book studying the origin, formation and
development of notes. See [55].
39. Scott [57]; Popkin [58]. For an interesting account of the debate, see [59].
40. For “bureaucratic authoritarianism,” see [60]. Also, [61]. For “dependent development,” see [62]. Also, [63].
41. See, for example, Ash, Shambaugh, and Takagi, China Watching:
Perspectives from Europe, Japan, and the United States.
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