In the turn of the twentieth century, as a result of China’s ongoing domestic unrest and foreign encroachments, Chinese intellectual-elites worked to transform the dynastic empire into a nation-state to ensure its survival. Central to this process was not only political and institutional changes, but also new technologies of government that entailed drastically different ways of thinking about what was considered as legitimate knowledge and admissible evidence. This involved particularly the rise of the social survey as a pivotal mode of knowledge production, as well as “the fact” as a basic conceptual medium and source of truth about the world.
Focusing especially on the history of the Chinese social survey movement in the first half of the twentieth century, this book analyzes how social facts generated by a diverse range of survey practices such as census, sociological investigation, and ethnography were mobilized by competing political factions to imagine, manage, and remake the nation. It also shows how the production of social facts was itself a mass mobilization that involved not just the training of credible observers but also the making of new political
By placing this previously unexamined dimension of Chinese history in a global context, A Passion for Facts is a study of the histories of science, sentiment, colonialism, nationalism, and modern governance. As well, it sheds lights on the unusual pattern of political and economic development in China’s post-revolutionary era.