Date of this Version
June 21, 2012 in Books by Twentieth-Century China
Tong Lam’s engaging new study A Passion for Facts analyzes the processes by which modern modes of apprehending and ordering the social world were forced upon and ultimately embraced by Chinese political and intellectual elites during the late Qing and Republican periods. Lam focuses on the rise of the “social survey” (shehui diaocha) as a means of knowing and constituting a new object called “society” (shehui), as well as the epistemological violence of imperialism that rendered the social survey a seemingly natural way of investigating the world. By the time the Nationalists assumed state power in 1927, Lam argues, “seeking truth from facts” (shishi qiushi) gathered via empirical observation of social phenomena had supplanted the methods of text-oriented evidential scholarship prevalent during the Qing. A Passion for Facts explicates this paradigm shift in terms of the forms of imperialism to which China was subjected, resulting in a novel and compelling contribution to studies of colonialism, knowledge production, and state-society relations in modern China.