Call for papers: Special Feature on the “Chinese Social Sciences” versus “Western Social Sciences” debate: an epistemological account

Deadline for proposals: 1 June 2017

Guest edited by Chloé Froissart, Researcher in political sciences, French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (Hong Kong), Director of the Tsinghua University Sino-French Center in Social Sciences, Assistant Professor, University of Rennes 2. More information:


Can we speak of a “Chinese model” – or conversely a “Western model” – of the humanities and social sciences? If so, what are its underlying principles, as well as its methodological and theoretical characteristics? What discourse(s) does this model develop and for what purpose is it elaborated?

As early as the 1930s, Chinese researchers sought to adapt the social sciences, born in a Western context, to the Chinese context in order to be able to grasp its specific questions. Sociologists and anthropologists, including the famous Fei Xiaotong, have thus devoted themselves to “indigenizing” essentially exogenous concepts and theories. After three decades of the disappearance of the Chinese social sciences during the Maoist period, various works have emphasized for some twenty years a revival of the Chinese social sciences, documenting movements towards “indigenization” and “sinization” or, on the contrary , pointing to trends in the “globalization” of the social sciences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China (Gransow 1993 ; Dirlik 2013). At the same time, major efforts have been made to introduce Chinese social sciences in the West (Rocca 2008, Roulleau-Berger, Guo, Li and Liu 2008), in particular with the aim of encouraging a hybridization of disciplines that would allow us to think together of ever more global questions, which can be found indifferently in China or in the West (Rocca 2008, Roulleau-Berger and Li 2012).

A notion, however, seems to encumber many of these debates: that of “model,” whether Chinese or Western. Inherited from subaltern studies and post-colonial criticism, this notion is today constantly invoked, in different contexts, either implicitly or explicitly. The conference given by Xi Jinping in May 2016, during which the President called on Chinese researchers to “accelerate the construction of a philosophy and social sciences with Chinese characteristics” (jiakuai goujian Zhongguo tese zhexue shehui kexue) is an example. The notion of “model” also underlies the mobilization of SOAS students and professors who recently called to “decolonize” university curricula by introducing more diversity, or the position of some Chinese and Western scholars, claiming to want to break from the “colonial” or even “imperialist” tradition of Western humanities and social sciences to embrace a Chinese point of view. These different initiatives are based on a common assumption: there is an indigenous way, as opposed to a Western way, of doing humanities and social sciences, and the Western way not only carries prejudice but also dominant views on the countries studied. Is such a judgement grounded? Should the debate necessarily be reduced to these two binary oppositions and does sinicization necessarily rhyme with emancipation?

The aim here is to distinguish, on the one hand, a legitimate epistemological question, which consists in emphasizing the need to rethink and even emancipate from paradigms and theoretical frameworks elaborated in different historical, political, social and cultural contexts, which would consequently be unfit to account for the Chinese reality as well as to favour comparison, and, on the other hand, the possible culturalist or political instrumentalisation of this question, with its afferent consequences on the knowledge produced.

This special issue aims to question the notion of model in the light of the already existing work raising the question of analytical frameworks in humanities and social sciences in the Chinese context. It seeks to reflect on the validity of epistemological relativism and the relationship between knowledge and power, while providing additional insight into the conditions under which scientific knowledge is produced. Is there a specifically Chinese, or conversely, specifically Western way of constructing a research object in the humanities and social sciences and studying it? Can we identify differences in the values that underlie the scientific approach and discourse on both sides and to what extent can these values be identified as strictly Chinese or Western? How and under what conditions can concepts developed in different contexts travel across borders while maintaining their relevance and heuristic value? Is the affirmation of a national specificity of scientific disciplines compatible with the aim of the humanities and social sciences and how far can a scientific discourse present cultural or national characteristics? What exactly do we mean by “Chinese” and “Western” and what is the role of the political and ideological determinants in the production of knowledge? What are the ethical and scientific implications of this desire to indigenize disciplines? Ultimately, the central objective of this issue will be to determine the boundaries between the scientific and the ideological.

This special issue is open to all disciplines: philosophy, literature, history, sociology, anthropology, political science, international relations, geography, economics as long as the studies are firmly anchored in a contemporary Chinese context (empirical and textual cases-studies will be valued) and show a clear concern for critical and nuanced dialogue, both with relativist and universalist theses. In order to answer the initial question, contributions may address, but are not limited to:

Circulation, transferability, historicity:

  • Possible links between (Indian) post-colonial studies and subaltern studies on the one hand and Chinese research on the other
  • The renewal of questions and methods in a discipline in the light of the confrontation with the Chinese field; does this renewal affect the “identity” of a discipline?
  • The transferability of concepts (e.g. how certain concepts have travelled and proved useful in understanding contemporary China, how these concepts have been adapted or eventually abandoned); the conceptual oppositions
  • Is there re-appropriation of Chinese methods and theories in the social sciences by Western scholars? Are these methods and theories applicable to other countries than China?
  • Conversely: the appropriation by Chinese scholars of theses, currents of thought, approaches, methods labelled as “Western”
  • Dialogue in the humanities and social sciences between China and the West and its difficulties (concrete examples drawn from a discipline are expected)
  • The evolution of paradigms in Chinese and Western research taking China as their object

The frontiers of scientific knowledge:

  • The relationship between scientific knowledge, ideology, values and culture
  • The autonomy of scientific categories in relation to political and state categories
  • What are the blind spots of humanities and social sciences research on China?
  • What are the scientific and epistemological consequences of political constraints affecting research on contemporary China?

The conditions of knowledge production and its determinants:

  • The conditions of production of comparative research on China
  • The determinants of competing interpretations of social or historical facts
  • How was a scientific discipline built in China and the West (or a given Western country)? What are the differences in methods, questions, ways of working?
  • Why do we engage in social science research in China and the West? (In particular, this question can be answered by taking into account the way in which the figures of the intellectual, the researcher and the expert were constructed in different political and cultural contexts)
  • The relations between epistemological questions and the construction of scientific partnerships between Chinese and Western scholars

Format of Submission

In Conformity with China Perspectives’ editorial policy, papers should be rigorous, original contributions to their respective disciplines, while providing readable insights on contemporary China for the general public and scholars from other scientific backgrounds.

Submissions could be in English or French and are particularly welcome from researchers at an early stage of their careers.

  • Full name, title and institutional affiliation
    Contact details
  • 800 – 1000 words abstract, 100-word author bio
    Submissions must be sent to
  • Upon acceptation, full papers of 8000 words shall be written according to China Perspectives‘ Style Guide, available here


  • 1 June 2017: Abstract submission deadline.  Please send a 800 – 1000 words abstract and 100-word author bio to the guest editor Chloé Froissart (
  • 1 August 2017: Notification of accepted contributions
  • 1 February 2018: Deadline for full papers, no more than 8,000 words (style guide here)
  • Early Submissions are welcome and will be put into the review process as they arrive
  • All full papers will need to pass the double blind peer-review process.  Final acceptace of papers cannot be confirmed until their validation by both peer-reviewers and the editorial committee.
  • Expected pubication date: September 2018

About the journal:

An interdisciplinary quarterly journal published in both French and English, China Perspectives provides insightful analysis of the latest trends in the Chinese world. China Perspectives is an anonymously peer-reviewed academic journal. It is referenced in 8 international databases including Scopus. Its authority is ensured by an editorial board made up of reputed scholars. A serious yet readable journal, China Perspectives has already proven essential for sinologists and Asia analysts, but its broad scope and highly informative articles may be of interest to anyone keen on improving their knowledge about Greater China.

More information:

About the CEFC:

The French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) is a public research centre with a regional remit (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan) supported by the French ministry of Foreign Affairs and the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research).