How Sociology Faces Real Problems in Chinese Society

Yan Fei: Forty years of reform and opening up, economists have played a leading role. When the economic level reaches a certain level, structural ills will be exposed. At this time, the voice and intervention of sociology are needed.


In Shijingshan District, Beijing, there is a migrant child school, Huangzhuang School. This is the largest migrant child school in Beijing. There are more than 1,800 students from primary school to middle school. Most of the students here have one thing in common: their parents are from Beibei, who works in Beijing, and the work they do is mostly manual labor. In September 2018, the migrant children’s school just held its 20th anniversary celebration in the summer vacation. Just before the start of the school, suddenly the school had to be closed because of problems with the school ’s venue and qualifications. Many students, because most of them do not have Beijing hukou, can not go to public schools, can only be diverted, or bid farewell to the big city of Beijing, return to their hometown and become left-behind children.

When I revisited September 2018, an event that may have been completely forgotten by the public today, memories brought me back to 2000.

Exactly 20 years ago, when I was an undergraduate in sociology, I also did a two-year sociology study at a migrant school in the suburbs of Shanghai. When taking root in the communities where these urban migrants live, and interacting with these children weekly, taking them to study, play games, and conduct outdoor adventures to understand the city, I deeply feel that the so-called education injustice is not just about It’s just a set of data in the statistical report. The deeper issues related to the design limitations of our household registration system, the inequality between urban and rural areas, and the growing solidification of social strata are also the composition and operation of our social order.

These children who drift with their parents in the city, because their parents work in the city, that hometown in the country has become a hometown that they can never go back to, and the public and private education in the city has excluded them from the threshold. . They are actually full of hopes for the future, but have to accept the fate of the reality in the face of cruel reality. The migrant children’s school has become their best place to be educated, but for many reasons, including school qualifications and venue funds, Faced with the risk of closing and closing. If these children lose the opportunity to go to school, under the compulsive trauma, how will they look at the society and the system when they grow up in the future? How to educate their children?

There is no easy answer to these questions.

In the past 20 years, I have been going around studying and working in different countries and regions, and using different analysis tools to observe the differences in society, but I have never been able to get rid of the imprint of sociology. Now as a teacher of the Department of Sociology, she is standing on the podium to teach young students after 00 what is sociology.

In the course of teaching, one of the most commonly asked questions is what is sociology? Is learning sociology really useful? You see, migrant children could still be educated in migrant children’s schools twenty years ago, but twenty years later, migrant children’s schools have no room to legally establish themselves in big cities.

In the past two decades, under the huge wave of economic growth, our city managers started from demolishing houses, demolishing shops, demolishing the skyline, cleaning up the marginalized groups in the city, and then demolishing migrant children’s schools. What we demolished is not only school buildings, but also the educational opportunities for so many children. It is also the dream of this group of marginalized groups to try to change their own destiny and change the flow of family classes through urban self-struggle. Just hope.


In our presupposition, when the society becomes prosperous and rich, people’s moral standards will also be improved along with the improvement of the material level, and the whole society will naturally move towards good order and good governance. But in fact, in our time today, there is no lack of material abundance. When people enjoy the wave of consumption, they are instead caught in another extreme. From Sun Zhigang’s case to Lei Yang’s case, from melamine’s toxic milk powder to Changchun vacation vaccine, from high-speed rail overlord to doctor-patient contradiction, when we pursue higher, faster and stronger, we gradually fall into the trap of desire. The bottom line and dignity are lost in the modern society in pursuit of continuous advancement; in the pursuit of maximizing benefits, the gap between the rich and the poor in society is widened, resulting in difficulties in upward movement and accelerated downward movement, and people at the bottom are increasingly seeing no hope.

The continuous increase of individual anomie behavior is actually caused by the slow disorganization and tearing of the entire social order. Such disorganization is eroding the benign operation of our society bit by bit, and the damage is long-term. Far-reaching. As French sociologist Durkheim points out: “If disregard is a crime, it is because it has caused society to endure hardships, and we cannot live in a society without cohesion and rules.”

According to the judgment of my colleague Professor Sun Liping, Chinese society is gradually moving towards a “fractured” society. First of all, in terms of social hierarchy and hierarchical structure, some people are thrown out of the social structure, and the lack of effective integration mechanisms between different classes and groups leads to the accelerated expansion of class differentiation. Take the urban integration of migrant workers as an example. According to the “Monitoring Survey Report on Migrant Workers in 2018” released by the National Bureau of Statistics in April 2019, the number of migrant workers reached 288 million by the end of 2018, with the increase mainly coming from local migrant workers. Such a large population, coupled with the current lagging progress in urbanization, poses many challenges to the governance of cities, especially megacities. In this context, many large cities such as Beishang, Guangshen, etc. have begun rectification activities, and a large number of marginalized vulnerable groups that do not meet the city’s core function positioning have been driven away. The dismantling of the migrant children’s school is just a small epitome of the broader structure of class differentiation and expansion.

Secondly, at the level of culture and social life, the trust mechanism of society as a whole has been damaged. German sociologist Zimmer said, “Trust is one of the most important integrated forces in society. Without the universal trust that people enjoy among themselves, society itself will disintegrate.” The high degree of trust between people is just like a lubricant for social order. It will bring a sense of security to interpersonal communication and social operations. People do not need to spend huge costs to over-think the complexity of the environment and human nature. It is complicated, but reasonable action in accordance with social moral requirements and legal norms can achieve the expected results and benefits. In the long run, the welfare level of the entire society will inevitably be improved.

The performance of the current crisis of trust is not just a crisis of human trust in people’s daily lives. For example, people are unwilling to trust strangers and are always used to facing people and things around them with hesitant eyes and distrust; Faced with inquiries from helpers, many people are afraid to avoid it, fearing that they will fall into the “trap” of a liar if they are not careful. More serious is the crisis of trust at the institutional level. This crisis is no longer confined to localities, but impacts the entire social system. After all, trust depends on the moral environment of society. When society does not leave room for moral practice in its daily life, trust becomes a rootless tree. For example, the Guo Meimei incident that broke out in 2011 caused the entire public not only to trust the Chinese Red Cross but also to the entire charity and public welfare cause. In the first month after the incident was exposed, the nation ’s donations fell 50% from the previous month; in the first quarter of the year, the amount of donations received by charities across the country dropped by more than 80%, showing that the entire society ’s donations to charitable donations Great crisis of trust. For example, the sexual assault incidents of leaders of many public welfare organizations that broke out in 2018 all undermined people’s trust in the cause of public welfare at the institutional level.

Thirdly, at the socio-psychological level, the desire for money is expanding, and money has become the only sign of success. The trend of utilitarian society is also becoming more and more serious. The pursuit of money and power, and the unveiled display of “success”, have already become a bad society.

American sociologist Robert Merton has pointed out that “when society sees the sign of success as the accumulation of wealth, antisocial behavior is a normal response.” In other words, in a money, In a society where power and interests are over-emphasized, there is always a danger that the goal of social recognition will be achieved by illegal means. Especially those members of society from the bottom, when the whole society continuously emphasizes money as a successful goal, they will be more eager for money, as psychologists’ experiments have found, the children of poor people will draw coins more than The children of rich people are older. However, when the people at the bottom find themselves unable to obtain equal social resources and lack a channel for upward flow, such unequal opportunities will easily lead to social anomie.


I often joked that forty years of reform and opening up have been the protagonists of economists. The debate over the paradigm of economic growth and transformation, and even the debate between the market and the government, require an economic perspective. When the overall economic level of the society reaches a certain scale, the pursuit of economic supremacy indicators will reveal a lot of deep-seated social structural ills. At this time, the voice and intervention of sociology are even more needed.

On the one hand, sociology naturally brings critical cutting edge and strong caring deep into the bottom, can lead us through the picture of daily life, and see many problems and dilemmas brought about by the structural changes in a large age. American sociologist C. Wright Mills once said, “What he [sociologist] should do for society is to resist all the forces that destroy the real public and create a mass society, or from the positive From the point of view, his goal is to help cultivate a self-cultivating public “, so that” all people become people with substantial rationality, and their independent rationality will have a structural effect on the society in which they are exposed, on history and their own destiny. influences.”

On the other hand, sociology naturally brings with it the thinking and discipline of human nature, which can unveil the structural appearance and allow us to return to the origin of social order to explore the darkness and goodness of human nature. German thinker Max Scheler once pointed out that the transformation from traditional society to modern society is not only the transformation of environment and institutions, but also the transformation of man himself. This is a kind of happening in the “soul and spirit of man” The essential transformation of the internal structure of the human body, a deeper change in the cultural and psychological nature of the person and the inner mental order. “This deep change made us realize that with the expansion of a modern, highly rational society, Marx • In the context of Weber’s “poetry and religion that stirs the soul into the void,” we even need inner self-discipline, recognized ethics, self-restraint, and the moral light of society.

Twenty years have passed since the millennium so far. Standing on the threshold of time, I firmly believe that society has more room for practice and will also face more acute and complex social problems, systemic dilemmas, and human struggles. I am even more convinced that looking forward to the next ten, twenty, or even thirty years, no matter how technology advances, the goal of society’s advancement is firstly morality, and secondly politics, economics, and technology. Under the institutional constraints and supervision, only moral progress can lead society to a standardized and orderly good governance; and only moral progress can inspire more people to take the responsibility and shoulder the social responsibility.

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