A Sociology of Modern China

Part of the CERI/Sciences Po. series
April 2015 9781849043618 160pp
April 2015 9781849043533 160pp


Jean-Louis Rocca’s admirably concise Sociology of Modern China wears its scholarship lightly and paints an intimate and complex portrait of Chinese society in little more than a 130 pages, all the while avoiding clichés and simplifications. He delves into China’s history and examines the country’s many different social strata so as to better understand the enormous challenges and opportunities with which its people are confronted.

After discussing the ‘long march toward reform’ and the crises along the way — among them the 1989 protests which culminated in the events in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere — Rocca dedicates the second half of the book to the major questions facing the country (or, at the very least, its political elites) today: new forms of social stratification; the interaction between the market and the state; growing individualism; and the pressures exerted by social conflict and political change. In eschewing culturalist visions, Rocca thoroughly and successfully deconstructs received wisdom about Chinese society to reveal a thriving nation and its people.

Table of contents


Orthodox Thinking
Culturalist Impasses
The Impasses of Transitionalism
A Critical Reflection

1. Historical Trajectory

Before the Revolution
A Grey Page
New Solidarities: Towns and Cities
New Solidarities: The Countryside
The Tragic Failure of Totalitarianism

2. The Long March of Reforms

The Mutual Formation of the State and Market
A Marginal Capitalism (1979–91)
The Time of Fractures (1992–2007)
3. A New Society

The Conditions of Social Mobility
The Morphology of Chinese Society
The Dangers of Imbalances
The Ideal Class

4. A Society of Individuals in a Time of Reforms

A Society of Subjects of their Own Existence
Effects of Fashion
Social Anxiety
Sex and Marriage in the (Chinese) City
5. The Political Puzzle

A Moderate Pluralism
The Internet Revolution and its Limits
Elections and Electors
A Thermidorian and Technocratic Elite
Social Protect
Intellectuals in No Man’s Land
Creating a Middle-Class China: A Source of Conflicts
Identities and Nation
Conservative Democracy

Elements of Genealogy
All is Well
Modernisation is not a Gala Dinner
Conservatism and Representation

Select Bibliography


‘Take an already gifted French scholar, put him in a Chinese university, and let him teach and research. The result is not simply a comprehensive and sympathetic treatment of Chinese society, faults and all, from the inside but also a redefinition of Chinese sociology for the rest of the world. Jean-Louis Rocca has set the parameters of future research and teaching about the rapidly changing Chinese society.’ — David S. G. Goodman, Professor of Social History at Nanjing University, and Head of China Studies at Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University

‘This is a very good book, perhaps even a classic. It is certainly the best textbook about contemporary China that I have read for a long time. Jean-Louis Rocca’s many years of first-hand experience, in conjunction with a keen sociological eye, have allowed him to produce a sensible, original, insightful and accessible work.’ — Dingxin Zhao, Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago

‘With the publication of A Sociology of Contemporary China, the Anglophone world gains comprehensive access to the insights of a leading French scholar of contemporary China. Brimming with sophisticated, self-reflexive analysis, this book should be the starting point for anyone trying to comprehend China’s recent past and future path.’ — Karl Gerth, Hsiu Chair in Chinese Studies and Professor of History, University of California—San Diego (UCSD)


Jean-Louis Rocca is a sociologist, professor and researcher at CERI Sciences-Po in Paris and at Tsingshua University in Beijing.

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