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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Fathoming and Fixing Minds: China in the World of Psy Sciences
1: Industrial Psychology for an Industrializing China
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Harvard University, United States
In 1933, Wang Jingxi, founding director of Academia Sinica’s Institute of Psychology, made a case for the somewhat nascent field of industrial psychology: “Our country’s industries are just starting to see sprouts, and in various areas, such as the organization and arrangement of factories, the selection and training of workers, and the methods of work, there are numerous problems to be researched. These problems are largely within the scope of industrial psychology.” To its proponents, industrial psychology had fertile ground on which to take root, not least because of government officials and industry leaders’ interest in and support for the allied field of scientific management. In 1935, the institute collaborated with the psychology department at Tsinghua University to launch a research initiative that would soon complete China’s first industrial psychology study at the nearby Nankou machine works. This paper sets out to do two things. First, it situates the emergence of industrial psychology in China within ongoing developments in science and industry in the Nanjing decade (1928–1937). Second, it examines the Nankou study, with particular attention to the changes to work environment that the psychologists involved recommended in the name of industrial efficiency. Central to this account were foreign-trained psychologists Zhou Xiangeng (1903–1996) and Chen Li (1902–2004), who led the joint initiative. How these psychologists took industrial psychology, which they had become acquainted with in the US, the UK, and Germany, and attempted to adapt it to China’s industrializing realities is the key concern of this paper.