The Making and Remaking of Socialist Subjects in the People’s Republic of China, 1950s-1980s
4: Behaving after Socialism: Thought Work, Behavioral Science and the Post-Socialist Human
Sunday, March 27, 2022
10:45am – 12:15pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 305B
Columbia University, United States
“The task of sociology”, wrote sociologist Fei Xiaotong in 1980 in his essay ‘Sociology and Enterprise Management’, “is to research the problem of how to increase labor productivity”. This paper examines the ways that the re-introduction of the intellectual disciplines of the human sciences in post-socialist China were conjoined to the demands of producing a post-socialist subject of labor. It does so by tracing the transformation of “thought work” (sixiang gongzuo), which was invested with a new meaning in the 1980s through an encounter with sociology, psychology and behavioral science, as refracted through the work of Jiang Zilong, a leading author of reform literature (gaige wenxue). The paper places particular emphasis on Elton Mayo. As one of the pioneers of behavioral science, Mayo influenced Fei in the 1940s in the United States, and then re-emerged in the 1980s as a key source of influence for Chinese thinkers. He did so through his theorization of the distinction between “economic man” (jingji ren) and “social man” (shehui ren), the latter offering a post-Taylorist vision of industrial management in which managers were enjoined to understand the worker as possessing a range of social relationships and needs. The figure of “social man” became, for Chinese authors such as Jiang, not merely a trope of management theory but also a vision of the “post-socialist human” as such, and one that came to re-define the tasks of socialist literature and culture as the formation of subjects adequate for a post-socialist developmental process.