- Social Change in Contemporary China: C. K. Yang and the Concept of Institutional Diffusion
Edited books often suffer from a variation in the quality of the contributions, weak or missing conceptual/theoretical frameworks, and the absence of a clear focus or coherence. Wenfang Tang and Burkart Holzner seem determined to avoid at least some of these common pitfalls when editing Social Change in Contemporary China: C. K. Yang and the Concept of Institutional Diffusion by providing the contributors with a broad theme (social change in contemporary China) and a conceptual framework (institutional diffusion theory). At the same time, the book is intended as a tribute to C. K. Yang, a noted Chinese sociologist, whose publications (most notably North China Local Market Economy  and Religion in Chinese Society ) have long been considered classics in the study of contemporary Chinese society. To demonstrate the enduring influence of Yang's scholarship, the contributors have been encouraged to build upon Yang's ideas and conceptual frameworks when generating insights in understanding institutional change in contemporary China.
At the first glance, Social Change in Contemporary China holds to its promise to deliver a focused and extensive analysis of social institutions and institutional change in China, as well as to highlight the continued relevance of Yang's scholarship. Divided into three parts and fourteen chapters, this edited volume directs readers' attention to Yang's scholarly work and his theory of institutions (part 1), the evolution of public institutions in China (part 2), and Chinese family and community (part 3). In Part 1, Burkart Holzner traces Yang's academic career (chapter 2), while Chong Chor Lau introduces key concepts and findings from Yang's scholarly publications (chapter 3), and Ambrose King and Lizhu Fan focus exclusively on Yang's study of religion in Chinese society (chapter 4). In part 2, Isabelle Thireau and Hua Linshan examine the responses of migrant workers in Shenzhen to the Labor Law (chapter 5); Thomas Rawski looks at the entrepreneurial culture in China (chapter 6); Zhanxin Zhang, Wang Feng, and Tianfu Wang analyze income inequality in urban China (chapters 7 and 8); Ka-Ho Mok investigates the marketization of higher education in China (chapter 9); and Rancee Lee writes about Chinese medicine in Hong Kong (chapter 10). Finally, in part 3, Deborah Davis considers male and female claims to domestic space and property (chapter 11); Yanjie Bian, Deborah Davis, and Shaoguang Wang measure the Chinese family's guanxi networks (chapter 12); Jieming Chen examines intergenerational transfer of resources in urban Chinese families (chapter 13); and Cho-yun Hsu analyzes ritual circles in Taiwan (chapter 14). [End Page 566]
Even a cursory glance at the themes of particular chapters suffices to conclude that for a book that purports to reveal "social change in contemporary China," the choice of topics examined is puzzling. Far from attempting to reflect upon an evolution of key dimensions of Chinese society during the post-1978 reform era, the contributors follow their own research agendas, which lead them to scrutinize only selected elements of larger social phenomena. The odd inclusion of analyses of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong and religious circles in Taiwan—at best peripheral to the broad theme of this book—reinforces the impression that these are conference proceedings, rather than a project conceived to deliver a coherent and comprehensive examination of social change in present-day China.
It could be argued that the editors—the title notwithstanding—have never intended to present a collection of essays analyzing broad social change in China. This has been done effectively by others (e.g., Stockman 2000, Gamer 2003). Tang's introductory chapter indicates that the book's objective is to extend Yang's concept of institutional diffusion to examine institutional (not social) change in contemporary China as a complex interaction among culture, market, bureaucracy, and modernization (hence the subtitle). Although, as Thireau and Hua pointedly note, the concept of...