By Tong Lam
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Additional info for A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation-State, 1900-1949
Lam, A Passion for Facts 24 / 8/18/11 12:58 PM Page 24 The Rise of the Fact Their work, accordingly, was to describe the conditions of a particular country within a particular timeframe. For example, immediately after the Statistical Society of London was established in 1834, it began to promote statistical science as an objective and noble undertaking because of its critical role in examining and managing the well-being of nations and empires. 13 In this respect, in the early days of the institutionalization of statistics at least, the need to tabulate and compare the strengths of states was actually used by the builders of the discipline of statistics to justify the existence of their methods.
Statistics in the age of revolution and empire In spite of the continuous interest in the question of state strength among British statisticians in the early nineteenth century, the imperatives of industrialization and urbanization had increasingly compelled European thinkers to move away from the old paradigm of political arithmetic. These hidden trends, which could become legible only through the collection and analysis of social facts, must therefore be respected. Under this new conceptual premise, governing entailed the calculation and management of the inevitable risks and contingencies that would arise from the social field.
And in order to do that we must rely not on subjective imagination, not on momentary enthusiasm, not on lifeless books, but on facts that exist objectively. mao zedong When Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote about the importance of “seeking truth from facts” in guiding the Communist revolution in 1941, he was describing a brief that was already widely shared by Chinese intellectuals from a broad political spectrum. For them, political and military solutions were insufficient in themselves to address the social dislocation and political breakdown caused by the encroachment of colonial powers, the collapse of the longstanding dynastic order, the bitter power struggles among contending warlords and political parties, and now a total war with Japan.