By Tong Lam

In this path-breaking booklet, Tong Lam examines the emergence of the “culture of truth” in sleek China, displaying how elites and intellectuals sought to remodel the dynastic empire right into a countryside, thereby making sure its survival. Lam argues that an epistemological break free from conventional modes of knowing the observable global started round the flip of the 20th century. Tracing the Neo-Confucian tuition of evidentiary study and the fashionable departure from it, Lam indicates how, throughout the upward push of the social survey, “the truth” turned a simple conceptual medium and resource of fact. In concentrating on China’s social survey circulation, A ardour for Facts analyzes how info generated by way of a variety of study practices—census, sociological research, and ethnography—was mobilized by way of competing political factions to visualize, deal with, and remake the nation.

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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.

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