ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (12): 2246-2259.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.02246

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Cultural and psychological changes during the social transformation in China: Sociological research and its enlightenments to psychologists

HUANG Zi-Hang1,2,3, WANG Jun-Xiu4,5, SU Zhan2,3, JING Yi-Ming2,3, CAI Hua-Jian2,3   

  1. 1Mental Health Education Center, Chengdu University, Chengdu 610106, China;
    2Center for Personality and Social Psychology, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China;
    3Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China;
    4School of Psychology, Inner Mongolia Normal University, Hohhot, 010022, China;
    5Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing 100732, China
  • Received:2021-02-08 Online:2021-12-15 Published:2021-10-26

Abstract: Social psychology has two main streams: Sociological social psychology and psychological social psychology. Although being independent from each other most of the time, both have concerned a common issue: the social transformation (change) of Chinese society as well as its psychological impacts. From the perspective of sociological social psychology, research has mainly focused on two issues: the change of society or social structure, and the change of Chinese people during the process of modernization. The former mainly involves urbanization, changes in social class, social mobility, and family structure, whereas the latter mainly involves the “Chinese feeling”, social mentality, group psychology, and organizational psychology.
The main findings on changes in society or social structure include: 1) urbanization in China has accelerated, along with many ensuing social problems; 2) social stratification has increased, showing a diversified and complicated picture; 3) mobility between social classes increased first and then decreased, with an increasing trend of consolidation; 4) family size has been becoming smaller; 5) increasing equality among different generations has been witnessed; 5) the willingness to bear children has declined; 6) more single-parent families are emerging due to increasing divorce rate.
Research on Chinese people found substantial changes in “Chinese feeling”, social mentality, group psychology, and organizational psychology. In particular, 1) a declining prevalence of traditional values but a rising prevalence of modern values have been evident; 2) materialism has become more and more prevalent; 3) the happiness of Chinese people has become increasingly material-dependent; 4) interpersonal trust has shifted from relationship-oriented to interest-oriented; 5) interpersonal communication is increasingly relying on the internet; 6) the autonomy in close relationships has increased; 7) the difference in social mentality across social groups has increased, which are partly responsible for the increasing feeling of relative deprivation among disadvantaged groups; 8) the leadership and management of organizations have undergone a transition from "paternalism" to “fraternalism”; 9) the importance of guanxi as a kind of social capital has increased.
The revealed huge number of changes could be positive or negative, short-term or long-term, linear or non-linear. Overall, China is transforming from a traditional society to a modern society. The coexistence of traditionality and modernity, and the constant collision and integration of the East and the West will remain as the basic characteristics of Chinese society.
Compared with research from the perspective of psychological social psychology, research from the perspective of sociological social psychology is characterized by many special emphases: 1) emic rather than etic analysis; 2) qualitative rather than quantitative methodology; 3) changes at the meso level; 4) the role of history, politics, and policy in shaping the changes. These are what psychologists need to learn in the future in studying social changes of China. We encourage more collaborations between social psychologists of the two streams so that we could achieve a better understanding of China and Chinese during the process of modernization.

Key words: social change, social transformation, modernization, cultural change

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