Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

Lucian Pye's Contributions to, and Flaws in, the Study of Chinese Political Culture

Academic journal article International Journal of China Studies

Lucian Pye's Contributions to, and Flaws in, the Study of Chinese Political Culture

Article excerpt


As a pioneer and leading scholar in the field of contemporary Chinese political culture study, Lucian Pye is well known for his psycho-cultural interpretation of Chinese political culture. Not only does his study of Chinese political culture provide a methodological direction for the later researchers, his profound insights of, and comments on, Chinese political culture also deeply enriched and expanded our understanding of that nation and its culture. However, some flaws in his works, such as successive imagination without reliable evidences, selective use of materials, reductionism, and loopholes in his logic, and so on, should not be ignored while commenting on his contribution to the study of Chinese political culture.

Keywords. Lucian Pye, Chinese political culture, psycho-cultural analysis

JEL classification : ? 26, Z10

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

1. Introduction

Lucian W. Pye is generally acknowledged as a member of the first generation of scholars of Chinese political culture since the concept of political culture was come up with by Gabriel Almond in 1956. He is also well-known for two things. One is for his good at borrowing concepts, theories and methods from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, especially the psychiatry of psychology, which placed him among the most outstanding representatives of the school of psycho-cultural analysis of political culture. Another one is for his consistently raising questions and brought up arguments in a very challenging way, making his research both original and controversial.

In this paper, the author is going to introduce briefly Pye's important works on Chinese political culture study, followed by explaining why he is interested in Chinese political culture and take psycho-cultural analysis as his research approach, and the buck of this paper will focus on what contributions he made to the study of Chinese political culture, his influences on the subsequent scholars, as well as some flaws in his study of Chinese political culture.

Pye's study of Chinese political culture began with his monograph The Spirit of Chinese Politics: A Psychocultural Study of the Authority Crisis in Political Development, published in 1968, which made his reputation in the field. Disagreeing with the optimistic attitude concerning China's prospect prevalent among many Western scholars at that time, Pye pointed out great tensions beneath the seemingly calm surface in China on the eve of the Cultural Revolution and predicated the outbreak of that campaign. Simultaneously, Pye argued that the problems preventing China's modernization did not arise from the identity crisis common to most transitional societies. Rather, they arose from "a deep crisis of authority in Chinese civilization" (Pye, 1992: ix). This work, as Tang Tsou wrote, was "a new departure in so far as his use of theories and concepts is concerned" (Tsou, 1969: 656).

In 1976, the year when Mao Zedong died, Pye's another work, Mao Tse- tung: The Man in the Leader, came out. Because of Pye's creative revelation of the psychological links between Mao's public image and his intensely private experiences by the application of psycho-historical analysis, and his revolving around Mao's mother rather than his father to shed light on key events significant for Mao's personality and political style, this book found itself unique and important among all of the works on Mao Zedong. For anyone wishing to know more about the political psychological study of political elite, this book is worth reading.

For those interested in contemporary Chinese factional politics, The Dynamics of Chinese Politics, published in 1981, never failed to provide useful clues. In this work Pye not only described general principles and patterns behind the political behaviour of the Chinese political elite, but also convincingly demonstrated that the fundamental dynamic within Chinese politics comes from the tension between consensus and faction (Pye, 1981: xi-xii), and how this tension between consensus and faction developed psychologically. …

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