Dynamic Mechanism of “Social Modernisation” with Chinese Characteristics

 By Bao Zonghao, Xiang Kun and Zhang Shuangshuang

While the classic concept of “modernisation” and its logical extension are dedicated to “economic modernisation”we argue that real modernisation should be “social modernisation”; “social modernisation” with Chinese characteristics is “modernisation of society” based on the economic and social reality and having a strong sense of future consciousness, comprehensiveness, interdisciplinarity and sustainable development, representing the trend of human civilisation’s development.


“Social Modernisation”: Discarding the Shortcomings of “Economic Modernisation”

The Original Meaning of “Modernisation” Is Not “Economic Modernisation”

Though in “industrialisation” and modernisation from the “takeoff” to “maturely propelling” the core content of “modernisation” was still economic modernisation, almost all farsighted scholars realised the multiple meanings of “modernisation” itself. In 1966, C. E. Black emphasised in The Dynamics of Modernization that modernisation should include profound changes not only in economy, but also in science and technology, culture and interpersonal relations; in 1966, Shmuel Eisenstadt discussed comprehensive revolutionary features of modernisation from the aspects of systems, politics, economy, ecology and culture in Modernization: Protest and Change; in 1968, Samuel P. Huntington specially demonstrated political responses to and consequences of modernisation from the perspectives of political participation, power structures and change in political authoritativeness in Political Order in Changing Societies; in 1974, Alex Inkeles analysed in Becoming Modern: Individual Change in Six Developing Countries the modern outlooks on family, money, religion, child-bearing and consumption and their behavioural models, and deemed that the core of modernisation should be modernisation of individuals; in 1982, Gilbert Rozman described the course of modernisation as multiple variables including the national work division system, the proportion of non-agricultural production, population quality, income distribution, organisational change, bureaucracy and popular culture in The Modernization of China.

Meanwhile, reflections on modernisation were made by the thinkers like Bell, Drucker, Toffler, Naisbitt, Carson and Giddens, and they proposed some new ideas, such as post-industrial society, knowledge society, post-modern society, risk society, sustainable development and reflexive society, not only enriching the modernisation theory and practice, but also highlighting the deepening of “modernisation”: whether in theoretical research or in practical action, modernisation should not be limited to “economic modernisation”.


Social Modernisation Is the Most Drastic and Profoundly Influential Social Change

Social modernisation is an innovation and correction of traditional “defects of modernisation”. It is a new thought on modernisation encompassing many aspects such as the economy, politics, culture, science and technology, education and environmental governance and giving more emphasis to systematic social projects, comprehensive social innovation and all-round social development. However, limitation to theory shows the theory itself is immature. A truly good “modernisation” theory should be practice-oriented and contribute to the people’s practice of social modernisation. Many Chinese scholars have realised the numerous problems and drawbacks of Western modernisation process, but in the practice of modernisation in the regions or country, they generally lack the idea of social modernisation, proceeding from “economic fields” consciously or unconsciously and then touching social, political and cultural fields. Therefore, some regions repeatedly showed the feature of “one-sided modernisation” that emerged in the early period of Western capitalist society, triggering the phenomena of environmental pollution, ecological crisis, energy crisis, alienation of man, social diseases, urban diseases and unfair social classes and structures.

In 1966, C. E. Black emphasised that modernisation should include profound changes not only in economy, but also in science and technology, culture and interpersonal relations.

The questions then deserve attention. Why can “economic modernisation” hardly go towards “social modernisation”? Why is “social modernisation” often “marginalised”? The reasons vary, but in view of “capital” as a dynamic mechanism driving “modernisation” and “economic modernisation”, it tends to realise its appreciation through “economic modernisation”. Therefore, as long as “capital” is not “restrained” and the various disadvantages of “uncivilised” “capital” are not rejected, “social modernisation” is certainly laid aside or “marginalised”.

In the above sense, in order not to be laid aside or marginalised, “social modernisation” must also take “capital” as a dynamic mechanism. However, to take “civilisation” of capital as a dynamic mechanism, social modernisation should embed economic “modernisation” into social functioning mechanisms and the whole course of social functioning in an all-round way, attaching importance to the harmony of social classes and structures, emphasising harmonious relations that should exist between people and nature, among people and between people and society.

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About the Authors

Bao Zonghao (left)is Professor at the East China University of Science and Technology, China,and Research Fellow at Urban Culture Research Center, Shanghai Normal University in China. 

Xiang Kun (middle)is Deputy Director at the Shanghai Academy of Huaxia Social Development Research in China. 

Zhang Shuangshuang (right)is in an Undergraduate at the College of Arts and Science, Boston University in the US.


1. Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volume 7, Page 922, People’s Publishing House, 2009.

2. Schwerin: Conscious Capitalism, Social Sciences Abroad, 1999(6):3.

3. We should oppose two “Utopian” thoughts and models. The first one is going beyond the primary stage of socialism to realize communism featuring “a larger scale and a higher level of socialist ownership”; the second one is that the “pure market economy” itself is also a utopia and does not exist in real life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of All China Review.