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CASS: Forty years of ploughing, weeding

ZHANG CHUNHAI | 2017-05-04
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Scholars from the Institute of Archaeology under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences conduct field investigation.

Confucius once said “I no longer suffered from perplexities after the age of 40.”

Forty years have passed since the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Sciences was reorganized into the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The CPC Central Committee called upon CASS to act as the bulwark of Marxism, an important think tank and brain trust of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, and the highest authority for studies on philosophy and social sciences. Looking back, has CASS fulfilled its mission?


Scholars and classics
CASS currently consists of 39 institutes and academies categorized into six divisions: philosophy and literature; history; economics; social, political and legal studies; international studies, and Marxist studies. At the same time, CASS is also in charge of 111 national academic societies and organizations.  

The headquarters of CASS is located in Beijing on the site where the former National Examination Hall of ancient China was founded in 1415. In this place, thousands of Chinese over the centuries competed for the chance to serve the nation and society with their knowledge. CASS scholars, who share the same sense of mission, during its short history, have produced thousands of academic works in various disciplines.

Generations of CASS scholars have written hundreds of classics, laying the foundation or filling a domestic research gap in certain fields of study with their industrious work.

Hu Houxuan, a CASS historian and archaeologist, was the project manager of the 13-volume Collection of Oracle Bone Scripts, which documented the earliest known form of Chinese writing: a system of inscriptions on animal bones or turtle plastrons dating back to the Shang Dynasty (c.1600-c.1046 BCE). He took a long and arduous journey across the nation to collect images of unrecorded and scattered oracle bone scripts.

The Chinese translation of Mahabharata, one of the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, was a formidable project, considering the length of the original story. Presided over by Huang Baosheng, CASS Member and research fellow from the Institute of Literature, the Chinese edition of Mahabharata was published in 2005 after 17 years of intensive labor.

Similar stories can be found in many CASS scholars’ careers. By the end of 2016, about 13,000 monographs, 147,000 papers and 27,000 reports had been written by CASS scholars, many of which have yielded favorable social benefits during China’s reforms and economic and social development.

Serving as the think tank of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, CASS successfully completed the missions it was tasked with, facilitating cooperation among think tanks and academic diplomacy, playing a leading role in explaining China’s theories, summarizing China’s experience, and contributing China’s wisdom to the world. In addition, CASS also participated in the investigation, research and drafting of several major documents as well as scientifically explained various general and specific policies of the Party and the nation.    


Reform and Innovation
The building of an authoritative center for studies on philosophy and social sciences is not a mission that can be accomplished overnight. CASS studies cover approximately all major disciplines of philosophy and social sciences.

In recent years, China has been stressing the importance of marginal disciplines that usually do not yield economic benefits. CASS is now playing a significant role in this initiative. CASS provides special funds for the development of marginal disciplines, including the study of oracle bone inscriptions; bamboo and silk documents; Hetuvidyā, also known as Buddhist logic; Tangut language; ’Phags-pa scripts, the literary language of China’s Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); Khitan scripts; Jurchen language, and the Dongba scripts of the Naxi People.

CASS initiated the Innovation Program of Philosophy and Social Sciences in 2011, targeting the frontiers of research and promoting innovations in academic theory, disciplinary systems and methodology.

The seven-volume New Popular Philosophy, of which CASS President Wang Weiguang served as the chief editor, was published in 2014. This new book explicitly raised the issue of the Chinization, modernization and popularization of Marxism under the new situation.

In his Most Recent Achievements in Marxism in China, Wang covered a wide range of content and provided vigorous and self-contained demonstration, contributing to the interptretation of the important speeches of President Xi.

CASS rebuilt the division system and initiated the Member System in 2006, which significantly reformed the management of scientific studies and the talent incentive mechanism. By the end of 2016, 61 scholars, including the deceased, had been designated CASS Members and 133 scholars, including the deceased, had been named Honorary CASS Members. 


Opportunities and challenges                     
Currently CASS is presented with unprecedented opportunities as well as unparalleled challenges. All CASS scholars are compelled by the sense of urgency and crisis to find ways to maintain an advantageous position and confront challenges.

The building of an innovation system for philosophy and social sciences with Chinese characteristics requires farsighted inquiries into the academic frontiers both of China and the world as well as the important and difficult issues in every academic field.

CASS actively explored organization forms and management styles for new types of think tanks, establishing a triune pattern of CASS, institutes and professional think tanks. CASS together with two of its affiliated professional think tanks—National Institute of International Strategy and National Institution for Finance and Development—was listed in the first batch of piloting national high-end think tanks.

Speeding up the step of “going global,” CASS is expanding international academic exchanges and cooperating with high-end research institutes in the world. To this day, CASS has signed cooperation agreements with more than 160 institutions in more than 100 countries. These partnerships cover major issues of common interest, including environmental protection, population and employment, changing social structure, economic globalization, and regional cooperation.

The 40th anniversary of CASS presents a chance to reflect on the road so far. In the future, CASS should exploit the full advantages of its platform while properly analyzing itself and the outside world, said Liu Qingzhu, CASS Member and research fellow from the Institute of Archaeology. Most importantly, an excellent academic team of scholars is critical to the future development of CASS, he said.  



ZHANG CHUNHAI is a reporter at the Chinese Social Sciences Today.