How Did “Institution” Become “Institutional History”?

Social Sciences in China Review

No.1, 2019


How Did “Institution” Become “Institutional History”? (Abstract)


Hou Xudong


In Chinese historiography, “institution” is a word that has existed since ancient times, but “institutional history” is a specific history that emerged in the 20th century. The meaning of the word “institution” in the latter is not the same as the word “institution in the eyes of the ancients. The ancient institution was multi-faceted. Apart from the difficulty in changing the institution of sages, the general classical institution and power system could be adjusted according to time, circumstances and events, and it was the basis of people’s actions. The new institutional idea formed in modern times stems from the need to seek change under the impact of the West. Whether it was an official who protected the rule of the Qing Dynasty or an intellectual who called for change or revolution, they all regarded the institution as an independent force that transcended people/things and had an ontological meaning. There was a hope to get rid of the backward situation through institutional transformation. Institutional history is the historical projection of this new institutional idea. It is necessary to “suspend” this kind of hindsight, return to the world of the ancients, observe within context, and explore a new perspective of institutional research.