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Scholar helps build research system of psychology with Chinese features

MO BIN and CUI JIN | 2020-10-21
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Lin Chongde is a well-known psychologist, educator, senior professor at Beijing Normal University, and former chairman of the Chinese Psychological Society.  Majoring in psychology, he graduated from Beijing Normal University in 1965 and worked as a teacher there since 1980.
Lin has published more than 160 academic papers and research reports (10% of which were published in SSCI or SCI journals), 16 academic monographs and Collected Works of Lin Chongde. He is editor-in-chief of many large-scale reference books and serial psychological textbooks such as The Dictionary of Psychology and The Book Series of Applied Psychology. Photo: PROVIDED TO CSST

Today, constant social progress has bolstered the significance of psychology which spans across the humanities, social, and natural sciences. Lin Chongde has been committed to research in psychology and education for decades, and his academic works are prolific and groundbreaking. His seminal work helped to establish the disciplinary system, academic systm, and discourse system for psychology in China. Meanwhile, his efforts in psychology laid the foundation for China’s practices in primary education and promoted the development of education. Lin is hailed as the expander of China’s primary education system.

On Sept. 12, 2020, Beijing Normal University held the new book release conference of Collected Works of Lin Chongde (12 volumes in total) and relevant seminar, displaying Lin’s core academic ideas and theoretical achievements in the past five decades. Recently, CSST reporters interviewed the renowned psychologist.
CSST: What inspired you to create a Chinese school in psychology?
Lin Chongde: I want to talk about the persistence that I pursuit. I stick to the path of Sinicization of psychological research. Psychology is science, and science knows no borders. But psychology studies human minds which are often imprinted with cultural elements. Therefore, the Chinese school of psychology must center on China while learning from foreign countries. Scholars should explore the history, grasp the present, and face the future, thus embarking on a path which features Sinicization of psychological research.
I adhere to the spirit of science. I emphasize the following principles in psychological research. Scholars should seek truth from facts, focus on objective standards, believe in facts, and prioritize practice. I advocate for the study of psychology in the context of Chinese practice. I emphasize the approaches of qualitative analysis and quantitative analysis in psychological research. Apart from psychostatistics, studies should also involve fuzzy mathematics and mathematical logic, because psychological phenomena show fuzziness while, in most cases, adopting the method of reasoning. I emphasize the internationalization of the discipline and construction of an open system. Free exploration of science also matters. Regarding the psychological circle in China, I hope to foster a field where a hundred flowers blossom, a hundred schools of thought contend. Authoritative psychologists should be humble, and cautious, and listen to their counterparts who hold different opinions.
Correct guidelines are something I have upheld. I was born into a poverty-stricken family. I depended on grants to support my life and complete my studies, from high school through university. My motto is: devotion to the cause of education under the direction of the Party. I regard dialectical materialism as my guideline for psychological research. I agree with the materialistic and dialectical view of psychological development. At the same time, I also agree with the psychological theory on reflection which is materialist and dialectical.
I also advocate for the principle of systematicity. Influenced by the materialist dialectics’ methodology and modern systems theory, I prefer the principles of holism or systematicity. People and their psychological development form a system, or an organic whole. Any detailed study of psychology is a whole, or a system, composed of various links. The view of systematicity has taught me that education and psychological development are a systematic project, and a natural and social phenomenon coupled with multiple processes, forms, effects, and disputes. It has motivated me to build systems such as the structure of thinking and the structure of virtues. It also has helped me complete more than 20 major research projects concerning psychology and education.
CSST: You have made contributions to the Sinicization of psychological study. How do you describe your approach to this cause? 
Lin Chongde: The Sinicization of psychological research is an aspiration I share with past generations of Chinese psychologists. In particular, Pan Shu (1897–1988) and Zhu Zhixian (1908–1991) made incisive expositions in their works. Regarding scholars of my generation, psychologists such as Che Wenbo, Shen Deli, Huang Xiting and I have made great efforts advocating for the Sinicization of psychological research.
As early as 1985, I published “On the Future Path of Psychology of Chinese Children” in the inaugural issue of Psychological Development and Education. I raised the topic of the Sinicization of psychological research. In 1989, I published “Sinicization of Psychological Research” in the same journal, discussing its connotation, demands, approaches and other aspects. In 2010, professor Xin Ziqiang and I, again in the journal, discussed Sinicization in the article “The Realistic Turn of Developmental Psychology,” explicitly illustrating the relationship between Sinicization and internationalization. We held that China’s psychological study would never stand on its feet on the global stage if we fail to establish our intellectual tradition in a global context. To achieve this goal, we must emphasize the Sinicization of research. In that article, we were alert to the danger of completely changing China into a testing ground for Western theories and methods in the name of “internationalization” or “the access to the world,” let alone turning ourselves into Chinese data collectors serving our Western counterparts.
The Sinicization of psychological research implies that scholars should study real problems in China and seek local wisdom, methodology, and research approaches while drawing on the theories and methodology of scientific psychology from abroad. Also, it implies that China should establish its own psychological knowledge system, especially a theoretical system.
CSST: As a member of the Executive Committee of the 28th International Congress of Psychology, can you introduce the internationalization of China’s psychological study?
Lin Chongde: China is home to a group of pioneers in the internationalization of psychology. Since the reform and opening up, Jing Qicheng (1926–2008), Zhang Houcan (1927–) and Zhang Kan have successively served as vice presidents of the International Union of Psychological Science. Thanks to their efforts, Beijing held the 28th International Congress of Psychology in 2004. Renowned psychologists across the world all came to China. More than 6,000 psychologists gathered in the Beijing International Conference Center, charting a phase of internationalization of China’s psychological study.
Since 1978, under the national policy of the reform and opening up, psychology in China has been unprecedentedly active. Its team became broader in scope. It saw many academic activities and more scientific results. Also, Chinese scholars broke with convention and began studying a wide range of psychological fields. They conducted international exchanges and cooperative research in psychology. In 1999, the Ministry of Science and Technology included psychology in the 18 national priority areas for development in its Science and Technology Development Plan for 2010. In 2004, Beijing successfully held the 28th International Congress of Psychology. These two events signaled that China’s psychological study commenced a period of prosperity.
The internationalization of China’s psychological study is a fundamental strategy to improve the academic level of psychology in the country. Internationalization not only refers to communication and cooperation with international counterparts but also includes compliance with the international standards for psychological research. As for specific measures, we must identify our gaps within international psychology, and then strive to narrow the gaps. We should publish academic papers and research reports in international journals of psychology, which can serve as an index for measuring the research level and a channel for displaying academic achievements. Scholars should participate in, or hold, international scholarly conferences and forums to bind their relationships with international psychologists. Organizations should purchase advanced materials and equipment, thereby expanding knowledge and facilitating research conditions.
CSST: What can we learn from the internationalization of China’s psychological study?
Lin Chongde: While promoting internationalization, we must devote to nationalization. It is the fundamental way to speed up the Sinicization of psychological research. There are four reasons why I recommend this approach. Psychological thoughts existed in China before the introduction of scientific psychology to the country. China has a large population and a unique cultural background. It behooves us to study the characteristics of Chinese people while emphasizing the commonality of psychological phenomena. In addition, cross-cultural research remains a way forward in the development of scientific psychology. Only cross-cultural comparative studies can dig into the commonality of human psychology. Lastly, since the reform and opening up, Chinese psychologists have conducted plenty of research and proposed many knowledge systems and discourse systems. Yan Guocai’s History of Chinese Psychology is exemplary. It is what international psychology needs.
For example, in 2003, professor Li Qing’an (Li Tsingan) and I proposed an original intellectual structure based on traditional Chinese culture in an article published in Theory & Psychology. We adopted the Six Arts education of ancient China to criticize Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. At the end of 2006, British academic publishing group SAGE Publication released data on its website that our article was on the 50 most read articles of all over 600 articles published in the 17 years since the founding of the journal. Its best ranking was sixth place. This case demonstrates that only a strong personal style or distinctiveness with national characteristics can lead to the consensus or commonality of the international psychological circle.

Edited by MA YUHONG