Buyun Gong

Scientific Management in Republican China: How the Future was Made Plannable

©RUB, Marquard

This dissertation project locates itself in the research field of ‘Self and Society’ within the collective project on East Asian Futures. Focusing on the history of Taylorism in Republican China from the 1910s to 1940s, this planned dissertation seeks to understand how the future was made plannable in the workplace and in larger economic and societal contexts.

This question will be organized to investigate three main areas:

1. Historical conditions. Under which historical conditions (including forms of knowledge and power relations) was Taylorism introduced and practised in Republican China? To which problems was Taylorism a solution?

2. Emergence of a plannable future. How was the future made plannable through scientific management? This question is to be approached with empirical case studies at different levels from work planning over welfare system to macro-economic planning.

3. Sociopolitical Effects. How did Taylorist style of work system shape the temporality of work-place and of worker’s body? How did it influence work-related welfare system and labor policies in general?

A central methodological premise underlying the proposed dissertation is a hypothesis of ‘doing future’. From a perspective of practice theory, the future is neither an objective ‘thing’ out there, nor a subjective perception in individuals’ minds. Instead, the future, as a lived temporality, is always enacted in doing. Another premise is that planning practices have constituted prevalent future-making practices since Western modernity. In the Chinese context, Republican China witnessed a similar temporal shift from an expectable future to a plannable future. Based on these two premises, the planned dissertation seeks to broaden the analytical focus from future conceptions to heterogeneous future-making practices. It attempts to untangle the discursive, bodily, affective and material dimensions of how the future was made plannable.