Volume 54, Number 2 Spring 2021

International Committee

Edited by Douglas D. Perkins, Vanderbilt University and Olga Oliveira Cunha, NOVA School of Social Sciences and Humanities.

The Development and Sinicization of Community Psychology in China 

Written by Liping Yang, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China; Xiting Huang, Southwest University, Chongqing, China; Douglas D. Perkins, Vanderbilt University, USA; Xihe Li and Mengge Tan, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China, Zijun Sun, University of Glasgow, UK

Community Psychology (CP) started late in China, but has developed rapidly in recent years. In its early stages, Chinese CP absorbed concepts, theories and experience from Western CP. Chinese psychologists then carried out an innovation and a theoretical reconstruction. Chinese CP has now been “Sinicized,” or formally established on its own Chinese terms.

Development of Community Psychology in China

Germination of Chinese Community Psychology. CP in China began in the late 1980s. In 1989, Feng Zengjun at South China Normal University published “Overview of American Community Psychology”, which was the first paper written about CP in Chinese. That same year, the first mainland Chinese article was published in English (Dewei, 1989). In the 1990s, Chinese psychologists may not have published their own CP work, but were aware of American CP (Zuo, 2001; Cheng, & Mou, 2007). But by the 2000s Chinese psychologists began publishing a series of CP studies. In 2007, Deng Shiying and American community psychologist Mark Roosa published an article on family influences on delinquent behaviors and the social development of middle-school adolescents in Beijing. In 2010, Dalton et al was the first Western CP textbook to be translated and published in China. In 2012, Yang and Perkins published a quantitative analysis of the literature and of opportunities and obstacles for the development of Chinese CP. In 2013, Liu Shixiang at Beijing Union University published Community Psychology, the first Chinese CP textbook, but it largely referred to the frameworks of Western CP. 

Establishment of CP Branch of the Chinese Psychological Society. In 2013,initiated by senior professor Huang Xiting from Southwest University in Chongqing, a group of psychologists concerned about social realities advocated the establishment of a Chinese CP professional organization. In September 2014, an “Advanced Seminar on Research and Practice of Chinese CP” was held at Southwest University. One month later, the Standing Council of the Chinese Psychological Society approved a preparatory committee for the establishment of a CP Branch. After a year, in October 2015, at the eighth meeting of the 11th Standing Council of Chinese Psychological Society, the CP Branch was officially established and affiliated with the Department of Psychology, Southwest University. The Branch is a public welfare academic organization composed of Chinese mainland professionals engaged in basic and applied CP research. At present, it has 44 members from 36 universities and scientific institutions in China, consisting of influential senior experts and younger academics in the field of CP.The CP Branch is now chaired by Professor Chen Hong from Southwest University,

Development of Chinese Community Psychology in Recent Years. The establishment of the CP Branch marks the legitimacy of CP as a discipline in China. Under the leadership and promotion of the CP Branch, Chinese CP has developed rapidly in recent years. The following progress has been made: (1) organizing an annual national academic meeting to present and discuss new research achievements in the field, and promote exchanges between theoretical researchers and professionals; (2) publishing Research of CP as the journal of the CP Branch since 2015. Nine volumes have been published so far. This is the first and only CP journal in the Chinese mainland at present; (3) translating and introducing Western CP research results in an organized and planned way. Since 2017, Southwest Normal University Press has translated and published a Translation Collection of CP, including 10 volumes, six of which have already been published. In 2018 and 2020, Shanghai Education Press translated and published Principles of Community Psychology: Perspectives and Applications (3rd ed.) byMurray Levine, Douglas D. Perkins and David V. Perkins,and then Community Psychology (4th ed.) by John Moritsugu, Frank Y. Wong and Karen G. Duffy. These are the most important reference books for CP teaching in China; (4) carrying out indigenous CP research (with Chinese characteristics), including the compilation and publication of Chinese CP textbooks and a book series about community mental health services. In the near future, an important textbook, Introduction to Community Psychology, edited by Professor Huang and co-edited by 20 experts from 16 Chinese universities, will be published by People’s Education Press. That is a milestone for the development of Chinese CP, marking its formal establishment as a mature field in China.

Situation and tasks faced by Chinese community psychologists

China began its reforms and opening-up in 1978 and has made remarkable achievements in economic development. In 1978, China's economy ranked 11th in the world; in 2010, it surpassed Japan to become the world's second largest economy. The psychological and behavioral effects produced by economic development, and its inequalities, are varied and complex. People with different demographic profiles or different social status have different psychological and behavioral changes. 

Prevalence of mental health problems. With rapid development of the economy, the pressures of social competition increased, resulting in a variety of psychological and stress-related mental health problems, psychosomatic and chronic diseases, which have become serious public health problems in China. According to government data in 2016, of the population over age 15 in China, there were more than 100 million people with various mental illnesses, of which 16 million suffered from major mental disorders. Depression outpatients increased by 20% per year. More than 30 million children have psycho-behavioral disorders. 

Children and the elderly are the two highest-risk groups for mental health problems. The National College Entrance Examination has placed tremendous pressure on children in K-12 education, leading to a variety of psychological and behavioral problems. At the same time, China is accelerating into an aging society. The increasing number of disabled elderly people, coupled with the one-child policy in effect from 1979-2015, weakened the ability of working-age family members to support their elders, especially for seniors without adult children’s proximal social and economic support, and led to increased family stress and neglect.

People's Demands for a Better Life. As living standards improve, people’s expectations grew for a better life, such as travel and leisure entertainment, physical exercise and care, home improvements, and so on. The number of community psychologists and social service workers is far from enough to meet the needs of community residents. Mental Health Education and Psychological Consultation and Service, as two traditional disciplines, mainly work in mental health centers of universities or hospital-based psychological clinics. How to provide community-based psychological services for individuals and groups, including prevention and rehabilitation, requires consultation, planning and implementation from community psychologists.

With the process of urbanization in China, a large number of migrants moving from rural areas to find work in cities is another focus of CP work. Their adaptation to urban life, the pressure they bear, their children's education, and their relationship with native urbanites are all practical issues in Chinese CP. For those who stay in the countryside, the rural revitalization plan provides them with development opportunities. Although material living standards have improved, social problems caused by relative poverty are more difficult to solve.

The construction of smart communities is a new phenomenon, and an innovative mode of urban community management in China. How to make full use of the Internet, Internet of things, cloud property and other technical means, integrated human-machine systems, and how to deal with community security monitoring, garbage management, express services and other issues in the same platform are also under consideration.

Lack of Residents' Sense of Community. Community is not the same concept in China and the West. In China, community is strictly geographic and local rather than based on shared interest, affiliation, religion, etc. It is equivalent to a rural village or housing block within an urban neighborhood. Before the reform and opening-up, the form of ownership in Chinese society was state or collective ownership. In cities, most people in the same danwei (a place of work, for example, a company) live in the same block of housing. Property rights belonged to the danwei, which allocated housing uniformly to employees' families. From property maintenance and children's education to retirement care, the logistics department of the danwei provided comprehensive services and management. As long as urban residents had a job in a state-owned danwei, they only needed to work hard, and there was no need to worry about any basic services. In 1998, China launched a nationwide housing reform. Danweis no longer provided housing for employees. Public housing was made private and the residents had to purchase and now owned their home. Although property was privatized, it took a long time for residents to reduce their dependence on their danwei and government. That dependence reduced residents’ support for each other and sense of community. 

Institutions and rules in community life need to be improved. Many important laws have been established, such as the Laws on the Organization of Urban Neighborhood Committees and Village Residents Committees, to provide guidance and protection, management systems and behavioral norms to adjust the relationship between individuals and groups inside and outside the community. Yet there is still a need to establish more and better rules of daily life to help guide community residents to avoid or resolve conflicts within the community, which is also a key task for Chinese community psychologists. 

Addressing such complex problems often requires multidisciplinary efforts. For psychologists who are used to doing research in the laboratory, they have to overcome great psychological barriers—of knowledge, professional identity and comfort-- to go into communities to carry out research and provide psychological services. Cooperating with researchers in other disciplines to work together is definitely another big challenge.

Government policies: Driving force of Chinese community psychology 

The concept of grassroots community autonomy with Chinese characteristics. In 2007, President Hu Jintao first brought “grassroots self-government” into the political system “with Chinese characteristics” in the Report to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). He proposed “turning urban and rural neighborhoods into communities of social life that are well managed, supported by complete services, and filled with civility and harmony”, which was of great political significance. 

Grassroots community autonomy incorporated into basic state policy. On October 18, 2017, President Xi Jinping told the 19th CPC National Congress: “We should strengthen community governance systems, push the center of social governance down to the grassroots level, improve social organization, and realize the supportive interaction between government, social regulation and residents' autonomy.” Since then, strengthening and improving the social governance of grassroots communities and the construction of social and psychological service systems have become China's long-term development strategy.

Government policies and funding. As CP research contributes to the autonomy of grassroots communities and improves national governance, the government supports CP through positive policies,as substantial funding has been injected into community research projects and psychological services in recent years. For example, the previously-mentioned Community Mental Health Services book series was just funded by China National Publication Foundation. 

The Sinicization of community psychology and its significance to international community psychology

Based on China's unique history, culture, current conditions and social and political system, Chinese CP must follow a path “with Chinese characteristics.” This is a theoretical and practical system based on the reality of Chinese community, inheriting Chinese culture and values, reasonably absorbing and adapting the achievements of Western CP, and serving the planning, organization, and development of Chinese communities.

Rooted in the Chinese community. In the past 40 years, China has been carrying out the reform of the socialist political system with Chinese characteristics. During this process, public administration has focused on the local level, making the community the basic unit of government and services. Grassroots community autonomy was thus incorporated into political system reform. However, there are contradictions between residents’ indifferent sense of community and lack of participation and community self-governance. Different from the bottom-up community management mode of American civil society, China uses a top-down local administrative system. Residents have developed the habit of passive obedience and relying on the government, lacking enthusiasm for participating in community actions generally. How to be rooted in the community, and effectively enhance residents' consciousness of community, mutual aid, and stimulate their enthusiasm to participate is a key problem for Chinese CP.

Embodying Chinese culture and values. Community culture includes a traditional part and modern part. Different from individualistic Western culture, Chinese traditional culture is collectivist and relational, which values obligation more than individual rights and harmony more than conflict. Studies show that as China reforms and opens up, traditional collectivist culture is weakening in Chinese society, and Western individualism is becoming more popular. Chinese community psychologists believe that self-centered individualistic values are one of the important reasons for the growing inner struggles of individuals and families and social contradictions of communities. The revival of Chinese traditional culture, such as patriotism and Hehe (和合思维,harmonious) thinking may be an effective way for modern people to heal mental illness and solve social conflicts.

In 2012 President Hu advanced 12 common Chinese values on three levels in the report of the 18th CPC National Congress. Prosperity, democracy, civility and harmony are advocated at the national level, freedom, equality, justice and the rule of law are advocated at the regional or community level, and patriotism, dedication, integrity and friendship are advocated at the individual citizen level, which forms a set of systematic values, known as the “core socialist values.”

Participating in international dialogue. As early as 1989, Chinese psychologists began to introduce Western CP to China. Learning and absorbing the achievements of Western CP was the main feature of Chinese CP research at its early stage, and some of this will continue in the future. However, in view of the differences between Chinese and Western cultures, Chinese CP must adapt to its own national and local conditions. It is expected that Chinese CP will be different than in the rest of the world, as it should be. With the establishment and development of Chinese CP, Chinese community psychologists will participate more in international dialogue and share Chinese perspectives and experiences with the world.

This research is supported by Jiangsu Provincial Social Science Foundation, China (19SHB007). Correspondence re the Community Psychology Branch of the Chinese Psychological Society: Prof. Huang Xiting Correspondence re the TCP International column: and 


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