APS Delegation Visits China

The APS delegation would like to extend its gratitude to the many hosts in China. Special thanks go to:

Kan Zhang
The Institute of Psychology

Ye Liu
The Institute of Psychology

Shizhuan Zhang
Chinese Academy of Science

Xiaolan Fu
The Institute of Psychology

Xianghong Sun
The Institute of Psychology

Zhengkui Liu
The Institute of Psychology

Qicheng Jing
Chinese Psychological Society

Houcan Zhang
Chinese Psychological Society

Shihui Han
Peking University

Yan Xu Beijing
Normal University

Lin Chen
National Laboratory for Brain Research

Much like everything else in China, psychological science is currently undergoing a rapid transformation. This past March, a distinguished APS delegation made the trek to Beijing in hopes of gaining an understanding of the state of the science there, as well as foster relationships with Chinese counterparts. The group was led by APS President John Cacioppo, The University of Chicago, and included Randy Gallistel, Rutgers University; Rochel Gelman, Rutgers University; Richard Shiffrin, Indiana University; Varda Shoham, University of Arizona; Barbara Tversky, Stanford and Columbia universities; Jia-Hong Gao, The University of Chicago; Zhong-Lin Lu, University of Southern California; and APS Executive Director Alan Kraut.

When asked why this delegation was important, Cacioppo offered two fundamental observations: “For one,” he said, “science is best advanced without obstacles. These include disciplinary and geographical borders.”

“Number two,” he added, “problems are no longer local.” International partnerships are the natural result of the necessity to address shared problems as well as the use of current technologies that allow us to communicate across the globe.

But interaction necessarily precedes collaboration, hence the APS delegation. During their trip, the delegates made visits to the psychology departments of Peking University and Beijing Normal University, as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Institute of Psychology, and the National Laboratory for Brain Research.

What did they learn? “One thing is clear: Psychology in China is happening and happening fast” says Shoham.

As the delegates “explored the research landscape,” as Shiffrin put it, they saw a strong commitment to answering basic behavioral research questions.  Shiffrin also said that similar to current trends in the US, neuroscience has taken a front seat in many research programs.

By all accounts, the research being done was impressive. “I was excited to see the amazing developments in psychological science in China,” said Tversky. “At many institutions we visited we were shown exponential curves of research publications, especially in elite journals.”

This growth in publication has been fueled by rapidly expanding departments and an infusion of top-notch equipment. “Some in our delegation wondered if our own departments and laboratories will soon look like poor cousins,” says Shoham.

The boom in psychological science in China offers ample opportunity for scientific collaboration.  “Over the past three to four years,” says Lu, “the number of psychology departments in China has exploded from a few to a few hundred. APS is in a unique position to influence many academic programs and researchers in China.”

Members of the APS Delegation to China with representatives from the Chinese Psychological Society at the Institute of Psychology in Beijing.

Forging individual relationships proved to be an important aspect of the trip as well. Shiffrin remarks that as with many endeavors, international initiatives “start with the formation of personal contacts and friendships, something our visit did accomplish.”

Steps have also been taken to foster collaboration in the next generation of researchers. An agreement was struck for APS to serve as a clearinghouse for US laboratories interested in hosting Chinese graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who were oft described as exceedingly talented and energetic.

APS is uniquely suited to foster this type of international collaboration. Shiffrin puts it best when he says “APS of course is the central organization that represents and promotes scientific psychology, and is thereby best positioned to promote and encourage scientific psychology internationally.”

“International” is the key word. Cacioppo is adamant that this visit was about more than just US and China. APS has made great strides in fostering relationships in Europe, Australia, North America, and Asia,  and there are still many more areas in which psychological scientists could benefit from greater contact. “It is my hope that future APS presidents maintain this dialogue” says Cacioppo. “In the future, psychological science will be a global effort.”  From the looks of it, the future is now.

Glimpses of Chinese Psychology: Reflections on the APS Trip to China

By Barbara Tversky

It felt like summer camp for academicians — the thrill of finding our names in the forest of placards awaiting the throng of travelers emerging from baggage claim, the throng of humanity a herald, as our van joins the throng of new cars creeping past sleek towering high rises and endless shopping centers, the huge neon signs not yet lit. The vertical expansion of Beijing has been matched by the horizontal, so no need for speed limits. Like everything new in Beijing, the towers are oversized, but in proportion, so only when you get close do you realize their size. In the coming days, we would spend many hours crawling along these roads, here and there catching glimpses of the past, twig brooms sweeping the sidewalks, bicycles hauling passengers and goods, but the pace is such that the 10-story buildings modern in the 80s are being torn down for 40 story ones.

We made our way to the venerable Friendship Hotel, a complex of austere broad dark stone rectangles lightened by upturned green Chinese decorative roofs, with time only to put our suitcases in our rooms and join our colleagues in the lobby. A van was waiting to take us to a banquet with our warm and generous Chinese hosts, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Institute of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing Normal University, and the National Laboratory for Brain Research, the premier institutions for psychological research in China and institutions we will visit in the next four days.

It fell into a routine. At 9:00 am, the van whisked us to one of the above, where we were escorted to a conference room, our hosts seated on one side of a large table, water bottles awaiting us on the other side. We had a warm welcome and then an informative power point presentation of the history and present status of the institution, with friendly discussion intermixed. Tea arrived at some point. The same story everywhere: the growth of Chinese psychology, and undoubtedly other academic disciplines, parallels the growth of the economy, exponential. The first psychology department was established in 1978; now there are 200, with more departments opening and more positions in those that exist.

We began at the Institute of Psychology, an early member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a respected research institute that has trained many graduate students, including many of our hosts. We were welcomed by Kan Zhang, our host among hosts. He is currently president of both the Institute of Psychology and the Chinese Psychological Association. He is also on the executive committee of the International Union of Psychological Science.

After the welcome and the history came a mix of power point presentations and visits to labs, beautifully organized by researchers of all levels and graduate students. We saw the latest MRI magnets, TMS equipment, eye-trackers, immersive virtual reality, computer labs — in short, equipment and space that any department would covet. The walls were papered with posters and stacks of reprints of recent publications in Nature, Science, and other elite journals were on display.

What are Chinese psychologists’ interests? What is their expertise? Not surprising – they are similar, to ours — general cognitive, social, developmental, emotional processes always with a social conscience, never far from societal good, and, thus, education, social and mental health, human factors. Their societal problems are ours: effective education, an aging population, addiction, emotional stability, and mental health. A premium is placed on brain research and other biological approaches, like neuronal, genetic, and biophysical methods. Cognitive science is primarily neuroscience, with smatterings of linguistics and modeling. Clinical science as an area is under development.

What would they like from international psychologists? Similar again to what we would like from them: Exchanges of students and faculty, joint research projects, joint laboratories, and joint training of graduate students and post-docs like the research exchange program organized by the Rutgers Cognitive Science Program. It is likely that they would welcome other such programs. They are eager for visitors for short or long term, and there is funding for that.  For example, in the near future there will be 50 or so new positions just in the Institute of Psychology, some of which can be used for visitors.

The present situation is all the more impressive given the history of psychology in China. The history in the early part of the 20th Century paralleled our own, laboratories founded by researchers who had been trained in the United States or in Germany. The 1949 revolution changed that. Psychology diminished, nearly disappeared in denial of psychological issues. To the extent that there was outside contact, it was Soviet. The Cultural Revolution abolished degrees and nearly destroyed all higher education. Contemporary psychological science began in 1978, with the re-founding of the psychology department in Peking University.

Now, the Chinese Psychological Association (CPA) looks to the world, and like APS, is oriented toward psychological science and research. It now has more than 7,000 full members and more than 2000 student members with 30 provincial organizations. CPA holds meetings every two years, the most recent 2007 in Kaifeng. Many foreign researchers attended that meeting, and we are all invited to the next one, in 2009 in Jinan, Shandong Province, birthplace of Confucius. The society publishes two journals in Chinese with English abstracts; the better one accepts papers in English. A third journal on psychology in public interest will soon begin publication. The society is under the auspices of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (and an early member of it), which is an umbrella for 200 scientific societies, much like the US Academy of Science.  Like the United States, the Chinese Academy of Sciences participates in the International Council of Scientific Unions.

Our visit, both breath-taking and uplifting, ended with a gala banquet at an elegant former palace, where we were escorted along a pathway of red lanterns by women in stunning Qing Dynasty dress, regaled by lively conversation and a show of traditional Chinese music and dance.

We came away knowing that this visit was a wonderful start for what is sure to be a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership that will advance psychological science globally.

The Institute of Psychology and Chinese Academy of Sciences:

A Brief History (1929-2008)

By Qicheng Jing and Lulu Wan

Early History

In late 19th century, Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology laboratory in Leipzig in 1879. Yuanpei Cai (1891-1940) was the only Chinese student who studied in Wundt’s laboratory. After working with Wundt from 1908 to 1912, Cai came back to China and was appointed President of Peking University. In 1917, with Cai’s support, the Chair of the Philosophy Department, Daqi Chen (1886-1983), established the first psychology laboratory in China. The Chinese Psychological Society (CPS) was founded in 1921 and was the seventh psychological association in the world, the first being APA, founded in 1892. The first Chinese psychology journal Psychology was published in 1922. Obviously, Chinese psychology made an early start in psychology’s world history.

In 1928, Cai founded the Academia Sinica1 which then consisted of nine institutes, including astronomy, meteorology, physics, chemistry, history and linguistics. The Institute of Psychology of Academia Sinica was established in 1929, with Yue Tang (1891-1987) as its first Director.

Some mention should be given to the first two Directors of the Institute of Psychology. Yue Tang (1891-1987) went to Cornell University in 1914 while Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927) was chairing the Cornell Department of Psychology. Coincidentally, Edwin G. Boring (1886-1968) received his PhD under Titchener in the same year when Tang came to Cornell. In 1917, Yue Tang went to Harvard and received his PhD in 1920. In 1934, Jingxi Wang (1898-1968) became the second Director of the Institute of Psychology. He studied in Johns Hopkins University in 1920, just before John B. Watson was expelled from the university, and received his PhD in 1923. Due to the influence of Behaviorism in China, most of the Institute of Psychology’s studies were in physiological psychology.

During the Japanese invasion of China after 1937, northern and coastal areas of China were occupied by Japanese forces, compelling many universities and research institutes to move to remote parts of China. The Institute of Psychology moved to Yangshuo, a small town near Guilin in Guangxi Province. The war caused serious setbacks in the progress of Chinese psychology. While still maintaining teaching in psychology, little could be accomplished in research with a scarcity of books and research apparatus. This status lasted until the end of World War II in 1945. The aftermath lasted even longer, as it took another one to two years for universities and psychological institutions to move back to their original sites. The Institute of Psychology moved to Shanghai in 1947.

The Institute after the People’s Republic of China

The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 (before 1949 the country was called Republic of China). At that time, the Academia Sinica changed its name to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In 1950, the President of Yenching University, Zhiwei Lu (1894-1970), was assigned to rebuild a new Institute of Psychology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Lu received his PhD from University of Chicago in 1920. In 1951, the new Institute of Psychology was inaugurated with Richang Cao (1911-1969) as its first Director. In 1956, Shu Pan (1897-1988) became the second Director of the Institute, Richang Cao and Zan Ding (1910-1968) were Deputy Directors. Cao received a PhD. from Cambridge University in England and Ding studied at the University of Chicago.

In the People’s Republic of China, the new psychology took Marxist philosophy as its guiding principle; psychology in the Soviet Union was looked upon as its model. Chinese psychology started a movement of reform and tried to free itself from Western influences. As in the Soviet Union, however, psychology was often attacked as a bourgeois ideology, and also following the Soviet educational system, there were no independent departments of psychology in Chinese universities. Psychology was only a secondary discipline under either philosophy or education.

The Chinese Cultural Revolution started in 1966 and lasted till 1976. Psychology was under severe attack and finally abolished as a pseudoscience. Scientific research and teaching institutions in psychology were dissolved, the Institute of Psychology shut down, renowned psychologists persecuted, other psychologists dispatched to the countryside to do farm work. The Cultural Revolution disaster ended in 1976.

The Revival of Psychology

After the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government launched a new policy of “Reform and Opening-Up to the Outside World.” This has pushed Chinese psychology into a new era of development; universities began to establish independent psychology departments or research laboratories. The first Department of Psychology was established in Peking University in 1978. Subsequently, Beijing Normal (Beijing), East China Normal (Shanghai), South China Normal (Guangzhou), and Hangzhou Universities established their psychology departments. Along with China’s rapid economic growth, psychology also witnessed a dramatic development. 30 years later, there are now 216 departments and institutions of psychology in China and 10 psychology journals which publish about 1,000 papers annually.

In 1980, the Institute of Psychology sent a delegation to the 22nd International Congress of Psychology in Leipzig, which was held in commemoration of the founding of the first psychology laboratory by Wundt 100 years before. In this Congress, the Chinese Psychological Society (CPS) joined the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS) as its 44th national member. Thus, after 31 years of alienation from the Western world, Chinese psychology had finally returned to the international community.

The Chinese Psychological Society is affiliated with the Institute of Psychology, with Kan Zhang as its President. Kan Zhang was a PhD from the University of Illinois. It has 14 divisions, covering most fields of psychology (Table 1). The membership of the Chinese Psychological Society has increased from 900 in 1980 to 6,600 in 2006 (Figure 1). The Society’s flagship journal Acta Psychologica Sinica is published jointly by the Chinese Psychological Society and the Institute of Psychology, which reflects the standard of psychological research in China and holds high prestige at national and international levels.

The Institute of Psychology in 2008

It is commonly acknowledged that the Institute of Psychology plays the leading role in psychological research in China. Table 2 gives the names of the Directors and Deputy Directors of the Institute since its inception and their training backgrounds. As of 2008, it has 150 faculty members, including 2 members of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World and many award winners of national scientific organizations. Since 2002, the Institute has undertaken a number of major research programs, such as the China National Basic Research Program, Programs of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the National High-Tech Research and Development Program. The Institute’s faculty has published a total of about 1100 scientific papers in Chinese and international journals in recent years.

Being the only national research institute in psychology in China, the Institute of Psychology has carried out a wide range of researches in the following fields:

Developmental and Educational Psychology

The Division of Developmental and Educational Psychology conducts research in five fields: Cognitive development and creativity, emotional development and socialization of children, children’s mental health and behavioral problems, and applied child psychology. This Division also studies psychological development of Chinese children, children’s socialization under different cultural backgrounds.

Cognitive and Experimental Psychology

The Division of Cognitive and Experimental Psychology studies mechanisms of cognitive processes, cognition of written and spoken Chinese, the role of emotion in cognitive processes, psychological study of man-machine systems, driving safety and aviation safety, selection and training of special personnel. The ultimate goal of the Division is to uncover the mystery of the human mind. A diversity of research tools are used, including virtual reality, eye movement tracking, event-related potentials (ERPs), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and behavioral observations.

Mental Health

The Division of Mental Health has a wide range of research interests, including drug addiction and its underlying neural mechanisms, central neural coding for pain and affection, neuropsychology of mental health and psychiatric illnesses, the relationship between stress and mental diseases, personality and psychological assessments, and healthy aging. It aims to provide theoretical, practical, and technological support for mental health care.

Social and Economic Behavior

The mission of the Division of Social and Economic Behavior is to carry out programmatic research on themes relating to the following fields: (i) Economic behavior and decision making, including decision-making under risk, social interactive behavior, economic decision-making and consumer behavior; (ii) Organizational behavior and human resources management, including brand management, leadership work teams, safety culture in organizations; (iii) Social psychology and complex system safety, such as social alarming systems, psychological harmony, and interpersonal trust and credibility.

Behavioral Genetics

Figure 1: Number of psychologists in the Chinese Psychological Society

The Division of Behavioral Genetics focuses on the inheritance and evolution of human behavior, genetic basis of development of personality, mental disorders and related behaviors. The Division seeks to explore the mechanism of environmental factors in regulation of complex behaviors via epigenetic modification, simulation of complex human behavior by employing transgenic animal models, and to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying such behaviors.

Beyond research work, the Institute of Psychology also has good supporting facilities: The Institute Library possesses the largest collection of psychology books and databases in China. It holds more than 100,000 volumes of books, and more than 50 psychology journals, including some early international journals, such as the American Journal of Psychology since its first volume of 1887. In addition, the Institute Network Center provides an excellent platform to facilitate information exchanges and research management. The Institute has established extensive cooperation and exchanges with many countries.

The milestone in the history of Chinese psychology was the hosting of the 28th International Congress of Psychology in Beijing, 2004. Qicheng Jing was the President of the Congress. It attracted 6261 participants from 78 countries.

Indeed, the boost of psychology in China in the last decades is a miracle of the scientific world in the 20th century.  ♦

1 Academia Sinica (Latin words meaning Academy of China) was the predecessor of Chinese Academy of Sciences. After the founding of People’s of Republic of China in 1949, Academia Sinica changed its name to Chinese Academy of Sciences; while most institutes remained on mainland China, several institutes moved to Taiwan.

Barbara Tversky is Professor Emerita of Psychology at Stanford University and Professor of Psychology at Columbia Teachers College.  Her research interests include spatial memory, thinking, and language, event perception and cognition, visual communication, diagrammatic reasoning, memory, and categorization.  She is on the Governing Board of the Cognitive Science Society and the Executive Committee of the International Union of Psychological Science.

Qicheng Jing is Professor of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Past-President of the Chinese Psychological Society.

Lulu Wan is a Research Assistant at the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

APS regularly opens certain online articles for discussion on our website. Effective February 2021, you must be a logged-in APS member to post comments. By posting a comment, you agree to our Community Guidelines and the display of your profile information, including your name and affiliation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations present in article comments are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of APS or the article’s author. For more information, please see our Community Guidelines.

Please login with your APS account to comment.