Book Review and Academic Information

Big and small histories: A review of the tetralogy on the history of Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS

  • SUN Jun ,
  • PAN Yujun
  • College of Tourism and Geographical Sciences, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China

Online published: 2018-12-20


Journal of Geographical Sciences, All Rights Reserved

Cite this article

SUN Jun , PAN Yujun . Big and small histories: A review of the tetralogy on the history of Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2018 , 28(12) : 2016 -2018 . DOI: 10.1007/s11442-018-1578-6

Editorial Committee, 2016. Institute of Geography, CAS: 1940-1999. Beijing: Science Press (in Chinese); Editorial Committee, 2016. Commission for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources, CAS: 1956-1999. Beijing: Science Press (in Chinese); Editorial Committee, 2016. The Road of Developing Geography: Memoirs of Activities in Institute of Geography, CAS, 1940-1999. Beijing: Science Press (in Chinese); Editorial Committee, 2016. Unfulfilled Footprints on the Divine Land: Memoirs of Scientific Investigation under the Commission for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources, CAS: 1956-1999. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)
Institutionalization is recognized as the key to making geography accepted as an academic discipline (Mayhew, 2011). Also, it is just because the disciplinary institutionalization, geography has become more and more running as a professionalized and socialized enterprise (Johnston et al., 2015). For many geographers, for instance, Dunbar (2005) equates the modernization of geography to its institutionalization and professionalization.
In China, disciplinary institutes could be classified into three categories: societies which concentrate on the communication of geographical communities, departments at the universities and colleges and special research institutes. The second mainly aims at training teachers for middle schools and partly at training specialists for geographical survey and study. As in research institutes, many large-scale and significant research works were accomplished; also more and more specialists for qualifications-required works are trained. Among these institutes, disciplinary special research institutes arrive much later compared to its disciplinary partners. For example, the first geographical department was established at the Beijing Advanced Normal School in 1904, and the first geographical society, Chinese Geographic Society (中国地学会1(1 Many texts translated the “中国地学会” as Chinese Earth Studies Society in English, but in the cover of the institutional periodical of this society, the periodical’s English name was “The Geographic Magazine”, and the society’s English name was “Chinese Geographic Society”.), 1909-1950), was established in 1909. The first research institute in China, the China Institute of Geography (1940-), however, was only founded until the year 1940.
Although it came very late, the China Institute of Geography has gradually become the disciplinary core, and its successors have led the way of developing geography in China. Many texts have revealed the institutes’ contribution to both disciplinary and national growth, development, and boom in China (e.g. Zhang, 2013; Leng et al., 2016), but an in-depth description on the history of the institutes is still unappeasable until the publication of the tetralogy (Editorial Committee, 2016a, 2016b, 2016c, 2016d).
The tetralogy chooses the particular period 1940-1999 as their primary time frame, mainly because the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) was founded in 1999 through merging the former Institute of Geography (IOG), founded in 1940, with the former Commission for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources (CISNAR), founded in 1956. However, in the texts, the time frame is traced back to the year 1937, when Chinese geographers launched their enterprise of establishing a specialized research institute where professional research works could be accomplished and graduates could make their further study. There are more than 200 contributors mainly from the IGSNRR to the tetralogy, and they make the tetralogy up to 4,417,000 words.
Institute of Geography, CAS: 1940-1999 and Commission for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources, CAS: 1956-1999 concentrate upon the “big” history of the IOG and CISNAR through distinct themes from a long-term perspective. Institute of Geography, CAS: 1940-1999 is organized into nine thematic sections with a chronicle of events and series appendixes, which are: Organizational history, research divisions and key labs, significant achievements, affairs management, Party-masses working, Library, Information and documentation division, journals, affiliated society (the Geographical Society of China), and the brief introduction to contributors. Through these sections, authors make significant efforts to introduce the institute’s structure, history, operation, and contribution to society and discipline. These components are genuinely described in-depth, and many achievements shine through the pages.
Commission for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources, CAS: 1956-1999 covers ten thematic parts that aim at summarizing the development of CISNAR (Part I), at describing various investigation groups (Part II), at outlining major research works (Part III), at introducing research divisions, key labs, international communication and cooperation (Part IV), auxiliary departments (Part V), management organizations (Part VI), and affiliated organizations (Part VII), at presenting contributors (Part VIII). Besides, this book also includes a chronicle of events and ten appendixes as two independent parts (Parts IX and X). Through these parts, authors also make a tremendous effort to provide information on the structure, history, operation, achievement, and contribution of the institute. For the history of CISNAR, Zhang Jiuchen’s research (2013) also makes a significant contribution to the institute’s organizational history, significant works, and exceptional contribution to the development of the discipline resources science in China.
Unlike the “big” history outlined by the two masterpieces of the tetralogy mentioned above, the two memoirs, The Road of Developing Geography and Unfulfilled Footprints on the Divine Land, are edited collections that cover a wide array of topics dealing with the operations of IOG and CISNAR, and many works have been published elsewhere. As the editor of The Road of Developing Geography puts, every piece in the memoir “only writes an affair, a conference, an instrument, a scientific investigation, a program, a person….it is not just a record of the years’ happenings, but living history that shows the scientific activities of IOG profoundly.” (p. vii) While most of the divisions, works, names and so forth have been mentioned in the “big” history on the IOG and CISNAR, we can still trace the rough history of the IOG and CISNAR, know how the IOG and CISNAR were constructed and operated, and feel Chinese geographers’ passion for their discipline, home, and the country through these “small but real” history.
In short, the tetralogy shows the traces of IOG and CISNAR meticulously, provides vibrant historical materials and makes a significant contribution to the research of disciplinary history in China. Although all of these pay attention to the historical contribution of the tetralogy, we still find exciting themes in disciplinary theories. In the summary of the Institute of Geography, CAS: 1940-1999, for example, the subtitle, “Development Scientific Research Work on National Need and Disciplinary Process” (p. 5) is rather eye-catching. Also, at the end of this summary, the author puts, “IOG was constructed according to the discipline, and aimed at accomplishing national tasks” (p. 16). For the CISNAR, according to Zhang’s survey (2013), discussion on the relationship between discipline and task was also frequently brought-up in this institute. Thanks to the numerous tasks, resources science has been preferentially developed and boomed in China.
Currently, more and more geographers within and outside China are inclined to label the way of geography developed in China as “practice-oriented” or “policy-oriented”, which is very different from the “theory-oriented” way in the West (e.g., Lu, 2003; Liu, 2009, 2016; Webber, 2010; Fan, 2016; Fan et al., 2016; Fu, 2017). According to the discussion on the making of geographical tradition (Livingstone, 1992), the “practice-oriented” or “policy-oriented” way of developing geography also could be and should be, labeled as a distinct tradition both within and beyond China. What the tetralogy contributes to this is: they provide high quality and profound interpretations on the making of “practice-oriented” or “policy-oriented” tradition of geography in China, taking the long view of history.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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Editorial Committee, 2016a. Institute of Geography, CAS:1940-1999. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

Editorial Committee, 2016b. The Road of Developing Geography:Memoirs of Activities in Institute of Geography, CAS, 1940-1999. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

Editorial Committee, 2016c. Commission for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources, CAS:1956-1999. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

Editorial Committee, 2016d. Unfulfilled Footprints on the Divine Land:Memoirs of Scientific Investigation under the Commission for Integrated Survey of Natural Resources, CAS, 1956-1999. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)

Fan J, 2016. Chinese human geography and its contributions.Journal of Geographical Sciences, 26(8): 987-1000.The aim of this paper is to sift through examples of outstanding contributions made by Chinese human geography in terms of social applications and explain the basic concepts and theoretical methods explored by human geography that are behind the applications of results with major social influence, so as to be able to summarize the main school that represents developments in contemporary Chinese human geography. Chinese human geography upholds the subject’s designation as being integrated and interdisciplinary. Research focuses on interactions between the natural and human spheres of the Earth’s surface, and it is guided by the understanding and effects of the processes of regional sustainable development at different spatial scales. Chinese human geography has innovatively established the following development paradigm: “To be guided by application requirements, refine key issues of the discipline in the course of solving major issues of human geography in national and regional development, and by solving those key issues, to enhance its ability to provide scientific and technological support to serve national and local needs while promoting its own development.” Results from early Chinese human geography studies on land use and agricultural zoning, recent research results on point-axis system models and T-shaped national spatial development patterns, and current research results on territorial function theory and major function oriented zones have all continued and strengthened the mainstream school of Chinese human geography and have avoided the global tendency for human geography to become rapidly human-oriented, while results have been applied at the highest level of decision-making management. Chinese human geography can provide lessons for developing countries and may play a leading role in the future development of global human geography.


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