Tropical Geography ›› 2020, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (1): 1-9.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003175

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Critical Theoretical Engagements and Methodological Innovation for China’s Human Geography in a Decentering and (Anti) Globalizing World

George C S Lin   

  1. Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • Received:2019-08-23 Revised:2019-09-11 Online:2020-01-10 Published:2020-02-24


This paper situates Chinese human geography in the context of a decentering and globalizing world in which China has been firmly integrated. It is believed that the recent disturbing interventions of protectionism and Sino-American disputes have had the effect of slowing down but not reversing the long-term trend of intellectual globalization. Chinese human geographers should never be discouraged from entering the world stage and should instead take on the new challenges and opportunities for critical theoretical engagements and research innovation. A comparative assessment of Chinese human geography and its Western counterparts has identified common traditions and shared heritage in terms of subject matter, research frameworks, and routes of explanation. Whereas Chinese human geography is found to be more disciplined, organized, coherent, and supportive of state developmental agenda, human geography in the West is characterized by individual freedom, greater diversity, blue-sky enquiry, and a critical perspective free from any mandate that serves the interests of governments. Three ideological positions are identified for Chinese human geographers to use as important perspectives to engage in theoretical critique. Other possible ways of theoretical engagements include situating the problem in a different time and space, reassessment using different data and methods, challenging the basic assumptions upon which the theory is built, questioning cause-effect relationships, and (re) examining the issue on a different scale. Research innovation can be facilitated by a better understanding of three different kinds of geographic knowledge; establishing a research assessment system conducive and sufficiently stimulating; working at international research frontiers and interdisciplinary interfaces; promoting comparative studies; and utilizing research methods of different fashions. Three possible scenarios are envisioned for Chinese human geographers to venture into a future filled with new challenges and opportunities.

Key words: Human Geography, knowledge production, research methodology, history of geographical thoughts, comparative studies

CLC Number: 

  • K901