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This chapter portrays the implementation of a fully integrated mixed methods research design aimed to capture the ongoing process of social change in mainland China. We approach the study of social change by combining the investigation of existing social structures in China with an exploration of Chinese peoples’ perceptions about the function and role of social relationships in the process of adapting to new social practices. Our specific focus for the study of social change is the recent establishment of the rule of law in China, which is perhaps one of the most sweeping social reforms in the history of the country. To capture the mutual impact of structure and cognition on the agency of a rural Chinese citizen, we used a research design that integrates not only our multitude of questions and influencing concepts, but also different types of data and a range of data collection and analysis techniques. As discussed in the introduction of this volume, we identify this fully integrated mixed methods research design in reference to a typology developed by Teddlie and Tashakkori (2006:15).
A focus on the implications of legal reforms for social change in rural China allows us to thoroughly explore network effects in local communities. The Chinese legal system was one of the social institutions that received a major overhaul by the Chinese government as part of its economic reform package initiated in the late 1970s. In 1992, the National People’s Congress formally recognized that a sound market economy must be based on the rule of law and expected civil courts to provide legal services to all citizens alongside criminal courts (Potter 2001; Wang 2000). This decision has provided Chinese people with the option of settling civil disputes through formal adjudication by a judge at court in addition to the traditional practice of mediation based on the principles of reciprocity assisted by a local authority.
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