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From the Classics to Today: How much Have Values Changed

The classic novels offer wonderful insight into some of the dominant cultural values of pre-modern China. They portray values indirectly through character and narrative rather than through explicit identification, and they usually tell us which values are preferred or honored by the society and which are condemned, without telling us how widespread a particular set of values was, or which sectors of society tended to hold which values. An alternative approach to studying cultural values is the social science method of survey research, which allows us to measure cultural values directly and to describe culture as a quantitative distribution of values across a population. Of course survey research cannot go back in history to measure the distribution of values in the past. But if we compare the values presented qualitatively in classical literature with those described quantitatively in modern survey research, we can get some sense of the extent to which values have stayed the same or have changed since pre-modern times.

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