This is a comparative study of modern law and modern medicine as two emerging professions in early twentieth century China. Borrowing insights from the sociology of the professions and the study of institutional diffusion, I suggest that the rise of these two Chinese professions was an outcome of cross-national institutional diffusion. In what I call “imitative professionalization,” modern institutional models for professional organization were transplanted to the host society through government reforms and state building projects, on the one hand, and the expansion of Western professions, on the other. Meanwhile, the institutionalization of the new practices was also found to be circumscribed by the social organization and especially the reactions of preexisting native practices, which could be potentially facilitating or obstructive. In this way, the dynamics of diffusion and the social embeddedness of its reception would simultaneously shape the distinct power relations for each of the professions thus emerged, despite the formal similarities in their professional organization. Of the two Chinese cases, the practice of modern law had emerged as a well-established jurisdiction defined by the bureaucratic dominance of the state judiciary, often at the expense of the autonomy and status of private practice. Modern medicine, on the other hand, had grown from an autonomous profession in private practice to one with technocratic control over public health administration. Yet the modern physicians had been forced to concede part of their jurisdiction to a sufficiently organized community of native-style physicians. This study should be of interest to those who work on modern professions in similar non-Western contexts; it also aims to contribute to the qualitative and historical research on cross-national institutional diffusion.




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