This paper focuses on the state-sociologist relationships in China and the evolution of Chinese sociology in the late twentieth century. Based on the analyses of journal papers and state-funded sociological projects, as well as the oral histories of Chinese sociologists, this paper reveals a divergence between academic and applied sociologists that emerged in the early 1980s but became apparent by the late 1990s. Taking an ecological perspective, the author suggests that the separation of these two groups of sociologists resulted from their competition over turfs in academic and political ecologies. While academic sociologists gradually developed a disciplinary consciousness based on peculiar theories, methods, and an archipelago of research areas, applied sociologists failed to create their paradigms of sociological research and were marginalized in the academic ecology. But applied sociologists still had platforms to conduct policy-oriented research, although they never secured their turf in the political arena. This paper challenges the state-centered perspectives focusing solely on the CCP’s strategies to cultivate and tame professionals and academics. Instead, the author argues that the professionalization of Chinese sociology is partly related to the state’s lack of interest in sociological research in the 1990s.