Why is it political ‘science’?

It sometimes comes as a surprise to some that study of politics is a social ‘science.’ The terminology is indeed misleading, as the word ‘science’ usually conjures up an image of white lab coat and test tubes with some complex liquid in it, or indeed blackboard full of equations and calculations. However, there is a reason why the subject is called ‘political science’ and not simply ‘politics’ or ‘political studies.’ Political science is a branch of a broader discipline called ‘social science.’ Now the obvious question is:

What is Social Science?

Social science uses scientific methods to model and analyse the real society, and thereby explain human behaviours in certain situations. The fundamental aim of social science is not simply to observe a social phenomenon but to generate new knowledge based on quantitative and qualitative data.society .jpg

“The fundamental aim of social science is not simply to observe a social phenomenon but to generate new knowledge”

Quantitative design is the kind of method you are probably the most familiar with; it uses quantifiable variables (such as age) through statistical research and analysis to support the validity of a theory. It’s kind of like the natural sciences in this respect, because it relies on solid ‘facts’ and ‘numbers.’* Basically, it’s seeing the world through a lens of mathematics- everything will be converted to numbers, according to their values or characteristics.

Qualitative design, on the other hand, is relatively subjective compared to quantitative design. It is complementary with quantitative design, as it emphasises explanation of society through “direct observation, communication with participants, or analysis of texts.” [1] Unlike quantitative design, qualitative design takes into account contexts and more individualised variables and so tries to avoid generalisation.

Mainly using these two designs, social scientists try to be objective observers of the society; it’s kind of like when you’re playing Sims and trying to observe and then analyse their society. Social scientists are careful (or at least should be careful) not to let personal views or prejudices influence their analysis, and tries to come up with a “descriptive or predictive model that explains the events observed.” [2]


What is Humanities?

Then do subjects like history, philosophy and literature also count as social science? After all, to a degree these subjects also give some new insights on human nature and the society we live in. This is true, but the answer is no: these subjects do not count as social sciences but are parts of another discipline called humanities.

The fundamental difference between social science and humanities lie in their approach and aim. While social scientists mainly uses empirical methods (statistics, observation, etc.) to support their model of the society, those studying humanities will use interpretative methodologies to support their ideas. It is essentially the scholar’s explanation, which uses logic and quotations from other texts, that counts as evidence for his/her thesis. So inevitably, humanities are ‘subjective’; humanities subjects allow bigger presence of the scholars in their analysis. The most important criteria therefore in humanities are not objectivity and accuracy but authenticity and trustworthiness.

Also, the aim of humanities is to “yield wisdom.” While social science focuses more on generating new knowledge of the society, humanities constantly strive to answer the BIG questions, like “Where did we come from?” “What is love?” or “Why am I thinking what I am thinking?” So in a way, humanities are more personal and accessible, because it seeks to enlighten the general people through its wisdoms.


“the creativity of human minds will be severely limited, and our views of the world and of ourselves will be restricted to what is provable with numbers”

Why does it matter?

Well, that’s a very good question. It may seem a little pointless to distinguish such subtle differences, but it’s much more important than it seems. If political science was not social science but a part of humanities, it would mean that rather than basing the explanations on (relatively) objective figures and numbers, it will be a debating forum. Similarly, if literature or philosophy was a social science, the creativity of human minds will be severely limited, and our views of the world and of ourselves will be restricted to what is provable with numbers. Both disciplines are indispensable precisely due to these subtle yet crucial differences, and in order for one to truly immerse oneself in either of the two areas of studies, one needs to fully appreciate what each discipline requires.




*Although it is true that facts and numbers from statistical analysis are fairly accurate, they are never 100% accurate or reliable. These numbers may have been affected by several factors that could not be sufficiently controlled, so it is important to consider whether the accuracy and reliability of the data is sufficiently high to make the theory valid


[1] University of Idaho Resource “The Humanities and the Social Sciences: Contrasting Approaches” (developed for ISEM Integrative Seminars)

Available at: https://www.uidaho.edu/~/media/UIdaho-Responsive/Files/class/departments/general-education/Faculty Resources/humanities-social-sciences-distinctions.ashx

[2] ibid. 

**I have referred to this particular resource throughout the article, and I clarify here that many of the explanations, phrases and terminologies used in this article are borrowed from the above mentioned article.

Photo Credit:

First photo)

Taken by Matthew Wiebe. Published on April 18, 2014. Dimensions: 5498 x 3615 Available at https://unsplash.com/photos/nOhUx3tiaQQ

Second photo)

Taken by Anastasia Zhenina. Published on February 16, 2016. Dimensions: 4608 x 3456 Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/XOW1WqrWNKg


Nanjing’s Nightmares



War always gives birth to atrocities. There are abundant examples throughout history when the invading powers committed brutal crimes against humanity. Of course, it is understandable to a certain extent that such crimes were committed if it was before humanitarian values were properly established. However, the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 during Second Sino-Japanese War is a particularly atrocious example of what war can make a person do to its fellow human beings.



The Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanjing, was a combination of mass murder and rape by the Japanese Imperial Army against Chinese soldiers and civilians in China’s capital city of Nanjing. It was a brutal holocaust, and one of the survivors of the massacre says he will “never forget the violence, the atrocities and the aggression that the Imperial Japanese soldiers enacted during the Nanjing Massacre.” [1]

As its two names suggest, rape and massacre were the two main acts of brutality that the Chinese had to endure. Women, ranging from an 8-year-old child to a 60-year-old woman, were often raped and shot. In the first four weeks after the fall of Nanjing, approximately 20,000 women were raped, often mutilated and killed afterwards. Families were of no exceptions to such sufferings. Sometimes, when Japanese soldiers found a whole family in a house, they forced the father to rape his daughter, son to rape his mother and brother to rape his sister while the others watched. [2]

Most Japanese soldiers, deeply ingrained with militaristic education, had no remorse in killing the Chinese; they used the Chinese as targets to practice their killing, and some junior officers even held competitions to kill the most Chinese, which was reported by the Japanese newspaper as if it was some form of sporting game. [3]

The estimate of the number of victims of the massacre varies, but the Tokyo War Crimes Trials accepted that minimum 200,000 and the maximum 370,000 of Chinese civilians and prisoners of war were killed during this period.


Why is it still relevant today?

History is the past. It is something that has already happened, and thus cannot be altered- or so people believed. Although the events of history itself cannot be changed, the present-day perception of it definitely can be distorted. In 2012 February, Japanese governor of Nagoya told both the visiting delegates from Nanjing and Japanese newspapers “such a thing as so-called Nanjing Massacre is unlikely to have taken place.”[4]

East Asia has always been troubled the most due to its painful history. The biggest controversy always arose not from economy or politics but from history, and to the present day it remains the one factor that hinders East Asian relations from improving. It is not entirely of one country’s fault- all three countries (Japan, China, Korea) have to some extent been bad neighbours. Then what is the reason behind such constant reemergence of historical controversies?

Although the answer to this question has many dimensions, one of the main reasons lies in rivalry. All three East Asian nations have been in a constant rivalry ever since Toyotomi Hideyoshi united Japan and initiated his great plan to conquer its neighbour, Korea (then named Chosun). China and Japan were always battling to gain the upper hand, and Korea has often been their battleground. Hundreds of years of bitter history interwoven with disastrous wars at various moments has formed an integral part of national identity for all three countries.

japan-china-korea.jpg“All three East Asian nations have been in a constant rivalry.”

Such rivalry has carried onto the present day, as the difference between communist China and democratic (yet far from being upholding true free democracy, as can be seen from its oppression of free media) Japan increasingly widens. As for Korea, well, it’s like having two spiteful neighbours, both of which it have less than cordial relationships with. China is obviously the biggest (and probably the sole) supporter of North Korea, while Korea’s colonial era under Imperial Japan has scarred many hearts and bodies including but not limited to those who were comfort women (a euphemism used to refer to those who forcedly became sex slaves for Imperial Japanese soldiers). Not one relationship in East Asia is likely to be more than anything simply polite, as long as such historical issues are addressed.

They say that in America, economy is the problem; in Europe, politics is the problem and in Asia, history is the problem. There is some truth to this- although remembering history and being very much aware of the nation’s scars and guilt, unless Asia (especially the three East Asian countries) can stop the never-ending war of hatred based on historical events, the Far East will never hear the spring breeze knocking on its door.











[1]: Testimony of Chen Jiashou. Translated from Mandarin Chinese. Testimony given voluntarily and based on individual experiences. Available at: https://www.facinghistory.org/nanjing-atrocities-crimes-war/%E2%80%9Ci-will-never-forget%E2%80%9D-voices-survivors

[2] http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/nanking.htm

3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/223038.stm

[4] http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/23/world/asia/china-nanjing-row/


Photocredit: South Korea, Japan, China image via Shutterstock

Available at: http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-167770115/stock-photo-south-korea-japan-china-rock-paper-scissors.html?src=pp-same_artist-167770109-1