Sociology of China

Course Provider: Dr Rachel Murphy

China's transition to a market society has produced dramatic changes in the lives of its citizens. In this course we will consider pressing social concerns that confront China as it continues its ongoing reforms and integration into the global community. Throughout the course we use comparisons from within China across historical periods, regions and social groups, and from other developing and late/post-socialist societies to enrich our analysis of key dimensions of social change. Example questions with which we engage include:

• Does equality hinder growth?
• Can rural residents claim a share of the economic growth?
• Who wins and who loses from the nation’s fertility limitation policies?
• Can the children of rural-urban labour migrants’ achieve social mobility and urban citizenship through education?
• What are the obstacles to rural and urban Chinese women achieving gender equality in marriage and before the law?
• Are China’s ethnic minorities disadvantaged in education and employment?
• How do intersecting inequalities among China’s citizens manifest themselves in differences in health outcomes?

We also evaluate Chinese civil society actors’ and policy-makers’ evolving approaches for conceptualising and dealing with the nation’s most urgent social concerns. We pay attention to how state and non-state actors interact with each other to affect policy interventions. We further examine the ways in which state actors continually revise their strategies for ensuring the strength and stability of the nation overall and the wellbeing and/or political acquiescence of sub-groups in particular.

On successfully completing the course, students should:

  • See how China – as a developing society, an East Asian society, a late socialist society and a rapidly industrialising society – can be studied through a sociological lens;
  • Become familiar with academic research on social change in contemporary China.
  • Be prepared for advanced research in the sociology of China

The teaching comprises eight sessions in the Hilary Term – a one-hour lecture followed by a one-hour discussion class.

In the first week we look at China’s socialist legacy and the ways in which socialist institutions intertwine with other formal and informal institutional arrangements to affect associational life and the relationship between society and individuals in late/post-socialist China. In successive weeks we use selected problems to explore wider issues of social change and stratification across gradients of residency, class, gender, ethnicity and citizenship designation.

Each student is expected to write two essays during the course of Hilary Term. Students must come to class having done the assigned readings. Each student is expected to actively contribute to the class discussions and the interventions in the class should be based on careful consideration of the readings.

Assessment is by a three hour examination in Trinity Term.

You are also required to write a minimum of two unassessed practice essays for supervisions during the course of Hilary term on which you will receive detailed written feedback.

• Goodman, D (2014) Class in Contemporary China, Polity Press.
• Jacka, T, A. Kipnis and S. Sargeson (2013) Contemporary China: Society and Social Change, Cambridge University Press.
• Gries, P.H and S. Rosen, eds. (2004) State and Society in 21st Century China: Crisis, Contention and Legitimation. London: Routledge.
• Lieberthal, K. (2003) Governing China: From Revolution Through Reform 2nd ed. NY: Norton.
• Perry, E.J. and M. Selden, eds. (2003) Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance, London: Routledge.