East Asian Languages and Cultures | Contemporary Chinese Society
E101 | 1587 | Michelson


Topic: Contemporary Chinese Society and Change


After 25 years of “reform and opening up,” China appears
increasingly familiar to American eyes. Consumer behavior, tastes,
and aspirations in China increasingly resemble those of Americans.
Popular forms of cultural and spiritual expression, including a
flourishing rock music scene and the spread of Christianity, show
that, on the surface at least, Chinese society is Westernizing.
Indeed, a popular fascination with everything American (manifested,
for example, in the NBA playoffs broadcast live on television and in
the mass consumption of American books, movies, and television
shows) seems to reinforce the idea that China is emulating and
becoming like “the West.” On the other hand, growing patriotism
(sometimes in the form of anti-American protests) and the explosive
growth of Falun Gong and other indigenous religions seems to show
the (re)assertion of a uniquely “Chinese” cultural identity. The
main goal of this class is to make sense of these contradictions. In
this class we will try to solve this apparent puzzle by examining
the basic units of social organization -- the family, the workplace,
the neighborhood, the village -- and the ways they have changed in
contemporary China. In this class you will get a view of the lives
of ordinary people in the very rapid transition away from socialism.
The main topics covered include the origins and consequences of (1)
China’s large population, (2) the challenges of rural development,
(3) China’s ethnic and religious diversity, (4) the widening gap
between rich and poor, (5) the rise of private ownership (both
private business and home ownership), (6) the expansion of legal
institutions (courts and law firms), (7) the changing character of
the labor market, (8) the changing structure and meaning of family,
(9) new forms of popular culture, and (10) the consumer revolution.

This class assumes no prior knowledge of China. (Indeed, another
goal of this class is to help remedy the imbalance between what
Americans know about China and what people in China know about the
US.) Course materials will include journal articles, book chapters,
and films.