Sociology | Social Problems & Policies
S101 | 4060 | Michelson

Topic:  Contemporary Chinese Society


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.