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Sinology in Würzburg

Social Stratification and Political Culture in Contemporary Urban China

This research project, led by Prof. Dr. Björn Alpermann, focuses on the question of what effects stratification processes have on political thinking, especially attitudes regarding authority and participation.

China’s urban society is currently undergoing a rapid transformation as part of the country’s economic modernization. In the process, social cohesion is being subjected to an enormous stress test. The party state is aware of this challenge and is trying to counteract centrifugal tendencies. Thus, the Chinese Communist Party has prescribed the formation of a middle class as a socio-political goal to generate a stable social basis for its rule. How the newly emerging, as well as already existing social groups process their social ascent or decent and which changes in political attitudes and values result from these shifts is of decisive importance for the future stability of the political system.

As such, Prof. Alpermann and his two colleagues investigated the changes in social identities associated with ongoing process of reclassification. The project team used a deliberately open approach, conducting qualitative interviews with specific social groups, such as workers and the urban unemployed, as a first step. The field research took place in three cities of different socio-economic and political status (Beijing, Xi’an and Wenzhou). Building on the qualitative survey, standardized questionnaires were used in 2015 to collect further data for quantitative analysis in the same three locations. The results of the research project have been incorporated into two dissertations and further publications by the project leader.

This research project was a sub-project of the competence network ‘Governance in China’, which was funded for six years by the Federal Minsitry of Education and Research. With Prof. Alpermann’s office being in Würzburg, the city was chosen as the seat for project coordination, alongside participating universities in Duisburg, Tübingen, Frankfurt/GIGA Hamburg and Trier.