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Sinology in Würzburg

Transformation in Contemporary China

China's re-ascendance in world politics and the world economy is one of the most prominent events in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This reemergence began with the introduction of reform and opening-up policies in the late 1970s, which resulted in extensive restructuring of economy, state, and society. These critical transformations are the focus of the module. Particular aspects of these transformative processes are thoroughly analyzed to highlight the interactive relationships between different factors and fields. Special emphasis is put on societal, political and economic perspectives. To keep up with rapidly changing Chinese realities, the sub-modules described below will contain regularly up-dated and customized courses with varying points of emphasis. Which classes are offered will be decided in discussions with the in-coming students to allow for specialization.

Contemporary Politics in Transformation

China exhibits a novel mix of economic dynamism, social modernization and the political structures of one-party state run by a Communist Party. The far-reaching developments in the economic and societal spheres have, however, left their marks on the party-state. They brought about complex processes of change and adaptation in the ways political power is constituted and employed. This opened up the question of limits to this adaptability and the ultimate direction it will take.

Classes offered in this sub-module pursue these questions either in the form of overviews or by focusing on particular aspects of political transformation. The following are examples for classes and contents:

  • Grassroots Politics: reforms in basic-level governance, protests, contention, and social organizations
  • Elite Politics: ideology, factionalism, succession politics, institutionalization, and elite formation
  • China's Foreign relations: foreign policy-making, bilateral foreign relations and security policy, China's participation in regional and multilateral organizations
  • Political Culture: mass political culture and dominant intellectual trends (liberalism, conservatism, “new left” etc.), political values and attitudes, variants of Chinese nationalism

Contemporary Society in Transformation

Chinese society is currently undergoing social transformations so rapid and far-reaching that they have few historical precedents. This is the cumulative result of three interrelated processes: modernization, globalization, and transition to a post-socialist society. Consequences of these transformations are at once to be observed on the surface, such as growing social differentiation and inequality, as well as hidden below, e.g. value-change and the search for a new identity.

Classes offered in this sub-module analyze these issues either in the form of overviews or using particular foci. Topics and contents, for instance, include the following:

  • Social Change and Modernization: theories of modernization, social mobility, education and life chances, urbanization and changing lifestyles, consumerism and social distinction
  • Shifting Social Identities: subjective perspectives on social stratification, the emergence of new social groups and transformation of existing ones, categories of social belonging in China (class, ethnicity, gender, hukou distinction etc.)
  • Ethnicity and Ethnic Relations: theoretical perspectives on ethnicity, China’s ethnic identification project/ minzu categorization, history and ethnic identity, state policies, minority education and ethno-regionalism
  • Population and Social Policies: demographic trends and population policies, birth control and family changes, population aging and old-age support, social security and social safety net

Political Economy in Transition

China’s gradualist economic reforms led to an incremental “growing out of the plan” and transition towards the ideal of a “socialist market economy.” However, parts of the state-owned industries and crucial state-economy linkages were maintained. At the same time, new forms of regulating and steering the economy had to be devised by the government to adapt to the increasingly marketized environment. These new institutions of an emerging “regulatory state” are, however, not the result of a well-coordinated and rationally planned reform strategy. On the contrary, they are an outgrowth of intensely contentious political and social processes.

Classes offered in this sub-module address China’s changing political economy either in the form of overviews or by focusing on particular aspects. Examples are given below:

  • China’s Political Economy in Transition: rural political economy, urban economic reforms, financial sector development, economic policies and regulation
  • Rural Development: land policy and management, agricultural development and agricultural markets, agro-food businesses, township and village enterprises, rural urbanization
  • Globalization of China's Economy: WTO entry and compliance, currency issues, incoming and outgoing foreign direct investments, relations with the “global south”, China’s role in international financial architecture