What is contemporary China and how do we understand it? Is it a nation that achieved an unprecedented economic boom, ending its centuries of humiliation and poverty? Or a totalitarian state equipped with the most advanced surveillance system ever, where activists are detained, dissidents suppressed, and minorities marginalized? Is China a modern, industrialized, economic juggernaut ready to claim global hegemony? Or a civilization of its own, whose traditions, customs, and ways survived millennia? How did China build the world’s largest high-speed railway network, while the US has almost no high-speed rail at all? How do Chinese people understand democracy, and how did they live through the times of extreme control during the pandemic? Who is rich and who is poor in China, and, after all, how do you get rich in this supposedly socialist country?
China is a nation of many faces, writing a history of unfinished tales. Together as a class, we will investigate the unending complexities of contemporary China, and in doing so, ask what these questions mean to people who encounter China in their lives. We do not pretend to answer all of those questions – but we will surely get closer to the truth.
We will begin the course with the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and spend the first 4 weeks learning the history of the PRC. For the next 8 to 9 weeks, each week will be dedicated to one of China’s contemporary issues, ranging from labor to the environment, from feminism to social control.
Grading: There are no exams or paper for this course! Each week, we assign materials for you to read, watch, and react (these are usually a very short reading, a documentary, or a video). You will be asked to complete a "quiz" on bCourses where you react to and comment on the week's assigned materials. You will also be graded on your attendance and participation.