Chinese Society and Culture

(Subject to change)


Objective of Course

This course aims to familiarize students with a number of salient themes and issues in contemporary Chinese society. As China’s rapid development is increasingly focusing worldwide attention on the People’s Republic, it is crucial to be able to grasp the social, cultural and political underpinnings of China’s unique trajectory and present-day situation. In turn, such an understanding requires acquaintance with an array of key notions and conceptual tools that will be methodically introduced and explicated throughout the semester.


Course Description

The course is organized sequentially into two sectors:

The first sector with four lectures will focus on Shanghai Studies as a means to offer a distinct localized illustration of the Chinese experience. Today, it is safe to say that Shanghai is one of the most powerful cities in East Asia and even the world. Yet despite its global stature, it remains deeply Chinese, occupying a unique position vis-à-vis the issues and challenges arising from the country’s rapid pace of development. To the researcher, Shanghai displays the interaction of geography, economy, and society. Local culture itself remarkably varied, as it ranges from Chinese revolutionary culture to the city’s own civic culture to modern pop culture. The lectures will address the history of Shanghai in a national context, its renaissance as a global city as a result of state strategy from the 1990s onward, and issues of urban planning and urban social space.

The second sector addresses Chinese culture and religion. In the first lecture, students will have an opportunity to learn about the cultural foundations of ancestor worship and its contemporary practices, about the meaning of guanxi (relationship) and its application and transition in Chinese society, and about the Five Relationships, the core of Confucian ethics. The second and third lectures will concentrate on the culture of Shanghai, including themes such as Nostalgia and Consumerism, as well as the value system and lifestyle of Shanghainese. The fourth lecture will provide an introduction to the Chinese policy of religious freedom, to the historical background and contemporary situation of Chinese folk religion, and to the phenomenon of mass conversion to Christianity in China.

In addition, there are two other lectures on some special topics: NGO and finance in Shanghai.


Course Evaluation

  • Attendance and class participation– 10%

Attendance to lectures and field-trips is required for all students. Please inform the TA in advance if you want to ask for a leave due to eligible excuses.


  • Yuhai’s assignments: (1) a 1500-word essay titled “Shanghai Impression”-30%, based your own observation, critical thinking and reflection in the field work in Shanghai. Empirical experiences are highly valued throughout the course. By fieldwork as well as observation, students will see the city through your own eyes. The reflection over first hand empirical experiences will be included in the paper. (2) Pictures during your stay in Shanghai—20%. You may take a lot pictures during your stay in Shanghai, please pick 10 of them and tell us what the most impressive things in Shanghai are. Write at least 50 words of explication below each picture. Please include the pictures in a word file or pdf file.

Instruction: You can choose any scenes, any people or any aspects of the city life. But you will have to tell us 1. Why you choose these pictures. 2. (If you are a foreign student) What kind of difference or common point between Shanghai and your city you’ve got from the picture? 3. (If you are a Chinese student) What aspect of the city life does this picture remind you? 4. Any pictures you provide as the assignment must be taken by yourself. The pictures from other resources would be taken as plagiarism ones.


  • Hu Anning’s assignment: a 2000-word essay-40%with the focus on one of the discussing topics. The due time of this assignment is listed in the time table.

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