PLSC 300DFall

State and Society in China

What type of country should China become and how will the Chinese people achieve their dreams?
David Groth
Course Introduction
David Groth

David Groth

Ph.D. Stanford University 
  • China's "middle class"
  • Economic, Political, and Social Reforms in China 
  • Social movements and NGOs
  • China's Conceptions of Ethnicity
  • Olympic Games in China
  • U.S-China relations
  • China-Japan relations

State and Society in China

This course is accredited through Loyola University Chicago
Download Syllabus

Course Description

Few countries have experienced such rapid and profound political, economic and social changes as China has during the past several generations and decades, and fascinating debates continue within the government and society about what type of country China should become and how the Chinese people should achieve their dreams.

This course examines interactions between the Chinese state [or government] and Chinese society. We will explore how the Chinese state and Chinese society converge and cooperate—and increasingly collide and conflict—in a number of realms. The course will focus on China since 1978, from the beginning of China’s “reform and opening up”.

We will use a multi-disciplinary approach and macro and micro perspectives to examine interrelated and over-lapping topics such as:

  • Deng Xiaoping and the transformation of China
  • Interactions between the state and Chinese young people, including university students
  • State and society responses to social welfare needs in China
  • The development of China’s “middle class” and its impact on politics and society
  • The Chinese government’s relations with business enterprises and entrepreneurs
  • Interactions between the central government and local entities, including rural communities
  • China’s environmental crisis: the response of the state and society
  • Relations between the state and the media, including the Internet, online media and social media.
  • Possibilities for greater political participation, contentious politics, and the development of a more vibrant “civil society” in contemporary China.

Throughout the course, we will explore the evolving dynamics of state-society relations in contemporary China. For example, we will discuss Andrew Mertha’s fascinating study about the politics of hydropower China, China’s Water Warriors: Citizen Action and Policy Change. Writing in 2008, Mertha argued that this case represents:

a sea change in the structure and process of politics in just the last decade or so. The contemporary politics of hydropower have provided an unprecedented degree of political pluralism to the Chinese policy process, in which government agencies in opposition to these hydropower projects seamlessly ally themselves with NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and, more important. . .with the public and the press.

We will also examine Joseph Fewsmith’s seminal study, The Logic and Limits of Political Reform in China. Fewsmith has argued:

There is no question that NGOs and other interests are crowding into the [political] space in a way that is unprecendented in post-1949 China, but the key question is whether these new societal interests can translate their energies into meaningful political reform.

Class sessions will include brief lectures, critical analysis and discussion. Discussions will focus on the assigned readings. We will also view and discuss several short videos. Readings include articles and books by political scientists, economists, sociologists, and anthropologists, as well as journalists, government officials, and business leaders. Students will read the work of both Chinese and non-Chinese authors.

Courses Outcomes

  • Students will learn about the complex relations between the state and society in contemporary China.
  • Students will learn how the Chinese government interacts with major sectors of Chinese society, such as the media, business organizations, and social activists.
  • Students will gain competence in analyzing, describing and discussing these interactions in a sophisticated manner.
  • Students will better understand the potential, as well as the obstacles, for creating and sustaining a vibrant “civil society” in contemporary China.
  • Students will hone their skills in critical analysis, informed discussion and research and writing.