Contemporary Chinese Society

Learn about the momentous changes taking place in contemporary Chinese society while seeing them up close. 

Contemporary Chinese Society
Yuanpei College, Peking University, Beijing

Yu Xie, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Sociology

This is a particularly exciting time to know what is going on in China today. After its unification in 1949, China remained poor, undeveloped, and isolated from the rest of the world until 1978, when economic reform initiated a new era. Since initiating market reforms in 1978, China has shifted from a centrally planned to a market-based economy and has experienced rapid economic and social development. GDP growth has averaged nearly 10 percent a year — the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history — and has lifted more than 700 million people out of poverty. China has been undergoing a social transformation of which the scope, rapidity and impact are unprecedented in human history; all aspects of Chinese society are changing fundamentally and forever.

The seminar will offer an introduction to some of the most prominent features of modern Chinese society; the government; politics and the economy; the educational system; differences between rural and urban China; wealth disparity and social inequality; migration; marriage and family; minorities and ethnicity; and religion. Through in-class lectures, student presentations, and field excursions, the seminar will provide a substantive introduction to sociological perspectives of China that will allow an understanding of social changes in China and their long-term impacts not only on the 1.3 billion Chinese now living in China — the largest population in the world today — but also on people living elsewhere in developed as well as developing countries.

Previous guest lecturers have included: Jet Li, Chinese actor and producer, to speak about his philanthropic activities; C.H. Tung, the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong, to speak on Sino-US relations; venture capitalists; Chinese health care experts and lawyers; among others.

Classes will be held at Yuanpei College, Peking University’s preeminent residential college. The group will make numerous excursions throughout the country to examine China’s growing wealth and social disparities and the impact of fast-paced economic growth on society as well as the regional differences in culture and traditions of China. Excursions will include a weekend Yungang Buddhist Prayer Grottoes and Hanging Monastery in Datong, where students will learn about rural life, minorities, and religion in China. The ancient town of Pingyao may also be included. Another weekend excursion is a visit to Shanghai, a highly historical city and unique economic zone. China is unique in its economic development model and Shanghai is representative of China’s phenomenal growth. The visit to Shanghai will include tours of its stock exchange, factory and business incubators, and other historic facets of Shanghai.

This seminar fulfills the Social Analysis (SA) general education requirement.

“Contemporary Chinese Society” is co-sponsored by the Paul and Marcia Wythes Center on Contemporary China, and generously funded by the Drs. Charles C. and Marie S. Yu P83 Global Seminar Fund.