The Anthropology of China - SE616

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
Canterbury Autumn
View Timetable
5 15 (7.5) DR JR Mair


Prerequisite: SE301 (Introduction to Social Anthropology)





The course will introduce students to cutting-edge ethnographic studies of contemporary China. Through these studies, students will be encouraged to think about a series of key issues in the anthropology of China.
For a very long time it was difficult or impossible for outsiders to observe life in China directly in a systematic way, and as a result our accustomed ways of thinking about China are based on macro-level economic and political phenomena, stereotypes and icons --- when we think of China, we think of Confucianism and Communism, kung fu and feng shui, Mao and Chiang Kai Shek, trouble in Tibet and tension with Taiwan. These things are all important, but they leave us with little understanding of what ordinary life is like in China, and so Chinese society can appear mysterious and sometimes contradictory. Fortunately, it has become progressively easier to conduct social scientific research in China and since the mid-1990s and there is now a substantial ethnographic literature that allows us to begin to see contemporary China as a flesh-and-blood society.
This module will use ethnographic literature to explore key topics in the anthropology of China. The following is an indicative list of topics:
  • Is Contemporary China Confucian? Narratives of Tradition and Modernity in China and in the Anthropology of China
  • 56 Varieties: Nationalism, Ethnicity and Belonging
  • Religion, 'Superstition' and Political Administration of Religion
  • Cadres: The Face of the State
  • Private Life and the State
  • Internal Migration, Residence and the City in China
  • Promoting ‘Spiritual Civilization’: Class, Ethics and the Politics of Education
  • Friendship, Exchange and Guanxi
  • The Economic Miracle: Socialism and/or Capitalism?
  • Netizens: the Internet, Mobile Phones and New Media in China
  • Details

    This module appears in:

    Contact hours

    The total study of hours for the module will be 150 hours, to include:
    • Total contact hours (24 hours - lectures 12 hours, and seminars 12 hours)
    • Seminar preparation (24 hours)
    • Assimilation of material presented in lectures and seminars (12 hours)
    • Assignment tasks (90 hours - Book review 35 hours; Essay 55 hours)
    Seminars will build on material presented in lectures. Students will have to prepare for seminars and actively engage in critical discussion of current topics.


    BSc: Anthropology; BA: Social Anthropology; Joint Honours; with a Language; with a Year Abroad
    Also available as a Wild Module.

    Method of assessment

    The module is assessed by 100% Coursework, consisting of
    • A 2,500 word Research Essay (60%) - students will be asked to explore one of the Research Essay themes (a list of the themes will be provided by the module convenor in the Module Outline) and discuss how anthropological theory helps to understand the topic.
    • A 1,500 word Critical Book Review (30%) - will be based on a thorough reading of an entire monograph, and on a critical evaluation of the central arguments.
    • An individual 10 minute-long seminar presentation (10%), in which students will be asked to give a critical summary of the weekly reading for the seminars.

    Preliminary reading

    • Bach, J. 2010. "'They come in peasants and leave citizens': Urban Villages and the Making of Shenzhen, China." Cultural Anthropology 25 (3).
    • Bruckermann, C., & Feuchtwang, S. (2016). The Anthropology of China. World Scientific Publishing Co Inc.
    • Dikötter, F. 2009. "Racial Identities in China: Context and Meaning." The China Quarterly 138.
    • Farquhar, J. and Zhang, Q. 2005. “Biopolitical Beijing: Pleasure, Sovereignty, and Self-cultivation in China's Capital.” Cultural Anthropology 20 (3).
    • Kuah-Pearce, K. E., ed. 2008. Chinese Women and the Cyberspace. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
    • Steinmüller, H. (2015). Communities of Complicity.

    See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

    See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

    Learning outcomes

    On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
    (1) demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of important debates about life in contemporary China and Chinese societies outside of China,
    (2) demonstrate critical understanding of the way ethnographic studies can contribute to understanding a complex society, and
    (3) reflect critically on core anthropological topics on the basis of knowledge of Chinese case studies.

    University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.