The Anthropology of China - ANTS6160

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2022 to 2023.


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, such as ethnicity, religion, the role of the Communist Party, and the development of capitalism.


Contact hours

Contact Hours: 26 hours
Private Study: 124 hours
Total Study: 150 hours


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

Method of assessment

Research Essay, 3,000 words (60%)
Critical Book Review Essay, 2,000 words (40%)

Indicative 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)

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.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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