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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ethnography of a Selected Region - China

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year
The course deals with the societies existing in one of a number of broad geographical-cultural regions (those at present on offer during 2007-8 being China, Japan, South Asia, South East Asia, Near & Middle East, West Africa, and East Africa). Each course varies in detail according to the characteristics of the region and focuses on major social and cultural aspects.

In this context, students learn about the institutions and social groupings to be found in the political, religious, domestic and economic spheres of life, as well as the values of the people and the theories which observers have put forward in analysing and explaining these societies.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The purpose of the course is to build on the first year courses, with more detailed and deeper knowledge of a single body of ethnographic material.

For single-subject students whose interests lie within a region, the course provides a focused introduction to the study of that region, which can be continued in the final year through writing a 5,000 word advanced ethnography dissertation.

For two-subject students, a major purpose of the regional ethnography is to provide a further dimension to their study of the language, history, etc of the region.

Scope and syllabus

  • The social sciences and fieldwork in China; 
  • food and Chinese culture; 
  • family, marriage and reproduction; 
  • lineages and other forms of local organization; 
  • gender inequality; 
  • education; 
  • the Chinese concept of self; 
  • popular religion; 
  • the social significance of death and ancestor worship; 
  • rural development and the post-Mao economic reforms; 
  • social inequality and the concept of class; 
  • urban policy; 
  • social welfare and the situation of the elderly; 
  • medicine and health; 
  • population control policies; 
  • concepts of the peasantry; 
  • Chinese political culture; 
  • popular culture

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 60%. 2 pieces of coursework will count for 40% (20% each) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

Sample Readings:
  • Abbas, A. 1997. Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Chen, Nancy et al., (eds.), 2001. China Urban: Ethnographies of Contemporary Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Gates, Hill. 1996. China's Motor: A Thousand Years of Petty Capitalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Harrell, Stevan. 2001. Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Stafford, Charles. 2000. Separation and Reunion in Modern China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Tu Wei-ming, 1994. (ed.) The Living Tree: The Changing Meaning of Being Chinese Today. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Yan, Yunxiang. 2003. Private Life under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village, 1949-1999. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Zhang, Li. 2001. Strangers in the City: Reconfigurations of Space, Power and Social Networks within China's Floating Population. Stanford: Stanford University Press.