BA Chinese Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Socialism in China

Course unit fact file
Unit code CHIN32012
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Chinese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course focuses on ‘socialism’ in China, and how it has been understood and practised during and since the Mao era. Few ideas have been as influential in the political, economic and social lives of Chinese people over the past century, and the course covers past and present, moving from socialism’s emergence at the end of China’s long dynastic age right up to ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ in the Xi Jinping era. Not only political, but also social and cultural aspects of socialist and postsocialist life will be a central focus here. These will be explored through themes including identity, morality, work, aesthetics, family and relationships. Both domestic and international influences shaped Chinese socialism, and in the twentieth century ties with socialist ‘brother’ countries from the USSR to North Korea significantly impacted ordinary people’s cultural worlds. The effects of this endure up to the present. Socialism has been more than an abstract doctrine, and through readings from history, anthropology and literature, as well as visual media, we will explore it as a prism through which hundreds of millions of Chinese people have come to approach the world. Charting the afterlives of socialist ideas from devastating social engineering projects to utopian ideals of personal, national, economic or political liberation, we will ask what it means for today’s Chinese state to identify as ‘socialist’, and explore ‘postsocialist’ comparisons from the former-Soviet Union and elsewhere. 


English (Students will have the option of using primary Chinese-language materials but all required materials will be in English) 

Availble to students on Chinese Studies programme, Social Anthropolgy and Politics.


  • Provide students with a sound understanding of socialism as it has been interpreted and implemented in the People’s Republic of China
  • Foster greater awareness of socialism not only as a political or economic doctrine, but as a set of cultural ideas which reshape human experience
  • Provide students with insight into daily life in twentieth- and twentieth-century China, aiding appreciation of contemporary social issues from generation gaps to the outlook of political leaders
  • Set China’s socialist experience in a wider context by offering comparisons with other socialist projects elsewhere in the world, and with politics in non-socialist countries
  • Improve students’ ability to express complex ideas in oral and written form

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Show familiarity with the history of socialism in China, its shifting meanings over time, and its domestic and international influences
  • Demonstrate the relationship between Chinese political projects pursued in the name of socialism and changes in everyday life
  • Illustrate how socialism in China relates to other ideologies including nationalism

Intellectual skills

  • Read, discuss, and critically analyse materials relating to socialism and postsocialism in China
  • Apply independent critical thinking skills when making use of historical and contemporary sources
  • Critically appraise the function of labels given to political projects and understand the importance of official and vernacular political ideas
  • Express ideas about the meaning and significance of socialism in China in the form of well-structured and well-research written essays

Practical skills

  • Think independently and analytically about socialism, its relationship to other political ideas, and how to assess political labels
  • Be well-informed on a range of political and social topics and be prepared to use this knowledge in intercultural discourse
  • Express ideas clearly in speech and writing
  • Read effectively (both primary and secondary texts) 

Employability skills

Students will develop the following skills which can usefully be transferred to many employment contexts: Time management, self-organisation and working towards deadlines Written communication skills, and the ability to present and organise arguments clearly A broader understanding of global politics applicable to many contexts An ability to maintain attention to detail while also approaching large and potentially daunting topics

Assessment methods

Assessment Task 

Weighting within unit 

Essay plan 




Final Exam 



Resit Assessment

Assessment task  

1 Essay on agreed topic 

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

In writing: written feedback on essay plan


In class: responses to contributions, questions asked, and any other participation.



In writing: written feedback on essay (via Blackboard/Turnitin)


In person: additional one-to-one feedback during consultation hours or by making an appointment.



Recommended reading

Karl, Rebecca E. 2020. China’s Revolutions in the Modern World: A Brief Interpretive History. London: Verso.  

McGuire, Elizabeth. 2017. Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Sorace, Christian P., Ivan Franceschini, and Nicholas Loubere. 2019. Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Political Concepts from Mao To Xi. London: Verso. 

Yan Lianke. 2015. The Four Books. London: Chatto & Windus. 

Yan Yunxiang. 2003. Private Life Under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village, 1949-1999. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 

Yu Hua. 2011. China in Ten Words. New York: Pantheon Books. 

Zhang, Li, and Aihwa Ong (eds.). 2008. Privatizing China: Socialism from Afar. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Edward Pulford Unit coordinator

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