BASS Politics and Criminology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Social Change in China

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOCY20281
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course looks at the vast socio-economic changes that have occurred in China, the most populous and fastest-developing country in the world, a country that was a ‘blank sheet of poverty’ in 1949 and is the second largest economic power in the world now.  

The course will start by looking at the contextual factors, namely, the major, ‘epochal’, events that took place in China each of which affected millions of people’s lives: the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the socialist reconstructions and the ‘Great Leap Forward’ in the 1950s, the ‘Great Cultural Revolution’ from 1966 to 1976 (including the arrest of the ‘Gang of Four’); the adoption of the opening-up and reforms policy in 1978; the dualist economic system between 1980 to 1992; the acceleration of the reforms since 1992 and the major expansion of higher educational section in 1998 resulting in over 30 million students studying now in China’s universities, making it a major knowledge powerhouse in the years to come.

The course will explore the major social and institutional divides in Chinese society (such as those between rural and urban ‘hukou’ populations, and between different work ‘danwai’ units) and the changing patterns of inequality these have produced. It will also explore Chinese welfare and family policies (including policies on family planning) and their impact on both everyday lives and Chinese demographic and social structures.


The unit aims to:

  • Explore socio-economic-political developments in China since 1949, examining the shifts from a centrally-planned economy to a ‘socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics’.
  • Examine the major institutional divides (and policy changes) in China (the household registration system – hukou – and the work-unit type – danwei) to assess how they have affected people’s life chances.
  • Assess China’s socio-economic development after the opening-up and reforms policies since 1978, and its transition from one of the poorest countries to the second largest powerhouse in the world.
  • Investigate the nature and degree of social inequalities in China 

Learning outcomes

Students should be able to

Knowledge and Understanding: 

  • Understand the complexity of the socio-economic lives of the 1.4 billion people living in China.
  • Be able to apply theoretical knowledge to understand the major changes that have occurred and are still occurring in China since 1949.

Intellectual skills:

  • Evaluate competing analytical perspectives.
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of empirical evidence.
  • Employ the material available from the academic, media and policy sources to make effective arguments.
  • Develop a critical approach to academic, media and policy texts.

Practical skills: 

  • Use library and electronic sources and resources.
  • Undertake and present independent research.

Transferable skills and personal qualities:  

  • Present ideas and ask questions in group discussion.
  • Work with others to develop ideas and make presentations.
  • Develop a critical approach to contemporary debates on socio-economic lives in China.


Teaching and learning methods

The unit will be delivered through a weekly three hour long session which will include a formal lecture component (2 hours), and a tutorial component (1 hour) for classroom discussions of key texts and supplementary readings, group activities, feedback on formative essays, and debates. Key and supplementary texts will, where appropriate, be made available on Blackboard.

Assessment methods

Non-assessed mid-term written coursework submission.  

ASSESSED - Written end-of-semester coursework (2000 words, 100%) 

Feedback methods

Informal feedback will be given on a non-assessed essay plan due before the essay, and formal feedback on the essay itself.  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Yaojun Li Unit coordinator

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