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Regular version of the site

Contemporary Chinese Politics

Academic Year
Instruction in English
ECTS credits
Course type:
Elective course
4 year, 3 module


Course Syllabus


This course is tailored for students majoring in “Political Science and World Politics”, whose regional focus is BRICS states and who want to learn more about contemporary Chinese politics. The aim of this course is to familiarize students with political development of the PRC after 1978. First, the course focuses on domestic politics in China: major political institutions and their evolution, the impact of politics on the trajectory of economic development, role and structure of political elites, policy-making process, public participation in political life and political regime transformations. Students also discuss selected policy areas, e.g. ethnic, social and economic policies. Then the course looks into foreign policy of the PRC, discusses China’s changing role in Asia and the world, in particular its Belt and Road Initiative, relations with other East Asian countries, participation in major international organizations. The course not only provides factual knowledge about politics in China, but also offers conceptual perspectives to study it, such as political culture, political elites, political economy, political regime and democratization, etc.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • To give students an overview of the major changes and transformations in Chinese politics since 1978.
  • To acquaint students with the major political institutions and policy-making process in the PRC, the basic trends of political elites’ and public’s participation in Chinese politics.
  • To develop students' skills in application of theoretical models to the analysis of political processes in the PRC.
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Is familiar with analytical approaches to Chinese politics.
  • Knows key events in China’s political development 1949-1978.
  • Explains resilience of authoritarian regime in the PRC.
  • Explains the changing role of ideology in Chinese politics.
  • Describes structure of political system in China, key state (government, legislature, judiciary) and CCP institutions and their functions.
  • Analyses political processes in China through the prism of elite politics.
  • Knows major facts about Chinese political elites: characteristics and types, selection, key strategies for success.
  • Is familiar with the role of provincial, municipal and local governments in Chinese politics.
  • Knows the background and contents of “One country, two systems”.
  • Applies the concepts of political culture and political participations to the analysis of Chinese politics.
  • Gives examples of collective actions and protests in China.
  • Knows the typical features of policy process in China, role of society and local governments in this process.
  • Applies this knowledge to the analysis of particular policies development.
  • Applies political economy perspective to the analysis of Chinese economics since 1978.
  • Traces evolution of China’s foreign policy interests (1978-2020).
  • Explains the impact of various domestic forces and actors on China’s foreign policy.
  • Describes China’s role in multilateral institutions and global governance.
  • Evaluates the risks to China of its dependence on oil imports.
  • Defines the role of trade and foreign investments in China’s foreign policy.
  • Assesses PRC’s diaspora policy and its efforts in attracting high quality talent to return from abroad.
  • Explains different approaches of the PRC to different territorial disputes.
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Part 1. Introduction
    Major events in Chinese Political History 1949-1978. Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Authoritarian resilience. Ideology and political development in China. Lecture 1: Introduction. Analytical approaches to Chinese politics. Major events in Chinese political history 1949–78. Deng Xiaoping’s political reforms. Seminar 1: Introduction Preliminary topics for discussion: 1) What were the origins of reforms started by Deng Xiaoping? Please, describe the major political changes in the reform era. 2) Why did the Tiananmen movement fail? What were the reasons and consequences of the Tiananmen massacre? 3) What were the keys events in Chinese politics under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao leadership? 4) How has the political regime in China evolved from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping (think about changes under each of the four leaders – Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping)? What factors have shaped this evolution? Presentation: Ideology in China after Mao Zedong.
  • Part 2. Political institutions
    The Central Governing Apparatus: the NPC, State Council, President, etc. Chinese Communist Party: structures and role. Political elites in China. Provincial, municipal and local governments in the PRC. One country, two systems. Political institutions in Taiwan and SAR Hong Kong. Lecture 2: The Central Governing Apparatus. The political system according to the Constitution (1982). National People's Congress, President, State Council and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference: their composition, functions, role in China's political system, etc. Institutional changes under Xi Jinping. Seminar 2: Chinese Communist Party. Preliminary topics for discussion: 1) What role has the CCP played in Chinese history? 2) What are the major structures within the CCP? What are their functions and how are they formed? 3) What role does the CCP play in Chinese politics nowadays? 4) What has changed structure of Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping and why? Presentation: Political leaders and elites in China (background and characteristics, types and factions, rules of succession and competition, etc). TV series recommendation: In the Name of the People (人民的名义) Lecture 3: Provincial, municipal and local governments in the PRC. Regional administrative organization. Regional special interests. Informal federalism. Province as a unit of analysis. Decentralized economic policies and regional disparities. Local governments at the county, township, and village levels. The functions of local government. Village self-governance. Seminar 3: One Country, Two Systems. Preliminary topics for discussion: 1) What are the origins of the One Country, Two Systems (OCTS)? How has it been implemented? 2) Please, describe political institutions in SAR Hong Kong (their functions and principles of formation); 3) Discuss democratization in SAR Hong Kong 3) Please, describe and explain evolution of SAR Hong Kong – China mainland relations (economic cooperation, migration, etc) 4) What are the reasons of Umbrella Movement? Why has it failed? 5) What is similar and different in the politics of SAR Macao and SAR Hong Kong? Why? Presentation: Crisis of “One country, Two Systems” in Hong Kong in 2019-2020. Movie recommendation: Chungking Express (1994), dir. Wong Kar Wai.
  • Part 3. Civil Society and Political Participation
    Civil society and NGOs. Protests. Political culture and societal engagement in China. Lecture 4: Civil Society and Political Participation. Evolution of civil society in China from 1978 till today. Laws governing civil society in China. Different types of NGOs in China and their role. Civic activism, dissidents and protests. Political culture and societal engagement in China. How have ordinary people participated in Chinese politics? What forms has protest taken in the PRC? Seminar 4: Protests. Preliminary topics for discussion: 1) What are the major reasons for protests in China? What social groups are most active protestors? 2) What are their major modes of action? Why have protests typically been very narrow in their orientation, targeting local authorities and focusing on localized economic grievances instead of launching broader challenges to the regime? 3) How do Chinese authorities deal with protests? What kinds of protests have been tolerated? Why have Chinese authorities tolerated some kinds of protests? Presentation: Labor protests in China.
  • Part 4. Policy-Making and Selected Policies
    Policy-process in China. Role of society, localities and local leaders in policy-making process. Social consequences of the reforms and social policy. Media policy and censorship. Ethnic Policy and its implications for China’s External Relations. Lecture 5: Policy Process in China. Policy-making process in China. Role of society, localities and local leaders in policy-making process. Sources of policy innovation in China. Campaigns and experimentation in policy-making process. Difficulties in designing, introducing and implementing policies. Seminar 5: Media policy. Preliminary topics for discussion: 1) How and why have Chinese people used internet for activism? What are the varieties of online activism? 2) What is cyber-nationalism? When did appear and why? 3) What are the methods of internet control and governance in China? Presentation: Government Criticism and Censorship in Chinese Media. Lecture 6: China’s Political Economy. Impact of politics on economics in China. The political basis for economic success in China. Five waves of economic reforms in China. Weakening and strengthening of the state sector. Challenges to China’s economy. Rent-seeking and corruption: reasons and impact on economic growth. Seminar 6: Social Consequences of the Reforms and Social Policy. Preliminary topics for discussion: 1) What reforms and changes have contributed to development of new social pressures in urban areas in China? 2) What is China’s “floating population” and what social problems are associated with it? 3) What is hukou? How is it connected with social welfare? How and why has hukou system been reformed? 4) What social consequences have the reform of the state-owned economy had? 5) What are the sources and dimensions of social inequality in Chinese cities? Presentation: Evolution of public health policy in China. Lecture 7: Ethnic policy. The politics of identity. Han ethnic group and its characteristics. Evolution of ethnic policy in China from imperial times till today. Legislative framework of the ethnic policy. Three pillars of the Chinese ethnic policy. Major results of the ethnic policy and existing challenges. Seminar 7: Tibet and Xinjiang. Preliminary topics for discussion: 1. Describe demographic situation and geography of Tibet and Xinjiang 2. Why are Xinjiang and Tibet important for Chinese politics? How does their importance manifest? 3. When and how have Tibet and Xinjiang become part of China? 4. How has the PRC’s policy towards Tibet and Xinjiang evolved? 5. What are the major reasons of 2008 Tibet and 2009 Xinjiang protests? How have Chinese authorities responded to protests in Tibet 2008 and in Xinjiang 2009? Presentation: The Impact of Ethnic Minorities on China’s Foreign Policy.
  • Part 5. China and the World
    Evolution of Chinese Foreign Policy: actors, interests, identities. China’s Global Economic Presence. Belt and Road Initiative. China and global governance. Chinese diaspora and immigration policy of the PRC. China’s territorial disputes. Lecture 8: Evolution of Chinese Foreign Policy: actors, interests, identities. The impact of various domestic interests on China’s foreign policy. Evolution of these interests over time. Different domestic actors in China’s foreign policy. China’s conflicted international identities. Seminar 8. China’s Global Economic Presence. Preliminary topics for discussion: 1. Describe four aspects of China’s economic footprint abroad: trade, energy, investment, and aid. 2. Evaluate the risks of China’s dependence on trade. 3. Explain why Chinese firms have been going abroad in such large numbers. 4. What are the major Chinese multinational corporations? What “Chinese Characteristics” (as described by Shambaugh) do they have? 5. How has China’s ODI evolved? Why? 6. What factors do explain China’s foreign aid policy? Presentation: International Implications of China’s Energy Security Policy. Lecture 9. Belt and Road Initiative. History and development of the BRI. Goals. Major projects. Russia and the BRI. Criticism of the BRI. AIIB. 17+1. Seminar 9. China and global governance. Preliminary discussion topics: 1) How has the PRC’s participation in global governance institutions evolved? 2) What factors have shaped this evolution? 3) What is a “responsible major power” and is China such a power? 4) Is China trying to change international rules and norms? 5) How has China’s position towards global issues, such as international crime, non-proliferation, global environment and public health evolved over time and why? Presentation: China and ASEAN/WTO/World Bank/UN/… (students can choose any other international institution or treaty upon approval of the instructor). Lecture 10. Chinese diaspora and immigration policy of the PRC. History of Chinese emigration. Chinese diaspora nowadays. Evolution of the PRC’s diaspora policies: driving forces, content and result. The economic development of the PRC and Chinese diaspora. China’s search for talent and immigration policy. Seminar 10. China’s territorial disputes. Preliminary discussion topics: 1) What China’s historical and current territorial disputes do you know? What are their origins? 2) How and when have China resolved some of its historical territorial disputes? 3) When and why have China used force in territorial disputes? 4) What factors have made some border disputes more difficult to solve? Presentation: Compare two current territorial disputes of China (East China Sea, South China Sea, disputes with India. etc).
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Exam
    The exam is a written test with 20 questions of different type: multiple choice, questions with open answer, etc. The test covers the materials from lectures and mandatory readings of all the course content. The test duration is 1 hour. Еhe final exam will be held online in Zoom and Microsoft.Forms. The student must have access to the Microsoft.Forms using his (her) own student email, and have a camera and a microphone. The students should log in to Zoom 5 minutes before the start of the exam, switch on the camera. Then the students receive a link to the test they must complete within 1 hour. The students should keep their cameras on during the entire examination. The short-term disconnection is 3 minutes, the long-term disconnection is 4 minutes and more. In case of long-term the student may not continue the examination.
  • non-blocking In-class participation
    Lecturer evaluates students’ progress, including comprehension of lecture materials and required readings, as well as contribution to discussions. The preliminary discussion topics for each seminar can be found in the syllabus, but the instructor may also ask any other questions related to the lectures material and required readings. For each seminar, there are 1-2 required readings and the greater part of discussion will be around these texts. The list of required readings is distributed in the beginning of the course. The final grade is calculated as an average grade achieved during all seminars. If a student is not able to attend the seminar due to illness or any other legitimate reason (relevant document should be provided within a week after this student is back to class), he/she is not graded for that seminar. In all other cases students are graded with 0 for the seminar they have missed.
  • non-blocking Group presentation
    Depending on the number of students, presentations will be conducted in groups by 2-4 students. The time limit for presentation is 20 minutes and should not be exceeded. Students are expected to read literature recommended in the syllabus, as well as to search for extra sources, especially in order to get most recent information on the topic of their presentation. If a student is not able to be present at the seminar due to illness or any other legitimate reason (relevant document should be provided within a week this student is back to class), he/she should approach lecturers to be assigned with alternative task. The presentation cannot be moved to another seminar, other students in his/her group should present without the missing student.
  • non-blocking Book review
    For this assignment, students need to read a book from the list provided by the instructor and write a short book review (1000-1500 words). The students should sign up for books to review during week 2 of the course. The review is due by the week 8 of the course (28.02.2021). If students cannot find the book in the library, they should contact the instructor. Students should include three following points in the book review: 1. Summarize the major themes of the book and the author’s chief argument, evaluate their importance 2. Describe and evaluate the author’s methodology, analysis and the evidence provided to support his or her argument 3. Conclude by saying how significant author’s contribution to studies of Chinese politics and who will benefit from reading this book. Please, respect academic norms and avoid plagiarism (more about it can be found here: https://www.hse.ru/en/studyspravka/plagiat). Book reviews submitted after deadline are graded with “0”, unless documental proof is provided that a student was not able to submit the assignment on time due to illness.
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (3 module)
    0.3 * Book review + 0.3 * Exam + 0.2 * Group presentation + 0.2 * In-class participation


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • FERDINAND, P. (2016). Westward ho-the China dream and “one belt, one road”: Chinese foreign policy under Xi Jinping. International Affairs, 92(4), 941–957. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12660
  • Guo, S., & Stradiotto, G. A. (2018). Prospects for Democratic Transition in China. Journal of Chinese Political Science, 23(1), 47–61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-017-9465-z
  • Huang, X. (2015). Four Worlds of Welfare: Understanding Subnational Variation in Chinese Social Health Insurance. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0305741015000399
  • Landry, P. F., Xiaobo Lü, & Haiyan Duan. (2014). Does Performance Matter? Evaluating the Institution of Political Selection along the Chinese Administrative Ladder. Conference Papers —— American Political Science Association, 1–45.
  • Liu, W., & Dunford, M. (2016). Inclusive globalization: unpacking China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Area Development & Policy, 1(3), 323–340. https://doi.org/10.1080/23792949.2016.1232598
  • Patey, L. (2017). Learning in Africa: China’s Overseas Oil Investments in Sudan and South Sudan. Journal of Contemporary China, 26(107), 756–768. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2017.1305489
  • PUN, N., SHEN, Y., GUO, Y., LU, H., Chan, J., & Selden, M. (2016). Apple, Foxconn, and Chinese workers’ struggles from a global labor perspective. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 17(2), 166–185. https://doi.org/10.1080/14649373.2016.1170961
  • Shambaugh, D. L. (2013). China Goes Global : The Partial Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=nlebk&AN=563818
  • Shih, V. C., & Keller, F. B. (2016). Moving beyond Factions: Using Social Network Analysis to Uncover Patronage Networks among Chinese Elites. Journal of East Asian Studies, 16(1), 17–41. https://doi.org/10.1017/jea.2015.3
  • William A. Joseph. (2014). Politics in China : An Introduction, Second Edition: Vol. Second edition. Oxford University Press.
  • Zhu, J. V. (DE-588)1035651459, (DE-576)383417864, aut. (2017). Weapons of the powerful : authoritarian elite competition and politicized anticorruption in China / Jiangnan Zhu, Dong Zhang.

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Cai, Y., & Zhu, L. (2013). Disciplining Local Officials in China: The Case of Conflict Management. China Journal, 70, 98–119. https://doi.org/10.1086/671339
  • Chen, J., & Lu, C. (2011). Democratization and the Middle Class in China: The Middle Class’s Attitudes toward Democracy. Political Research Quarterly, 64(3), 705–719. https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912909359162
  • Chung, J. H. (2016). China’s Local Governance in Perspective: Instruments of Central Government Control. China Journal, 75(1), 38–60. https://doi.org/10.1086/683210
  • David Kennedy, & Joseph E. Stiglitz. (2013). Law and Economics with Chinese Characteristics : Institutions for Promoting Development in the Twenty-First Century: Vol. 1st ed. OUP Oxford.
  • Duckett, J. (2003). Bureaucratic Interests and Institutions in the Making of China’s Social Policy. Public Administration Quarterly, 27(1/2), 210–237.
  • Fravel, M. T. (2005). Regime Insecurity and International Cooperation: Explaining China’s Compromises in Territorial Disputes. International Security, 30(2), 46–83. https://doi.org/10.1162/016228805775124534
  • Friedman, E. (2014). Alienated Politics: Labour Insurgency and the Paternalistic State in China. Development & Change, 45(5), 1001–1018. https://doi.org/10.1111/dech.12114
  • Heilmann, S. (2008). From Local Experiments to National Policy: The Origins of China’s Distinctive Policy Process. China Journal, 59, 1–30. https://doi.org/10.1086/tcj.59.20066378
  • Heilmann, S. (2008). Policy Experimentation in China’s Economic Rise. Studies in Comparative International Development, 43(1), 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-007-9014-4
  • Joniak-Lüthi, A. (2015). The Han : China’s Diverse Majority. University of Washington Press.
  • King, G., Pan, J., & Roberts, M. (2012). How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression. Conference Papers —— American Political Science Association, 1–36.
  • Liu, H., & van Dongen, E. (2016). China’s Diaspora Policies as a New Mode of Transnational Governance. Journal of Contemporary China, 25(102), 805–821. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2016.1184894
  • O’Brien, K. (2011). Studying Chinese Politics in an Age of Specialization. Journal of Contemporary China, 20(71), 535–541. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2011.587157
  • Ortmann, S. (2015). The Umbrella Movement and Hong Kong’s Protracted Democratization Process. Asian Affairs, 46(1), 32–50. https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2014.994957
  • SHIH, V., ADOLPH, C., & LIU, M. (2012). Getting Ahead in the Communist Party: Explaining the Advancement of Central Committee Members in China. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0003055411000566
  • Takeuchi, H. (2013). Survival Strategies of Township Governments in Rural China: from predatory taxation to land trade. Journal of Contemporary China, 22(83), 755–772. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2013.782125
  • Weiss, J. C. (2013). Authoritarian Signaling, Mass Audiences, and Nationalist Protest in China. International Organization, 1, 1.
  • Yee, A. (2011). Maritime territorial disputes in East Asia : a comparative analysis of the South China Sea and the East China Sea / Andy Yee.
  • Yongshun Cai. (2008). Social Conflicts and Modes of Action in China. China Journal, 59, 89–109. https://doi.org/10.1086/tcj.59.20066381
  • YUEN, S. (2015). Hong Kong After the Umbrella Movement: An uncertain future for “One Country Two Systems.” China Perspectives, 1, 49–53.
  • Zhao, S. (2008). China’s Global Search for Energy Security: cooperation and competition in Asia-Pacific. Journal of Contemporary China, 17(55), 207–227. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670560701809460