Universität Wien FIND

150025 PS Anthropological perspectives to the study of the family and the state in contemporary China (M2 PR) (2021W)

6.00 ECTS (1.00 SWS), SPL 15 - Ostasienwissenschaften
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 25 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

UPDATE (25.11): In line with the recommendation from the dept. of East Asian Studies, the class on 16.12 will also take place online.

UPDATE (19.11): Due to the new regulations, the first three classes will be held online. Please see Moodle page for the link to join.

This course will be held in person, following up to date guidance from the university/department.

Thursday 25.11. 11:30 - 13:00 Seminarraum Sinologie 2 UniCampus Hof 2 2F-O1-18
Thursday 02.12. 11:30 - 13:00 Seminarraum Sinologie 2 UniCampus Hof 2 2F-O1-18
Thursday 09.12. 11:30 - 13:00 Seminarraum Sinologie 2 UniCampus Hof 2 2F-O1-18
Thursday 16.12. 11:30 - 13:00 Seminarraum Sinologie 2 UniCampus Hof 2 2F-O1-18
Thursday 13.01. 11:30 - 13:00 Seminarraum Sinologie 2 UniCampus Hof 2 2F-O1-18
Thursday 20.01. 11:30 - 13:00 Seminarraum Sinologie 2 UniCampus Hof 2 2F-O1-18
Thursday 27.01. 11:30 - 13:00 Seminarraum Sinologie 2 UniCampus Hof 2 2F-O1-18


Aims, contents and method of the course

The main aim of the course is to further develop the students’ skills in finding a strong and analytically relevant research question and choosing the related theoretical frameworks and methodologies for addressing that question. The final term paper is called an ‘analytical research paper’ to highlight that the aim to (as far as possible) analyse information in context, such as the social, political, cultural, and economic changes taking place in China since the start of the so-called reform and opening up period.

The content and different weekly topics for this course is drawn from social sciences approaches to the study of law and politics in contemporary China, in large part from the perspectives of the everyday lives of people. Most of the social sciences materials will be anthropological studies, also introducing students to the ethnographic approach as a distinctive qualitative research method.

Taking an anthropological perspective, the course proposes to see the study of everyday lives of people, including their family and community relations, as a particularly interesting way into studying the Chinese state. Such a grassroots perspective into the state and the effects of laws and regulations for example will complement a more macro or systems-based approach to studying Chinese politics that the students might be familiar with from previous studies.

In recent years, the state has increasingly become interested in legislating such ‘private’ issues as family relations and gender issues for example, thus more deliberately formalising certain aspects of the state/society relationships previously thought to mainly fall under the purvey of local bureaucracies. This relates to the larger recent aim in Chinese political discourse to develop a ‘rule of law’ (fazhi) based mode of governance. The seminars will look at such case studies as the amended marriage law (and related property issues), elderly care, as well as the passing of regulations related to traditional practices such as rural funerals. Such case studies will be looked at as indications and ‘ways in’ for analysing what kind of a state and legal system is being constructed and what values might underlie them.

Another seminar topic will look at family and community conflict and the emphasis in Chinese legal theory and practice on the use dispute mediation (jiufen tiaojie) as a way to bring in so called Chinese tradition and morality into conflict resolution, in stead of law.

Some of the overall questions for the whole term include: what roles do politics, law and the state have in people’s everyday lives, including in family matters? What are the moving boundaries between what is private and where the state can become involved? How do values embedded in Chinese kinship systems interact with laws? The idea of ‘tradition’ and ‘rural culture’ as being both obstacles to ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’ as well as sources of so called ‘true Chineseness’ will also be explored in the context of the ongoing reforms.

One section of the readings for this course will be drawn from recent and classical works in social anthropology on China. Another section of the readings will be drawn from Chinese legal scholars and anthropologists of law. Students are also encouraged to bring in other relevant examples of the topics to share with the group (or include it in the presentation). This can include multimedia sources such as podcasts, films or blog posts in English or Chinese.

The course will also include some practical exercises with official Chinese language (or English, where available) databases, to gain an introductory knowledge for how to find relevant laws and regulations as well as certain types of court cases.

The seminars are conducted in English and are also open to Global Studies students. Sinology students and others with comparable Chinese language skills will be given weekly readings in both Chinese and English.

Assessment and permitted materials

40% Final term paper (approx. 15 pages)
25% Regular participation in and preparation for each seminar. If a student is absent more than TWICE they cannot be graded on seminar participation.
35% Seminar presentation

Students will be asked to have a tentative title for the term paper ready on the final week of the course and a short tentative list of a few sources that will be used for the paper. The teacher will be available for (online) office hours to discuss general questions such as those related to the writing of an analytical research paper; conducting research for it; and how to choose a good topic/title.

Depending on the number of registered students, the presentations will be individual or group work. This will be discussed on the first class.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

Regular participation, presentation, and final paper, with the average of all three grades deciding the final grade.

Examination topics

Students will choose the topics for the presentation and the research paper themselves, in keeping with the overall theme of the course. The presentation and research paper can be from the same larger theme; each must, however, be significantly different enough from each other to constitute its own independent work.

Reading list

(1) Huang, P.C.C. (2015). "Morality and Law in China, Past and Present". Modern China, 41:1, .3–39.
(2)苏力著 (2000)。《送法下乡 : 中国基层司法制度硏究》。北京市 : 中国政法大学出版社。
(3) Cohen, M.L. (2005). "Kinship, contract, community, and State: Anthropological Perspectives on China". Stanford: Stanford University Press.
(4) Steinmüller, H. (2017). "Concealing and Revealing Senses of Justice in Rural China", in Brandtstädter, S. and Steinmüller, H., (eds.) "Popular Politics and the Quest for Justice in Contemporary China". Routledge.
(5) Hong Fincher, L. (2014). "Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China". London: Zed Books.
(6) Pia, A. E. (2016). "“We Follow Reason, Not the Law:” Disavowing the Law in Rural China". PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Vol.39(2), pp.276-293.
(7) Yan, Y. (2003). "Private Life Under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese village, 1949-1999". Stanford: Stanford University Press.
*** further readings for each seminar will be posted on moodle.

Association in the course directory

PR 410

Last modified: Th 25.11.2021 16:08