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(Fall, 2017)

LIT190s, AMES 190S, POLSCI 190S: Global China
Wed, Fri 10:05-11:20am.

Instructor: Xuenan Cao


Office Hour by Appointment.

Global awareness has been one key aspect of the university education in the U.S., given the importance transnational trade and communication. Students can benefit greatly from an in-depth examination of the making of the contemporary China. This course aims to familiarize students with some salient themes in modern China and critical perspectives in understanding issues of communication in an intercultural context. As a broad, accessible introduction to contemporary (1980-) social, political, and cultural contexts of China, this course examines transnational production and circulation of literary and artistic works, including literature, cinema, and contemporary art. All interests in sinological studies and studies in cultural theory involving China and the world cut across several disciplines: comparative literature, anthropology, history, philosophy, film studies, and cultural studies.
Communication between China and the West takes place in exchanges of culture, language, and consumer goods. How do these transactions correlate with each other in a global setting? For example, what is the significance of cigarettes and faces in networking in China? ? Throughout the course, students will be exposed to research in an array of theoretical approaches to culture, although we will not be reading “theory” as such. English materials are used in this course. Students will be encouraged to read the Chinese original of literary and artistic works, but Chinese reading knowledge is not a requirement for the class. As the term progresses, readings will become progressively lighter, with an increasing focus on multi-media sources, such as film, art, etc. The class will also explore issues of consumption, class, ethnicity, and gender through specific communication scenarios.
Requirements for this course include regular attendance, class participation and presentation, one creative project (a film synopsis or a magazine op-ed), and one critical essay.


All texts will be available on SAKAI site or through the online links in the syllabus.

Enrolled students are required to come to the lecture having completed the reading assignments. Students must also complete all course assignments including an op-ed article, an in-class presentation, and a critical essay.
Attendance, Participation, and Preparation for the class: 20 pts

Your participation grade will be comprised of (1) attendance in lectures, (2) contribution to the discussion in seminars, (3) demonstration of your preparatory efforts by raising questions or talking about what you have learned from the readings in your weekly written response.

The paragraph-length reflection should be a concise, question-driven reflection of no more than 150 words about the required reading of that week. You will be asked to summarize the main argument of the reading, note how the argument is conveyed, and describe their reactions. This exercise requires you to pay attention to how the assigned readings impact you as an audience.
Use Box.
Commentary (double-space, 3-4 pages long): 20 pts
Write a commentary, like a working introduction to a larger question in which you will define a question that you want to explore for the final essay. Show the readers why this is an interesting question through some basic research. The commentary is supposed to be exploratory, more descriptive than argumentative. But of course, a description is also argumentative in many ways.
In the commentary, you need to highlight one issue—cultural, political, or economic, depending on your interest—relating to contemporary China. Explain a topic, write down initial reaction.

I encourage you to meet with me individually before you submit the commentary.

We will do a constructive peer feedback workshop, based on the principle of clarity, fairness, and concreteness, and of course, how you get your readers interested in your writing.
*Duke Reader Project.
In-class Group Presentation (30-40 mins): 20 pts

You will form a group of 2-4 people and make a presentation on one of the five topics for week 9-13. In your presentation, you need to demonstrate your understanding of the analytical perspective and critically examine it with a specific cultural phenomenon of your choice. During the presentation, you need to raise questions and lead the class discussion. The aim of the presentation is to allow you to brainstorm and develop an idea of how a general analytical perspective can help understand specific cultural issues.

Critical Essay (double-space, 7-8 pages long): 40 pts
The final essay is a critical reflection on any topic related to the content of the class, referring to at least two theoretical texts discussed during the class. Before submitting the final essay, you need to schedule 15 mins individual meetings with me to get approval on your topics. One week before the final deadline, we will do a workshop on the introduction paragraph to your final essay.
Due date: , by 5pm.
Total Points: 100 pts
GUIDELINES for written assignments
The class aims to help you develop:

Clarity (not ambiguity)

Fairness (not falsely characterizing the texts)

Concreteness (not abstraction, like drawing)
If you have extra energy to be a more sophisticated writer, try to do this:

Complexity (synthesis of various positions in a clear and interesting way)
Remember! This class is not to make you hate writing (if you already hate writing, I would not like to make you hate it even more). This class does not make you write the ideal paper for the instructor. The purpose is to make you write better, and enjoy finding something interesting through writing.
All of these come from your own attention to your thinking and writing. I will give readerly feedback, i.e. how your writings work or do not work for a sympathetic and intelligent reader. I will not, however, do the writing assignments for you by editing your work. The goal of the class is to cultivate a writer, not to change a text.
Extra value! Duke Reader Project. Pair up with professional writers graduated from Duke, meet three times during the semester to work on your writing together and get additional advice. Report to class what you have learned through the interaction in verbal form. Your interaction with the writer will not be graded. You will only benefit from getting external participant’s perspective on your writing.
To enroll: http://dukereaderproject.org/

Late Attendance

Attendance is mandatory and is part of the requirement for passing the course. Late attendance will result in loss of attendance and participation points.


Please communicate with the instructor about absences. Absences must be accompanied by a formal explanation by university guidelines. More than 25% absence will result in loss of attendance points.

Late Work

No work will be accepted after the deadline.


No incompletes will be given for the course.


Plagiarism is a serious academic offense and will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Work for which plagiarism is proved will be awarded a grade of zero and relevant disciplinary procedures will be followed with the institution.

Email Notice

All students must check their emails for last minute changes, useful information and class announcements.


Section 1: Capitalism with Chinese characteristics--China since 1978.

Week 1

Communication in China

Political economy of communication in China
*Zhao, Yuezhi. Communication in China. Chapter 1.

*Harvey, David. “Neo-liberalism with Chinese Characteristics.”

Duke Reader Project.

Weekly Response:

Write a paragraph of introducing a theme/an idea from the assigned readings. Try to write a compelling first sentence for your paragraph.

Week 2

Genres and Propaganda

Mass communication
*Zhao, Yuezhi. Communication in China. Chapter 2-3.

Documentary: Zhao Liang – Petitions (2008)

Weekly Response:

Write a description of the most interesting (for you) aspect of the film. Pay attention to the details of the movie, not only the story, but also how the camerawork create the narrative.
Assume the readers have watched the film.

Week 3

Art and Literature

Satires and Political Pop
Novel: Yan Lianke – The Explosion Chronicles (2014)

Slideshow: Visual arts 1970s-1990s.

Weekly Response:

Write a paragraph of introducing a theme/an idea from the assigned readings. Focus on the structure of the paragraph.

Week 4

“Walls” of China

Censorship and online activism
* “Introduction” in Shirk, Susan L. edited. Changing Media, Changing China. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

*Hachigan, N. “China’s Cyber-Strategy,” Foreign Affairs Vol. 80, 2001.

Weekly Response:

Write a paragraph of introducing more than one a theme/an idea from the assigned readings. Pay attention to what each sentence does for the paragraph.

Section 2: China and the World

Week 5

Chinese cinema

The “Chinese Dream” about the world
Film: Jia Zhangke – The World (2010)

Weekly Response:

Write a paragraph towards your commentary. It does not have to the introduction. It could be your notes, or sketch of your argument, etc.

Duke Reader Project: Initial Meeting.

Bring your ideas for the Commentary Assignment with you.

Week 6

Confucius Institute

China's "soft power" and cultural exportation

*Dirlik, Arif. “Confucius in the Borderlands: Global Capitalism and the Reinvention of Confucianism.” Boundary 2, 22.3 (1995):229-273.

Weekly Response:

Write a paragraph of analyzing the argument of the assigned writing. Pay attention to quoting the author in your writing.
Commentary due in class!

Week 7

Copycat Towns

The Globe in a town
*Hui, Calvin. “Decaffeinated England: Thames Town and Its Discontents.”

Weekly Response:

Write a paragraph of analyzing the argument of the assigned writing. Pay attention to contextualizing a quotation and integrating others’ ideas into your own.

Section 3: Invisible Communications

Week 8


Gifting and consumer culture
*Wank, David. “Cigarettes and Domination in Chinese Business Networks: Institutional Change during the Market Transition,” in Deborah Davis edited The Consumer Revolution in Urban China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000): 268-286.

Duke Reader Project: Second Meeting.

Revise the Commentary, and work towards a critical essay.

Week 9

Banquets and Faces

*Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui. Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2004.
Film: Ang Lee – The Wedding Banquet (1993)

Week 10

Migrant Workers

Class and internal migration
*Fan, Cindy. “The Elites, the Natives, and the Outsiders: Migration and Labor Market Segmentation in Urban China,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers.
Film: Jia Zhangke – A Touch of Sin (2013)

Week 11


Ethnic minorities in China
*Wang, Hui. “The Tibetan Question.”

Week 12

Gender and Sexuality

Language and Politics
*Blum Susan D. 1997. Naming Practices and power of words in China. Language in Society 26, 357-381.

Week 13

Dialects in China

* Guo, Longsheng. The Relationship between Putonghua and Chinese dialects. In Minglang Zhou edited Language Policy in the People’s Republic of China.

Duke Reade Project: Third Meeting.

Bring a draft of your final paper.

Week 14

China amid Environmental Change

Film: Wang Jiuliang – Beijing Besieged by Waste (2012)

Chai Jing – Under the Dome (2015)

The third section introduces critical perspectives including Marxism, Post-colonialism, and gender studies. We will examine the relevance of these theoretical frameworks for understanding contemporary China.

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