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State of the Field seminar: China in the 21st Century: Governing a Network Society in the Age of Information


Admission requirements

Modern Chinese (BA Leiden + Chinayear, or HSK 5)

There are no formal course requirements, and all the relevant concepts will be introduced throughout the module. Nevertheless, some background knowledge would be beneficial in fields such as Chinese politics, economics, and communication (for example: BA2 Government and Politics of Modern China, BA2 Economy of Modern China, BA3 Chinese News Media, BA3 Visual Political Communication). Exposure to some international relations theory would also be helpful (BA2 International Relations of China, BA3 Theories and Issues in the International Relations of East Asia).


Ten years into the 21st century, the world has seen profound social, political and economic changes. Time and space have become compressed: Transportation links allow us to visit the other side of the planet within a day. A technological revolution has swept the globe and has made it possible for anyone with a mobile phone to receive and transmit information from anywhere to any number of people at any time. Flows of people, of goods, and of finances span the world, linking cities, nations, and regions together in an intricate network that functions 24 hours per day, seven days per week. With these flows, new risks have emerged. Political movements apply power transnationally, in some cases using fear and violence in ways inconceivable a few decades ago. Epidemics and environmental dangers can sweep across the entire planet at break-neck speed, affecting millions of people in the process. Events in any local market have profound effects at the regional and global level. In this environment where risks and problems transgress borders, nation-states struggle to fulfill their traditional mandate: provide security, welfare, and identity to those living within their territory. At the same time, individuals everywhere are adapting to a new era: the age of information.

The course examines how the world’s most populous country and third-largest economy tackles the challenges of globalization. Adopting a critical view on conventional social science theories and methods, students of this course will tackle a number of challenging problems: How can we explain processes that are global and at the same time arguably local? Are the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese state able to manage a society that has linked up with global networks? Are traditional methods of governing the Chinese nation suitable to solve transnational issues? How does the political leadership secure its legitimacy in an era of profound changes? How is China shaped by transnational forces, and how does China in turn shape regional and global processes? From an alternative perspective, we will ask how Chinese people cope with their rapidly changing world. By exploring the most recent theories of globalization, networking, and the information revolution, participants will assess whether our present age is indeed as profoundly different as many scholars and politicians claim. Applying the idea of the transnational network society to the Chinese case, we will explore political, social, economic and cultural processes and try to pinpoint who or what is truly steering the changes China is currently undergoing. In other words: where is power actually located in 21st century China?

The issues addressed in this course will have relevance to a number of disciplines. Students should draw on previous work they have done in other academic fields and demonstrate their knowledge in plenary sessions, as well as in their assessed work. It is also hoped that students will apply the knowledge they gain through studying China in the 21st Century to other courses they are taking.

Students are expected to use additional sources to those in the suggested reading list and to keep up-to-date with current affairs through reading newspapers, relevant internet sites and online journals.

Course objectives

This module aims to provide a critical examination of key issues and processes related to the governing of a nation-state that is increasingly interlinked with regional and global networks. The focus of this module is on developments of the last decade, but students are encouraged to critically question the existing knowledge on globalization processes and to place Chinese developments into larger historical contexts. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the complex issues and processes related to globalization, governance in a network society, and the workings of information processes in our present age.

  • Apply complex conceptual tools to analyze key events in and processes related to globalization in China.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts and approaches on globalization issues, and lead class discussions.


Preliminary Schedule:

Week 01: Introduction
Week 02: What is Globalization?
Week 03: Power in a Network Society.
Week 04: The Limits of China’s State.
Week 05: China’s Economy and Transnational Production Networks.
Week 06: China on the Move: New Labour Markets and the Flow of People
Week 07: Health and Social Risks in an Age without Borders.
Week 08: No class.
Week 09: Media and Propaganda in the Information Age.
Week 10: Transnational Flows of Culture and the Revival of Confucian Traditions.
Week 11: Social Movements and New Communication Technologies.
Week 12: Developing the Global City: Better City, Better Life?
Week 13: Managing China’s Peaceful Rise: Soft Power, Hard Power, and Transnational Political Agents.
Week 14: Conclusion: Can China Manage the Information Age?


Mode of instruction


The work-load for this course will roughly be as follows:

  • Seminar time: 26 hours

  • Reading and preparation: 130 hours (10 hours per week over 13 weeks)

  • Course work: 44 hours

  • Writing the final paper: 80 hours
    Total: 280 hours (10 ECTS)

Assessment method

  • Participation Element (incl. attendance, participation, presentation) – 30%

  • Analytical Element – (course work) – 30%

  • Research Element – (research paper 4,000 words) – 40%


A handbook denoting weekly readings will be posted on blackboard the week before the start of the semester.
Additional information (lecture slides, useful websites, etc…) will also be found on blackboard over the course of the semester.

Reading list

A list of weekly reading materials will be available at the start of the semester. Three general books will serve as background information, and will be heavily used throughout the course. These books will be on reserve at university libraries:

  • Castells, Manuel (2009): Communication Power, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Held, David & McGrew, Anthony (eds.) (2003): Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture: An Introduction to the Globalization Debate, 2nd edition, Cambridge et al.: Polity Press.

  • Zheng, Yongnian (2004): Globalization and State Transformation in China, Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press.

Students are encouraged to read the following short overview before the start of the course:

  • Steger, Manfred B. (2003): Globalization – A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Enroll on time via uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

Florian Schneider
Arsenaal, Room 009