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Introduction to Contemporary China A: Politics, Economics, and Society of Modern China


Admission requirements

This is an introductory-level course. No previous knowledge of social sciences or of China is required.


This course gives a basic overview of the major political, economic, and social issues relevant to the study of modern China (including the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China on Taiwan, and the SAR Hong Kong). The course is structured thematically rather than historically. It introduces various social science concepts as well as the major theories on how politics, economic development, and social processes work in China. This will also include a discussion of what ‘modern’ means, and what ‘China’ is. The course then covers core issues in contemporary China Studies, such as the relation between the Chinese Communist Party and the state, the rapid changes that the economy has undergone, the crucial challenges that people today face as they go about their everyday lives, the complex relation between the mainland and other Chinese-speaking territories, and the PRC’s foreign policies. The central questions throughout the module will be how China has changed over the past decades, how political, economic, and social issues are related to one another, and how we might make sense of recent developments in the PRC under Xi Jinping’s rule.

As an introductory course for first-year students, the module will also dedicate time to crucial academic skills, like asking a research question, finding relevant literature, analyzing that literature, and writing up the findings as an academic paper, all the in context of contemporary Chinese Studies.

Course objectives

Participants in this course will acquire the following:

  • An understanding of basic social science concepts, and the ability to critically assess those concepts in light of the Chinese context.

  • An understanding of the broad issues and changes that shape the societies and characterize the political and economic systems of the PRC, the ROC, and the SAR Hong Kong.

  • Knowledge of the mechanisms used to steer China’s development.

  • The necessary academic skill (asking research questions, researching literature, communicating findings and arguments) for conducting elementary-level undergraduate studies.
    The course will provide the necessary background knowledge for the pursuit of intermediate BA2 courses on Chinese politics, economics, and international relations. Completion of this course will be a pre-requisite for taking such higher-level courses.


For the timetable see the Chinastudies website

Mode of instruction

Weekly lectures and tutorial seminars.

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

  • Lecture & tutorial time: 38 hours

  • Course reading: 42 hours

  • Preparing for written exam: 20 hours

  • Writing of essay: 40 hours
    Total: 140 hours

Assessment method

In order to pass this course, the following will be required of the participants:

  • An open-book written examination with brief essay question (40% of final mark).

  • Essay paper (60% of final mark).
    Regular, punctual attendance, thorough preparation of reading material, and continuous participation in plenary and tutorial debates are also expected.


A list of 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

There is no mandatory textbook for this course. All required readings will be announced on blackboard and will be available through the digital library. Students interested in getting a head-start may find the following introductory books useful (in alphabetical order):

  • Hong-Fincher, Leta (2016), Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. London: ZedBooks.

  • Joseph, William A. (ed.) (2014), Politics in China: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Naughton, Barry J. (2018), The Chinese Economy: Adaptation and Growth (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Pieke, Frank (2016), Knowing China: A Twenty-First Century Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (for Dutch version, see below).

  • Shirky, Clay (2015), Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream. New York: Columbia Global Reports.

For Dutch-speakers, the following additional readings might be of interest:

  • Pieke, Frank (2016), China, een Gids voor de 21e Eeuw. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

  • Chong, Woei-Lin & Ngo, Tak-Wing (eds.) (2008), China in Verandering: Balans en Toekomst van de Hervormingen, Almere: Parthen


Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see “the Study in Leiden website” for information on how to apply

Contact information

For questions or additional information please contact your study coordinator, or the lecturer: Dr. Florian Schneider