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Can the Subaltern Write? China’s Migrant Worker Culture


Admission requirements

No prerequisites


In China, starting in the 1980s, hundreds of millions of people have moved from the countryside to the cities, to escape rural poverty by working in construction, factories, the service industry, and so on. Hard-working, low-earning, often deprived of basic civic rights, they are the foot soldiers of China’s economic rise. With a precarious existence summed up as “working for the boss” (dagong), these people have been referred to as Battlers. Since the 2000s, the Battlers have played an increasingly visible rol in cultural production, both as authors/creators and as protagonists, in literature but also in other arts and media such as film, DV, music, and so on. For scholarship, this generates a fascinating dynamic of ideology, aesthetics, and cultural specificity (“Chineseness”) that lends itself to an interdiscipinary approach with plenty of space for transnational comparisons. What does “Battlers culture” tell us about China, and about the representation of culture at large?

Course objectives

  • familiarity with the broad contours of cultural production in the People’s Republic of China

  • in-depth understanding of China’s migrant worker literature and culture

  • reflection on the above points within a critical area studies framework

  • development of graduate-level academic skills such as reading and listening critically and analytically, formulating research questions; identifying, organizing, and evaluating source material and academic literature; oral and written presentation; awareness of theoretical, methodological, ethical, and practical issues in research


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Attendance is compulsory for all sessions. Students must prepare well and contribute to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

course load
Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Class sessions (12 x 2 hrs) = 24 h

  • Preparation (12 x 8) = 96 h

  • Brief written work (three position papers) = 40 h

  • Oral presentation(s) = 40 h

  • Term paper = 80 h

Assessment method

  • Two position papers for 20% of the final mark

  • Oral presentation(s) for 20% of the final mark

  • Term paper for 40% of the final mark

  • Self-reflection for 20% of the final mark

inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The course material is generally available from the University Library (including a number of items on reserve), and/or through open access online. Students may be asked to purchase additional items themselves.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website


Dhr Prof. Dr. Maghiel van Crevel

Student administration van Eyckhof