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Understanding China, 1700-2000: A Data Analytic Approach, Part 1

The purpose of this course is to summarize new directions in Chinese history and social science produced by the creation and analysis of big historical datasets based on newly opened Chinese archival holdings, and to organize this knowledge in a framework that encourages learning about China in comparative perspective.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

Our course demonstrates how a new scholarship of discovery is redefining what is singular about modern China and modern Chinese history. Current understandings of human history and social theory are based largely on Western experience or on non-Western experience seen through a Western lens. This course offers alternative perspectives derived from Chinese experience over the last three centuries. We present specific case studies of this new scholarship of discovery divided into two stand-alone parts, which means that students can take any Part without prior or subsequent attendance of the other Part.

Part One focuses on comparative inequality and opportunity and addresses two related questions ‘Who rises to the top?’ and ‘Who gets what?’. Please note that Part One was previously named ‘A New History for a New China, 1700-2000: New Data and New Methods, Part 1’.

Part Two turns to an arguably even more important question ‘Who are we?’ as seen through the framework of comparative population behavior - mortality, marriage, and reproduction – and their interaction with economic conditions and human values. We do so because mortality and reproduction are fundamental and universal, because they differ historically just as radically between China and the West as patterns of inequality and opportunity, and because these differences demonstrate the mutability of human behavior and values.

Course Syllabus

Part 1 covers the following subjects:

  1. Social Structure and Education in Late Imperial China
  2. Education and Social Mobility in Contemporary China
  3. Social Mobility and Wealth Distribution in China
  4. Wealth Distribution and Regime Change

Recommended Background

No requirements. Everyone is welcome.

Suggested Readings

All students should read:

  • HO, Ping-ti. 1962/1967. The Ladder of Success in Imperial China; Aspects of Social Mobility, 1368-1911. Columbia University Press, 1-52, 92-125.
  • RUBENSTEIN, William D. 2009. “The social origins and career patterns of Oxford and Cambridge matriculants, 1840–1900.” Historical Research, vol. 82, no. 218 (November 2009): 715-730.
  • SMITH, Robert J. 1982. The ecole normale supérieure and the Third Republic. Suny Press, Table 4, p.34.
  • WEBER, Max. 1946. ‘The Chinese Literati.’ In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University Press: 416-444, 462-467.
  • BOURDIEU, Pierre. 1996. The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power. Polity Press: 9-29, 263-299.
  • KARABEL, Jerome. 2005. The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Houghton Mifflin: 1-10 
  • CHEN, Shuang. 2014. Social Formation under State Domination: State Categories and Wealth Stratification in Northeast China, 1815-1913. Book Manuscript: 1-31.
  • LINDERT, Peter H. 1991. ‘Toward a Comparative History of Income and Wealth Inequality.’ in Income Distribution in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press: 212-231.
  • PIKETTY, Thomas. 2014. ‘Introduction’ and ‘Merit and Inheritance in the Long Run’ In Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard University Press: 1-35, 377-429
  • NOELLERT, Matthew. 2014. “New Perspectives on Communist Land Reform: Evidence from Shuangcheng County in Northeast China, 1946-1948.” HKUST Humanities PhD Dissertation. 
  • HINTON, William. 1966. Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village. Monthly Review Press: 147-156, 332-366.

Course Format

For each subject, we present a 45-60 minute lecture, which incorporates recent, often on-going, research on these issues, and suggest 50 to 100 pages of relevant reading followed by peer mentored online discussions of the lecture and assigned reading.