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Can the Subaltern Write? China’s Migrant Worker Culture (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (research) or another relevant Research MA. Students from other departments are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


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 hours
Extra contact hours Research MA students 6 hours
Preparation (12 x 7.5) 90 hours
Brief written work (two position papers and self-reflection) 40 hours
Oral presentation(s) 40 hours
Term paper 80 hours

Assessment method

Academic integrity

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Self-reflection 20%
Two position papers 20%
Oral presentation(s) 20%
Term paper 40%

In order to pass the course, students need a pass mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the research paper and for the course as a whole.

The term paper is written in two stages: a first version, on which the convener will offer feedback, and a final version. Feedback on the first version is conditional on this being handed in before the deadline. The grade will be determined on the basis of the final version only. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is for administrative purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor.)

All categories of assessment must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is 5.49 or lower and this is the result of the term paper graded 5.49 or lower, a re-sit of the paper is possible (40%). In that case the convenor of the course may decide to assign a (new) topic. The deadline for this version will be determined by the course convenor, after consultation with the student.

A re-sit for other course components is not possible.

Inspection and feedback

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will 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.

For the Research MA students additional reading will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. Extra sessions will be organized to discuss this extra literature.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration à la carte or contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Prof.dr. M. van Crevel


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.