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China’s New Workers and the Politics of Culture


Admission requirements

In addition to students from the MA Asian Studies (60EC, 120EC, ResMA), the course welcomes Master’s students in other fields who are interested in thematically defined work at the intersection of the humanities and social science.


In China, starting in the 1980s, up to three hundred million people have moved from the countryside to the cities, to escape rural poverty by working in construction, on the assemby line, in the service industry, and so on. Hard-working, low-earning, often deprived of basic civil rights, these “New Workers” live precarious lives as the foot soldiers of China’s economic rise. Notably, this demographic has been increasingly visible in the cultural realm, both as authors/creators and as protagonists in literature and art, including music, digital video, documentary filmmaking, and the visual arts. New Worker culture raises fascinating questions that invite a thematic, interdisciplinary approach at the intersection of the humanities and social science. Is New Worker culture a type of literature and art that happens to be about migrant labor, or is it labor activism that happens to take the form of literature and art? What is its social and political significance? How do government officials, media professionals, and “professional” authors/creators and critics relate to it? Is it something typically Chinese? Can it be translated, in the broadest sense of the word? What does it tell us about the politics of culture in China today?

Course objectives

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

  • In-depth understanding of China’s “New Worker” culture, including comparative perspectives on workers’ culture in other places

  • 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


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

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.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Two position papers 20%
Presentation 20%
Term paper 40%
Self-assessment 20%

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

The research 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 convener.)

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 a paper graded 5.49 or lower, a re-sit of the paper is possible (40%). In that case the convener of the course may decide to assign a (new) topic. The deadline for this version will be determined by the course convener, 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 have to be organized.

Reading list

A reading list will be provided prior to the course


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof