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The Politics of Digital China


Admission requirements

Master Students Asian Studies. Other Master students should submit a request.


The People’s Republic of China now has more internet users than the European Union has citizens. Equiped with laptops and mobile phones, Chinese citizens are increasingly interconnected, creating new spheres for cultural exchange, commerce, and political engagement. Meanwhile, the authorities carefully monitor and manage the diversity of digital China, censor unwanted content, block foreign digital services, and use digital tools for their own regulatory purposes.
This course asks what happens when the politics of a nation-state go digital. Students will engage with state-of-the-field debates about China in the information age and will explore the theoretical implications of politics in a networked society. Throughout the course, we will explore various digital media types, platforms, and features, such as search engines, online encyclopaedias, websites, hyperlink networks, blogs, microblogs, and chat services, and we will ask: how do design features, human psychology, economic dynamics, and political decisions shape digital China?

Course objectives

This module aims to provide a critical examination of key issues and processes related to the governing of a nation-state that is increasingly interlinked with digital networks. The focus of this module is on developments of the last decade, but students are encouraged to critically question the existing knowledge about and presumed novelty of digital technologies, and to place Chinese developments into larger historical contexts. By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the complex issues and processes related to digital politics, governance in a network society, and the workings of information processes in our present age.

  • Apply complex conceptual tools to analyze key events and processes related to digital politics in China.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative, and transferable skills, develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts and approaches on digital media issues, and lead class discussions.


The timetable is available online Asianstudies

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

The work-load for this course is roughly 280 hours:
– Plenary sessions: 24 hours.
– Readings: 116 hours.
– Course Assignments: 40 hours.
– Presentations: 40 hours.
– Final paper: 60 hours.

Assessment method

In order to pass this module, students will have to complete assignments in three different categories:

  • Analytical Element (course work) – 30% of final grade.

  • Participatory element (presentation) – 30% of final grade.

  • Research Element (research paper 4,000 words) – 40% of final grade.

Instructions on how to fulfill the requirements will be discussed in class, and guidelines will be posted on blackboard.

A failed research paper may be re-written only if the original submission constituted a serious attempt. The re-sit grade can then not be higher than a passing grade (6.0). A failed course work assignments can be compensated through other course work assignments, and the grade for the analytical element can be compensated with the research paper. Course work cannot be retaken to achieve better grades.


Blackboard will be used for all course-related communication and grading, including announcement of the required readings and assignments

Reading list

The required readings will be announced on blackboard. Students interested in learning more about politics in the information age may find the following books useful:

  • Benkler, Yochai (2006), The Wealth of Networks – How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

  • Castells, Manuel (2009), Communication Power. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press.

  • Pariser, Eli (2012), The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think (Kindle ed.). New York et al.: Penguin Books.

  • Shirky, Clay (2008), Here Comes Everybody – The Power to Organize without Organizations, New York et al.: Penguin Books.
    Students who wish to expand their knowledge of digital China may want to consult the following sources:

  • Herold, David Kurt & Marolt, Peter (eds) (2011), Online Society in China: Creating, Celebrating, and Instrumentalising the Online Carnival. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Marolt, Peter & Herold, David K. (eds) (2014), China Online: Locating Society in Online Spaces. Abingdon: Routledge.

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

  • Yang, Guobin (2009), The Power of the Internet in China – Citizen Activism Online. New York: Columbia University Press.

Note that these sources are merely recommendations for further study, not required readings.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


Dr. F.A. Schneider