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Can the Subaltern Write: China’s Migrant Worker Culture


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. Since the 2000s, members of this group have emerged as literary authors, especially of poetry. Why do migrant workers write? What do they write? Who do they write for? Is this something typically Chinese? How is migrant worker literature received, in China and elsewhere? What is the social and political significance of migrant worker literature, and what about migrant worker “culture” more broadly? What does this tell us about China, and about representations 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


The timetable is available on the Asianstudies website

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

  • Blackboard posts for 20% of the final mark

  • 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

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Course materials
    *Uploading assignments

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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dhr Prof. Dr. Maghiel van Crevel

Student administration van Eyckhof