CCCH9027 China: Culture, State and Society
China’s Ethnic Groups: Cultural Assimilation or Cultural Pluralism?


Course Description

[This Common Core course is of a ‘flipped classroom format’, i.e., much of the traditional in-class lecturing will be replaced by video lectures and other online learning materials, thus the time-tabled lecture hours will be used for collaborative learning activities.]

China has an ethnic minority population that numbers almost 120 million people (a number higher than the total population of about 10 countries). Their ethnic autonomous areas occupy half of the land of China and 90% of its borders with 16 other countries. China has 55 state designated ethnic minority groups on the basis of how they differ culturally from the majority Han Chinese. In any multiethnic country, a key question concerns the nature of the process that occurs when people of different ethnic groups come together. Is it pluralism or assimilation, or something else? For China, the answer is complex and will affect its future in the 21st Century. As China becomes the most powerful economy in the world, its ethnic minority cultures will continue to be part of its civilization – a key element in China’s global soft power.

This course examines how China’s history, laws, policies, and institutions interpret and transmit ethnic minority culture within the national framework. It will look selectively at several ethnic groups, including the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, Huis, Koreans, Lahus, Dongxiangs, Naxis, and others. The course will also examine policies, laws, regions, cultural traditions, identities, economy, religious practices, and how education transmits culture from one generation to another.

Students in the class will have an opportunity to communicate about their own ethnicity and experience, and what it means for be an ethnic minority and a citizen in the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and around the world. The course uses a flipped classroom format. Students work collaboratively with classmates. Students are encouraged to discover innovative ways to think about China’s future as a highly diverse civilization. Where opportunities arise, students are encouraged to gather firsthand data.

For the final paper, students from different faculties may align their topic with their academic major. For example, students in fine arts can write about ethnic arts, music, dance and culture. Students in Medicine can write about medical issues that plague specific ethnic minority communities. Students in Architecture may write about the originals of the architectural structures that are characteristic of particular ethnic minority groups. Students in engineering may write about how different ethnic groups have modernized their infrastructure, including roads and highways, or agricultural machinery. Students in the sciences might write about indigenous chemicals, traditional medicines, and science effects on their communities. Students in education can write about how schools change ethnic minority languages and ethnic identities. Students in politics may write about how laws and policies affect ethnic minority life. Sociologists may write about the inequalities among different ethnic groups. Psychologists may write about psychological issues such as the generation gap as young people experience loss of traditional ethnic life or urbanization. Economists may write about how ethnic minority graduates look for jobs in a changing labor market. These are just a few examples. There are many other possibilities. Students may also make comparisons between these examples and their own experiences as a member of a cultural group.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of China’s ethnic groups, including history, relevant laws, policies and practices about ethnicity in global perspective.
  2. Identify ethnic minority problems and provide specific solutions.
  3. Navigate differences between their own culture and the cultures of other ethnic groups.
  4. Build an evidence-based theory about interethnic processes.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Sat)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Online course material 24
Reading / Self-study 36
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 36
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 38
Total: 168

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Group project and presentation 50
Research paper 50

Required Reading

Excerpts to be made available on Moodle from:

  • Ge, Z. (2018). Practical questions: Will cultural differences between China and the West lead to conflict?. In M. Hill (Trans.), What is China? : Territory, ethnicity, culture, and history (pp.134-148). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Postiglione, G. (2009). Education of ethnic groups in China. In J. Banks (Ed.), The Routledge international companion to multicultural education (pp. 501-511). New York and London: Routledge.
  • Postiglione, G. (2009). Ethnic minorities in China. Berkshire encyclopedia of China. USA: Berkshire Publishing Company. [pp. 763-770]
  • Wang, G. W. (1991). The Chineseness of China. Oxford University Press. [pp. 1-7]

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor G.A. Postiglione
Faculty of Education (Social Contexts and Policies of Education)
Tel: 2859 2526
Email: gerry@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor G.A. Postiglione
Faculty of Education (Social Contexts and Policies of Education)
Tel: 2859 2526
Email: gerry@hku.hk