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.]

Contemporary China is a multiethnic state with a 116 million population. Ethnic autonomous areas occupy 50% of the country and 90% of the borders with 16 other countries. The government recognizes 55 ethnic minority groups based on their historical origins, mode of production, language, culture, customs, religion, and a sense of solidarity.

What interethnic processes are at work in multiethnic China? How does the state manage ethnic relations? What is the balance between centralization and ethnicization? What is the difference between pluralism and assimilation? As China becomes the most powerful economy in the world, what can other multiethnic countries learn from China’s experience?

This course examines how China’s civilization, institutions, laws and policies address the challenge of multiethnic integration. The course presents an opportunity to learn about some of China’s many ethnic groups, such as the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, Huis, Koreans, Lahus, Dongxiangs, Naxis, Miao, Yao, and others. The course will highlight the variety of ethnic customs, religious practices, music, art, dance and other cultural traditions. Finally, the course examines how education, as a mechanism of cultural reproduction and transmission, shapes and is shaped by ethnic identities.

Students in the class can also share their own interethnic experience and consider what it means to be ethnic in the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. The course introduces the idea of cross-cultural communication as a way to bridge the differences between your own culture and the cultures of other ethnic groups locally, regionally, and globally.

The course uses a flipped classroom and tutorial format as a way to discover innovative ways to think about China’s future as a highly diverse civilization. Students work collaboratively with classmates in small groups to identify, compare, and analyze the way that social, economic, and cultural challenges are addressed by different ethnic groups.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Articulate a broader perspective and a deeper critical between centralization and ethnicization of ethnic minority policies.
  2. Explain what factors and forces make your group culture navigate between pluralism and assimilation.
  3. Identify strategies to effectively participate in ethnic intergroup relationships in your city, country and other regions.
  4. Use primary and/or secondary data to demonstrate how communication skills contribute to social equality, economic development, cultural autonomy, and national unity in multiethnic China.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Online course material 24
Reading / Self-study 36
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 34
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 40
Total: 168

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Group project and presentation 40
Research paper 50
Reflection writing 10

Required Reading

Excerpts of the following will be made available on Moodle: 

  • Chen, Y. -B. (2020). From “Lamb Kebabs” to “Shared Joy”: Cultural Appropriation, Ignorance and the Constrained Connectivity within the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative. Journal of Contemporary China, 29(121), 1-16.
  • Ge, Z. (2018). What is China? Territory, ethnicity, culture, and history. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. [pp. 134-148]
  • Postiglione, G. (2009). Ethnic minorities in China. Berkshire encyclopedia of China. USA: Berkshire Publishing Company. [pp. 763-770]
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2009). Dislocated education: The case of Tibet. Comparative Education Review, 53(4), 483-512.
  • Postiglione, G. A., & Jiao, B. (2009). Tibet’s relocated schools: Popularization reconsidered. Asian Survey, 49(5), 895-914.
  • Sun, Y. (2020). From Empire to Nation State: Ethnic Politics in China. Cambridge University Press. [Chap. 1 “What is destabilizing about China’s ethnic regions?” (pp. 1-24)]
  • Wang, Gung Wu. (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
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor G.A. Postiglione
Faculty of Education (Social Contexts and Policies of Education)
Tel: 2859 2526