Review of PS2248 – Chinese Politics

For other module reviews, please click here.

(Alternate Title: PS2248: Modern Chinese History. Mao Mao (Meow?) Deng and a little bit after)

Introduction

I had one last 2k/3k module to clear this semester and decided to take this module since I felt I didn’t know very much about China. As part of my plan to learn about major countries and themes, I didn’t have enough major modules left to do U.S Foreign Policy (which I hear is pretty good) or anything to do with the West, so this seemed like the next best option.

What I expected

A good discussion on the present Chinese political system, a little bit of history into the Jiang and Hu eras and lots about the present Xi regime.

What I got

Pretty much a history lesson for the first 70% of the module learning about the formation of modern China from the last emperor through World War 2, then consolidation, the Civil War and successive governments that followed. A fair portion of this history lesson was focused on Mao – for good reason – and his successor Deng, given that they are sometimes viewed in contrast to each other. The last 30% of the module’s content considers more contemporary issues which I mentioned above and also traces other aspects relevant to the study of Comparative Politics – political systems, civil-military relations, non-governmental organizations and even a little about the evolution of healthcare. Some good attention is given towards the evolving nature of the Chinese economy as well, from the days of Mao to the present system.

On the whole, Prof Chen An (whom I took this module under and bears some resemblance to Taro Aso’s character from Mind Your Language) justifies his module’s emphasis on contemporary Chinese history by arguing that without knowing the history, one can’t understand present Chinese politics. It’s a fair argument to make, and one that I’m inclined towards after having taken the module. Prof Chen brings with him a wealth of experience as well (having lived through some of the events he teaches and having taught this module for many years), making this module fairly interesting with his grandfatherly anecdotes.

[Webcasted?] Nope.

[Course Materials?] A mixture of PDF readings and books you have to borrow from the RBR section – no textbook, so yay for saving money!

Assessment & Workload

One is assessed as follows:

  1. Tutorial Attendance and Participation: 10%. The former refers to showing up, the latter, a short presentation that one gives to a small group of fellow students. Not too difficult to plan or prepare for.
  2. Term Paper: 30%. At a soft cap of 2000 words (+-10%), the difficulty in writing this paper comes from having to meet requirements for citations. If memory serves me right, the Prof wanted a minimum of 10 scholarly/reputable (non-newspaper/website) sources to show one’s grasp of the literature and well-used footnotes, not spamming multiple citations to the same source. It was certainly a challenge even for someone that’s written a fair bit of essays because one usually doesn’t go hunting for so many good sources, but I took up the challenge and, well, tried my best.
  3. Finals: 60%. Yup, you read that right. More than half your grade for the module is determined in a two hour paper – at least, that’s what happened for me. This doesn’t mean one should slack off on the essay or tutorial stuff, but it does mean that if one screws those up they can probably salvage a B-ish grade from there by doing well here. And if they do well there and screw this up, there goes their hopes of getting an A. The format was as follows: 7C3 questions with one compulsory and two sections of 3C1 (choosing one question out of three). There’s no need to indicate sources but it’s good to quote the literature one has read throughout the module. Length isn’t as important as answering the question, so yup. At 20% of your final grade per question, this was probably the highest-stake final I’ve taken.

The workload for this module’s fairly heavy, but not because of the weekly page count. Page counts range from 110 pages on a light week to 150 pages on a heavy week, but given that many of them are from a few key books, it takes a bit more time to absorb compared to how most students usually skim through journal articles. I’d say setting aside two hours each week to clear the readings for this module sounds about right.

Expected Grade

I had received a full A for my essay (which I was quite happy about, given that I put in so much work for it) and an A for my tutorial stuff, so…I was hoping to get an A- after the finals or even, God willing, maintain the A.

Actual Grade

Quite sadly, I got a B+ – a far cry from my hopes of an A-. I suppose competition in the finals was pretty stiff given that everyone’s necks were on the line…

Conclusion & Tips

All in all, this module does equip one with basic history and knowledge of China’s political system. Those who’ve taken PS2234: Introduction to Comparative Politics will find some similarity in what they’ve learnt here to that module’s section on Chinese politics. Students who’ve taken the fun course on civil-military relations will also find China a fascinating case study, although this aspect was not explored in much detail during the module. If you’re looking to understand China’s contemporary domestic politics from a historical perspective, this module won’t disappoint.

  1. Do your readings for this module – I can’t emphasize it enough. The core readings from a few select textbooks actually do complement each other given that they’re talking about the same events in Chinese history, but they provide different perspectives which help significantly in the writing of your essays for the term paper and finals. Also, it helps to have some interest in China as a country so you find the module’s (at time tedious) workload a bit more manageable. Since the module is conducted in English, you don’t need to have any background in Mandarin or Chinese to take and understand it.
  2. Do print out the readings from the RBR section early – I’d recommend pulling up the syllabus on IVLE once you’ve secured the module and printing out all the readings the week before school starts. Otherwise it’ll be quite a hassle waiting for others to return that copy you need. Alternatively if you’ve got study groups, you can assign one person to print everything and the rest just photocopy off him.
  3. Understand deeply the possible essay questions or presentation topics – it will serve one well when tackling the questions for finals or deciding what they should focus on for finals prep ^^

Fluff

For non-native English speakers that may find an accent-barrier hindering their understanding of the lecture, I’ve taken the liberty of drafting a tiny dictionary based on what I’ve experienced:

  1. asay – essay
  2. ekanomics – economics
  3. zat – that
  4. iancase – in any case
  5. gradue – graduate

There might be more words that one has trouble understanding if spoken quickly/rapidly and with an accent, so you could always ask your friends if you’re unsure.

No materials to preview unfortunately 😦

Here are my personal notes I’ve taken though ^^

 

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