The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST5518A Special Topics in Public History (Contemporary China): Contemporary China

Semester 2 (2019-2020)

Lecture TimeTuesday 6:30pm-9:15pm

VenueYIA 505


Lecturer LAM Wo Lap Willy (

Teaching Assistant WOO Tze Yan Jessie ((852) 3943 7129 /

Course Description

This course takes an intensive look at China since the start of the Era of Reform and the Open Door in 1978. The major policies and legacies of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders including Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping will be analyzed. Emphasis will be put on 21st-century China: the Fourth-Generation Leadership under President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao (2002-2012) and the current Fifth-Generation Leadership under President Xi (from 2012 onwards). Focus will be put on ideas and policies introduced in the past two decades in the areas of political, economic, social, and legal reforms. Initiatives such as “putting people first,” “the Scientific Theory of Development,” “constructing a harmonious society” – as well as “realizing the Chinese Dream and the Renaissance of the Chinese nation” – will be assessed from a historical perspective. Discussion will be conducted on the Hu and Xi administration’s handling of new forces such as nationalism as well as the rise of the civil society and the entrepreneurial class. The viability of the “China model” will be appraised in light of China’s much-enhanced international role in the wake of the global financial crisis. For example, will the China Model be able to maintain a relatively high GDP growth rate and will it facilitate the long-anticipated restructuring of the economy? Does the on-going “Cold War” with the U.S., including what some analysts call the largest-scale trade dispute in history, demonstrate deficiencies in both the China model and Chinese-style reform? The course will also examine the evolution of Beijing’s foreign policy and China’s relations with the United States and other major countries and blocs. President Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative – and how this will enhance China’s global power projection – will be thoroughly appraised. Other relevant issues that will be discussed include: the significance of the 17th, the 18th and the 19th Party Congresses (2007, 2012 and 2017); legal and judicial reforms; energy and food security; environmental issues; the civil society and the media; the special status and influence of the People’s Liberation Army; ethnic issues in Xinjiang and Tibet; and the larger implications of the current movement in Hong Kong against the “Extradition Bill.”

Students are encouraged to take a pro-active approach in both class discussion and writing term papers. TV footage and documentaries of major recent events and developments will be shown to stimulate discussion and research.


Weeks 1 & 2. The background of the Era of Reform and the Open Door. Major reform policies of Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Efforts by Deng and Hu to rectify the mistakes of Mao Zedong. The official assessment of the Cultural Revolution and the historical stature of Chairman Mao. Deng’s introduction of market forces into the economy and the nature of China’s “mixed economy.” The significance of village-level elections. Political reforms championed by Hu and Zhao such as “separation of party and government” and the limited adoption of universal values and global norms. The CCP’s reaction to forces of liberalization in Poland and other East European countries. The road to the Tiananmen Square crisis and the lessons that the party has drawn from the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.


Week 3. Highlights of the Jiang Zemin Era (1989 to 2002). The traits of the Third-Generation Leadership under President Jiang and Premier Zhu Rongji. China’s reaction to sanctions imposed on the country by the U.S. and the West. Jiang and Zhu’s efforts to speed up accession to the World Trade Organization. The lasting impact of the “Theory of the Three Represents.” Economic and administrative reforms undertaken by Premier Zhu, including the introduction of the dual-tax system.


Week 4. Factors behind the rise of the Fourth-Generation leadership under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. The overall guoqing or  “national conditions” when Hu took over from ex-president Jiang Zemin in late 2002. Lack of transparency in the transition process betrayed a heavy dosage of  “rule of personality” in the polity. Factional rivalry between the “Shanghai Faction” and the “Communist Youth League Faction.” The Hu-Wen team’s limited political and legal reforms. President Hu’s search for the formula to enable the CCP to remain the perennial ruling party of China.


Week 5. Analysis and discussion of the Hu-Wen team’s “Scientific Theory of Development.” The new administration’s “putting-people-first” policies — a “reinvention” of Chairman Mao’s “serve the people” credo. Hu’s reinterpretation of ex-president Jiang’s “Theory of the Three Represents” by putting the focus on boosting the welfare of “disadvantaged sectors” of society, particularly the lowly peasants and unemployed urban workers.  Hu’s call for the “construction of a harmonious society.”


Week 6. Brief discussion and assessment of the Hu-Wen team’s agrarian and industrial policies. Was the Fourth-Generation leadership successful in reversing the trend, first begun by Lenin and Mao, of “squeezing the peasants in support of fast-paced industrialization in the cities”? Inchoate attempts to foster social equality. Beijing’s efforts to set up a country-wide social security system; the crisis over mushrooming education and health-care costs. The emergence of the “world factory” and Beijing’s reliance on exports and government investment to maintain a high GDP growth rate.


 Week 7. Legal, administrative and political reforms. Presidents Hu and Xi’s game plan regarding the promotion of “rule by law” and the revision of the state Constitution in 2004. Beijing’s efforts to update several outdated and draconian codes; why the goal of “rule of law” (as understood in the West) has remained illusory. Administrative reform, mostly expanding the pool of talent from which the leadership can pick central and local cadres; recruitment of senior officials through public examinations. The significance of dangnei minzhu or “democracy within the party.” A moratorium on township- and county-level elections.


Week 8. The Hu-Wen leadership’s checkered scorecard: shortcomings in their “putting-people-first” strategy and “Scientific Theory of Development.” The widening rich-poor gap. The level of social justice nationwide was dropping even as corruption, deemed the “cancer” of the socialist body politic, was becoming endemic. The disturbing growth of the “new class” of cadres-cum-businessmen: the “unholy alliance” between senior officials (and their offspring) and big business groups. Proliferation of “mass incidents” to close to 150,000 cases a year. Rising political unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet has raised doubt about Beijing’s efficacy in promoting a harmonious relationship between the majority Han Chinese and ethnic minorities.


Week 9. Viability of the “China model”. An assessment of whether the Hu’s Scientific Theory of Development and Xi’s Chinese Dream have measured up to expectations. Drawbacks of the China model: stagnation of real administrative and political reforms; lack of progress in social equality; environmental depredation; and the alarming decline in the health of peasants and workers. Is the China model good for innovation and high-tech development? The China model in historical and global context.


Week 10/11. The rise of Xi Jinping and his “Gang of Princelings.” The political upbringing of Xi and his new slogan of achieving the “Chinese Dream” and the “Great Renaissance of the Chinese Nation.” Xi’s revival of rectification campaigns within the CCP and his ambitious anti-corruption crusade in both civilian and military sectors. The Maoist inclinations of Xi and other Fifth-Generation leaders. Xi’s stunning power grab and his partial resuscitation of Mao-style “rule of personality.” The rationale behind Xi’s creation of the “super-agencies” of the Central Leading Group on Comprehensively Deepening Reforms and the Central National Security Commission. The significance of the 19th Party Congress and how Xi has consolidated power by elevating his protégés to the Politburo. Xi’s crackdown on dissent and human-rights lawyers and his constriction of the civil society. Premier Li Keqiang’s reforms of the economy. China’s ambitious urbanization crusade and the possible annulment of the hukou or household registration system. The significance of the 13th Five Year-Plan (2016-2020).


Week 12. The increasingly prominent role of the civil society and NGO groups including dissident intellectuals, human rights lawyers, labor activists and the underground Christian church. Xi’s battle to repress the public sphere, which includes the large-scale closure of churches and the mass arrests of rights lawyers. The relentless expansion of the AI-enabled police-state apparatus. The dubious future of the civil society under Xi’s hard-authoritarian regime.


Week 13. The Xi administration’s worldview and Beijing’s distinctive approach to foreign and security policies. Xi’s theories regarding the “peaceful rise of China” and Beijing’s “policy of good neighborliness.” The rise of nationalism and the bigger role of PLA generals in formulating foreign policy. Focus on China’s relations with the following countries/blocs: the U.S., Japan, Russia, ASEAN, the European Union and the G20 Bloc. China’s enhanced role in re-configurating the global order following the eclipse of American power in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-2010. Beijing’s bid to become a global “rule-setter” in the wake of the isolationist, “anti-globalization” tendencies of President Donald Trump.


 Week 14. Projection of the future of China in the near- to medium-term, including the possible slow-down of growth and worsening socio-economic contradictions. Emigration of members of the middle and professional classes to the West. The worldwide ramifications of the new “Cold War” with the U.S.-led Western alliance. Assessment of the historical significance of political, economic and cultural developments in the period under discussion, particularly against the backdrop of the century-old saga of Chinese modernization.

Assessment & Assignments

Scholarly Essay: 40% 

Final examination: 40% 

Class/tutorial Presentations: 20%


1. Bell, Daniel A, The China Model (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015)

2. Cheng, Joseph Y.S. (ed), Challenges and Policy Programmes of China’s New Leadership (Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press, 2007)

3. Gries, Peter Hays & Rosen, Stanley, (ed), State and Society in 21st-century China (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004)

4. Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping (London & New York: Routledge: 2015)

5. Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2006)

6. Lieberthal, Kenneth, Governing China: From Revolution through Reform, 2nd Edition, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003)

7. Nathan, Andrew, Diamond, Larry, and Flattner, Marc F. (ed), Will China Democratize? (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013)

8. Shambaugh, David, China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008)

9. Shambaugh, David, China’s Future (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016)


The Lecturer will distribute academic papers and other relevant references in class.

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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