I have started reworking my syllabus for my upper division Chinese society class (Sociology 181B) which I will be teaching again this spring, after a bit of a hiatus. I have an exciting opportunity to redo the design of the class from scratch. After C.K. Lee joined the department here, we decided to take advantage of the complementarity of our research interests to turn what had been a one-quarter course that covered everything under the sun and inevitably was a mile wide and an inch deep into a comprehensive two-quarter sequence. In the past, when I taught the course, inevitably I emphasized topics like family, population, and inequality because they reflected my own interests. I tried to cover social movements, politics, labor, and other topics, but I’ll be the first to admit I couldn’t really do them justice.
Now that we have a two-quarter sequence, I can devote the entire quarter to my own areas of expertise, specifically family, population, and stratification. I have rearranged the schedule accordingly, giving entire lectures to topics that in the past I dispensed with in one-third of a lecture. I’m also taking the opportunity to overhaul the readings since there is so much new scholarship in the last few years. Of course, the real problem is finding readings that address the most recent social phenomena, that have not yet been subject to scholarly studies, or aren’t even amenable to the sorts of quantitative analysis that I am used to. I’ll be poking around over the next few weeks.
For the benefit of students who are already looking around for courses for spring quarter, here is a link to the tentative syllabus: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/soc/faculty/campbell/2012_181B_S/181b_syllabus_2012S.htm
The readings are going to change substantially, but the schedule itself should provide a pretty good idea of what topics I will cover and how much attention each will receive.
The inevitable challenge is teaching a course that introduces Chinese society, but is also sociological, in the sense of being embedded in the broader questions that are of concern to the discipline. It would be easy to teach a Chinese society class that would be a ten week version of the country introduction in a tour guide, and was a series of sensational or at least journalistic stories and anecdotes about contemporary Chinese society. I could teach a course like that and it would probably be lots of fun for everyone, but it would be a disservice to the students. My approach has been to embed my discussions into broader themes related to East/West comparison, demographic theory, stratification, and so forth. But its an ongoing effort.
Following my usual practice, I’ll also have recommended reading that is not necessarily scholarly, but vividly illustrates many of the issues covered in the lectures and formal reading. For quite some time I required Qiu Xiaolong’s excellent Death of a Red Heroine as a sort of companion to the reading on contemporary urban China, but this time around I will try having the students read Peter Hessler’s excellent Country Driving, since that covers such a wide swath of contemporary Chinese society.
As I’ve been thinking about my reorganization of the class, I’ve also been reflecting on how fortunate my department is to have so much depth in Chinese studies. Most of the major sociology departments in the United States have only one person whose primary research focus is China. Obviously there are prominent exceptions like Stanford, which has Zhou Xueguang and Andy Walder. Here at UCLA, however, we have three colleagues who work primarily on China, or have at least one major ongoing research projects in China: C.K. Lee, Min Zhou, and myself. And of course our emeritus colleague Don Treiman remains active with various projects in China and elsewhere. I hope that in the future, this becomes the norm as opposed to the exception, and it becomes typical for departments to have multiple colleagues carrying out research on Chinese society. One can only hope.