UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


BGLP0008 - China and Global Prosperity

Availability & prerequisites

There are no specific pre-requisites.

Module Content

Current thinking around prosperity tends to emphasise post-neoliberal and post-GDP economics, prioritises environmental sustainability, and draws on de-colonial and post-development theories. However, at times these approaches remain largely rooted in western concepts that fail to reflect global demographics. This module aims to consider emerging literatures around prosperity in the context of China.

Today China is the world's second largest economy, and in the past eight years it has contributed around 30% of global growth. This module focuses both on China’s remarkable socioeconomic transformation and the country’s re-emergence as a key global player, but it does so through an innovative interdisciplinary approach which will allow the students to go beyond the traditional study of the stages of China’s economic ‘miracle’. Instead, the module focuses on how the Chinese state and other actors envisage a prosperous future and what that means for approaches to the economy, sociality, governance and the environment.

The module explores the ways in which the post-1979 ‘Reforms and Opening up era’ are viewed as an ‘Age of Prosperity (Shengshi Zhongguo 盛世中国)’, and how this is cast as similar to previous imperial eras (i.e. Sui-Tang, Ming and High-Qing dynasties) being connected with the strengthening of the wealth and power of the state (fuqiang ). This period began with Deng Xiaoping’s aims to achieve a ‘moderately prosperous society (xiaokang shehui 小康社会)’ and the implication that economic growth needs to be balanced with sometimes conflicting goals of social equality and environmental protection. This process has further been characterised as ‘China’s Peaceful Rise’ guided by the objectives of what former President Hu Jintao (2002-12) defined as ‘China’s Renaissance (fuxing )’ and re-launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping as ‘the Chinese Dream (zhonguomeng 中国梦)’. The aim of the module is to thus enable students to critically understand China’s multi-faceted search for prosperity from the inside-out.

At the same time, the module will move beyond state-level analyses to also consider bottom up approaches and ideals. While the past three decades have seen a sharp reduction of poverty, this has been accompanied by a substantial increase in inequality alongside major environmental degradation and pollution as well as challenges to state control at the fringes (i.e. in Hong Kong). In 2018, the World Happiness Report ranked China 86th out of 156 countries, but data collected on the ground would seem to question the suitability of the six indicators used by that Report (GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support, trust, perceived freedom for life decisions, and generosity). The module thus asks how is China’s prosperity reflected in the quality of life and the feelings of well-being of various groups of Chinese people, such as migrant workers, intellectuals, women, youth, etc.? China’s re-emergence on the global geopolitical scene also poses particularly urgent questions, which we will consider both as challenges and opportunities to the creation of socioeconomic and ecological prosperity for China itself and for the rest of the world. These emerging challenges to Chinese prosperity not only question the long-term viability of the Chinese dream, but also raise important questions about China’s role in developing new visions of the global future.

Each topic will introduce China-related theoretical concepts as well as showcasing key practical case studies and evaluating their possible interpretations. By the end of the module, the students should have an understanding of Chinese governance and development pathways to prosperity, an appreciation of the key issues China confronts as a major global player, and an understanding of alternative and competing Chinese visions of future prosperity.

In discussion and assessed work, students will further be encouraged to make links between their academic study, real-world issues, and their own lived experience in line with the connected and inclusive curricula. The theoretical, empirical, and analytical tools offered in this module will equip students to become leaders who will contribute to a critical engagement with China that address the interdependent aspects of prosperity in countries across the world.

Illustrative Module Outline

  1. Greater China: Chinese Values in a Global World
  2. China's Imperial Discourse of Prosperity
  3. The Trade Imbalance with China: From the Opium Wars to the China-US Tariffs War
  4. China's Rise and China's Discourse of Prosperity Today
  5. The China Model: Economy and Inequality
  6. China's Visions of Urbanism and Citizenship
  7. China's Environmental Values: 'Ecological Civilisation' and the Green Schools Project
  8. Global Strategies and New Form of Development (inc. Belt and Road Initiative)
  9. Hong Kong and Alternative Visions of Prosperity
  10. China’s Pathways to Development: Lessons for Global Prosperity?