Reading the Contemporary Chinese Economy as a Post-structuralist Novel

Economics 106 January Term 2004 TTH 1:15

Satya J. Gabriel
Associate Professor Economics
Mount Holyoke College

Course Description:
This course provides students with an introduction to the contemporary Chinese economy by exploring institutions as subjects in an unfolding novel.  Economic, political, cultural and environmental processes are understood as forms of interaction of the subjects.

Institutions qua subjects are also understood as always subject to death.  Thus, one of the sources of interaction between institutions qua subjects and of the drama in the unfolding novel is over the survival of some institutions and the demise of others.   Underneath the dramatic interaction of institutions is the similarly dramatic interaction of constituent units of these institutions, the atomic elements we call human beings.  As social analysts/observers we are in less of a position to analyze these microeconomic interactions than to observe the institutional interactions.  This is an important reason for focusing our attention on this macro level interaction.  Nevertheless, we recognize that human beings are extremely complex life forms, capable of compassion, hatred, disceit, hubris, and all manner of "irrationality" and that these forces flow through the higher level superorganic institutions, as well.  The order that is normally observed at the macro level is, in many ways, an illusion and in other ways the result of the rigid forms of interaction enforced by institutional rules and algorithms.  We shall try to decode these rules and algorithms to understand the "psychology" of the superorganic subjects in this novel.

Among the institutions explored are the danwei system, the hukou system, various state agencies, bureaus and levels of government (as well as alternative sites of governance). 

The course will make use of web-based readings, films, and live dramatic presentations.  Does not meet a distribution requirement; 2 meetings (75 minutes)

Primary Course Objective: At the end of the semester students should be comfortable with the language and mode of analysis of post-structuralist political economy and recognize the key institutional players in contemporary China and understand how to use the former to help make sense of the latter. 

Required Readings will be available online. Be sure to do the required readings for each class before the meeting.  Therefore, do not simply print a copy of this syllabus and think it is etched in stone. Instead, check this online syllabus at the end of every week (online readings will be posted no later than Friday noon if relevant for the following week).

Grading:  Grades will be based on three quizzes. In class or web-based projects can contribute significantly to the final grade and even substitute for one or more of the quizzes.  Students should also note that the project option is the only way to make up for missed quizzes (students are encouraged to attend ALL class meetings, given the brevity of J-term, and absences will count negatively in determination of the final grade). In-class projects must receive prior approval and be scheduled in advance. Such projects may include dramatic performances, debates, or other forms of presentation. Web projects must also receive prior approval and be deemed of significant educational value to other students in the course and/or to students in the international community. (Note Bene: Web page files must be both saved onto the MHC webspace and provided to Professor Gabriel on a CD.)


Readings denoted with an * require Adobe Acrobat.

January 6th: Introductory Lecture

January 8: 1. Capitalism, Socialism, and the 1949 Chinese Revolution
                 2. Lecture Notes on Post-structuralist Theory of the Firm
                 3. The Structure of a Post-Revolutionary Economic Transformation:
                 The Chinese Economy from the 1949 Revolution to the Great Leap

January 13:  Introducing the Township-Village Enterprises and Ambiguous Capital
                    Introducing the SOEs

January 15:  The Transition from State Capitalism to Private Capitalism in China
                    Chinese Capitalism and Transparency
                    Decentralizing the Distribution of Surplus Value in the SOEs

January 20:  Making Capitalism in China for Dummies
                   What Do You Mean China is Socialist?

January 22:  To Revalue or Not to Revalue

Final Exam


Heterodox Economic Theory (essay in progress --- what is the difference between political economy and heterodox economic theory?)