China in 2020

How will China develop in the second decade of the 21st century? Will stability be maintained? What are the tensions and opportunities in this rapidly changing country? And how successful have scholars been anyway at predicting China to date?

These are the questions addressed at a WUN workshop hosted by the China Institute at the University of Alberta; a leading member of the WUN Contemporary China Centre. The workshop brought together academics from Nanjing, Zhejiang, Leeds and Sydney alongside students from a wide range of disciplines for a forward-looking discussion, informed by commissioned papers and lively discussions.

Topics covered threw light on diverse aspects of life in this complex country undergoing major transition. Hans Hendrischke, Ming Lu Chen, David SG Goodman, Flemming Christiansen and Hinrich Voss from Sydney and Leeds looked at the changing patterns of trade and economic development and the relationship between private capital and the party state. The prognosis for 2020 was agreed to be positive with continuing economic advances. But with increasing wealth, will social harmony and ‘moderate prosperity be possible or fractured by a widening gap between rich and poor?

Delegates including Heather Zhang from Leeds discussed internal migration and the risk management strategies of rural migrants to booming cities as their fortunes rose and fell. The negotiation of employment options by children of rural migrants and their economically marginalized urban counterparts were examined by Terry Woronov (Sydney) from perspectives of class and national identities. Like the transitions from rural to urban identities of the huge numbers of young migrant women through ‘body urbanisation’ ,a concept posited by Hong Zhu from Nanjing, these trends were highlighted as major new social phenomena which will shape China in the coming decade.

At the other end of the social spectrum how will external cultural influences be embraced or rejected as economic integration exposes China to ‘foreign’ ideas. The history of foreign Christian missionaries in China ,for example, has been long and turbulent but how do citizens of an officially communist atheist state traverse western religions and is the increasingly influence of  Christianity linked to a globalised well-educated groups creating distinct class positions rather than substantively engaging in any spiritual aspects of a faith? As Zhou Peiqin from Nanjing challenged, is a congregation she has been studying a ‘Holy Space or modified English Corner?

Certainly some of these questions will be answered as we enter the second decade of the 21st century and China continues to surprise the world.

 For more information on the activities of the WUN Contemporary China Centre including the 2010-11 virtual seminar series contact Kirsty Mattinson, WUN Manager at the University of Leeds