• Offered by School of Culture History and Language
  • ANU College ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
  • Course subject Asian Studies
  • Areas of interest Anthropology, Non Language Asian Studies, Gender Studies, Sociology, Political Economy
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Tom Cliff
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in First Semester 2025
    See Future Offerings

Social Power in China shows how the family is the basic structure of power, authority, and survival through history and in modern Chinese society. 

The family proper is an institution within which people can shelter from state intrusion, but also through which people are mobilised to state ends. So convincing is the moral authority of the family that this power structure resonates at all levels of the polity, from biological blood-relatedness to the ideological common blood of the nation-state. The family and its hierarchies, ideals, and propositions can be seen in laws, social norms, and cultural practices. Networks of kin and kin-like relatedness form the very foundation of Chinese society. 

Through an in-depth exploration of the Chinese family and the transdisciplinary application of social theory and critical thinking, students will recognise that these characteristics are not limited to the Chinese world. The family, indeed, is an essential power structure across the globe, in every cultural and national context.

Postgraduate students attend joint classes with undergraduates but are assessed separately.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Analyze the logic and comprehend the spatial and temporal variability of kinship practices in Chinese societies, with reference to kinship practices globally.
  2. Identify and critique social actors’ attempts to affirm, appropriate, avoid, or redefine the rules, resources, and power relations of both kin and non-kin social connections in Chinese societies.
  3. Understand and apply important concepts in social and political theory—including power, ritual, institutions (rules, both formal and informal and norms), and capital (social, economic, symbolic, and cultural).
  4. Evaluate academic texts for form, content, method, and inspiration, and integrate appropriate practices into their own work.
  5. Structure written work for explication and argument.
  6. Argue a position clearly and concisely with reference to evidence, speaking in an individual or group context.

Other Information

This is a co-taught course. Any cap on enrolments in one course applies to both courses combined.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Class Participation (10) [LO 1,2,3,4,6]
  2. Tutorial Leadership (5) [LO 1,2,3,4,6]
  3. Polemical Paper 1 (10) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  4. Annotated Bibliography (15) [LO 4,5]
  5. Polemical Paper 2 (10) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  6. Final Essay (PG 3500 Words) (50) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


The course will be structured around 30-36 hours of contact time (the equivalent of three hours a week for 12 weeks). Reading loads will average roughly 50-70 pages per three hours of contact time.

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Prescribed Texts

All texts for this course are available on the course page or in the library.

Preliminary Reading

Ang, Yuen Yuen 2020. China's Gilded Age

Bell, Catherine 2009. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice.

Boretz, Avron 2011. Gods, Ghosts and Gangsters.

Bourdieu, Pierre 1986 “The Forms of Capital.”

Brandtstädter, Susanne, and G. Santos. 2009. “Chinese Kinship Metamorphoses,” in Chinese Kinship: Contemporary Anthropological Perspectives.

Deng, Yanhua, and K. O'Brien. 2013. "Relational Repression in China: Using Social Ties to Demobilize Protesters." China Quarterly

Faure, David 2007. Emperor and Ancestor: State and Lineage in South China

Fei, Xiaotong 1992. From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society

Fong, Vanessa L. 2002. China's One-Child Policy and the Empowerment of Urban Daughters. American Anthropologist

Gold, Thomas, et al (eds). 2002. Social Connections in China: Institutions, Culture and the Changing Nature of Guanxi.

Goodman, Bryna. 1995. Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853-1937.

Granovetter, Mark 2005 "The Impact of Social Structure on Economic Outcomes."

Hershatter, Gail 2011 The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past.

Hillman, Ben. 2010. "Factions and Spoils"The China Journal

Kipnis, Andrew B. 1996. "Managing Guanxi in a North China Village." Modern China

Kuhn, Philip A. 1975. 'Local Self-Government under the Republic: Problems of Control, Autonomy, and Mobilization.' inConflict and Control in Late Imperial China. California.

Mann, Michael. 1986. The Sources of Social Power

North, Douglass 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance

Osburg, John 2013. Anxious Wealth

Sangren, P. Steven 2017 Filial Obsessions: Chinese Patriliny and Its Discontents

Szonyi, Michael 2017 The Art of Being Governed

Tsai, Kellee S. 2000. "Banquet Banking: Gender and Rotating Savings and Credit Associations in South China.” The China Quarterly

Wolf, Margery 1968 The House of Lim: A Study of a Chinese Farm Family.

Zito, Angela 1987 "City Gods, Filiality, and Hegemony in Late Imperial China"

Assumed Knowledge

Not applicable


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
3302 17 Feb 2025 24 Feb 2025 31 Mar 2025 23 May 2025 In Person N/A

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