Key Themes for China 2013

Key Themes and Workshop Topics for China Conference 2013

Faces of China 多面中國: The transformative power of development

DAY 1 / Friday March 8th

China’s unexpected economic boom of the past three decades has created the opportunity for changing social and environmental discourses in its society. Within China’s borders, shifting ideologies have facilitated not only new strategies of development but have altered its social and environmental landscapes to ultimately shift how  China is perceived worldwide. In an effort to trace this phenomenon, the panellists will attempt to analyse how China’s development in recent decades has shaped social relations and in turn affected its image on the international stage. How have social and environmental transformations been affected by ideological shifts? How have environmental and social problems in China become the terrain for rethinking “development”? How do new green visions for China’s future intersect with existing geographies of uneven  development? Finally, how has this reflected upon China’s image on the international stage?

Entrepreneurship and the “New” China

This stream will examine China’s approach to the market economy and leading edge ideas emerging from state leaders and private entrepreneurs, as well as interactions between the two. In his book The Inheritance, David Sanger characterizes China’s development as a transition from the “Old” China to the “New” China, in which the CCP has picked “winners” such as Lenovo to thrust China onto the world stage, not only as an economic competitor but a leader. Have these companies and the policies they adhere to redefined modernization away from Western standards and ideas? In what terms should modernity be defined? While these companies, and the economic policies supporting them, have fuelled China’s growth and modernization, issues such as “grey income” and poor labour conditions have been problematic for equality in development.

Friend or Foe?

This stream will take on an international relations perspective by focusing on whether China’s development is likely to be positive or problematic for its East Asian neighbours. In addition to economic growth, a country’s development can also be viewed in terms of its political capital, power and clout in the international community. Students will be able to deconstruct and reconceptualize how China’s emergence may effect power relations and interests in the 21st Century, and how this in turn may influence China’s developmental strategies as it attempts to project a particular image to its neighbours. Are East and Southeast Asian countries balancing or bandwagoning in response to China’s policies? What does China’s rise mean for the clout of non-Western nations in global governance forums and if it has led to increasing political power, has this power been used well? These issues may be analyzed through both liberal and realist perspectives.

Green Development

This stream will analyze the impacts of natural resource extraction in the name of development and assess the responsibilities of developing nations, their developed counterparts, and international companies in using sustainable sources of energy to support development. How has China’s search for natural resources affected its foreign policy? How do these development projects affect everyday life for Chinese citizens? Do developing nations have a right to pollute the environment  in the name of human and economic development?

China Express 中國快車: The momentum and sustainability of development

Day 2 / Saturday March 9th

This panel explores how China has managed the tension created between its economic success and calls for political reform through a strategy of institutional adaptation. Although academic discourse on this topic varies, the mystery of China’s success has generally brought to light the necessity of institutional reform in China to ensure continued economic growth and party survival. In an attempt to reconcile the effects of economic reform without political transformation, the panel will further interrogate the necessity of reformation in China, and how such reforms would work to sustain the current growth record.

City and Country

This stream explores the development strategies used in Chinese urban centres and rural areas. Economic growth has spurred large amount of internal migration in China. The Hukou System [Household Registration System] has prevented rural residents from receiving the same benefits that urban dwellers have. Referred to as a “floating population” these rural residents are tied to the farmland as rural migrant workers are heavily discriminated against. With approximately 130 million migrant workers in China, the income gap become rural and urban workers has forced many migrant workers to live in cramped housing, with a lack of health insurance, difficulty in educating migrant children and severe limits for rural population to obtain public services. How has the central government dealt with this ongoing problem? Has economic prosperity compromised the lives of everyday Chinese citizens?

China In Transition

In what ways have state-society relations changed in the three-plus decades since Mao’s death? Has corruption become the measure of state-society relations? Large influxes of foreign media, the development of a middle class, the expanded information and communication capabilities of the bulk of the population have created a new era in which China’s economic rise has increased the standard of living far higher than that of which previous existed. In what ways has the significant loosening of the political straitjacket within which personal activities were once performed changed China today?


This stream sheds light on the growing awareness of income inequality in China.  Income inequality, which reflects a concentration of wealth among an upper fraction of society, is linked to the lack of domestic consumption. Because the wealthy tend to have higher rates of investment rather than consumption of goods, high levels of income inequality suppress domestic consumption. Case in point, the lack of social services from the Chinese government requires citizens to save large portions of their incomes to deal with future costs rather than consume goods. Forty percent of total healthcare costs in China are paid out of pocket and even insured patients typically pay 50% of inpatient costs out of pocket. For China, rising levels of inequality take on an additional level of concern, due to fears that inequality could lead to social strife and discontent with the Chinese government. Due to the growing consensus among both Chinese leaders and Western observers that China’s growth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, this stream will examine policy proposals to reduce inequality, increase spending on social services and increase domestic consumption.

Looking Ahead 展望未來: The future of China’s political and developmental landscape

Day 3 / Sunday March 10th

To build on two days of analysing China’s past and present developments, at both the domestic and international levels, the scholars of this panel will explore China’s future developmental trajectory. The changes in domestic social and institutional apparatuses in response to the economic transformation naturally give rise to questions about China’s political future. Will China democratize? More importantly, should China democratize? Such questions have become increasingly important given the proliferation of social networks in China. The organizational power these networks provide participants is sure to have ramifications for the State, and may carry important implications for China’s political future. This gives Hong Kong, one of the key regions of China to embrace democratic and civic freedom, the opportunity to discuss its particular path and share its experiences with the Mainland.

One Country, Two Systems

The Chinese government has firmly asserted its policy regarding the status’ of Hong Kong and Taiwan. It has pursued a policy of “One Country, Two Systems”, in which Hong Kong operates under a capitalist economy, while the mainland maintains a socialist system. This has allowed Hong Kong to maintain its position as a free international trade and financial centre through which much of China’s foreign investment is directed. This stream will explore the coexistence of these two systems, as well as their interactions, both economically and socially, and what they mean for China’s development, especially in light of current events. Taiwan’s status as a defacto state and de jure Chinese province may also be touched upon.

Might and Right

This stream will explore the traditional assumptions of development through the lens of modernization theory and China’s deviation from it. Assumptions of democracy as the best and triumphant form of political systems can be deconstructed and compared with other relevant theories. In addition, these ideas can be linked to the rise and fall of great powers, as well as the roles, responsibilities and rights of emerging nations. Questions to ask may include: At what point can China no longer use the “developing” nation status as an excuse to avoid environmental and human rights responsibilities? At what point will China be considered a mature actor in the international community based on its developmental status?

Expert Panels

INDePth will focus on providing students with a fundamental understanding of development as a concept, as well as the opportunity to problematize and analyze implications of these concepts in theory and in practice.  Through expert panels, distinguished scholars, officials and practitioners will contribute in deconstructing our conceptions of development from their unique perspectives related to China. Their experiences are invaluable for stimulating and broadening conversations surrounding China. Stay tuned for panellist profiles!

INDePth Methodology

The INDePth Conference will provide a unique opportunity to students to actively participate in deconstructing, re-evaluating and reconceptualizing notions of development in the Chinese case through interactive workshops spread out over the duration of the conference. Students from diverse disciplines will be divided into topic streams that will be the theme of their workshops. The diversity of students’ academic backgrounds may range from anthropology to engineering to political science, which will allow students to share various perspectives and enrich the learning experience for all involved. Each workshop will build on conclusions and ideas generated through expert panels, previous workshops and the Unconference sessions to provide a holistic study of development. Workshops will be led by student facilitators with strong backgrounds in the academic theme of the conference to ensure that discussion is productive and focused.

“Unconference” Session

Conferences are traditionally rooted in structure and learning experiences guided by conference leaders and expert speakers. Conversely, the INDePth Conference firmly believes that the most enriching learning environment can be created through participant driven involvement, in which students are able to drive the agenda and raise issues they are passionate about without the constant restraint of structure that is traditionally imposed during conferences. The ‘Unconference’ portion, then, is an opportunity for participants to step outside a structured setting to discuss and dissect the ideas brought forth during the conference; sparking discussions they find most interesting, and leaving conversations when they feel satisfied that they are complete.

The ‘Unconference’ portion will be treated like an extended, semi-structured coffee break. Participants will have refreshments, paper and pens. Using these tools, they will be able to organically divide into groups based on topics raised on the spot by participants. The only requirement will be that interested participants label their topic on paper and post it visibly for other members to see, should they be interested in joining the discussion. We will encourage everyone present to participate in the Unconference session, including professors, practitioners, distinguished guests and organizers.

The Great Debate

As the conclusion to the INDePth Conference, The Great Debate will synthesize topics and ideas covered throughout the duration of the workshops and panel discussions. Stay tuned for more details!

Please note, that these themes are continuously being developed and may be modifed at a later date.