Class, Power, and China: An Inquiry in History, Theory and Method

Class, Power, and China: An Inquiry in History, Theory and Method

2010-2013 UCLA-HKUST Joint Research Initiative led by Ching Kwan Lee (UCLA) and Alvin So (HKUST)

The UCLA-Hong Kong University of Science and Technology joint research initiative provides funding for collaborative projects related to China in the social sciences and humanities that build research networks between the two institutions, promote collaboration in research and graduate training, and involve workshops, conferences, and lead to publications or other contributions to the field. 

The first award of $75,000 was granted to Ching Kwan Lee (UCLA, Sociology) and Alvin So (HKUST, Social Science) for their project, Class, Power, and China: An Inquiry in History, Theory and Method. The activities of this project included a pre-planning meeting and two subsequent major conferences in Hong Kong and Beijing.


Alvin So and Ching Kwan Lee hosted a didactic workshop on December 12 – 13, 2011 at HKUST. Over 40 faculty and junior scholars from Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan took part in the workshop. On the first day, three world-renown speakers were invited to present theoretical papers on various aspects of “class” and the ways this concept can be used in understanding contemporary China. Professor Beverly Silver’s paper on theorizing the working class in the 21st century kicked off the workshop with a panoramic overview of the state of theories and historical development of labor unrest around the world, with emphasis on the wave of protests in the Middle East and labor strife in China in recent years. Professor Katherine Verdery drew on her landmark study of property rights transformation in post-socialist Romania raised comparative questions for conceptualizing China’s massive property rights regime change in Chinese cities and rethinking Chinese socialist rural land rights. Finally, Professor Michael Burawoy compared the theoretical repertoire offered by Antonio Gramsci and Karl Polanyi as resources for analyzing power under socialism and capitalism, in China and elsewhere.

On Day Two of the workshop, the three speakers, nine discussants and twenty local faculty and students participated in a round-table discussion on the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong in the context of the global Occupy Movement. A group of Hong Kong faculty and students, called “Left 21,” facilitated the discussion with a powerpoint presentation on the history of social movements in Hong Kong.

It was an inspiring program of intellectual dialogue that lay the ground work for the final international conference in December 10-11, 2012. In this upcoming conference, ten authors will present cutting-edge empirical research on working class formation, rural social structures and land rights, and urban property ownership.

In addition to UCLA and HKUST, the conferences have brought together scholars from Beijing, Taiwan, the US, and faculty and graduate students from Zhong Shan University in Guangzhou. China Social Science Documentation Publisher has agreed to publish a bilingual, edited volume based on the papers from the final workshop in December, 2012.

For full program and more details, please see the conference website at



Published: Friday, September 28, 2012