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Thomas Heberer, Senior Professor of Chinese Politics and Society at the Institute of East Asian Studies and Faculty of Social Science at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.

He has been academically involved with China for over 50 years. He has recently published Social Disciplining and Civilising Processes in China: The Politics of Morality and the Morality of Politics (2023), Weapons of the Rich: Strategic Behaviour and Collective Action of Private Entrepreneurs in Contemporary China (2020). His recent projects include Political Representative Claims (2016-2020) and Local Governance in China (2009-2016). 

Interview with Professor Thomas Heberer – Ethnological Approach to China Politics, Society and Modernisation




On Friday 30th June 2023, the Centre for Political Thought hosted Professor Thomas Heberer for a remotely conducted interview. We spoke to Thomas about his two-pronged methodology that he defines as his being an “ethnological spy in political science,” whereby ethnology and political science come together. Given his methodological attention to the essential interaction between political-institutional structures and the people that sustain these, we discussed with him the Chinese state’s evolution into what he calls a “developmental state,” oriented towards modernisation, and deploying mechanisms to socially discipline and civilise its people to this end. We parsed Thomas’ sense of the term ‘development’ in which he discerns not only an economic but also a ‘moral’ aspect. This is realised by the ideological education of citizens in a distinct subsumption of Confucian thought into modernising/development discourses. On the material side and especially concerning his examination of the role of various strategic groups (entrepreneurs, farmers, ethnic minorities, etc.) in the process of China’s modernisation, we explored with Thomas the Chinese state’s change in posture towards and instrumentalization of, private entrepreneurs towards its modernisation and developmental goals. Finally, we asked Thomas’ insight into the apparent contradictory reconciliation of the Chinese state’s ‘socialist identity,’ and its formidable market economy, and culture of consumerism.


Read more about this interview here

Historical Process and Institutions of Modernisation and Development in the Context of a Post-Revolutionary ‘Socialist’ China - The entanglement of political languages (


Date: 23 September 2023