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Department of History

H297 Modern China

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

The course covers China’s history from around 1600 to 1989. It proceeds chronologically, focusing on themes that are of major importance for our understanding of what happens in China today, such as state-society relations, forms of dissent and protest, imperial expansion and the formation of a nation state, crisis and consolidation, imperialism and nationalism, reform and revolution, internationalism and war, conservatism and iconoclasm, Maoism and socialist democracy. The aim of the course is to provide a sound basis, both in terms of factual knowledge and methodological approaches, for further in-depth study of the history of China and its place in the world.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate…

  • an understanding of the internal and external forces that shaped China’s modern history,
  •  familiarity with the key concepts and approaches scholars use to understand and analyze Chinese history and the ability to evaluate these critically in their respective contexts,
  • research skills that enable them to identify and explore a historical question and to find and evaluate relevant evidence, skills in sharing and presenting the results of their research in a coherent and convincing way that invites discussion and cooperation.


One hour lecture and tutorial for 22 weeks.

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: ‘5000 years of Chinese history’ - myth and reality of a unified empire
  2. Late Ming society: Scholars and philanthropists
  3. The Ming-Qing transition
  4. Qing expansion: The foundation of an early modern empire
  5. Qing consolidation
  6. Qing society
  7. Unrest in the countryside and crisis at court: The case of the White Lotus rebellion
  8. China and the West: The significance of the Opium Wars and treaty ports
  9. Nineteenth-century disasters: The case of the Taiping civil war
  10. Restoration (zhongxing) and the rise of a public sphere
  11. Fin-de-siecle Shanghai: the new imperialism and Young China
  12. Nationalism
  13. China’s Republic and internationalism
  14. The rise of the Communists
  15. War
  16. Another New China
  17. From the Hundred Flowers to the Great Leap Forward
  18. The Cultural Revolution: Iconoclasm and personality cult
  19. From Mao’s communism to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’
  20. From the Democracy Wall to the end of the Cold War

Method of assessment

  • one 3 hour exam worth 40%
  • 2 2500 word essay worth 20% each
  • 2 Composition of 2 Wiki pages on the BLE, i.e. one per term, as an exercise in gathering and representing information (e.g. on a particular event, theme, or concept, or biographical information), each valued 10%.

Suggested reading

  • Cheek, Timothy, ed. A Critical Introduction to Mao. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Crossley, Pamela K. The Wobbling Pivot: China since 1800. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • Gray, Jack. Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to 2000, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Harrison, Henrietta. The Making of the Republican Citizen: Political Ceremonies and Symbols in China, 1911-1929. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Harrison, Henrietta. The Man Awakened from Dreams: One Man’s Life in a North China Village, 1857-1942. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.
  • Rowe, William. China’s Last Empire: the Great Qing. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • Spence, Jonathan. The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and their Revolution, 1895-1980. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.