SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

China in Ten Words: Key Concepts in Chinese Studies

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 2

This module takes its title from the book China in Ten Words by contemporary Chinese novelist Yu Hua. It is designed to introduce students to a range of key concepts in the study of China and Chinese cultures. Taught over ten weeks, each week focuses on one significant keyword or phrase that serves as the entry point to an in-depth examination of a specific incident, issue, or phenomenon of wide-reaching resonance in the cultural, social, and political histories of mainland China and of the wider Chinese-speaking region.

The lectures will offer a general background to the weekly topic while in the seminars students will explore divergent definitions and multiple implications of each keyword and associated critical debates through formative activities and analysis of a range of written and audio-visual materials. The module will also enable students to question representations and (self-) descriptions of China and Chinese-ness and engage critically with prevalent narratives and common stereotypes. A combined thematic and chronological approach aims to ensure that by the end of the course students will have acquired a good basic knowledge of the major historical periods, political events, and social trends in the development of China and Chinese cultures and a solid foundation for further China-related study over the course of their degree.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to: 

LO1.     Demonstrate familiarity with key Chinese cultural terms and concepts in Chinese Studies

LO2.     Demonstrate knowledge of significant events, issues, and phenomena in Chinese cultures

LO3.     Employ the critical terminology used in the scholarship of China and of the wider Chinese-speaking region confidently and appropriately in written and oral communication

LO4.     Select and critically examine written and visual texts, scholarship, and data

LO5.     Formulate arguments and research questions, and apply critical knowledge to academic writing, oral and visual presentations, and group discussions  


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only. The weekly topics are subject to change at the discretion of the module convenor. Keywords that may be covered include:

1.         Empire

2.         Yellow Peril

3.         Movement (yundong)

4.         Modern (xiandai/modeng)

5.         New Woman (xin nüxing)

6.         Revolution (geming)

7.         Reform and Opening Up (gaige kaifang)

8.         People/Popular (dazhong, minzhong, liuxing, minjian)

9.         Square (guangchang)

10.        China Dream (Zhongguo meng)

Method of assessment

An essay outline (with bibliography) of 800 words or 4 minutes pre-recorded slideshow (30%); a written or video essay of 2000 words or 10 minutes duration (70%).

Suggested reading

Mao Haijian. The Qing Empire and the Opium War: The Collapse of the Heavenly Dynasty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Witchard, Anne. England’s Yellow Peril. London: Penguin, 2014.

Cheek, Timothy. The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930–1945. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Evans, Harriet, “Gender in Modern Chinese Culture,” in The Cambridge Companion to Modern Chinese Culture, Kam Louie, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 68–90

Mittler, Barbara. A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Dai Jinhua. “Invisible Writing: The Politics of Chinese Mass Culture in the 1990s.” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 11, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 31-60.

Wang Jing, High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng's China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Hung, Chang-tai. “Tiananmen Square: Space and Politics.” In Chang-tai Hung, Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2011.

Zhao Suisheng. “Xi Jinping’s Maoist Revival.” Journal of Democracy 27, no. 3 (July 2016): 83-97.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules