East Asian Civilizations

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
China and Inner Asia Section

Module overview

This module introduces students to some of the major topics and approaches to the study of East Asian civilization, including rulership, religion, warfare, otherness, and gender, from prehistory to the 19th century. The module is designed to give students a grounding in some of the major commonalities and intersections that exist across East Asia in the premodern and early modern periods, while also allowing them to see how local dynamics and priorities affected social and cultural forms in each state.

The module is designed broadly chronologically, to give the students a firm sense of the chronology of the region’s political history and let them begin to think about issues of change.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  1. demonstrate understanding of the theories and methods used to study East Asian civilization;
  2. be familiar with the main types of sources and methodological approaches necessary for an introductory study of the history of East Asia;
  3. discuss comparatively the historical developments of the different states in East Asia;
  4. demonstrate skills necessary to formulate a historical argument, and to organize it in a coherent and persuasive way


Total of 20 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The following outline is illustrative and the content may vary based on student interests and availability of teaching staff.

Term 1

Week 1 - Introduction to Module and Approaches to Studying East Asian History

Week 2 - East Asian Prehistory and Archaeology

Week 3 - Origin Myths

Week 4 - Rulership I: Theories of Rulership

Week 5 - Rulership II: China

Week 6 - Reading Week

Week 7 - Rulership III: Korea

Week 8 - Rulership IV: Japan

Week 9 - Indigenous Religion I: Daoism

Week 10 - Indigenous Religion II: Shamanism

Week 11 - Indigenous Religion III: Shintō

Term 2

Week 1 - Literature

Week 2 - Buddhism I: Transcultural

Week 3 - Buddhism II: China

Week 4 - Buddhism III: Korea

Week 5 - Buddhism IV: Japan

Week 6 - Reading Week

Week 7 - Warfare

Week 8 - Otherness

Week 9 - Gender I: China

Week 10 - Gender II: Korea

Week 11 - Gender III: Japan

Term 3

Week 1 - Revision, make up

Method of assessment

  • An object study (study of one East Asian object from the British Museum's collection) of 800 words (20%)
  • a region-specific reaction paper of 1000 words (30%)
  • a comparative essay of 2500 words for (50%)

All of the submission dates will be confirmed by convenor and published on moodle.

Suggested reading

  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, et al., East Asia: a cultural, social, and political history. Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
  • Lurie, David, et al. A brief history of Chinese and Japanese civilizations. 4th ed. Thomson/Wadsworth, 2012.
  • Seth, Michael J. A concise history of Korea: from the neolithic period through the nineteenth century. Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.
  • Totman, Conrad. A history of Japan. Blackwell, 2004.
  • Gernet, Jacques. A history of Chinese civilization. Cambridge University Press, 1982.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules