Nationhood and Competing Identities in Modern China

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1 or Year 2
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History

Module overview

This course intends to provide an introduction to the historical gestation of the Chinese “nation”, by focusing on issues of socio-cultural identity as well as on the various ideological frameworks, which were to be employed by different political regimes in order to promote the concept of China as a modern nation state. The course will begin (sessions one to two) with an analysis of the changing relationship between the Han majority, the ruling Manchu elite and the other major ethnic groups forming the Qing empire (1644-1911). Sessions three to six will deal with the political and intellectual responses to the unstable political situation of the (early) Republic (1912-1949). Sessions seven and eight will be dealing with the tension field of socialist internationalism, modern nationalism and traditional Chinese values, while the remaining two sessions will focus on radically differing interpretations of the latter during the People’s Republic. As a central theme, students will be introduced to nationalism as a historical as much as a mythical concept, which they will be encouraged to compare with other examples within the global history of nationalism.

Also envisaged is a visit to the British Library, in order to inspect a number of primary documents (such as League of Nations reports or diaries from the early decades of the twentieth century), which can illustrate topics discussed in class and which are not available at SOAS. This visit will be organised in conjunction with the relevant BL curators.

The course is based on one session per week, with one compulsory presentation per student. Students will be provided with handouts for each session - containing detailed bibliographical information and the chronological and thematic frame of the lecture - as well as with a general course syllabus and bibliography.

This half unit course will be complemented by another half unit course on China’s twentieth-century history

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • demonstrate an understanding of the themes, issues and debates of the modern history of China and of its philosophical traditions AND of integrating this China-specific knowledge into a global context;
  • identify and compare different approaches to the modern history of China and of its philosophical traditions, by means of the analytical reading of the literature recommended for each session as well as for the assessed coursework;
  • independently locate and analyse primary source materials and to use these for the themes explored in the course;
  • confidently evaluate and present their findings both in written coursework as well as in oral presentations.


2 hours of seminars a week.

Method of assessment

  • essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark
  • reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark


Lars Laamann


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules