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The History of Modern China (HI294)


Office Hours:



Seminar Groups:

Dr Song-Chuan Chen
H0.15 - Ground floor of the Humanities building

Term time: Tuesday 1430-1530pm; Thursday 1200-1300pm; and by appointment.

Thursdays 3-4pm (Sci Conc, B2.02)

Group 1: Wednesdays 10-11am (H2.45)

Group 2: Wednesday 12-1 pm (A0.05, Soc Sci)

Context and Introduction

Being one of the oldest civilizations, China has a long, rich, and diverse history. This module offers twenty weeks of feasting on its most recent past: the history of modern China, which in actuality is still in the grip of its dynastic past, despite countless reforms, revolutions and modernization that started in mid-nineteenth century and were modelled on the West. During the Autumn Term, we will examine eight major historical events that will build a chronological framework for understanding the history of modern China. The eight events chosen—for instance, the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the 1911 Revolution—are signposts that will help you navigate the historical landscape. Following that, the eight themes that we will explore during the Spring Term, including topics such as gender and religion, will bring you deeper into the labyrinth of historical China. The lectures and seminars pose questions through which you can explore modern Chinese history. As a survey course, this module provides a foundational understanding of China that is a module on its own and can be a starting point for further studies on historical China or contemporary China. This course is open to all students without prerequisites and assumes no prior knowledge of Chinese language or Chinese history.

Autumn Term: Eight Events

The eight events that we will examine in the Autumn Term, along with other major events, profoundly shaped modern Chinese history. Sometimes the event itself made a difference to people’s life, such as the establishment in 1644 of the Qing dynasty as a new regime that brought about transformation of the country’s socio-political structures. At other times, an event’s symbolic meaning is the main focus of the history. The First Opium War, for instance, is central to the Century of Humiliation narrative that galvanized generations of Chinese people. The eight events have been chosen to help you better grasp the outline of modern Chinese history, while other events that we do not focus on are as important in a different context.

  • Introduction
  • The Qing’s Conquering of the Ming, 1644
  • The First Opium War, 1839
  • The Taiping Rebellion, 1850
  • Reform Movements, 1861
  • The 1911 Revolution, 1911
  • The Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937
  • The Communist Revolution, 1949
  • The Cultural Revolution, 1966
Spring Term: Eight Themes

Leaning history through a series of major events as we did in Autumn Term allows us to connect dots into a comprehensible narrative. This chronological approach shows how China changed over time. However, there is a great danger that we might create a linear narrative forgetting the complex and chaotic nature of everyday life and reality—the history. In the Spring Term, we will employ a thematic approach that will allow us to see modern Chinese history from a different perspective. Each week we will examine a theme that cuts through time to see connections or to make comparisons. The theme “politicized youth”, for instance, brings together events across over one hundred years from the May Forth protests in Beijing (1919) to the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (2014) that were both political protests initiated by students and young people. The eight themes of Autumn Term have been chosen because of their significance to modern Chinese history. You can and should invent as many themes as you want to cut through time and space and form an understanding of modern Chinese history. We will first in the new term do revisions in three different ways in three sections to consolidate what we have learned during the Autumn Term.

  • Revision Section I
  • The Civil Service Examination
  • The Intellectuals
  • Law and Social Order
  • Gendered China
  • The Chinese ordinary workers
  • Nationalism and Politicized Youth
  • The Chinese Believers
  • The Rise of Modern China
-- Full course outline and readings are on:
Warwick Reading Lists: HI294 The History of Modern China