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Modern China in Eight Events (HI2F4-15)

Full outline and reading materials: Warwick Reading Lists

Context and Introduction

Being one of the oldest civilizations, China has a long, rich, and diverse history. In chronological frameworks, this module offers ten 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 ten weeks we examine eight major historical events that build a chronological framework for understanding the history of modern China. Leaning history in this way allows us to connect dots into a comprehensible narrative and to conduct macro as well as micro analysis. The eight events chosen—for instance, the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the 1911 Revolution—are signposts that will help us navigate the historical landscape. The lectures and seminars pose questions through which we 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.

Outline Syllabus

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

Method of Delivery:
  • Asynchronous lectures (pre-recorded)
  • Rotating online and face-to-face seminars (one week online next week face-to-face)
Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of historical and theoretical interpretations of modern China.
  • Communicate ideas and findings, adapting to a range of situations, audiences and degrees of complexity.
  • Generate ideas through the analysis of a broad range of primary source material for the study of modern China, including electronic resources.
  • Analyse and evaluate the contributions made by existing scholarship.
  • Act with limited supervision and direction within defined guidelines, accepting responsibility for achieving deadlines.
  • Contribution in learning activities, 10%
  • Midterm Essay, 1500 words, 40%
  • Summative Essay, 3000 words, 50%
Contribution in learning activities, 10%

Seminar is a good time to practice your verbal communication skills. The best way to prepare this is to read the required readings. You are expected to attend each seminar. If for any reason you cannot attend a seminar, you should email the tutor asap. If you have not read the required readings, you are most welcome to attend; actually, you are better off attending the seminar. The design of the seminar is that everyone has at least an opportunity to speak each week. I will actively provide the opportunity for each student. You can stay silent throughout the seminar if you wish, but it would be great if you can email and let me know in advance that you do not wish to speak throughout the seminar, or for a particular seminar. The 10% of mark is based on the quality of your contributions during the seminar but I will be taking into account individual circumstances that include your efforts and improvements over the course.

Midterm Essay, 1500 words, 40%

Check Tabula for deadline. This is expected to be a well-researched, well-structured, and well-written essay on a small topic of your own choice. It allows you to showcase your skills of writing and knowledge of modern China

Summative Essay, 3000 words, 50%

Check Tabula for deadline. This is expected to be a well-researched, well-structured, and well-written essay on a small topic of your own choice. It allows you to showcase your skills of writing and knowledge of modern China

Essay Questions

This list of questions is for both Midterm essay and Summative essay:

Some questions involve history that is not mentioned in the lectures or discussed in the seminar, but are pertinent to modern Chinese history. This should not prevent you from exploring the history further, should you wish.

  • Under what circumstances was the Summer Palace burned down (the Second Opium War or the Arrow War) by British and French troops in 1860? How did this affect the development of Chinese identities?
  • Find a treaty signed between China and a Western power in the nineteenth century and analyse why the treaty was signed in the way it was, i.e., who gains what in the treaty and why? You can also compare two or more treaties if you wish.
  • Was the failure of the first Chinese Republic (the 1911 Revolution) inevitable? Please give detailed analysis.
  • Did the 1911 Revolution transform the Chinese political system?
  • What role did the Taiping Rebellion play in the demise of the Qing dynasty?
  • Why were women raped by soldiers when Japanese troops took Nanjing in December 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)?
  • How did the Second Sino-Japanese war change the course of modern Chinese history?
  • What is the "Century of Humiliation"? And why has modern Chinese history been narrated in this way? Please include in your answer: Could there be other ways of narrating this history and what might they be?
  • What local (in contrast to global) factors helped the Japanese respond quickly to the Western threat, and what local factors prevented the Chinese from doing likewise?
  • This is a documentary question. Please comment on the following in the context of the First Opium War: 'We find your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. Yet, there are barbarian ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great profit. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience?' ("Lin Zexu's Communication to Queen Victoria"). What did this 'moral' question mean to Lin? How did the opium trade lead to the First Opium War?
  • Is "war trauma" a significant historical force in the history of modern China?
  • Is the period between 1911 and 1937 best understood in terms of the Nationalist or the Communist Revolution?
  • What was 'cultural' about the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)?
  • "The New Qing History" transformed the historiography of modern China." Discuss.
  • What was the global context of Chinese communist revolution?
  • How important was the Canton one port system in shaping Sino-Western interaction?
  • How has communism shaped modern Chinese history?
  • How central a role did the concept of 'modernisation' play in the history of modern China?
  • Is the characterisation of Mao Zedong as a 'red emperor' an appropriate way of understanding the history of modern China?
  • You can answer any of the questions attached to each week's readings.
  • Within the period we have studied, propose a topic you want to investigate, or a question you want to answer, and email me for approval. (If you write your own question, email approval before start writing is compulsory.)