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The University of Southampton

HIST1177 Twentieth-Century China

Module Overview

Few nations had a more dramatic experience of the twentieth century than China. Over the course of this module you will learn about the tumultuous political events of the era - from the fall of the once mighty Qing empire, to China’s descent into chaos during the era of warlord misrule, to the rise of the Communist Party under Mao Zedong, to the resurgence of China as a major world power. Rather than focussing exclusively upon the political and cultural figures who often dominate the history of this period, we will also examine how momentous events shaped the lives of ordinary people. We will read about the beggars and prostitutes who scraped a living on the streets of Republican Shanghai, the idealistic Red Guards who gathered in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, and the millions of farmers whose innovations sowed the seeds of the Chinese economic miracle.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The major political events that have shaped the history of twentieth century China
  • The changing social history of modern China
  • English language primary source materials relating to modern Chinese history
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate in writing your research findings convincingly in concise form
  • Manage your time
  • Develop the effectiveness of your writing
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand the relationship between primary sources and secondary literature, and the ways in which historians and those in related disciplines present their arguments
  • Employ your research skills to develop understanding of the topic
  • Make good use of library facilities and related on-line collections
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate critically and contextualise a range of sources
  • Assess secondary works and the ways in which they use primary sources
  • Engage with the scholarly literature


Topics typically include • The Great Qing Dynasty • China Awakened: The Fall of the Qing Empire, 1900-1911 • Students Rebellion and Warlord Misrule, 1912-1927 • The Rise of the Nationalists, 1927-1937 • Neon Lights, Red Lights, and Workhouses: Street Life in Republican China • Arise China! China in the Second World War, 1937-1945 • The Chinese People Have Stood Up! Early Communist China, 1945-1957 • A Leap to Disaster 1957-1965 • The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976 • Reform and Reaction, 1976-1989 • An Economic Miracle? China since 1989

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Weekly lecture and seminar • Weekly secondary and primary source readings • Short group presentations by students • Group discussions including feedback from the tutor. The lectures will provide general knowledge and context to help you develop your understanding of the subject, its key concepts and sources. You will consolidate this through independent reading of recommended texts, and through class study of key primary material. Discussion in seminars will help you develop your thinking about the topic, analysing sources and articulating critical argument. Learning methods include • Preparatory reading, including library work and individual research, prior to each class • Studying primary and secondary source material • Preparing and delivering short presentations on specific parts of the module • Participation in group and class discussion

Preparation for scheduled sessions36
Follow-up work36
Completion of assessment task24
Wider reading or practice20
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Spence, Jonathan (1999). The Search for Modern China. 

Brown, Jeremy, and Paul Pickowicz (2007). Dilemmas of Victory : The Early Years of the People's Republic of China.. 

Chen, Janet Y (2012). Guilty of Indigence: The Urban Poor in China, 1900-1953. 

Van de Ven, Hans (2003). War and Nationalism in China, 1925–1945. 

Lu Hanchao (2005). Street Criers: A Cultural History of Chinese Beggars. 

Thaxton, Ralph (2008). Catastrophe and Contention in Rural China: Mao's Great Leap Forward Famine and the Origins of Righteous Resistance in Da Fo Village. 

Mitter, Rana (2013). China's War with Japan, 1937-1945 : The Struggle for Survival (also available as Forgotten Ally: China's World War II). 

Harrison, Henrietta (2000). The Making of the Republican Citizen: Political Ceremonies and Symbols in China 1911-1929. 

De Bary, William (2000). Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century. 

Crossley, Pamela (2010). The Wobbling Pivot - China Since 1800: An Interpretive History. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal feedback: • You will engage in small group exercises, focusing on specific formative tasks, which will be reviewed in class. • You will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessment with your tutor. • You will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your work in progress from your tutor. • Guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you. The formal assessments described below will promote skills of analysis and critical thinking. They will also reinforce organisational, planning and writing skills.


MethodPercentage contribution
Assignment  (500 words) 40%
Assignment  (2000 words) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments  ( hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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