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The University of Southampton

HIST2231 Imperial China: From China’s mythical emperors to the 19th century

Module Overview

This module will discuss Chinese history from its mythical beginnings to the 19th century (the time when China encountered the West). We will encounter famous figures like the philosopher Confucius, discuss the origins of the Silk Road and the Great Wall, talk about the role of women in imperial China, explore the origins of the Chinese writing system and various other aspects of ancient and imperial China’s politics, philosophy, society, education and literature. This module will serve two purposes. First of all, it will uncover China’s ancient and imperial history. Secondly, it will help us to understand how China narrates its history in the present to create a certain image of itself as a nation. Through stories about the distant past, Chinese politicians argue why certain contested territories (such as Taiwan or Tibet) belong to China, or why China deserves a role as a global player in the present and future. In other words, in order to understand where China is going and how China sees itself in the world, we need to go back deep into China’s past.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Outline major events and transformations in Chinese history from its beginnings to the 19th century
  • Describe central cultural and social features, as well as the way they changed, in Chinese history from its beginnings to the 19th century
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse relevant primary sources
  • Analyse important interpretations of Chinese history from the beginnings to the 19th century
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate an argument effectively in written form


Topics to be covered may typically include: China’s mythical emperors Confucius and his time Inventing the Chinese writing system in the Qin Dynasty The origins of globalisation in the Ming Dynasty Narratives about China’s past in contemporary Chinese politics

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

One weekly lecture (1 hour) One weekly seminar (1 hour) Essay tutorials

Guided independent study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).. 

Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Women and the Family in Chinese History (London: Routledge, 2003).. 

Feng Li, Early China: A Social and Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).. 

Paul S. Ropp, China in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).. 

Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).. 

Michael Nylan and Thomas A. Wilson, Lives of Confucius: Civilization’s Greatest Sage through the Ages (New York: Doubleday, 2010).. 

Jane Qiu, ‘How China Is Rewriting the Book on Human Origins’, Nature 535, no. 7611 (7 December 2016): 22–25.. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Written assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Written assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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