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HIST3238 Themes in the History of Modern China: Late Qing - Republican Era (Part 1 - 1800-1949)

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

To demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of modern Chinese history between 1800-2000, and also a specific knowledge of major themes including the history of religion, gender, food/famine, and conflict. You will learn how to apply a cross-cultural perspective upon major themes in social history, reflecting upon how the course of modern Chinese history was informed by local, regional and global trends.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • modern Chinese history.
  • How the course of modern Chinese history was informed by local, regional, and global trends.
  • Detailed knowledge of specific major themes including histories of religion, gender, food/famine and conflict.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse primary sources written in England and Chinese sources in translation.
  • Analyse sources produced in a radically different cultural and social environment.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Contextualise familiar historical narratives within their specific cultural and social settings
  • Develop an anthropological approach to the study of modern history.


This module introduces four major themes in the social history of modern China - Anger and Violence, Gods and Ghosts, Food and Hunger and Love and Sex. While we will cover many of the more familiar events of modern Chinese history, the module is designed to move the narrative away from elite political actors and demonstrate how the momentous disruptions of this era influenced the everyday lives of Chinese people. In semester 1 we will cover the late Qing (1800-1911) and Republican eras (1911-1949). Each period will be allocated five weeks, with the first week consisting of an introductory session on the general history, and the subsequent weeks revisiting each of our major themes.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Two weekly, two-hour seminars. Student-led presentations on primary sources. Individual tutorials on essays.

Independent Study56
Preparation for scheduled sessions96
Assessment tasks100
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Cohen, Paul A., History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). 

Mitter, Rana, A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). 

Sommer, Matthew Harvey, Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000). 

Snyder-Reinke, Jeffrey, Dry Spells: State Rainmaking and Local Governance in Late Imperial China (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2009). 

Ma, Zhao., Runaway Wives, Urban Crimes, and Survival Tactics in Wartime Beijing, 1937-1949 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015). 

Li, Lillian M., Fighting Famine in North China: State, Market, and Environmental Decline, 1690s-1990s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007). 

Rowe, William T., China's Last Empire: The Great Qing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). 

Edgerton-Tarpley, Kathryn, Tears from Iron: Cultural Responses to Famine in Nineteenth-Century China (Asia: Berkeley, University of California press, 2008). 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Timed Assignment  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Timed Assignment  (3000 words) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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