Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

HIST6125 The Environment in Modern China 1800-2018

Module Overview

The history of modern China was not just made by people but also by nature. All manner of entities, including mosquitoes, trees, rivers, rice, and snails, played a role in shaping the human experience. This module will encourage you to place Chinese history in an environmental context. It will introduce you to the methods and theories used by historians and scientists who have examined historic ecosystems and climates. It will allow you to view contemporary environmental issues - such as species extinction, carbon emissions and industrial pollution - in a broader historical context. Topics covered will include the history of disasters, religious understandings of nature, animals in history, the ecology of war, and declining ecosystem health. This course will not only enhance your knowledge of modern China, but also equip you with the skills to study the environmental history of other world regions.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of this module are to: • Introduce students to the environmental history of China • Encourage students to engage more broadly with the themes and methodologies of environmental history • Encourage students to place contemporary environmental problems in a historical context

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Modern Chinese environmental history
  • Themes and methodologies employed by environmental historian
  • Contemporary Chinese environmental issues
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work independently on a substantial piece of research
  • Write in a literate, sophisticated manner
  • Manage your time effectively
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explore and assess the approaches introduced in the module in discussion with your peers and tutors
  • Complete an assignment using some of the methods and source materials explored in the module
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Examine the role that the environment has played in shaping modern Chinese history
  • Adopt an environmental approach to researching history


Typically, the module will cover • An Introduction to Chinese Environmental History • The Environment of the Qing Empire • Drought Demons and Flood Dragons: Understanding Nature in Traditional China • The Land of Famine: The Environment and Humanitarian Catastrophes • Animals in the History of Modern China • The Nature of War: The Role of the Environment in Chinese Armed Conflicts • Leaping to Disaster: The Environment in Early Communist China • Mao’s War on Nature? Assessing the Communist Environmental Legacy • From the One Child Policy to the Three Gorges Dam: Late 20th Century Environmental Policies • The Nature of Cities: The Ecology of Rapid Urbanisation • Toxic Environments: The Human Cost of the Chinese Economic Miracle

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include * Weekly 2-hr seminars * Essay tutorials Learning activities include * Using (English Language) Primary Source Materials * Reading work of scholars from the natural and social sciences alongside the historiography of modern China * Seminar presentations of independent research

Wider reading or practice8
Completion of assessment task40
Preparation for scheduled sessions80
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Perdue, Peter C (1987). Exhausting the Earth: State and Peasant in Hunan, 1500-1850. 

Shapiro, Judith (2001). Mao's War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China. 

Duara, Prasenjit. The Crisis of Global Modernity : Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future.. 

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

Lora-Wainwright, Anna (2013). Fighting for Breath Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village. 

Dai Qing and John Thibodeau, Philip B. Williams, Probe International., and International Rivers Network (1998). The River Dragon Has Come! : The Three Gorges Dam and the Fate of China's Yangtze River and It's People. 

Edgerton-Tarpley, Kathryn (2008). Tears from Iron: Cultural Responses to Famine in Nineteenth-Century China. 

Smil, Vaclav (2004). China’s Past, China’s Future: Energy, Food, Environment. 

Muscolino, Micah (2015). The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938–1950. 

Zhang Jiayan (2014). Coping with Calamity: Environmental Change and Peasant Response in Central China, 1736-1949.. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 90%
Presentation  (10 minutes) 10%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.