BA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Empire and Culture in East Asia

Course unit fact file
Unit code JAPA13222
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will make use of selected cultural texts and film to introduce students to the politics and complex colonial history of East Asia in the period of Japanese Empire. Lectures incorporating discussion of novels and screenings will introduce to students the formation of colonial and postcolonial Asia and open dialogue about how Japanese expansionism influenced the development of national identities in China, Korea and Japan and across South East Asia. During weekly lectures students will have the opportunity to consider a small selection of representative works, from ideological manifestos, novels and film from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan: each bringing different perspectives of the enforced and resisted construction and life of ‘Asia’ within the Japanese Greater East Asian Empire. During seminars students will view and discuss representative films and documentaries such as Mud and Soldiers, Karayuki, Dankichi the Adventurer, Rikugun, and The Human Condition. Literary texts to be examined include classics of the East Asian empire period such as Xiao Hong’s In the Field of Life and Death (China, 1932).  Ideological and revolutionary texts by political leaders such as Mao Zedong (On Guerrilla Warfare, 1937) and Kim Il Sung (With the Century, 1993) will be examined as responses to Japanese imperial policy. In this survey of the Japanese empire in East Asia, students will learn how East Asia has been forged through both encounter, resistance and incorporation into Imperial Japan. By sampling literature and film responding to this experience, students will explore ideology, experience, and sentiment across the region, and consider the legacy of the Greater East Asian Empire for postcolonial Asia.


  • To introduce the major points of conflict and unity necessary for a fuller understanding of modern culture and regional relations in Asia serving as a grounding into the East Asian Studies major.
  • To provide students with an understanding of the key events and conceptual issues surrounding the Japanese empire in Asia and its legacy.
  • To enable students to analyse cultural problems and dynamics in contemporary East Asia in an informed and critical way.
  • To nurture and build skills for source reading and interpreting to support robust essay writing in the following years.
  • To provide guidance and a preliminary experience of essay planning, class presentations, and class discussion in the first year of the East Asian / Chinese/ Japanese Studies major.


The following is an indicative list of topics to be dealt with:

1 Thinking about Colonialism, Imperialism and Culture

2 European Powers and the International Context of a New Empire in East Asia

3 Kominka and the Japanese colonisation of Korea and Taiwan

4 A ‘Manchurian Incident’ and the Kwangtung Army  

5 Colonial Settler Life of the Agricultural Poor in Manchukuo and Tourism to the Continent  

7 Gender, Sex and Women in Empire 1 (Patriotic women)

8 Gender, Sex and Women in Empire 2 (Comfort women)

9 Guerilla movements against the Japanese military

10 Pan Asian Romance and the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere  

11 Korean Colonial Migrants and Workers in Japan

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, group-based class discussions of the readings on core questions and themes

Discussion of films and novels in relation to readings and lectures

Written and oral feedback on oral presentations 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the history and cultural reaction to the development of East Asia as a region.
  • Demonstrate critical understanding of key analytical concepts related to the study of history and culture.
  • Show detailed knowledge of some representative cultural works (novels and films) from across East Asia.

Intellectual skills

  • Engage in informed critical analysis of East Asian history and culture.
  • Read and watch critically.
  • Write analytically.

Practical skills

  • Construct ideas and arguments from own research and apply knowledge to finding solutions to authentic real world problems.
  • Improve basic skills for academic writing.
  • Improve presentation skills.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Will have honed their skills for reasoned discussion and argument.
  • Will be able to find and use critically a range of materials such as books, journals and web-based resources relevant to the topics studied in the course.
  • Will be able to better participate in world affairs and informed global citizens.

Employability skills

Project management: Students taking this unit will be learning to work towards deadlines, work independently and to manage their time effectively. Written communication: Students on this unit will develop their ability to communicate a coherent and critical argument of depth and complexity in written form and to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods

Assessment taskFormative or SummativeWeighting within unit (%)
One prepared class presentation on a cultural item.Summative20%
Short essay discussing a cultural source in social and historical context (ie. a whole novel, a film, a short story).Summative30%


Resit Assessment:



Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on class presentation distributed over the semester


Written feedback on an essay on a cultural source

Summative and formative

Written and oral feedback on class participation


Written feedback on final essay


Recommended reading

Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire (1998) ebook

Peter Duus et al.  Japan’s Wartime Empire (1996) ebook

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 171

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sharon Kinsella Unit coordinator

Return to course details