BA Ancient History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Modern China: from the Opium Wars to the Olympic Games

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST10151
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


From a feudal empire to a revolutionary republic, from communism to capitalism, very few countries have been through so much change in the past or so century. This survey course will familiarize you with the themes and history from late imperial (1842–1911) to Republican (1912–1949) and Communist China (1949 –). Modern China is much-needed “mental furniture” as China interacts more with the world. The module informs you about the major events and history makers, but not at the cost of micro history as it pays great attention to ordinary people and their lives. It examines change but change came in the shape of continuity. China’s transformation from the “sick man of Asia” to economic superpower helps us better understand the making of the modern world.


HIST10151 is restricted to History and History joint-honours programmes (please check your programme regulations for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas; and Chinese Studies programmes.


  • To acquire a broad knowledge and general understanding of China from the Opium War in the 1840 to the post-Mao era in the 21st century
  • To consider the “scramble for China” in the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries that changed the course of the Middle Kingdom

  • To examine Western/Japanese impact on the country and more than century of reform, war and revolution that shaped today’s China

  • To analyse the tumultuous changes, from political and socio-economic, to cultural and diplomatic, and also from gender to regional and global perspectives

  • To discuss these impacts and changes in seminars, to research and write essays to evaluate them or even challenge existing scholarship

  • To inform and make responsible global citizens who understands origins and complexities of today’s as well as tomorrow’s world

Teaching and learning methods

 2 x 1 hour lectures, 1 x 1 hour seminar per week 

All the support materials for the course will be on BB, and the essay will be submitted and returned via this medium. 

Further weekly meeting times will be scheduled with the lecturers on the course for drop-in sessions. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Knowledge of major historical events and history-makers from late imperial through Republican and Communist China
  • Basic understanding of the major paradigms and methodologies to the study of modern China
  • Understanding China from domestic, regional (both Asia and Europe) and global perspectives
  • New perspectives and developments in the study of late imperial through contemporary China
  • Learning Chinese history from the lens of individuals, and from the perspective of arts and sports

Intellectual skills

  • Ability to critically evaluate of China’s path to modernity through more than a century of reform and revolution
  • Ability to critically discuss China’s political, socio-economic and cultural change against a background of regional and global transformation
  • Ability to critically analyse and contrast them with the transformation of modern Europe and America, their dynamics and complexities

Practical skills

  • Digest learning through a combination of lectures and readings
  • articulate and discuss learning in an informed manner in class
  • Navigate effectively the wide range of resources, especially online materials, available and be able to use them in seminars and essay research/writing
  • Plan, research and write effective essays

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Analytical skills as the module help students gain a better understanding on the making of modern world through the window of modern China
  • Public speaking skill as the module encourages student to engage with fellow students in seminars and discussions
  • Writing, argument-making and sustaining skills as a result of essay research and writing through feedback

Employability skills

"Whatever I do after university, it might have something to do with China" is the answer students gave in the past 14 years (since I taught here) why they were taking this module. They know knowledge of modern China would help them get ahead in their career in and beyond Britain as the world globalises and interacts more with China.
The practical knowledge and discussion skills students gained in this module on the history of imperial China, its interaction with and impact on Europe, proved to be helpful in the search for jobs. China knowledge has helped many students who took this module to land jobs in government institutions, media outlets, museums, NGOs, multi-national companies, law firms, and financial as well as educational institutions.

Assessment methods

Annotated bibliography 40%
Essay 60%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative and Summative

Oral feedback in seminar discussions


Written feedback on all coursework and assessments

Summative and formative

Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)



Recommended reading

Yangwen Zheng, Ten Lessons in Modern Chinese History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, April 2018)

Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999)

John K Fairbank & Merle Goldman, China: A New History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006)

Peter Ward Fay, The Opium War, 1840-1842 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975)

Robert Bickers, The Scramble for China: foreign devils in the Qing empire, 1832-1914 (London: Allen Lane, 2011)

Lloyd E. Eastman, The abortive revolution: China under Nationalist rule, 1927-1937 / (Cambridge [MA]: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University Press, 1990)

Roderick MacFarquhar, Michael Schoenhals, Mao’s Last Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006)

Bruce Dickson, The Dictator’s Dilemma: the Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Rian Thum Unit coordinator
Mark Baker Unit coordinator
Yang-Wen Zheng Unit coordinator

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