BA Ancient History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
China and the West: the Age of Empire and Beyond

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31202
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


The course examines China’s tumultuous relation with Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Russia and America, from the mid-19th century to today and through such case studies as the Opium Wars and the Boxer rebellion. This is a most important period of time in Chinese history; the Age of Empire brought imperialists from the West and Japan. As the “scramble for China” intensified, the Qing court launched reform and this followed up by later regimes. Imperialism led to the growth of Chinese nationalism as the country began to modernise. A century of reform and revolution have fundamentally China and her relations with the West. The “peaceful rise of China” in the post-Mao era has made their relations more dynamic and complex as China rose again to assert itself and challenge existing world order.


  • to acquire knowledge and understanding of China’s relations with Europe, Japan, Russia and America from 1840s to today
  • to reflect on the changing perception of ‘China’ as seen and understood by Europeans and Americans, and the changing perception of the ‘West’ as seen and understood by the Chinese.
  • to consider the impact of their interaction and the transformation of their relations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • to examine the impact of their friction and conflict on the Chinese polity, economy, culture and society, and to lesser extend to the world.
  • to write essays that coherently analyze these changes and
  • to engage creatively and effectively with online learning resources that are becoming available for modern Chinese history.

Knowledge and understanding

Students would have learnt how Sino-West relations were theorised and practiced, and how historians have engaged with these issues. Students should be able to

  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge of China’s interaction with the West during a period of immense upheaval
  • interpret China’s political, socio-economic and cultural change against the background of the Age of Empire and the Age of Extremes
  • engage with theories and methodologies used to interpret Sino-foreign relations
  • plan, research and write effective essays
  • navigate effectively the wide range of resources, online resources in particular, available for modern China history and be able to discuss them in an informed manner in class

Intellectual skills

  • ability to critically evaluate of China’s relationship with the West, Japan, Russia and America that would shaped geopolitics of the modern world
  • ability to critically discuss China’s political, socio-economic and cultural change against a background of regional and global transformation
  • ability to critically analyse changes in China with those in Europe, Japan, Russia and America

Practical skills

  • digest learning through a combination of lectures, seminars and reading
  • articulate and discuss learning in an intellectually vigorous 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 independently

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • analytical skills as the module help students gain an insightful understanding of China’s complicated relations with the West
  • 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

China and the West equips students with 'mental furniture' for life and 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 China's relationship with the West proved to be helpful in the search for jobs.

Assessment methods

Primary source analysis 40%
Essay 60%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Primary source analysis







Recommended reading

Michael Greenberg, British trade and the opening of China 1800-42 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951)

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

Louise Tythacott, The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011)

Anthony G. Hopkins, ed., Globalisation in world history (London: Pimlico, 2002)

S. C. M. Paine, The Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895: perceptions, power and primacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

George Steinmetz, The Devil’s Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Adam McKeown, Chinese migrant networks and cultural change: Peru, Chicago, Hawaii, 1900-1936 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001)

Michael Lumbers, Piercing the Bamboo Curtain: Tentative Bridge-building to China during the Johnson Years (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008)

Chen Jian. Mao’s China and the Cold War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Yang-Wen Zheng Unit coordinator

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