BA Ancient History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Global China in the Second World War

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32351
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


China’s resistance to Japanese invasion (1937-45) was the longest-lasting conflict of what became the global Second World War. It also brought an appalling human cost, with a death toll of at least 20 million people. But historians have often treated China’s war of resistance as a separate conflict from the emerging global war. In this module, students take a new approach by thinking about China’s international connections, including its links with the western allies, the Soviet Union, and still-colonised nations such as India, Burma, and Vietnam. We also examine connections between Chinese collaborators and the Japanese Empire. The module includes discussion of politics and diplomacy, but we also explore the social and cultural histories of China’s global connections. These include the individual experiences of the people of all backgrounds, both male and female, whose work connected wartime China to the rest of the world: soldiers, road builders, truck drivers, journalists, and pilots.  


to develop student knowledge in Chinese history, with a particular focus on the diversity of individual experiences of war.  

- to develop student knowledge of the global history of the mid-twentieth century, especially the Second World War, but also in global communism, anti-colonial nationalism, Pan-Asianism, the decline of the British Empire, and the rise of US power.  

- to encourage students to think about the importance of twentieth-century history and memory in contemporary geopolitics, especially in the PRC’s relations with RoC/Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and the United States.  

- to boost student skills in reading, analysing, writing, and oral discussion in previously unfamiliar topics and sources. 

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture sessions will include content delivery, interspersed with primary source interpretation, and short paired activities.  

Seminar sessions will include full class and paired activities, plus podcast-style group presentations discussing primary sources.  

Class visit to the People’s History Museum (Labour History Archive) to use the papers of the China Campaign Committee (week 3). 

This module includes distressing materials. The full syllabus will indicate these and, where necessary, suggest alternative readings (especially on the gender-based violence of the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre). 

Knowledge and understanding

Students will be able to:  

- show a global understanding of the Second World War, decentering Euro- and US-centric perspectives on the war.  

- critically discuss the importance of war against Japan in contemporary Chinese nationalism, but also the presence of local, gendered, and minority ethnic memories which may contest that dominant narrative. 

- discuss the interconnections between international geopolitics and grassroots human experiences of war.  

Intellectual skills

Students will:  

- analyse, contextualise and interpret a range of primary sources, including films, short stories, news reports, government documents, memoirs, and photographs.  

- synthesise primary and secondary evidence to craft an independent argument in assessed work (essay assignment).  

- think critically about history and memory have been used (and continued to be used) in international relations.  

Practical skills

Students will develop skills in:  

- locating and interpreting archival sources, both in-person (Labour History Archive) and online.  

- working as part of a small team to process and present information.  

- communicating their own arguments and interpretations in small-group and seminar discussions.  

- working as an independent researcher, including management of time, information, and theoretical perspectives.    

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Students will have opportunity to:  

- develop independent and coherent arguments based on concrete evidence from a range of sources.  

- handle and interpret information on complex and sensitive topics. 

- listen actively and sensitively to the opinions of others, in both small-group and larger seminar discussions.  

- develop teamwork and oral presentation skills (group presentation). 


Employability skills

Analytical skills
research for written assessments will develop students’ ability to interpret, analyse, integrate, and present information from a range of sources in order to solve complex historical problems.
Group/team working
students will plan, design and deliver a podcast-style presentation, developing their skills in less formal and more conversational (i.e., without powerpoint) modes of sharing information. Students will also develop teamwork skills in a variety of paired and small-group discussions, including critical analysis and problem solving.
Oral communication
students will hone important workplace skills of oral communication, including clarity, brevity, and the need to explain their position. Students will also develop written communication skills, including crafting a written argument and the interpretation of evidence.
awareness of historical events and memory (e.g., Nanjing Massacre) will equip students for working with Chinese colleagues and partners.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 35%
Written assignment (inc essay) 65%

Source Analysis or Blogpost

Feedback methods

Verbal feedback on (non-assessed) group presentation and seminar activities   (Formative)

Written feedback on source analysis/blogpost and essay.  (Formative and Summative)

Additional one-to-one feedback (during assessment consultations and regular office hours)   (Formative)

Recommended reading

Zach Fredman, The Tormented Alliance: American Servicemen and the Occupation of China, 1941-1949 (2022).  

Vivienne Xiangwei Guo, Women and Politics in Wartime China: Networking Across Geopolitical Borders (2018). 

Hsiao-Ting Lin, Tibet and Nationalist China’s Frontier: Intrigues and Ethnopolitics, 1928-1949 (2006). 

Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan: The Struggle for Survival (2013).  

Hans Van de Ven, China at War: Triumph and Tragedy in the Emergence of the New China, 1937-1952 (2017). 

Hans Van de Ven, Diana Lary, and Stephen MacKinnon (eds.), Negotiating China’s Destiny in World War II (2014).  

Cao Yin, Chinese Sojourners in Wartime Raj 1942-1945 (2022).  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Seminars 20

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Mark Baker Unit coordinator

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