Twentieth-Century China

Tutor: Jon Howlett

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00063M

China underwent a series of dramatic changes in the twentieth century. Great political, economic and social shifts resulted from war, revolution, rebuilding and reform. This module explores key moments in China’s transition: from empire to Communist state; from an agrarian society to an urban society; and from a weak state that was subject to ‘semi-colonial’ trespasses to becoming an emerging world superpower.

In this module we will examine China’s twentieth century history, through the study of selected key issues and flashpoints focusing on history's uses and abuses as well as key historiographical debates. Each seminar focuses on one issue which contributes to our overall understanding of the important themes that defined this period. We will place a particular focus on contesting views on the role of the state and on the changing social order.

Please note: a knowledge of Chinese language is NOT required to take this course.

The likely seminar programme is as follows:

  • The Qing Dynasty and its collapse
  • Imperialism and ‘National Humiliation’
  • People’s principles and principled people: visions of a new order in the Republican period
  • Confucian Fascism? The rise and fall of the Guomindang 
  • ‘New China’ under the Communist Party
  • Bombard the Headquarters! The Cultural Revolution
  • Resolving Historical Questions: from Reform to Tiananmen
  • History and its uses in contemporary China    

Preliminary reading   

  • Bergère, Marie-Claire. Shanghai: China’s Gateway to Modernit. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.
  • Gao Mobo. Gao Village: A portrait of rural life in modern China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.
  • Harrison, Henrietta. The Man Awakened from Dreams: One Man’s Life in a North China Village 1857-1942. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1999.


For more information, please see the University module catalogue.