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Colonists, Capitalists & Gangsters: Republican Shanghai, 1911-49 - HIS00049C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Avital Avina
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

In the period 1911 to 1949 Shanghai became known around the world as the cosmopolitan 'Paris of the East' and as a notoriously decadent 'Paradise for Adventurers'. In this port city, foreign imperialism met Chinese civilisation in a riotous period of social transformation and political revolution. British merchants, Russian mercenaries and American tycoons lived side by side with the most influential Chinese political and literary thinkers of the age, as well as dangerous criminals and communist agitators. This unit will explore the myths and realities of life in Republican-era Shanghai.

Students will gain a sound introductory understanding of Shanghai history between the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the communist revolution of 1949. Through reading engaging primary sources and carefully-selected secondary literature, students will learn the need for historians to carefully weigh up different interpretations of the past. The various historiographic interpretations and debates encountered in the study of Chinese history in this period provide students with an introduction to issues they will encounter throughout their academic careers at York across varying geographical and chronological contexts.

No prior knowledge of Chinese history or language is required.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;
  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

Spring Term

1. Introduction to Shanghai

2. Imperialism and ‘Semi-colonialism’

3. Foreign life in Treaty Port Shanghai

4. Beyond the neon lights: Chinese city life

5. Shanghai 'Modern'

6. Prostitution: 'wild hens' and concubines

7. Reforming Shanghai, 1927-1937

8. Occupied Shanghai: Collaboration and Resistance, 1937-1945

9. The Communist takeover of Shanghai

Summer Term

2 . Overview and revision


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present either on a primary source or on an assigned historiographical question. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options.


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Bergère, Marie-Claire. Shanghai: China's Gateway to Modernity. Stanford, 2009.

Bickers, Robert. Empire Made Me: An Englishman adrift in Shanghai. London: Penguin, 2003.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.