A Brief History of Modern China (1861-Present) (MLM1013)

StaffDr Thomas Burnham - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to:

  • Explore the major ideas and events of modern Chinese history.
  • Allow students to develop a familiarity with leading scholars of modern Chinese history.
  • Engage with debates surrounding democracy and modernization in modern Chinese history.
  • Offer interdisciplinary insights for understanding modern Chinese history.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a general understanding of Chinese history since the late Qing Dynasty
  • 2. Articulate a position on debates surrounding China’s modernisation and surge onto the world stage

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Develop research and writing skills for working in history and other disciplines
  • 4. Demonstrate a cross-cultural awareness in understanding and contextualising Chinese politics and history

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Engage with secondary analysis in order to produce a cogent written or oral argument
  • 6. Engage thoughtfully and in an informed way with the thought and perspective of others around the world

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:


  • Background – A Summary of Key Events in Pre-Modern Chinese History
  • The Late Qing Part I – The Taiping Rebellion and the Self-Strengthening Movement
  • The Late Qing Part II – The Boxer Rebellion and the Xinhai Revolution
  • War and Revolution Part I – The First Phase of the Chinese Civil War and China’s World War II
  • War and Revolution Part II – The Second Phase of the Chinese Civil War and the Establishment of the PRC
  • The Mao Era Part I – Land Reform and the Great Leap Forward
  • The Mao Era Part II – The Sino-Soviet Split and the Cultural Revolution
  • Reform and Opening Part I – Deng Xiaoping and Market Socialism
  • Reform and Opening Part II – 1989 and Post-Cold War China
  • One Country, Two Systems?


  • China – Nation or Empire?
  • Why Did the CCP Win the Mainland?
  • Red Nostalgia – What Explains the Persistence of Maoist Symbols and Images Today?
  • Is China Still “Communist”?
  • Concluding Roundtable – China Yesterday and Today

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching10Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching5Seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching1Tutorial
Guided independent study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Formative assignment500 words1-6Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002000 words1-6Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-7Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Prior to taking the module, you should read one of the following two texts.

  • Rana Mitter, Modern China: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 1-153
  • Jonathon D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013), pp. 1-185

The following will serve as helpful reference material throughout the module:

  • Christian Sorace, Ivan Franceschini, and Nicholas Loubere (eds.), Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Political Concepts from Mao to Xi (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2019)

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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Last revision date


Key words search

China, Chinese, history, modern history, culture