Politics of Contemporary China (MLM2002)

StaffDr Thomas Burnham - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to:

  • Provide you with an overview of the political tendencies, factions, and dynamics in contemporary Chinese society and politics through a sampling of key texts and class discussion.
  • Foster a sensitivity to key issues in a way which enables them to explore their interests safely and effectively while in China.
  • Give you the opportunity to discuss the perspectives of key figures and scholars before articulating and defending a position of your own.

By the end of the course, you will be able to provide an accounting for the modern origins of key political ideas in China, express what those ideas are, and articulate a position in a debate about these ideas.  You will further be able to link those ideas to your particular interest in studying China and the Chinese language.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a familiarity with key figures and events relevant to the politics of contemporary China
  • 2. Articulate a position in or understanding of the debates surrounding modernization and democracy in contemporary Chinese politics

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Formulate a written argument using select primary sources and engaging with secondary analysis
  • 4. Demonstrate a cross-cultural awareness in exploring and understanding history and politics

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Write imaginatively and critically about complex and globally relevant topics
  • 6. Engage thoughtfully and in an informed way with the thought and perspective of others around the world

Syllabus plan

While content may vary from year to year, it is expected that the module will cover:


  • Document Number 9 and the National Security Law – Why Basic Political Literacy is Important
  • From Humiliation… Part I – The Background of the Modernizing Mission and Regime of the CCP
  • From Humiliation… Part II – Memory of the Century of Humiliation Today
  • …To Rejuvenation Part I – The Aims of the Party Today
  • …To Rejuvenation Part II – The Policies of the Party Today
  • Chinese Liberalism and Traditionalism Part I – Reform or Revolution in Pre-Modern China
  • Chinese Liberalism and Traditionalism Part II – Chinese Liberalism Today
  • Chinese Communism Part I – Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, and Mao Zedong
  • Chinese Communism Part II – Those Left Behind (Anarchists, Trotskyists, and Left Maoists)
  • Chinese Communism Part III – Reform or Revolution in Modern China (Reformers, Conservatives, and Right Maoists)



  • What is ‘Historical Nihilism’, and Why Should We Care?
  • A Summary of Western Historiography of Modern Chinese History – What We’ve Gotten Right, and What We’ve Gotten Wrong
  • The One T and the Three Xs (Taiwan, Xianggang [Hong Kong], Xizang [Tibet], and Xinjiang)
  • Are We There Yet? Democracy Now or Later
  • The Third Historical Resolution and Why it Matters

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 Teaching1111 x lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching55 x seminars
Guided Independent Study134Private Study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay Plan500 words1, 3, 5, 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
Essay1002500 words1-6Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (2500 words)Essay (2500 words)1-6Referral/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 become broadly familiar with one or all of the following four texts.

  • Paul Cohen, Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Past (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984)
  • Henrietta Harrison, China: Inventing the Nation (London: Arnold, 2001)
  • Rana Mitter, A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • Jonathon D. Spence, The Search for Modern China, 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013)


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

  • Timothy Cheek, Klaus Mülhahn, and Hans van de Ven (eds.), The Chinese Communist Party: A Century in Ten Lives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021)
  • S.A. Smith (ed.), The Oxford handbook of the History of Communism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • 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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Key words search

China, Chinese, politics, contemporary politics, political theory, international relations, economics, modern history, global history, society