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HIST5538A Special Topics in Comparative History (Asia):
China-Japan Relations from 1949 to Present
[Not for students who had taken HIST5538A Special Topics in Comparative History (Asia): China-Japan Relations from 1949 to Present in 2011-12, 2012-13 , 2013-14, 2016-17]”

Semester 2 (2020-2021)

Lecture TimeTuesday 6:30pm-9:15pm


Lecturer LAM Wo Lap Willy (

Teaching Assistant LEE Hiu Hong Michael ((852) 3943 7122 /

Course Description

This course examines China-Japan relationship from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Apart from discussing diplomatic documents signed between the two countries as well as the viewpoints on bilateral ties articulated by officials and scholars, the lecturer invites students to look at interactions between the two peoples who come from different walks of life. Related issues such as nationalism, interpretations of war crimes and past history, and the influence of the media and public opinion on foreign policy-making will be analyzed. The future of Sino-Japanese relations will be explored in light of the overall balance of power and geopolitical contention in the Asia-Pacific Region. Also assessed will be the significance of the triangular relationship among China, Japan, and the United States, especially Japan’s possible roles in the “new Cold War” between the U.S. and China.


(Week by week progression)

1. Overall introduction to the course, reading materials, assessment methods; China’s basic decision-making mechanisms on foreign policy and security issues. The “special historical relationship” between China and Japan; early contacts and mutual influence up to the Meiji Restoration (1860s). Significance of Sino-Japanese ties in the context of the development of East Asia and Asia’s response to multiple challenges from Europe/U.S. in the 19th century.

2. Discussion of China-Japan relations up to the end of Second World War. Comparison between the modernization movements in China and Japan; the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95; Japan’s occupation of China’s Northeast. The role of Chinese intellectuals and revolutionaries who studied in Japan from the 1890s to 1910s. The impact and legacy of Japan’s invasion and the Sino-Japan War (1937-45).

3. The road to normalization of relations in 1972. The roles played by major leaders including Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Liao Chengzhi, Kakuei Tanaka; background of seminal bilateral agreements on issues such as war-time compensation; the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands; and the issue of Taiwan. Tokyo’s China policy in the course of the Cultural Revolution.

4. Sino-Japan relations during China’s Era of Reform (I). The conclusion of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1978. Japan’s role in China’s industrialization and modernization post-1980; Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang’s Japan policies; factors behind the gradual shift in Tokyo’s attitude toward China. Emerging differences in the two countries’ views on politics, culture, economic development, and Asia-U.S. relations.

5. Sino-Japan relations during China’s Era of Reform (II). The background behind major differences between the two nations: the “question of history”; territorial disputes; the rise of nationalism in both countries; and so forth. The phenomenon of “cold politics, hot economics.” The minority view of Chinese intellectuals who advocate a “moderate and conciliatory” approach to Japan. Exacerbated differences between the two nations’ views on politics, culture, the environment, globalization, and Asia-U.S./Asia-EU relations.

6. The foreign and Japan-related policies of the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao administrations; China’s foreign-policy establishment. The rise of the post-WWII generation of politicians and bureaucrats in Japan. The hard-line diplomacy of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Efforts by Japan to become a “normal nation” and their impact on China and the rest of Asia. The horrendous anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2005.

7. Rapprochement of ties under prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yazuo Fukuda. Major agreements reached during PM Abe’s visit to China in late 2006; Premier Wen Jiabao’s Japan tour of 2007; and President Hu Jintao’s trip to Tokyo in May 2008. The significance of the Hu-Fukuda communiqué, especially the possible resolution of the East China Sea problem.

8. Changes in Sino-Japan relations after the Democratic Party of Japan became the ruling party in 2009. Former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama’s policy of “maintaining equidistance between China and the U.S.” Bilateral ties under former PMs Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda. Further stagnation of the Japanese economy vs. the growing importance of the China market to Japan’s economic recovery.

9. Precipitous decline in relations after the Noda administration’s “purchase” of the Diaoyu-Senkaku islands in September 2012. Comparison between the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2012 and those of 2005. Bilateral interactions under the new Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe administrations. The impact of Abenomics and Abe’s “Japan is back” policy. Xi Jinping’s new-look policy toward Japan and the U.S.

10. The rise of China’s international clout and the intense competition between the two most powerful countries in Asia. Global implications of Sino-Japanese rivalry; the contest to become the leader of Asia; efforts made by Beijing and Tokyo to woo ASEAN countries. Triangular relationships that have complicated Sino-Japanese ties: the significance of China-Japan-U.S., China-Japan-Russia, and China-Japan-Indian relations.

11. Focus on oil diplomacy: Beijing and Tokyo’s attitude toward the energy issue and possible room for cooperation in this crucial sector. Focus on soft power: similarities and differences between the attempts by China and Japan to boost their respective global influence through the projection of soft power – especially the propagation of the two countries’ unique cultures. The inexorable rise of nationalism in both China and Japan — and how this impacts on bilateral ties.

12. Dramatic developments of bilateral ties in 2013-16. Testy relations between the nationalistic leaderships of Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe. Uneasy meetings of the two top leaders in November 2014 and April 2015. Beijing’s ambitions to become a maritime power and its moves to shore up legitimacy claims over islets in the East China Sea and South China Sea. The impact of the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank and China’s “Belt and Road Initiative.” The CCP leadership’s perception of Japan and India joining Washington’s alleged “containment policy” against China. Impact of the July 2016 judgment of the Court of Final Arbitration on China’s claims to the South China Sea.

13. Projection of China-Japan relations in the rest of the decade, especially in light of intriguing developments in the triangular relations between China, Japan and the United States (I). Former President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia strategy” and the Pentagon’s decision to move 60 percent of America’s naval capacity to the Pacific Region. Abe’s virtual revision of the Japanese Constitution in July 2015 by turning the Self-Defense Forces into a regular army. Japan’s support of Vietnam and the Philippines in the latter’s sovereignty disputes with China. The Xi leadership’s high-profile military parade on September 3, 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. The increasing importance of economic cooperation and people-to-people ties in preventing the deterioration of China-Japan relations.

14. Projection of China-Japan relations in the rest of the decade, especially in light of intriguing developments in the triangular relations between China, Japan and the United States (II). The impact of President Donald Trump’s China policy – especially the trade dispute and related efforts to rein in Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions to become a superpower – on Sino-Japanese relations. Washington’s apparent efforts to persuade Tokyo to join an “anti-China alliance.” The thaw in Sino-Japanese ties beginning late 2017. Beijing’s attempts to form a global network that is opposed to Washington’s alleged anti-globalization posture. The impact on developments in denuclearization in North Korea on China-Japan relations.

Assessment & Assignments

40% – One scholarly paper of around 2,000 – 2,500 words
40% – Final examination (take-home exam format)
20% – Presentations by students either individually or in small groups.

Students’ Presentations
Students’ presentations will start from Week 4th.
More details will be announced in the first two weeks.


Reference books/Reading Materials

Sections of the following books and other references will be required reading for this course. These and other materials will be distributed by the lecturer.

1. Ming Wan, Sino-Japanese Relations: Interaction, Logic, and Transformation, Stanford University Press, 2006.

2. Amy King, China-Japan Relations after World War Two: Empire, Industry and War, 1949-1971, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

3. Ryosei Kokubun, Yoshihide Soeya, Akio Takahara, and Shim Kawashima, Japan-China Relations in the Modern Era, Routledge, 2017.

4. Chalmers Johnson, Japan: Who Governs, Norton, 1995.

5. Michael Green, Japan’s Reluctant Realism: Foreign Policy Challenges in an Era of Uncertain Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

6. Kenneth B. Pyle, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose, Public Affairs Press, 2007.

7. Willy Wo-Lap Lam, Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era, M E Sharpe, 2006.

8. Willy Wo-Lap Lam, Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping, Routledge, 2015.

9. Peter Hays Gries, China’s New Nationalism: Pride, Politics and Diplomacy, Philip E Lilienthal Books, 2004.

10. Shambaugh, David, ed., Power Shift: China and Asia’s New Dynamics, University of California Press, 2005.

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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