The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST5508C Special Topics in Chinese History:
History of Modern China

Semester 2 (2021-2022)

Lecture TimeMonday 6:30pm - 9:15pm

VenueYIA 201


Lecturer HE Xiaoqing Rowena ((852) 3943 7128 /

Teaching Assistant Claudia Isabelle Violeta MONTERO (

(Images of the Soong’s sisters in their youth and in the movie The Three Soong’s Sisters)


Important Note:

Students who have taken are HIST4180RH Topic Studies in Modern Chinese History: History of Modern China in 2020-21 are NOT eligible to retake this course.  

Students who would like to sit in during the add/drop period can contact the course TA. Students who have registered for the course can find course materials on Blackboard.

Course Description

This course is an intellectual inquiry into the history of Modern from the early nineteenth to the late-twentieth centuries, spanning a period of enormous change from late imperial China to the post-Mao People’s Republic of China. It explores the developmental trajectory of Chinese society, politics, and culture in the rapidly changing domestic and international contexts over two centuries. Employing both chronological and thematic approaches, we will review historical narratives as well as examine different historical interpretations of the forces that have shaped modern China. Using primary and secondary sources, including materials of state-sponsored version of history presented by the Chinese Communist Party as well as that of independent historians, students will learn how to evaluate, to scrutinize, to compare and contrast historical evidence, and to develop skills to think, write, and speak critically and analytically about the past. We will also have the opportunity to engage in scholarly dialogues with authors of some of the books that we read for the course—to learn from their experience to present history within historical contexts, and to identify continuities and changes, and understand how to evaluate critically versions of modern Chinese history. An important feature of this course will be the critical examination of the contemporary relevance of China’s past, the ongoing contest between state presentations of history and the independent pursuit of historical knowledge, and its implications on China’s future and its relationship with rest of the world.

Assessment & Assignments

This course is conducted in a three-hour format, integrating lectures and tutorials in each class.



Attendance and Participation 30%
News Presentation 10%
Final Project 60%



This is a student-centered class grounded in the concept of “flipped learning.” Students are expected to be actively engaged in class and to work with other students. Class activities include group discussions, presentations, lectures, documentary/film screenings, and reenactment of historical scenes.

We will work together to create an environment for intellectual dialogues and to cultivate informed, responsible, and engaged citizens. Being empathetic and inclusive does not mean that we avoid core issues; it does not absolve us from our responsibility to engage in critical thinking and honest intellectual debates while treating each other with courtesy and respect. I also recognize that each of us has our own individual differences and preferences in learning styles and strategies. I will keep that in mind and will work with each of you to bring the best out of your potential and talent.  


Discussion Teams and Team Leaders

At the beginning of the semester, the class will be divided into discussion teams and team members will take turns to be leaders of their team during the semester. Each student learns to take responsibility as a leader as well as work as a team member under the leadership of another student. We all learn both as individuals and as members of groups to which we belong.


Group Discussions

Each class will start with group discussions. We will divide into small groups to discuss major issues relating to the reading materials of the day. In order to participate in group discussions, you will have to finish reading and or watching the required materials before coming to class, know the basic facts, and establish their relations to the larger context. Students will have the chance to work with their own discussion team members as well as other students in the class. By the end of the semester, you will have worked with other classmates in your teamwork. Towards the end of each class, we will vote for the best discussant of the day – one team one vote!


Film Screening

We will watch together films and documentaries related to the historical periods that we cover in the course. We will watch these films/documentaries before we cover that specific period so that students will have a better idea of the people and history in contexts before doing the readings. Please pay attention to the presentation and interpretation of historical episodes. If you have to miss the screening with a good reason, you can write up a two-page response piece to make up.


News Presentation on Current Affairs or on Tutorial Topics

Students are expected to keep abreast of news reporting on current developments in China. The present is shaped by the past. The present also continually shapes and reshapes our understanding of the past. Past and present are not separate, but co-exist, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in tension. Students will present with their groups to the class the background (historical, social, political, and/or cultural) of the topic you are presenting, the core facts of the issue (who/what/how/when), the implications, and your critical response. The main challenge is to try to understand the current developments in light of the broader picture, and to discover the historical undercurrents that continue to shape the present. You are encouraged to conduct more research on the issues you are presenting. Imagine that you were the professor and you were to teach your students what you have learned from the materials. After the presentation, students are encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback to the presenters. 



Each week’s reading will focus on one theme/topic that will generally follow the chronological sequence. In addition to reading required texts, we will watch films and documentaries relevant to the period we cover. These visual materials aim to facilitate students’ understanding of history through human experience, and to eventually cultivate students’ personal moral engagement as well as historical consciousness and intellectual understanding of the world. The history that we are exploring is not just about dates, names, and numbers, but timeless questions such as values and choices, conflict and power, love and betrayal.

Reading materials and links to the films and documentaries will be available on Blackboard.



  • Yu, Ying-Shih (2016). Chinese History and Culture (Volume 2): Seventeenth Century through Twentieth Century. Columbia University Press.
  • Paul Evans (1988). John Fairbank and The American Understanding of Modern China.
  • Holcombe, C. (2017). A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge University Press.
  • Jonathan Spence (1991). The Search for Modern China. Norton.
  • Fairbank and Goldman (2006). China: A New History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Paul Cohen (1997). History in Three Keys. Columbia University Press.
  • J.A.G. Robers (2006). A History of China. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Grasso, Corrin, & Kort (2004). Modernization and Revolution in China.  M.E. Sharpe.


The state-sponsored history materials for foreign Chinese language learners:

  • Common Knowledge about Chinese History中國歷史常識中英對照 (2006) 國務院僑務辦公室; 漢辦。Higher Education Press (高等教育出版社)
  • 中國百年史連環畫:1840-1949 (河北少年兒童出版社)


Additional Readings

  • Alexander V. Pantsov with Steven I. Levine (2012). Mao: The Real Story. Simon & Schuster
  • Andrew G. Walder, China under Mao: A Revolution Derailed (Harvard University Press, 2017)
  • Yang Jisheng, Tombstone The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)
  • Pepper, Suzanne (1999). Civil War in China: The Political Struggle, 1945-1949. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield
  • Merle Goldman (1967). Literary Dissent in Communist China. Harvard University Press.
  • Strauss, Julia, ed. The History of the PRC (1949-1976). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Goldman, M (1981). China’s Intellectuals: Advice and Dissent, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • MacFarquhar, R (1974). The Hundred Flowers Campaign and the Chinese Intellectuals, London: Octagon Press.
  • MacFarquhar, R (1983). The Origins of the Cultural Revolution: The Great Leap Forward, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Baum, Richard and Frederick C. Teiwes, Ssu-Ch’ing (1968). The Socialist Education Movement of 1962-1966 (Berkeley: University of California Center for Chinese Studies.
  • Leese, Daniel (2011) Mao Cult: Rhetoric and Ritual in China’s Cultural Revolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Esherick, Joseph W. Paul G. Pickowicz, and Andrew G. Walder, eds (2006), The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • White, Lynn T (1989). Policies of Chaos: The Organizational Causes of Violence in China’s Cultural Revolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Brown, Jeremy (2012). City Versus Countryside in Mao’s China: Negotiating the Divide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C (1997). The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Mullaney, Thomas S (2011).  Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Luthi, Lorenz M (2008). The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Millward, James. (2009) Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (Columbia University Press)
  • Rowe, William T. (20012) China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing (Harvard University Press)
  • Pantsov, Alexander V. with Steven I. Levine (2015) Deng Xiaoping: A Revolutionary Life (Oxford University Press)
  • Bianco, Lucien. (2018) Stalin and Mao: A Comparison of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions (The Chinese University Press)
  • Bergere, Marie-Claire. (2000) Sun Yat-sen (Stanford University Press)

How to Succeed in this Course?

  • Actively engage in class discussions and activities. Please note that attending classes and finishing all assignments are necessary, but not sufficient conditions for getting a good grade. It is the quality of work that counts, just as in class it is the engagement in class activities that matter.
  • Finish all required assignments.
  • Finish reading assignments before coming to class. It will help you to contribute to discussions.
  • Take notes in class. These notes will help your final projects as well as your other research requirements later such as your graduation thesis.
  • Be attentive when other students are presenting and speaking. Share your feedback and learn from each other. We speak with the possibility of being heard; we listen with the possibility of being changed.
  • Think critically and prepare to be challenged. When you challenge others, do so respectfully and with an open mind. I will provide feedback in class on your presentations, participations, and projects. This way, everyone can benefit from others’ achievements and mistakes. The feedback is not meant to embarrass you but to help improve your learning. Please be prepared that learning can be uncomfortable and you need to step out of your comfort zone.
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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