The History for Modern China’s Foreign Relations

Semester: Spring


Chihyun Chang, Office: Room 204, School of Humanities. E-mail:

Credit: 2


This module is designed to give students a chronological understanding of the course of Sino-foreign relations from the late eighteenth century to the mid twentieth century. It starts by introducing students to an overview of the first contact between the development of the Celestial Court of the Qinglong Reign, through to the decline of the Manchu empire and the downfall of the Northern Government, finally ending with an understanding of the collapse of the Nationalist Government in 1949. By presenting an underlying historical narrative through the module arching across almost two hundred years, it aims to provide students with a solid grounding in modern Sino-Foreign history and an insight into the complexity and continuity of a country with a radically different cultural and historical heritage to Europe and America. By emphasizing Chinese perspectives of history, this course is primarily designed as a corrective to and updating of John King Fairbank’s seminal Impact-Response framework for interpreting Chinese history, which has played a dominant role in Western historiographies of China over the past 50 years.


The overall aim for the module is to give students a postgraduate-level introduction to research on modern Chinese history and contemporary Chinese studies. This unit aims to:

  • advance students’ understanding of the notion of the Middle Kingdom and its historical background;
  • explain the reasons why China found it difficult to adapt itself after its collision with Western Modernity;
  • consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of China’s modernising projects; and
  • equip students with an understanding of the continuities of China’s past and its current and future development.

In the classes, we will use a variety of approaches including general discussions around a theme, student-led discussions and debates.  This course will teach you historical methodologies, which will develop your transferable skills and ability to:

  • research relevant information using different resources,
  • present an argument either verbally or in written form relating to unit content; and
  • and debate new and diverse issues from different perspectives.


Essay Topics

Explain why the CCP took the path of math mobilisation after the First Rectification Movement from 1941-1942.

Why did the CCP’s cooperation with the Nationalists break down in 1927?

Analyse the different and shared causes of the First and Second Opium Wars.

To what extent did the Second Sino-Japanese War both impede and facilitate China’s wartime nation-building?

What were the causes of the Nationalist-Communist Cooperation of 1923-27 and 1937-45?

To what degree did the foreign powers influence the outcome of the confrontation between the Nationalist government and the Beijing government during 1923-29?

How the New Policy reforms both stimulate and impede the Revolution of 1911?

Why did the Qing Court’s constitutional monarchy fail?

To what extent did non-military dynamics influence the course of the Civil War of 1945-49?

Given that the military deadlock in Manchuria lasted for three years, why did the Nationalist government suddenly become much weaker after November 1948?

Weekly Sessions

Week Topic
1 Introduction & The Theories of Modern Chinese History
2 The Two Opium Wars and the Treaty System
3 The Self Strengthening Movement
4 The First Sino Japanese War and the Boxer War
5 The New Policies Reform and the Constitutional Monarchy
6 The Reorganisation Loan and the 21 Demands
7 The Participation of WWI and the Washington Conference
8 The Nanjing Decade
9 The War of Resistance
10 The Collapse of Nationalist China & Final Exam