The Making of an Economic Superpower: China since 1850

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Kent Deng SAR 5.17


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Economic History, BSc in Economic History and Geography, BSc in Economic History with Economics, BSc in Economics, BSc in Economics and Economic History and BSc in Economics with Economic History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course examines major socio-economic changes in China from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. It pays special attention to China's bumpy path towards an economic superpower status which had been obvious by the beginning of the 21st century.

This course examines institutional changes whereby economic transformations occurred. The main landmarks and key issues include (1) success of the Qing economy, (2) decline of the Qing state, (3) the rise of local military leaders, (4) civil wars, (5) external threats and invasions, (6) rise of nationalism and communism, (7) economic reforms and modernization, (8) growth performance over time, (9) consequences of post-Mao take-off.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual classes and flipped-lectures delivered as short online videos. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to produce 2 essays during the two teaching terms.

Indicative reading

Deng, Kent, Mapping China’s Growth and Development in the Long Run, 221 BC to 2020 (London: World Scientific Press and Imperial College Press); Naughton. B., The Chinese economy, transitions and growth (MIT Press); Spence, J.D The search for modern China (New York : W.W. Norton); Deng, Kent, China’s Political Economy in Modern Times: Changes and Economic Consequences, 1800–2000. Routledge, London and New York. 2011.


Exam (70%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (10%, 1500 words) in the MT and LT.
Essay (10%, 1500 words) in the ST.
Class participation (10%) in the MT, LT and ST.

Coursework of two take home essays of 1,500 words (inclusive of bibliography and footnotes) to be completed independently by each individual student. The essays should develop arguments, analysis and evidences on a specific research question (or a set of research questions) chosen by the student in consultation with teachers and should be related to the course materials covered. While it is essential to demonstrate one’s grasp of the course material, students are encouraged to develop their own insights and arguments going beyond the course material.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2019/20: 78

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information