Modernity and the State in East Asia: China, Japan and Korea since 1840

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Antony Best SAR 3.14


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

May be taken by 3rd years where regulations permit.

Course content

The course is concerned with providing a comparative political history of the major East Asian countries, China, Japan and Korea, in the period from the Opium War to the 1990s. The course is concerned with providing a comparative political history of the major East Asian countries, China, Japan and Korea, in the period from the Opium War to the 1990s. It begins by looking at the impact of the arrival of Western imperialism in the mid-nineteenth century and the respective approaches taken by Japan, Korea and China in response to this encroachment. For Japan, it covers the rise of the Meiji state, the beginnings of constitutional government and the development of Japanese imperialism. This naturally is linked with the study of Korea's failed efforts to maintain its independence; in regard to China it deals with the attempts by the Qing state to introduce reforms and the final collapse of Imperial China. It then deals with the difficulties provoked by modernization and nationalism in the first-half of the twentieth century, taking in the rise and fall of Taisho democracy and the drift towards fascism in Japan and the Guomindang's revolution and state-building and the birth of the Chinese Communist Party in China. The course then concentrates on the aftermath of the Second World War for East Asia, studying the Chinese Civil War and the emergence of the People's Republic, the course and legacy of the US occupation of Japan and the formation of the two Koreas. The last part of the course covers the development of the People's Republic under Mao and Deng, the rise of Japan as an economic superpower and the emergence of South Korea and Taiwan as economic powers.


Students will engage with lecture content through recorded lectures and external content, as well as through live Q&A sessions.

Students will engage with class content in a variety of ways, including live sessions, small group meetings, asynchronous moodle posts, and short presentations.

This course has an online option in addition to being taught in the class room.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6 of the Michaelmas and the Lent terms. 

Formative coursework

Students will be required to submit three 2000 word essays in all and to sit a mock exam.

Indicative reading

A detailed reading list will be issued at the start of the course, but the following survey texts are essential: W G Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan; P Duus (Ed), The Cambridge History of Japan: The Twentieth Century; L Eastman (Ed), The Nationalist Era in China, 1927-1949; J L McLain, Japan: A Modern History; R MacFarquhar (Ed), The Politics of China, 1949-1989; A Buzo, The Making of Modern Korea; J Spence, The Search for Modern China.


Take-home assessment (100%) in the ST.

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: International History

Total students 2019/20: 49

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills