East Asia in the Age of Imperialism, 1839-1945

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Antony Best SAR 3.14


This course is available on the MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


There are no formal pre-requisites for this course, but some knowledge of the international history of East Asia would be useful.

Course content

The course looks at the origins and the political, strategic, economic and cultural consequences of the arrival of Western imperialism in East Asia. Subjects covered by the course include the clash between the Westphalian and Sinocentric international orders; the opium wars; the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate; the Japanese, Korean and Chinese responses to the arrival of the West; the history of Western imperialism in China and the rise of Chinese nationalism; the rise of Japanese imperialism; the Russo-Japanese War and its consequences; pan-Asianism, race and immigration; the Chinese revolution of 1911-12; the rise of intra-Asian trade; the effect of Wilsonian and communist internationalism; Japan's move towards aggressive expansion in the 1930s; the outbreak of the Pacific War.


Students will engage with seminar content in group meetings, including 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 MT and the LT.


Formative coursework

Students will be required to write three essays over the academic year. The second essay will be assessed and the third essay will be a mock examination.

Indicative reading

A detailed reading list will be issued at the start of the course, but the following provide a useful introduction to the themes, events and historiography:

  • Shigeru Akita (ed.), Gentlemanly Capitalism, Imperialism and Global History (Basingstoke, 2002);
  • Warren Cohen, (ed), Pacific Passage: The Study of American-East Asian Relations on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century (New York, 1996);
  • Merle Goldman & Andrew Gordon, (ed.), Historical Perspectives on Contemporary East Asia (Cambridge, Mass. 2000);
  • Akira Iriye, Japan and the Wider World: From the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present (London, 1997);
  • Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China (1999);
  • Chushichi Tsuzuki, The Pursuit of Power in Modern Japan 1825-1995 (Oxford, 2000).


Essay (25%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Take-home assessment (75%) 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: 25

Average class size 2019/20: 12

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information