The Making of an Economic Superpower: China since 1850

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Melanie Meng Xue SAR (Room tbc)


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. Lectures will either be recorded or given in the form of live webinars.

This year, while we are planning for most teaching to be delivered in-person, it is possible that some or all may have to be delivered virtually.

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);Richard von Glahn, The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century Cambridge University Press, 2016; Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence, China, Europe and the making of the modern world economy Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 2000.


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.

While we hope to be in a position to offer in-person assessment for the ST exam, it remains possible that examination for this module will be online.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 43

Average class size 2020/21: 9

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information