History of Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China, 1949-2008

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Qingfei Yin


This course is available on the BA in History, 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.

Course content

China’s reemergence as a global player raises important questions about the origins of the country’s foreign policy and the impact of its international strategy on the Asia-Pacific region and the world. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the history of foreign relations of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from 1949 to the early 21st century. In particular, students will assess competing explanations, such as historical experience, domestic politics, and the international system, for key events and policies.

The seminar combines a chronological and thematic approach. It begins with two important historical legacies of China’s interactions with the outside world: the “tributary system” and the “century of humiliation.” It then traces the foreign relations of the PRC from the Maoist era to the post-Maoist period, with special attention to the country’s involvement in important regional conflicts, entanglement with the great powers, and relations with the Third World. The last part of the course introduces students to some new approaches to the studies of the history of PRC’s foreign relations, such as historical memory, borderlands, migration, and global history.

The weekly readings will be drawn from both scholarly works and translated primary sources. Upon completion of the course, students should be able to critically examine how the past shapes China’s relations with the world in present day.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6 of the MT and the LT.

Formative coursework

One formative source analysis in the MT; one formative essay, 2000-2500 words, in the LT.

Indicative reading

Secondary Sources

Brazinsky, Gregg A. Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry During the Cold War. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Chen, Jian. Mao’s China and the Cold War. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Fravel, M. Taylor. Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial Disputes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Friedman, Jeremy. Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

Garver, John W. China’s Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Hunt, Michael H. The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Lüthi, Lorenz M. The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Niu, Jun. From Yan’an to the World: The Origin and Development of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy. Translated by Steven I. Levine. Norwalk, CT: EastBridge, 2003.

Khan, Sulmaan Wasif. Muslim, Trader, Nomad, Spy: China’s Cold War and the People of the Tibetan Borderlands. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

Radchenko, Sergey. Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962-1967. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

Shen, Zhihua, and Yafeng Xia. A Misunderstood Friendship: Mao Zedong, Kim Il-Sung, and Sino-North Korean Relations, 1949-1976. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020.

Westad, Odd Arne. Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Zhai, Qiang. China and the Vietnam Wars, 19501-1975. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Zhang, Xiaoming. Deng Xiaoping’s Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Zhou, Taomo. Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia and the Cold War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019.

Primary Sources Collections

Chinese Foreign Policy Database. Wilson Center Digital Archive. History and Public Policy Program. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/theme/chinese-foreign-policy-database.

China: Trade, Politics and Culture 1793-1980: Sources from the School of Oriental and African Studies and the British Library, London. Adam Matthew Digital.


Essay (35%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3000 words) in the ST.
Source analysis (15%) in the MT.
Class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.

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: International History

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Capped 2020/21: 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