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

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Antony Best, SAR 3.14


This course is available on the BA in History, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and History, BSc in Politics and History and BSc in Social Anthropology. 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.


10 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 9 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures and 1 hour of classes in the ST.

There will be a reading week in 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.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2021/22: 37

Average class size 2021/22: 10

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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