East Asia in the Age of Imperialism, 1839-1945

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Antony Best, SAR 3.14


This course is available on the MA in Asian and International History (LSE and NUS), MA in Modern History, 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.


10 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the AT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the WT. 1 hour of classes in the ST.

There will be a reading week in the Autumn and the Winter Terms.

Formative coursework

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

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).


Exam (75%, duration: 3 hours) in the spring exam period.
Essay (25%, 3000 words) in the WT.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2022/23: 25

Average class size 2022/23: 12

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: One Unit

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