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The Past in the Present: Nation-building in Modern China (10 EC)


Admission requirements

In enrollment for this course, students from the MA Asian Studies have priority. A limited number of places is available for students of the MA International Relations. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not from the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact their co-ordinator of studies.


A single thread connects late Qing reformers such as Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, Republican revolutionaries like Sun Yat-sen, and Communist leaders from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping: the quest to build a strong, modern state and restore the country to greatness. This course explores the key events, ideas, and actors that drove this ongoing national project from the Self-Strengthening Movement of the late Qing reformers through to the present-day Chinese Dream of National Rejuvenation. Organized thematically, students will be challenged to pursue parallels, continuities, and connections across China’s modern history and contemporary politics, examining how past experiences have informed Chinese politics and identities, and conversely, how present-day goals have shaped Chinese interpretations and images of the past. Key themes in this course on Modern China include nationalism and national identity; territory and nationalities; revolution and war; science and technology; diplomacy and international law; visions of regionalism and global governance, and China-Europe relations. Students will be encouraged to analyze, compare, and connect primary sources to academic scholarship on modern and contemporary China from various disciplines.

Course objectives

Participants in this course will develop and acquire the following:

  • A critical understanding of key themes and debates in the historiography of modern Chinese history

  • An understanding of Chinese perspectives on China’s modern history and relationships between China’s modern history and contemporary Chinese politics

  • Improved cognitive, communicative, and transferable academic skills, including skills for critically evaluating and contextualizing primary sources and key scholarly readings, assessing and contributing to academic debates, and reflexive learning.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Attendance and participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to attend all sessions. It is up to the discretion of the convener of the course whether or not any missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method


  • Attendance/weekly posts/assignments

  • Term Paper


The final grade consists of the weighted average of the two course components:

  • Participation/weekly posts/assignments: 50 %

  • Term Paper (approx. 4,000 words): 50 %

The overall course grade is the weighted average between the two components listed above; however, students must receive a minimum score of 5.50 (=6) for each component to pass the course.

The course is an integrated whole. All categories must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Students must receive a minimum score of 5.50 (=6) for each component in order to pass the course. If the grade for the Term Paper component is “5.49” (=5) or lower, a new term paper may be submitted. The topic and due date of the new paper will be determined in consultation with the instructor. The grade for the new paper will replace the grade for the original paper. There are no resit opportunities for the Attendance/Participation component.

Inspection and feedback

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

A Course Handbook denoting mandatory course readings will be posted on Brightspace before the start of the course. Additional information (powerpoints, useful websites, etc.) will also be found on Brightspace over the course of the semester.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof