HST271: Modern China

Instructor: Dr. D’Haeseleer: e-mail:

Course website: Webpage

Canvas website: Canvas homepage

Class meeting time:

Mon-Wed 11-12.30 (Ettinger 213)

Drop-in tutorial times

(Ettinger 300A) Note: hot tea available on request

  • Tue: 3-4
  • Wed: 1-2
  • Thu: 2.30-3.30
  • by appointment via e-mail (You can check my google calendar for general availability)
  • when my office door is open (for quick questions or to make an appointment for a longer consultation)
  • alterations to the regular scheduled hours will be announced on the course website and via Canvas.
  • What actually are “Drop-in tutorials”?

Table of Contents

(subject to change- in particular the course schedule)

About the course

Course content:

This course covers the history of China from 1600 until the present. China’s last imperial dynasty, the increasing impact of Western influence, China’s collapse, and the development of the Communist state are some of the topics we will examine in lectures, readings, and discussion. How did one of the greatest empires of the premodern world come to an end? Why was the communist revolution successful in mainland China, and how is the Chinese Communist Party still able to hang on to its power and even increase it, when most other socialist and communist regimes have crumbled? And how does China’s past help us understand its present position in the world?

Course Goals:

My promise to you: at the end of this course

  • you will be familiar with the major events in the history of China since 1600,
  • you will have a good understanding of the main ideas, theories and concepts developed and used by modern historians to study modern Chinese society.
  • you will have acquired experience in using primary source materials, such as documents in translation and images: how to interpret them, which questions to ask and where to find answers, and how to place them in the historical context.
  • you will have developed basic analytical skills as a historian and will be able to engage in informed and critical discussions about modern Chinese history.
  • you will have improved your oral and written communication skills by taking part in discussions in small and large group settings, short presentations, and by writing short pieces to generate discussion as well as longer reflection pieces and essays.

Course unit instruction:

This class is schedule to meet for 3 hours per week. Additional instructional activities for the course include attendance at specified College lectures and events, film screenings (dates and times), and required conferences with the instructor distributed across the semester. These activities will add an additional 14 hours of instruction.

forbidden city overview

All about grades

Course requirements:

  • Reading preparation: 10%
  • Active participation: 20%
  • Curating the “Digital Commons”: 15%
  • Two (brief) oral primary source presentations: 10%
  • Two essays, with possibility to rewrite: 35%
  • One response paper OR two reflections on “what’s in the news”: 10%
  • Extra credit pop quizzes: 3% (final grade for the course not to exceed 100%)
    • Note: there will be no other extra credit assignments.

Please note: I will keep a grade on file for assignments, but I want you to focus on the feedback I provide. If you need to know a grade before I release them through Canvas’s gradebook, you can always come to drop-in tutorials and ask about your standing in the course or a particular assignment.

Due Dates

  • October 12: First essay
  • October 12: “In the news” analysis 1 (if not choosing “Response paper”)
  • November 28: Second essay
  • December 3: “In the news” analysis 2, OR Response paper

Late work:

Deadlines are important for you, and for me: I space deadlines so that you have enough time to complete the assignments and work with the feedback on earlier assignments. Deadlines also help me to stay on top of the grading throughout the semester, so my feedback can be prompt.

Missing deadlines means you are crowding your submissions closer together, and I may not be able to turn around work as soon as you would like, or in a timely manner for you to apply to the next assignment.

Therefore, I require you to stick to the deadlines. Late work will be penalized, with the deduction of one step in the lettergrade per 24 hours after the deadline: an A essay will thus receive A- for being up to 24 hours late, B+ for up to 48 hours late, etc.


If you notice that you will be unable to finish a particular assignment by the deadline, you can request an extension up to 24 hours in advance of the deadline. See me in class, drop by at my office, or e-mail, and give me a new deadline which fits your schedule better. I will confirm this new deadline in writing.

You cannot request a second extension for the same grade component. If you have trouble meeting the new deadline, too, you will need to talk with me, so we can address what the underlying problem is and how I/the College can help you. This does not mean you fail. It only means that I really care about your performance as a student and your wellbeing as a human. To help you find the right balance, we need to communicate.

If you fall ill suddenly, or are otherwise unable to submit your work by the deadline due to circumstances beyond your control you may not be able to ask for an extension in advance. In that case, let me know as soon as reasonable, and obtain documentation, for instance a note from the Dean of Academic Affairs, or the Health Center, to support your case, and we can talk about a new deadline, or I can waive the late penalty.

Incomplete Grade:

Incomplete grades: Please check the College policy. Note that YOU must request an incomplete grade for the course, I cannot initiate this process.

Grading guidelines:

  • A= strong
  • B= satisfactory
  • C= weak
  • D= very weak
  • F= unsatisfactory

great wall of china and undulating hills

Useful information

Required texts:

Spence, Jonathan. The Search for Modern China. 3d ed. New York: Norton and Company, 2013.

Chen, Janet et al., eds. The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. New York: Norton and Company, 2014.

Both texts are available via the bookstore and we will use them extensively this semester, so get your own copies! You must get the most recent third edition, as there are significant changes with earlier editions, leading to confusion and problems with (literally) being on the same page.

If obtaining these texts is a financial burden, come and talk with me, so we can find a solution.

Additional materials will be made availabe via the course website, via Canvas and via Trexler Library course reserves.

Language of instruction:

The entire course is conducted in English, all materials are provided in English and all work will be submitted in English.

Attendance and participation:

The success of this course depends on your active presence and participation in this “learning community”. You cannot participate if you are not present, therefore being present and participating is mandatory. Being absent excessively or habitually not being prepared for class will result in a failing grade for the “Active Participation” component of your grade.

See also Active Participation

Electronic devices policy:

  1. I urge you to NOT use an electronic device in class. You do not need a laptop or tablet in class for this course to do well. Studies show that your laptop use distracts those around you,1 and students who use laptops end up with a lower grade on average compared to those who don’t.2
  1. You may use a laptop or tablet to take notes in class, pull up course materials, reading notes or internet-based resources connected to the class contents.
  2. If you use the electronic device improperly (e.g. visiting websites not connected to class contents, instant messaging, checking e-mail etc.) you will be asked to leave the classroom for the remainder of that class period: clearly you have more important things to do than focusing on this course at that time, and such use of electronic devices not only distracts you, but also those around you.
  3. If you see a classmate using an electronic device improperly, you have the authority to ask them to stop this.
  4. I may at times ask that all electronic devices are put away so we can focus on a specific issue.
  5. Cell phones are not allowed in class. (see point 2 above)
  6. This Electronic Devices Policy is open for debate. Changes can only be made after discussion with the entire class, and with unanimous approval.

What if class is cancelled?

In the event I cannot make it to class, due to illness or other circumstances beyond my control, class will be cancelled, and may be rescheduled at a mutually convenient date and time. I will send a message via Canvas, e-mail and post an announcement on the course website. If you commute to campus, please check your e-mail before setting off on a long journey that may be wasted, or set up an alert system with your classmates to pass the message via your preferred medium (text, WhatsApp, Facebook,…).

Accommodations for disabilities and special needs:

To ensure that you get the most out of this course, I welcome accommodations if you have a disability or special needs. Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services. I look forward to learning how I can best meet your educational needs.

Academic Integrity Code (AIC) and academic (dis)honesty:

Please read in detail and with great attention through the College’s policy. In case of suspected dishonesty, I will follow the College’s policy, and report the offense. The penalty varies on the seriousness of the offence, but you will at least receive a 0 for that particular assignment. May I in particular draw your attention to this sentence: “The College puts the burden of responsibility on students for knowing what plagiarism is, and then making the effort necessary to avoid it.”3

Weekly Schedule

The weekly schedule can be found on the course website under the tab Class schedule

We will read at least one chapter of the Spence book, and the accompanying Documentary Collection per class. I am aware that the reading load for this class is heavy, but your predecessors have shown it can be done, and it can be done in style!

If you struggle to keep up, come and chat with me during drop-in tutorials (see top for details), so I can help you to identify effective and winning strategies. Top tip: if you are spending less than 1 hour of reading per class, you should begin by increasing the time you allocate to class prep.

Do Your Homework, by Cat Branchman

Detailed information about the assignments and grade components

Reading preparation

  • Note cards with questions and quotes for discussion: One (1) notecard per student per class.

Dropped off at instructor’s desk at beginning of class; please add your name. I will shuffle the cards and pull questions/quotations at random (without revealing your name). Quality of the questions/discussion points is taken into account on whether you get pass/fail. Feedback will be provided so you will improve the types of questions you ask.

  1. Questions should be analytical questions: not merely questions that request information, but questions that enquire after assumptions, or try to tease out connections, contrasts and paradoxes, including with material from earlier in the course, or in the #readthis category on the website, also available under the tab In the news. The “In the news” items should not be the only material you ask questions about, there has to be a link with the history we’re studying in that particular class period.
  2. You may also formulate your question as a hypothesis, which we can analyze and discuss as a group.
  3. Quotes from primary or secondary sources: include a brief explanation why you want us to focus for a moment on this particular quote, why did you find it interesting/startling/revealing etc.

In addition, you can use your card to ask questions about parts of the material for that class where you need more explanation from me to help you understand the text better. I do request that you look up some basic information (e.g. through Credo Reference via Trexler Library). Be clear in what exactly is keeping you back from gaining a better understanding. This type of question does not count towards the assignment. You can also ask this question in class, or e-mail me. You should never hesitate to ask for clarification, but it is not what you are graded on for this component.

Skills trained: analytical reading and thinking, making connections

Active participation

Active participation requires more than just being in the room.

Before class:

  • Prepare for class by doing the assigned readings and taking notes.
  • Make a summary or list of what you think are the most important points of the chapter(s) or text(s) for that day.
  • Mark passages that you don’t (quite) understand, and be ready to explain precisely what the question is. Likely you are not alone!

In class

  • Take part in the discussions!
  • When I ask you, “what did you think about the reading?” this is not a question you can simply answer by “I like it” or “I did not like it”. If you have read the materials, you will be able to say something meaningful about the text, about how you see it fit in with the other materials. At the very least, your reading notes will give you a couple of ideas: what is interesting? What is revealing? What is strange?
  • I treat this course as a seminar course, not a lecture series, so you will need to verbally participate in every class discussion. Having two (or more) points prepared in advance, based on the readings, will make it very easy to lead or enter into the discussion.
  • You should make an active contribution AT LEAST once per two sessions. I will provide opportunities to shift discussion into new topics, when you can jump in with for instance “This is something completely different, but I noticed x”.
  • If several weeks into the semester, a critical number of students are not actively participating, I reserve the right to assign mandatory, formal group presentations.
  • “Filling airtime” with contributions that wander aimlessly off-topic does not count toward active participation. You may of course draw on your personal perspective and experiences, but it needs to remain connected to the topic of that session.
  • Group work and small non-graded tasks/assignments count towards participation.
  • Posting to the readthis section with brief comment on why you think it is interesting for our course and how we can discuss this in class.

Top tip: if you feel uncomfortable speaking in front of a large group, please read the document This course is hard, for a few tips and quick-win strategies that work for most courses.

Skills trained: analytical reading, collaboration, oral communication

Curating the “Digital Commons”

  • Summary of class (contents, discussion, lecture, main contents of the textbook covered): what are the key things to remember from this session for a good understanding of Chinese history?
  • Time line: per chapter you will select 4-5 moments or time-spans to highlight on our collaborative timeline for the website. A well-curated timeline entry requires you think carefully about how your selection connects.
  • Collaborative google map: identify and add a marker to the map, and add a brief comment: why is this place included? In which chapter can we read more?
  • Editing and providing feedback on fellow students’ digital work throughout the semester.

Get friendly with the DLA team; they will come to demonstrate how to do this, and all the tools are easy to use.

You can sign up via the Canvas page for each of the three aspects. You will do one summary, one timeline and one storymap session during the semester, as part of a team of three for that particular class. You will undoubtedly collaborate, so get to know your “team mates” and find a way to work together digitally if you cannot find a good time to work together in person. Some examples are Quip, the google suite, slack, github, often with a free basic account or a free account through your .edu address.

You will post your materials within two days after class (Monday session –> online by Wednesday 5pm; Wednesday session –> online by Friday 5pm). You may make your contributions before class and adjust afterwards. After the deadline, you will receive feedback from me and from your classmates, and you can choose to respond (rewrite/add/drop info) for another 7 days.

You will grade your own work, based on a rubric provided, with a justification for your grade. You will also grade your team members, including for professionalism, that is: the ability to work as a team member in a respectful and timely manner.

Skills trained: analysis and making a summary, collaboration, basic digital tools, working with deadlines.

Two (brief) oral primary source presentations

A very brief (five minute) oral presentation in class, twice in the semester. Your task is to connect the document to the other course material of that session (e.g the chapter from the textbook), explore how we can read this as a primary source, and raise questions for further discussion within class, for instance about issues it raises to the rest of the course. (You do not have to know the answer to the questions you ask, unless it concerns facts we have already covered in earlier chapters.)

I will meet in advance with you to ensure you’re doing fine with the preparations. I will lead at least one session, to give you one possible example of how to do this.

I will post a roster on Canvas after our first class.

You can select a primary source from the orange Documentary Collection. You may select a document that is not set on the course schedule as a class reading, but remember you will have to provide a bit more background for your fellow students then.

You can also present on one of the materials from the response paper list which is associated with the chapter/material for that particular day. You may present on materials you are writing your response paper about, as a “test run” for the paper, and incorporate the feedback in your response paper.

If you are ill on the day you have been assigned, or otherwise cannot make it to class (with documented excuse), and I cannot reschedule you due to time-constraints, you will write a brief analysis of the source and post it online so your classmates can provide feedback or ask questions. Use the category “Primary Source”. Post within 1 week of the original scheduled date, unless we agree in advance a different date. You have the option to add password protection to your post.

Skills trained: analytical reading, making a summary, oral communication

Two essays

Two essays on questions that require a longer, analytical answer. Both essays are of equal weight. Details of the question will be made available nearer the time.

You can rewrite them for a better grade, but only if you made a solid first attempt. This means: full paragraphs and sentences, and references as required to comply with the AIC. You cannot simply hand in a bullet-point draft or a nearly blank page (or no submission) and only submit an essay for the rewrite.

For each essay you can pick from different questions which encourage you to show your command of the course contents up to that point, drawing broadly on materials and across a wide timeframe. The questions may involve reading through and responding to additional material, such as brief documents or articles.

Skills trained: analytical reading, thinking and writing, writing clear and concise prose.

One response paper OR two reflections on “what’s in the news”

  1. An 800-1000 word response paper, written about a film, book or other longer item. You can write as many as you like and submit them anytime before Nov. 30, 5pm, only the highest one will count.
    • There is a list of materials you can choose from, and they are available either in digital format through the Trexler Library catalogue, or as physical items on one-day loan at the front desk.
    • The list will continue to be updated throughout the semester as I locate more materials, new items will be added at the bottom of the page and with the date added.
    • A response paper is not a book review or report, but a more personal reflection on how you see this piece in relation to the other materials we discussed in class. If you are unsure how to write a response paper, you may find this information useful:
  2. Two 300-500word reflections on item(s) posted in the readthis category. Post the first one by October 12, 5pm (on Canvas); the second one by Nov. 30.

You can try your luck and take part in option 1 and 2. Only the option with the highest grade will be used to calculate your final grade for the course.

Skills trained: analytical reading, making connections, written communication

Extra credit pop quizzes

  • At beginning of class, there may be a brief quiz on:
    • reading materials for this class
    • contents of last class (readings, discussion, lecture etc. so take notes!)
  • Format: multiple choice, true/false, 1 sentence answer questions.
  • Pass/fail: you either get the point, or you don’t.
  • Not showing up to class or not attempting the quiz = no point; no make-up quizzes.

Skills trained: reading comprehension, revision, recall.

  3. Emphasis in original. (last visited August 25, 2017).]