What you'll learn

  • What were the foreign models for a Chinese republic?

  • How the modern Chinese state was built on the ruins of the previous empire.

  • The impact of China’s war against Japan.

  • How China’s relationship with the U.S. follows established patterns.

  • The role of leaders like Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao Zedong.

Course description

What does it mean to be modern? What constitutes modern politics, modern institutions, a modern military, and modern infrastructure? In this period of great excitement and experimentation, the country is asking itself: How do you become modern and remain true to the Chinese national identity?

This course will explore enduring issues around Chinese modernity, with a focus on the creation of the modern Chinese state during the Republican era. You’ll learn about China’s war against Japan, about long-term patterns in U.S.-China relations, and about the role of individual leaders against the backdrop of historical circumstance.

Ultimately, you’ll learn different ways to study and understand history. We explore this period thematically rather than chronologically, providing you with a better understanding of how political context influences the interpretation of history.


Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

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