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Regional Trends: The Rise of China


Admission requirements

Required course:

At least one 200-level course from the same track of the World Politics Major.


This course aims to provide a critical examination of key issues and processes related to the international relations of China. The focus of the course is on developments since the end of the Cold War, with a particular emphasis on China’s rising and its various implications for international politics up to date (e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic).

As protestors in the summer of 1989 gathered in Tiananmen Square to demand greater political rights, it appeared as though the changes that swept Europe with the collapse of Soviet Union were being replicated in China. More than two decades on, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) remains in power, having successfully negotiated the end of the Cold War and built the foundations for China’s rise as a Great Power in the world. China is now integrated into the world economy and has played important political roles. Yet, China meanwhile seems to be vulnerable as well. Many Western observers have been expecting the collapse of People’s Republic of China (PRC), as they argue that the regime lacks legitimacy since it is not built upon an electoral/democratic system. The riots/protests that took place in Tibet in 2008, in Xingjian in 2009, in Hong Kong in 2014 and 2019, as well as the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020 to a certain degree reflect the fragility of the PRC. As Susan Shirk notes, China is a ‘fragile superpower’. In addition, China’s rise appears threatening to many people. Foreigners often worry that China’s rapid development will present a threat to the stability of the current world order. Military and political tensions between China and Taiwan could undermine the stability of the Northeast Asian region; China’s historical animosity towards Japan endures. China has continued stepping up land reclamation on disputed Islands in South China Sea. Other countries, especially the United States that is increasingly anxious about losing its pre-eminence, are often outspoken in proclaiming the imminent rise of a Chinese pole on the global power-map. Today, as people around the world fall ill, global markets convulse, and supply chains collapse, COVID-19 may also reorder international politics as we know it. Thus, this course aims to contemplate the following three questions by examining China’s politics and international relations, both in theoretical and empirical terms:

  • Is China’s rise a real phenomenon, and what are the characteristics of China’s rise, if any?

  • Is the rise of China an opportunity or a threat, and how should we analyse it?

  • Are we moving away from U.S.-centric world order to a more China-centric world order?

This course will draw considerable insight from international relations and international political theory to make sophisticated and nuanced analysis of China’s ascent. The course is organised around three parts, 12 sessions. Part 1 (Session 1, 2, 3, 4) offers a general introduction to China’s politics and international relations including its worldview, strategic thinking, and the Chinese School of International Relations. Part 2 (Session 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) aims to deliberate questions such as whether China’s rise a real phenomenon and what the characteristics of China’s rise are? It will examine China’s hard and soft power as well as challenges facing contemporary China (i.e. stability and unity). Part 3 (Session 10, 11, 12, 13, 14) is designed to consider China’s foreign relationships with different countries/regions around the world over various issues. The countries/regions being discussed include Japan, Taiwan, Africa, the European Union, and the United States.

  • Session 1: China: A Fragile Superpower? An Introduction to China’s International Relations

  • Session 2: China’s Conceptions of World Order

  • Session 3: China’s Strategic Thinking

  • Session 4: Chinese School of International Relations

  • Session 5: China’s Hard Power

  • Session 6: China’s Soft Power

  • Session 7: Critical Issues in Contemporary China 1: Stability

  • Session 8: Critical Issues in Contemporary China 2: Sustainable Development

  • Session 9: Critical Issues in Contemporary China 3: China’s Territorial Unity

  • Session 10: Shadows of the Past and Power Struggles ‘to be or not to be’ – Sino-Japan Relations

  • Session 11: The Birth of ‘Taiwanese’ and Its Future – China-Taiwan Relations

  • Session 12: ‘The Dragon’s Gift’? – China in Africa

  • Session 13: (Why) is Human Rights an Issue? – Sino-EU Relations

  • Session 14: Concluding Session: The Coming Conflict with China? – Sino-U.S. Relations

Course Objectives

In this course, students will learn valuable theoretical, methodological and analytical skills enabling them to interpret key issues in the international relations of China. By the end of the course each student is expected to develop the following skills:

Understanding of China’s International Relations:

  • Critically identify and discuss key issues surrounding the history and development of China’s international relations;

  • A critical awareness of the key debates concerning the rise of China;

  • Identify and critically evaluate key issues pertaining to China’s international relations.

Knowledge of International Relations Theories:

  • Critically reflect upon key theories and concepts of IR theories using a variety of case studies related to China’s international relations;

  • Apply conceptual tools to analyse key events and processes in the international relations of China.

Intellectual Skills:

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts on China’s international relations, and participate in class debates;

  • Display the confidence to present their arguments in relevant academic contexts (seminars, workshops, conferences) for specialists in IR of China.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course is taught through two-hour seminars. During the course of the seminar students are expected to take part in both large and small group discussions; participate in seminar discussions; present and defend their ideas within an academic setting; and take part in group projects. The role of the instructor is to ensure the efficient running of the discussion. Each seminar has a ‘required reading’ list that must be read in advance of each seminar. Students are also recommended to read some of the items listed under ‘suggested reading’ prior to each seminar and use the extended list as a starting point in their preparation for essay writing.

Assessment Method

  • Participation 15%

  • Presentations 15%

  • Book review 30%

  • Final research paper 40%

Reading list

The acquisition of the following book is required. Readings outside of this book will be provided electronically through blackboard.

  • Andrew J. Nathan & A. Scobell (2014) China’s Search for Security (Columbia University Press)


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Yih-Jye Hwang,