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History: East Asia


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies.


This survey course has the ambition of narrating the modern history of the East Asian region, not as a bundle of three different national histories (China, Japan, Korea), but rather as collection of divergent responses to shared historical challenges. The course covers roughly the history from the mid-nineteenth century through to the present. The rise of the modern nation state is one ordering principle that structures this survey of regional history. The belief in progress is another motor that spurred regional history into the development of diverse interpretations of modernity. Then and now, modernization is a rallying cry, but the tensions and upheaval that came with the modernization drive led to social and political revolutions, from fascist to communist, that affected and continue to affect the region.

Course objectives

In its most general terms, this course seeks to familiarize students with the modern history of East Asia and offer them a historical context for understanding East Asia today. This entails that students will have a good grasp of the general chronology of the modern era in East Asia; they will have a broad understanding of both the history of the constituent parts (i.e. China, Japan, Korea), and of the transnational dynamics that shaped the region. On a more methodological level, students will be encouraged to question received wisdom and challenge established knowledge by critically engaging apparently familiar concepts from new angles.

Weekly schedule

  • February 5: “Course introduction & background”
    • February 12: “Internal Contradictions, External Pressures” (1800-1860)
     Textbook chapter 5, pp.138—71.
    • February 19: “Facing a brave new world: Responding to new challenges” (1860-1895)
     Textbook chapter 6, pp.172—207.
    • February 26: “Embracing reform: too little too late” (1895-1912)
     Textbook chapter 7, pp.208—43.
    • March 5: “Nationalisms stirring: reinventing the nation” (1910-1931)
     Textbook chapter 8, pp.244—79.
    • March 12: “The Age of Extremes: war and dislocation” (1931-1945)
     Textbook chapter 9, pp.280—304.
    • March 19: “Colonial modernity, developmental colonialism and total war mobilization” (1920-45)
     Textbook chapter 9, pp.304—17.
    • April 2: “Postwar order and disorder: occupation, revolution and civil war” (1945-1953)
     Textbook chapter 10, pp.318—55.
    • April 9: “Cold War nation-building: reconstruction and ideological rigidity” (1953-1979)
     Textbook chapter 11, pp.356—91.
    • April 16: “East Asia’s miracle economies” (1950-1970)
    • April 23: “Détente and liberalization” (1972-1992)
     Textbook chapter 12, pp.392—427.
    • April 30: “Changing state – society relations” (1972-1989)
    • May 7: “Globalizing East Asia: Staring into the future” (1992—)
     Textbook chapter 13, pp.428—65.
    • May 14: “The Korean Conundrum”


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

One two hour lecture per week; bi-weekly tutorials.

Attending lectures and tutorials is compulsory. If you are not able to attend a lecture or tutorial, please inform the tutor of the course. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the final exam or essay.

Assessment method

  • Tutorials 30%

  • Midterm Exam 30%

  • Final Exam 40%

If the final grade is insufficient (lower than a 6), there is the possibility of retaking the full 70% of the exam material, replacing both the earlier mid- and endterm grades. No resit for the tutorials is possible.


Blackboard will be used. Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

  • Jonathan Lipman, Barbara Molony, Michael Robinson, Modern East Asia: An Integrated History (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2011)

  • Additional articles for critical essays.


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University for this course. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


A course syllabus will be posted on blackboard in the course of the first semester.