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Modern Chinese History at the Margin(s): Manchuria in the Twentieth Century


Admission requirements

Successful completion of BA-1 College Modern Chinese History.


Standard historical narratives about China’s transition from empire to nation-state in the twentieth century often focus on the capital city of Beijing (later Nanjing) and coastal treaty-port cities, especially Shanghai. Although landmark events and developments such as the May Fourth Movement in Beijing and the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai marked important turning points in modern Chinese history, the vastness and diversity of China calls into question the representativeness of such narratives. What did this transition look like from China’s periphery? How do the histories of borderlands and peripheries contribute to the development of modern China? These questions guide our exploration of key themes in modern Chinese history—foreign imperialism, Chinese nationalism, modern state formation—from the perspective of a peripheral region.

For a narrower geographical scope, we concentrate on Manchuria or present-day Northeast China (dongbei) in this course. Manchuria in the first half of the twentieth century was the object of imperialist desires. Prior to Japanese invasion in 1931, Russia and Japan sought to extend their influence over the region through railroad construction while Qing China fought to retain its hold by encouraging Han Chinese migration into the region. After 1931, the Japanese puppet regime Manchukuo embarked on modernization projects including industrialization and mass education. The legacy of Japanese imperialism made Manchuria such a prized area that it was where the first battle between the Chinese Communist Party and Guomindang during the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950) took place. Under the new Communist regime, Manchuria became the industrial engine for constructing a new socialist China.

In this course, we use secondary literature (historians’ writings) and primary source documents (for e.g., consular reports, court memorials, and customs statistical data) to understand Manchuria’s political, economic and social history. Since this course is intended to prepare third-year students with their theses, class discussions of these readings will take up issues related to the writing of history, and additional assignments shall introduce students to research methodology and resources.

Course objectives

  • Deepen understanding of key themes in modern Chinese history

  • Effectively read various genres of historical documents and scholarly literature;

  • Analyze how historians construct arguments with primary source documents;

  • Learn how to identify research problem, construct a research plan, conduct research, and write a research paper.


See collegerooster.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Non-Thesis students (140 hours total)
– Weekly seminars: 2 hours per week; 28 hours total
– Preparation for class: 6 hours per week; 72 hours total
– Historiographical essay based on course materials: 30 hours
– Research proposal: 10 hours

Thesis students (280 hours total)
– Weekly seminars: 2 hours per week; 28 hours total
– Preparation for class: 6 hours per week; 72 hours total
– Bibliographical essay on research topic: 30 hours
– Research proposal: 10 hours
– Thesis: 140 hours

Assessment method

Non-Thesis students

  • Class attendance and active participation: 30%

  • Class presentations on select reading: 10%

  • Class presentation of research proposal: 10%

  • Historiographical essay: 30%

  • Research proposal: 20%

The final grade consists of the weighted average of all course components. A resit for the essay component is allowed if a student scores a non-passing grade (5,49 or lower) on the first attempt.

Thesis students

  • Class attendance and active participation

  • Class presentations on select reading

  • Class presentation of research proposal

  • Thesis: 100%


Yes. Blackboard is used for posting complete reading list, class communications, and essay submission.

Reading list

See Blackboard.


Through uSis


Limin Teh
+31 71 527 5915
L.M. Teh