Global China Studies/History - Duke Kunshan University


At Duke Kunshan University, each major consists of an interdisciplinary set of courses that integrate different forms of knowledge and a distinct set of disciplinary courses that provide expertise in specific areas.

Global China Studies/History
This major examines the meanings of “China” as a nation-state, a region, and as a culture in the global setting, and provides students with the skills needed to purposefully navigate the changing landscape of academics, business, government, policy, and the arts. It prepares students for a world in which China is at the center of shaping the 21st century. It positions international students for lifelong engagement with China’s politics, economy, and society, while preparing Chinese students to encounter the wider world with a firm understanding of their own roots, their unique history and institutions, and the ability to see their own country as others see it.

Required Courses

Divisional Foundation Courses

Foundational Questions in Social Science

People everywhere ponder and debate fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human? How is society to be ordered? What is a moral life? Our ancestors asked such questions as well: it is likely that those questions lie at the origins of humanity itself. They also provide the foundations for much of the most important research in the social sciences today. This course examines the ways in which social scientists from a diversity of disciplines approach these fundamental questions. Study material for the course will include foundational texts from across the social sciences, as well as cutting-edge research from the present day. This course will not attempt to answer these vast questions, or provide neat solutions for students: rather, we want to excite students about the social sciences and whet their appetites for further study.

The Art of Interpretation 1: Written Texts

Training in close reading and analysis of text remains a foundational skill in the arts and humanities, whether the text is literary or documentary. This core course combines practical training in close reading of a variety of texts, with strategies of analysis that are theoretically informed without, however, offering a comprehensive treatment of theory per se. The course will focus both on reading and analysis of literary texts, and on the nuanced unpacking of documents (official, unofficial, personal) with a view to historical method.

Interdisciplinary Courses

From Empire to Nation

A century ago, the world’s polities consisted largely of empires. Today, most of the world, including China, is organized as nation-states. Indeed of all the global empires a century ago, only the Great Qing Empire, now the home of the People’s Republic of China, has remained largely intact. In examining the Chinese experience, this course examines concepts and theories of empire, imperialism, colonialism, and the nation-state, with a particular focus on their circulation and impact in East Asia and China. We trace the history of Western theories of "nation," looking at what the term meant prior to the European nation-state and the imperialist and colonial projects of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and we examine what they mean in the present era of multiculturalism and globalization. We explore how historically Chinese conceptions of civilization and empire were transformed in post-imperial era. We look also at how related concepts of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and culture have traveled from the West, through the Soviet Union, to China and beyond. Students will learn how historical schools of thought in China reemerged in twentieth- and twenty-first century Chinese political discourse, as thinkers and activists from across the ideological spectrum appealed to ancient precedents and principles in support of political and cultural agendas. They will learn about histories of Japanese colonialism in Manchuria and Taiwan, how China navigated the age of high imperialism (from the Opium to the Boxer War) with comparative success, and how Chinese diplomacy defended the integrity of China’s borders from late Qing to the present. We will also look at China’s critical role in the non-Western world from the 1950’s. Finally, we explore the effort to expand China’s soft power by investment and education (Confucius Institutes) around the world.

Modern Chinese Politics

This course examines contemporary Chinese politics, covering regime institutions and processes, policies and their effects, and the dynamics of political development. We will begin with a brief overview of Chinese political history since the founding of the People's Republic, and then discuss the reform era beginning in 1978. We will address the role of the Chinese Communist Party and central government, as well as the role of sub-national governments. We will examine state-society relations and political participation and protest as well as economic and social policy. Examples from the worlds of business, healthcare, and education will help to define the enduring role of Party and government in contemporary China.

China’s Transitioning Economy

This course provides a comprehensive overview of the Chinese economy and China’s role in the world economy. China’s current economic challenges will be given particular attention. Topics addressed will include: the Chinese economy before 1949; the socialist era, 1949-1978; economic reform and market transition; the role of state enterprises; the return of private and family business; foreign investment; foreign trade; China’s role in the East Asian trade-production network; China’s evolving financial system; Chinese monetary and exchange rate policy; China’s role in global trade balances; the internationalization of the Yuan; and the current effort to rebalance the Chinese economy from an investment to a consumption economy.

The Factory: From Socialist Industrialism to World Assembly

China is often referred to as the “world’s factory.” Spurred by lower wages, massive supply of rural laborers, an efficient business ecosystem, undervalued currency and export-friendly taxes and duties, China has witnessed impressive growth since the beginning of the 21st century and has become the second largest economy in the world. The rise of China and its economic transition are inseparable from the workings of the factories and the feminization of labor on those assembly lines. For most workers, the factory has been not simply a place to work, but also a “habitus” where rest, sustenance, leisure and consumption are conditioned, regulated, and at times, contested. In this highly interdisciplinary course we will examine the factory not only as a political and economic unit of disciplined work, but also as a cultural and ideological space wherein dreams and anxieties are produced and exhausted. From the socialist “danwei” (work unit) to the “sushe” (factory dormitory), from the ideology of autonomy to the neoliberal demand of “suzhi” (quality), the course will trace China’s transition from Maoist socialism to socialist market economy.

Visual China

From film’s first appearance at a Shanghai teahouse in August 1896 to Jackie Chan’s latest transnational stardom, the history of modern Chinese cinema has always sought to raise questions of national and cultural identity. How do Chinese films between the two fins-de-siècle create the spectacle of “China,” narrate its history, and represent its increasingly diversified cultural landscapes both at home and abroad? Students will study photography, documentary film, cinema and social media in China from the 1930s “Leftist” films to present.

Disciplinary Courses
General requirement for History disciplinary studies:
  • Method course
  • Pre-Modern History course in the thematic area
  • Modern History course in the thematic area
  • One course from electives in the thematic area
  • One course outside of the thematic area
Courses required for study in Chinese History thematic area:

Methods of Historical Research

Introduction to methods and approaches to historical inquiry and research. Students will be exposed to both the humanist and the social scientific approaches to historical research and will write a research paper on a topic of their choice.

Chinese History 1: Competing Schools, Warring States, and the Ideal of Empire.

Origin stories of Chinese civilization; Confucius and Confucianism; Mozi, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Han Feizi; Forging a unified empire in Qin; Making an empire last in Han. Course to involve visits to archeological sites.

Chinese History 2: Importing Culture and Recasting Society

The “Indianization” of China (Hu Shi); new religion of Buddhism; from political diversity to renewed unity in Sui/Tang; Tang aristocracy and inner-Asian cosmopolitanism.

Chinese History 3: The Foundations of Modern China

Elites, examinations, and neo-Confucianism in Sung; the Mongol world order; Silver and trade in the first age of globalization; autocracy and commercialism in Ming and Qing; from a Chinese to a multi-ethnic empire in Qing; foreign models for a modern Chinese state.

Recommended Electives for the Major

Courses listed below are recommended electives for the major. Students can also select other courses in different divisions as electives.

Electives in the Chinese History thematic area:

Special Topics in History of Institutions

Topics focus on the historical development of a specific set of institutions in China, such as the evolution of health care or military or child/family institutions over time. Provides an opportunity for students to dive deeply into the historical evolution of institutions in a particular topic area.

China in Global Perspective 1: China and the Silk Roads World: 500-1500

Introduces the rich and diverse world of trade, religions, and cultures that connected the two ends of the Eurasian world. Starts with survey of Han and Roman trade contacts, and Chinese connections with India via Buddhism, focusing on 7th-15 centuries CE. Covers themes such as the coming of Islam and Nestorian Christians to China, travelers to China during the vast Mongol Empire including Marco Polo, and voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He to Africa at the beginning of the 15th century which opened up the maritime Silk Roads.

China in Global Perspective 2: The Internationalization of Modern China

This course studies how foreign relations—broadly conceived—have shaped and are shaping modern China from the Opium War to Alibaba. Topics include commercialization, militarization, and industrialization in the making of the modern state; the international education of Chinese at home and abroad; foreigners in China and the “inner frontiers” of China’s foreign relations; the international evolution of Chinese enterprise under capitalism and socialism, alliances, alignments, and the return of China as a great power by 1945; the People’s Republic and the socialist world economy of the 1950’s and 1960’s; Republicanism, Marxism and Leninism; the “international development of China” as conceived by Sun Yat-sen, and the birth of the modern infrastructure state; the Chinese diaspora and the re-opening of China after 1978; contemporary China’s state-led and private investments abroad and the emergence of a Chinese global citizenry.

China and the US Comparative 1: The United States and China in War and Revolution

This course looks at the Chinese-American alliance during World War II from multiple perspectives. What did the partners in this anti-Japanese alliance have in common? What was the level of their mutual understanding? What was the role of key decision-makers in Chongqing, Washington, and Yanan? How did the various actors imagine Chinese-American relations after the war? What can we learn from a Chinese-American alliance that was at once successful and fragile?

China and the US Comparative 2 The World of Universities in China and the United States

The Unites States is home to many of the world’s leading universities, at present. China has developed the fastest growing system of higher education—in quality as in quantity—in the world. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these systems, each of which is very diverse? How can we best compare admissions systems? Governance systems? Research results? And Educational outcomes? What can each system learn from the other?

Shanghai: From Treaty Port to Global Metropolis

Since the late 19th century, Shanghai has emerged as the leading metropolis in China in many respects. It has served as the breeding grounds and model for the social, political, economic and cultural modernization, and urbanization of China over the century that followed. Through a combination of lectures, readings, film screenings, field trips, and research projects, this course explores the history of Shanghai and connects the colorful legacy of the treaty port era (1842-1943) with the re-emergence of Shanghai as a global metropolis since the 1990s. While focusing mainly on those two eras, which have been the subjects of the bulk of scholarship in the emerging field of “Shanghai Studies,” we also examine the relatively neglected history of Shanghai prior to the 1840s, as well as the Mao Years of 1949-1976 when Shanghai became a bastion for the violent politics of the Cultural Revolution.

Shanghai Nightscapes: A Nocturnal History of the City

This interdisciplinary course combining the fields of history, sociology, urban studies and urban ethnography examines Shanghai, China’s most modern and dynamic city since the 19th century, through the lens of its nighttime leisure pursuits. It explores how the city’s nightlife has contributed to its identity and image as a global cosmopolitan metropolis.

Career Path

This major prepares students for careers in business, public service, media, culture and other areas as well as for further study to pursue careers in academia, law and other professions, with a foundational knowledge of China’s global role.