Historical China and the World

The course traces the evolution of China’s external relations from antiquity to our own times.  Situated in the geographic environment of the Asian Continent and being the birthplace of one of the world’s oldest living civilizations, China used to be at the center of a “world order” of East Asia and often acted as the hegemon of that region in the millennia prior to the 19th century.  China’s centrality in its own world was lost in the mid-19th century when Western powers brought drastic changes to the Asia-Pacific region.  In the next hundred years many Asian countries came under the Western colonial system; China also went through an arduous process of transformation from a “celestial empire” to a national state.  During the first half of the 20th century, China struggled with its imperial legacies in finding a new national identity while continuously enduring setbacks from domestic divisions and foreign aggressions.  After 1949, China, now under a communist system, reclaimed most of the territorial domain of the Qing Empire and began to challenge the Western world order as a revolutionary power.  In the post-Cold War years a reformed China reentered the international society.  In the meantime, the suspenseful “rise of China” has posed many questions to our times. 
This course identifies conceptions, practices, institutions, and relationships that characterized the inter-state relations of the so-called “East Asian world order,” and considers the interactions between “Eastern” and “Western,” and the “revolutionary” and “conventional” modes of China’s international behavior.  The students attend lectures and read major scholarly works on ancient and modern Chinese external affairs.  The student’s grade is based on participation, occasional quizzes, two tests (midterm and final), and a short essay (9-12 double-spaced pages).

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts