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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

EAST2127 Society and Culture of Early Modern China

20 creditsClass Size: 40

Module manager: Dr David Pattinson

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

Module replaces

This module is partially a replacement and upgrading of what was EAST1053 History and Culture of Late Imperial China and the second half of EAST1051, History and Culture of Imperial China.

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module provides an overview of some major aspects of the social and cultural history of China from the Song dynasty (960-1279) until the end of the imperial period in 1911, a period during which China remained one of the world’s major civilisations and, until the eighteenth century, accounted for about a quarter of the world economy. It was a period which witnessed increased imperial despotism, but also greater commitment of local actors – officials, local gentry, religious institutions and others – to the good of their local area. During this time, China was also twice ruled by conquest dynasties, the Mongol Yuan and the Manchu Qing, and even when it was not, it frequently needed to negotiate its relationship with non-Han cultures both within and without its borders. The economy, while still based on agriculture, became increasingly commercialised and sophisticated. Following the revitalisation of Confucianism during the Song dynasty, Confucian thought would dominate Chinese government, society and culture for the rest of the imperial period, though other sources of social and religious meaning and belonging continued to play important roles. These economic and ideological changes were also reflected in shifts in gender roles and relations, and in modes of cultural expression both in elite and popular culture, and in the physical environment. Then all of this came into question as the imperial order collapse in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.Through the study of these themes, students will gain a deeper understanding of some of the changes that took place over the course of the late imperial period in one of the preeminent empires in world history. This will help students better appreciate the reasons why the Chinese responded to challenges in these areas of their national life in the way they did. It also provides crucial context to the decline and then re-emergence of China as a world power in modern times. This module is taught entirely in English. While no prior study of Chinese history is required, students who have not studied pre-modern Chinese history before should read a good general history of China up to the Song dynasty before the module begins.


This module seeks to give students a grounding in the late imperial history and culture of China, defined as the period from the Song dynasty (960-1279) to the end of the imperial order in 1911. It will survey a number of significant themes in this period including:
• overview of Chinese history across the early modern period from the Song to the Qing dynasty;
• economic changes, trade, and the emergence of a commercialised economy;
• developments in philosophy, religion and ethics, with a focus on Confucian thought and practice, but including other schools of thought where relevant;
• social change, including social mobility and gender roles;
• cultural change, including literature, visual arts and the built environment;

Learning outcomes
By the end of this module, students should be able to:
1. demonstrate a knowledge of major social, philosophical/religious, economic and cultural developments and processes across the early modern period in China;
2. demonstrate an understanding of major academic debates about questions in the society and culture of the period, and an ability to evaluate them;
3. place selected primary sources (in English translation where these are texts) in their historical context and discuss them in that context with reference to other scholarship in that topic area;
4. present their findings on historical questions in a spatially restricted format, and justify their decisions about the content and arguments presented in it.


The syllabus for this module may include, but not necessarily be restricted to, the following topics: Song dynasty ideological and cultural responses to the instability of the late Tang and Five Dynasties period – the resurgence of Confucianism and its impact on culture and society – the emergence of a commodity economy across the Song-Yuan-Ming period – the ‘local turn’ and growth of local activism and forms of social organisation – Han Chinese responses to ‘foreign’ rule over part or all of the Chinese hinterland –religious, philosophical and ethical questions in late imperial China – social mobility and changes in gender roles – trends in literature, art and the built environment, including commercialisation and luxury consumption. Students will also develop their ability to evaluate primary sources in the context of a range of secondary scholarship, and learn the basic skills needed to present the findings of their research in the visual form of a poster presentation, backed by a supporting academic narrative.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours179.00
Total Contact hours21.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students should aim to spend about 6 hours per week reading material related to lectures and seminars. The assessed literature review might take 25-30 hours, while the assessed research poster and accompanying essay, including the conference, may take up to 50 hours. The remaining hours allow for extra reading in areas of special interest, especially for identifying which topics they will pursue for their assessed work, and discussing these with the module tutor.
Note that the length of the conference will depend on the number of students taking the module, so the 2 hours is indicative only.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Seminars will be conducted in such a way as to explicitly train students for the assessed tasks for this module. This may include short written exercises structured in such a way as to review and compare the views of different scholars on a certain question, or to explain a certain primary source, for which in-class feedback will be given. Examples of literature reviews and poster presentations will also be used. However, since students already have to write two pieces for the summative assessment, they will not be required to write extended formative essays. The poster conference will provide a group opportunity for formative peer and tutor feedback on the poster presentations, and inform the supporting essays.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Poster PresentationA1 or A2-sized poster with supporting essay 2,000 words60.00
Literature Review1,500 words40.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The poster presentations will be prepared and assessed individually. Students will have an opportunity to gain peer and tutor feedback by presenting their posters in a non-assessed conference to be held towards the end of the teaching period, but before the supporting essay is submitted. The intention of the supporting essay is to have students explain the research they did and the rationale which determined the final content of the poster. This essay will be assessed largely in the same way as standard essays, except that a component will be added assessing the relationship between the essay and the poster. Posters will be assessed for content and effective use of space, including supporting images, in conveying the main ideas of their research, but technical graphic design skills per se are not part of the assessment. Posters may be presented in hard copy or projected on an appropriately-sized screen. The two assessed pieces of work must be on different topics.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 11/05/2023


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