China's Intellectual Elites - Ideas and Networks 1860s-1960s: Context (HIH3022)

StaffDr Vivienne Xiangwei Guo - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2.
Co-requisitesChina’s Intelligentsia – Ideas and Networks 1860s-1960s: Sources
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

From the Late-Qing reformers who attempted to ‘borrow the Western tools to enhance the Chinese cores’ to the May-Fourth intellectuals who upheld the banner of ‘democracy and science’ in 1919, and from the radical communist-anarchist thinkers who imaged a new world order to the moderate federalists who envisaged a Chinese federation, the first part of the module (term 1) will introduce the diverse and shifting ideas of nation-building held by different generations and groups of intellectuals. We will not only observe how the imaginations of a ‘new China’ were shared, worshiped, questioned or ridiculed, but also investigate how intellectuals defended, altered or abandoned their ideas when reality kicked in. The second part the module (term 2) will shift the focus to the socio-political networks of Chinese intellectuals. Through examining their network development based on kinships and friendships, teacher-student relations, native-place connections, common scholarly interests or shared political views, we will analyse how both ‘making ties’ and ‘severing ties’ helped with Chinese intellectuals’ cultural and political identification. By exploring some of the most marginalised thoughts and the oft-forgotten networks of Chinese intellectuals in a century of change from the 1860s to the 1960s, this module will encourage you to challenge the current historiography of Chinese revolution and nation-making.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes in the history of the Chinese intellectual from the 1860s to the 1960s.
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the complex ideas and networks held by or, indeed, abandoned by Chinese intellectuals in the century of change and struggle from the 1860s to the 1960s.
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues.
  • 5. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 6. Follow the changing causes of and responses to the various debates, movements and experiments of Chinese intellectuals in the making of modern China.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independently and autonomously study and also work within a group, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment
  • 9. Present complex arguments orally

Syllabus plan

The first part of the module focuses on the context to the evolution of the various and shifting ideas of nation-building; the following main themes and topics may be covered:

  1. Remoulding China:

  • Confucianism and the Late-Qing ‘self-strengthening’ ideas

  • Constitutionalism and the ideal of a Chinese constitutional monarchy

  • Anti-Manchu nationalism and the ideal of a Chinese Republic

  1. Enlightening China:

  • Federalism and the ideal of a Chinese federation

  • Communism, anarchism and the ideal of a new world order

  • Feminism and the ideal of women’s emancipation

  1. Revolutionizing China:

  • Rethinking Mao Zedong’s thought: Peasant Revolution

  • Rethinking Mao Zedong’s thought: Cultural Revolution


The second part of the module focuses on the context to the uneasy network development and self-identification of Chinese intellectuals; the following main themes and topics may be covered:

  1. Personal ties and urban spaces:

  • Native-place connections

  • Study abroad: the new space for knowledge-making and network-building

  • China’s new metropolises:  media space and literary societies

  1. Political linkages and cross-party networking:

  • League of Left-wing Writers and leaning to the left

  • Democratic League and the struggle to remain neutral

  • Women’s societies and networks

  1. Denying ‘self’ and challenging ‘the intellectual’:

  • The Yan’an intellectuals

  • Post-1949 political campaigns and the collective loss of self-identity

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4422 x2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar DiscussionOngoing through course1-7, 9Verbal from tutor and fellow students

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and Written
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and Written
Unseen Exam502 questions in 2 hours1-8Verbal and Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Two essaysTwo essays1-8Referral/Deferral period
Unseen examUnseen exam1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic Reading:


Cheek, Timothy. The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History (Cambridge University Press, 2015)


Duara, Prasenjit. Rescuing History from the Nation (The University of Chicago Press, 1995)


Esherick, Joseph W. Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History (University of California Press, 2011)


Fung, Edmund S.K. In Search of Chinese Democracy: Civil Opposition in Nationalist China, 1929-1949 (Cambridge University Press, 2000)


Goodman, Bryna. Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853–1937 (University of California Press, 1995)


Goldman, Merle. China's Intellectuals: Advise and Dissent (Harvard University Press, 1981)

Goldman, Merle and Gu, Edward (eds.) Chinese Intellectuals Between State and Market (Routledge, 3 Aug 2005)


Hockx, Michel. Questions of Style: Literary Societies and Literary Journals in Modern China, 1911-1937 (BRILL, 2003)


Hockx, Michel and Denton, Kirk A. Literary Societies of Republican China (Lexington Books, 2008)


Ip, Hung-yok. Intellectuals in Revolutionary China, 1921-1949 (Routledge, 2005)


Knight, Nick. Rethinking Mao: Explorations in Mao Zedong's Thought (Lexington Books, 2007)


Mitter, Rana. A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2005)


Pepper, Suzanne. Civil War in China: The Political Struggle 1945-1949 (University of California Press, 1978)


Saich, Tony and Apter, David. Revolutionary Discourse in Mao’s Republic (Harvard University Press, 1994)


Schwarcz, Vera. The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919 (University of California Press, 1986)


Teiwes. Frederick C. Politics and Purges in China: Rectification and the Decline of Party Norms, 1950-65 (Routledge, 2016)


Zarrow, Peter and Karl, Rebecca E. Rethinking the 1898 Reform Period: Political and Cultural Change in Late Qing China (Harvard Univ Asia Center, 2002)

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Intellectuals, political thoughts, networks, dissent and purge