CCCH9048 China: Culture, State and Society
History Wars?: How the Past is Shaping China’s Future


Course Description

History is vital in navigating our own time and in planning for the future, as well as for providing identity and meaning to a community. But, for China, is this how it functions or, rewritten and censored to serve Power, has it turned into an obstacle to its rise and modernization? The history wars and extreme nationalism involved in conflicts between China, Japan, And South Korea is, for example, repeatedly fuelling conflict. Historical claims for the South China Sea go against the records of other involved nations, so does what seems to be a Chinese insistence to the return of a sinocentric tributary system. This course grapples with the weight of China’s history, its institutions, ways of life, belief and power relations, and how this affects China’s potential to continue its modernization process. It also scrutinizes the fabrication of history in China, asking how master narratives have been created and what facts have been selected, actively forgotten or silenced? How has, for example, museum design addressed questions of historical consciousness, identity and history? How is different forms of material cultural heritage used and how is local history represented and imagined? Similarly important, on an individual level, what are the social effects of the imposed amnesia around events actually experienced? The course asks what purposes History serves and has served, from the ‘abject’ past of modern China to the very cornerstone the nation’s leadership builds its legitimacy on. In doing so it engages students with historical memory and its projection into the future, arguably the most important raw material that has been used over the last two decades to construct China’s national identity.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Explain major problems and controversies relating to China’s history culture.
  2. Analyse the importance of history in the establishment and development of the People’s Republic of China.
  3. Discuss critically issues relating to history and heritage in contemporary China.
  4. Explain the importance of history and historical consciousness for the future of the Chinese state and society.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second Semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 48
Assessment: Oral history group project 40
Total: 120

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial participation 30
Group work oral history project 30
In-class quizzes 40

Required Reading and Viewing

Recommended Reading

  • Cohen, P. A. (2009). Speaking to history: The story of King Goujian in twentieth-century China. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • French, H. (2017, March). Everything under the heavens: How the past helps shape China’s push for global power.
  • Hirsch, M. (2008, March 1). The generation of postmemory. Poetics Today, 29(1), 103-128. Duke University Press.
  • Lim, L. (2014). The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen revisited. Oxford University Press.
  • MacMillan, M. (2008). Dangerous games: The uses and abuses of history. Modern Library Chronicles.
  • Wang, J. (2011). Beijing record: A physical and political history of planning modern Beijing. World Scientific Publishing Company.
  • Wang, Z. (2012). Never forget national humiliation: Historical memory in Chinese politics and foreign relations. Columbia University Press.
  • Zhou, X. (2013). Forgotten voices of Mao’s great famine, 1958-1962: An oral history.

Recommended Websites


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr J.P. Johansson Vig
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 7935
Email: pejoh@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr J.P. Johansson Vig
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 7935
Email: pejoh@hku.hk