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, does it tend to function in this way or has it also turned into an obstacle to its rise and modernization? This course grapples with the weight of China’s history, its institutions, ways of life, belief and power relations upon China today, 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 have different forms of material cultural heritage been used and how is local history represented and imagined? On an individual level, what are the social effects of creating history ‘blind spots’ concealing events that people have actually experienced? The course asks what purposes history serves and has served, from the ‘abject’ past of modern China to the very cornerstone the 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 38
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 30
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Total: 120

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial participation 30
Project 40
Written report 30

Required Reading and Viewing

  • French, H. W. (2017). Everything under the heavens: How the past helps shape China’s push for global power. Knopf.
  • Lim, L. (2015). The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen revisited. Oxford University Press. [Chaps. 4 & 6]
  • Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus I: A survivor’s tale: My father bleeds history. Pantheon.
  • Xie, J. (Director). (1997). The Opium War. [Film]

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