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China – The Making of Modern China

6. How long is Chinese history?

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In this module, we take a step back from the 20th-century history of China to think about the nature of Chinese history as a whole. When does it start? Is there an unbroken line of Chinese history between then and now? In particular, we think about: (i) the complexity of Chinese history, and the difficulty of identifying an aspect of Chinese civilization that has remained untouched between the Shang dynasty (established in c.1600 BC) and today; (ii) the earliest dynasties in Chinese history – the semi-mythical Xia dynasty (c. 2100 - c.1600 BC) and the Shang dynasty (c.1600 BC - c.1050 BC); (iii) the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC), and the extent to which China should be considered a single, unified nation in this period; (iv) the Han (206 BC-220 AD), Tang (618-906 AD) and Song (960-1279), and the difficulties each had with the foreign invaders; (v) the anomalous period of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), during which China was ruled by Mongols; (vi) the sophistication of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, but also their technical stagnation compared to their European contemporaries – and their consequent vulnerability to the industrial powers of Britain, America, Germany and Japan; and (vii) China’s attempts to modernise from the 19th century onwards.


In this course, Professor Kerry Brown (King’s College, London) provides a broad introduction to Chinese history from the 2nd millennium BC to the present day, with a focus on how China became the economic and political powerhouse it has done in the 21st century. In the first module, we think about how we might define ‘China’. Is it the geographical area? The people that live here? The culture? In the following four modules, we turn to four topics related to China in the 20th and 21st century. In the first, we think about why China has a Communist Party (with a focus on China’s relationship with Japan and the West between 1919-49). After that, we think about the figure of Mao Zedong. In the third, we ask how the Chinese economy has grown so dramatically between 1976 and the present day, before turning in the fourth to think about the nature of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In the sixth module, we return once again to the evolution of the Chinese nation over the past 2,500 years in order to answer the question ‘How long is Chinese history?’


Kerry Brown is a Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King's College, London. He is currently working on a study of the Communist Party of China as a cultural movement.

From 2012 to 2015, he was Professor of Chinese Politics and Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. Prior to this, he worked at Chatham House (2006 to 2012) as Senior Fellow and then Head of the Asia Programme. Meanwhile, from 2011 to 2014, he directed the Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN), giving policy advice to the European External Action Service.

From 1998 to 2005, he worked at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Beijing, and then as Head of the Indonesia, Philippine and East Timor Section. From 1994 to 1996, he lived in the Inner Mongolia region of China.

He has a MA from Cambridge University, a Postgraduate Diploma in Mandarin Chinese (Distinction) from Thames Valley University, London, and a PhD in Chinese politics and language from Leeds University.

He is the author of over ten books on modern Chinese politics, history and language, including: The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China (2014); What's Wrong with Diplomacy: The Case of the UK and China (2015); Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography (in Four Volumes, 2014-2015); China's CEO: Xi Jinping (2016); China's World: What Does China Want (2017).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Brown, K. (2020, November 06). China – The Making of Modern China - How long is Chinese history? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Brown, K. "China – The Making of Modern China – How long is Chinese history?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Nov 2020,

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