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China and the Modern World 


William C. Kirby
T.M. Chang Professor of China Studies
Harvard University 

Civilization and Empire is taught by Peter K. Bol


Modern China presents a dual image: a society transforming itself through economic development and infrastructure investment that aspires to global leadership; and the world's largest and oldest bureaucratic state, with multiple traditions in its cultural, economic, and political life. The modern society and state that is emerging in China bears the indelible imprint of China's historical experience, of its patterns of philosophy and religion, and of its social and political thought. These themes are discussed in order to understand China in the twenty-first century and as a great world civilization that developed along lines different from those of the Mediterranean.

ChinaX makes the riches of Harvard's collections and the expertise of its faculty accessible to learners worldwide. We will engage intellectual and religious trends, material and political culture, the local diversity and the national unity, art and literature, and China’s economic and political transformation— past, present and future.

In China and the Modern World explores the development of this great civilization from the Neolithic to the last dynasty. We see the formation of political structures and social practices that have lasted into the present; we learn to appreciate artistic and literary traditions of sophistication and refinement; we inquire into its philosophical and religious legacies and their significance for our own lives; and we trace the creation of the largest economy in world history. 


In China and the Modern World, you will learn to develop your own approaches to history and gain a critical appreciation of China’s literary, philosophical, political and cultural resources. You will also learn to express ideas more clearly and confidently; to think more analytically and critically through the study of primary and secondary sources. 

Parts 6-10 span over 6,000 years of history. Each part consists of 4-8 sections, each with videos, readings, interactive engagements, assessments, and discussion forums. 

China: Civilization and Empire consists of the following five parts, a total of 25 sections:  

ChinaX (Part 8):  Creating Modern China: The Republican Period to the Present
Explore the birth of modern China with a focus on the time between the fall of the Qing and the end of World War II. 

This course, the eighth in a comprehensive series on China, introduces you to the history, geography, and culture of the country.

This course will explore enduring issues around Chinese modernity, with a focus on the creation of the modern Chinese state during the Republican era. You’ll learn about China’s war against Japan, about long-term patterns in U.S.-China relations, and about the role of individual leaders against the backdrop of historical circumstance.

What you'll learn in ChinaX (Part 8)

  • What were the foreign models for a Chinese republic?
  • How the modern Chinese state was built on the ruins of the previous empire.
  • The impact of China’s war against Japan.
  • How China’s relationship with the U.S. follows established patterns.
  • The role of leaders like Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao Zedong.


No books are required for the course. Many readings from the course are contained in Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, eds., Sources of Chinese Tradition, 2nd ed., volume 1 and 2 (Columbia UP, 2000 and 2001). If you want to supplement your study, Patricia Buckley Ebrey, The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, 2nd ed. (Cambridge UP, 2010), is a text that accompanies the sections and discussions by providing essential chronological survey information. 


Performance in the course will be evaluated based on the following:

  • Section 1 Assessments (15%)
  • Section 2: Assessments (15%)
  • Section 3: Assessments (15%)
  • Section 5: Assessments (15%)
  • Section 6: Assessments (15%)
  • Discussion (10%)
  • Final Assessments: (15% for only certificate learners) 


EdX offers an optional fee-based ($90 USD) verified certificate to those who have passed the course. If you achieve a passing grade of 65% in this course, you are eligible to receive a verified certificate. Your certificate will indicate you have successfully completed the course, but will not include a specific grade. You can find your current score on the Progress page. Your score is based on the assessments in each section.

EdX provides optional verified certificates to those who have:

  • passed the course by January 26, 2020
  • verified their identity
  • paid the certificate fee

Some content in edX is available only to learners who have purchased a verified certificate. Locked content is marked with a lock icon, as shown to the right. Click the image to see a full-sized version. If you are using screen reader software, you will hear "Content available only to verified-track learners."

When you see this icon, it indicates there are one or more graded assignments on this page. Verified learners will be able to see and complete these assignments, which will count toward their certificate of completion.

In addition, audit learners will lose access to the course after a certain number of weeks. The length of time varies by course, and is noted on the course signup page at This time is counted from when you enroll or from when the course begins, whichever is later. Verified learners retain course access indefinitely.

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