Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Tied Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap
Tied to L2K107
Tied to L2K207
Tied to M1K507
Tied to M9K607
Tied to M9L007
Tied to M1K607


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To provide students with an advanced understanding of the major components in modern Chinese political thought and how these have changed over the course of the last 100 years.
  • To provide students with an advanced understanding of the nature of political thought in contemporary China and how this relates to the changing State-society relationship.
  • To provide students with an advanced understanding of Chinese political thought in the comparative context of Asia.
  • To enable students to critically evaluate scholarship in the field of comparative political thought, and to negotiate in particular the problems of Eurocentrism and ahistoricism.


  • Part 1. Framework:
  • Meeting 1: "Can Asians Think?" Political thought in classical China and Asia - Taking Mahbubani's famous question as its starting point this meeting will examine the supposed contention between 'rationalism' in European political thought and 'culturalism' in Asian political thought.
  • Meeting 2: Can Europeans Think? 'Orientalism' as politics - This meeting reverses the perspective and explores the ways that European perceptions of Asian political thought have been shaped by the historical and cultural prism of Orientalism.
  • Part 2. Political Thought in 20th Century China:
  • Meeting 3: Nationalism, Democracy and Colonialism: 1900-1950 - This meeting will explore China's early attempts to reconcile modern political thought with its semi-colonial, semi-feudal reality.
  • Meeting 4: Maoism and Marxism: 1921-1978 - This meeting will examine the failure of Soviet-style revolutionism in China and the strengths and weaknesses of the Maoist solution.
  • Meeting 5: The Political Logic of Reform: 1972-1992 - This meeting explores the rejection of revolution in favour of pragmatic nation-building and the clash between this programme and the 'fifth modernisation' of democracy.
  • Part 3. Political Thought in Contemporary China:
  • Meeting 6: The State: modernisation as political thought - This meeting looks at the nature of State ideology in the era of mature reform. Concepts of relative comfort (xiao kang) and great harmony (da tong) are contrasted with the upheaval of modernism.
  • Meeting 7: Civil Society I: nationalism and contemporary China - A first meeting on China's emerging civil society looks at the rise of modern nationalism: is this cultural patriotism or the politics of humiliation (chiguo)?
  • Meeting 8: Civil Society II: democracy and contemporary China - A second meeting looks at the politics of representation and asks what a Chinese democracy - urban and rural - would look like.
  • Meeting 9: China's State and Society in the Asian context - A final meeting returns to the comparative context of Asia. How does China's experience contrast with the rest of modernising Asia? Is change in the political thought of China - at State or society level - inter-related with the changing politics of religion?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An advanced understanding of the nature of political thought in contemporary China and the way modern political history has shaped this.
  • An advanced understanding of the different dimensions of political thought in China contrasting State ideology with the fluid and contentious politics of emergent civil society.
  • An advanced understanding of the processes of decision making in China.
  • An advanced knowledge of the inter-relationship between Chinese political thought and that of the rest of Asia, in both classical and modern modes.
  • An understanding of the contested nature of scholarship on the meaning and content of Asian political thought.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The ability to use critically the relevant theoretical concepts and approaches to studying Chinese and Asian political thought.
  • The ability to interpret and analyse the State-society relationship in China, and the functions of political thought in this relationship.
  • The ability to conduct comparative analysis of political thought in the Chinese and Asian contexts, using appropriate theoretical and conceptual tools.
Key Skills:
  • Demonstrate independent learning within a defined framework of study at an advanced level.
  • Demonstrate independent thought in analysing and critiquing existing scholarship on the subject area and in evaluating its contribution.
  • Demonstrate the ability to work to a deadline and complete written work within word limits.
  • Demonstrate advanced essay-writing skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students are taught in two-hour slots. The module is divided into three parts. The module begins with two seminars which set the scholarly context for studying comparative political thought in China and Asia. The second part provides an overview of three broad strands of political thought in 20th century China - nationalism, revolution and reform - and its function in shaping the changing State and society relationship. The final part examines contemporary political thought in China, before returning the comparative Asian context in conclusion.
  • The first hour of each seminar is based on student presentations, followed by guided discussion and lecturer feedback. These seminars enable the students to develop their abilities to communicate and to develop their own skills in argumentation. The presenting student is required to produce a handout of not less than 1,000 words. The oral and written presentations represent the formative work of the module to which the lecturer responds with a proforma feedback sheet.
  • Students are required to submit a formative project of 1,000 words in the sixth week of term module is taught to allow for written feedback before the summative essay is submitted.
  • Students are required to submit a summative essay of 4,000 words at the end of the module. This enables them to demonstrate achievement that they have sufficient subject knowledge to meet the assessment criteria, that they ave achieved subject skills 1 and 3; or 1 and 3; and that they have acquired the key skills 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Weekly 2 hours 18
Preparation and Reading 132
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 4,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative project of 1,000 words submitted in Week 6 of term. Student presentation in seminars supported by handout of 1,000 words.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University