History of East Asia (M. Szonyi)





The following is the course outline that I have put together for an introductory course in East Asian history at McGill University. This is my first time teaching a survey; I wish the resource you are trying to put together had been available a few months ago. The outline only covers the first term because I haven't written the rest yet. McGill is a three and four year university with competitive entrance requirements. Enrollment in the course is about 80, which in the current economic climate is not enough for a ta. So I am trying to run an e-mail conference for the students. This may be a topic better addressed on H-Teach, but I'd be interested to know how others in the field have made out with this tool.

Mike Szonyi

History 101-208D History of East Asia
6 Credits

Prof. Michael Szonyi
Leacock 940
Office Hours T-Th 11:30 - 1:00 or by appointment SZONYI@HEPS.LAN.MCGILL.CA

This course aims to provide a broad overview of the pre-modern and modern histories of China and Japan, and also to discuss their institutional and cultural interaction. Reading for the course will rely heavily on primary sources, and considerable attention will be devoted to the questions of how these sources are used in the writing of history. We will also consider some of most interesting approaches which are currently being pursued in the study of East Asian history; the discussions and disagreements which historians of the region are now working through, and questions and methods from the study of history of other regions which might fruitfully be applied to the study of Asia.

Subjects which will be explored range from the early development of Chinese philosophy and statecraft to the development of the distinctive warrior ethic in Japan, from the elaboration of official court culture to the emergence of popular cultural forms. Given both Chinese and Japanese insistence in their own cultural uniqueness, can we speak of a unified East Asian civilization? How were political, social and cultural institutions that developed in China transformed when they were imported in Japan? How did the traditional era provide the context for the transition to modernity? Throughout the course, we will consider how Western images of Asia have subtly affected our understanding of its civilizations.


Work for the course will consist of participation in discussion, two map quizzes, d a final exam. The papers should be critical analyses of issues suggested by lectures and readings; some additional research will be necessary. Papers should be no more than 10 double spaced typewritten pages. I will distribute lists of paper topic suggestions, but you are welcome to write on other topics so long as you discuss these with me beforehand. I will be happy to comment on drafts or outlines of your papers as long as these are submitted two weeks before the final due date. To be fair to those who submit papers on time, late papers will be penalized by a reduction in mark of 5%/day late. Participation will be evaluated in terms of contributions in class as well as postings to a discussion group on electronic mail (e-mail). There will be an introduction to the use of e-mail in class on Sept. 14.

The final grade will be made up as follows

Written Work 60% (4 X 15%)
Final Exam 25%
Participation 10%
Map Quiz 5%

There will be a supplemental examination in this course, which students who receive a grade of D,F,J or U may apply to write if they wish to improve on their original mark. The supplemental examination will be worth 25% of the revised final mark.


The basic text is Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig, East Asia: Tradition and Transformation, rev. ed. 1989 (identified below as FRC)

In addition, the lectures will draw heavily on supplementary readings of primary source documents in translation. These are drawn for the most part from the following:

  1. Ebrey, Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, 1993. (CCS)
  2. De Bary, ed. Sources of Chinese Tradition, 2 vols., 1960 (SCT)
  3. Tsunoda, ed. Sources of Japanese Tradition, 1964. (SJT)

These works will be available for purchase at the bookstore. Together with all additional required reading, they will also be available in multiple copies (I hope) on reserve.

The lectures will work much better for all if you have read the material in Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig before the lecture, and at least skimmed the primary source material.


  1. What is East Asia?
  2. Early China: Statecraft and Society
  3. Early Japan to the Heian Period
  4. China's Middle Ages: the Tang and Song
  5. Japan's Middle Ages: the Kamakura and Muromachi
  6. The Late Imperial Period in China
  7. Tokugawa Japan
  8. The Imperialist Encounter
  9. The Transition to Modernity in Japan: the Meiji Restoration
  10. China's Road to Revolution
  11. Asia in the Twentieth Century

Autumn Term Lecture List

9/5 Introduction and Aims of the Course: Why study East Asia?

9/7 What is East Asia? East and West; Orientalism; the Asiatic Mode of Production; Oriental Despotism; Monsoon Asia

9/12 Geography, Languages, Peoples and Modes of Life

FRC 1-16

9/14 Introduction to use of the Internet

Meet in Leacock L1110 !!


9/19 From Prehistory/Myth-history to the Bronze Age

FRC 17-32
SCT 1-13
CCS 1-16

9/21 The Classical Age 1: Confucianism

FRC 33-54
SCT 15-33, 86-121
CCS 17-26

9/26 The Classical Age 2: Daoism and Other Traditions

SCT 34-85
CCS 27-37

9/28 Writing Historical Essays

Marius, Richard. A Short Guide to Writing About History (recommended)

10/3 Unification and the First Empire

Map Quiz
FRC 55-83
SCT 122-48, 160-182
CCS 47-87

10/5 The Dynastic Cycle; The Chinese Patriarchy I

10/10 The Era of Division; Peoples of the Steppe

FRC 83-92
SCT 256-65
CCS 1-111

10/12 The Introduction of Buddhism; Developments in Daoism

CCS 97-108

10/17 The Sui Reunification; the Tang Political Order

FRC 93-115
CCS 112-119

10/19 Tang Economy and Society

SCT 371-83
CCS 123-36
Last day to submit drafts of Essay 1

10/24 The Rebellion of An Lushan: Crisis of the Old Order

FRC 116-123

10/26 Song China: Old Ideas and New Realities

FRC 123-151
CCS 151-68

10/31 Urbanization and Socioeconomic Change

Gernet, Jacques Daily Life in China, 1-143 (recommended) CCS 178-85

11/2 Elite and Popular Culture; The Chinese Patriarchy II

CCS 199-201
Essay 1 due

11/7 Confucian Revival

SCT 479-503
CCS 172-77


11/9 Prehistory: Jomon and Yayoi

FRC 324-34
SJT 1-20

11/14 Yamato Culture

Map Quiz

11/16 The Transformation of Japanese Society

FRC 334-47
SJT 34-90

11/21 Nara

Last day to submit drafts of essay 2

11/23 Heian 1: Economic and Political Structures

FRC 347-57

11/28 Heian 2: Social Life and Culture

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, (Waley tr.), Chpt 2

11/30 The Rise of the Warrior Class

FRC 358-74
SJT 112-151, 184-212
Essay 2 due

12/5 The Establishment of the Kamakura Bakufu

Mike Szonyi
Department of History
McGill University
855 Sherbrooke St. W, Montreal, Canada H3A 2T7 tel: 514-398-4865