East Asia and the Modern World

Discipline: History of East Asia
Instructor: Guy
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1425
End: 1540
Field Work: Day 1 - Singapore - 22 February | Singapore Download Syllabus

Two hundred years ago, Asia was composed of a group of societies organized according to their own, often rather sophisticated, social and political principles, living largely independent of each other, and of the Western societies with which they shared the globe.  Today these societies have become nation states, and participate together in the process of globalization that is re-shaping our lives.  This course will consider how the societies of Asia made this transition, and how their particular histories have influenced their present politics.  Often the route from local to global proceeded through imperialism, colonialism and colonial modernity, world war and revolution.  For the first weeks of the voyage, we will allow the itinerary to order our consideration of Asian transitions, examining the breakdown of the Tokugawa order in Japan, and the rapid changes of Japan’s late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the Qing dynasty’s attempt to adapt to the modern world, and the dilemmas of western ideas for twentieth century intellectuals; Southeast Asia’s cultural survival in colonial form, and the political and social changes it entailed;  and India’s more classically colonial experience, and the sources of its resistance. 

 During the latter half of the voyage, we will focus on the historical events that Asian countries experienced together.  These include the Second World War, the experience of grinding post war poverty and yearning for consensus in a war-weary world, processes carried out as the European presence in Asia faded, and the American presence became more pronounced.  This was followed by a period in which the countries of Asia sought to build new societies, fashioning themselves to their ideas of the world.  Japan saw the slow development of an oligarchy in political and economic affairs, China engaged in increasingly radical social experimentation, Southeast Asia sought independence, and India set out to build a multi-ethnic, independent state. Each of these movements sought to remake each society’s position in the modern world order; but each also had a distinctly national character, reflecting the cultural and social traditions of each society.  Developments of the last two decades, the defeat of the Liberal Democrats in Japan, post-Tiananmen reform in China, the economy of post war-Vietnam, and the defeat and re-election of the Gandhian party in India point toward continuing transitions.

The three objectives for the course are:  (1.) To provide students with a serviceable narrative of modern Asian history, (2.) To foster an understanding of what it means for a citizen of an Asian society to live through the twentieth century, and (3.)  By comparing developments in Asian during roughly similar periods, to try to achieve some analytical purchase on twentieth century Asian history. 

Field Work

Country: Singapore
Day: 1 - Singapore - 22 February

Singapore has been a pivotal point throughout Asian history. Will it continue to be so in the twenty-first century? To prepare for this field lab, we will read Professor Prasenjit Duara’s reflections in Asia in the future. In Singapore we will go to a museum concerned with Asia, as it has been expressed in Singapore, the Asian Civilizations Museum. Then we will go to the National University of Singapore for a talk by Professor Goh Benglan, Director of the Southeast Asian Studies Department, on Singapore in the future of Asia. There will be time to explore the University’s futuristic campus. Academic Objectives:

  1. Develop sense of Singapore history.
  2. Reflect on Singapore’s place in modern Asia.
  3. Consciously reflect on Asia of the future.