Spring 2021 - HIST 479W D100

Contentious Problems in Modern Chinese History (4)

Sensitive Topics in Recent Chinese History

Class Number: 5724

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 4:30 PM – 8:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history, and one of HIST 255, 366, or 367.



Examines a contentious aspect of, or period in, modern Chinese history focusing on change, conflict and resistance. For example the transition from revolution to reform, the Tiananmen Square protests, or the Cultural Revolution. Content may vary from offering to offering; see course outline for further information. HIST 479W may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught. Writing.


There are many sensitive topics in recent Chinese history. There are also many topics that are not yet sensitive but that might suddenly become sensitive based on circumstances that are difficult to predict in advance. This live online class starts from the basic premise that a sensitive topic is an important topic because someone holding power wants to conceal and suppress discussion and knowledge of it. Why are some topics more sensitive than others? Can a topic become less sensitive, more sensitive, or no longer sensitive over time? How does the identity of a writer, speaker, reader, listener, or student affect the sensitivity of a topic? Are some topics simply too sensitive to study in a Canadian online undergraduate seminar in Spring 2021? Emphasizing academic rigour while prioritizing student safety and minimizing risk, this class explores these and other questions by starting with a collaborative, student-led effort to build a syllabus around a list of sensitive topics. We will then embark on in-depth analysis of the sensitive topics we choose to study by reading primary sources, journalistic, scholarly, and literary works.

            By the end of the term, students should have: (1) gained a better understanding of the advantages and shortcomings of different types of historical sources and scholarly approaches; (2) improved their writing skills through a series of short assignments and through giving and receiving peer feedback; (3) enhanced public knowledge about sensitive topics in recent Chinese history by authoring an original encyclopedia contribution.


  • Seminar participation (live) 20%
  • Two short essays of 800-1,000 words, 30% (each worth 15%) 30%
  • In-class writing exercise, in which you show you completed and thought about the readings assigned for the week, 5%
  • Two-part encyclopedia assignment, 35% (original encyclopedia entry, 800 words, 20%; reflection essay of approximately 1,500 words, 15%). 35%
  • Peer reviews, 10% (5% for first round; 5% for second round during presentations of encyclopedia contributions). 10%



1. I regret that the global pandemic requires that this course be offered remotely, under duress and not by choice, instead of in person. I believe that human connections and spontaneous reactions in person better promote learning. But in order to stay safe during the pandemic, we are required to sacrifice the many benefits of in-person classes and will do our best using online tools.

2. If you do not meet the prerequisites for this course but really want to take it, email jeremy_brown@sfu.ca to request permission to enroll.



All readings will be made available electronically on Canvas.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).