Japan, China and the Western Powers 1600-1976 (55+)

The 1600s saw the Tokugawa dynasty become Japan’s shoguns, and a new imperial dynasty, the Qing, rule China. They were to be Japan’s last shoguns and China’s last dynasty. When gunboat diplomacy by Western powers forced both countries to open up to foreign trade, the two nations followed very different paths. Japan adopted Western institutions, industrialized rapidly and established a Pacific empire. China, resisting the foreigners but constantly suffering defeat, experienced the “century of humiliation,” civil war and brutal occupation by Japan.

We’ll trace international relations, governance, war, peace, trade and revolution across four centuries, culminating in the catastrophic events—atomic bombs in Japan, horrendous famine and violence in China—that ended this era and brought about major transformations in both countries.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1:  The Tokugawa Shoguns (1600-1867)

The Tokugawa shoguns ended hundreds of years of civil war among rival warlords. For 250 years Japan would be at peace. We’ll examine Japan’s governance, the social order imposed by the shoguns, their extreme isolationist policies and how they controlled the aristocracy.

Week 2:  Transforming Japan: Meiji Restoration (1868-1912)

The arrival of the American navy in 1853 forced Japan to abandon its isolationism. An oligarchy, with the emperor as its nominal head, replaced the shogun. Japan now adopted western institutions, industrialized rapidly and built up its military.

Week 3:  Japan: Empire of the Pacific (1895-1945)

Defeating China and Russia, Japan occupied Taiwan and Korea and replaced Russia as the dominant foreign power in northern China. Japan invaded coastal China in the thirties, and Southeast Asia in the forties. Eventually defeated and occupied by the USA, Japan abandoned its militarism and became a democratic nation and major world economy.

Week 4:  China: Rise of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1838)  

With the collapse of the Ming dynasty in 1644, the “mandate of heaven” went to the Manchu (non-Chinese) Qing. The Qing dynasty would nearly triple China’s territory, but pursued highly restrictive trade policies with western powers.

Week 5:  Decline and Fall of the Qing Dynasty (1839-1912)

We’ll see how during China’s “century of humiliation” foreign imperial powers forced China to sign “unequal treaties” giving them access to Chinese ports and rights that infringed on Chinese sovereignty. Wars with foreign powers and domestic rebellions greatly weakened China. In 1912 Qing rule collapsed and China became a republic.

Week 6:  China from the Republic to Mao (1912-76)

Continual conflict led to civil war, occupation by Japan and victory of the communists over the nationalists. In 1949 Mao established the People’s Republic, but tens of millions would perish when collectivization and the Cultural Revolution brought famine and violence.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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