Fall 2015 - HIST 464 D100

Problems in Modern Asian History (4)

Class Number: 5964

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 8 – Dec 7, 2015: Fri, 9:30 a.m.–1:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history.



Concepts and methodology of modern Asian history. Selected themes may include revolution, inequality, mass violence, ideology, imperialism, leadership, and the Cold War.


Dictatorship and Everyday Life

This course examines how dictators and systems of dictatorship have affected everyday life in Asia over the past seven decades. We will begin by examining different types of dictators and different styles of dictatorships, and will debate who qualified as a dictator and the extent to which living under a dictatorship mattered for people at the grassroots level of society. We will explore case studies of such individual leaders as Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) and Mao Zedong in China, the Kim family and Park Chung Hee in Korea, and others. Through close reading of primary and secondary sources, we will also analyze themes including the cult of personality, domestic security and secret police, modernization, propaganda, and Cold War diplomacy. 


By the end of the term, students should: (1) gain a better understanding of the complex links between leaders, political systems, and lived experience; (2) recognize the advantages and shortcomings of different types of historical sources and scholarly approaches; (3) improve their writing skills through a variety of assignments; (4) contribute to public knowledge through a digital humanities capstone writing project about dictatorship and everyday life in modern Asia.


  • Seminar participation. 12%
  • Discussion leadership. 4%
  • Primary source project, (identify and annotate a primary source, then write a 300-word introduction explaining and analyzing it). 12%
  • Short essay, (800-word essay analyzing scholarly approaches to dictatorship and everyday life). 12%
  • Final project, (2,000-word capstone essay responding to the key themes and questions of the class, 10% first draft; 40% final draft). 50%
  • Peer review, (each student will formally review a draft of a classmate’s final project). 10%



Paul Fischer, A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power (New York: Flatiron Books, 2015).

Each student will read one biography of a dictator. In September, we will settle on who will read which book, but if you are enrolled in the course and would like to claim a biography from the following list so that you can order it in advance, email jeremy_brown@sfu.ca to confirm.

Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician (New York: Random House, 1994).

Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine, Deng Xiaoping: A Revolutionary Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Philip Short, Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare (London: John Murray, 2004).

Jay Taylor, The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009).  

Other weekly readings will be available electronically.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/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