Modern Chinese History: Key Ideas

This resource guide was developed by the Interdisciplinary Curriculum Development Team in coordination with the East Asian Studies Center at The Ohio State University to support teaching about modern Chinese history in the classroom. Sources for material are focused on the Key Issues for Asian Studies series by the Association for Asian Studies by David Kenley, Modern Chinese History.  Materials are designed for teachers to use in the classroom with minimal modification in the Take & Go Series: Modern Chinese History.  


  • China is a culture and country that is rich in heritage and influence that fascinates many people today, but is still misunderstood because many try to view it through a Western perspective. 
  • The Qing dynasty had an ability and were adept at dealing with many ethnic groups. Early Qing rulers are credited with creating and preserving massive works in Chinese culture, but later emperors could not succeed as the modern world dawned. 
  • The Self-Strengthening Movement aimed to bolster the military, reform government, and advance the economy in China, but faced setbacks due to conflicts with regional officials and inconsistent support from Empress Dowager Cixi.
  • The Sino-Japanese War tested the effectiveness of China's reform efforts and resulted in Japan becoming the most powerful country in Asia.
  • The Hundred Days Reform Movement was a period of significant change in China but was ultimately opposed and canceled by Empress Dowager Cixi.
  • Rebels and revolutionaries, such as the Boxers and Sun Yat-sen, played a significant role in the downfall of the Qing dynasty.
  • Historians have differing opinions on the effectiveness of the late Qing period, with some giving credit to Empress Dowager Cixi for delaying the collapse of the dynasty.
  • China experienced “total war” between 1931-1949. Total War differed by geographic region in China.
  • Japan was condemned by the international community for invading Manchuria in 1931.
  • Chinese Communists and Nationalists formed a second united front to cooperate against Japan. 
  • After World War Two, hostilities resumed between the Chinese Communists and Nationalists. 
  • In 1949, the Chinese Communists established the People’s Republic of China and Nationalists fled to Taiwan. 

This project was funded in part by the Freeman Foundation through the University of Pittsburgh national coordinating site for the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (NCTA) Asian Studies Center, University Center for International Studies, and the U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant to the East Asian Studies Center at The Ohio State University. The content of this resource guide does not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

This guide is available online for classroom use worldwide and can be accessed at EASC's Resource page

Source: Kenley, D. L. (2020). Modern Chinese history. Association for Asian Studies, Inc.