Education About Asia: Online Archives

Teaching Twentieth-Century Chinese History

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In an ideal world of American education, both high school students and college undergraduates would begin the study of twentieth-century China with a deep understanding of the development of Chinese civilization and its place in world history. Certainly, the much-publicized economic challenge posed by contemporary China,  as well as its expanding leadership role in East Asia and beyond, would make such an in-depth study crucial for all American students. Unfortunately, state and local history requirements have not kept pace with world affairs. Serving as a National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) seminar leader, who prepares secondary teachers to teach East Asia, I needed to develop a twentieth century China framework that teachers can adapt for different courses and for students with varying backgrounds in Chinese history. Prepared for secondary teachers, the framework should also prove useful to teachers of undergraduates. While the format works well in a Chinese or East Asian history course, teachers can use it in a world history course, which is what most of our students will experience. In such a course. teachers will emphasize cross-cultural themes such as responses to the challenge of the West. They can, for example, challenge students to compare the ideals and methods used by Mao Zedong to those of Mahatma Gandhi in building mass revolutionary movements. In the section of this article on using a novel as a teaching resource. I suggest a number of these cross-cultural themes under the headings “Mao’s China in Twentieth Century World History” ”The Influence of the West on the Non-Western World,” and ”The Effects of Totalitarianism on Youth.”