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The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Understanding China, 1700-2000: A Data Analytic Approach, Part 1

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology via Coursera


The purpose of this course is to summarize new directions in Chinese history and social science produced by the creation and analysis of big historical datasets based on newly opened Chinese archival holdings, and to organize this knowledge in a framework that encourages learning about China in comparative perspective.

Our course demonstrates how a new scholarship of discovery is redefining what is singular about modern China and modern Chinese history. Current understandings of human history and social theory are based largely on Western experience or on non-Western experience seen through a Western lens. This course offers alternative perspectives derived from Chinese experience over the last three centuries. We present specific case studies of this new scholarship of discovery divided into two stand-alone parts, which means that students can take any part without prior or subsequent attendance of the other part.

Part 1 (this course) focuses on comparative inequality and opportunity and addresses two related questions ‘Who rises to the top?’ and ‘Who gets what?’.

Part 2 ( turns to an arguably even more important question ‘Who are we?’ as seen through the framework of comparative population behavior - mortality, marriage, and reproduction – and their interaction with economic conditions and human values. We do so because mortality and reproduction are fundamental and universal, because they differ historically just as radically between China and the West as patterns of inequality and opportunity, and because these differences demonstrate the mutability of human behavior and values.

Course Overview video:


  • Orientation and Module 1: Social Structure and Education in Late Imperial China
    • Before you start with the content for Module 1, please watch the Course Overview, review the Assignments and Grading page, and introduce yourself to other learners who will be studying this course with you.
  • Module 2: Education and Social Mobility in Contemporary China
  • Module 3: Social Mobility and Wealth Distribution in Late Imperial and Contemporary China
  • Module 4: Wealth Distribution and Regime Change in Twentieth Century China
  • Final Exam and Farewell
    • Now is time to test your understanding on the entire course. Take the final exam and complete the post-course survey. Your valuable feedback will certainly help us improve future iterations of the course.

Taught by

James Lee


4.8 rating, based on 12 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 110 ratings

Start your review of Understanding China, 1700-2000: A Data Analytic Approach, Part 1

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Amazingly revealing and highly innovative and professional approach. An essential to understand modern China and is connection to his past. Professor very professional and prepared. Very effective and straighforward presetnation and video. A lot of inspiring things do develop in further studying.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    A refreshing approach to the subject matter, eye-opening! Presenting China from the numbers, actual data, rather than just telling the events and story. And compared it with US and Europe from around the same period to contrast. Very convincing as the conclusions are derived from objective data.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Assumptions or discourses of social diversity, wealth distribution/inequality were examined in a multi-faceted manners! Appropriate coverage of social theories as background for the discussions, which made it very interesting for a natural science student like me. Nice course!
  • Sylvia Amar completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    It is a course about history of China, but also the sociology of China. It deals with inequalities and education.
  • Urelmaa
    From an early age, I was fascinated by the history and culture of the Qing Dynasty. I have read and studied many books in this field. I also watch historical movies. Through this training, I gained more research-based knowledge. It was very interesting, thank you very much. I'd like to take the next course.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This is not just a series of stories about Chinese history. This uses actual, statistical facts to tell you what is and has been going on there. The facts are different than some things I have heard before. This is valid and interesting. Also useful knowledge to have.
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting topic but a bit too short. The data used for research is very deep and not easy to come across.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Very interesting and fact-driven approach to some aspects of China. Definitely learned a lot! It takes about 2-3 hours a week to take it well, and it's worth it.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The most useful part of this course was debunking common notions of the CCP's rise to power that massive poverty and landlessness produced the revolution.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Good; new perspectives and approach to data; bit chaotic at times with jumping from one subject and era to another but definately helpful in learning about the chinese society
  • Tim completed this course.

  • Patrick Huang completed this course.

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