HSTAS 244 A: Imperialism and Anti-Colonialism in Asia

Spring 2022
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm / THO 119
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
JSIS A 244 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Welcome to HSTAS 244 / JSIS A 244, "Imperialism and Anti-Colonialism in Asia"!

This is an introductory survey of Asian history, geared towards freshmen and sophomores.  It will cover roughly the last 450 years of political, social, cultural and economic developments in the area that may be referred to as “monsoon Asia”: from Pakistan in the west, through Southeast Asia and China, to Japan in the east.  The course contents will focus in particular on five countries –India, Indonesia, Viet Nam, China, and Japan– although other regions (Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, etc.) will also receive attention.

The course will provide background and context for topics that are very timely: vast inequities in global wealth and power distribution, recurring crises in postcolonial states, lingering resentment of Western hegemony, and outbreaks of communal violence, acts of terrorism, and international conflicts and imperial interventions.  It is meant to provide broad historical knowledge of imperialist assaults on Asian societies, the deep transformations they triggered in Asian cultures, societies, and economies, and their legacies and on-going manifestations in the contemporary world.  Students will learn to historicize and contextualize the current global crises in order to react in an informed and critical manner to the charged political environment of our times.  The course will complement JSIS 203 (“The Rise of Asia,” with its emphasis on post-1945 developments) and provide a useful foundation for upper-level courses on comparative colonialisms, post-colonialism, and globalization.

            The main focus of the course will be on the effects that imperialism had on Asian societies and the various reactions it provoked, rather than on the historical causes of Western expansionism.  While the earlier mercantile colonialisms of Western nations in Asia will be touched upon, the course’s temporal focus will be on the 18th to the 20th centuries and the much more broad-based imperialist strategies.  Some course themes are:  states, cultures, and societies around 1750/1800;  imperialist assault and colonial domination;  resistance, reforms, and revolutions;  intellectual and cultural reorientations;  nationalism, decolonization, and independence;  and beginning Cold War divisions and “hot” wars. The course will strike a balance between developing broad, comparative themes in analyzing Asian responses to imperialism and colonialism and providing regional and national specificities.

            The themes covered in the lectures will also be fleshed out in class and/or group discussions, so our meetings will often entail a mix of both.  Beside a basic textbook, students will engage with primary documents (in translation), video documentaries, personal accounts, and literary works.

Preliminary schedule:

Week 1 (March 28, no meeting on March 30)

Orientation and introduction

Week 2 (April 4 + 6)

General features of Monsoon Asia, pre-colonial civilizations and cultures

Dynastic China and the Confucianist world of East Asia

Week 3 (April 11 + 13)

First map assignment due at 12:30 on April 11

The major peoples and states of Southeast Asia

Mughal India and civilizations of South Asia

Week 4 (April 18 + 20)

Early Western contacts: the Spanish and Portuguese mercantilist expansion

The Dutch and English entrepreneurial ascendancy; the EIC and the VOC

Week 5 (April 25 + 27)

British power in India, Dutch power in the Indies

Defining British and Dutch spheres of influence

“Opening China”: opium, wars, and special Western privileges

The opening of Japan, and the French conquest of “Indochina”

Reform or resistance: China, Viet Nam, and Meiji Japan

Week 6 (May 2 + 4)

The rise of Meiji Japan to an imperialist power

Early nationalisms:  the Spanish Philippines and India

The American conquest of the Philippines

Week 7 (May 9 + 11)

First exam: take-home essays due at 12:30 on May 9

Reform or resistance, and the rise of nationalism:  the US Philippines, India, Korea

Reform or resistance, and the rise of nationalism:  Indonesia, Viet Nam, and China

Week 8 (May 16 + 18)

The Chinese civil war and Japanese expansionism

World War II, revolutions and decolonization (1)

Week 9 (May 23 + 25)

Second map assignment due at 12:30 on May 25

World War 2, revolutions & decolonization (2).

Postcolonial Asia = post-imperialist Asia (1)?

Week 10 (June 1 only)

Postcolonial Asia = post-imperialist Asia (2)?

Conclusion and outlook


Catalog Description:
Introduction to Western imperialism expansion, conquest, and colonial rule in Asia; the anti-colonial, nationalist resistances they engendered; and the resultant cultural, political, economic, and intellectual transformations in Asian societies. Covers post-1800 violence, racial hierarchies, human rights abuses, post-colonial memories, persistent strategies of domination, and structural inequities. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 244.
GE Requirements Met:
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
February 23, 2024 - 9:04 pm