University of Notre Dame

Where East Meets West: The Silk Road, Western Missionaries, and Opium Wars

Course Number: HIST 13184-5
Instructor: Liang Cai

This course aims to explore the interactions between Chinese Empires and other parts of the world from antiquity to the 19th century. We will observe how warfare, international trade, and religions influenced China’ s historical path, shaped Chinese people’s self-identities, and changed the global order in pre-modern times. Specifically, we will examine five major themes: 1) Bridging the East and the West: the Silk Road; 2) Mongol Empire and Globalization before European Hegemony; 3) Zheng He’s Voyage and China in the World Trading System; 4) Western Missionaries in Late Imperial China; and 5) Opium Wars. We will focus on such questions as: How did Chinese Empires interact with nomadic people? How did the Silk Road facilitate the diffusion of techniques, instruments, sciences, and religions between the East and the West? What did international trade between the East and the West look like before the age of modern globalization? How did trade conflicts lead to warfare and influence China’s diplomatic strategies? What kind of knowledge did Western missionaries help to disseminate into Chinese society? Did they provide the right window for Chinese people to understand the European society and culture? How did the Western Missionaries shape the perceptions of Chinese culture in the Western mind?

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