Final Exam MA: The Pool of Questions



Final Exam MA: The Pool of Questions

Enclosed is the pool of topics that will be covered in the final MA exam. Naturally, there is an overlap among some topics, and the questions can encompass several topics or periods. E.g., the question re local elites can touch upon their relations with foreign rulers of China, their role during the peasant rebellions, or their interactions with the Republican/Communist rulers of modern China. So, the list below is not of specific questions but of general topics that you must prepare in advance and on which you should focus when reading the source materials for the exam (the list of required reading is enclosed separately).

The students of the general MA (“Iyuni”) should prepare the entire list. For the research students: you shall be asked about either pre-1900 or post-1900 period (depending on your research focus). Namely, students of traditional China may ignore question 10 and the sections related to modern China from other questions; students of modern China may ignore sections related to traditional China from the questions 1-9. Yet we do expect of the students to have a basic understanding of another period (i.e., of modern period for students of pre-modern history and vice versa) on the level of introductory BA courses. See more in the explanations to the reading list.

For further clarifications, please do not hesitate to be in touch with the examiners (Gidi, Michal, Orna, Yuri).


  1. Cycles of Unification and Fragmentation in China
    1. Factors (geographic, economic, institutional, cultural, ideological) that contributed toward unification or political fragmentation
    2. Centralization vs. decentralization: modes of rule over provinces and prefectures; degree of local autonomy (economic, cultural, administrative); comparison between degrees of centralization vs. de-centralization in traditional vs. modern China.
    3. Unification vs. Fragmentation in Republican China and beyond. The Taiwan question.


  1. Local elites (“gentry”)
    1. Characteristics of local elites in traditional China
    2. Sources of elite power: social (in local community) and political (vis-à-vis the state)
    3. Fluctuations in the elite’s composition and in its relations with the imperial government over longue duree of Chinese history.
    4. Examinations and elites. Examination success and elite belonging; examinations as the focus of interaction between the elites and the throne; changes in the nature and content of exams over history.
    5. Elite ideologies (with specific focus on Neo-Confucianism). Ideological interaction between the elites and the throne.
    6. The fate of local elites in the 20th century.
  2. State and society: the power of the state and its limits
    1. Imperial (and pre-imperial) bureaucracy: how deeply did it penetrate society at different periods? Which non-bureaucratic groups assisted the governance?
    2. The government’s (in)ability to control economic, legal, ideological, and religious spheres.
    3. Fluctuations in the power of the state from Zhou to the end of Qing
    4. The Republican state and the state in the People’s Republic: similarities and differences in the degree of penetration of society below, and of peripheral regions. Changes and continuities from Mao to Deng to Xi.
    5. The question of “civil society” in China: did/does it exist?
  3. Economic policy
    1. Economic policies from the Warring States period on: ways of developing economy; agricultural policies; attitude toward domestic and foreign trade; monopolies
    2. Objective factors that influence economy: demography, technology, new crops, etc
    3. Fiscal problems and the ways to deal with them
    4. Economic reforms from Han Wudi to Wang Mang, to Xiaowendi of N. Wei, to Wang Anshi, to Zhang Juzheng, to Yongzheng, to 1898…. What were the reformers’ goals; the focus of their efforts; opposition to the reforms; the extent to which the reforms were successful?
    5. Chinese economy vis-à-vis the West in late imperial China: similarities and differences.
    6. Major aspects of economic policies under Mao and in the post-Mao period (see also more in Question 10)
  4. Ethnicity and China’s relations with internal and external “Others”
    1. Ideological background: view of “us” and “them” throughout Chinese history, and changes in perceptions of the Other. Traditional Chinese nationalism. New ideas of belonging from the late Qing onwards. The impact of ideologies on foreign policy and on the attitudes toward domestic national minorities
    2. China’s foreign relations’ patterns: before and after the Opium wars. Theory vs. praxis of foreign relations in different periods (e.g., Song) and in different spatial directions (e.g. Qing’s policies in the north vis-à-vis the south). The “tribute system”: its intellectual foundations and practical aspects.
    3. Foreign rulers in China (especially Yuan and Qing). The problems they faced; their cultural peculiarities; their relations with Chinese elites; modes of governing the multi-ethnic policy. The impact of the Manchu rule on modern China?
    4. China’s notions of territoriality and their transformation throughout the different dynastic periods. China’s boundaries and frontiers. The differences between “China proper” and “outer” areas. Success and failure in assimilating newly acquired territories.
    5. Ethnic minorities in China: government policies, responses and outcomes
    6. China and the great powers in the 20th century: the impact of Britain, France, Germany, Japan, USA, USSR (before and after 1949). Aspects of current foreign policy (1978-).
  5. Military and military policies
    1. Historical changes in the army’s composition, attitudes toward the military, civil-military relations. Peculiarity of “alien” dynasties and their views of the military
    2. Late Qing military reform and their impact (especially on politicization of the army)
    3. The Warlords era: relations between the army and the political realm (especially analysis of the Guomindang’s approach under Sun Yat-sen and then during Chiang Kai-shek’s era)
    4. Army and the Party in the PRC (under Mao and afterwards). Political role of the PLA in Mao’s years and today.
  6. Rebellions in Chinese history (from Chen She until the Boxers): economic, social, political, ideological (religious) factors. How did rebels organize themselves? The role of local elites in fostering/suppressing the rebellion. Compare between traditional rebellion and the rural activities of the CPC.
  7. Family and kinship units in traditional and modern China
    1. Traditional China: kinship units and their social and political roles. Family-related ideology
    2. Changes in the kinship units during the Republican era: political, social, and economic background
    3. CPC policy toward the kinship units and their impact on kinship structures in Mao’s era.
    4. Post-1978 developments: the emergence of new familial patterns and new relations within the family. Analyze the background for these changes.
  8. Political thought, political culture, and the role of intellectuals in traditional and modern China
    1. Pre-imperial foundations of the imperial rule. Fundamentals of political thought: views of political order, of the ruler, of the ruler-minister relations; of state-society relations; of the military; of the commoners’ political roles, and the like. Traditional ideological orientations and their modern fate.
    2. Ideological changes in the unified empire (especially Neo-Confucianism and its role in Late Imperial China).
    3. Western ideologies in modern China (from the late 19th century on): their impact; their relation to traditional values; their major proponents in China. Views of Marxism and liberalism and changes in “Chinese Marxism”.
    4. Intellectuals and the state: imperial and Republican background. Intellectuals in the People’s Republic: their position under Mao and thereafter. Freedom of expression and its limits. Educational policies. Attitudes toward politically involved intellectuals.
  9. Modern China: major issues (see also relevant parts of the questions above)
    1. The Republican era. The Guomindang’s attainments and failures (in the context of China’s international position, military policy, domestic stability, economic developments, cultural policies, and state-society relations)
    2. The CPC way to power (1921-1949): changing modes of struggle; tensions between the policy of “united front” and that of class radicalism; relations with the Comintern and the USSR. The legacy of Party’s early years and its impact in the PRC.
    3. The Soviet model of development and its fate. Characteristics of the Soviet model; problems of its implementation; debates over its relevance; attempts to amend its weaknesses. The applicability of the Soviet model in post-Mao’s years, especially in the 21st century. The impact of the Soviet model on development challenges in China after Mao.
    4. Mao’s peculiar policies: from the Great Leap Forward (GLF) to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR). Objective factors behind these policies (which problems did Mao try to solve?) and subjective factors (Mao’s personality). Intellectual and practical aspects of GLF and GPCR.
    5. Deng’s reforms: ideological foundations and justifications; the reforms’ short-term and long-term goals; their historical background; debates over the reforms and their current vector of development.
    6. Agrarian policies under Mao and in post-Mao years. Changes in landownership, in rural organization, in the degree of the state’s (party’s) control over the villagers. New trends in China’s rural economy under Deng.
    7. Fundamentals of economic policies under Mao and in post-Mao years. Major factors (demographic, ecological, international) that influence policy fluctuations. How China’s peculiar political system influences its modes of economic development?