This is China gives an overview of 5,000 years of Chinese history in just over 100 pages. From the earliest signs of civilization to everyday life in contemporary China, this book covers a wide range of topics that will help you better understand Chinese history, culture and its place in the world today. The following questions can be used as a study guide, or as the starting point for in-class discussion. They will help the students to focus on the bigger picture and larger developments without losing sight of the important details. Each section also has a question that is meant to encourage students to go beyond the text, make connections with their own world, and/or stimulate discussion.
Before You Start Reading
What do you already know about China? Where does that information come from? Do you think you have a realistic and objective image of China, or is it based more on your own imagination and/or subjective information? And finally, what do you expect to learn from this book, or what do you hope to know when you are done reading it?
While You Are Reading
While you are reading This is China, try to answer the following questions as completely as you can. The more information you find/write down, the better you will understand and remember the material covered in this book.
Chapter 1 (pp. 1–14)
- Chapter 1 is titled “The Land and the People”. Explain how “China’s distinctive physical and human geographies” have influenced each other over the course of history. Give some specific examples. You can think about how aspects such as landscape, climate, vegetation, and natural resources have influenced the human population (growth), agriculture, and cultural development. (pp. 1–8)
- Discuss how human geographical elements, such as ethnicity, religion, philosophy and language (can) influence the life of individual Chinese. And what about the influence it has on governing China as a country/state? (pp. 9–14)
Discussion Questions for Chapter 1
On page 2, China’s physical geography is compared to that of the United States. Discuss how both the physical and human geography of China, as well as the influence they have on the people and the government, compare to that of the United States or Europe.
Chapters 2 & 3 (pp. 15–110)
- Chapter 2 covers all the dynasties (semi-legendary and real) of China, starting with the early Xia and Shang, up to the last dynasty, the Qing. Know all the names, dates, and at least 2 characteristics of each period (tip: the “dynasty song” on page 17 might be helpful!).
- After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911/1912, China went through several decades of chaos, revolutions and (civil) war, before the founding of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. The two most important political players during these years were the Nationalists and the Communists. Describe both parties, mentioning their leaders, political ideas, key events, and (military) strategies. What are the main differences between them? Can you also identify some similarities? (pp. 73–91)
- Analyze the significant events and long term developments in China under Communist rule from 1949 to the end of the 20th century. Describe the different political movements and their effects on the population, country and leadership. (pp. 91–110)
Discussion Questions for Chapters 2 & 3
What are the so-called oracle bones? What was their function during the Shang dynasty and why are they important to us today? Can you think of any modern object that will play a similar role when it is discovered by people 2,000 years from now?
Chapter 4 (pp. 111–126)
- Analyze the characteristics and impact of the most recent national (and international) developments on China. What is the role of typical Chinese concepts (such as harmony, loajia, face, guanxi, and qingke) in the way China has, and will continue, to develop? (pp. 111–126)
Discussion Questions for Chapter 4
The Chinese concepts discussed in the question above may at first appear strange to you. But if you think about it, you will find that your own culture has a lot of concepts that are also very important to the development of that society (and specific to it). Try to think of some of those cultural values/concepts and discuss how they influence your everyday life, society as a whole and the development of that society.
Important Names and Terms
The following names and terms are very important for your understanding of China, and answering the reading questions. Make sure you know who these people are, and what the terms mean.
Individuals and Organizations
- Qin Shi Huangdi (the first emperor of China)
- Sun Yat-sen / Chiang Kai-shek
- Mao Zedong / Deng Xiaoping
- Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
- Nationalist Party
Terms, Concepts, Places, and Events
- Confucius / Confucianism
- Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)
- dynasty/ emperor
- The Great Wall
- Han Chinese / minorities
- Mandarin (language)
- oracle bones
- Reform and Opening-Up Policy
Tip: you can use the index to find these terms in the book.