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Online course

The European Discovery of China

Explore Chinese history through the eyes of Western travellers, discoverers and missionaries, with this free online course.

Free:

  • Access to the course for its length + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

The European Discovery of China

Why join the course?

This free online course focuses on when and how the West first approached China. We will explore the influence that the discovery of China exerted on late medieval and early modern European minds.

Explore Chinese history through the eyes of Westerners

The backdrop of the course is the history of China. We will begin by looking at China’s place in the world and connections to the West via the Silk Road, before examining the changes brought about by the Song dynasty, the rise of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire, and finally the Ming dynasty.

We’ll analyse this period of Chinese history through the eyes of travellers, discoverers and missionaries who wrote about China from the 13th to the 17th century. These will include Marco Polo - not the first European to discover China, but the first to chronicle his time there in detail - and later Portuguese settlers, such as Galeote Pereira.

We’ll also take advantage of Chinese and European illustrated sources, like scrolls, paintings and maps, to give a more accurate picture of how China really was at each time.

Understand how Europe constructed the image of China

Through these sources, we’ll see how Europeans constructed a highly positive image of China that would persist until the 18th century.

What these Western travellers saw, what they didn’t see, what they choose not to tell and what they invented - that’s the story that we will unravel in this course.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsHi, this is a course about The European Discovery of China. . We'll talk about the huge changes that China experienced between the 13th and 17th centuries, and find out which aspects of Chinese culture impacted most on late medieval and early modern Europeans.

Skip to 0 minutes and 40 secondsMy name is Dolors Folch and I’ve been teaching Chinese History at Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona, for the last 25 years.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds During the lectures we'll draw on the vivid written accounts of the first European travelers to China: Marco Polo, the Iberian travelers, the Jesuits and the first diplomatic missions sent to China.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 secondsWe'll take advantage of fascinating illustrated sources, like maps, scrolls, and paintings, both Chinese and European, to track the changing image of the world that evolved during these centuries. And we’ll discover the objects, like silks and ceramics, that unveiled to the Europeans the existence of an incredible land of staggering wealth and unheard-of political organization.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 secondsBy the end of the 16th century, the world was already becoming global. But why did the Europeans visit the East, while the Chinese didn't visit the West? What made China so attractive to merchants, missionaries, and soldiers? Why did these visitors so wholeheartedly admire Chinese cities and Chinese bureaucracy? Why and how did Europeans construct the highly positive image of China that would persist until the 18th century? What influence did the Chinese model have on the early modern European world? And, last but not least, what was the real impact of this early European presence on the Chinese world?

Skip to 2 minutes and 45 secondsWhat these Western travelers saw, what they didn't see, and what they decided to suppress, that's the story that we're going to unravel in this course.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 secondsI'm delighted to share this fascinating topic with you. It has inspired my research for many years and I hope it will inspire you too. I'm sure we'll have a great time together.

What topics will you cover?

  • The Chinese World
  • Song cities and Mongol conquest
  • Marcos Polo’s China
  • The China that Europeans discovered: the Ming dynasty
  • China in the spotlight
  • The Friar’s missions and Mendoza’s book
  • Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Mission
  • The 17th Century

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

  • Identify the interconnection of different historical processes
  • Explore the interaction of textual, artistic and cartographic sources
  • Investigate the bias of European perception of the other
  • Summarise the early Modern Chinese society
  • Describe and discuss the European reports about China up to the 17th century

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at anyone with an interest in Chinese, European or world history. No previous knowledge or experience of the subject is required

Who will you learn with?

Dolors Folch

Dolors Folch Fornesa has been professor of China history in the Pompeu Fabra University for the last twenty five years.

Anna Busquets Alemany

Lecturer in the Arts and Humanities Department at Open University of Catalonia. In 2003 she designed the UOC’s East Asian Studies Program, which she directed between 2003 and 2009.

Who developed the course?

Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) is a public, international and research-intensive university in Barcelona. In just 25 years, it has earned a place for itself among the best universities in Europe.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript £49.00

Statement of Participation £34.00

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.