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Lips and Teeth: Korea and China in Modern Times

Explore the historical evolution of China and the Korean Peninsula and discover the implications for today.

4,676 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

As countries across Asia - and the globe - wrestle with the impact of China’s rise, nowhere are the opportunities and threats of a wealthy and powerful China felt more keenly than next door, on the Korean Peninsula.

Understanding the history and current reality behind Sino-Korean relations - countries long-described as being as close yet as different as “lips and teeth” - opens up a window onto perhaps the key geopolitical transformation of the present age.

This free online course from Yonsei University in Seoul will cover lot of ground chronologically, focussing on watershed moments that include: the Imjin War (1592-1598); the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895); the Korean War (1950-1953); and the end of the Cold War (1991).

We will then turn our historical gaze to the present, focusing on the current leaders of China, and North and South Korea. We will look at the ways in which the extraordinary family histories of Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un and Park Geun-hye embody the complex relationship between lips and teeth.

Painting on a broad historical canvas, we will learn why Chinese and Koreans have insisted on remaining as close as “lips and teeth,” and yet how difficult that ideal is to achieve in reality.

The educator for this course is John Delury, Professor of Chinese history and Sino-Korean relations at Yonsei University, and co-author of the acclaimed book, “Wealth & Power: China’s Long March to the 21st Century.”

You can find out more in John’s post for the FutureLearn blog: “Lips and teeth: weaving the ‘tangled skein’ of Korea and China’s history.”

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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds I’m John Delury, professor at Yonsei University here in Seoul, South Korea. We all know how China’s rise is transforming the world from the value of the euro to climate change literally all over the planet. What’s unique about this MOOC is it allows you to take a look at China from right up close, from the perspective here, that borders on the Korean peninsula. You will learn about the special relationship between China and Korea compared to being as close as lips and teeth that goes back for centuries. For me, this MOOC is exciting because it allows me to build on my first book called Wealth and Power– China’s Long March to the 21st Century.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds With my co-author Orville Schell, in that book, we looked at China’s desperate search for a formula for national strength and prosperity. It was how Chinese look at their own history. But in this MOOC, we open up the picture and we look at how China’s evolved its relationship with a small but strategic country on its Northeast border, with Korea. I want to cover a lot of ground chronologically speaking and think about big themes. So to do that, our MOOC will use the three major wars fought by Chinese troops on the Korean peninsula.

Skip to 1 minute and 18 seconds We’ll start with the massive conflict in the 1590s known as Imjin War when Japan invaded Korea and pushed all the way up north before being beaten back by combined Sino-Korean forces. Then we will look at the first Sino-Japanese war in the 1890s, when the same thing happened, but this time, China failed to stop Japan. And of course, we will look at the Korean War, in the 1950s, when yet again, China sent hundreds of thousands of young men across the Korean border. This time, to repel an American led coalition fighting for South Korea. As a historian, I’m always interested in how the past connects with the present.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds So in the last two weeks of the class, we’re going to move right up to the current period. We’re going to look at China’s rather tricky post Cold War strategy of trying to be friends with both Koreas, and we’re going to finish with a look at the current leaders, Xi Jinping, Park Chung-hee, and Kim Jong-Un, and their pretty remarkable family backgrounds. And from that, try and get some clues about the future of China-Korea relations.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at anyone with an interest in world history. No prior qualifications or experience of Korea or the Korean language are needed. There are no educational requirements to take part in this course.

Who will you learn with?

Professor of Chinese history and Sino-Korean relations, Yonsei University; Co-author of Wealth & Power: China's Long March to the 21st Century; Senior fellow, Asia Society; BA & PhD at Yale

Who developed the course?

Yonsei University

Yonsei University was established in 1885 and is the oldest private university in Korea.

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