course
History of Modern China I

Dec 2009

Took this class as an undergraduate. Classes are straight-up lectures with no questions or comments from students. Zelin speaks quite fast and her Powerpoint slides are of minimal use/relevance. She often spells out Chinese names on the board only to say that we don't need to study/remember them, after we're done furiously scribbling them down. It's hard to tell sometimes what parts of her lecture are important to study or not important, because there is so much info being thrown at you. You are also expected to have a basic understanding of China and the dynastic system before entering the class so if you know nothing about China, you had better brush up before taking this. Unfortunately, the lectures are just not as interesting or dynamic as they could be.

Dec 2008

Great lecturer. Her lectures are very well-organized, and she tries very hard to get students involved (although few spoke up in my class). Always available to students, very friendly. Made sure to know everyone's name. The subject is also incredibly interesting, and the readings were few and great. It is true that she takes much (most) of her lecture from Spence's book... but she certainly makes it interesting! I would definitely take this class.

Dec 2006

This class is intended as a junior/graduate level from the people I saw in class. I took this class as a freshmen and got a good grade so I think I can provide an objective review on the difficulty and accessibility. This was my first history class in college and I am thankful that I didn't chicken out and leave. I learned a lot about the Qing and even about the Ming. When she lectures, she often mentions about each events' influence and their appearance in the PRC. Those comments truly made this class history of "modern china" not the Qing. She traced themes and their effects in the 20th century. Although it is quite true that she digresses a bit and focuses on economics a lot, I never felt that she neglected the other aspects of the Qing. The readings were interesting but I had some trouble finishing up all the readings. Some of the journals assigned are like 60 pages each. For discussion sections, there are like three to read so that's like 180 pages. The reading is pretty daunting and so I had to spend time during the weekened catching up on the reading. But the readings provided more insight on things that we couldn't discuss in detail during class. It helped me view the problems of China in terms of themes instead of chronology. The TA led discussion sections were quite weak. The class was pretty quiet during the discussion sections so it kind of forces the professor to lecture a bit. Now the paper. As a freshmen, I was pretty daunted by the 15 page paper. In high school, the longest paper I wrote was the 11 page paper on the Virginia governor election and that was an easy paper. The 15 page paper was a real history paper. It required the reading of at least two history books, sourcing, and detailed analysis. The weekend I wrote my paper, I literally didn't move from my room. But the paper itself wasn't impossible. With time and effort I was able to write a good paper and turn it in. The exams are pretty straightforward. Just as any history class, there are IDs and short answers. That is pretty much the midterm and the exam is pretty much off of the lecture notes. The final was IDs and short answers as well. The exams were pretty easy and they were easy to prepare for if you went to class and took your notes effectively. All in all, I thought professor Zelin was a great professor who was knowledgable in her area and was able to connect themes together to provide a picture of China. Her selection of readings was interesting and helpful. I definitely recommend her class. Oh yeh if you are a freshmen, don't be intimidated to take higher level courses. The higher numbers are just numbers. That's all that they are.

Apr 2006

First, the good side. The choice of readings is excellent and Prof. Lean has also compiled (for student purchase)a series of articles relevant to the course. Now, the bad side. What Prof. Lean calls "lectures" are actually 70-minute regurgitations of chapters from Jonathan Spence's THE SEARCH FOR MODERN CHINA (as others have noted). Her recitation of this material without giving Spence credit or even mentioning his name is an academically questionable practice. The "discussions" of the three or four required books is cursory, perhaps 20 minutes on a three or four-hundred page book. The result is extremely superficial. More serious is her excessive absences, announced in advance but never justified (except for two weeks of jury duty at the very end of the semester which could have easily been postponed). The net result here is she did not get to the end of the course because she was away 25% of the time. I could go on, but I hope that this kind of "teaching" is not condoned at Columbia

Dec 2004

Professor Zelin has a true passion for the subject, is extremely knowledgeable and her exposition is clear and well organized therefore you will not just love the subject because of the way she teaches it but also will not need to do as much reading as requested because the notes taken in class will guide you to understand what is absolutely necessary to be known. She is willing to accept and discuss opinions different from hers and suggest her point of view with the utmost tolerance and kindness. Overall you will love the subject and find yourself eager to take other classes with her

Jan 2004

This class was really enjoyable. She may be a bit arrogant, but there is something cool about her confidence, too. There is a heavy focus on economics, but at least the class has a focus, rather than being a random mix of culture, politics, etc. I don't know what people are talking about saying this is work overload. You barely have to do the readings, there is one paper, and one test the whole semester.

Jan 2004

Warning: This class is taught from an economic historian's perspective. So much time was spent examining tax policies, new fiscal measures for each emperor's reign, beginnings of capitalism etc. Because of the emphasis on economics, I felt that Prof Zelin ignored the cultural and social aspect important to a course meant to be an overview of China from the fall of the Ming to the 1911 Revolution. The format of the class was lectures (often dry) interspersed with in class discussions that were basically more lecture from Prof. Zelin. I also agree with some of the other comments about her standoffishness and her arrogance.

Dec 2003

i hate her. she's unapproachable, digresses a lot, and very boring. this class should also be renamed as "ECONOMY of Qing China". going into the semester, i really looked forward to this class as one that would be a favorite, but ended up dreading it and really hating the lectures.

Oct 2003

WORK OVERLOAD. Rambles on and on and on and then tells you how smart she is and lets you know how stupid you are. This is less of a history class and more of a economic/history class. Smiles, but is still unapproachable.

Jan 2003

Wow, she is a power in her field. Knowledge and well spoken, her lectures are great and the book she uses is also very engaging. This class, although, listed as an undergraduate is inundated with grad students (3/4's are grad students) so it is intimating at first, but I think she gives the undergrads a break. If you are really interested in Chinese history (late Ming and Qing dynasty) you should take this course, she is great and will help you in any direction for she seems to know an awful lot. This is a very engaging class and truly stimulates the mind.

Nov 2002

Professor Ko rocks-- she's an antropologist teaching history, and her resulting cultural emphasis makes class doubly interesting. plus her outfits are sublime-- total fashion plate academic chick. her syllabus was great for this class-- mixing more conventional historical accounts with chinese murder mysteries. plus, well, she's chinese. she knows.

Jan 2000

Prof Zelin knows the material and then enjoys reminding the class how much she knows. Perfect for those who love esoteric Sichuan tax policy. Prof Zelin is clearly an old school Chinese prof - she lectures, everyone listens, no questions at threat of irritation.

Jan 2000

For the most part, I enjoyed this class. The first semester covers essentially the Qing dynasty of China while the second half goes all the way up to the Communist Revolution of 1949. There's a lot of information involved, so you'll definitely have one really overdeveloped hand after all the note-taking in each class. This is a class you should take if you're interested in Chinese history.