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Unit information: Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy in 2014/15

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Unit name Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy
Unit code THRS20193
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Greene
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


In this unit we will explore some of the most important philosophies of ancient China that developed during the so-called "Warring States" period (between roughly 500 and 200 BCE). Often considered the golden age of Chinese, this period saw the rise of numerous thinkers and texts that were influential for the rest of Chinese history down to the present day. We will explore the thought of this period – in which ideas about religion, ritual, ethics, cosmology, and statecraft all play a part – through the close reading of many of its major texts and authors, such as the writings of Confucius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Modi, and Hanfeizi. Selected readings of these texts will be supplemented by modern academic interpretations, traditional commentaries, and consideration of whether or not "philosophy" is the proper way of approaching the activity of ancient Chinese thinkers.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will

(1) Be able to identify the major philosophical thinkers and schools of ancient China.

(2) Be able to articulate the differing philosophical and religious positions that these schools came to hold on issues of ethics, statecraft, and metaphysics.

(3) Be able to identify and explain those features of ancient Chinese philosophy that continued to be influential in later and contemporary China

(4) Have an understanding of modern academic debates concerning the authenticity of the pre-Han textual legacy

(5) Have gained a critical perspective on the notion of "Chinese philosophy" and on the debates about whether this is a suitable way of thinking about ancient Chinese thinkers and their writings.

(6) 3. acquired skills through essay writing and examination, in presenting, analysing and evaluating complex ideas and arguments in written form.

In addition 2nd year students will have

(7) developed analytical skills suitable for level I as demonstrated in their formal assessments.

Teaching details

1 lecture + 1 seminar per week

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 2500 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 6 (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs (1) (2) (3) (4) and (5). The coursework essay in particular will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate ILOs (6) and (7).

Reading and References

Lau, D. C. (trans.). The Analects (Lun Yü). Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth ; New York: Penguin Books, 1979.

Zhuangzi, and Brook Ziporyn. Zhuangzi : The Essential Writings with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 2009.

Lau, D. C. (trans.). Mencius. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth,: Penguin, 1970.

Ivanhoe, P. J., and Bryan W. Van Norden. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2005.

Watson, Burton. Basic Writings of Mo Tzu, Hsün Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu. Records of Civilization, Sources and Studies,. New York,: Columbia University Press, 1967.

Graham, A. C. Disputers of the Tao : Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1989.