China Courses

China’s Political Culture: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives

If there’s one uncontested fact about being Chinese, it is the sense of being part of a culture with a long history. History shapes not just contemporary practices, but also contemporary values. Hence, to understand China’s politics, it is essential to understand the main themes of Chinese political history and philosophy that serve as reference points for Chinese intellectuals and leaders in everyday thinking and conversation. This course will introduce the student to main themes in Chinese political history and philosophy and we will discuss how they continue to shape China’s present day politics and will likely shape its political future. Assigned readings will present contrasting perspectives. The student will be asked to draw comparisons with non-Chinese societies and think about implications for contemporary Chinese society as well as China’s role in the world. The course is roughly divided in two parts: the first four weeks will focus on themes in ancient Chinese history and political culture, though we will make an effort to show how these continue to influence the present. The second four weeks will focus mainly on the modern era (from the late 19th century onwards), though we will show how political themes and events in the modern era are also shaped by the past.