PHIL2435 Traditional Chinese Political Thought

(Semester 2, 2019–2020 Academic Year)

(Thursday 13:30-15:20)

What justifies political authority? By what means should rulers govern? What is the proper role of government? What is the proper relation between people and the state? To what extent can the state justifiably exert control over people? These are among the major questions explored in political philosophy. Traditional Chinese thinkers from the classical, medieval, and late imperial periods had intriguing, sophisticated views about all of these—views that are distinct from yet intersect with those influential in the Western tradition. This course will guide students in exploring and evaluating selected Chinese philosophers’ views on these and related questions, as presented in broad selection of texts from different periods in Chinese history. We will devote special attention to the specific shape that philosophically relevant issues take in the Chinese tradition of political thought. For example, we will examine discourse on the role of formal standards versus that of character, of education versus legal coercion, and of central versus local administration.

Class meetings will focus mainly on discussion of primary texts, with minimal time devoted to lectures. A major aim of the course is for students to engage directly in interpreting and exploring the implications of the primary texts.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  • Explain selected foundational issues in Chinese political philosophy and discuss their significance

  • State, compare and contrast, and critically evaluate influential views to these issues, including those associated with pre-imperial Ruist, Mohist, and Daoist texts and those associated with selected Ming and Qing dynasty texts

  • Demonstrate interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills in oral presentation and writing by discussing these issues and approaches in written assignments and tutorials

  • Demonstrate appreciation of similarities and contrasts between traditional Chinese political philosophy and recent international trends in political thought

Course Outline

1. Introduction (1/16)

Reading: “Shào Announcement 召誥”; selections from Guǎnzǐ 管子

2. Mohism 墨家 (1/23, 1/30)

Reading: Selections from Mòzǐ 墨子

3. Classical Confucianism 儒家 (2/6, 2/13, 2/27)

Reading: Selections from Analects 論語, Mèngzǐ 孟子, and Xúnzǐ 荀子

4. Classical Daoism 道家 (3/13)

Reading: Selections from Dàodéjīng 道德經 and Zhuāngzǐ 莊子

5. Qín 秦 “Realism” 法家 (3/20)

Reading: Selections from Hánfēizǐ 韓非子 and Yán Tiě Lùn 鹽鐵論

6. Wèi-Jìn 魏晉 and Táng 唐 Daoist Thought (3/27)

Reading: Selections from Ruǎn Jí 阮籍, Jī Kāng 嵇康, Guō Xiàng 郭象, Bàopǔzǐ 抱朴子, Wú Néngzǐ 无能子, Luó Yǐn 羅隱, Tán Qiào 譚峭

7. Sòng 宋 Confucian Reformers (4/3)

Reading: Selections from Oūyáng Xiū 歐陽修, Chéng Yí 程頤, Wáng Ānshí 王安石, Chéng Hào 程顥, Zhāng Zǎi 張載, Hú Hóng 胡宏, Chén Liàng 陳亮

8. Míng-Qīng 明清 Political Critics (4/10, 4/17, 4/24)

Reading: Selections from Fāng Xiào Rú 方孝孺, Lǐ Zhì 李贄, Gù Yánwǔ 顧炎武, Wáng Fūzhī 王夫之, Huáng Zōngxī 黄宗羲, Táng Zhēn 唐甄

Coursework and Assessment

Coursework will include active participation in course discussion activities (40% of total grade) and two essays (1200–1500 words each) (60%).


The course will focus on reading and discussion of primary sources, all of which will be included in the materials posted on Moodle. The original Chinese texts will be provided along with English translations. No secondary source reading is required for this course. However, to enrich your understanding of the course content, I strongly recommend that you read at least some of the optional secondary sources linked on the Moodle page.