This sequence of four courses will propose a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of Chinese cultural history conceived of as a succession of modes of rationality (philosophical, bureaucratic, and economic). The focus will be on the moments of paradigm shift from one mode of rationality to another. For each of these moments, cultural facts and artifacts—thought, literature, ritual—will be examined in relationship to changing social, political, and economic systems.
The first two courses will cover the periods of the Warring States (481-256 BCE) and the Period of Division (220-589 CE), with a brief excursion into the Han (206 BCE-220 CE). The Warring States laid the social and cultural foundations for the emergence of the imperial mode of rationality; the Period of Division saw the Buddhist “conquest” of China and the emergence of a rationality defined by the opposition of the Three Teachings to shamanism, that is, of a clear contrast between elite and popular culture.
The third and fourth courses will focus on the emergence of modern China in the Song-Yuan (960-1368) and of today’s China 1850 to the present. We will see how the modern attack on religion, redefined as "superstition", led not only to religious reform movements but also to a society in which science and the nation became the primary value systems promoted by the state.
The courses are listed below:
A Critical Cultural History of China - Early China I: Intellectual Change in the Warring States and Han (481 BCE-220 CE)
A Critical Cultural History of China - Early China II: Religious Transformation in the Period of Division (220-589 CE)
A Critical Cultural History of China - Modern China I: Religion and Thought in the Song, Jin, and Yuan (960-1368)
A Critical Cultural History of China - Modern China II: Structuring Values (1850-2015)
MODULE 00: A Critical Cultural History of China - Introduction This module introduces the key concepts that will be used throughout the course and the basic outlines of Chinese cultural history, starting with the Warring States (481-256 BCE).
MODULE 01: Attack on Shamanism This module explains why the intellectual elite attacked traditional religious practices like divination and shamanism.
MODULE 02: The Emergence of Self-Cultivation Practice This module presents two forms of self-cultivation—Confucian and Daoist—that emerged during the Warring States.
MODULE 03: The Philosophical Preparation of Political Unity We are going to learn about the meaning of “transcendence” as seen in the sacrifice to Heaven of the “Son of Heaven” (the king and later the emperor) and in the new cosmology of the Dao (Way) and Qi (vital energy).
MODULE 04: Han Religion This module is about local and imperial religion in the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 BC).
MODULE 05: Changing Theories of Illness This module states how new theories of healing based on the cosmology of Dao and Qi, in the face of the political and social crisis of the second century CE, made way for a return of ideas of demon-caused illness.