BA Chinese Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Ideas and Ideologies in Chinese Civilisation

Course unit fact file
Unit code CHIN30401
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Chinese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit examines the most crucial ideas and ideologies that have helped shape Chinese civilisation over the past three millennia, core ideas that continue to influence global society today through translation and inspiration. Each teaching week is focused on one canonical text from Chinese history, from the earliest written records up to the end of the last imperial dynasty in 1912, supplemented with relevant scholarship. Each week we explore how Chinese thinkers of the past generated ideas to address key questions of the human condition, including: What makes a moral person? How should society be ordered? What lessons can we learn from history? How is spiritual awakening to be attained? How can we modernise a nation without losing touch with the past? Through a better understanding of the key ideas that have been generated in response to these, we can better appreciate the diversity of Chinese culture as well as the shared humanity of all cultures. We also consider the impact that we as scholars of Chinese history can have in the present day through actualising these discussions in our lives. Although all texts are read in English translation, students with sufficient Chinese ability have the option of consulting the original texts as well. 



  • Provide students with a sound understanding of key ideas in the history of Chinese civilisation, and the various ways in which these ideas have influenced human history 

  • Foster greater awareness of the diversity of Chinese culture and the shared experience across different world cultures 

  • Provide students with an opportunity to engage with primary Chinese-language source material in conjunction with English-language secondary sources 

  • Improve students’ ability to express complex ideas in oral and written form 

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Show familiarity with formative ideas and questions in the history of Chinese civilisation, and be able to identify how these developed over time 

  • Demonstrate how these key ideas shaped the history of China and how they continue to play a role in contemporary society 

  • Illustrate how thinking through the lens of another culture helps changes our perspective on important aspects of human history 

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Assess academic and popular perspectives on these key ideas against the context of their own critical approach 

  • Approach the study of key ideas in a respectful but critical manner, and recognise worldviews sometimes vastly different from their own without necessarily supporting them 

  • Discern the important role that the essential concerns at the heart of these ideas continue to play today 

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Think independently and critically about matters relating to moral, cultural, political, and historical thought 

  • Be well-informed on these topics and be prepared to use this knowledge in intercultural discourse 

  • Engage in critical discussions with peers and mentors on these topics 

Assessment methods

Assessment Task 

Weighting within unit 

Essay Plan 


Reading Journals 


Midterm Essay 


Final Exam 


Feedback methods

  • Regular oral feedback on contributions to class discussion 

  • Written feedback on essay plan, written feedback on essay 

Recommended reading

Indicative Reading 

  • Confucius, Lunyu, translated as The Analects 

  • Laozi, Daode jing, translated as The Way and Its Power 

  • “Stories of Assassins”, from the Records of the Grand Historian 

  • Pei Songzhi and Chen Shou, Sanguo zhi zhu, translated as Empresses and Consorts: Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States with Pei Songzhi's Commentary 

  • Family Instructions for the Yan Clan and Other Works by Yan Zhitui 

  • The Lotus Sutra 

  • Song Ruoshen and Song Ruozhao, Nü Lunyu , translated as The Analects for Women 

  • Liu Xiang baojuan , translated as The Precious Scroll of Xiu Liang by Katherine Alexander 

  • Wei Yuan, Shengwu ji , translated as Chinese Account of the Opium War, 1888 

  • Kang Youwei, Datong shu , translated as The One-World Philosophy of K'ang Yu-wei, by Laurence G. Thompson (London: George Allen & Unwin Limited, 1958) 


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Gregory Scott Unit coordinator

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