Ancient Chinese Philosophies and the Contemporary World - RSST5220

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


Ancient Chinese philosophies resonate in contemporary China and in the West. Philosophers compare Confucian and Aristotelean virtue ethics, read the Daoist text Zhuangzi alongside Nietzsche and describe Mohist thought as an early example of utilitarianism. Leaders of the People's Republic of China quote from the Chinese classics in their political speeches to enhance feelings of patriotism. Daoist concepts inspire practitioners of alternative medicine and systems biologists.

This module will explore key concepts, themes and practices in ancient Chinese philosophical literature, available in English translation. We provide the historical and cultural backgrounds of the emergence of the major "schools" of thought (including Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism and Legalism) and examine how traditions interacted and transformed throughout Chinese history and how they influenced East Asian societies and became part of global culture. Hermeneutical and other methodological tools will be provided to engage with source material and answer questions about tradition and modernity, make cultural comparisons between East and West and discuss the translatability of concepts ranging from "philosophy" to “qi”. The module will also examine how ancient Chinese philosophies inform East Asian business ethics and social customs, literature and popular culture (in China and in the West) and ecological thinking.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40
Total Private Study Hours: 260
Total Study Hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
Essay 1 (1,500 words) – 20%
Essay 2 (2,000 words) – 30%
Examination (2 hours) – 50%

Reassessment methods
100% Coursework (3,000 words)

Indicative reading

The University is committed to ensuring that core reading materials are in accessible electronic format in line with the Kent Inclusive Practices. The most up to date reading list for each module can be found on the university's reading list pages:

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate significant understanding of the emergence of Chinese philosophies (e.g. Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism, Legalism) in early Chinese history and their legacy in contemporary East Asia and in the West;
2 Describe and analyse a key concept, idea, theme or practice in ancient Chinese thought;
3 Demonstrate critical appreciation of the key problems of translating Chinese culture, traditions, practices and concepts into a western interpretive framework and language, for instance the problems of using terms like 'philosophy' and 'religion' or western notions of 'literature' in relation to East Asian contexts;
4 Make cross-cultural comparisons between ancient Chinese thought and Western philosophy based on the textual analysis of primary sources (in translation) and secondary literature;
5 Recognise and analyse the influence of ancient Chinese philosophies on politics, society, popular culture, philosophy and perceptions of well-being, in contemporary China and in the West.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate their communication skills and organise information in a clear and coherent fashion in their written assignments;
2 Demonstrate their own learning and performance by applying humanities and social scientific approaches to their object of study;
3 Use electronic media to identify and collate appropriate academic resources from the library material, including primary sources, as well as online journals, and other reliable electronic sources, and reference this material effectively;
4 Deploy a range of IT skills effectively, such as word-processing text with footnotes, basic formatting, searching databases and text files;
5 Demonstrate a capacity to take responsibility for their own personal and professional learning and development.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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