Ancient Chinese Philosophies and the Contemporary World - TH522

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2020 to 2021.


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.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40

Method of assessment

Essay 1 (2,000 words) – 25%
Essay 2 (2,000 words) – 25%
Examination (3 hours) – 50%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Clark, J.J. (2000). The Tao of the West: Western Transformations of Taoist Thought, London: Routledge.
Ivanhoe, P. & B. Van Norden (2006). Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Indianapolis: Hackett.
Lai, K. (2017). An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Littlejohn, R. (2016). Chinese Philosophy: An Introduction, London: Tauris.
Van Norden, B. (2011). Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy, Indianapolis: Hackett.
Van Norden, B. (2017). Taking Philosophy Back: A Multicultural Manifesto, New York: Columbia University Press.

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

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;
Describe and analyse a key concept, idea, theme or practice in ancient Chinese thought;
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;
Make cross-cultural comparisons between ancient Chinese thought and Western philosophy based on the textual analysis of primary sources (in translation) and secondary literature;
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.


  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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