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Advanced History of Philosophy: Chinese Philosophy


Admission requirements

Completion of the History of Philosophy course.


This class offers an introduction to the history of Chinese Philosophy from the time of Confucius (551 BC) to our modern era. The class will introduce a range of philosophical traditions such as Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism and Daoism. We will focus on key concepts of Chinese philosophy and will explore how these concepts challenge our Western beliefs and commitments. The class will concentrate on the distinctive features of Chinese philosophy in terms of their themes, reasoning, argumentative methods and feminist concerns.

We will read through the classical text such as the Analects and the Daodejing to see how these texts have shaped the Chinese worldview and societal system. The class encourages students to closely read original texts (in translation) and aims for a deeper understanding of both our Western commitments as well as gaining a deeper understanding of how Chinese philosophical traditions have shaped Chinese culture.

Course Objectives

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

  • understand the conceptions and problems of Chinese philosophy

  • interpret Chinese texts according to their concepts, themes and argumentative methods and to ask philosophical questions of complicated texts.

  • explain how prominent issues debated in the history of Chinese philosophy have relevance today.

  • understand the disagreements between the different Chinese traditions and to place the traditions in their historical context.

  • discern how Chinese philosophy challenges some of our Western commitments and beliefs.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Each teaching week of the course will consist of two 2-hour Kaltura Live Room lectures.

Students are required to complete the assigned reading prior to the meeting. The instructor will introduce key concepts of Chinese philosophy and will provide the historical background of the different Chinese traditions. Students are asked randomly to reflect on issues during the lecture. The instructor will be available for questions after the end of the lecture. Students can at any time email the instructor and schedule if necessary an online appointment. For each meeting, each student should submit a question of the day’s reading on the Brightspace discussion board. Each student is also required to answer at least one of each other’s questions
after the class meeting (and before the next class). A weekly non-compulsory quiz is listed on Brightspace, designed to assess the student’s understanding of both the present weeks readings and past weeks readings.

Assessment Method

  • Participation and attentiveness (10%). This will be assessed throughout the course, giving students randomly the change to reflect on course material and engage with fellow students on particular topics. Class attendance online will be checked.

  • Brightspace Discussions (20%). Asking philosophical question of complicated Chinese texts is a skill that need to be developed. The student is required to formulate a focused question about the assigned text. The question should be philosophically motivated, which means that the students needs to explain the reason behind the textual
    problem. The student is also required to answer at least one of each other’s questions after the class meeting (and before the next class).

  • One short “mid-term” essay of 1200 words (30%). The student is encouraged to analyze a Chinese philosophical traditional or thinker and express how, if and in what
    way these lines of thought challenge our Western beliefs and commitments.

  • One take-home final (during reading week) examination (40%). This examination will encourage a comprehension of the course content and will assess if the student has met the learning outcomes. The take-home examination will consist of essay questions and case study questions.

Reading list

Compulsory literature:

  • Graham, Angus C. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1989.

  • Wing-tsit Chang. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Recommended readings:

  • Puett, Michael J. and Christine Gross-Loh. The Path: Wat Chinese Philosophers can Teach us about the Good Life. Simon & Schuster, 2017.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Martine Berenpas, MA,