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Pre-Modern China: Topics in Chinese History (600-1300)


Admission requirements

MA-students only


This course is intended for students with only an introductory knowledge of Chinese history who want to learn more about Chinese social and cultural history between the Tang and Song Dynasties. We examine how socio-economic life changed during the so-called commercial revolution, how differences amongst regions developed, and how old and new power holders related to each other and to other social groups. By covering a longer period and by contrasting the early Tang and later Song periods this course allows participants to investigate how classical traditions were reworked in different moments of political land cultural reinvention and to question to what extent such transformations set the tone for later imperial history. The course is organized thematically. Topics include commercialization, urbanization, and intercultural relations; family and gender; examinations and career patterns; printing and reading; travel; religious beliefs and practices; the political role of emperors, the court, the bureaucracy, and the literati; the beginnings and spread of neo-Confucianism. Students are asked to read secondary materials on a weekly basis; primary sources (in translation) will also be made available.

Course objectives

  1. the acquisition of a deeper understanding of Chinese history between 600 and 1300
    1. an introduction to the historiography on this period in European languages and the development of an individual position in methodological and theoretical debates
    2. the critical reading of primary sources (in translation) and their use in the evaluation of secondary sources


Check the timetable on the departmental website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

  • Hours spent attending lectures and seminars – Time for reading the assigned literature (120 hours) – time to write a final paper (80 hours) – time to write and revise a short paper (60 hours)

Assessment method

  • one small and one large paper (resp. 25% and 40% of final mark)

  • oral presentation 15%

  • contributions to weekly discussion sessions 20%



Reading list

Background literature

General Chinese histories
Hansen, Valerie. 2000. The open empire : a history of China to 1600. 1st ed ed. New York ; London: Norton.
Mote, Frederick W. 1999. Imperial China : 900-1800. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press.
Twitchett, Denis and John King Fairbank, eds. 1978- The Cambridge History of China, multiple volumes. New York : Cambridge University Press.
Gernet, Jacques. 1996. A history of Chinese Civilization, 2nd ed. New York : Cambridge University Press.
Schirokauer, Conrad. 1991. A brief History of Chinese Civilization. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Fairbank, John King. 1998. China: a New History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Select Other Anthologies of primary sources
Chan, Wing-tsit. 1969. A source book in Chinese philosophy. 1st Princeton paperback ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mair, Victor. 1994. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
Mair, Victor H., Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, and Paul Rakita Goldin. 2005. Hawai’i reader in traditional Chinese culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Owen, Stephen. 1996. An anthology of Chinese literature : beginnings to 1911. New York ; London: Norton.

Chinese history by period
Brook, Timothy. The troubled empire : China in the Yuan and Ming dynasties. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Belknap.
Kuhn, Dieter. 2009. The age of Confucian rule : the Song transformation of China. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Lewis, Mark Edward. 2009. China’s cosmopolitan empire : the Tang dynasty. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Assigned literature
Will be sent to students in weekly handouts; a shared course bibliography will be made available online


Through uSis


This course will start in the week of October 28 (block II).

All other information:
Prof. Dr. Hilde De Weerdt