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Buddhism and modern Chinese literature


Admission requirements

None. Successful completion of a course in Chinese literature or Buddhism at the BA1 and BA2 levels is recommended, but not obligatory. Students are encouraged to read primary sources in Chinese original as far as they can, but English translations are always provided to their aid.


In the modern academia, ‘Buddhism’ and ‘modern Chinese literature’ are usually taught within two different institutional frameworks. Thus, a course which attempts to combine the two themes may strike us at first glance as a hodgepodge of totally unrelated bits. But this impression dissipates if we get closer to the subject matter. Even if one’s interest lies primarily in the modern Chinese society and its literary culture, one can hardly dismiss the legacy of Buddhism as otiose, insofar as one comes across elements related to Buddhism here and there in the writings of modern Chinese intellectuals, who are ‘entangled’ in the religious past of China of which Buddhism makes up a significant part. Exploring the multiple ways in which Buddhism is used by a variety of Chinese writers as an effective means to cope with modernity, this course offers a rare opportunity to reflect on some facets of modern Chinese literature which are of interest for both Sinological students and students of East Asian culture in general, by addressing the following questions: When and why did modern Chinese literature begin at all? Does modernity entail secularization? How did a few intelligent and versatile people react to modernism by resort to their religious traditions? To name but a few. Last but not least, the most attractive and essential part of this course is to enjoy some beautiful pieces penned by some of the most gifted writers in modern China, who reinvented Chinese as a literary language.

Course objectives

Students will gain a familiarity with:

  • The history of modern Chinese literature through the lens of some representative writers.

  • The Buddhist ideas and practices that prove influential on modern Chinese elite.

  • The problematics of Chinese modernity, especially in relation to literature and religious culture.


The timetable is available on the Chinastudies website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

  • Class meetings: 2 × 13 = 26 hrs *Assignments: 5 × 3 = 15 hrs

  • Readings: 5 × 12 = 60 hrs

  • Paper: 39 hrs

  • TOTAL 140 hrs

Assessment method

Assessment shall be through:
1) Attendance and in-class participation: 20%
2) Three short writing assignments: 30%
3) Paper: 50%

A ‘resit’ is only possible for the paper, and only if the overall mark of a student is 5.49 (= 5) or lower. In that case, a new paper must be written on a new topic approved by the instructor, and there is no possibility of feedback.


Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list



Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Ruixuan Chen


It is not possible to write a BA Thesis in the context of this course