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The Development of Neo-Confucianism (Song to Qing)



The rise and development of Neo-Confucianism is the most important intellectual phenomena in China in the last millennium. Although it was challenged by classical schools and modern Western thought in the last few hundred years, it still represents the core of ethics, attitudes toward life and even worldviews for modern Chinese in many fundamental ways, and remains to be a school of utmost importance to many contemporary thinkers. Historically, Neo-Confucians tried to unit the merits of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism by keeping a good balance between the practical and the ideal, the secular and the holy, or, in general, what is this world and what is the transcendental world. This course is going to examine the rise and development of this special school in Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, with emphasis on its basic teachings and its political, social and intellectual background. We will read the original words of representative Neo-Confucian masters together with recent and often critical scholarship on them. I hope this course will bring the students into the “mental/spiritual world” of these fascinating thinkers and “sages,” find out how they interact with their time, and then have a better understanding of the Chinese intellectual history and human nature.

Teaching method


Admission requirements


Course objectives

Course load

5 EC * 28 hours = 140 hours

Required reading

  • Chan, Wing-tsit tr. Reflections on Things at Hand. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

  • de Bary, William Theodor, Wing-tsit Chan [and] Burton Watson. compiled. Sources of Chinese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

  • de Bary, William Theodore. Self and Society in Ming Thought. New York, Columbia University Press, 1970.

  • Graham, A.C. Two Chinese philosophers : The metaphysics of the brothers Cheng

  • Munro, Donald J. Images of Human Nature: a Sung Portrait. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.

  • Ch’eng, Chung-ying. New Dimensions of Confucian and Neo-Confucian Philosophy. Boulder, Colo.: NetLibrary, Inc., 1999.

Test method

Form of examination:

    1. Final Examination with essay questions. 50%
    1. Participation in the class. 25%
    1. Short paper (6-8 pages) on selected topics. 25%

Time table

Check the departmental website for exact day, time and location.


With the teacher


Via U-TWIST, see ‘Aanmeldprocedures voor colleges en tentamens’