Early China to 1500
China today is the most populous nation on earth and is rapidly becoming one of the most dynamic economies on the planet. Having embraced capitalism in order to strengthen their regional and global influence, the Chinese are also rediscovering elements of their ancient tradition and repackaging them for use in a modern, post-industrial world. The capitalism and the vision of modernity they embrace, however, are very different than that found in the West: ancient cultural and social traditions emphasizing family, hierarchy and order still predominate. Just as Roman law and the morality of the medieval church influence modern Western institutions, so Confucianism and Daoism, Moism and Legalism, Buddhism and folk religion, and two millennia of bureaucratic evolution continue to inform the social and political world of modern China. This course looks at the development of China from prehistoric times up to about 1500 and traces the traditions and events that shaped the worlds greatest pre-modern state.
There are three books required for the course.
The Cambridge Illustrated History of China by Patricia Buckley Ebrey is the text. We will also use Monkey by Wu Cheng’en (translated by Arthur Waley) and Celebrated cases of Judge Dee, by Robert Van Gulik.
There are also below to other short readings available on the web. Most can be found on the Internet East Asian History Sourcebook at:
I will base your grade on two writing assignments and two in-class essay exams. Each test or assignment will count for 25 percent of the grade. The in-class exams will require short essays on the terms listed in the syllabus. The take-home essays will be based on Monkey for the mid-term, and Celebrated cases of Judge Dee for the final. I will provide you with three sets of issues and your job will be to use the assigned readings to construct an essay around one of the three choices using material in the stories to support your essay. The essays will be a minimum of four pages, typed, and double-spaced (papers less than a full four pages will be marked down). The paper will cite the page numbers where the evidence to support their essay is found. No quote longer than one line should be used, and then only when a paraphrase will not suffice. The purpose of the essays is to show that you have read the assigned readings carefully and thoughtfully.
Papers will be reduced one letter grade per day if late, and I will not give grades of incomplete or make-up exams unless there is a documented medical excuse or a prior arrangement based on compelling need.
Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s ideas or words without giving them credit, including turning in someone else’s work as your own. It is an intolerable intellectual crime. If you have any question about how to use the ideas and arguments made by others in your essay, raise the issue with the instructor. We will also discuss this subject in class.
My office is Stevenson 2066, extension 42462. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org . My office hours are M-W 10:00-11:30.
Week of Topics and Assignments
8/22 --Introduction: Geography and prehistory.
--Religion, myth and philosophy before Confucius.
8/27-29 --“Politico-religious force fields:” Shang and Zhou cultures.
“Yin and Yang in Medical Theory” at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/yinyang.html
Selections from the Dao De Jing (also Romanized as Tao Te Ching) at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/taote-ex.html
“The Mandate of Heaven” at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/shu-jing.html
9/3-5 --Confucian humanism
Readings: Ebrey, pages 42-59: begin Monkey; “The Analects, excerpts” at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/analects.html
“The Great Learning,” at http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/grtlearn.txt
“The Doctrine of the Mean,” at http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/docmean.txt
“Selections from the Mencius” at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/mencius.html
9/10-12 --Radicals and Rationalists: The rise of bureaucratic thinking.
Readings: Ebrey, pages 42-59: continue Monkey.
“Selections from Xunzi” at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/hsun-tse.html
“Selections from the Writings of Han Fei” at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/hanfei.html
9/17-19 --Qin centralization and collapse
Film: “The Emperor and the Assassin.”
Readings: Ebrey, pages 60-85; continue Monkey; “The Legalist Policies of the Qin,” at: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/ssuma2.html
9/24-26 --Early Han: empire of compromise.
--The wages of Xin: The later Han and the Six dynasties
Readings: Ebrey, pages 86-95; complete Monkey. Hand out topics for first take-home essay.
10/1-3 --Neo-Daoism, Folk Daoism and Buddhism
Readings: Ebrey, pages 95-107; discussion of Monkey.
10/8-10 Monday, review for exam 1. Wednesday, exam 1: Take home essay due.
10/15-17 --Sui-Tang: The Han-Nomadic hybrid.
--Tang Taizong: Master of the empire.
Readings: Ebrey, 107-135; Van Gulik, Judge Dee, chapters 1-15.
10/22-24 --Wu Zhao: A woman on the throne.
--Aesthetics and anarchy under Xuanzong.
Readings: Judge Dee, chapters 16-30.
10/29-31 --Song unification
Readings: Ebrey, pp. 136-189; Ban Zhao, "Lessons for a Woman" at:
--Southern Song and the new economy.
Readings: Ebrey, 136-163; discuss Judge Dee.
11/5-7 --Abaoji and the nomadic resurgence: Liao, Jin, and Yuan
Readings: Ebrey 164-189;
11/12-14 --Ming Taizu and the Chinese reaction
Readings: Ebrey, pages 190-195;
11/19 --Linking the empire: Ming Taizong's quest for control.
Hand out topics for second take-home essay.
11/21 Wednesday, Thanksgiving holiday, no class.
11/26-28 --Rise of the Gentry class
Readings: Ebrey, pp. 195-219; PŹre du Halde: "The Chinese Educational System,"
c. 1575 CE at:
--The Crisis of Confucianism.
12/3-5 --Eunuchs, corruption, collapse: the end of Chinese dynastic rule.
Wednesday: review for final exam.
Final Exam: Monday, Dec. 10, 8:00 a.m.