Introduction

In China’s history, there has been a longstanding belief that being cultured and being moral are necessary for a person to participate in public life. We often think of China in political terms – and focus on the history of government – or in social terms – and study the role of the family in society. But this course looks at the individual and the striving for culture and morality.

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In China Humanities, you will explore the idea of China as a country of individuals who create the thing we call Chinese culture through their own art, literature, and philosophy. The course will focus on how individuals pursue unique forms of expression, act upon their distinct experiences, and follow their own desires, creating enduring works that we continue to look to for inspiration and wisdom.

You will discuss the theories of early Chinese thinkers like Confucius and Zhuangzi, explore the poetry of writers like Tao Yuanming and Du Fu, read from novels such as the Dream of the Red Chamber, and learn how to see painting and calligraphy – all with a particular focus on how these works have shaped Chinese culture as we know it today.

What you'll learn:

  • Cultural traditions that are revered in China today.
  • How to interpret Chinese philosophical texts.
  • How to analyze and appreciate masterpieces of Chinese literature.
  • How to see the “individual voice” in visual works.

Meet The Faculty

Peter K. Bol

Peter K. Bol

Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Peter K. Bol is the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, the Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the founding director of the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis. He holds degrees from the University of Leiden and Princeton University. He began teaching at Harvard in 1985 and was named a Harvard College Professor for excellence in teaching. Bol and Kirby have been teaching the history of China together since 1992.

Wai-yee Li

Wai-yee Li

Professor of Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Wai-yee Li has been Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard since 2000. Li earned her B.A. from the University of Hong Kong and her Ph.D. from Princeton University (1987), where she was associate professor from 1996 to 2000. She also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Li’s research spans topics ranging from early Chinese thought and narrative to late imperial Chinese literature and culture.

Stephen Owen

Stephen Owen

James Bryant Conant University Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Stephen Owen earned a B.A. (1968) and a Ph.D. (1972) in Chinese Language from Yale University. He taught there from 1972 to 1982, before coming to Harvard. In acknowledgment of his groundbreaking work that crosses the boundaries of multiple disciplines, Owen was awarded the James Bryant Conant University Professorship in 1997. He has been a Fulbright Scholar, held a Guggenheim Fellowship, and received a Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award (2006) among many other awards and honors. He specializes in premodern literature, lyric poetry, and comparative poetics.

Michael Puett

Michael Puett

Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Anthropology, Harvard University

Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion.  He holds a joint appointment in the EALC and Anthropology departments. He is also a non-resident long-term fellow for programs in anthropological and historical sciences and the languages and civilizations of East Asia at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala. Puett joined the Harvard faculty in 1994 after earning his M.A. (1987) and Ph.D. (1994) from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.

Eugene  Wang

Eugene Wang

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, Harvard University

Eugene Wang (Ph.D Harvard, 1997) began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1996 before joining the faculty at Harvard University in 1997. He was appointed the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard in 2005. A Guggenheim Fellow (2005) and recipient of ACLS and Getty grants, he served as the art history associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Macmillan, 2004). His extensive publications cover the entire range of Chinese art history from ancient funerary art to modern and contemporary Chinese art and cinema. He serves on the advisory board of the Center for Advanced Studies, National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the editorial board of The Art Bulletin.

Xiaofei Tian

Xiaofei Tian

Professor of Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Born in China in 1971, Xiaofei Tian graduated from Peking University in 1989 and obtained her PhD in Comparative Literature at Harvard in 1998. She is Professor of Chinese Literature and chair of Regional Studies East Asia program. Her translation of a nineteenth-century memoir, The World of a Tiny Insect: A Memoir of the Taiping Rebellion and Its Aftermath, was awarded the inaugural Patrick D. Hanan Prize by Association for Asian Studies in 2016. She was a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow in 2012. She has also published many Chinese-language books on Chinese and Western literatures, ranging from the 16th-century Chinese novel Jinpingmei to Sappho and the poetry of Moorish Spain.

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