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.

Course description

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.

Course outline

  • Unit 1: Early Chinese Thinkers and Writers and their Notion of Self
  • Unit 2: Revealing the Individual in Chinese Poetry
  • Unit 3: Love and Literature: Yingying’s Story
  • Unit 4: Neo-Confucianism
  • Unit 5: Chinese Art: How to Paint the Inner Voice?
  • Unit 6: Love and Illusion in the Story of the Stone
  • Unit 7: Humanities Past and Present 
  • Unit 8: Roundtable Discussion, on the Individual and Society

Instructors

  • Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
  • Professor of Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
  • James Bryant Conant University Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
  • Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Anthropology, Harvard University
  • Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, Harvard University
  • Professor of Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences

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