Humanities 231/232

Foundations of Chinese Civilization

Hum 231 - The Qin-Han Unification

Spring 2022 Syllabus

Full course for one semester. In geography and cultural advances, the Qin and Han dynasties surpassed their predecessors, and together they number among the world’s greatest empires. This course examines their heritage through a selection of primary texts including the Confucian Analects, the enigmatic Dao de Jing, the cosmological Book of Changes, and the historical narrative tradition of Sima Qian’s Shi Ji. It samples cultural expression ranging from the poetic discourse of rhapsodies and pentasyllabic verse to the religious endeavors manifested in funerary artifacts. Alongside textual studies, this course explores the Han’s physical remains, including the ruins of its capitals, and its important tombs. The Qin/Han portrays itself as a territorial, political, and cultural unifier, and it sets the benchmark against which all later dynasties must measure themselves. Prerequisite: sophomore standing; however, second-semester freshmen are welcome with instructor’s consent. Lecture-conference.

Hum 232 - The Great Song Transition

Fall 2022 Syllabus

Full course for one semester. The transformation of Chinese civilization during the “Song renaissance” (960–1279) is our major concern for the fall semester. China mentally realigned itself, first because it had to acknowledge other players in the world such as the powerful nomad states along its own northern borders and second because those nomads would occupy the northern half of China during what is called the “Southern Song” (1127–1279). Buddhism, a foreign religion though it had been introduced to China many centuries before the Song period, flourished alongside the indigenous popular pantheon. Furthermore, China underwent internal changes such as the emergence of a vibrant urban culture. Self-representation changed in tandem with the rise of a new social stratum, the shidafu, and the literati culture it produced. The change rippled into the fine arts as well. We will study the new contexts of Chinese civilization through travel essays, cartography, and reports and journals of diplomatic envoys. Tiantai Buddhism, Chan Buddhism, and indigenous popular religion will be examined through their primary texts. We will observe the changes in culture via storytelling and dramatic texts and via Song cityscape paintings. We will “learn about the Way” (daoxue) with Zhu Xi, China’s second-most famous scholar, who recast his forerunner Confucius to make him the linchpin of middle and late imperial education. In literature, we will study Song shi- and ci-poetry. Shi-poetry showed expanded topics and the mindset of the new literati class. Ci-poetry transformed the very notion of poetics. In art, we will analyze monumental landscape painting, printed illustrations, and Song aesthetic theory. The Qin-Han unification may have laid the basic foundation of China, but many have argued that the Song gave modern China its distinctive cultural heritage. Prerequisite: sophomore standing; however, second-semester freshmen are welcome with instructor’s consent. Lecture-conference.