CCCH9003 China: Culture, State and Society

Modernity and Traditional Chinese Thought

[This course is under the thematic clusters of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’ and ‘The Universe and the Question of Meaning’.]


Course Description

This course introduces students to the intellectual history of modern China. It also inquires into the compatibility of modernity and traditional Chinese thought, in particular Confucianism. The course addresses two fundamental issues. On the one hand is the issue of China’s responses to the modern world. The course traces the changes and development of China’s intellectual world since the second half of the 19th century to the 20th century. The survey does not aim to be comprehensive but picks out certain major trends of thought such as iconoclasm and conservatism. On the other hand is the issue of the compatibility of modernity and traditional Chinese thought. Students will examine the “essence of Chinese culture” and its relevance to the modern world. Particular attention will be paid to the relation between Confucianism and certain key ideas of modernity such as human rights, democracy and liberalism.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe major events and figures of the Self-strengthening Movement and the Hundred Days’ Reforms of 1898.
  2. Appraise the significance of the leading ideas of the May Fourth Movement.
  3. Compare and discuss the major claims made by anti-traditionalism and conservatism on Chinese tradition.
  4. Identify the Confucian and the modern understanding of person and evaluate their compatibility.
  5. Analyze the central ideas of human rights and democracy and evaluate their compatibility with Confucianism.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 60
Assessment: Quizzes (incl revision) 20
Assessment: Essay writing 40
Total: 152

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial participation / Debate 30
Quizzes 30
Term essay 40

Required Reading

  • Bell, D. (2006). Beyond liberal democracy: Political thinking for an East Asian context. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. [Chap. 6]
  • Chow, T. (1960). The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual revolution in modern China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Chaps. 13, 14]
  • Creel, H. G. (1956). Chinese thought: From Confucius to Mao Tse-tung. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Chap. 3]
  • Donnelly, J. (2006). Human rights. In J. S. Dryzek, B. Honig & A. Philips (Eds.), Oxford handbook of political theory. (pp. 601-620). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Kant, I. (1970). What is enlightenment? In Kant’s political writings (H. B. Nisbet, Trans.) (pp. 54-60). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Li, C. (1997). Confucian value and democratic value. Journal of Value Inquiry, 31(2), 183-193.
  • Pye, L. W. (1991). China: An introduction (4th ed.). New York: HarperCollins. [Chap. 3]
  • Spence, J. D. (1999). The search for modern China (2nd ed.). New York: Norton. [Chap. 10]

Recommended Reading

  • Alitto, G. S., & University of California, Berkeley. (1986). The last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese dilemma of modernity (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Berthrong, J. H., & Berthrong, E. N. (2000). Confucianism: A short introduction. Oxford: Oneword.
  • De Bary, W. T., & Tu, W. (Eds.). (1998). Confucianism and human rights. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Gutting, G. (1999). Pragmatic liberalism and the critique of modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hoffman, J., & Graham, P. (2006). Introduction to political theory. Harlow, UK: Pearson Longman.
  • Hsü, I. C. (2000). The rise of modern China (6th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Liu, S. (2003). Essentials of contemporary Neo-Confucian philosophy. Westport, CT: Praegar Press.
  • Murthy, V. (2000). The democratic potential of Confucian Minben thought. Asian Philosophy, 10(1), 33-47.
  • Schwartz, B. (1985). China’s cultural values. Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University Press.
  • Wolff, J. (2006). An introduction to political philosophy (Rev. ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr S.F. Tang
School of Chinese, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 4293
Email: tangsf@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr S.F. Tang
School of Chinese, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 4293
Email: tangsf@hku.hk