CCCH9024 China: Culture, State and Society
Following the Dao: Ways of Life in 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 guides students in exploring the thought, values, and ways of life presented by the major philosophical schools of traditional China and exploring the respects in which traditional philosophy may remain relevant to contemporary life. The unifying theme of the course is the concept of the dao, or “way”, understood as a pattern of attitudes and activities that reflects a normative order, grounded in nature, which must be lived out in practice. The course will discuss and critically evaluate how important figures throughout the Chinese intellectual tradition understood the dao and the practical approaches by which they sought to align human attitudes and activity with it, presenting these as concrete ways of life for students to examine and critique. The course will discuss figures such as Confucius, Mozi, Mengzi, Zhuangzi, Zhu Xi, and Dai Zhen and compare and contrast approaches to practising the dao that focus on effort, spontaneity, purification, and reform.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe the range of conceptions and practices of the dao in the Chinese tradition and explain their significance with respect to human life.
  2. Critically examine the views discussed and identify their strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Demonstrate interpretive, analytical, and argumentative skills in oral presentation and writing by discussing these issues and views in written assignments, class discussion, and tutorial presentations.
  4. Demonstrate appreciation of the intellectual frameworks and concerns of traditional Chinese philosophy, particularly as these pertain to the values and ways of life that ground ethical and political culture, along with appreciation of the potential for constructive engagement with them.
  5. Demonstrate personal reflection on and practical experimentation with traditional conceptions and practices of the dao, thus showing appreciation for their potentially transformative effect on life and society.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 60
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 10
Assessment: Brief written assignements 10
Assessment: Online discussion 10
Total: 124

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial participation 30
Brief writing assignments 30
Online discussion 10
Final paper 30

Required Reading

Extracts from:

  • Angle, S. C. (2009). Sagehood: The contemporary significance of neo-Confucian philosophy. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Brière, O. (1979). Fifty years of Chinese philosophy, 1898-1950. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Chang, C. (1962). The development of Neo-Confucian thought (Vol. 2). New York: Bookman Associates.
  • Cheng, Z., & Bunnin, N. (2002). Contemporary Chinese philosophy. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Chow, T. (1960). The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual revolution in modern China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Fox, A. (1996). Reflex and reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi. Asian Philosophy, 6(1), 59-72.
  • Fraser, C. (2011). The philosophy of the Mozi: The first consequentialists. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Fraser, C. (Forthcoming). Chinese philosophy: An introduction. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Fraser, C. (Forthcoming). Wandering the way.In Happiness East and West.
  • Graham, A. C. (1989). Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical argument in ancient China. La Salle, IL: Open Court.
  • Hansen, C. (1992). A Daoist theory of Chinese thought: A philosophical interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ivanhoe, P. J. (2000). Confucian moral self cultivation (2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.
  • Kwok, D. W. Y. (1971). Scientism in Chinese thought, 1900-1950. New York: Biblo and Tannen.
  • Lai, K. (2008). An introduction to Chinese philosophy. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Makeham, J. (2010). Dao companion to neo-Confucian philosophy. Dordrecht; New York: Springer.
  • Perkins, F. (2008). The moist criticism of the Confucian use of fate. Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 35(3), 421-436.
  • Robins, D. (2007). Xunzi. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Spring 2011 ed.). From
  • Tiwald, J. (2009). Dai Zhen. In J. Fieser & B. Dowden (Eds.), Internet encyclopedia of philosophy. From
  • Van Norden, B. W. (2007). Virtue ethics and consequentialism in early Chinese philosophy. New York; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wong, D. (2008). Chinese ethics. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Spring 2011 ed.). From


  • Chan, W. (1963). A source book in Chinese philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Confucius, & Lau, D. C. (1979). The analects (Lun yü). Harmondsworth, UK; New York: Penguin Books.
  • De Bary, W. T., Bloom, I., Chan, W., Adler, J., & Lufrano, R. (1999). Sources of Chinese tradition (2nd ed., Vol. 1). New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Ewell, J. W. Jr., & Dai, Z. (1990). Re-inventing the way: Dai Zhen’s evidential commentary on the meanings of terms in Mencius. PhD dissertation, University of California at Berkeley.
  • Gardner, D. K., & Zhu, X. (1990). Learning to be a sage: Selections from the conversations of Master Chu, arranged topically. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Ivanhoe, P. J., Huineng, Lu, J., & Wang, Y. (2009). Readings from the Lu-Wang school of Neo-Confucianism. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.
  • Ivanhoe, P. J., & Van Norden, B. W. (2005). Readings in classical Chinese philosophy (2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.
  • Laozi, & Lau, D. C. (1963). Tao te ching. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books.
  • Mencius, & Lau, D. C. (1970). Mencius. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.
  • Watson, B., Mo, D., Xunzi, & Han, F. (1967). Basic writings of Mo Tzu, Hsün Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr D.P. Robins
School of Humanities (Philosophy), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2796
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr D.P. Robins
School of Humanities (Philosophy), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2796