What Matters in Being Chinese: past and present

History 6A

Fall 2017
180 Tan
Day & Time: 
TuTh 12:30-2
Class Number: 
  • This course satisfies the Pre-Modern Requirement for the History Major.
  • Increasingly, in today's world of identity politics, we encounter fantastic or essentializing assertions about "Chineseness" or "Chinese identity."  This course, which covers formative millennia — Anyang (1300 BC) to the fall of Southern Song in 1279 — seeks from the dual vantage points of past and present to reexamine many of the defining features of the premodern era in China that contribute to modern identity, including the following: (1) how did Chinese empires differ from those of Rome or the Near East? (2) how were "barbarians" defined by those in the Central States or Zhongguo? (3) how did major advances in technology and science inform the societies responding to them? (4) what notions of justice, law, and the common good were widely shared among rulers and their subjects? (5) what magical and religious roles were assigned the spirit world in daily life? (6) what environmental conditions shaped people's ways of life, and why did people's views of the environment change markedly over time? (7) how many Silk Roads were there, and how did they keep the culture open? and (8) how was knowledge produced and learning transmitted?  As students will discover, vibrant traditions in China (multiple) came together and cross-fertilized, producing often a surprising cohesiveness, but also strong traditions of resistance, uprisings, and contrary stances.  The true histories of China are exciting and absorbing, once we imagine the human dynamics, intellectual and sociopolitical innovations, and distinctive political realities.