Self and Society in the Chinese Tradition

History 280F.002

Fall 2016
Matthew Wells
2231 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
F 10A-12P

The idea that Chinese culture values society at the expense of the individual has become cliché, particularly in the West, where Chinese “collectivism” is almost always contrasted with Western “individualism.” However, for artists, intellectuals, and literati in the Chinese tradition, the individual person possessed important philosophical, social, and political meaning and required constant redefinition and affirmation. In this course, students will examine the construction of the individual and the self in Chinese society and culture, from the early imperial period through the early 20th century, and the relationship between these concepts—as they are variously defined—to larger social categories such as family, state, and society. Although the historical texts will focus primarily on China and East Asia, theoretical readings for the course will reflect the contemporary expansion in approaches to this topic, including neurobiology, historiography, social theory, philology, and narratology. Opportunities for comparative approaches will be available for students of different historical traditions. Sources will be available in English, but students with the ability to read Chinese will be encouraged to do so. 


Course Books

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood Among Ghosts by Kingston, Maxine Hong Vintage. ISBN: 9780679721888 Required
How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves by Eakin, Paul John Cornell. ISBN: 978-0801485985 Required
Individualism in Early China: Human Agency and the Self in Thought and Politics by Brindley, Erica Hawaii. ISBN: 9780824833862 Required