Translating Ancient Chinese Wisdom into Medicine for Today
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History and Culture 1

Chinese History and Culture Part One:

Early History and Classical Philosophy

The first block of my three-part course on Chinese History and Culture for CM Practitioners covers early Chinese history, from the beginnings of Chinese civilization to the Warring States period. In my experience, the two topics of most relevance to modern medical practitioners in this period are Shang shamanism and communication with the ancestors or “Heaven,” and classical philosophy, most notable Confucianism and Daoism. I suggest the following breakdown into nine separate lessons with pertinent study assignments, but am of course happy to tailor any course more specifically to your needs.

Lesson 1: Introduction to China: Geography, languages, Borders. With a side note on the dangers of Orientalism

  1. Instructions for the first two lessons: Click here.

  2. Slideshow: Click here.

  3. Readings

    • Sabine Wilms, “Orientalism, Cultural Appropriation, and Critical Thinking.” Link to the blog here

    • Exploring “A visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization: China Proper” at this fantastic website

    • Map activity.

Lesson 2: Origins of Chinese civilization in the Shang dynasty: shamanism, oracle bones, writing, and bronzes. Deconstructing “civilization.”

  1. Slideshow: Click here.

  2. Readings:

  • Patricia Ebrey, Cambridge lllustrated History: China, pp. 6-37.

  • Patricia Ebrey, Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, pp. 1-7.

  • K.C. Chang, “Ancient China and its Anthropological Significance” in Symbols, 1984.

  • K.C. Chang, “The “Meaning” of Shang Bronze Art” in Asian Art, Spring 1990. 

Lesson 3: Zhou dynasty and Warring States. Mandate of Heaven and the politics of the Iron Age

  1. Study Question: Why and how might the historical changes (political, social, economic, or religious) between the Shang and the Zhou periods have affected the rise of philosophical and cosmological ideas in the Warring States period?

  2. Readings

  • Ebrey, Cambridge Illustrated History: China, pp. 38-58.

  • Ebrey, Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, pp. 42-45. 

Lesson 4: Introduction to Chinese philosophy and cosmology

  • Bryan Van Norden, Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy, “Chapter One: Historical Context.”

  • Sabine Wilms, Translation of the Xiaojing. 

  • Livia Kohn, Daoism and Chinese Culture, “Introduction” (Moodle)

Lesson 5: Confucius

  • Philip Ivanhoe and Bryan Van Norden, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, “Chapter One: Kongzi.”

  • Bryan Van Norden, Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy, Chapters Two and Three.

  • Robert Eno, “The Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean,” available online here.

Lesson 6: Confucius’ Legacy

  • Philip Ivanhoe and Bryan Van Norden, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, “Chapter Three: Mengzi” and “Chapter Six: Xunzi.”

  • Bryan Van Norden, Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy, Chapters Six and Ten.

Lesson 7: Daoism: Laozi and the Daodejing. The Neiye (inner cultivation)

  • Philip Ivanhoe and Bryan Van Norden, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, “Chapter Four: Laozi.”

  • Bryan Van Norden, Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy, Chapter Eight.

  • Harold Roth, “Science, Daoism, and Scholarly Subjectivity,” a lecture on youtube found here.

Lesson 8: Zhuangzi

  • Philip Ivanhoe and Bryan Van Norden, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, Chapter Five: Zhuangzi.

  • Bryan Van Norden, Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy, Chapter Nine.

Lesson 9: Conclusion of early Chinese Philosophy

  • Michael Puett, “Why are Hundreds of Harvards Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?” in The Atlantic Monthly, found online here.