Translating Ancient Chinese Wisdom into Medicine for Today
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History and Culture 2

Chinese History and Culture Part Two:

Imperial China

The second block of my three-part course on Chinese History and Culture for CM Practitioners covers the history of imperial China, or the roughly 2000 years from the founding of the Chinese empire under the Qin in 221 BCE to the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912. Themes we shall explore include religion (Buddhism and so-called “religious Daoism), elite artistic pursuits (poetry and painting, gardening, tea), and foreign influences (Silk Road, Mongols, Manchus, and eventually Europeans).

Required Textbooks used in this block:

  1. Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Cambridge Illustrated History of China (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

  2. Livia Kohn, Daoism and Chinese Culture (Three Pines Press, 2001)


Lesson 1: Unification of China: The Qin and Han Dynasties

  • Study Questions:

    • What’s the great unifying theme in classical Chinese philosophy that might distinguish it from India or Greece? How has your definition of “philosophy” changed as a result of last term’s information? What is “Philosophy”? Are the Chinese thinkers “Philosophers”?

    • What were the greatest accomplishments of the Qin and Han dynasties? Why did each of them collapse?

  • Brief slideshow: Click here.

  • Readings

    • Illustrated History, pp. 60-85.

Lesson 2: Age of Division. Interaction between China and Buddhism

  • Study Question: Based on your personal knowledge of Buddhism, whatever that may be at this point, and the readings, contemplate particular features of Chinese Buddhism that distinguish it from another form of Buddhism, whether its Indian predecessor or from contemporary Buddhism. I realize that some of you have personal experience with Buddhism of many different varieties, so I want to give you a chance to relate the readings here on Chinese Buddhism to your personal knowledge. If you don’t have any prior knowledge about Buddhism, don’t worry and simply respond on the basis of this week’s readings.

  • Slideshow: Click here.

  • Readings:

    • Illustrated History, pp. 86-106.

    • Encyclopedia of Religion, “Chinese Buddhism.”

    • Tricycle,Paging Dr. Dharma.”

Lesson 3: Religious Daoism. What is “religion”?

  • Study Questions:

    • Can you think of some reasons why religious Daoism could be viewed as the combination of foreign Buddhist practices and ideas with indigenous Chinese practices and ideas?

    • How do you define religion? What is different in Chinese religion? What is missing or added compared to your experience of the concept? What is your greatest question about Chinese religion?

  • Readings:

Lesson 4: Tang DYnasty: The golden age of china. plus a discussion of the imperial examination system and empress wu and other powerful ladies

  • Study Question:

    • What aspects of Chinese culture during the Tang dynasty might have been particularly important for the development of Chinese medicine and why?

  • Readings:

Lesson 5: Poetry and Painting

  • Study Question:

    • Explore a few websites (or books if you prefer that) on Chinese painting and spend some time just looking at the art, sitting with it, and appreciating it.

    • Pick your favorite poem or painting or calligraphy and contemplate why it appeals to you and how it expresses some common themes of Chinese traditional culture, philosophy, or religion.

  • Readings:

    • Wikipedia articles on “Tang Poetry,” “Li Bai,” and “Du Fu.”

    • Reading package.

    • Bifaji “Method of the Brush.”

Lesson 6: Song dynasty and literati culture

  • Study Question: After reading the Ebrey chapter on the Song dynasty, explain how the crucial social, political, and economic changes associated with this period might have affected Chinese attitudes towards their neighbors and foreigners.

  • Readings:

    • Illustrated History, pp. 136-163.

    • Ebrey, “Sourcebook,” Selection.

    • Gernet, “Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion 1250-1276,” pp. 13-21.

Lesson 7: Gardens

  • Study Question: Why and how might learning about Chinese gardens affect your education and practice as a Chinese medicine doctor?

  • Readings:

Lesson 8: Marco POlo, the Mongols, and the yuan dynasty

  • Study Question: Discuss three (or more) of the most interesting and important new facts that Ebrey’s article on “Alien Rule” has taught you about Chinese culture. How do they differ from your previous understanding (if you had any), why are they important, and how do they relate to your knowledge about Chinese history and culture as a whole?

  • Readings

    • Illustrated History, pp. 164-189.

    • Ebrey, Sourcebook, Selections.

    • Buell, “How Genghis Khan Has Changed the World.”

  • In addition, watch this youtube video on Genghis Khan if you feel like some visuals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--s2gdccQZg

Lesson 9: Ming dynasty: Unicorns, eunuchs, and the great wall

  • Study Question: Contemplate the symbolic significance of China’s Great Wall and explain why it was rebuilt or created (depending on your perspective) during the Ming dynasty.

  • Readings:

    • Illustrated History, pp. 190-219.

Lesson 10: Qing dynasty, colonialism, and the beginnings of modern china

  • Study Question: Discuss how China’s experience of foreigners during the Qing dynasty might have influenced its response to the arrival of Western science and medicine and how this might have shaped the subsequent development of “TCM”-style Chinese medicine in Communist China.

  • Readings:

    • Illustrated History, pp. 220-332.

    • Two blog posts on walls (and my very personal experience with walls to explain where I am coming from): Part One and Part Two. If you are busy, Part Two is the one more relevant to Chinese history.