First-Year Studies: Chinese Philosophy and Daily Life


This course will look at China’s philosophical traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism—and seek to understand their role in shaping the cultural practices of daily life. To do this, we will take a two-pronged approach. The first approach will involve the close reading of the foundational texts in each of the traditions. Topics to be explored will include: notions of the Dao (Tao) and the ways in which it might be attained by individuals and society; the essence of the mind, human nature, and the emotions and the ways they interact in behavior; the relationship between knowledge and action; and ideals of inner self-cultivation and social engagement. The second approach will explore cultural practices through a different set of texts, including school regulations and curricula, monastery rules and ritual texts, “how-to” manuals for managing the family, records of charitable organizations, poetry and fiction, legal cases, diaries, and journals. Here we will consider the ways in which social and cultural institutions were shaped and reshaped by the ongoing debates within Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. The goal is to bring these two approaches together by considering the various ways in which philosophical ideals unfolded in, or stood in tension with, daily life and practice.