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Special Topics in Political Theory

Fall 2016 - Chinese Political Thought: Ancient and Modern

Given China's current prominence in global affairs, there has been a recent revival of interest in what China might teach us about the nature of political life.  While many earlier interpreters regarded traditional Chinese political theories, most notably Confucianism, as an obstacle to economic and political modernization, some more recent political theorists have suggested that Chinese political thought offers a powerful alternative to modern Western thought.  In this course, we will seek to examine these debates through the careful study of both the central Chinese texts (in translation) and contemporary works in the field.  

In the first part of the course, we will examine the major schools of ancient Chinese political thought-- Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, and Mohism.  We will consider the ways in which each one responds to questions such as the following: what is the best way of life for human beings?  How does can particular policies or approaches to government help or hinder human wellbeing?  What forms of education support a flourishing community?  What is the place of the family in political life?  In the second part of the course, we will bring these theories, particularly Confucianism, into dialogue with contemporary Western political thought.  Here we will discuss, for example, the ways in which concepts such as democracy and human rights might be understood within a Confucian framework.  


Prerequisites: