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Masters of Chinese Philosophy (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (Research), with sufficient command of Chinese, i.e. at least level 4 (new HSK) or Level 3 (TOCFL).

Students of other programmes but the MA Asian Studies (research) programme, such as the MA Asian Studies (60 EC or 120 EC) are kindly referred to the course description of those MA programmes.

Students from other programmes may be admitted at the discretion of the instructor, Paul van Els.


How do you become a better person? How can you navigate smoothly through a world full of complexity? What is the most efficient way to strengthen a country? How to prevent countries from fighting wars? … Master Kong (a.k.a. Confucius), Master Mo, Master Meng, Master Zhuang, Master Han Fei, and many other thinkers in early China pondered over such questions, and their views continue to inspire people to the present day. This course offers you the opportunity to acquire an advanced understanding of those views, by reading early Chinese philosophical texts (in translation), as well as modern studies of those texts. Throughout the course you will engage with state-of-the-field debates, as you familiarize yourself with various perspectives and methodologies to study Chinese philosophy. We will pay attention to new insights gained from archaeological discoveries, to the importance of historical context, to philological problems when reading age-old writings, to diverse philosophical interpretations of texts, to the fruits of comparative philosophy, and to the contemporary relevance of ancient texts. In the process, you will get to know your favorite master of Chinese philosophy, and well as your favorite approach to study his philosophy.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • comprehend passages from Chinese philosophical texts (in translation)

  • grasp the diversity of Chinese philosophical texts

  • grasp the diversity of approaches to study these texts

  • analyze complex scholarly arguments

  • participate actively in group discussions (in English)

  • formulate an original research question

  • conduct effective research to answer the research question

  • report on your findings, both orally and in writing


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Attendance is compulsory for all sessions. Students must prepare well and contribute to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total Course Load 10 EC x 28 hours 280 hours
plenary sessions (12 weeks x 2 hours per week) 24 hours
extra contact hours for ResMA students (in a form to be discussed) 6 hours
readings (12 weeks x 8 hours per week) 96 hours
course assignments 60 hours
final paper 94 hours

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.
Students must submit their assignment(s) through Brightspace, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
class participation 10%
Oral presentation 20%
written assignments 20%
term paper 50%

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students need a pass mark (“voldoende”) for the course as a whole and for their term paper.

All categories of assessment must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


A failed term paper (50%) may be re-written only if the original submission constituted a serious attempt.

All categories of assessment must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam Review

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.

Reading list

Students are expected to familiarize themselves with these books prior to participating in the course:

  • Ivanhoe, Philip J. and Bryan W. Van Norden. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2005 (2nd edition). ISBN-13: 978-0872207806

  • Van Norden, Bryan W. Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-1603844680

Additional reading for the ResMA students will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ field(s) of interest. This extra literature will be discussed during the (extra) tutorial sessions.

Other reading materials will be announced on Brightspace.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.


Dr. Paul van Els


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.