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Masters of Chinese Philosophy


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies, tracks Chinese Studies (EAS or 120 EC). Students from other programmes may be admitted at the discretion of the instructor, Paul van Els. Please contact him if you are interested in taking this course, but are NOT a student of the MA Asian Studies tracks mentioned here.


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


The timetable is available on the Asianstudies website

Mode of instruction


Course Load

The workload for this course is roughly 280 hours (10 EC x 28 hours per EC)

  • plenary sessions: 24 hours (12 weeks x 2 hours per week)

  • readings: 96 hours (12 weeks x 8 hours per week)

  • course assignments: 40 hours

  • presentations: 40 hours

  • final paper: 80 hours

Assessment method

  • class attendance, preparation, and participation (20% of final grade)

  • oral presentations (20% of final grade)

  • written assignments (20% of final grade)

  • term paper (40% of final grade)

The term paper must be higher than a passing grade (6.0) in order to successfully complete this course. A failed term paper may be re-written only if the original submission constituted a serious attempt.

Exam Review

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


Blackboard for course announcements, course documents, and assignments.

Reading list

These books will be used in class:

  • 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

Other reading materials will be announced on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. Paul van Els