SOAS University of London

Department of Religions and Philosophies

Situating China I: China and Other World Views Before 'Westernization'

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

The course will open by exploring contemporary attempts at situating China in larger world histories as a way of opening up discussion of larger contexts within which to discuss China. 

The first of these to be introduced historically will be the importance of the counter-example of nomadism in defining Chinese self-perceptions, and this will be followed by an account of the earliest phase of Chinese knowledge of other sedentary civilisations, including India and the Roman Empire. The impact of Buddhism on China will then be examined in some detail, concentrating in particular in the creation of a sense of a wider religious world. Significant shifts in the coherence of that world will be treated in relation to the continued importance of Buddhism within later Inner Asian conceptions of empire, particularly Manchu imperialism; this will allow some treatment of the history of Tibet also, and of the overseas Chinese.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objective of the course is to give students an awareness of the external cultural forces that helped to shape China prior to its encounter with Western civilisation. On completion of the course students will have acquired a basic familiarity with the course of Chinese cultural history from pre-imperial times to the nineteenth century, and a particular knowledge of external influences and cultural relations, particularly religious ones. The student will be given the information needed to discuss China as part of larger cultural entities, such as the Buddhist world or the Mongol or Manchu empires, and will have acquired a familiarity with some of the basic concepts involved in the creation of these larger entities.

Method of assessment

2 essays (2,500 words each) (50% each).

Suggested reading

  • Hansen, V (2000) The Open Empire New York.
  • Holcombe C (2001) The Genesis of East Asia Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.
  • Mote, F. W. (1999) Imperial China, 900-1800 Cambridge, Harvard University Press
  • Cambridge History of China
  • Cambridge History of Ancient China
  • Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules