GV4H1      Half Unit
Chinese Political Thought

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Leigh Jenco


This course is available on the MSc in China in Comparative Perspective and MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at two groups. Priority will be given to students enrolled on the MSc in Political Theory.


A specialist background in political theory is strongly recommended.

Course content

This course will introduce students to recurring debates and concepts within Chinese political thought. We focus on the germinal texts of the Warring States period (circa 400 BCE), such as the Analects of Confucius and the Dao De Jing of Laozi. Reading texts in translation, we will critically examine the variety of normative frameworks that have structured political thinking in early China, with a particular focus on the relationship between personal agency and political outcomes. This is NOT a history course; its broader goal is to help students use Chinese thought to think critically and creatively about political and social life in general and not just in "Chinese" contexts. This course is suitable for students interested in political theory, philosophical approaches to politics, Chinese studies, and/or the history of political thought. Readings are entirely in English and NO prior knowledge of Chinese or China is required.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the Michaelmas Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and seminars. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of the MT.

Formative coursework

• One formative essay of 1500 words maximum excluding footnotes and bibliography, on an assigned topic. 

Indicative reading

Ivanhoe, Philip J. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Edited by Philip J. Ivanhoe and Bryan W. Van Norden. 2nd ed. Hackett Pub Co, 2006. Selections from De Bary, Wm. Theodore, and Richard John Lufrano. Sources of Chinese tradition. Vol. 2, From 1600 through the twentieth century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.


Essay (30%, 1500 words) and class participation (20%) in the MT.
Essay (50%, 2500 words) in the LT.

The class participation element will be assessed via one group project and quality of contribution to seminar discussion.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2020/21: 27

Average class size 2020/21: 14

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication