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Cultural Dialogues: An Intercultural Reading of The Analects and Tao Te Ching

Delve into two of the most influential philosophical texts in human history to understand traditional and modern Chinese culture.

Three statues of ancient Chinese and Western philosophers against a backdrop of Chinese calligraphy.

Cultural Dialogues: An Intercultural Reading of The Analects and Tao Te Ching

  • 6 weeks

  • 6 hours per week

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  • Open level

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  • Duration

    6 weeks
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Get to grips with the Chinese classics The Analects and Tao Te Ching

The Analects (497 BC) and Tao Te Ching are two of the most influential philosophical texts in human history. They provide the basis for the social and spiritual belief system in China.

On this six-week course from Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), you’ll take an intercultural approach to reading these two classics. Tracing their social and cultural influence back over centuries, you’ll understand why the texts are vital for understanding traditional and modern China.

Examine the fundamental principles of Taoism and Confucianism

Contained in the two classic texts are the ideas of Confucius and the tenets of Taoist philosophy. As you progress through the course, you’ll examine the philosophical frameworks and principles that underpin Taoism and Confucianism.

From Confucian attitudes towards family relations to essential Taoist terminology and concepts, you’ll gain the knowledge you need to make sense of the two belief systems.

Compare and contrast other philosophical classics

To place The Analects and Tao Te Ching in context, you’ll read them in relation to other classic philosophical texts.

You’ll compare and contrast works by philosophers in the Western tradition and beyond, including Plato, Aristotle, Tagore, and others. This will help to explain and correct some misconceptions surrounding Chinese culture.

Understand how the two classics have shaped modern Chinese culture

Even centuries later, the influence of the two classics continues to be visible in China today. Over the six weeks of the course, you’ll gain an understanding of how The Analects and Tao Te Ching have shaped Chinese history, politics, and wider society.

You’ll finish the course with a greater sensitivity to cultural diversity and enhanced intercultural communication skills.

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  • Week 1


    • Why do we need to read them?

      The two ancient Chinese Classics were created thousands of years ago, while their imapcts are long lasting and tremendous. Rereading and reinterpreting, especially from an intercultural perspecitve, are necessary and beneficial.

    • How was the book The Analects created?

      The book was created by his disciples, many of whom had acompanied him during his long years of travel around the kingdoms.

    • How has the book the Analects been received?

      Rulers and readers have largely varied attides towards the book The Analects.

    • How is "Li(礼)" defined in Confucian and Taoist thinking framework?

      Li's connotations vary in differents contexts.

    • The fundamental conception of "harmony"

      "Harmony (和)" is a fundamental conception in Confucian and Taoist thoughts.

    • How is "human nature" defined in the Analects?

      Are humans born evil or kind? Which is more decisive, nature or nurture?

    • Why is “virtue (德)" such highlighted in The Analects?

      ”Virtue (德)“ is deemed a fundemantal conception in Confucial phisolophy.

    • Quiz for Week One

      Reviewing basic knowledge related with what are covered Week One.

  • Week 2

    Learning and Self-enhancement

    • What are the proper ways of learning in The Analects?

      ”Learning ( 学)“ is the very first character of the book The Analects, which indicates how much importance Confucians attaches to it.

    • What is the role of music in self-cultivation?

      Confucians believe that music is not a mere entertainment, but a significant route to self-enhancement.

    • What is real intelligence in The Analects?

      In the Analects, intelligence is not confined to high IQ or EQ, but capability to focus on what is right and just.

    • What is real bravery?

      In the Analects, bravery is more than courage to use physical might to combat enemies or immediate danger.

    • Quiz for Week Two

      Questions related with what have been covered in Week Two

  • Week 3

    Family Relationships and Attitudes towards Money

    • What are the parent-children relationships depicted in the Analects?

      As family has long been deemed as a basic unit of Chinese soceity, and therefore, parent-children relationship plays a significant role of building an ordered the entire Chinese society.

    • What are the advised attitudes towards money in the Analects?

      It is demonstrated in the Analects that it is possible to achieve pleasure in poverty and those who occupy important positions should be more cautious about their attitudes towards money.

    • Quiz for Week Three

      Questions related with what have been covered in Week Three

  • Week 4

    Fundamental Conceptions in Confucian and Taoist Philosophical Frameworks

    • Why is "Ren 仁" curial for the establishment of a harmonius society?

      “Ren (仁)”is rich in its implications,which has been translated into many English terms, such as benevolence, kind-hearted people, integrity, a gracious heart and so on.

    • What is "Xin (信)"

      It is highlighted in the Analects that credibility is a crucial quality for any individual, both rulers or civilians, without which one is able to get nowhere in life.

    • Quiz for Week Four

      Questions related with what have been covered in Week Four

  • Week 5

    Elites and Social Governance

    • What makes a Chinese Gentleman?

      A Chinese gentleman is called "junzi 君子". The term has been errorneously translated into "superior man" , and a more accurate traslation should be "exemplary person".

    • Why are "scholars" a special class in ancient China?

      In Ancient Chinese societies, scholars (士) was a special class that could move through social hiearchies and played a significant role of social governance.

    • How can adversity affect an intelligent person?

      A person's intelligence is shown both through one's strong curoisity towards the world, but also one's reactions to adversity.

    • Who are wise men?

      Four classes of inteligence are described in the Analects. A wise man is the one with siperior knowledge but more than that.

    • Quiz for Week Five

      Questions related with what have been covered in Week Five

  • Week 6

    Taoist Fundamentals

    • Why do Taoists advocate non-action?

      Taoist “non-action (无为)” is not complete inaction or taking no actions at all. It is elimination of unneccessary interventions for the purpose of restoring the world to its natrual state.

    • How can a pair of opposites be unified into one?

      Taosits believe that pairs of opposites are everywhere. The opposite parts, rather than being divided by clear or fixed boundaries, are relative and mutable to each other.

    • Whare are the differences beteen mid-void and mid-way?

      "Mid-void" is a conception advocated by Lao-tzu in Tao Te Ching, while "mid-way" by Confucuis in The Analects. The two conceptions are similar at first glance, but their connotations are largely different.

    • Why does void have functions?

      Taoist supporters believe that void, rather than being useless, actually performs the epecific functions of objects or achitectures.

    • Why is self-contentment important?

      In Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu explains why it is important for one to feel content and warns against being a slave to excessive desires.

    • What is Tao or the Way?

      Lao-tzu says in the first chapter of Tao Te Jing, "The Tao(道) that can be told is not the absolute Tao". It is hard to define “Tao” without delving into the specific situations where it is used.

    • Quiz for Week Six

      Questions related with what have been covered in Week Six

When would you like to start?

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On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore fundamental Confucian and Taoist concepts
  • Describe how through Chinese long history political leaders apply Confucian and Taoist principles for social governance.
  • Investigate how Confucian and Taoist doctrines have affected social lives in Chinese societies.
  • Investigate how Confucian and Taoist doctrines have affected social lives in Chinese societies.
  • Compare how great minds from China and out of China view issues of fundamental importance.
  • Discuss where cross-cultural misconceptions or incorrect understandings may most possibly arise
  • Evaluate similarities and divergences that renowned scholars in the world have discerned and expressed through classical works.
  • Reflect on the means and routes of improving cultural diversities as well as intercultural understanding and communication.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in learning more about Chinese culture and the belief systems that underpin it. The course helps to explain cultural differences and correct misconceptions.

It will also be useful for learners within China who want a basis for explaining their culture to people from other countries.

Who will you learn with?

Who developed the course?

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), established in 1949, is one of the earliest institutions where China’s higher education in foreign languages took shape.

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$134/one-off payment

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  • Access to this course
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  • Discuss your learning in comments
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Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 11 Apr 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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