01:165:471 / 16:217:529  Early "China" in the "World" - Cosmography, Epistemology & Encountering the Strange

How different cultures come to form and maintain a sense of identity is the topic of this investigation. This seminar examines how the Chinese perceived themselves, their realm, the world, and beyond from high antiquity to the late medieval period. It traces the intertwining developments in cosmography (i.e., the description and representation of the universe) and epistemology (i.e., the study of knowledge). Frequently, these developments were prompted by encountering strange creatures, ideas, objects, and phenomena. We will read accounts, stories, and treatises documenting the Chinese efforts to catalog and understand everything under the sun. As we comb through these documents, we will also examine how the Chinese formed their cultural identity. Accordingly, the course discussions will focus both on "China" as an imagined landscape and a territorial polity.

Grading: Class Participation 20%, Group Discussion Summary 20%, Weekly Analysis of Primary Sources – WPSA 30%, Term Paper 30%

We come together twice weekly to share our thoughts on the formation of Chinese cultural identity by examining early cosmography and epistemology. As with all seminars, lecture on the course materials will be kept to a minimum. You are expected to complete the reading assignment before the class and ready to discuss the contents. Class participation and group discussion are the key components of this course.

Attendance is not mandatory for this course, but class participation is.

Each group is required to post a short report (150-200 words) of their discussion and conclusion on Canvas before mid-night. Otherwise, the window will be closed. Your report should list the names of all members. It would help everyone if you considered including the following in the report:

• What was your final answer to the question?
• From which primary sources did you draw the conclusion, and why?
• Was this a unanimous or majority decision? If the latter, what was the dissenting opinion?


The person (or persons) who write the report should also email me a separate one-word self-evaluation on the quality of group corporation via Canvas. Put your group number and one-word evaluation in the subject line. For example: Group 1-Excellent. Please consult the following rubric:

Excellent: Everyone completed the readings before the class and contributed to the discussion.
Average: Most people completed the readings before the class and contributed to the discussion.
Poor: Most people did NOT complete their reading before the class or contribute to the discussion.


WPSA should consist of insights drawn from closely reading one primary source. It is advisable that undergraduate students submit one WPSA per week, although only the TEN highest scores will be counted toward the final grade.

Undergraduate students are to complete ONE term paper for this course. The paper will be an analytical essay centering on a question based on the course materials. It requires students to use the primary sources and other assigned readings to support their arguments. No research will be needed. The paper is between 1000-1250 words in length.