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There are no prerequisites for this course. (This course is taught in English.)

Course Orientation

The native Chinese philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism have helped maintain the cohesiveness of Chinese civilization for more than two thousand years. Confucian ethics and social and political philosophy together with Daoist religious and aesthetic theory, inform the thought, social structures, and humanities of many Asian countries, including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, both past and present. This course will introduce these important and still very relevant thought patterns to students of both Chinese language and Asian history in general and students of philosophy in particular. We will focus on the five main indigenous philosophies of China: Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism, Legalism, and Buddhism.

The general theme of the course is the triad of self, society, and cosmos. Confucian thought, traditionally the lynchpin of Chinese political philosophy and the foundation of Chinese social structure, has underpinnings in ancient macrobiotic techniques of self-cultivation and meditation that tie it in closely with early Daoist practices. And both of these philosophies taught man how to access the heavens, whether as an individual ascetic or as a member of the ritually stratified society. We will find that the major schools of philosophy in ancient China rose up either to defend or to depart from the Confucian position on self, society, and the cosmos. Buddhism rejected the Confucian this-world orientation of social service, as it denied the reality of the physical world.

Course Learning Outcomes

  1. Summarize the important facts, figures, and dates relevant to early Chinese philosophy.
  2. Explain the broad outlines of the major schools of Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism, and Legalism, and understand their roles in the development of Chinese society and thought.
  3. Formulate philosophical questions.
  4. Think abstractly while writing clear, convincing prose, and understand the basics of proper formatting and documentation for scholarly prose.

Assessing Learning Outcomes

Course Materials

The text in this course is occasionally written in the form of notes and is meant to support your assigned reading.

These books are available to order from the BYU Bookstore or from Amazon.com. Additional readings and homework assignments will be included in each lesson.

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The course consists of 13 lessons and 2 major exams: a midterm exam and a final exam. Each lesson includes a practice homework (covering several exercises), either one writing assignment or one discussion board post, and one lesson quiz. Every lesson begins with a list of expected learning outcomes and the specific assignments for that lesson. Also, in every lesson there is a reading section called “Historical Background.” The lecture notes of the Historical Background aim to help you better understand the textbook and each philosopher. All the significant problems the pre-Qin philosophers were facing and their impact on the society will be listed. The lecture notes help you stay focused. Please read them thoroughly, as you will be tested on them in the homework exercises, lesson quizzes, and the midterm and final exams.

Homework Sets

Each lesson has a homework set for a total of 12 homework sets. A homework set consists of selected readings and three to four homework assignments.

Reading Assignments and Reflection Papers

The reading assignments will set the historical background for the life, times, and thought of each philosopher or school. Each week, you will read several reading passages and review the concepts through a couple of homework exercises. Seven one-page reflection papers will either analyze a particular concept dear to a particular Chinese philosopher or compare and contrast the thought of a major Chinese philosopher with one or two of the previously introduced Chinese philosophers. Each philosopher should be read from the point of view of the basic themes of this course—self, society, and cosmos—and what can be learned about such concerns as self-cultivation, self-preservation, sagehood, authentic living, how best to govern society, how to access heavenly powers, and the like. The reflection papers are one page, single-spaced, 12-point font, Times New Roman, 1-inch margins, with at least two quotes from the textbook. Save your work in a Word .DOC or .DOCX format. You must complete the homework set and reflection paper or discussion board question for a lesson before you can access the lesson quiz.

Discussion Board Posts

You may apply the methods from different Chinese philosophy schools (their views on self, society, and cosmos) to solve contemporary issues on the discussion board and discuss your solutions with your classmates.

Lesson Quizzes

Each lesson is tested. Lesson quizzes are comprehensive, open book, and timed; you may take each quiz only once. Lesson quizzes will not become available until all the homework and discussion questions (if relevant) have been completed for that lesson.

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The midterm exam will include multiple-choice questions focusing on the facts, figures, and terminology of ancient Chinese philosophy. The midterm will be taken after lesson 6. The final exam will include multiple-choice questions and essay questions. It covers lessons 7-13. The essay questions on the final exam will test your understanding of each philosopher’s response to self, society, and cosmos as well as related issues. The best preparation for the final exam is to keep a running list of quotes arranged by philosopher. Midterm and final exams may not be retaken. A proctored midterm exam is worth 20 percent of your final grade. It is closed book and notes. The proctored final exam is also closed book and notes and is worth 20 percent of your final grade.

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Lesson 1

Course Introduction: Contents, Procedures, Expectations

Overview of Chinese Philosophy: Self, Society, and Cosmos

Lesson Quiz 1

Lesson 2

History of Confucianism in China—Confucius

Readings and response to questions

Discussion Board Question—Confucius

Lesson Quiz 2

Lesson 3

Confucius (Cont.)

Reflection Paper 1: Confucius

Lesson Quiz 3

Lesson 4


Reflection Paper 2: Mozi

Lesson Quiz 4

Lesson 5


Reflection Paper 3: Zhuangzi

Lesson Quiz 5

Lesson 6

Zhuangzi (cont.)

Readings and response to questions

Discussion Board Question—Zhuangzi

Lesson Quiz 6


Midterm Review

Midterm Exam

Lesson 7


Reflection Paper 4: Mencius

Lesson Quiz 7

Lesson 8

Mencius (cont.)

Readings and response to questions

Discussion Board Question—Mencius

Lesson Quiz 8

Lesson 9


Reflection Paper 5: Xunzi

Lesson Quiz 9

Lesson 10

Han Feizi

Reflection Paper 6: Han Feizi

Lesson Quiz 10

Lesson 11


Reflection Paper 7: Laozi

Lesson Quiz 11

Lesson 12

Laozi (cont.)

Readings and response to questions

Discussion Board Question—Laozi

Lesson Quiz 12

Lesson 13

Buddhism: Hui Neng and Chan/Zen

Reflection Paper 8: Buddhism

Lesson Quiz 13


Final Review

Final Exam


Your final course grade will be determined as detailed below:

Assignments and Exams Percent of Grade
13 Lesson Quizzes 30% (the lowest quiz score is dropped)
12 Homework Assignments Sets 18%
8 Reflection Papers and 5 Discussion Board Participation 12% (the lower score is dropped)
Midterm Exam 20%
Final Exam 20%
Grading Scale
A 93–100%
A− 90–92%
B+ 86–89%
B 83–85%
B− 80–82%
C+ 76–79%
C 73–75%
C− 70–72%
D+ 66–69%
D 63–65%
D− 60–62%
E (fail) 59% or below

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Copyright Notice

The materials used in connection with this online course are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated. Any copying or further dissemination of these materials may be subject to applicable U.S. Copyright Laws. For questions or more information, please visit the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website.

“Members of the BYU community who willfully disregard this Copyright Policy or the BYU Copyright Guidelines place themselves individually at risk of legal action and may incur personal liability for their conduct. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject individuals to civil and criminal liabilities, including actual and statutory damages, costs and fees of litigation, fines, and imprisonment

Violations of the Copyright Policy may result in university disciplinary action including termination of university enrollment or employment.” (Emphasis added. Excerpt taken from the BYU Copyright Policy)

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University Policy - Title IX Statement

Preventing & Responding to Sexual Misconduct

In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Brigham Young University prohibits unlawful sex discrimination against any participant in its education programs or activities. The university also prohibits sexual harassment—including sexual violence—committed by or against students, university employees, and visitors to campus. As outlined in university policy, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are considered forms of "Sexual Misconduct" prohibited by the university.

University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of Sexual Misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of Sexual Misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at t9coordinator@byu.edu or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at titleix.byu.edu/report or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day).

BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by Sexual Misconduct, including the university’s Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at titleix.byu.edu or by contacting the university’s Title IX Coordinator.

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Accessibility Notice

BYU is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere which reasonably accommodates persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate in BYU's programs and activities. In this spirit, BYU Independent Study aspires to improve web accessibility for users. While not required by law, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A and AA provide a wide range of helpful recommendations to make Web content more accessible. BYU Independent Study strives to apply WCAG 2.0 recommendations where feasible, but may deviate from any recommendations that would result in an undue hardship to BYU Independent Study or alterations to program and course content and objectives. If you have questions about accessibility, or if you need to report problems with any accessibility features please see our Accessibilities and Accommodations Web Page.

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Course Policies

These policies are specific to this course. For additional information about general policies, please refer to Independent Study Course Policies page.


12 computer-graded homework sets (no resubmissions); 8 reflection papers (cannot be resubmitted; the lowest score is dropped); 5 discussion board posts (cannot be resubmitted); 13 computer-graded lesson quizzes (no paid resubmissions; lowest score will be dropped).

Resubmit an assignment for a fee.


1 midterm and 1 final exam (midterm and final exams may not be retaken); both are proctored. You must pass the final exam with 60 percent or higher to pass the course.

Retake an exam for a fee.

Getting Help

Please use the help menu in this course to contact Independent Study or your instructor. 

Note: The Harold B. Lee Library website provides a number of online resources and librarians are available via phone, chat, and email to answer questions about library-related issues.

Inappropriate Use of Course Content

All course materials (e.g., outlines, handouts, syllabi, exams, quizzes, media, lecture content, audio and video recordings, etc.) are proprietary. Students are prohibited from posting or selling any such course materials without the express written permission of BYU Independent Study. To do so is a violation of the Brigham Young University Honor Code.

Copyright © 2016 Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.

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Department of Independent Study
Division of Continuing Education
Brigham Young University
120 MORC
Provo, Utah 84602-1514