Online course: Religion and Thought in Modern China: the Song, Jin, and Yuan (part of the Long term online programme: History of China)

Dates: any time

Duration: 28 hours

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 out of 27 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: The Chinese University of Hong Kong at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Religion and Thought in Modern China: the Song, Jin, and Yuan

This sequence of four courses will propose a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of Chinese cultural history conceived of as a succession of modes of rationality (philosophical, bureaucratic, and economic). The focus will be on the moments of paradigm shift from one mode of rationality to another. For each of these moments, cultural facts and artifacts—thought, literature, ritual—will be examined in relationship to changing social, political, and economic systems.

The first two courses will cover the periods of the Warring States (481-256 BCE) and the Period of Division (220-589 CE), with a brief excursion into the Han (206 BCE-220 CE). The Warring States laid the social and cultural foundations for the emergence of the imperial mode of rationality; the Period of Division saw the Buddhist “conquest” of China and the emergence of a rationality defined by the opposition of the Three Teachings to shamanism, that is, of a clear contrast between elite and popular culture. The third and fourth courses will focus on the emergence of modern China in the Song-Yuan (960-1368) and of today’s China 1850 to the present. We will see how the modern attack on religion, redefined as “superstition”, led not only to religious reform movements but also to a society in which science and the nation became the primary value systems promoted by the state. The courses are listed below: A Critical Cultural History of China – Early China I: Intellectual Change in the Warring States and Han (481 BCE-220 CE) A Critical Cultural History of China – Early China II: Religious Transformation in the Period of Division (220-589 CE) A Critical Cultural History of China – Modern China I: Religion and Thought in the Song, Jin, and Yuan (960-1368) A Critical Cultural History of China – Modern China II: Structuring Values (1850-2015)


WEEK 1: 5 hours to complete

Module 13 Modern China

This module presents what is unique to the Song dynasty: why it can be called “modern”; how the Three Teachings were transformed and interiorization and rationalization reached new heights; how both Buddhism and Daoism, while continuing to criticize popular religion, also learned to cooperate with it.

M13.1 Historical background
M13.2 Religious change Introduction
M13.3 Daoism
M13.4 Chaoyuantu
M13.5 Buddhist and Daoist altars
M13.6 The United Front
M13.7 Daoxue as the religion of empire

WEEK 2: 1 hour to complete

Module 14 State Religion

This module is about how the state, relying on the Confucian classics, controlled religion and also supported it; how the Northern Song dynasty heavily favoured Daoism, and how this allowed the deification of its ancestors not only but even of the ruling emperor.

M14.1 State control of religion
M14.2 Dynastic ancestors
M14.3 Huizong
M14.4 The role of Confucianism

WEEK 3: 4 hours to complete

Module 15 Local Society

This module shows Chinese religion at the village level, how each of the four religions has its own niche, and how the earth god was at the center of the village in the Song period.

M15.1 The village earth god association
M15.2 Village earth gods
M15.3 Buddhists, Daoists, and kinship institutions
M15.4 Shamans1
M15.5 Chen Chun

WEEK 4: 3 hours to complete

Module 16 Daoism in the Song and Jin

This module explains how Heavenly Master Daoism came to the fore and became a collaborator with popular religion; why this meant an increased focus on exorcism; how Daoist self-cultivation became radically dualist.

M16.1 The Universal Salvation ritual
M16.2 Daoist marshals
M16.3 The Orthodox Method of the Heart of Heaven
M16.4 The Heavenly Masters and the universal pantheon
M16.5 Daoist self-cultivation

WEEK 5: 3 hours to complete

Module 17 Buddhism in the Song

We are going to learn the two main forms of Buddhism in the Song, the more elite Chan, first to gain state support, and the more popular Tiantai, which created lay associations and rituals for lay persons.

M17.1 Chan self-cultivation
M17.2 Tiantai ritual
M17.3 Ritual as self-cultivation
M17.4 Rituals for the laity
M17.5 Self-cultivation and ritual innovation

WEEK 6: 4 hours to complete

Module 18 Dunhuang

This module describes the emergence of a culture of Buddhist cave worship during the Period of Division. You can learn how cave murals and statues, together with texts for the water-land ritual, made the Pure Land something very concrete and real for Chinese Buddhists.

M18.1 Cave culture
M18.2 Big Buddhas
M18.3.1 In Buddhist ritual
M18.4.1 The central mural and karmic enmity
M18.4.2 The sixteen contemplations
M18.4.3 The final three contemplations

WEEK 7: 4 hours to complete

Module 19 Confucianism in the Song 1

This module explores the formation of Daoxue’s two strains, the one (Lu Jiuyuan) more inclusive, the other (Zhu Xi) more exclusive how Daoxue became state orthodoxy.

M19.1 Background
M19.2 The precursors
M19.3 The Cheng brothers
M19.4 Zhu Xi
M19.5 Zhu Xi and Lu Jiuyuan
M19.6 Zhu Xi’s exclusions

WEEK 8: 3 hours to complete

Module 20 Confucianism in the Song 2

This module illustrates how the dualism of Han and Tang Confucians was overcome by Zhu Xi and how this is related to 1) his creation of the new canon of the Four Books; 2) a positive view of the emotions; and 3) his interest in local social institutions. Understand the special place of academies in the Daoxue landscape.

M20.1 Before Zhu Xi
M20.2 Zhu Xi: What and how to read
M20.3 The role of cosmology and ritual
M20.4 The role of the elite
M20.5 Daoxue academies

Long term programme

Name of the course Category Educator Price Duration (hours) Score Number of ratings
Structuring Values in Modern China History, Culture The Chinese University of Hong Kong FREE 25 4.6 15
Religion and Thought in Modern China: the Song, Jin, and Yuan History, Culture The Chinese University of Hong Kong FREE 28 4.6 27
Intellectual Change in Early China: Warring States and Han History, Culture The Chinese University of Hong Kong FREE 23 4.7 68
Religious Transformation in Early China: the Period of Division History, Culture The Chinese University of Hong Kong FREE 22 4.8 27