Archived online site: Early Chinese Thought


This site is an edited version of a course website that was live for over a decade until its last iteration in 2010. The course was an introductory survey of early Chinese thought, designed primarily for college juniors and seniors at Indiana University, Bloomington, offered initially through the Department of Philosophy, and later cross-listed in East Asian Languages and Cultures and in Religious Studies.

I taught this course from 1985 until the mid-2000s, when a colleague in the Department of Religious Studies joined us on campus and became the primary course instructor, devising his own approach. I was able to offer my version of the course one final time in 2010, and used the opportunity to update the syllabus and the site. After I retired in 2013, I left the materials for the 2010 version online because I believed that teachers, students, and general readers interested in the topic could benefit from them, even though I did not intend to update them further.

This year, 2019, changes in the IT platform for these materials required that I move the site, and in doing so I have re-edited many of the pages to create what I'm labeling an "archived" version. I have removed such things as homework and paper assignments, test preparation sheets, etc., and added to the site the PowerPoint decks I used in my lectures. My purpose has been to create a site that could more easily be used for self-study, and one where teachers, in particular, might find raw materials that they could adapt for use in their own courses. For these purposes, in not-for-profit contexts, copyright on all these materials is waived and permissions for use granted, with no requirement of citation.


The site Home Page has two links. "Basic Course Information" is simply the introduction students were given in the form of a syllabus, but without specific class schedules. The Schedule link is the primary entry into the site. It leads to a grid of forty class topics, each item linked to an introductory page for that day's class. On these pages, links to online readings and lecture PowerPoint decks are included. (I'm unsure whether the PowerPoints will be at all helpful in understanding how the lectures were organized, but even if not, there may be some slides that will be of use.) Other than a few readings for the Mozi and Xunzi, where I asked students to read published translations by Burton Watson, all readings are original online material. In some cases (e.g., the Confucian "Four Books" and early Daoist texts) the readings are from complete translations that are posted online, and can be easily accessed independently on a general Resources page that I have posted on the "Chinatxt" master site of which this course site is one part. In other cases, the readings are original "textbook chapters" and translations of selected sections of larger texts: these can also be accessed on the Resources page. (The two sets of readings concerning the Daodejing draw on the complete online translation posted on the master site, but add commentary not found there. The five sets of Mencius selections are drawn from an early version of the complete "translation, commentary, and notes" edition, linked from the Resources page, but the commentary and some passages of translation may vary from the later, complete version.)

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I hope users of this site will bear three things in mind:

1) The presentation of early Chinese thought here is shaped by my own research and views, and is in no way an "authoritative" version to which everyone in the field will subscribe. Other published descriptions of early Chinese thought, including ones by scholars I deeply respect, differ in many ways, including the degree of emphasis they place on different philosophical schools. I wish I could claim all my points were correct, but I can only say that I believe them to be valid.

2) Because this course was a college-level introductory course, my goal was generally to provide an overview that was coherent: there are many cases where I resisted going into complicting detail. But there are many issues in early Chinese thought where our understanding is not yet coherent, and the detailed story of what we know and don't know goes beyond what I attempted to introduce in this course.

3) These materials are now nine years old, and every sign indicates they will get older. I am no longer working in the field of early Chinese thought and any updates I might make would be scattershot and poorly informed. Readers should bear in mind that scholars still active are responding to new data and developing new ideas that, I regret to say, will in time supersede my own and those of others of my aging generation. I hope interested users of this site will go on to search out these newer ideas and discover the real pleasure of finding out that what they first learned was not the end of the story.

- Bob Eno, September 2019