East China Normal University’s Skills-Based Approach to Chinese Philosophy

Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Dean of the Center for Intercultural Research and Associate Professor in Chinese Philosophy at East China Normal University, writes with some information on ECNU’s English-language graduate programs:

For almost a decade East China Normal University has run a highly successful graduate (M.A. and Ph.D.) program in Chinese philosophy taught in English. In recent years we have begun to implement a method of teaching Chinese philosophy that centers on the practice, or gongfu (“kung-fu”), of doing philosophy with classical texts. The gongfu or “skills-based” approach focuses on developing skills of close reading and interpretation in the original Chinese. We work together to understand, unpack, and explore the interpretive possibilities of specific passages within the context of the traditional works themselves. The core courses ask students to read aloud passages from the AnalectsLaoziMencius, and Zhuangzi in Chinese and then themselves lead investigative discussions of what those passages can mean. The professors guide discussion, helping correct misreadings and drawing on traditional and modern commentaries to elucidate which interpretations have historically proven most influential and (perhaps) why. While aiming to familiarize and inform, the emphasis in class lies on cultivating the skills essential to soundly analyzing the traditional texts.

This skills-based approach further allows our conversations to center on how concepts and ways of thinking appear in the texts themselves. We thereby philosophize without subordinating the texts, their ideas, and their arguments to the frameworks of other more academically predominant works and traditions. This contrasts with today’s more common approaches to teaching Chinese philosophy, which tend to operate primarily through comparison and categorization of themes and theories—analyzing, for example, virtue ethical, anarchical, or utilitarian arguments in the texts. The skills-based approach instead encourages students to critically philosophize with the early texts on their own terms, through the conceptual vocabulary of the works themselves, independently of and prior to considering what this may mean to views in other philosophical traditions. We find this allows students from diverse international backgrounds, studying primarily in English, to collaboratively develop skills foundational to doing Chinese philosophy while also attaining deep familiarity with the ideas and arguments of the traditional texts.

For more on this program see this file with information on the MA Program, or this website: http://lxs.ecnu.edu.cn/EN/msg.php?id=61

Or contact Paul J. D’Ambrosio pauljdambrosio[at]hotmail.com

Dr. Paul J. D’Ambrosio
Dean of the Center for Intercultural Research
Fellow of the Institute of Modern Chinese Thought
Associate Professor in Chinese Philosophy
East China Normal University
Shanghai, Minhang
500 Dongchuan road

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.