This course is discontinued

EAST4506 – East Asia’s Modern Canonical Texts: Readings in East Asian Modernities

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Course content

The elites of Japan and Korea traditionally used to regard Confucian canonical books and the main commentaries to them, Buddhist Tripitaka translated into classical Chinese, as the most central Taoist works, the masterpieces of poesy and prose and other authoritative writings from China as the regional canon, mastery of which was the criterion for belonging to the educated classes. However, as Japan pioneered the unbeaten tracks of modernization from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 onward, the modernizing elites from both Korea and China bestowed to a certain degree similar status upon the main Japanese reference works on “civilisation” and “enlightenment” – by Fukuzawa Yukichi, Katō Hiroyuki, Nakae Chōmin, Tokutomi Sohō. Some Chinese writings, inspired by those Japanese canons of modernity – notably, that by Liang Qichao – also achieved nearly canonical status among Korean and a significant part of Chinese modernists, especially in the 1900s. Concurrently, the books by China’s reformist Confucians, especially Kang Youwei, provided the main guidelines for attempts to reform Confucianism in Korea. The phenomenon of the “regional canon of modernity” was common in the early 20th C. East Asian socialists and anarchists as well as the pioneering Japanese leftist writings (Kōtoku Shūsui, Sakai Toshihiko, etc.) were devoured by Korean and Chinese radicals. The exploration of East Asia’s regional canon of modernity, both in its mainstream and radical versions, is the main content of this course. All the works on the syllabus are in English translation. In addition to the central late 19th – early 20th C. works with canonical status, the English books by Japanese authors, which were important for building the image of “Japan”/”East Asia” for the Western audience (Nitobe Inazō, Okakura Kakuzō, etc.) will be included as well.

The students are expected to put their research into the regional perspective, even if they focus primarily on one country only

Learning outcome

The aim of the course is to provide students with basic reading in the modern regional “canon” of East Asia, and thus enable them to understand more deeply the main ideological currents of the region in the modern period, its trans-border nature and its connections with Western thought. Students will acquire skills in the complex analysis of the ideological work and critical reading of the research literature in the field of the history of ideas.


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Formal prerequisite knowledge

Admission to the MA Degree program.

Recommended previous knowledge

The course requires good knowledge of English. The course may be specially recommended for those who have previously taken a 40-credits group in East Asian Studies.


The course is taught in the form of supervised reading, with both collective and individual supervision. Students are to present an essay (semesteroppgave: c. 10 pages) on a topic chosen in cooperation with the teacher, closely connected to the content of the course. A draft sketch of the essay is to be presented to the teacher for preliminary evaluation. In the process of collecting the materials for and writing the essay the students are offered individualized instruction.


The presentation of the draft is the prerequisite for later being allowed to submit the final text of the essay. The essay is graded from A to E (pass) and F (fail).

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