Using “Reacting to the Past” to teach Neo-Confucian politics

This past semester I decided to include a modified version of the Reacting to the Past module “Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor, 1587” in my course on Neo-Confucianism.Reacting to the Past is a pedagogical approach that enables students to engage in sophisticated role-playing based on moments of historical crisis. In the “1587” module, students play roles of the Wanli Emperor, his First Grand Secretary, and various other Grand Secretaries. I found that it was a splendid way for students to learn about Neo-Confucian political theories and to put into practice what they had learned throughout the course. Intrigued by the prospect of witnessing impassioned student debates over the relevance of Yao’s decision to abdicate to Shun (instead of Yao’s own son), about the problems of factionalism, or about the comparative importance of reforming institutions versus reforming the leader’s character? Then read on.

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Teaching the Yi Jing (Book of Changes / I Ching) as part of a course on Neo-Confucianism

There is no doubt that many of the ideas and terms first introduced in the Yi Jing play significant roles in Neo-Confucian thinking on many subjects. This past semester, as one of the four stage-setting class sessions that came at the beginning of my course on Neo-Confucianism, I introduced the core text of the Yi Jing, discussed some specific hexagrams with my students, and then we performed a divination in class. After discussing the results of the divination, we ended with discussion of key parts of the Great Appendix (the Xici Zhuan). It was a great experience – the divination was particularly memorable for all of us – and the rudimentary grasp of the Yi Jing that it provided served us well repeatedly later in the class.

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Welcome to Neo-Confucianism.Com. In addition to the materials throughout the site which we hope will be useful to those who wish to learn more about Neo-Confucianism — and especially to those who read our book! — we will also periodically post additional material here. To begin with, and to give you a sense of the audiences at whom we have aimed the book, here is its opening paragraph:

This is a book for anyone who would like an introduction to Neo-Confucian philosophy. Most of our readers will have little or no background in Neo-Confucianism or in the last millennium of Chinese history; many will also be unfamiliar with the sources from which Neo-Confucianism emerged, such as classical-era Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism, and the great social transformation of China around the year 1000 CE. Do not worry. This Introduction is designed to help all readers get oriented, and the eight topical chapters that follow assume only that you have a basic familiarity with this Introduction. In writing the book as we have, we have of course made a series of decisions about its scope and approach, and the purpose of section 1 of the Introduction is to explain our thinking. The three key terms in our book’s title help to organize what we discuss. In section 2, we turn to the background needed to make sense of the rest of the book.

We hope you enjoy, and welcome you back as this blog develops.