You are here

HSTRY 498 C: Colloquium in History

Meeting Time: 
M 10:30am - 12:20pm
MGH 097
Patricia Ebrey
Patricia Ebrey

Syllabus Description:

Hstry 498 C  China in the Song Dynasty, 960-1276

Monday, 10:30-12:20 Room 97, Mary Gates Hall


Instructor:       Patricia Ebrey

                        112A Smith


Office Hours: Tuesday 3:30 to 5:00 or by appointment


This seminar prepares students to write a research paper on a facet of the Song period in China, 960-1276. The Song was an era of rapid economic growth, with the spread of paper money and the growth of large cities. The civil service examination system fostered the growth of a new, broader elite, called the literati, who played key roles not only in the government, but also in their local communities and such spheres of culture as literature, painting, history writing, and classical scholarship. The Song was also a time of periodic warfare with powerful northern neighbors, the Kitan, Jurchen, then Mongols, who after decades of conflict finally destroyed the Song and took over its territory. The Song period is much better documented than any earlier period in Chinese history because the spread of printing resulted in much more varied sources surviving into modern times. A growing body of these sources have been translated into English, making it possible to do research on many topics without knowing Chinese. These sources not only allow much deeper investigation of topics that historians had long focused on, such as political and intellectual history, but allow us to study such subjects as popular religion, urban festivals, and the lives of women, poorly documented in earlier periods.


Because students should be spending at least half their time on their research paper, weekly readings will be kept relatively light. Besides a chapter from Kuhn’s book, which covers the topic more broadly, we will have one scholarly article we all read (and which you write a two paragraph “reaction” to), plus an optional reading and a required translated primary source, providing opportunities to practice the historians’ craft--making inferences from different types of sources.



Final paper: 60 percent

Reading Reactions: 15 percent

Critique of another student’s draft 10 percent

Participation 15 percent


Book Ordered in the Bookstore: Dieter Kuhn, The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China. Harvard University Press, 2009.


Class Schedule

Week One. March 26.  The Song Era—Major Issues

            Kuhn, Introduction, 1-9

            Primary Source: Selections from Record of the Listener, 413-39

Week Two. April 2.  Government and Politics, War and Diplomacy

Kuhn, 10-98.

Alyagon, Elad. 2016. “Soldier Mutinies and Resistance during the Northern Song.” In State Power in China, 900-1325, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey and Paul Jakov Smith, 277-306. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Optional: Hartman, Charles. 1990. “Poetry and Politics in 1079: The Crow Terrace Poetry Case of Su Shih.” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 12: 15-44.

Or: Kracke, Edward A. Jr. 1947. “Region, Family and Individual in the Chinese Examination System.” Chinese Thought and Institutions. ed. John K. Fairbank. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Primary Source: “The New Laws of Wang Anshi,” de Bary and Bloom, Sources of Chinese Tradition, 609-628.

Week Three.  April 9. No Class

Work on paper proposal. Consider discussing progress with instructor during office hours or by appointment. 

Week Four.  April 16. Elites, Examinations, and Literati Culture Paper proposals due.

Kuhn, 120-37, 160-86

Egan, Ronald. 2011. “To Count Grains of Sand on the Ocean Floor: Changing Perceptions of Books and Learning in the Song Dynasty.” In Knowledge and Text Production in an Age of Print: China, 900-1400, edited by Lucille Chia and Hilde de Weerdt. Leiden: Brill.

Optional: De Weerdt, Hilde. 2006. "Byways in the Imperial Chinese Information Order: The Dissemination and Commercial Publication of State Documents." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 66, no. 1 (2006): 145-88. 

Primary Source: Yuan Cai, Precepts for Social Life, 254-77.

“Zhu Xi’s Conversations with his Disciples, Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, 172-77.

Week Five.  April 23. Economic History and Urbanization

Kuhn, 187-275.

Liu, William Guanglin. " The Making of a Fiscal State in Song China, 960–1279. The Economic History Review 2014. 1-31.

Optional: Hartwell, Robert. 1982. “Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations of China, 750-1550.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 42.2: 365-442.

Primary Source: Dreams of Splendor in the Eastern Capital, in Mair, Victor H., Nancy S. Steinhardt, and Paul R. Goldin. 2005. Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture. University of Hawaii Press, 405-22.

Week Six. May 30. Family, Kinship, and Gender

Kuhn, 138-59.

Bossler, Beverly. 2014. “Men, Women, and Gossip in Song China.” In Idle Talk: Gossip and Anecdote in Traditional China,” edited by Jack W. Chen and Davod Schaberg, 154-77. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Optional: Patricia Ebrey 2003. “Concubines in Song China.” In Women and the Family in Chinese History, 39-61. London: Routledge.

Primary Source:  Beverly Bossler. 2001. “Funerary Writings by Chen Liang (1143-1194),” in Under Confucian Eyues: Writings on Gender in Chinese History, edited by Susan Mann and Yu-yin Cheng, 47-69. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Week Seven. May 7.  State and Society

Zhang, Ling. 2009. “Changing with the Yellow River: An Environmental History of Hebei, 1048-1128.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 69.1:1-36.

Optional: Chen, Song. 2017. “The State, the Gentry, and Local Institutions: The Song Dynasty and Long-Term Trends from Tang to Qing.” Journal of Chnese History 1.1:141-82.

Primary Source: McKnight, Brian E. and James T. C. Liu, trans. The Enlightened Judgments Ch’ing-ming Chi: The Sung Dynasty Collection (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999),168-72, 234-39, 427-32, 476-82. 

Week Eight . May 14. Religion and Popular Culture

Kuhn, 106-119

Boltz, Judith M. 1993. “Not by the Seal of Office Alone: New Weapons in Battles with the Supernatural.” In Religion and Society in T’ang and Sung China, ed. Patricia Buckley Ebrey and Peter N. Gregory. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Pp. 241-305.

Optional: Hymes, Robert. 1996. “Personal Relations and Bureaucratic Hierarchy in Chinese Religion: Evidence from the Song Dynasty.” In Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China, ed. Meir Shahar and Robert P. Weller. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Pp. 37-69.

Or: Liao, Hsien-hui. 2005. “Exploring Weal and Woe: The Song Elite’s Mantic Beliefs and Practices.” Toung Pao 91: 347-95.

Primary Source: “The Lives and Teachings of the Divine Lord of Zitong,” in Religions of China in Practice, 64-71

Week Nine.  May 21.  Discussion of Paper Drafts (Distributed via email on Friday May 18).

Each student will be assigned another student’s paper to critique.

Week Ten.  May 28.  University Holiday.  Work on final draft. Consider discussing progress with instructor during office hours or by appointment.

Exam Week: Papers Due: Monday June 4 by noon in Ebrey’s History mailbox


Catalog Description: 
Each seminar examines a different subject or problem. A quarterly list of the seminars and their instructors is available in the Department of History undergraduate advising office.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:07pm