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Studying Chinese Philosophy

From the Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog (

The Situation for Chinese Philosophy in the U.S. (Leiter)

Manyul Im, a specialist in Chinese philosophy at California State University at Los Angeles, writes:

The following events have contributed to a very serious situation--I sometimes think, a crisis--for Ph.D. study of Chinese Philosophy in the U.S. or Canada and I hope you will share this with your blog readers:

*David Nivison retires at Stanford; PJ Ivanhoe leaves Stanford for Michigan; Ivanhoe leaves Michigan and briefly visits at Boston; and now Ivanhoe is at City University of Hong Kong. There is no indication that Stanford will fill the position again, which was long held by Nivison.

*Kwong-loi Shun leaves Berkeley for Toronto; Shun leaves Toronto for Chinese University of Hong Kong. There is no indication that Berkeley is interested in filling that position again, which was long held by Shun.

*Donald Munro retires at Michigan; Ivanhoe replaces him; then ... see above. There is no indication that Michigan is interested in filling that position again, which was long held by Munro.

My pessimism about whether Stanford, Berkeley or Michigan plan to revive their Chinese Philosophy programs is based only on what I've heard through the grape-vine, so if anyone has more reliable but positive information, I would certainly be glad to hear of it.

Meanwhile here is the advice I've been giving my students for the past couple of years:

In my opinion, right now the only readily viable option for students seeking a Ph.D. that focuses on Chinese Philosophy and, when completed, have good Philosophy job prospects is the program at Univ. of Hawaii. However, students should be aware that at Hawaii, there are strong incentives and pressures to work with Roger Ames and to adopt his approach to Chinese philosophy--namely, a Whiteheadian process-philosophy reading of the major texts. That, by itself isn't a crisis; it's the current lack of scholars-in-training who have other approaches that is the cause for my concern. Of course followers of Ames might not think this is so bad but they should, since any philosophical analysis should be subject to serious criticisms in order to be tested well.

Utah and Oregon, which are listed in the Gourmet Report's Programs Rated by Advisory Board, have excellent young faculty but until they have established their reputations more widely, students who go there for Ph.D. study will need to cultivate serious external working relationships with bigger names in the field to ensure good job prospects. I would also add Oklahoma to this category.

The current situation is that students who don't want to study at Hawaii, Utah, or Oregon--or aren't admitted to those programs--have three good and genuine alternatives, keeping in mind the desideratum of having good job prospects (based on quality and name-recognition of advisors):

Study something other than Chinese Philosophy
Study Chinese Philosophy at a department where the primary advisor, though working at least partly on Chinese Philosophy, would not be someone who has had serious Sinological training, traditionally construed
Study in Hong Kong (at the University of Hong Kong) or Singapore (at the National University of Singapore)
I don't offer my students suggestion 1 completely tongue-in-cheek. Most often I have students who are interested in Chinese Philosophy because they already have serious philosophical interests in more traditional Western topics like Ethics, Metaphysics, or the Philosophy of Religion. Option 2 is possible at programs like Connecticut (with Joel Kupperman) and Duke (with David Wong).

Option 3 is getting more and more attractive as Hong Kong, which is not far from Singapore, is suddenly the hotbed of Chinese Philosophy. Three of the most recognized, active scholars are now there: Chad Hansen (Univ. of Hong Kong), Kwong-loi Shun (Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong), and now Philip Ivanhoe (City University of Hong Kong). There is also a less recognized but excellent senior scholar, Kim-Chong Chong at the Science and Technology University of Hong Kong. Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong also has one of the best young scholars, Chris Fraser.

The caveat here is that, as far as I know, only the University of Hong Kong has a Ph.D. program among the Hong Kong universities mentioned. Chad Hansen, who is at the Univ. of Hong Kong, will be retiring next year. I am told that they DO plan on replacing him. The National University of Singapore has a Ph.D. program and some excellent scholars of Chinese Philosophy, among them: Sor Hoon Tan and Alan Chan. I should note that both the University of Hong Kong and Singapore conduct their programs in English and should really be considered programs of Philosophy "in the English-speaking world."

I hope this will be useful information for you, Brian, and students who are thinking about Ph.D. programs in Chinese Philosophy. Some of this is strictly my considered opinion, but I stand by it and it is part of the advice I would give to my own students.

Comments are open for additional perspectives from scholars and students; non-anonymous comments are very strongly preferred. Please post only once; comments may take awhile to appear.

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