China’s First Empires and the Rise of Buddhism

Discover the impacts of early dynasties and Buddhism

Join Harvard University faculty in this online course to learn about the Qin and Han dynasties, and how Buddhism influenced China's medieval period.

Featuring faculty from:
15 weeks
1-3 hours per week
Certificate Price
Program Dates
Start China's First Empires today.

What You'll Learn

This course, the second in a collection on Chinese history and culture, addresses how the Qin dynasty conquered China and established a new system of government and how the Han dynasty built a stable, centralized empire that lasted for hundreds of years. We cover the early history of Buddhism in China and how the rising feudal aristocracy responded to the loss of empire by looking inward.

In this period, the Qin forged a new, unified empire, discovered new ways of mobilizing the population, and introduced the imperial ideology of “Cosmic Resonance”. However, this early dynasty was short-lived and soon gave way to the Han. Though the Han struggled with many tensions — centralism vs. regionalism, feudalism vs. bureaucracy — it lasted much longer than the Qin and established a stable relationship between Chinese society and the state.

Later, aristocratic culture and concerns around self-actualization became important in Chinese culture. Buddhism was also established in this period, and learners will discover how that religion spread throughout the country.

Join us to learn about China’s first unified empires and how the relationship to the self evolved with the spread of aristocratic culture and Buddhism.

The course will be delivered via edX and connect learners around the world. By the end of the course, participants will learn:

  • How the first centralized bureaucratic empire was created.
  • How the foreign religion of Buddhism gained prominence.
  • The dynamics of political systems and changing state-society relations.
  • How religion functions as a historical phenomenon.
  • How to develop your own approaches to history and gain a critical appreciation of China’s many resources.
  • How to express ideas clearly and confidently.

Your Instructors

Peter K. Bol Photo

Peter K. Bol

Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations 
at Harvard University
Read full bio.

 William C. Kirby Headshot

William C. Kirby

T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies
at Harvard University
Read full bio.

Ways to take this course

When you enroll in this course, you will have the option of pursuing a Verified Certificate or Auditing the Course.

A Verified Certificate costs $149 and provides unlimited access to full course materials, activities, tests, and forums. At the end of the course, learners who earn a passing grade can receive a certificate. 

Alternatively, learners can Audit the course for free and have access to select course material, activities, tests, and forums. Please note that this track does not offer a certificate for learners who earn a passing grade.

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