Wuhan University and Philosophy

Though China has opened itself up to the international community, for many people it remains a mystery. This is no less true for academic philosophy. To help address this problem, I've written the following summary for my own institution, Wuhan University.

 

Wuhan University is one of the oldest universities in China, having just celebrated its 130th birthday. It is also one of the most prestigious. Most national rankings place Wuhan University among the top ten universities in China. This long-standing national reputation has started to spread internationally. According to the QS World University Rankings, Wuhan University has been among the top ten universities in China since 2016.

Wuhan University's philosophy department is also one of the most prestigious departments in the country. QS has placed it among the top five in China since 2015. In the most recent 2023 rankings, the philosophy department was ranked 43 in the world, placing it above all other philosophy departments in China and only behind NUS among universities in Asia.

Founded in 1922, the philosophy department is now thoroughly pluralistic. It has over 80 philosophy faculty, including experts in traditional Chinese philosophy, Marxist philosophy, and Western philosophy (including both the history of Western philosophy and contemporary areas of research). The bulk of its faculty are active researchers; some publish in Chinese-language journals, some publish in English-language journals, and some publish in both. The department also hosts many events, including a wide variety of English-language colloquia, workshops, and conferences.

The philosophy department offers BA, MA, and PhD degrees. All counted, there are about 900 philosophy students at Wuhan University in any given year. (It should be noted, though, that this number is not unusually high. Many other top universities in China have comparable numbers of students.) While some of the philosophy students at Wuhan University are from other countries, the vast majority are Chinese nationals. That being said, the philosophy department is eager to increase its international enrollment and has dedicated resources to do so.

Within its BA program, it offers a few distinct majors with distinct curricula. But their first three semesters are mostly the same. Students first take compulsory university-wide courses and then take compulsory department-wide courses that cover a wide variety of philosophical areas and traditions. Afterwards, most of the courses that students take come from their specific major. Finally, students are required to write a senior thesis. With the guidance of an advisor, students write a 15—20-page research paper that engages a research topic of their choice. Students publicly present and defend their thesis at the end of their senior year. Though it is not a requirement, many students elect to write and defend their thesis in English.

The "international" major, first created in 2001, aims to introduce students to international (that is, non-Chinese and non-Marxist) philosophy. As a matter of fact, most of these courses focus on Anglophone philosophy – predominantly contemporary analytic philosophy, but with some continental and historical philosophy as well. Given the mission of the international major, almost 100% of the readings in its courses are in English. (The major exception is the mathematical logic course, which uses a Chinese-language textbook.) Several of the Chinese faculty who teach for the program publish in both English and Chinese journals. Their background and skillset make them extremely well-positioned to help students navigate English material. In addition, English is the language of instruction for approximately 25—50% of the program’s courses. The department currently has six international (i.e. non-Chinese) professors and post-doctoral researchers. Of those, three professors regularly teach for the International Major; others teach on a less regular basis.

The philosophy department also offers a "generalist" major. Its curriculum offers a more historical focus on the Western, Marxist, and Chinese traditions. That being said, there are opportunities within the major for specialization. English-language instruction is not a priority for the generalist major. Still, international faculty members do occasionally teach for this major.

Wuhan University also has an honors college. Administratively, the Hongyi Honors College is separate from the philosophy department. It has its own dedicated faculty and its own curriculum – including its own philosophy major. The Hongyi philosophy major emphasizes interdisciplinarity. But it also emphasizes English-language instruction and so there is a lot of overlap between their philosophy major and the international major run by the philosophy department. Students from Hongyi often attend courses administered by the philosophy department, and vice versa.

Administratively speaking, it is hard to explain the MA and PhD programs. Most philosophy departments within China are divided into “research clusters” and each research cluster has a high degree of autonomy regarding graduate education. That education typically follows the name of the research cluster -- graduates in the Marxist Philosophy cluster primarily study Marxist philosophy, graduates in the Logic cluster primarily study logic, and so on. But individual research clusters are sometimes idiosyncratic. Wuhan University's Philosophy of Science cluster, for instance, could be plausibly renamed the "core analytic" cluster since it contains faculty who work on logic, epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language. Regardless, all MA programs are designed to be completed in 3 years, with 2 years dedicated to coursework and 1 year dedicated to a thesis. PhD programs also have required coursework. But they otherwise tend to follow the model where students apply to study under a specific supervisor and work closely with them from Day 1.

Many of Wuhan University's philosophy students seek to join graduate programs in other countries.  In terms of placement, the department has had a lot of success. Its students have continued their studies at a wide variety of programs across the world, including University of Edinburgh, University of St. Andrews, Ghent University, University of Frankfurt, Cornell University, University of Notre Dame, and University of Southern California. While many graduates go on to have successful careers elsewhere, some seek to return. One graduate has become one of the department’s most prominent researchers, and one of the international major's first graduates is now an Associate Dean.