2013-2014 Asian Studies Courses
First-Year Studies: Chinese Philosophy and Daily Life
This course will look at China’s philosophical traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism—and seek to understand their role in shaping the cultural practices of daily life. To do this, we will take a two-pronged approach. The first approach will involve the close reading of the foundational texts in each of the traditions. Topics to be explored will include: notions of the Dao (Tao) and the ways in which it might be attained by individuals and society; the essence of the mind, human nature, and the emotions and the ways they interact in behavior; the relationship between knowledge and action; and ideals of inner self-cultivation and social engagement. The second approach will explore cultural practices through a different set of texts, including school regulations and curricula, monastery rules and ritual texts, “how-to” manuals for managing the family, records of charitable organizations, poetry and fiction, legal cases, diaries, and journals. Here we will consider the ways in which social and cultural institutions were shaped and reshaped by the ongoing debates within Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. The goal is to bring these two approaches together by considering the various ways in which philosophical ideals unfolded in, or stood in tension with, daily life and practice.
Chinese History I: From Origins to the Mongol Empire
This course will explore the rise, development, and transformations of China’s sociocultural practices and political institutions from earliest times to the Mongol period (14th century). In doing so, we will challenge many of the conventional views of premodern China. For example, instead of seeing China as developing in isolation from the outside world, we will look closely at its international relations, its expansionist tendencies, its numerous conquests by non-Chinese neighbors, and its involvement in Silk Road trade. Topics covered will include the political and economic systems, urbanization and the development of a market system, the rise and unfolding of its philosophical and religious traditions (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism), and changes in its social and cultural practices. Class assignments will be varied, relying on scholarly articles as well as primary sources, including government documents, memoirs, diaries, biographies, philosophical texts, and fiction. Group conferences will allow for more in-depth reading and discussion of primary documents. This class will provide background to Professor Landdeck’s spring lecture but is not required.
Chinese History II: From the Ming Dynasty to Yesterday
This course provides a solid grounding in the important political events and sociocultural changes of the densely-packed centuries from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the post-Mao reform era (1976-present). The course challenges many conventional views on modern China; for example, rather than seeing Chinese “modernity” as a reaction to defeat by Britain in the Opium War (1842), we will explore the modern features of the last two dynasties, such as late Ming consumer culture and the multi-ethnic Manchu imperium with its colonial expansion in the northwest and southwest. Other topics covered include the domestic crises facing China in the 19th century, the impact of Western imperialism, the collapse of the dynastic system in 1911, the desperate attempt to remake Chinese culture in the New Culture Movement (1915-1923), the rise of revolutionary parties, the flowering of urban culture of the 1920s-1930s, the extended trauma of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the roots of the Communist revolution and its painful denouement in two decades of spasmodic Maoist radicalism (1957-1976), and finally the reforms that underpin China’s recent economic success and resurgent nationalism. Group conferences will read historical scholarship and engaging primary documents (in translation). This class is a natural continuation of Mr. Neskar’s fall class, which is not required; there is no prerequisite.
Personal Narratives: Identity and History in Modern China
This yearlong seminar explores the realm of private life and individual identity and their relationship to the historical events and changes taking place in modern China from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) into the Reform era (2000s). Our investigations will cover an eclectic mix of “personal” writings: diaries, letters, memoirs, oral testimony, autobiographies, third-party anthropological reconstructions of individuals, and (auto)biographical fiction. Among others, we will encounter late imperial Confucian radicals and mystics, petty literati, young urban women and their mothers with bound feet, peasants, radical revolutionaries, intellectuals, Maoist Red Guards, and factory workers.
Cultures and Arts of India
The Indian subcontinent hosts numerous cultures grounded in Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, secular, and unassimilated traditions. This multifaceted seminar addresses the diverse cultural traditions of India through literature and the visual arts. Beginning with core mythologies and iconography, we explore modes of Indian thought and expression found in devotional texts, court poetry, popular narratives, Hindu temple sculpture, and Mughul miniature painting. Artistic production under Mughal and British imperial rule frames our study of the formation of Indian identities. We move on to explore contemporary Indian fiction and poetry in relation to modern painting, photography, and film. We interpret aesthetic, religious, economic, and political aspects of South Asian arts in light of postcolonial theories of production and consumption. Sectarian movements and caste hierarchies are analyzed in relation to systems of patronage. Our inquiries address these questions: How do arts of the 21st century both reflect and transform traditional myths and images? What social agendas have led to conventional distinctions between “classical” and “folk” arts, and why are such definitions now widely rejected? Why does the Indian canon include cuisine and body decoration among classical art forms? Which arts historically have been available to women? How have South Asian artists “written back” to orientalist representations?
Crucible of History: China in World War II, 1937-45
China’s experience in World War II has long been overshadowed by, and at times literally overwritten with, the Communist revolution that followed the war. With the deepening of post-Mao reforms and China’s rise as an economic juggernaut, historians have turned their attention to World War II as a key watershed period in China’s recent past. The war’s significance is just now being pieced together from fragmented stories and experiences while its wounds linger, raw and sensitive, as witnessed by the simmering anti-Japanese sentiment in China in late 2012. This seminar is an extended and intensive look at China’s eight-year (1937-45) “War of Resistance” against Japan. Course material ranges from the terrain of contemporary journalism to US intelligence reports, historical scholarship, memoirs, propaganda, fiction, and film. We will cover the wide geographical differences in how the war was experienced, Nationalist (KMT) mobilization and strategy, Communist insurgency and rapid expansion, cultural change, the social dislocation of vast numbers of refugees, propaganda and art, the Nanjing Massacre (December 1937), life in occupied territory, American aid and involvement, and the political legacies and recent remembrances of the war. We will interrogate the gender dimension of the conflict, as well as Chinese collaboration with Japan, exploring their implications for national orthodoxies and conventional patriotic understandings of the war. At the heart of this course are implicit questions about the limits of historical representation. Can we construct an authentic story of a conflict of this magnitude and complexity? Or does the contingency, chaos, and suffering defy any coherent understanding? Can we, in fact, understand modern war, or do all our lenses inevitably distort it and mislead us?
Writing India: Transnational Narratives
The global visibility of South Asian writers has changed the face of contemporary English literature. Many writers from the Indian subcontinent continue to narrate tumultuous events that surrounded the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan upon independence from British imperial rule. Their writings join utopian imaginings and legacies of the past with dystopias and aspirations of today. This seminar addresses themes of identity, fragmentation, hybridity, memory, and alienation that link South Asian literary production to contemporary writing from settings elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Accounts of communal violence reflect global urgencies. The cultural space of India has been repeatedly transformed and redeployed according to varied cultural projects, political interests, and economic agendas. After considering brief accounts of India as represented in early chronicles of Chinese, Greek, and Persian travelers, we explore modern constructions of India in excerpts from Kipling, Forster, Orwell, and other writers of the Raj. We focus on India as remembered and imagined in selected works of writers including Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. We apply interdisciplinary critical inquiry as we pursue a literature that shifts increasingly from narrating the nation to narrating its diasporic fragments in transnational contexts.
Law and Order in Pre-Modern China
This course will offer a three-part approach to the study of law in pre-modern China, focusing on legal theory, institutions and practices, and the relationship between law and popular culture. The first part of the course will provide an overview of the philosophical basis of law, the state’s development of civil and penal law codes, and its creation of courts and judicial institutions. The second part of the course will look more closely at the implementation of the law code and its application to criminal cases in the medieval period. Here we will study case books and judicial judgments, precedent texts, magistrates’ manuals, forensic guidelines, and journal accounts. Topics that we will examine include: the role and function of local judges, the processes by which penal cases were judged and punishments determined, and the rights and obligations of the various parties in a legal suit. The third part of the course will use religious tracts, folktales, and popular fiction to examine the ways in which the judicial system both influenced and was influenced by popular culture. Topics include the ways in which the court system shaped popular notions of justice and revenge and contributed to increasingly complicated notions of heaven and hell, the intersection of Buddhist notions of karma and Confucian concepts of retribution with the legal system, and the rise of popular fiction centered on the courtroom and the wise judge.
Images of India: Text/Photo/Film
This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through encoded idioms that invite critical scrutiny. In recent decades, writers and visual artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been actively engaged in reinterpreting the British colonial impact on South Asia. Their work presents sensibilities of the colonized in counter-narration to images previously established during the regime of the Raj. Highlighting previously unexposed impressions, such works inevitably supplement, usually challenge, and frequently undermine traditional accounts underwritten by imperialist interests. Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent both in terms of degradation and in terms of a romance of empire, thereby rationalizing various economic, political, and psychological agendas. The external invention and deployment of the term “Indian” is emblematic of the epoch, with colonial designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. Postcolonial writers and artists are consequently renegotiating identities. What does it mean to be conceived of as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of region and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism? For this seminar on semiotics and cultural politics, sources include works by prominent South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.