2012-2013 Asian Studies Courses
First-Year Studies: Reform and Revolution: China’s 20th Century
In 1900, China was a faltering empire, ruled by an autocratic foreign dynastic house and an entrenched bureaucracy of Confucian officials. Its sovereignty heavily battered and its territory compromised by foreign powers, it was commonly called “The Sick Man of Asia.” In 2000, China was a modern nation-state, ruled by an authoritarian party and an entrenched bureaucracy of technocrats and administrators. With a surging economy, swollen foreign reserves, dazzling modern cities, and a large and technologically advanced military, China is regularly predicted to be the next global superpower. Yet, the path between these two startlingly different points was anything but smooth. China’s 20th century was a tortuous one, full of tragedy, incredible hardships, wrenching setbacks, and disastrous disappointments. Policymakers, elites, and the common people oscillated between the poles of reform and revolution—bouts of wild radicalism alternated with more sober policies—as they pursued changes that they hoped would bring a better society and nation. This class examines some of the major events and personalities of this arduous century and its momentous political, social, and cultural changes. We will learn and apply skills of historical analysis to primary documents (in translation), some fiction, and film. Along the way, we will encounter a rich cast of characters, including Sun Yatsen (China’s “national father”), colorful warlords, corrupt bureaucrats, fervent intellectuals, protesting youths, heroic communist martyrs, the towering and enigmatic chairman Mao, long-suffering peasants, fanatical Red Guards, and prosperous businessmen. These men and women made and re-made modern China. This class is history and, thus, is not primarily concerned with contemporary China; but by the end of the year, students will be well-equipped with an understanding of China’s recent past, knowledge that will help immeasurably in making sense of today’s China as it becomes increasingly important in our globalized economy and society.
Pre-Modern Chinese Literature: Ghosts, Bandits, and Lovers
Throughout Chinese history, the most enduring characters of fiction were ghosts, bandits, and lovers. Authors used them as metaphors to contemplate and criticize their cultural, economic, and political traditions. This class will focus on the close reading of short-story fiction from two pivotal periods in Chinese literary history: the Tang-Song period (8th-11th centuries) and the Ming-Qing period (15th-17th centuries). In part, our goal will be to discover continuities and transformations of the genre in both its content and its form. And, in part, our goal will be to explore changing notions of ghosts, bandits, and lovers as a window onto pre-modern Chinese society. Topics for class discussion will include: the nature and definitions of the individual; the relationship between the self and society, the individual and the cosmos; changing notions of honor, virtue, and individualism; attitudes toward gender and sexuality; and the role of fiction in promoting or overturning cultural norms.
This seminar explores classical Indian and Western themes of sacrifice that survive today in contemporary literature and cinema. The sacrifice of a scapegoat channels violence and legitimizes acts of killing in order to serve social interests of surrogacy and catharsis. Sacrificial practices bridge religious, political, and economic aspects of culture. As sacrament, sacrifice represents transformational mystery. As ceremonial exchange, it facilitates negotiations of status, observance of boundaries, and the redistribution of goods. In specific cultural settings, sacrifice functions as celebration, as a manifestation of goodwill, as insurance, and as a source of communion. Seminar topics include gift exchange, fasting and feasting, the warrior ethic, victimization and martyrdom, bloodletting, scarification, asceticism, and renunciation. The seminar concludes by addressing the politics of sacrifice and alterity through recent critical inquiry into: 1) sati (widow immolation) in India; 2) charity and service tourism; 3) court rituals and judicial proceedings; 4) the targeting of ethnic scapegoats in transnational politics; and 5) contemporary “bullying” incidents. Texts include Hindu liturgies, Greek tragedies, Akedah paintings, the Roman Catholic Eucharist, and selected modern literature.
Cataclysm and Catharsis: 20th-Century Chinese Fiction
Filled with wars, political revolutions, cultural change, and social upheaval, the 20th century was an extended cataclysm for China and the Chinese people. As writers participated in and commented on these wrenching changes and events, literature (particularly fiction) and literary practice stood at the heart of the cataclysmic century. Grappling with the problems of national resistance to (Western and Japanese) imperialism, the construction of a modern nation-state, and the emancipation of the individual, Chinese literature became one of the battlegrounds for cultural, political, and esthetic issues. In this century of radical and wrenching change, what did authors hope to accomplish with their stories? In other words, why write? And why write what they wrote? Were these stories of tragedy, farce, and satire simply literary responses to the emotional disorientations of massive change, a “cathartic” response to the batterings of a whirlwind world? Or was something more interesting, more complex, going on? To get at these questions, we will look at both the politics of literature and the literature of politics by examining the radical critique of traditional Confucian culture, the unique perspective and dilemmas of women writers, the rise and decline of Marxist socialist-realism, the problem of wartime literature, the reform-era rewriting of Maoist excesses, and the place of literature in the recent apolitical atmosphere of post-Tiananmen China. While the focus will be on mainland Chinese fiction, we will also dip our toes into Taiwanese literature for its unique mixture of colonial history under Japan, sojourner mainlanders, and political separation from the mainland. Among others, our readings will include Lu Xun’s cannibalistic madman and hapless Ah Q, Ding Ling’s tubercular Miss Sophie, Zhang Ailing’s college student turned mistress-assassin, Yu Hua’s indefatigable peasant, and Mian Mian’s heroin-addicted young woman in 1990s Shanghai.
Readings in Daoism: The Zhuangzi and Movement
This seminar will take a two-pronged approach to The Zhuangzi: the intellectual and analytical reading of the text and the physical and somatic practice of Zhuangzi’s Dao. One of the foundational texts of the Daoist tradition and, arguably, the greatest piece of Chinese literature and philosophy, The Zhuangzi defies all categorization. Instead, it invites readers to probe through its layers of myth, fantasy, jokes, short stories, philosophy, epistemology, social critique, and political commentary. One meeting each week will consist of a slow, careful reading of the text that will allow us to explore the core questions of Zhuangzi’s philosophy: What is being? What is knowledge? What is the nature of human nature? The other meeting each week will explore The Zhuangzi as a manual of practice that focuses on the body as a laboratory of physical knowledge and experience. Here we will explore the kind of movement that is, in Zhuangzi’s terms, both deliberative and spontaneous. This part of the course will be a collaborative experiment with Emily Devine’s improvisation class in the Dance program. No prior experience in dance or philosophy is necessary.
Pilgrimage and Tourism: South Asian Practices
Among global cultures of travel, pilgrimage is notably prevalent in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi Islamic traditions of South Asia. At temples and shrines throughout the subcontinent, pilgrims perform sacraments, rites of initiation, sacrifices, and other acts of renunciation. Pilgrim fairs and festivals serve multiple functions, providing venues not only for religious expression, but also for arts performance, social negotiation, and economic exchange. This seminar explores the proposition that pilgrimage and tourism are functionally indistinguishable. If categories of travel are to be defined, what role, if any, do travelers' intentions play in such an analysis? Is a spiritually inscribed journey qualitatively different from tourism with recreational, cultural, or service agendas? How does the transitional process of a journey from home relate to the experience of arrival at a destination? Through a study of travel memoirs, we explore themes of quest, discovery, and personal transformation. Postcolonial writings on spiritually inscribed journeys raise issues of dislocation, exile, memory, and identity. We inquire critically into traditional mappings of “sacred geographies” and the commercial promotion of competing destinations. We analyze travel industries and the specialists who service the many spectacles and attractions found along pilgrim and tourist routes. Films and photographic sources are used extensively. Readings are drawn from cultural studies, history of religions, anthropology, and personal narrative.
Chinese Religion and Politics
Recent news coverage of China has highlighted the Chinese government's persecution of religious groups, among them Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism, and has suggested that such persecution is a product of the Communist Party's failure to promote human rights and religious freedoms. At the same time, the government tolerates a widespread cult to the deceased Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong as the god of wealth and business success. This course seeks to place China's attitudes toward religion within a broader historical and cultural context by looking at the rise and unfolding of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and popular religion. We will focus on two related themes: how different religious groups in China interacted with and affected the state, and how the state created its own religious structure and ultimately shaped the various religions. Questions to be raised will include the following: How did the traditional religions both support and oppose the state? How did the state adopt the symbols and practices of these religions to legitimize its authority? How did the traditional Chinese state conceive of the sacred role of the emperor? What assumption led to its creation of a state religion that controlled private religious practices? How has the contemporary Chinese government borrowed, transformed, or eradicated the traditional relationships between religious groups and the state? We will attempt to answer these questions from a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses institutional, economic, intellectual, and cultural perspectives. Although readings will include secondary sources, emphasis will be placed on primary documents. Sources will include government edicts and ritual manuals, legal cases, religious texts and temple records, private memoirs and diaries, miracle tales, and didactic fiction.
Holding Up Half the Sky: Chinese Women in History
What was it like to live as a Chinese woman? What were their concerns and worlds like? This intermediate seminar looks at women in the Chinese past (covering roughly the period from the Tang dynasty, 618-907 CE, to the present). Primarily historical in approach, this class will not be heavily theoretical but is designed to introduce some of the key issues of historical understanding of women in the Chinese context. No prerequisite knowledge of China or gender theory is required—just an enthusiasm to understand people who are separated from us by time, geography, and culture. We will encounter and explore the lives of concubines and fashion models, goddesses and demons, housewives and prostitutes, empresses and peasants, writers and revolutionaries. Beyond this biographical lens, we will treat women as a historically constructed category, too, by examining how “women” have been imagined and portrayed, made and mobilized, at different times. A recurring theme will be the relationship of women (and the idea of woman) to power in its various modes: social, familial, economic, and political. We will ask questions such as: What are the implications of viewing Imperial Era Confucianism as male oppression of women? Where do we find, and how do we understand, women’s agency within the permutations of the traditional Chinese family system and gender norms? Addressing the topics of intergenerational conflict within families and the practice of footbinding, we will explore issues of female agency within, and complicity with, the gender hierarchy. Family reform and feminism in the 20th century will open up questions of women’s problematic place within modern nationalism and women’s participation in the political, social, and cultural revolutions that have fundamentally shaped and reshaped modern China.
Body and Self in Asian Cultures
This seminar explores cultural constructions of body and self in the diverse cultures of India, using selected case studies from China and Japan for comparative analysis. We study concepts of personhood in relation to prevailing social orders. Diverse bodily practices are reflected in realms of medicine, public health, law, ethics, religion, ritual, and etiquette. Using methods of analysis from current culture theory, we move toward a “geography of the body” in Indian thought and practice. Boundaries of persons tend to be viewed alternately, in different contexts, as fixed, porous, or fluid. Why do some interpreters view Hindu personhood as a matter of “dividuality” more than individuality? What implications follow from regarding persons as biomental, biomoral entities? How is caste oppression of dalit (“untouchable”) communities rationalized in terms of bodily purity and pollution? For selected comparisons to India: 1) Does a cartography of Japanese selves reflect the layering of multiple “wrapped” identities? 2) How do Chinese medicine and martial arts emphasize the expansion of human potential? Topics include technologies of self, the body as microcosm, yoga as experimentation, theories of pain, practices of psychosomatic healing, location of identity markers, regimes of subject formation, and subjection of the body through protocols of surveillance and control. Readings are drawn from recent cultural studies and anthropology.
India and Orientalism
Orientalism was born as a fetish, came of age as a discipline, and matured to spawn a critical discourse. This seminar explores the career of the Orient as an idea, a product of external imaginings, with emphasis on its South Asian deployment. As an imagined construct, orientalism continues to have tangible psychological and political impact on the lives of its subjects. Orientalist thought emerged as an array of fears and desires projected onto peoples located “somewhere East of Suez.” Orientalist assumptions became encoded as a system of serviceable knowledge in the scholarly disciplines that emerged from the Enlightenment. More recently, repudiations of orientalism have been central to critical discourse in literature and cultural studies. Through what gazes were the diverse cultures of Asia reduced to a master narrative of alterity? What characterizations of India can be found in the works of influential European philosophers, historians, poets, and painters? How did colonizers appropriate South Asian sciences and practices? Why did colonized subjects at times internalize orientalist hegemony and, in other instances, risk opposition to such hegemony? The seminar draws from 19th- and 20th-century English literature and British art to focus on depictions of an India at once picturesque and despotic. We analyze colonial images of South Asian subjects, both in light of the romance of empire and in contexts of the British “civilising mission” with its political, economic, and psychological agendas. We trace the invention and uses of the term “Indian” as emblematic of the epoch, external designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. Contemporary Western pop culture, media, advertising, and fashion continue to reproduce the Orient as commodity. The seminar ends with a focus on contemporary South Asian writers, whose responses to orientalism are transforming English literature and reshaping cosmopolitan, transnational cultures.