2015-2016 Asian Studies Courses
Chinese Literature and Folktales: Ghosts, Bandits, Heroes, 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 and folktales from three pivotal periods in Chinese literary history: the Tang-Song period (eighth-12th centuries), the Ming-Qing period (15th-18th centuries) and the 20th century. Our approach to the texts will involve both literary and historical analysis, and our goals will be to discover continuities and transformations in both content and form and the interplay between fiction and popular folktales. Topics for class discussion will include: the nature and definitions of the individual; the relationship between the self and society; changing notions of honor, virtue, and individualism; attitudes toward gender and sexuality, and the role of fiction in promoting or overturning cultural norms and creating a Chinese modernity.
Readings in Daoism: Zhuangzi and His Followers
This seminar centers on the careful reading of The Zhuangzi, one of the foundational texts of the Daoist tradition. Arguably the greatest piece of Chinese literature and philosophy, The Zhuangzi defies all categorization and, instead, invites readers to probe through its layers of myth, fantasy, jokes, short stories, philosophy, epistemology, social critique, and political commentary. In the end, Zhuangzi plunges us into an examination of some of the core questions of philosophy: What is being? What is knowledge? What is the nature of human nature? The goal of this course is twofold: (1) to understand the Zhuangzi as it was written in the fourth century BCE, and (2) to examine the ways in which it has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and applied in practice in later history. To accomplish the first part of the goal, we thoroughly familiarize ourselves with the text and the philosophical questions it raises through close and detailed reading. To accomplish the second, we will look at the text in its broader historical context, as well as its influence on later philosophical, religious, and artistic (painting and poetry) traditions. Readings will include the Dao-de-jing, Confucius, later Daoist philosophers and religious leaders, poets, and painters.
Indian Medical Cultures: Yoga and Ayurveda
This seminar explores the psycho-physical disciplines of yoga and ayurveda. In beliefs and practices of India, these disciplines overlap fields of medicine, law, and religion. Indian interpretations of body and self form a foundation for the seminar. Hindu and Buddhist dietary ethics are considered. Hatha yoga has broad implications for physical and mental hygiene, preventive medicine, and public health. Ayurvedic medicine addresses anatomy, physiology, respiration, digestion, and endocrine function without compartmentalizing these systems. We draw on contemporary theories in the philosophy and anthropology of medicine in order to interpret techniques of the self that are embedded in ayurvedic teachings. With globalization, yoga and ayurveda increasingly serve as cultural signifiers of postcolonial identities.
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 of orientalism. 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 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 seen as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of ethnicity, linguistic region, and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism? For this seminar on semiotics and politics of culture, sources include works by influential South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.
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 narrate utopian imaginings and legacies of the past in light of dystopic visions and optimistic 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 briefly considering representations of India 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 British 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.
South Asian Narratives and Identities
This seminar explores identity formation in cultures of the Indian subcontinent through a critical analysis of life histories. Using recent cultural theory, we examine biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs of figures from diverse communities. We study pivotal events in the lives of uncelebrated figures, along with experiences of artists and writers who are more widely known. Through such life stories, we explore issues of regional and national identities, religion and communalism, individualism within extended families, personal and collective memory, generational conflicts, and caste hierarchies. We analyze "etics" of subaltern positioning and consider "emics" of postcolonial fragmentation, alienation, and affinities. Student presentations address specific case studies. Seminar topics and theories are widely applicable to cultures beyond South Asia. How do political movements exploit religious affiliations? How do media technologies influence choices between traditional and cosmopolitan lifestyles? In what ways do personal possessions reflect aspects of identity?
Making Modern East Asia: Empires and Nations, 1700-2000
This yearlong seminar is a sustained look at the recent history of China and Japan, the major countries in East Asia. Placed alongside each other, the often wrenching history of Japan and China over the past three centuries raises important historical themes of Asian modernity, questioning both its sources and how we define it. Often portrayed as a direct import from the West in the 19th century, we will ask whether modernity might instead be traced to legacies of Japan’s isolationist feudalism and China’s multiethnic Manchu dynasty, even as we acknowledge the far-reaching impact of Euro-American imperialism. Both China and Japan have entrenched master narratives that portray themselves as victims of the West, but we will also investigate the contours of Asian imperialism: Qing dynasty colonization of the untamed Southwest and the Japanese Empire (1895-1945). What features (if any) did these different empires share, and what set them apart from others? Does Qing ethnic policy toward native Miao tribes differ from Western racism and its Civilizing Discourse? What about Japanese colonial rule on Taiwan (1895-1945) or Korea (1910-1945)—or even toward Japan’s internal Other, the Ainu on Hokkaido? In short, how and why were Asian empires built, and how did they end? In both polities, how were nation-states formed, and how was nationalism constructed (and reconstructed)? What role did wrenching socioeconomic, cultural, and international crises play in fueling nationalist sentiments? How and where was radicalism (of various forms, including radical Maoism) incubated? The impact of war, preparing for it, waging it, and rebuilding in its wake will be a repeated theme, too. And finally, we will look at Asia’s economic dynamism, covering both Japan’s post-World War II capitalism (and its roots in the wartime imperialist project) and China’s transition to a market economy. Course readings consist of historical scholarship regularly punctuated by primary sources, documents, fiction, and some film.
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 course 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, and fanatical Red Guards. These men and women made and remade 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.
Japanese Religion and Culture
This course explores the diverse terrain of religious life in Japan, investigating as much of the amazing spectrum of Japanese beliefs, practices, and institutions as possible without actually visiting the country. To this end, it makes extensive use of audio-visual materials, as well as primary sources (Japanese texts in English translation) and secondary scholarship. The course covers all of the major religious traditions and movements found in Japan today, including Shintō, the various schools of Buddhism, and the so-called New Religions, as well as numerous elements of "folk" or "popular" religion and culture that are not readily subsumed under any of the preceding labels. The emphasis is on religion in contemporary Japan, with particular focus on religious rituals and the art and architecture that facilitate them, but a modicum of historical background will be given when necessary. Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.