Chinese

The Chinese program includes beginning, intermediate, and advanced courses that teach students to speak, read, write, and comprehend standard Chinese (Mandarin). The first-year class focuses on oral proficiency and grammar structures and culminates in end-of-semester projects that draw on the students’ interests. Reading and writing is emphasized in the second-year class, as students are introduced to short stories, poetry, and film. Student work in class and conference is supplemented by weekly meetings with the language assistant and by the lunchtime Chinese Table. Extracurricular activities include visits to museums and excursions to New York City’s various Chinatown neighborhoods.

Students of Chinese are strongly encouraged to spend a semester or, ideally, a year abroad at one of several programs, such as Global Alliance, Middlebury College, or Associated Colleges in China. These programs offer a range of experiences at different sites, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Xian.

Students of Chinese language are encouraged to enhance their curriculum with courses in history, philosophy, and literature taught through the Asian Studies department, as well as through religion and geography. 

2017-2018 Courses

Chinese

Beginning Chinese

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is designed for students who have no or little knowledge of the Chinese language. We will develop four language skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) through lesson learning and interactive communications. By the end of the academic year, we will be able to conduct daily conversations and to read short passages on a variety of topics at the level of “Intermediate Low.” Chinese culture will be introduced and discussed in the context of popular culture and modern art.

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Intermediate and Advanced Chinese: Conversations and Readings

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: Successful completion of one year of Chinese.

This course is intended for students who want to move beyond Beginning Chinese toward Intermediate or Advanced Chinese in both speaking and reading. We will keep learning and reviewing grammar and expanding vocabulary by covering materials in text and in multimedia. We will work toward the goal of conducting relatively smooth conversations on culture, literature, history, and politics, as well as the objective of reading literary text in modern Chinese.

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The Geography of Contemporary China: A Political Ecology of Reform, Global Integration, and Rise to Superpower

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Some experience in the social sciences desired but not required.

Despite widespread daily reporting on China’s rise to superpower status—and both its challenge to and its necessary partnership with the United States—what do we really know about the country? In this seminar, we will explore China’s evolving place in the world through political-economic integration and globalization processes. We will consistently focus our efforts on reframing debates, both academic and in mass media, to enable new insights and analyses. We will begin with an overview of contemporary China, discussing the unique aspects of China’s modern history and the changes and continuities from one era to the next. We will explore Revolutionary China and the subsequent socialist period to ground the seminar’s focus: post-1978 reform and transformation to the present day. Rooted in the questions of agrarian change and rural development, we will also study seismic shifts in urban and industrial form and China’s emergence as a global superpower on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy. We will analyze the complex intertwining of the environmental, political-economic, and sociocultural aspects of these processes as we interpret the geography of contemporary China. Using a variety of theoretical perspectives, we will analyze a series of contemporary global debates: Is there a fundamental conflict between the environment and rapid development? What is the role of the peasantry in the modern world? What is the impact of different forms of state power and practice? How does globalization shape China’s regional transformation? And, on the other hand, how does China’s global integration impact development in every other country and region of the world? Modern China provides immense opportunities for exploring key theoretical and substantive questions of our time. A product first and foremost of its own complex history, other nation states and international actors and institutions—such as the World Bank, transnational corporations, and civil society—have also heavily influenced China. The “China model” of rapid growth is widely debated in terms of its efficacy as a development pathway, and yet it defies simple understandings and labels. Termed everything from neoliberalism to market socialism to authoritarian Keynesian capitalism, it is a model full of paradoxes and contradictions. Not least of these is its impact on global climate change. Other challenges include changing gender relations, rapid urbanization, and massive internal migration. In China today, contentious debates continue on land reform, the pros and cons of global market integration, the role of popular culture and the arts in society, how to define ethical behavior, the roots of China’s social movements—from Tian’anmen to current widespread social unrest and discontent amongst workers, peasants, students, and intellectuals—and the meaning and potential resolution of minority conflicts in China’s hinterlands. Land and resource grabs in China and abroad are central to China’s rapid growth and its role as an industrial platform for the world. But resulting social inequality and environmental degradation challenge the legitimacy of China’s leadership like never before. As China borders many of the most volatile places in the contemporary world and increasingly projects its power to the far corners of the planet, we will conclude our seminar with a discussion of security issues, geopolitics, and potential scenarios for China’s future. Throughout the seminar, there will be comparisons with other areas of the world within the context of the broader theoretical and thematic questions mentioned above. Weekly selected readings, films, mass media, and books will be used to inform debate and discussion. A structured conference project will integrate closely with one of the diverse topics of the seminar.

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Chinese Identity

Open , Seminar—Year

Taught in English; no Chinese language prerequisite.

“Chinese identity” as an organic cultural composite is important to the “Self-Other” positioning in cultural exchanges and transmissions and has taken various expressions in classical and modern Chinese literature. This course will examine the trajectory that Chinese identity took in Chinese literature from earliest times, through different imperial periods, to the modern era. Through an engagement with poetry, historical writings, fictions, and films, we will chronically explore various literary issues concerning the formation and transformation of Chinese identity. For example, we will examine the role of early Chinese poetry in shaping a shared cultural identity in a partial parallel with Homeric epics. We will also pay attention to how foreign elements—often in the form of female demons, spirits, and ghosts—were gradually accepted into society and households and granted certain social and cultural status in classical novels and folklores. The interplays between empire/state and gender in literature and in films will be part of our reading and discussion on Chinese identity as discourses of geopolitics and nationalism. The course will be divided into two parts. We will read classical texts in the fall semester and will move onto modern and contemporary materials in the spring. This course encourages comparative studies and literary theories.

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The Buddhist Tradition in East Asia

Open , Lecture—Spring

This introductory course focuses on the Buddhism of East Asia: China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Buddhism first began to take root in China in the early centuries of the Common Era, having been transmitted from India via Central Asia and the maritime states of Southeast Asia. Buddhism initially met with much resistance, being branded an "alien" cult that was at odds with native Chinese (especially Confucian) values. Eventually, however, the Indian religion adapted to Chinese culture and came to have a profound influence on it, spawning new schools of Buddhism such as Tiantai, Huayan, Pure Land, and Chan (called Zen in Japan). The smaller neighboring countries that fell under the sway of Chinese civilization—Korea, Japan, and Vietnam—first imported forms of Buddhism that had taken shape in China, not India; but each, in turn, further changed the religion in ways that accorded with their own indigenous cultures. Equal attention is paid in this course to (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures are accompanied by copious audiovisual materials. The course has no prerequisite but is suitable for students who have already taken the companion lecture, The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, which is offered in the fall.

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Chan and Zen Buddhism

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is an in-depth, historical examination of the philosophy, mythology, literature, institutional arrangements, religious practices, art, and architecture associated with this most famous and widely misunderstood branch of East Asian Buddhism. The Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism arose in China as the result of a cross-cultural exchange of epic proportions: the gradual intrusion of an alien set of religious ideas, values, and practices—those belonging to Indian Buddhism—into China between the first and the eighth centuries of the Common Era and the subsequent efforts of some 20 generations of Chinese Buddhists to defend, adapt, domesticate, and finally make the foreign religion entirely their own. Chan became the most "Chinese" school of Buddhism by defining itself in terms of indigenous concepts of clan genealogy, by exalting members of its spiritual lineage as native-born buddhas, and by allowing those buddhas to speak in the vernacular, using a mode of rhetoric that was heavily influenced by the Confucian and Daoist traditions. The course begins by outlining the Indian Buddhist doctrines and practices that were imported into China and by summarizing the indigenous cultural milieu that was initially quite hostile to the alien religion. It then explores the various compromises and adaptations of Indian Buddhist teachings, practices, and institutions that took shape within the Chan tradition and enabled it to emerge in the Song dynasty (960-1278) as the predominant school of Chinese Buddhism. The main theme of the second semester is the transmission of the Chan school of Buddhism to Japan, where it became known as Zen, and the subsequent development of the tradition in that country from the 13th century to the present. Books and readings include Encyclopedia of Buddhism and Zen Masters of Meditation in Images and Writings, Brinker, both PDF files; Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra, Conze, Edward, trans., Vintage, 2001; ; and The Vimalakirti Sutra, Watson, Burton, trans., Columbia University Press, 2000. A background knowledge of East Asian history, languages, or religions is desirable but not required.

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