Syllabus blogging for Fall 2018

So, as is our tradition, a bit about what I will be doing in my classes in the Fall. As is also tradition, I am doing this way too late to incorporate any of your useful advice, but if you have any feel free to post it.

I have three classes this semester, once you take off my one course release for being Asian Studies coordinator. HIST 198 Rise of Modern Asia,  HIST 206 History of East Asia, HIST 332 History of Early China

HIST 332 Early China

China from Anyang to Tang. Mostly aimed at History and Asian Studies students, although given the topic and how I teach it I try to get some Philosophy and Religious Studies kids as well.

I am starting this in a new way, which seems to work a bit, as far as I can tell. I have them read a textbook section on the whole period and come up with some ID terms from it. The idea is that in a US history class they are pretty sure that the Civil War is coming, but they will get more out of an Early China class if we do a quick run through first.

The main books are1 Lewis’s Sanctioned Violence, which I like to use here. If you want a book that will take them from the Spring and Autumn to the Han in a sinologically impressive and clear way, this is it.

I am trying the short Huainanzi this time as a way of summing up all that philosophy, and giving us a bit of Han synthesis. We will see how it works.

The Mollier Buddhism and Taoism book is new. Teiser’s Ghost Festival is the only other book I have found to work here. This may be a bit beyond them, but I have high hopes.


HIST 206 History of East Asia

Rice Paddies, yeah! This is a class a lot of our Asian Studies majors take. Since it counts for a number of things as an elective it gets a certain number of non-majors. Still pretty much the same class. Mostly chronological, but also pretty thematic. Thus, I start the class with explaining the Shang dynasty, but also the Chinese/East Asian family system through time.  No textbook since I am not trying to cover everything and if I am going to try to cajole them into reading something it should be something that will stick longer than a textbook. So what are the books?

Zhuangzi is back, although I have had mixed success with it. I would like to find a good way to introduce this to students, since one of the themes of the book is how to find your way in a bureaucratic world. How do you introduce this text, and when do you do it?2 Lots of kids find it too weird.

Sarashina Diary is the middle book. This is always a problem, and I have never solved it. You need a good, undergrad-friendly book somewhere between the required classical philosophy book and the modern books.3 It does the whole literary culture thing, and is shorter than Sei Shonagon, which I have given up on, since no matter how much I like it they all hate it.4 Sarashina is also a Japan book, which makes it better here than Waley’s Monkey, which I have also tried here. None of the warrior books seem to work.

Also, what would be a good Korea book? I am old enough that I remember when East Asia meant China and Japan, but now lots of students want Korea. I’m cool with that, and have tossed in a lot of short readings, but a good Korea book that works in a broad context would be great.

Fukuzawa is probably stuck here. A samurai who becomes a modernizer after going through a phase as a party-loving student? Many of them find it too long, but I can’t really think of anything to use it its place.

For the final book I tend to go with a Cultural Revolution book, since there are so many good ones. This is despite the fact that they are a bit tricky to fit in at the end. Spider Eaters is the current choice, although I have tried others. Liang Heng is a bit more accessible.

HIST 198 Explorations in Global History

This is our liberal studies class for non-majors. We are pretty free to pick topics for this. Mine is the Rise of Modern Asia, which does Asia from India to Japan from the Sepoy Rebellion to the present. The main books are still Gosh The Glass Palace, a nice historical fiction novel that traces an Asian business dynasty from about the 1880s to WWII. I am happy with this and will keep it. The next book is Guha Makers of Modern Asia, a collection of biographies of major political leaders. Guha is ok. I like the idea of working through modern Asia through a series of biographies. There is no way a class like this can cover everything, and short biographies are a good way to touch on lots of things. All of these are biographies of top political leaders, which is unfortunate. I have started adding in a few other short bios of non-politicians, but I could really use something like the Human Tradition in Modern Asia, which of course has not been published.

I am probably not teaching this class again in the Spring, but may teach in in the Fall. I was thinking of dropping Guha and using Ghosh, parts of Cochran’s the Lius of Shanghai and a magna about modern Japanese business. All I can think of for that is Salaryman Kintarō. Is there something better?



  1. As always, a big part of the class for me is the books. When I was an undergrad Dr. Rosen explained to me that he assumed that all his students would forget his name, the name of the building the classes were in, all the essay topics they wrote on, but that they would remember every real book they actually read for the rest of their lives. This is still how I approach picking out books and designing classes.  

  2. I.e. can you tell them to read it first and then give them some idea what you want out of it, or give them something before they start? With the more modern books I am fine with just setting them loose, but for early books I think more set-up helps.  

  3. Four properly spaced books that are out in paperback or available as e-books in our library. That’s my goal. They get to pick any two they want to write longer papers on.  

  4. In their defense, it is a hard book to get into if you don’t already understand what it is.  


  1. Are you using the new translation of Sarashina by Arntzen and Ito? I like the introductory material a great deal. And we have access to it as an ebook, so it’s in my Japanese Women’s History course readings this semester.

    I sometimes alternate Fukuzawa’s autobiography with Teruko Craig translations: Musui’s Story is late Tokugawa (and a very lively read) and Shiba Goro’s memoir is Bakumatsu-Meiji (and includes a semi-hostile perspective on the Meiji leadership, including the sainted Saigo). Both together are probably shorter than Fukuzawa.

  2. Dear Jonathan,

    Yes, it is the new Sarashina translation. I hope it works well. Zhuangzi has already received the usual mixed reaction.

    I have used Musui’s story, mostly in Japan classes, and liked it a lot, although it is a bit too Tokugawa-y for this class. Or at least I like Fukuzawa better for this since in brings in more modernization and treaty port issues. Remembering Aizu is also good, but since I use that in my East Asian Masculinities class I don’t use it here. The other things I have used around here (in Japan classes) are Walthall’s Weak Body of a Useless Woman and Anne Waswo’s The Soil, both of which work really well.

    If you don’t mind my asking, do you ever use Chinese Cultural Revolution books? If so, which is your favorite?


  3. Yeah, the only way for it to make sense is personal testimony: Ye Weili, and Ma Xiaodong, Growing Up in the People’s Republic: Conversations between Two Daughters of China’s Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    I used Walthall once, and I could not get students to see the stakes involved; my fault, I’m sure, but it just didn’t work. For my Japanese women’s class I use Yamakawa Kikue. Women of the Mito Domain: Recollections of Samurai Family Life Translated and with an Introduction by Kate Wildman Nakai. Stanford UP. 2001.

  4. I used Women of the Mito Domain once, and it did not work at all. I think a huge part of some books is how you set them up, which of course you can’t be sure about till you do it. I suppose in this respect my students are badly served by my dislike for using the same books over and over. Of course there are some that work (for some students) no matter what you do to set them up.

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