Syllabus blogging Fall 2020 -HIST 433 China 1300-1800 The Late Imperial Age

There is a tradition here of blogging about our syllabi and asking for advice.

This is my upper-division class for the semester, where I want to push students into doing some serious reading and perhaps a bit of research. And, of course, to teach and talk about some interesting history. This class came about when I split the old Modern China into two parts. I did this in part because Early Modern lends itself to social and economic and cultural history and modern is a more political class.1

The last time I did this the title was Bandits and Poets: The Cultural and Social History of Late Imperial China. I junked that title because rather than attracting students it made them stay away in droves. The last version went pretty well, but I attribute that to the students, who were smart and interested, rather than my course design.

The last version started out with a lot of Tim Brook’s Troubled Empire and watching Touch of Zen. Neither worked very well. Touch of Zen did not really engage them, in part because I had a lousy print, and Brook was too thematic for students who knew very little about the period.

I have decided to start with a series of lectures on Zhu Yuanzheng and the Ming founding. With a bit of luck that should give the students who do not have much background something fairly straightforward to latch onto. Plus Zhu is easy to tie to peasants and the economy, Buddhism, Confucianism, the Yuan legacy, etc.

The two basic parts of the class are reading and discussing things (mostly articles and book chapters) and a research project. We will see if Perusall makes the discussions work better, since in the past it was hit or miss. Still, this is mainly a discussion class, and since I like the “choose your own adventure” way of running the class there are lots of different options.

I am making the research project mandatory this time. In the past I always had a “possible research project” where they had to do some of the preliminary stuff for a research paper but then had the option of not doing the paper. Almost all of the bailed, so this time I will try making them all do it, with the option of a historiographical essay, or something along the line of “Ming religion/law whatever as seen in selected stories from the massive Sanyan collection.” This gives them a couple of options where the research is pretty straightforward.




  1. I also did this to some extent because I needed more upper division China classes to teach. I am almost the only person here who does (well, teaches) both China and Japan, and thus if we have no upper division China or Japan it helps for me to be able to offer either one.  

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