Syllabus Blogging for Spring 2022

As in the past, I need to order books for classes, and more generally think about what I will be doing next semester, so as always I am posting here.  Posting these things forces me to think about what I am going to do, gives students who google a chance to drop the class, and lets me benefit from your advice.

I am teaching three classes in the Spring (Being Asian Studies coordinator gets me out of one.) HIST 198 (Rise of Modern Asia) HIST 332 (Early China) and ASIA 200 (Introduction to Asian Studies) I will do these in reverse order of complexity.

ASIA 200 is always the most fun to teach, and the hardest to figure out. The basic idea of the class is to introduce students to different parts of Asia and different disciplinary approaches. So there are a bunch of units built around a book about China/Anthropology, Japan/Film, etc. If you are really interested in this I did a presentation on this, and you can see part of it here (recording started a bit late).

This class will run pretty much the same way it always has. They will be recording their movie presentations, so the only one who has to sit through all of them is me. The units (for now are)

China/Philosophy Nylan, Michael. The Chinese Pleasure Book.  New York: Zone Books, 2018. This worked great last time, so I will use it again. Of course it may have been because last time was the first Covid Spring, and students were in their rooms with nothing to do but read, but still, it was a good book that they got a lot out of. We used Perusall for discussion and this was the one time I got that to work. I think this book works well because it does what the students want (Help them think about themselves, give them the Wisdom of the East) and also does what I want, which is teach them something about Asia.

Journalism/ Afghanistan Gopal, Anand. No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes.  Metropolitan Books, 2014.

Journalism is always the first unit, since it makes a nice transition from general reading to more serious reading. I would be open to something else here, but this seems like the best recent book on Afghanistan before it vanishes from the public eye entirely, if it has not already.

The next few are a bit trickier.

Korea/Anthropology Kendall, Laurel. The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: Of Tales and Telling Tales.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988.

I was going to do this because it is a good book, and also because I could pair it up with some of her other writings so they can get both the ethnography version and the “academic” version. Also I need a Korea book because a lot of our students take Korean, and this unit will be some of the only non-language Korea content they get. Available cheap as paperback, which also helps. In theory anthropology is the one discipline I could drop, since they are likely to do other classes on Asian anthropology. On the other hand, if you want good, accessible books on Asian culture…Anthro has a lot.

Japan/Literature Shusei, Tokuda. Rough Living. Translated by Richard Torrance. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

I always do a literature unit in part because our school offers almost no classes that deal with Asian literature, and because this is a type of reading they are somewhat used to. Also, I can sneak some history in. This may end up being too close to Kendal in theme, but other than than it seems perfect. Tanizaki’s Naomi might work here, but some of the people who did that in History of East Asia may still be around.

History/Asia Perdue, Peter C., Helen F. Siu, Heidi Walcher, Victor Lieberman, Nancy Um, Charles J. Wheeler, Kerry Ward, et al. Asia Inside Out: Changing Times.  Harvard University Press, 2015.

f I did a fifth book there might be an open revolt, so maybe have them each pick something and do some sort of semi-group project base on the Asia Inside Out books. I am still sort of unsure about this, but in that this gets me away from the national straitjacket, and away from the “read a book and discuss/ write a paper about it” model. This struck me as the most obvious collection to use for some sort of group project , although maybe there are others?

Then the same film unit I always do.


HIST 332 Early China

A class I always like (well I like all of them) but that does not always fill up. This one has become pretty fixed. Start with

Lewis, Mark Edward. Sanctioned Violence in Early China. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Which does a good job of linking up and making sense of a lot of the early political history. (Also, since I am going to steal so much of the rest of the class from his other books it makes sense to have them get some of it right.)
Huainan, An Li King of. The Essential Huainanzi. Translated by John Major, Sarah Queen, Andrew Seth Meyer, and Harold Roth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
Since the library database has the full edition, and you can do all your philosophy and have them do some sort of project.

Then the hard part. What do to with the Age of Disunion/Tang? One problem with all of Early China is that a lot of the stuff is pretty technical, and thus hard to find cheap paperback copies of and hard for students to get into. I have had luck with Teiser’s Ghost Festival book, very little luck with anything else. This time I thought I would try

Rothschild, N. Harry. Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers. Columbia University Press, 2015.
since this gives you both a bunch of politics and religion and other things. Any other suggestions?
HIST 198 Rise of Modern Asia The class for non-majors.  This will be the same as in the past with
Ghosh, Amitav. The Glass Palace: A Novel.  Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002.
which they tend to like
Esherick, Joseph W. Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History. First edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
which should pair well with it. They are both looking at a broad sweep of Asian history using the story of a family. In practice maybe half of them read Ghosh and far fewer read Esherick. I probably need to come up with some sort of short writing assignments for these. Most of our freshman can’t write an essay on one of these (or part of one of these) without a lot of scaffolding that I don’t have time for. Any advice on what type of short writing to try would be most welcome.


  1. My standard “they won’t read it if they don’t have homework” for my world history survey primary sources is Summary/Reaction/Question, 200-500 words per section. Summary is what it sounds like — good practice for paraphrasing, which they need — and reaction is basically a free space for them to say whatever they want; the Question is different for each document, and it’s basically a low-stakes, debateable question that they then post publicly on the discussion board.
    It’s low-stakes — my homeworks are 90% completion on time, 10% for me to reward quality beyond a perfunctory performance — but it gets them to engage a bit, gives them something to come back to when the final calls on the documents.

  2. Thanks for some of these works. Again so nice to read your reflections. I will certainly have a look at:

    Kendall, Laurel. The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: Of Tales and Telling Tales

    As you say afterwards, anthro has lots to offer, sometimes my students read anthro works I assign and either love it or are befuddled at the different writing style and approach. Makes me think it is good to have a discussion with students about different disciplinary approaches to sometimes the same topics.

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