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Chinese Culture Courses

Here are some of the Buddhist Studies courses that are regularly offered. Be sure to check our course gallery and the LSA Course Guide to find out everything being taught in a given semester.

ASIAN 258: Food and Drink of Asia

This class will examine the past and present of Asian food and drink. It begins with an examination of the foods and drinks that have united various peoples both within Asia and across Eurasia, including tea, pancakes, flatbreads, dumplings, soy products, cheese, and noodles. It then moves to foods and drinks that have historically divided peoples along ethnic, class, and religious lines: dog meat, pork, beef, and MSG. The final part of the class will investigate foods that define people as members of national or ethnic groups: dim sum, curry, sushi, pad thai, and spring rolls. Class assignments encourage students to energetically execute the required readings to reconstruct the histories of various recipes. No prior knowledge of Asian history, language, or cooking required. All are welcome.

ASIAN 260: Introduction to Chinese Civilization

This course is intended to introduce students to major issues in Chinese history from ancient times to the Chinese Revolution of 1949, with a specific focus on issues relating to race and ethnicity. In this connection, we investigate three problems:

  1. China is often seen as a racially, ethnically, and culturally homogeneous society, but what is China and (Han) Chinese?

  2. To what extent was the direction of Chinese civilization driven by contact with ethnic, religious, and cultural others? What role did ethnic, religious, and cultural conflict play in producing Chinese identity?

  3. How did China transition from a multi-ethnic empire to a modern nation state? To what extent was the creation of modern China a product of racial and ethnic strife?

Readings and lectures will give equal weight to political and social developments, as well as to intellectual, religious, and cultural forces. There are no books or coursepacks for this course; all readings will be available through Canvas.

ASIAN 263/PHIL 263: Introduction to Chinese Philosophy

This course will provide a survey of philosophical ideas of major figures and works of classical China, including Kongzi (Confucius), Laozi (Lao-tzu), and Sunzi (Sun-tzu). Students will deal with a wide variety of interrelated issues, such as conceptions of authority, skepticism, social equality, commitment to, or rejection of morality, etc. Some of the questions students will try to answer include:

  • Is there a way of life that is best for humans or are we each unique in our needs and preferences? 

  • Should we try to improve the world or find contentment in all things as they are? 

  • What is the price of activism, and what is the price of apathy?

Throughout the semester, students will not only learn about the key debates of the classical period of Chinese philosophy, but also evaluate different arguments and discuss which views are the most convincing. Readings will consist mainly of translations of primary texts. No previous knowledge of Chinese language is necessary.

ASIAN 349/PHIL 349: Confucianism: Reinventions of Tradition

Confucianism is an East Asian tradition that dates back 2,500 years ago. It may be described as a worldview, a social ethic, a political ideology, and a scholarly tradition that is largely concerned with questions of human flourishing and moral discernment. This course examines the evolution of this intellectual tradition over the centuries in different cultural milieu and in relation to different audiences. To this end, in addition to studying the emergence and unfolding of this tradition in Chinese speaking countries, the course also takes a look at its reception by the Jesuit missionaries and its gradual spread in Japan and Korea.

ASIAN 351: Chinese Food in Crisis: Health, Ecology, and Identity in an Age of Globalization

The current Chinese diet is nothing like it was fifty years ago. Today, Western influence makes itself felt in the diets of a billion Chinese– evinced by the ubiquity of fast food chains like KFC in urban malls, the milk cartons and sugary drinks downed by school-age children, and pork and beef manufactured through industrial systems of food production. Critics charge that the Westernization of the Chinese diet has contributed to expanding waistlines, skyrocketing rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Experts also blame Westernized cuisine and food production for the destruction of the Chinese environment and the countryside. Food critics blast Westernization for the erosion of a venerable Chinese culinary tradition. But is any of this true? This course will evaluate the impact of dietary Westernization from an interdisciplinary perspective, considering its implications for health, environment, and national identity. All readings will be in English.

ASIAN 352: Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Premodern China

This course explores gender and sexuality in China before the 20th century. Are “women” and “men” useful categories of analysis for premodern China, or did people think of themselves in other terms? What role did bodies, duties, virtues, and desires play in relationships among people? What role did writing play in negotiations of gender roles and expressions of sexual desire in premodern China? In this course, you will learn how gender and sexuality functioned in a range of premodern discourses and practices. We will begin by reading foundational Buddhist, Daoist, Confucian texts that prescribe gendered roles and virtues. We will bring these into conversation with the conception of the body and sex difference presented in traditional medical texts, which drew on all of these traditions. In the second part of the course, we will investigate the relationship between writing and gender, asking how people described gender and sexuality in letters, poetry, plays, novels, and short stories. We engage these experimental, utopian, or prescriptive gendered textual spaces with an interest to understand how people conceived of the delights and dangers, possibilities, and constraints of the negotiations between their bodies and texts. We will occasionally take our investigation beyond the textual realm to consider other sorts of objects: paintings, decorative objects, book illustrations, and theatrical performances. We will conclude by evaluating attacks on the traditional sex-gender system by feminist modernizing movements at the turn of the 20th century.

ASIAN 353: China Around the World: Power, Politics, and Translation

This course offers an introduction to Chinese literature from an uncommon perspective, that of the contexts of its translation into other languages (mostly English). Some foundational reading in Orientalism and the politics of translation will prepare us to examine the translation of Chinese texts from its earliest instances to recent works that are even written with translation in mind. Questions we will address include: how has translation shaped Western conceptions of China? To what ends have translators aimed their translations? And, perhaps most fundamentally, what should we make of reinterpretations and even wrong interpretations of texts when they circulate far beyond their original contexts?

We will discuss why Chinese literature, especially poetry, has been construed as particularly difficult to translate, because of the supposed incommensurability of the Chinese written character with alphabetic languages. We will explore the ways in which the translation of Chinese classics into Western languages was animated by interests in ancient Chinese wisdom and spirituality, even as it dismissed the majority of later developments in Chinese culture. We will consider the current emergence of a new global notion of Chinese literature and culture, focusing on the two recent Nobel Prizes for literature awarded for Chinese works. We will conclude by comparing the history of adaptations of Chinese drama into European languages with the history of their adaptation within China, especially into films produced with a global audience in mind. We will approach these topics from any level of familiarity with Chinese literature and culture.

ASIAN 472: Interpreting the Zhuangzi

The course focuses on one of the principal classics of ancient Chinese philosophy, the Zhuangzi (aka the Chuang-Tzu). Written in a humorous style, filled with fables, inside jokes, and metaphors, the work later came to be considered as one of the foundational texts of Daoism. Despite its jocular style of writing, the work touches on themes that are fundamental to the human condition, such as the distinction between “good” and “bad,” human and non-human, and life and death. As different characters grapple with these questions, they also simultaneously reflect on the most crucial question of all: how to live with joy in a world that is full of adversity. Although the focus of the course is the Zhuangzi itself, we will also contextualize the text within the broader classical Chinese philosophical tradition. Given that so much of what goes by the name "classical Chinese philosophy" is actively engaged in political discourse, this intertextual approach will also allow us to reflect on the extent to which many of the tales in the Zhuangzi could also be read as political satire.

ASIAN 480: Three Kingdoms Lab: From History to Video Games

Constant, violent warfare characterized the “Three Kingdoms” period (220-280 CE), as valiant men exhausted their wits and their strength in an ultimate battle to make their kingdom – Wei, Shu, or Wu – the legitimate successor of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). These regional forces battled ferociously for what they all knew would someday be a single, united country once again: long divided, the empire must unite.

War often sparks technological innovation (think of flight, computers, or even the internet). The heroes, weapons, and innovative strategies recorded in histories of this period have captured the imagination of people – in China and throughout East Asia – for almost two millennia, in the pages of novels, on the theatrical stage, in New Year’s prints, in shrines, and in oral storytelling. The past several decades, through translations, films, and gaming, have seen an international explosion of interest in these stories.

In this course, we will explore the saga of the Three Kingdoms as it transforms across a range of media. We will see history rewritten, theater giving old stories new life on stage, and illustrations and prints adding vibrancy to oral and textual traditions. Around 1522, the most extensive creative reworking of the story material was published in what is now called China’s first novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In recent years, comic book versions of the story have been joined by an international profusion of television series, films, video games, fan fiction, and online forums. We will make our way slowly through this novel together, discussing what makes it so powerful and so pleasurable. How does a single story transform from one genre to another, and why is it still so influential and popular today?

We will attempt to answer this question through our own reading of the novel and through supplementary texts that include both academic (criticism, commentary, theory) and non-academic (fan websites, card games, collectibles) materials. Our first meeting each week will usually focus on the novel and our second meeting on one or more of these related texts. We’ll do a substantial amount of reading, but we’ll also watch a movie, view a Peking Opera, play a lot of video games, and conclude with an open-ended collaborative project.