Introduction to East Asian Cultures: China and Japan (T. Wilson)



From: (Thomas A. Wilson)

This is an interdisciplinary course designed to introduce students to the socio-political, intellectual, and literary history of East Asia and the cultural interaction between China and Japan. In this course I focus on one critical period, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century China and Japan, rather than attempting to cover several millennia, which I think conjures a sense of a timeless civilization that would have to be dismantled at the next level of course offerings. I emphasize to students that it is important to view China and Japan from different perspectives, rather than attempt to generalize about China and Japan as if they indeed referred to historical and cultural unities. The course is divided into sections on the ruler, literati (China)/samurai (Japan), women, merchants, and peasants in which I emphasize different and often conflicting social experiences depending upon where someone is situated in a culture. By organizing the course into analogous sections, students are better able to understand certain critical differences between China and Japan while appreciating how they constitute a regional world system based on certain shared cultural values and practices.

Required texts

  • Susan Naquin & Evelyn Rawski, Chinese Society in the Eighteenth Century
  • Jonathan D. Spence, Emperor of China, Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi
  • Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone, Volume 1: The Golden Days
  • George Sansom, A History of Japan, 1615-1867
  • Oliver Statler, Japanese Inn
  • Matsuo Basho, The Records of a Travel-worn Satchel


  1. Introduction to Late Imperial China: geography, basic chronology (Aug. 29)
    • Spence, Emperor of China, xi-xxvi
    • Cao, Story of the Stone (begin reading)
  2. Son of Heaven & Imperial Government (Sept. 5)

o Spence, Emperor of China, 7-89

  • Feuerwerker, State and Society in Eighteenth-Century China, 35-46

o Naquin & Rawski, Chinese Society, 3-27, 88-90

  • Confucius, Analects, 15-33

o Cao, Story of the Stone (continue reading)

3. Literati: Scholar, Official, Poet, and Painter (Sept. 12)

  • Naquin & Rawski, Chinese Society, 64-79, 138-58
  • Cao, Story of the Stone (continue reading)

Quiz on tables in Feuerwerker Sept. 14

4. Women and Family (Sept. 21)

  • Cao, Story of the Stone (continue reading)
  • Naquin & Rawski, Chinese Society, 33-46, 79-88, 108-23
    • Dorothy Ko, "Pursuing Talent and Virtue: Education and Women's Culture," Late Imperial China: 9-39 5. Merchants and urban life (Oct. 3)
  • Cao, Story of the Stone (finish reading)
  • Naquin & Rawski, Chinese Society, 55-64, 97-108, 123-30
  • Chang Han, "Merchants in the Ming," 155-60
  • "The Shansi Merchant," Traditional Chinese Stories, 135-36

First Essay Due (4-5 pp.): October 5

6. Peasants (Oct. 12)

  • Naquin & Rawski, Chinese Society, 217-236
    • "On Farming," 109-112

Mid-Term Examination!! Oct. 17


  1. Introduction to Tokugawa Japan: geography, basic chronology (Oct. 19)
  2. Gods and Emperor: historical background and the imperial institution (Oct. 24)
    • Statler, Japanese Inn (begin reading, 3-208)
      • Ueda Akinari (1734-1809), "White Peak" (Shiramine), from Ugetsu
  3. Shinto and Zen Buddhism (Oct. 26)

* Kamo Mabuchi (1697-1769), "A Study of the Idea of a Nation," 9-15

  • "Zen Buddhism," 226-240
  • Matsuo Basho (1644-94), The Records of a Travel-worn Satchel (Oi no kobumi),71-90 4. Shogun and Samurai: Japanese feudalism (Nov. 7)
    • George Sansom, A History of Japan, 1615-1867, 3-34, 46-95
  • Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), 322-334
  • Hayashi Razan (1583-1657), 341-352 5. Merchants (Chonin) and Urban Life (Nov. 14)
  • Saikaku Ihara (1642-93), from This Scheming World George Sansom, A History of Japan, 1615-1867, 111-129

Second Essay Due (4-5 pp.): Nov. 21

6. Peasant Life (Nov. 21)

  • George Sansom, A History of Japan, 1615-1867, 96-110 7. Women and Family (Dec. 28)
  • Statler, Japanese Inn (finish reading to page 208)

* Anne Walthall, "The Life Cycle of Farm Women" (Recreating Japanese Women), 42-70

  • Kago no Chiyo, Women Poets, 152
  • Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), "The Love Suicides at Amijima" (bunraku script)

Essay Assignment

First essay assignment (due October 5): Compare/contrast two or more characters in Cao Xue-qin's The Story of the Stone by analyzing them as "social types." Describe the daily existence and values (e.g., social, moral, philosophical) of each of these characters and how they differ, or how they are similar (particularly if one wouldn't expect them to be similar). For instance, you could compare and contrast a wealthy women with a not-so-wealthy man. Besides class differences, you may also look for other types of differences, such as education, gender, ideology, occupation, etc. Think about who you wish to compare as you begin reading the novel so that you can follow them as you read it the first time.