井底之蛙

2/17/2007

Family and Community in Asia (or, do my job for me)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:38 am

As our regular readers know, there is a tradition here of posting our syllabai for comments. One class I will be teaching in the Fall is ASIA 200, Introduction to Asian Studies. This is a class that is supposed to introduce our Asian Studies students to the various areas of Asia (we do all of Asia) and the various disciplines that study it. I usually organize it around a few readings and films that have a common theme of sorts. I’m thinking of using “family and community” as the theme.

One possibility is using Gregory Ruf Cadres and Kin: Making a Socialist Village in West China, 1921-1991 It’s Antropology and History, it’s China, its short, it’s readable (I think), and it’s in paperback. It deals with the transformation of a community under the hand of the modernizing state. Now I need a bunch of other stuff from other areas and other disciplines. I was thinking of using at least a couple of films, maybe Abbas Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s Home and Zhang Yimou’s Not One Less? (Maybe Oshima’s Boy?) Something on Southeast Asia, a novel, something more poly-sci like. I can think of lots of China things and a fair number of Japan things, but for South Asia and the Middle East I get a bit more limited.

So my question to you is what books or films or whatever had you really wanted to teach and thought would work well with undergrads? The nice thing about a thematic class like this is that we historians are very rarely released from the tyranny of chronology, so for me this is a chance to do a lot of fun stuff. What should I do with it? I’m pretty flexible at this point as far as theme and areas, I’m mostly looking for really good things to show them/have them read.

3 responses to “Family and Community in Asia (or, do my job for me)”

  1. Kill three birds with one stone and use the Japanese film Rashomon:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon_%28film%29

    The three birds being:
    1. History (recreating an era accurately)
    2. Historiography (problem of reconciling multiple sources)
    3. Influence of Asia on West

    Interesting tidbits from Wikipedia:

    1. In the film Inside the Edges, German filmmaker Werner Herzog said that Rashomon is the closest to “perfect” a film can get.

    2. Rashomon plays a central role in Martin Heidegger’s dialogue between a Japanese person and an inquirer. Where the inquirer praises the film early on for being a way into the ‘mysterious’ Japanese world, the Japanese person condemns the film for being too European and dependent on a certain objectifying realism not present in traditional Japanese noh plays.

    3. The political scientist Graham Allison claimed to have used Rashomon as a starting point for his magnus opus, Essence of Decision, in which he told the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis from three different theoretical viewpoints (and, as a result, the Crisis is described and explained in three entirely different ways).

    For Southeast Asia:

    The Movie Suriyothai:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legend_of_Suriyothai

    Being an expert on the Opium Wars, it would be interesting to hear Dr. Baunler’s opinion on Maurice Collis’s historical fiction:

    Maurice Collis, Foreign Mud, An account of the Opium War

    As far as Burmese fiction and politics is concerned, I would recommend the short stories of Ma Ma Lei, but they haven’t been translated into English yet:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma_Ma_Lei

    This author recreates U Nu era Burma in fiction, like reading Balzac for post-Napoleonic France (c.1830-1840)or Jonathan Spence’s “Death of Woman Wang” for pre-modern provincial China.

  2. > I’m thinking of using “family and community” as the theme.

    Whoops.

    A suggestion that is a little bit more on topic is:

    Use those soap operas or romantic comedies (with higher quality acting and storyline.)

    Like Toshiba Theatre (c. 1990).

    IMHO this is the easiest way to get the essence of a culture’s “family and community”.

  3. Ivy Lim says:

    For the theme of “family and community” you could try Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home – about a woman’s determination to bury her deceased husband in the traditional fashion in the village. It’s quite an interesting juxtaposition of modern vs traditional (the son returns from the city) and tells the story in flahsbacks which depicts village life.

    Added bonus could be the presence of Ziyi Zhang as the female lead.

    Possible book might be Lloyd Eastman’s Family, Fields and Ancestors (1988) in paperback.

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