Following Jonathan’s lead, here is my syllabus for History of East Asia, more commonly known as Rice Paddies. I suppose the first question to answer is why I teach this class at all. Lots of people don’t any more. The idea that you can cover all of the history of East Asia in one class is a relic of the elder days. Fairbank created the basic course and called it Rice Paddies in the 1950s, and from there it spread. At one point offering any classes on the history of Asia mean you were some sort of uber-fancy sinological training institute. Rice Paddies was the class that colleges all over the country eventually started teaching, which meant that they had to hire someone to teach it, and add Asia as a regular part of the curriculum, thus providing me with a job. (Thank you John K. Fairbank.)
When I got here this was the only East Asia class on the books, and it was an upper-division class. I kept it in part out of a sense of tradition, and moved it down to the sophomore level to fit it in with the other surveys. Part of the reason I wanted to keep it is that I wanted to avoid too much overlap with the upper-division Modern China and Modern Japan classes. One of the things that happens anywhere but particularly at a small school is that you get a lot of repeat business, and so I like to focus my classes differently. One part of this is using a long time-frame for the intro class (rather than splitting it into, say Traditional and Modern East Asia) The other is making the intro class a bit more social and cultural and the Modern classes more political.
So, how do you go about teaching such a thing? One thing that helps is finally having a decent textbook. The new Ebrey one looks very good, and it fills a huge gap. I used to use a lot of extra readings in the past, but this first time through I will try to use the book pretty much straight. The book seems to have a lot of Korea in it, which is a little odd, but I usually try to do as much ‘other’ (not China and Japan) as possible in this class. The individual weeks of the class are organized around “worlds” i.e. themes that tie together a chunk of of the class. Thus the ‘world of the Buddha’ section is partly about the arrival of Buddhism in China as part of the standard narrative, but also a more anthropological (and a-historical) treatment of the role of Buddhism and especially lay Buddhism in Asian cultures. The course skates very close to being a cultures of Asia thing, which is about what I want. Things tend to get a bit more narrative as you get to the end. Then there are the outside readings. One China and two Japan, the first time I have ever done that.
Book of Songs is always nice to use early in the class and make them write on. In part I like it because it is pretty foreign, and yet in bite-size pieces. The old edition, divided into topics, was even easier for them to work with. Also, it and Zhuangzi are the only classical texts I really enjoy working with for this type of class.
Mutsui is the story of a late Tokugawa samurai/underworld enforcer, which I hope will work well. This class always attracts a fair number of martial arts enthusiasts, and I usually throw them a bone in the shape of some chunks from Water Margin, but this time I am doing this. I actually like the martial arts stuff, since this class has a tendency to get way too intellectual, and I like to remind myself that no matter how much Confucian or Buddhist stuff was being peddled at the top of society at the bottom your best friend was a spinning drop-kick.
I have not used Hane’s Gallows book before, but I always like his stuff. Plus women are great for doing 20th century in China and Japan since one of the big issues in both places was how to turn people who were not modern citizens into modern citizens, and women are an obvious and conscious focus of this.
Any suggestions for future iterations of the course greatly appreciated.