Summer 2005

SOCS 652
Witness to History: Modern China through the Eyes of Survivors and Writers


06/27/2005 - 08/10/2005
Monday & Wednesday 01:30 PM - 04:00 PM

Public Affairs Center 421

How do we bridge the gulf between past and present? How do we come close to the epicenter of historical events? These are challenging questions, especially if our subjects are distant in both time and place. China, with its long, turbulent, and interesting history, offers a concrete opportunity to stretch the historical imagination. This course will use the testimony of Chinese survivors and writers to bring to life events that may be otherwise too complex, too baffling to comprehend.

Some of the key events of modern Chinese history that we will explore will be the birth of the Qing dynasty in 1644, the Opium War of 1844, the burning of the Summer Palace in 1860, the Republican Revolution of 1911, the Nanking Massacre of 1937, and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.

In each class meeting, the instructor will provide a short historical overview of the period under discussion as well as ample opportunity for seminar discussion of fascinating texts. These include: Dori Laub and Shoshana Feldman, Testimony (two key essays on the various meanings of historical witnessing written by a psychoanalyst and literary scholar that explore the Holocaust from a comparative perspective); Jonathan Spence, The Death of Woman Wang (a compelling account of the murder of a nearly nameless peasant woman in the early years of the Qing dynasty, told through folk tales, magic, and government records); Vera Schwarcz, "Circling the Void: Memory in the Life and Poetry of the Manchu Prince Yihuan (1840-1891)" (an essay about how poems can bear witness to traumatic events, such as the burning of the Summer Palace and others, including the events of September 11th); Ye Zhaoyan, Nanjing 1937: A Love Story (a recent novel from China that circles the massacre of 1937 from the point of view of historical fiction informed by the pressures of nationalism, both in the 1930s and the present); and Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (a memoir by a young woman who survived the Cultural Revolution as a Red Guard, and who came to think more deeply about the violence endured by her mother and grandmother in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s).

Students will be expected to write one short essay (3-4 pages) each week responding to the reading from a comparative perspective informed by other cross-cultural interests and research. Half the class will write essays for Monday, the other for Wednesday. These essays will be read in common and will form the basis of seminar discussion each week. In addition, students are required to write a research essay of 10-12 pages on a topic of their choice.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 16

Texts to purchase for this course:
Jund Chang, WILD SWANS: THREE DAUGHTERS OF CHINA (Touchstone), Paperback

Ha Jin, THE CRAZED: A NOVEL (Pantheon), Paperback

Anchee Min, EMPRESS ORCHID (Houghton Mifflin), Paperback

Jonathan Spence, THE DEATH OF WOMAN WANG (Penguin Books), Paperback

Jonathan Spence, THE SEARCH FOR MODERN CHINA (W.W. Norton), Paperback

Zhaoyan Ye, NANJING 1937: A LOVE STORY (Anchor), Paperback


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