East Asian Languages and Cultures Courses

What comes to your mind when thinking about an island? Is it a geographical object, an anthropological site, a tourist destination, a military base, or a data storage center? This course looks at the ideas and imaginations about the islands and archipelagos in modern East Asia. We will discuss how these ideas and imaginations have been shaped by different social and natural forces: migration, imperial expansion, technological development, and environmental impact. To rethink the significance of island cultures within the global networks of cultural, commodity, and information exchanges, we will go through the following topics: (1) the indigenous cultures and worldviews, (2) the tropical and the oceanic trade network, (3) the forefront of the Cold War geopolitics, (4) the migration and cultural hybridity, and (5) the environmental challenge and an islandic futurity. Around these topics, we will discuss short stories, photographs, and films from Taiwan, Japan, and China (in English translation and with English subtitles), along with related analytical articles. Students will be expected to think analytically about literature, images, music or films, and to develop skills of close reading, making arguments, constructing theses, library research, self-editing, peer reviews, and presentations. 


Speculative fiction is a broad literary genre which includes science fiction, fantasy and magical realism.   Although this genre speaks of other worlds and realities, we will be contextualizing the speculative fiction we read in this class through the real world histories and experiences of AAPI diasporas.  From the creation of paranormal entities to dystopian futures,  AAPI authors reflect the hopes, fears and complex struggles of navigating a globalized world through their unique imaginings of new (and old) worlds. This class will explore how AAPI authors interrogate themes of race, power, community and diasporic identity to creatively engage in a place-making project through speculative fiction.  


This course will provide students with a basic understanding of the history, teachings, and practices of the Buddhist tradition. We will begin with a look at the Indian religious culture from which Buddhism emerged, and then move on to consider the life of the Buddha, the early teachings, the founding of the monastic order, and the development of Buddhist doctrinal systems. We will then turn to the rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and the transformation of Buddhism as it moved from India to China, Japan, Tibet and the countries of Southeast Asia. We will end with a brief look at contemporary controversies over, (1) the tulku (reincarnate lama) system in Tibet; (2) the ordination of Buddhist nuns in Southeast Asia; and (3) the rise and popularity of mindfulness meditation in America. Readings will cover a variety of primary and secondary materials, as well as two short novels, and we will make use of films and videos. There are no prerequisites for this course—everyone is welcome. But the course does demand a great deal of time and effort on the part of  students. There is a lot of reading as well as a short written assignment or quiz each week,  and attendance at all lectures and discussion sections is mandatory. Students should only enroll if they can commit the required time and energy to the course.


Higher Learning begins with the study of heaven. As the source of orientation in space and time, heaven provides humanity the foundation for its knowledge and political order. To understand what knowledge is or how politics function, we need a basic understanding of the ways of heaven. This course examines the function heaven serves in the founding of order against the void in nature through the formation of conventional systems of time and space and the role heaven has played in the promulgation of governments. From a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary perspective that covers the course of Eurasian history and using primary sources in translation, we will see heaven unfold through the developments that leave us with the world we know today.


How far can we go into the minds and bodies of others? How strongly can we sense their presence? When, and why, do we hit a wall separating us from the world beyond us? In this course we will experiment, through a number of genres and media, with the art of writing (and thinking and feeling) empathetically. These genres and media include diary, fiction, poetry, editorial, letter writing, reportage, description (of nature, art, emotions, psychic states, etc.), film, video, and photography.

Through the prism of psychoanalytical theories, early and contemporary, this course explores a variety of pre-modern and modern East Asian texts—literary, artistic, religious, and theoretical. We will be asking both how these theories enrich our reading of the texts, and how the texts enrich our understanding of the theories. Through close readings of all the material we will begin to discern how theory and text reshape one another, where they mesh productively, and where they insistently stay apart. Topics include: the unconscious, selfhood, repression, attachment, beauty, dreams, ritual, ghosts and haunting, madness, meditative states, mystical experience, mourning, healing, therapeutic method and cure. No prerequisites.

“Realism of the heart” is how the socialist poet Im Hwa described his particular variant of colonial Korean Romanticism. In this seminar, we will investigate the constitutive role “Asia” played in the development of European Romanticism via colonialism and Orientalism in the 18th and 19th centuries and then chart the diffusion of this Romanticism to East Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet this complicated and selective reception by Asian artists requires us to rethink the correlations and correspondences between the two geographical / ideological / periodizing constructions of Europe and Asia in new, often achronological and nonlinear, directions. Pairing canonical theoretical texts from thinkers such as Rousseau, Marx, Freud, Lukács, Lacan, and Badiou with selections of original East Asian works by authors including Natsume Sōseki, Hayashi Fumiko, Yu Dafu, and Yi T’aejun, we seek both a comprehensive understanding of the global, multifaceted Romanticist movement and a healthy appreciation of how the Romantic imagination influenced and radically transformed subsequent iterations of subjectivity, collectivity, and modernity in East Asia. Examining works of poetry, prose fiction, painting, early photography, and music, we will explore such themes as nature and landscape, interiority and temporality, romantic love, childhood and youth, illness and death, supernatural and the uncanny.