East Asian Languages and Cultures Courses

From court officials to monks, from lovers to warriors, poets in the Chinese and Japanese traditions have sung of flowers. Blossoms in poetry are ephemeral, yet faithfully returning—both that which briefly flourishes and rapidly fades, and that which comes year after year to mark the season. References to flowers accompany poetic laments on grief and impermanence, and decorate poems exchanged between lovers and friends in the Tale of Genji and the Story of the Stone. Spring’s flowering cherries may be the poetic occasion, but does the sight of the blossoming branches also draw forth feelings already stirring within the poet’s breast? This is a course in carefully reading literature created in times and places very different from our own. As we spend time with our primary texts, we will consider what a poem was to premodern readers and writers, many of whom lived over a millennia ago: Why might this poem have been written? What purposes could it have served? How well can we guess what meanings the poet may have had in mind, or what meanings contemporary readers may have understood? What assumptions could we, as modern readers, have about poetic meaning that might not always apply to the words in front of us?

What happens when our dreams and nightmares become real? After the past year of upheaval and distress, this suggestion may no longer seem very far-fetched. Concerns about social, ecological, and technological crises, when thematized, however, are often relegated to genres of fiction suggesting a certain departure from reality. If our circumstances have become similar to a “work of science fiction,” then we must also take a closer look at how works of not just science fiction, but also horror and fantasy, rely on the boundaries between familiar and unfamiliar—enabling us to imagine and cognitively process difficult questions that at first, seem uncanny and estranged from our lives. In this course, we will examine film and literature primarily fromEast Asia that are concerned with the gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Through different genres of media, we examine how bodies, spaces, and even the Earth itself—that we take for granted as familiar entities—can become uncanny, strange, and alien. Our class discussion will take us from questions of environmental crisis and neo-imperialism in Bong Joon Ho’s spin on the monster film genre in The Host, through the politics of the self and the boundaries between human and machine in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, and Huang Jianxin’s Dislocation, to concerns about the end of the Anthropocene and human dominance over Earth in Chi Hui’s The Rainforest and Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa, Valley of the Wind. This course will introduce students to a wide range of East Asian language materials in translation. No previous knowledge of the region is required. This course aims to help you develop your critical thinking, writing, oral expression, and research skills through the analysis of media. Through this course, we will practice analytical writing and research through synchronous and asynchronous assignments building up to a final humanities research paper. Prerequisites: This class fulfills the second half of the College of Letters and Science’s Reading and Composition requirement. A passing grade from Reading and Composition R1A course or equivalent fulfillment of requirements for Part A of R&C is required to take this course (Please see: http://guide.berkeley.edu/undergraduate/colleges-schools/letters-science/reading-composition-requirement/.)

In this course we compare the cultural traditions of tea in China and Japan. In addition, using tea as the case study, we analyze the mechanics of the flow of culture across both national boundaries and social practices (such as between poetry and the tea ceremony). Understanding the tea culture of these countries informs students of important and enduring aspects of both cultures, provides an opportunity to discuss the role of religion and art in social practice, provides a forum for cultural comparison, and provides as well an example of the relationship between the two countries and Japanese methods of importing and naturalizing another country's social practice. Korean tea traditions are also briefly considered. 


The course will introduce students to narratives about illness, disease and healing written by patients, physicians, caretakers, and others.  These narratives report an experience.  They reveal the interactions between the unfolding life of the patient and the shifting social meanings attached to illness. We will study the relationships between illness and society through readings of fiction, memoir, films, essays and graphic novels in order to understand how these varied forms of storytelling organize and give meaning to crucial questions about embodiment, disability and forms of sociality enabled by our bodily vulnerabilities. Prerequisites: None.


We concentrate on three interconnected issues: women’s status, homoeroticism, and the human body. Our discussion will be informed by cross-cultural comparisons with ancient Greece, Renaissance England, and Contemporary America. In contrast to our modern regime of sexuality, which collapses all the three aforementioned issues into the issues of desire and identity intrinsicto the body, we will see how the early Chinese regime of sexual act evolved into the early modern regime of emotion that concerned less inherent identities than a media culture of life-style performance.


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.



A study of the Buddhist tradition as it is found today in Asia. The course will focus on specific living traditions of East, South, and/or Southeast Asia. Themes to be addressed may include contemporary Buddhist ritual practices; funerary and mortuary customs; the relationship between Buddhism and other local religious traditions; the relationship between Buddhist institutions and the state; Buddhist monasticism and its relationship to the laity; Buddhist ethics; Buddhist "modernism," and so on.


This course studies the purview of astral science under Buddhist dominion. Here it is at once promoted for promulgating Buddhist world order and repudiated for begetting the suffering-inducing physical universe, a warped vessel of ceaselessly turning stars that the Buddhist dharma must transcend. The course begins with the part astral science plays in genesis, the creation of Buddhist world order. It then covers the science’s central aspects, celestial systems, spatial orientation, time reckoning, the making of a calendar, and publication of an almanac. Thereafter, it treats the science’s outgrowth into interrelated forms of Buddhist propaganda manifest as divination, magic, medicine, ritual, scripture, and iconography.

"Japanese and S. Korean Horror Cinema" 

In this course, we will engage with a range of works in East Asian horror cinema (Japan and South Korea) and explore their power to provoke and disturb, in light of issues such as spectatorship, the uncanny, and the staging of gender and sexuality as modes of critique. We will also discuss the ways in which these films theorize cultural memory and the transmission of traumatic knowledge in the context of their adaptation into other Asian sites (Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand). The aim of the course is to generate a critical understanding of horror cinema, its stock figures and conventions, as well as its inventive potential.