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Queen's University


LLCU 205: Cultures of a Nation: China

Instructor: Dr. James Miller
Office: Kingston Hall room 417

NOT offered in 2014-15

Brief Description
This course introduces major themes and concepts in the cultures of China with an emphasis on understanding the Chinese view of the body and its social, cultural and religious contexts. Topics include: Chinese views of food and medicine; somatic disciplines such as Taiji quan and Qigong; views of the afterlife and the extended social body; views of fate and chance in religion and gambling; and representations of the body in relationship to nature in China's artistic cultures. 

Please note that this course outline may be subject to revision.

de Bary, Wm. Theodore et al. eds. 2000. Sources of Chinese Tradition: Volume 1: From Earliest Times to 1600. 2nd edition, 944pp. New York: Columbia University Press.

The course has four parts, each lasting three weeks. At the end of each part there is a take-home exam due the following week. Each take-home exam is worth 25% of the final grade. The takehome exam will ask each student to write one of a choice of 3 or 4 essays, max 1,000 words. The class consists of an examination of original documents in English translation and aims to be participatory in character. Lectures will provide contextual information that aims to facilitate understanding of the source documents, and through small group exercises, students will consider the meaning of the documents and the ways that they illustrate the cultural construction of social reality in traditional China.  

Part 1 (Weeks 1-3): Genealogy and Authority of the Male Body
This part considers the foundational Chinese view of the (male) body as stretching backwards and forwards in time as part of an extended genealogical transmission. We will consider historical sources that document how this body is culturally imagined, and consider its implications for social structure and gender relations. Readings include “The Power of the Dead”, “Selections from the Analects”, “The Classic of Filiality”, “The Lives of Immortals”, “Memorial on the Buddha”, “Education for Women” and “Instructions for Children.”

Part 2 (Weeks 4-6): Body, State and Cosmos
This part considers the pattern of relationships that obtain between the human body, the body of nature and the body of the state. This holistic worldview was established in Han dynasty and resulted in a view of correspondences between these different dimensions of the cosmos.  Readings include Sources ch. 9 The Syncretic Visions of State, Society and Cosmos, ch. 10, The Imperial Order and Han Synthesis, ch. 20 Zhang Zai and the Unity of All Creation, “Memorial on the Encouragement of Agriculture.” 

Part 3 (Weeks 7-9): The Cultivated Body
This part considers the wide repertoire of somatic disciplines that have been practiced in China and reflects upon culture as providing a framework for “technologies of the body” in which the self is extended and developed through cultivation practices. These practices cross the boundaries of religion, health regimes, martial arts and spiritual cultivation and help demonstrate the way in which cultural categories frame experience of ourselves and other, and can also help generate profound cultural misunderstandings. Readings include Sources “The Way of Laozi and Zhuangzi”, “Cultivating Oneself”, “The Master Who Embraces Simplicity”, “Schools of Buddhist Practice”, “The Unity of Knowing and Acting”, “Guanyin and Cutting Off One’s Body.”

Part 4 (Weeks 10-12): The Fated Body
The final part of the course considers Chinese cultural views of fate, (mis)fortune and death. We will examine how the body is understood to be in a process of constant negotiation with the unseen forces of heaven and earth, and how negotiating with these forces, or “fate” provides a framework for understanding a wide repertoire of cultural practices from “religion” to “superstition,” ethical codes, and games of chance including gambling. Readings include “Divination and Legitimation”, “Divinatory Failure and the Origins of Kingship”, “On the Absence of Predetermination”, “Encounters with Immortals”, “The Evolution of Shang Divination,” “The Classic of Changes,” “Morality books.”

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000