Topics covered in this course are available in the calendar below.

Course Description

The course examines various aspects of culture in both premodern and modern East Asia, ranging from literature, art, performance, and cuisine to contemporary pop culture (film, manga, anime, etc.).

Each week we will analyze a specific cultural phenomenon, or aspect of material culture, from China, Japan or Korea in order to gain insights into the cultures of these countries. We will also consider the central influence of major philosophical systems such as Confucianism and Buddhism on East Asian cultures. A comparative perspective will be employed to examine the cultural links, and the cultural differences between these three countries of East Asia (as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan). The course will also introduce students to a variety of methodologies for the study of culture (e. g. cultural studies, anthropology, and history). This course is suitable for students of all levels.

The course will focus on an analysis of primary materials such as novels, memoirs, and films (in translation), art objects and material artifacts from the countries of East Asia.

The course includes field trips to the MFA and the Peabody Essex Museum.

There are 4 film screenings for the class in Ses #8, 17, and 20.

"East Asian Culture"?

The term "East Asia" refers to China, Japan, Korea (and sometimes Vietnam), countries that historically have been divided by politics and geography, but that have shared close cultural links .

A focus on culture thus serves as one of the most useful means of looking at "East Asia" as an entity.

What is meant by "Culture"?

Understandings of the terms "culture" or "cultures" have changed over time:

Raymond Williams writes that: "Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language."

Williams offers three general definitions:

  1. "A general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development"
  2. "A particular way of life, whether of a people, a period, a group, or humanity in general"
  3. "The works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity…music, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre and film" [1976]

Robert Redfield, "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired….as a member of society" [1940]

James Watson, "Culture…is not something that people inherit as an undifferentiated bloc of knowledge from their ancestors. Culture is a set of ideas, reactions, and expectations that is constantly changing as people and groups themselves change." [1997]

Through the course of the term we will explore these various concepts of "culture."


In addition to the class readings, students will be required to write a 1-2 page journal reflecting on cultural issues nearly every week. At the end of the semester, students will compose a final journal portfolio working with concepts learned in the class. Students will complete a total of approximately 20 pages of writing by the end of the semester. Students will also be expected to give informal oral presentations and to lead class discussion once during the term.


Class Participation 40%
Oral Presentations 10%
Weekly Journals 15%
Graded Journal 5%
Final Journal Portfolio 30%

Class Participation

Students are expected to attend every class, having completed the homework assignment, prepared to participate actively in class discussion and/or answer questions about the reading. This means no unexcused absences. Students who miss film viewings will be expected to make them up on their own time.

Texts and Films

Please visit readings for a comprehensive listing of texts and other reading materials used in this course. A listing of films is also available.

Other books available at the campus bookstore are suggested for potential use for your final presentation, please browse to see what strikes your interest.


1 Introduction
2-3 Overview of East Asia Journal 1 due in Ses #3
4-5 Zen and Japanese Arts Journal 2 due in Ses #5
6-8 Lady Hyegyoung's Hanjungnok and Korean Confucianism Journal 3 due in Ses #8
9-10 Literati Culture in Late Imperial China
11-12 Museum Field Trips: Peabody Essex Museum and Museum of Fine Arts
13 Material Culture Journals 4 and 5 due
14 Popular Culture and Film in Post-Mao China Journal 6 due
15-17 Science Fiction in Japan: Utopias and Dystopias Graded journal (journal 7) due in Ses #17
18-20 Food and Cuisine: Tastes Good, Looks Good, or Good for You? Journal 8 due in Ses #20
21-22 Reinventing Tradition: Old and New Style Weddings in Korea Journal 9 due in Ses #22
23 Westernization, Globalization, or Japanization?
24-26 Student Presentations
27-28 Conclusion Final journal portfolio (including journal 10) due in Ses #27