Introduction to Society and Culture in East Asia

Home/ Introduction to Society and Culture in East Asia
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1HS4324

Semester and Year Offered: Winter semester 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Paulami Guha Biswas

Email of course coordinator: paulami[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None


The objective of the course is to encourage students to develop multi- or inter-disciplinary perspective to the study of East Asia. It is designed more like a survey course to introduce students to the histories, politics, economy, societies and cultures of China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea covering a period from 19th century, when Western influence was at its peak, to the post World War II, and intends to provide a base for further studies on the region.

East Asia in recent history has emerged to become an important region, particularly since the World War II and there has been a growing interest among international communities to understand the region’s traditions and cultures. The purpose of the course is to enable students to identify, compare and contrast key features of the physical and cultural geography of East Asian countries. Some ideas in political history like ‘Semi-colonialism’, ‘Restoration’, ‘Revolution’ etc. would be surveyed in detail. The principal features of political economy along with foreign relations of the East Asian countries would be discussed as central themes of the course.

Course Outcomes:

  1. To understand the idea of ‘East Asia’ and its connections with other parts of Asia and the world. The idea of Confucianism that united the region culturally.
  2. Grasp the various aspects of Western influence in East Asia and its outcomes.
  3. The idea of ‘Semi-Colony’ as applied to China.
  4. The idea of ‘Revolution’ and ‘Restoration’ in context of the Meiji Restoration in Japan.
  5. Details of Japanese colonialism in Korea and comparing it with various features of British colonialism in India.
  6. Details of the Vietnam War in the age of the Cold War.
  7. New region making trends in Asia. Studying the recent scholarship that stress on the connected histories of various parts of Asia.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Introducing the region: Geographical history of East Asia, 18th to mid-20th century. Recent trends in region-making – India and China as a singular region, across the Himalayan Mountains. Challenging the traditional divisions of ‘East Asia’ and ‘South Asia’.
  2. East Asian Civilization: The role of philosophy (Confucian philosophy as dominant) as central ideology to the emergence of a common, unifying social and cultural order.
  3. Society: The centrality of family and kinship system in traditional East Asian culture and relationships between individual, family and community/society, class divisions, etc. The social-cultural similarities that helped forming a unique identity of the region.
  4. Contact with the West: Social and cultural transformations in the region during the colonial period as a result of its contact with the West. Fall of China and rise of Japan.
  5. Advent of Christianity: As a new ‘modern’ religion, internal dissents among different classes in the societies of China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea.
  6. Education: How western education influenced and contributed towards the emergence of a modern ideology after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 in Japan, the concept of civilization and enlightenment, awakening, mass education with the establishment of national education system, education in China and Korea under the changing political scenario in early 20th century.
  7. Popular Culture of contemporary times in East Asia: Traditional and modern, cross cultural influences as seen in China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan (Manga, anime, otaku, TV dramas, fashion, film, etc.).
  8. East Asian cuisine since the late nineteenth century: History of regional food.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Take-home assignment 1: 25%
  • Thought piece 1: 10%
  • Take-home assignment 2: 25%
  • Thought piece 2: 10%
  • End semester examination: 30%
  • Total: 100%

Reading List:

  • Ebrey, Patricia, Anne Walthall, James Palais,(Eds.) Modern East Asia: A Cultural, Social and Political History. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
  • Hall, John Whitney and James L. MacClain, The Cambridge History of Japan: Early Modern Japan, Vol.4. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Jansen, Marius B, The Cambridge History of Japan: The Twentieth Century, Vol.5. Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Kiernan, Ben, Vietnam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Ko, Dorothy et. al. (Eds.), Women and Confucian Cultures in premodern China, Korea, and Japan, University of California Press, 2003.
  • Ruane, Kevin, War and Revolution in Vietnam, 1930-75, Routledge, 1998.
  • Wright, David Curtis, The History of China (Second edition), Greenwood, 1960.
  • Zepetnek, Steven Tötösy de and Jennifer W. Jay, (Eds.), East Asian cultural and historical perspectives: Histories and society--culture and literatures, Research Institute for Comparative Literature and Cross-Cultural Studies, University of Alberta, 1997.

Additional References:

  • Baumler, Alan, The Chinese and Opium under the Republic, State University of New York Press, 2007.
  • Chen, Song-Chuan, Merchants of War and Peace: British Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War, Hong Kong University Press, 2017.
  • Cohen, Paul A., History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • Duara, Prasenjit, Asia Redux: Conceptualizing a Region for Our Times, Manohar, 2013.
  • Mitter, Rana, Modern China: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Rojas, Carlos, The Great Wall: A Cultural History, Harvard University Press, 2010.
  • Rudolph, Jennifer, and Michael Szonyi (Eds.), The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power, Harvard University Press, 2018.
  • Sen, Tansen (Ed.), Buddhism across Asia: Networks of Material, Intellectual and Cultural Exchange, Vol. 1, Manohar, 2014.