Chinese Language & Culture Curriculum

Students with an AOC in Chinese are expected to develop a high level of proficiency in all aspects of the Chinese language, a broad historical and cultural knowledge of classical and modern Chinese culture, and in-depth knowledge of certain authors, genres, periods or themes. In light of the interdisciplinary nature of the Chinese program, students are encouraged to take courses from related fields and disciplines, and/or complete a combined AOC with another discipline.

To complete an AOC in Chinese, students are required to take a minimum of twelve courses, tutorials and ISPs, both within the Chinese program and in related fields, and to complete a thesis focusing on any aspect of Chinese literature and culture. Students are encouraged to take more classes and do ISPs and tutorials in areas that interest them and are welcome to pursue their own specific topics after consulting with Professor Zhang and Professor Zhu. Students may also do advanced work in a specific genre and/or a time period, as long as it is first approved by Professor Zhang and Professor Zhu. 

Required courses in Chinese include six semester-long language courses, one (1) advanced reading in classical or modern Chinese, one (1) survey courses in classical or modern Chinese literature and culture, one (1) tutorial in a subject of the student's interest, and one (1 ) special topic course in classical or modern Chinese culture. Special topics and tutorials are interchangeable depending on course availability. In addition, students must take two (2) China-/East Asia-related courses in other disciplines of the Humanities and Social Sciences, including but not limited to political science, philosophy, religion, art/art history, history, gender studies, anthropology and sociology.

To complete a combined AOC with another program, students are required to take the 5th-semester course (or equivalent) of Chinese language, two (2) courses in classical or modern Chinese culture, and one (1) China-/East-Asia-related course in the Humanities or Social Sciences.

For additional requirements, check out our General Catalog.

Here’s a list of recent course offerings in Chinese Language & Culture:

First-Year Modern Chinese I & II
This is the first introductory language course in Modern Standard Chinese (Putonghuà) designed for students with little or no background with a focus on speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. The first semester, which will cover the first 10 chapters in the Integrated Chinese (Third Edition), introduces the basic phonetic system, some basic grammar, the writing system, and everyday conversational vocabulary and sentence patterns. Our in-class meetings will concentrate on the training of oral and aural skills. Students are also required to attend a one-hour lab session or group meetings with the TA.

Second-Year Modern Chinese I & II
This course is open to students who have completed First Year Modern Chinese I and II (or equivalent). Building upon the vocabulary and sentence structures mastered in the first year, students will learn more useful expressions and more complex structures, and continue to develop greater fluency and competency in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Students are expected to grasp all the major grammar points by the end of the year and will be introduced to different aspects of Chinese culture and society.

Third-Year Modern Chinese I & II
Full course for one semester. This course is designed for students who have completed at least two years of Chinese language (or equivalent). It is designed to expose students to more advanced and comprehensive knowledge of Mandarin Chinese, emphasizing both linguistic capacity and communicative competence. While students continue to expand their vocabulary and their understanding of grammar and structure, students will begin to discuss in greater depth both orally and in written forms, on various cultural topics and by using more sophisticated sentence patterns and expressions. Students will learn to read and write in a variety of styles of written Chinese, such as descriptive, expository, and argumentative.

Introduction to Classical Chinese
Intensive introduction to the grammar of classical Chinese through the study of selections from ancient literary, historical, and philosophical texts. This course can also be offered as a group tutorial depending on the student needs.

Fourth-Year Readings in Modern Chinese
This course explores modern and contemporary Chinese literature, culture and society through intensive and extensive reading of original essays and short stories by well-known writers and critics. In addition to issues related to literature, we will also discuss cultural, social and economic changes in contemporary Chinese society through one or two films. Students are expected to work hard and expand their vocabulary, and further develop skills in listening, speaking, reading comprehension and writing. The emphasis is on rapid reading, reinforced by conversations and compositions. Students will continue to learn new grammatical points, but more importantly, they will review and practice grammar/sentence structures already learned in the past through discussion, reading and writing.

Cinema and Cultural Memory: “New Cinema” in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China
This course is designed for students who are interested in either film or in Modern Chinese society and culture. Through a comparative exploration of films made in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the PRC, three different “Chinese” regions, in the recent decades, we will study Chinese cinema as a unique genre of modern arts, a powerful social and political discourse, and an instrument of cultural memories. In other words, we will explore what cinematic styles and techniques employed by generations of filmmakers and how cinematic differences and changes reflect social, cultural, and political concerns, and demonstrate diversities, specificities, contradictions, as well as interactions within and between these Chinese communities.

Heroism and Chinese Narratives
What makes a Chinese hero? How does the image of a hero vary across time and media? How do gender, sexuality, and class affect the construction of a hero in literature? How do stories and images of heroes contribute to the formation of an individual’s identity? We will discuss these issues while reading stories about valiant warriors, wise ministers, selfless martyrs, loyal bandits and unruly gods in traditional Chinese narratives. Many of these characters, such as the female warrior Mulan, the Hegemon King of Chu, the General Guan Yu, and Monkey King, have entertained popular imagination both in and outside China. By tracing the heroic prototypes and their transformations into mock heroes, anti-heroes, and female heroes that occurred in literature especially during historical transitions, we will observe the historical, social, and literary changes in the imperial China. Most of the readings are short prose fiction and chapters from longer fiction. Important contextual materials will be provided, such as historical reviews and excerpts from the treatises of early schools of thought such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Movie clips will also be used to illustrate modern reception and transformation of traditional heroes. All readings are in English.

Classical Chinese Literature - A Survey
The purpose of this course is to acquaint students with some of the world's greatest literature through the exploration of selected masterworks produced in China over a three thousand year span ending in the 19th century. While it is impossible to cover such a long period in a truly comprehensive way, readings will include examples from most of the major literary forms, genres, and writers and will demonstrate the trends of cultural continuity, innovation, and reinvention in pre-modern China.  Students are expected to acquire the basic skills to conduct textual analysis of literary texts and to familiarize themselves with some major resources for further research. All readings will be in English translations; Classes will combine lecture and discussion formats.

Modern Chinese Literature: A Survey
The purpose of this course is to provide an overview of Chinese literature of the twentieth century covering major literary genres such as fiction, poetry, prose and essay. It introduces major Chinese writers and literary trends in the twentieth century, emphasizing the intricate relationship between literature and social change, between narration and nation as “imagined communities,” between modern intellectuals and their audience. It focuses on the literary and cultural “obsession with China” as well as the complex issue of modernity in relation to tradition, gender, sexuality, and revolution, exploring important literary trends and cultural events while introducing such key terms as literary revolution, New Culture movement, May Fourth movement, Left-wing literature, root literature, avant-garde literature, and postmodern literature. All readings are in English translations.
Revolution, Love and Modern Chinese Fiction and Film
This course investigates the popular formula of revolution plus love in modern Chinese fiction. Revolution has been a major literary and cultural motif in twentieth-century China as the past century was often viewed as a century of revolution, and the Chinese revolution has been intimately related to the theme of love, personal freedom and women’s liberation. It focuses on such issues as revolution in love, love in revolution, revolutionization of love, romaticization of revolution, and body and revolution; at the same time, it explores the historical developments of this formula, paying attention to its connection to the formula of “beauty and talented scholar,” which has been widely popular in classical Chinese literature. This course emphasizes detailed textual analysis, content and form. Students are to learn not just to summarize but to critique, to have an opinion, about characters, structures and writers, with or without further research. All readings are in English translations.

The Representation of Youth in Modern Chinese Literature and Film
This course explores the representation and construction of youth and youth culture in modern and contemporary literature and film in the context of modernization, revolution and globalization. Power relationships between the modern and the traditional, the urban and the rural, the younger generation and the older generation will be investigated in relation to identity issues of gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity and nationality. Course materials will include texts from Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Overseas Chinese history perceived and represented themselves. Primary and secondary materials are in English.

The Cult of Qing: Culture and Literature in the Late Ming and Qing China
In this reading-intensive seminar we will explore the concept of qing (variably translated as “love,” “desire,” or “sentiments”), an important catalyst of literary invention and production in late Ming and Qing China.  Qing is a defining element in a wide range of literary works of diverse genres including short stories, informal essays, plays, and full-length novels from the late 16th-century to the 18th-century China.  We will start with debates on qing in ancient philosophies and among the 16th-century literati, which we will examine with references to Western theories on sexuality and gender, and go on to unravel the central conflicting desires in the Chinese texts, such as private love vs. social duty, beauty vs. morality, female talent vs. virtue, heterosexual desire vs. homosocial brotherhood, etc..  At the same time, we will attempt to historicize qing by examining the cultural and historical context of these works, including the rise of merchants, material culture and quotidian aesthetics, the revival of print culture, and the dynastic transition from Ming (1368-1644) to Qing (1644-1911).  Our discussion will focus on the canonical novel The Story of the Stone (Hong lou meng 红楼梦) from the sixth week.  Through a careful reading of this voluminous novel that contains all the important literary genres including poetry and theater, the students are expected to grasp the narrative conventions in Chinese vernacular fiction and gain a deeper understanding of the literary culture of this period.

Traditions of “the Strange” in Classical Chinese Literature
This course explores narrative conventions and cultural functions of a prominent tradition in classical Chinese narratives, writing about the strange.  This tradition gave rise to two short narrative genres: zhiguai 志怪 (“records of the strange”) and chuanqi 傳奇 (“transmissions of the marvelous”), so favored by literati writers that they have continued to enrich the otherworldly imagination of modern and contemporary Chinese writers.  We will start with the earliest narratives that illuminate the basic religious concepts and death rituals, trace the development of writings of the strange as a literary tradition, and then focus on the 17th-and-18th-century, when the last and perhaps the most traumatic dynastic transition in Imperial China gave rise to a revival of the literary fantastic and strange.  The major issues we will discuss in class include the interactions between fiction and history, how to theorize the literary strange, gendered imagination of the strange, dream and memory, and social critique embedded in the narratives of the supernatural.  Classes combine lectures and discussions and a tour to the Ringling Museum of Art.

Selected Tutorials in Classical Chinese:
Introduction to Classical Chinese
This group tutorial introduces classical Chinese to students who have completed at least three years of learning modern Chinese or present proficiency of the same level.  The course serves two goals.  One is to expose students to the written official Chinese used in China and other East Asian regions from ancient times until the early twentieth century and to the traditional Chinese characters that are still used in many Chinese-speaking regions and particularly important for scholarly work on pre-modern China and East Asia.  The other goal is to strengthen students' mastery of the modern Chinese by demonstrating semantic and syntactic residues of classical Chinese and through translating selected pieces from the classical to modern Chinese.  The group meets weekly.  We will finish the ten lessons from the Unit 1 in Paul Rouzer's "A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese", which includes a series of brief anecdotes introducing the grammar of the language and exercises that help the student to internalize standard linguistic patterns.  Supplementary materials will be given to reinforce students’ reading skills and understanding of certain cultural and literary issues.  A poetry session will be added at the end of the semester.  In addition to the textbook exercises, students are required to do Newdle assignments including recording, translating, and commenting on the primary texts.

Reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms
This intensive reading tutorial focuses on The Romance of Three Kingdoms, a fascinating 16th-century full-length novel of 120 chapters that are peopled by warriors, advisors, and statesmen vying for power and order during the turbulent years from the end of the Han dynasty to the Three Kingdoms era.  The group read 10 chapters before each weekly meeting.  Each student is assigned a major character on whom s/he should focus in discussing the original text and in researching on secondary materials.  Our discussions cover a broad range of topics from narrative conventions, historical background and transformation in fiction, and the remaking of history in fiction.  Students are expected to exchange observations on the novel and to share discoveries and difficulties in conducting research.

Reading The Story of the Stone
The eighteenth-century full-length novel The Story of the Stone is considered a milestone in the canon of pre-modern Chinese literature and has hold its influence on Chinese readers of all ages and walks of life till today.  Students who read selected chapters from this novel often express their interest in finishing the whole novel.  This group tutorial is therefore designed to meet this shared desire and to make use of students’ different approaches and goals owing to their previous exposure. In the first mod, each student finds a character or a topic to follow and to present at the meetings.  While focusing on the fictional world of the novel and trying to unpack the dense allusions and implications in its intricate narrative interspersed by poetry, the group also share their observations of and thoughts on more general issues in gender and sexuality, body politics, aesthetics, material culture, and contemporary pop culture etc.  TV adaptations of this novel in the 80s and in 2010 offer optional supplements to the reading and discussion.

Selected Tutorials in Modern Chinese Literature:
Group Tutorial: Sex and the City: Contemporary Chinese Women Writers
This tutorial examines the theme of sex and the city in contemporary Chinese literature by women in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong . The city/the urban space, as opposed to the countryside/the rural space, had been marginalized (demonized to a point) in Chinese literary history ways. And no cities are more famous than Shanghai, Taipei and Hong Kong. Focusing on stories about these cities, this tutorial intends to explore the relationship between urban women (women’s bodies), the urban space, colonial history, globalization and popular culture while paying attention to the similar and different ways (women’s ) sexuality and the city are constructed. Students are required to read two women writers on each city, a total of six novels by six women writers.

Group Tutorial: In the Mood for Love: Romance and Contemporary Chinese Popular Culture
This tutorial examines the construction of romance and love in popular Chinese culture ( film in particular and some TV series) since the 1990s. Students are to contextualize the romantic imagination within specific historical time and space, investigating gender identities (construction of both femininity and masculinity), race, class in relation to the urban space as well as economic and cultural globalization/westernization. Students are welcome to do comparative studies between China and Korea/Japan. Sample films include Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love, Jiang Wen's In the Heat of the Sun, Ann Hu's Shadow Magic, Jin Yimeng's Sophie's Revenge, etc. Students are required to watch films, read assigned essays and write in-depth response paper each week during the first MOD. During the second MOD, students will work on putting together a 15-20-page term paper based on their previous writings.

Group Tutorial: In Pursuit of Happiness: Love, Laughter and the Rise of Romantic Comedy in Contemporary China
This tutorial focuses on the cultural politics of emotions in contemporary Chinese romantic comedy, bringing together two areas of inquiry--emotion and romantic comedy. Since Feng Xiaogang's Be There or Be Square (Bujian busan, 1999) that set the then box-office record for domestic film to Xue Xiaolu's Finding Mr. Right (Beijing yushang xiyatu, 2013) that has earned RMB500 million, romantic comedies have played an important role in reviving the vulnerable film industry in China. The tutorial explores the intricate relations between commercialization and censorship, globalization and virtual space, between artistic expression and audience appeal.

Group Tutorial: Modern Chinese Writers: Mo Yan and Yu Hua
This tutorial on two of the most important modern Chinese writers Yu Hua and Mo Yan explores issues of modernity, nation, gender, revolution, sexuality and youth in the age of gloablization through reading major works by these two authors.  Students are expected to read two novels of each author published during similar time period so as to produce informed  and well-grounded comparative studies of them, focusing on form, language, character, issue, etc. After this comprehensive comparative analysis, students have the option to choose which author of the two they would like to read, based on their recent reading experience.

Group Tutorial: Short Stories in Chinese
This tutorial is open to advanced students in Chinese. Students will be reading short stories by famous authors such as Eileen Chang and Yu Hua and write a short response paper or summary of the stories. Then students will present their writings in class as a form of discussion. The emphasis is on reading comprehension, fast-pace reading, as well as speaking and writing.

Selected ISPs:
Chinese Idioms
This ISP on Chinese Idioms combines language learning with cultural understanding. Each Chinese idiom is usually associated with a story collected in classical texts, and the goal of the ISP is for students to not only learn the meanings of the idioms, but also know how to tell the story, in Chinese with correct intonations. Students meet once a week for 2-2.5 hours. Each week, students are to read one assigned story of a Chinese idiom, and find another idiom and its story on their own on websites suggested by the instructor. During the meeting, students discuss the assigned idiom and make sure they all understand the story and the meaning of the idiom. Then each student presents his/her own idiom and its story while presenting a situation that would use the idiom. The ISP ends with a final exam in which students identify (by pronouncing with correct tones and explaining the meaning of) idioms as the idioms were called out.

Red Sorghum in Art
Inspired by the novel "Red Sorghum" we read for a modern Chinese literature course. Student decided to create a few illustrations for the story, drawing upon her background in Western art and interest in classical Chinese painting and modern woodcut art. The goal was to produce pieces of artwork representing her own reading of the novel, and she was expected to explain her vision of the project as a whole, and then how each particular illustration fits into that vision. We met once a week discussing her artistic productions as well as interpretation of the novel and her rational for choosing a particular scene (from the reading) or technique (color, lines, etc.).

For a complete list of courses, click here.

[Did you know?]

The China Club hosts annual events such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, Chinese New Year Dumpling Making and Spring Karaoke.

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