21G.030 | Spring 2015 | Undergraduate

East Asian Culture: From Zen to K-Pop


Getting Started
One-paragraph Reflection

What does “Asian Culture” mean to you? How about “Asian Values?” Write a paragraph on any stereotypes or ideas you have. In your mind, what are some of the similarities between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures?

Any key differences?

Reading Responses
Reading Response 1 in “Zen” Gardens

“Zen” is probably one of the most overused Asian words in English-language writings. People often apply the concept very sloppily to any Japanese art or anything “Japanesey.” The notion of “Zen Arts” was first popularized by critics such as D. Suzuki. But it is a rather vague term that can apply to a number of different types of artistic expression. The “dry landscape garden” (karesansui) of the Muromachi and the rustic tea garden of the Momoyama are both considered Zen-influenced styles of garden architecture, and yet they are very different. So how can they both be “Zen”?

Briefly describe how the karesansui and the rustic tea garden are influenced by Zen. What are some of the aesthetic characteristics associated with Zen, and how are they revealed in these two garden forms? What qualities of Zen does each embody? Which do you prefer and why?

Discuss with reference to:

  1. The aesthetic ideals of “austere elegance,” the “beauty of empty space.”
  2. The 7 characteristics of Zen arts identified by Shinichi Hisamatsu.
  3. The aesthetic of “wabi.”
  4. The idea that “tea and Zen have the same taste.”

Reading Response 2 in Material and Cultural World of Chinese Literati Shen Fu’s “Six Records of a Life Adrift” is also known as the “Six Records of a Floating Life,” the term “floating life” being a reference to Buddhist notions of impermanence, transience, and the illusory nature of the material world and our human existence. How are these ideas further articulated in the text? How are the ideals or values of Confucianism reflected (or rejected) in the text? What insights can you gain from the selected reading about family relationships and gender roles? About Shen’s attitude toward education and professional options?
Reading Response 3 in Lady Hyegyoung’s Dilemma

Describe Lady Hyegyoung’s dilemma in terms of Confucianism. 
Confucianism emphasizes: 
Subject’s loyalty to King; 
Husband-wife relationship; 
Parent-child relationship.

Confucianism also prescribes the “3 Followings” for women: 
Daughter follows father; 
Wife follows husband; 
Widow follows son.

Describe her choices and decision to live in the wake of tragedy in terms of Confucianism. 
Was the act of writing her memoirs an attempt to justify her choice?

Reading Response 4 in Asian Foodways

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “foodways” as: “The traditional customs or habits of a group of people concerning food and eating.”

Foodways can provide a valuable window onto cultures and cultural differences. Choose one of the readings from our foodways unit and write a brief paragraph reflecting on what you learned about [China / Japan / Korea] from the reading.

Reading Response 5 in “Asian Values?”

This week we will read about the tension between Confucian traditions and modernity in East Asia. Compare and contrast the viewpoints presented by Tu and Sigurdsson in:

Wei-Ming, Tu. Confucian Traditions in East Asian Modernity: Moral Education and Economic Culture in Japan and the Four Mini-dragons. Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780674160873.

———. “Confucian Traditions in East Asian Modernity: Exploring Moral Authority and Economic Power in Japan and the Four Mini-Dragons.” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 46, no. 8 (1993): 5–19.

Sigurdsson, Geir. “Confucianism vs. Modernity: Expired, Incompatible or Remedial?Asian Studies 2, no. 1 (2014): 21–38.

Reading Response 6 in Korean Wave

What does Joseph Nye mean by “soft power?” Based on the readings and lecture for this week, what are some key factors behind the recent spread of South Korean soft power through popular culture and media? Feel free to also draw on your own experiences of South Korean pop culture, if any.

Nye, Joseph S. Jr. “South Korea’s Growing Soft Power,” Daily Times, November 11, 2009.

Shim, Doobo. “Hybridity and The Rise of Korean Popular Culture in Asia.” Media, Culture & Society 28, no. 1 (2006): 25–44.

Lee, Hyangjin. “South Korea: Film on the Global Stage.” In Contemporary Asian Cinema: Popular Culture in a Global Frame. Edited by Anne Tereska Ciecko. Berg Publishers, 2006, pp. 182–92. ISBN: 9781845202378.

Reading Response 7 in Rich and Poor

Choose one chapter to read from:

Loyalka, Michelle. Eating Bitterness: Stories from the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration. University of California Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780520280366.

and Read:

Gerth, Karl. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous: The Creation and Implications of China’s New Aristocracy.” Comparative Sociology 10, no. 4 (2011): 488–507.

Based on these readings, share your thoughts on the growing divide between rich and poor in Post-maoist China.

Final Cumulative Reading Response

Go back and review your reading responses from this term. How have your ideas about East Asian culture(s) changed since the first week? What are the main take-aways you have learned, especially, for example, regarding the shared features and common values that characterize “East Asian Culture.” versus the local diversity of culture across the region? Write 3 pages (double-spaced, 12 point font) and submit as PDF.

(You may use passages of writing from your earlier responses from the weekly assignments.)

Field Trips
MFA Field Trip and Looking Assignment—3 Parts (required)

I. Beyond the Screen Exhibit

Pick 1 object from each of the following categories. Describe the object (date, place, materials, how it was made, size). Then write a brief description fitting the object into your knowledge of the Chinese scholar’s taste and lifestyle.

  1. Find an object that reflects the gentry taste
  2. Find an object that reflects the male identity
  3. Find an object used by a woman. How does it reflect feminine taste?
  4. Find an object that tells you a lot about the scholar’s “way of life.” Pretend you are a detective or archeologist; tell us what you can reconstruct about the culture from the object.

Things to think about when you view the furniture:

Are these items necessities or luxuries? To what extent are they decorative? To what extent functional? How are function and form balanced? Who used these pieces (men, women, children, adults?) How were they used? How were the pieces made? How did Ming construction techniques affect the form? How is “craft” important? Did the craftsman leave a mark? What are the materials? How are materials important? What can you tell about the lifestyle of the literati from the furniture? (Activities, frequency of moves, etc.)

II. In the Asia collection

  1. Find 1 Japanese item: Describe, guess how it was used
  2. Do the same for a Korean item.

III. Buddhist art

Look at the website created by the Victoria and Albert Museum on Buddhism and Art
Read through the page on iconography, and browse through any other entries that interests you.

  1. Find an object that reflects the influence of Buddhism: Describe, what does it reveal about Buddhist beliefs? (You may include Tibet)
  2. Find a second object depicting an example of Buddhist iconography as described on the Victoria and Albert website referenced above. Describe how the iconography appears in the object or artwork.

Peabody Essex Museum Field Trip and Assignment (Optional)

Write about something that interests you about this house Yin Yu Tang in the exhibit.

Supplemental Reading: Berliner, Nancy Zeng. Yin Yu Tang: The Architecture and Daily Life of a Chinese House. Tuttle Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 9780804834872.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2015
Learning Resource Types
Activity Assignments
Written Assignments