21G.030 | Spring 2015 | Undergraduate

East Asian Culture: From Zen to K-Pop


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This subject is an introduction to various forms of culture in East Asia (focusing on China, Japan and Korea), including both traditional and contemporary examples. Critically examines the shared cultural elements that are widely considered to constitute “East Asian culture,” and also the diversity within East Asia, historically and today. Examples include religious and philosophical beliefs (Confucianism and Buddhism), literature, art, food, architecture, and popular culture. The study of gender will be an integral part of this subject. The influence and presence of Asian cultural expressions in the U.S. are also considered.

This 12-unit class is suitable for students of all levels, and requires no Asian language background nor any other prerequisites. The course is taught in English. MIT students who wish to fulfill the preparation requirement for the MISTI-Singapore program may do their final project on Singapore. MIT students with a minor in Chinese may take the 13-unit version, 21G.193, which requires a project with research in Chinese.

The course includes a required field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts and an optional trip to the Peabody Essex Museum.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the time you complete this course, you should be able to:

  • Identify the countries included in the regional term “East Asia,” and the shared features that are said to mark “East Asian civilization.”
  • Understand the basic tenets of Confucianism and Buddhism, and identify their influence on East Asian culture, particularly as exemplified in select works of East Asian literature and arts.
  • Identify examples of local variation or diversity within East Asia, and across historical time.
  • Critically examine contemporary discourses on “Asian values.”
  • Explain the tension between globalization and localization as exemplified in select contemporary East Asian cultural phenomena.
  • Identify manifestations of gender ideology in East Asian cultures, through specific case studies and examples of women’s writing.


In addition to the class readings, students will be required to write a short (ungraded) reading response or reflection piece nearly every week. These short pieces will serve as the basis for a cumulative reflection piece (3pp) due toward the end of term. Students will also be expected to serve as discussion facilitator and rapporteur at least once during the term. Informal and ungraded short quizzes will be administered periodically during the term to assess student progress. A graded quiz will be administered near the end of term in order to assess student mastery of basic concepts covered in the class. There will be a final oral presentation based on an original research project selected by the student in consultation with the instructor. A one-page summary and written bibliography will be submitted with the oral presentation.


Class participation 25%*
Weekly reading response 15%**
Cumulative reflection piece 20%
Final quiz 15%
Final oral presentation (plus summary and annotated bibliography) 25%

*****No absence, except in cases of illness, or family emergency. Please inform me in advance by e-mail.

******You will earn one point toward the total 15 for the weekly reading response for each response that is completed in a satisfactory manner and submitted on time. The remainder of the points are allocated to the museum reports.


All reading assignments are provided in the readings section.

Required Text

Translator, Intro and Notes by Fu, Shen, and Graham Sanders. Six Records of a Life Adrift. Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated, 2011. ISBN: 9781603841986. [Preview with Google Books]

Attendance and Class Participation Policy

Attendance is mandatory. You are not permitted to miss class except in cases of illness or family emergency. Please inform instructor in advance by e-mail. Unexcused absences will count against your class participation grade. Your class participation grade will be based on regular attendance, preparation, and active and thoughtful participation in class discussions, including active listening.

Late Assignment Policy

No extensions will be granted, except in cases of serious illness or emergency, for which documentation is required.

Collaboration Policy

You are expected to collaborate with others in this class. In terms of any graded assignments, you may discuss and work together with others. However, the expectation is that the final submitted work represents your own original writing, and yours alone.

Laptop / Electronic Device Policy

Laptops, tablets and electronic reading devices are permitted in class for the sole purpose of consulting class materials or taking lecture notes. Use of e-mail, internet, texting, etc. and any work related to other classes are not permitted. Use of cell phones is not permitted without permission of instructor. For privacy purposes, video or audio taping is not permitted.

Policy on Academic Integrity

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses and will be dealt with according to MIT policy and procedures.

All students are expected to be familiar with MIT’s policies and guidelines on academic integrity as outlined in the Handbook on Academic Integrity.

Please review all the guidelines in the handbook, including the information on responsible paraphrasing.

Definition of Grades

  1. Exceptionally good performance, demonstrating a superior understanding of the subject matter and skillful use of concepts and / or materials.
  2. Good performance, demonstrating capacity to use the appropriate concepts, a good understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to handle the problems and materials encountered in the subject.
  3. Adequate performance, demonstrating an adequate understanding of the subject matter, an ability to handle relatively simple problems, and adequate preparation for moving on to more advanced work in the field.
  4. Minimally acceptable performance, demonstrating at least partial familiarity with the subject matter and some capacity to deal with relatively simple problems, but also containing deficiencies serious enough to make it inadvisable to proceed further in the field without additional work.

In accord with MIT Rules and Regulations of the Faculty section 2.62, I do not grade on a curve. Students are assessed individually, and there is no pre-determined grade spread in any subject. Consistent with this, after Drop Date, students who remain in a class are not in jeopardy of seeing their grades change due to the change in class composition.

Course Info

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