The fall 2020 semester will be like no other in Harvard’s history, with all courses offered online.
COURSES PRIMARILY FOR UNDERGRADUATES
China is grasped through twelve artworks, spanning three millennia from the Bronze Age to the twentieth century. These artworks form both a timeline and a jigsaw puzzle with recurrent themes, e.g., the correlation between cosmos, body, and mind. The course consists of case studies, revealing both larger intellectual trends and the nuanced way artworks engage established formal conventions. Students learn about China through art and acquire visual literacy that takes art on its own terms.
Satchit Balsari and Tarun Khanna
What problems do developing countries face, and how can individuals contribute to solutions rather than awaiting the largesse of the state or other actors? Intractable problems – such as lack of access to education and healthcare, forced reliance on contaminated food, deep-seated corruption – are part of the quotidian existence of the vast majority of five of the world’s seven billion people. Developing societies suffer from what we refer to as ‘institutional voids’ that make organized activities of all sorts difficult; think of the mundane but important physical infrastructure that allows us to get to work or school in the developed world, as well as our access to higher-order institutions such as the availability of information at our fingertips or the security of the rule of law. The course demonstrates that reflecting upon the nature of the developing world’s intractable problems through different lenses helps characterize candidate interventions to address them. The scientist’s hypothesis-driven and iterative experimentation, the artist’s imagined counterfactuals through putting oneself in others’ shoes literally and theatrically, and the planner’s top-down articulation of boundary conditions, all tailor the ultimate solution.
In China today we see a new country built on the bedrock of an ancient civilization. China’s re-emergence as a global economic power and political model has deep roots. From Rome to the Romanovs, from Byzantium to the Ottomans, on to the global empires of the West, all the great multiethnic empires of the world have come and gone, while a unitary, multi-national, Chinese empire has endured. The ancient Chinese ideal of a single, unified civilized world has had consequences. It was, and still is, a grand vision: all peoples unified under a single ruler and an integrated social order that finds a place for every person in security and harmony. It created the first centralized bureaucratic state; it institutionalized meritocracy; its economy became the world’s greatest market; its philosophies provided models of humane governance; its inventions spread across the globe. And yet in practice it has also been a story of conflict and control, of warring states and competing peoples. We will discuss how the choices China has made in the past bear on the challenges it faces today, when a modern “China model,” with ancient roots, competes with the United States for global leadership.
This research seminar will focus on the history of Sino-American relations and interactions since the Opium War (1840s). It will examine major episodes such as the Boxer intervention, the first and second world wars, the Korea and Vietnam wars, the Mao-Nixon rapprochement, and the post-Mao transformations, and explore central themes such as immigration, trade, culture, diplomacy, and security.
Literature and Culture
The course takes as its point of departure President Xi Jinping’s call in 2013 to “tell the good China story,” and in 2020 to “tell the good China story of combating coronavirus.” What is the good China story? Is this the story China should tell about itself to the world? Is this about cultural self-perception, understanding the world, cross-cultural communication, or simple propaganda? More importantly, how can we tell China stories from perspectives outside of China? What seems beyond dispute is the power of stories to bring China to the world and the world to China. In exploring the “fictional turn” of contemporary Chinese cultural politics as it relates to the world, we will also trace its genealogy to earlier historical moments. Stories matter in China, not only in our times but also throughout history. Narrative fiction is one of the most effective ways to engage with the Chinese past and the Chinese present. Instead of presenting China as a monolithic civilization, this course uses stories to understand “the world of China” and “China in the world” from ideological, ethnic, cultural, and geo-political perspectives. The course highlights the variety and vitality of stories from both modern and pre-modern periods. In genres ranging from religious allegory to science fiction, from moral fable to fantastic romance, from philosophical anecdote to political satire, Chinese stories have enlightened, intrigued, puzzled, and scandalized readers, reflecting and constructing ever-changing world views.
What is the best way to live a fuller and more ethical life? Concretely what should we do to begin to live in a more flourishing and inspiring way? Questions such as these were at the heart of philosophical debates in China. The answers that classical Chinese thinkers developed in response to these questions are among the most powerful in human history. Regardless of whether one agrees with them or not, they should be studied and taken seriously by anyone who cares about ethics, politics, and the ways to live life more fully.
COURSES FOR BOTH UNDERGRADUATES AND GRADUATES
Can paintings project voice? Can soundscape be pictured? The seminar explores the long-standing Chinese tradition of “sonic painting” that captures lyric voice. It seeks to go beyond the text/image paradigm by shifting the focus on the voice effect in painting. In doing so, the course develops a methodology of characterizing the art of senses and pictorial means of performing voices, such as “singing” and lamentation.
As Africa faces daunting challenges, the “Beijing model” invites intriguing alternative visions to the poorly performing designs by traditional foreign actors in the region. Moving from Chinese farm households in Mozambique to state-owned copper mines in Zambia, military bases in East Africa and the United Nations headquarters, this seminar critically assesses the potential for China’s presence to transform Sub-Saharan Africa. After identifying the intellectual stakes (week 1), and discussing anecdotal glimpses from the grassroot-levels (week 2), the class deals with traditional development assistance, along with Maoist attempts to revolutionize the “world countryside” – resulting in legacies such as a China-trained guerilla fighter serving as the President of Zimbabwe. We then discuss the current footprint of Beijing, including its influence on elite politics, Chinese public and private business interests, and the diversity of the one million Chinese migrants to Africa. Four sessions specialize on (1) resource extraction versus opportunities for human capital development (2) debt-traps of Western and Eastern origins (3) emerging tensions over human rights policies (4) and the military dimension, including China’s role in Peace-Keeping Operations. Finally, the course addressees how the Chinese presence may transform established multilateral institutions, and the challenges associated with African migration to China. Social science research will be read alongside journalistic accounts and primary documents, such as leaked diplomatic cables and strategy papers. Will Africa become “Beijing’s Second Continent,” of the neo-colonial or tributary kind? What promises does the China model hold for Africans? How do the partners on both continents react to experiences of disillusionment and retreat? The assignments are designed to train students for public policy work and require close group collaboration.
This course is a broad introduction to the main issues of contemporary Chinese politics and social change. The course is divided into two sections: the first section covers the period from the end of the last imperial dynasty to the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. The second section examines the last thirty years of economic reform, looking at both how the reforms began and how they were sustained.
This conference course offers a close examination of the economic history of modern China set against the background of major debates in the field of world economic history and within the field of modern Chinese history. The approximate time frame covered is from the late eighteenth century to the present. Prior coursework in Chinese history (in particular on modern China) is recommended but not necessary.
Early (Pre-Qin era) China was a hotbed of philosophical activity: scholars developed careful and fascinating ethical views in the context of serious philosophical debates between major schools of thought. This course focuses on some of these ethical debates between Confucian, Mohist, Daoist, and Legalist philosophers in early China. We’ll read both classical texts such as the Analects of Confucius, Mengzi, Xunzi, Mozi, and Zhuangzi and important contemporary scholarship on these texts. Several moral questions will be of particular importance: What is the relationship between etiquette and morality? What are the most important virtues to acquire? Should we think of morality and moral development as something natural or artificial? Are we justified in caring more about some people (our closest friends and family) than others? We will have a special focus on three important interpretive themes for the course: (1) How can understanding the particular contours of the debates each scholar is engaged in help us understand their overall views? (2) How does each philosopher’s view of human psychology and epistemology constrain, guide, and support their moral theorizing? (3) How can an understanding of early Chinese ethical thought, theory, and debate help enrich contemporary discussions in ethics and moral philosophy? No previous experience or coursework in Chinese philosophy is required for this course.
This course will examine the history and literature of the Bka’ gdams pa school using the chronicles of Tshal pa Kun dga’ rdo rje, Shākya rin chen sde, and the Rgya bod yig tshang. Special attention will be paid to the scholarly traditions of Gsang phu sne’u thog monastery and the vast collection of Bka’ dams pa texts that were published in China.
Situating China in the context of the transition from socialism, this seminar provides an overview of contemporary Chinese society. We will explore recent structural changes in China’s economy, political system, legal institutions, media, family forms, education, stratification and inequality, and contests over space—as well as how all these various changes interact with one another. We will begin with the Chinese Communist Revolution and then the Cultural Revolution as crucial historical context, and then move on to examine the profound social transformations of the post-1978 reform period. The course will examine how these changes have impacted social relations, how they have been experienced and understood by individuals, and how, in turn, the responses of individuals have also shaped the trajectory of reforms.
COURSES FOR PRIMARILY GRADUATE STUDENTS
The cluster of embellished caves at Dunhuang, China, is among the largest decorated Buddhist cave complexes in the world, spanning the fourth to the fourteenth century. With 492 caves decorated with murals and sculptures, Dunhuang is the largest art gallery in situ in the world. The course explores the visual programs of Dunhuang caves. The disparate textual sources on which the murals are based do not explain their convergence in the same cave. A deep logic of world-making binds them together. Using available digital reconstructions that proffer spatial experience of the Dunhuang caves, we address some key questions: how do disparate murals in each cave add up to form a program and imply a process? What process? How do these cave visualize and stage the Buddhist spacetime and mental theater of meditation?
This course examines the alternative canon of Chinese painting that formed in Japan through historical Japanese collections of Chinese painting.
This course is designed to introduce students to the theory and practice of teaching Chinese as a foreign/second language. It seeks to help students gain an understanding of the current issues and research about Chinese language instruction in the US.
Sugata Bose and Amartya Sen
This graduate seminar investigates the contemporary rise of Asia in historical context with a focus on comparisons and connections between India and China.
Training in the use of a wide array of sources, methods, and reference tools for research in the history of late imperial China, focusing upon the reading and analysis of different types of Qing-era documents, official and unofficial. Students will write a research paper using documents provided in class. Reading knowledge of modern and literary Chinese required.
This shared online graduate course aims to prepare students in North American universities for historical research on the People’s Republic of China. In this incarnation (its fourth), it is jointly hosted by Arunabh Ghosh, Harvard University, and Jacob Eyferth, University of Chicago. It is open to Harvard and Chicago graduate students and qualified students from other institutions. The rationale for co-teaching this course is that PRC history is emerging as a separate field, but that most institutions don’t have enough PhD students in this subfield to justify a dedicated PRC research seminar. In origin, this is an archive course with a focus on how to gain access to PRC archives, locate materials, read handwritten texts, and interpret official documents. Since Chinese government restrictions (not to mention the coronavirus) have imposed limits on archival research, we will also discuss non-archival research methods, including oral history, the use of published and “semi-published” materials, digital research, archival research outside the PRC, and work with “garbage materials” (垃圾资料) acquired from private vendors.
Literature and Culture
This course offers an in-depth scholarly background in the history of Chinese literature and literary culture, examines issues particular to each period in classical literature and of the current state of the field, and engages critical reflection on the question of “literary history.”
This seminar investigates literary strategies for depicting and animating things in premodern China. We will trace the development of the principal genres for talking about objects, from yongwu poetry and riddle tales, to inscriptions, colophons, and manuals of taste. How, we will ask, have authors probed and reimagined human attachments to things. How have practices of collecting and connoisseurship transformed Chinese literary culture? How have objects been used to think about what it means to be human in the Chinese literary tradition. Our discussions will engage recent scholarship on materiality from the fields of literary theory and the history of material culture. The course will include viewing sessions in the Harvard Art Museums and Harvard-Yenching Library.
Survey of the concepts, institutions, canons, debates, experiments, and actions that gave rise to, and continually redefined, modern Chinese literature. Equal attention given to theories drawn from Chinese and Western traditions.
This course will explore what it means to read historical texts as literature and to take a historical view of literary texts. What role should historical understanding and historical imagination play in literary criticism? What is the place of subjectivity in historical knowledge and the role of imagination in the writing of history? How do allegorical and philological interpretations function in the reading of “historical” and “literary” texts? Readings will include canonical texts deem foundational for both history and literature (e.g., Zuozhuan, Shiji), pairings of anecdotal literature and historiography (e.g., Shishuo xinyu and Jinshu), reflections on the meanings of wen and the rhetoric of historical writings (e.g., Wenxin diaolong, Shitong, Wenshi tongyi), poetry that defines the evolving ideal of the poet-historian (e.g., poems by Du Fu, Qian Qianyi, Wu Weiye), and seventeenth century drama focused on the representation of history (e.g., Li Yu’s Qingzhong pu, Kong Shangren’s Taohua shan).
This seminar focuses on the careful textual study and translation of a variety of Chinese Buddho-Daoist texts through the medieval period.
Harvard offers Chinese language courses from elementary (either opens in a new windowcomplete beginner or for opens in a new windowheritage speakers) to opens in a new windowhigh-advanced, as well as advanced content courses taught in Mandarin, including opens in a new windowadvanced conversational Chinese.
In addition to Harvard’s world-class modern Chinese language program, language courses are also offered in Classical Chinese ( opens in a new windowbeginner and opens in a new windowintermediate), opens in a new windowManchu, opens in a new windowTibetan (both classical and conversational), and opens in a new windowUyghur.