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Course Information

Instructor Info:Kimberly Chang
Office Extension x5668
TA Info:Binlin Xia
Term: 2012F
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
02:00 PM - 03:20 PM Harold Johnson Library 205
02:00 PM - 03:20 PM Harold Johnson Library 205

Since the latter half of the 19th century, when the first delegation of Chinese students came to the U.S. and American missionaries began to descend on China, Chinese and Americans have been dreaming of each other and crossing the Pacific in ever increasing numbers—albeit with very different desires and goals.  These dreamers and travelers—from missionaries and diplomats to students and scholars to journalists and businesspersons—have shaped the changing images and perceptions of “China” and “America” in their own countries through their critical position as a kind of culture broker between these two powerful nations.  In this course, we trace the changing ways Chinese and Americans have perceived and portrayed each other over the last century through the first person accounts—memoir, essay, journal, letters, blog—of these culture brokers, asking:

  • What is the place of “China” in the American dream and “America” in the Chinese imaginary? 
  • How do Chinese images of America compare with American images of China, and how have these images changed over time? 
  • What can we learn from these shifting representations of the Other about the construction of Self, the formation of both individual and national identity, and the liminal positions and choices of these culture brokers?
  • What kinds of mirrors do these writers hold up for us as students and scholars of China and/or Asian American Studies, and how might we use them as sources of self-examination of our own assumptions and claims about what it means to be “Chinese” and/or “American”?

As part of Hampshire’s new Mellon initiative to integrate language learning with academic study, this course will draw on both Chinese and English language primary source materials.  Each week we will pair one Chinese writer and one American writer of a given time period, reading and interpreting their accounts of travel to the “other” country.  We will supplement these narratives with secondary sources, films, and guest speakers that will provide some historical and/or theoretical context for interpreting these first person accounts. 

Course Objectives:

The main work of the class will be the task of interpretation.  Interpretation involves reading primary sources in relation to each other as well as to secondary sources, while bringing your own assumptions and questions into dialogue with these sources.  Students are encouraged to critically reflect on how their own experiences vis-à-vis China and the US shape the way they read, question, and make sense of a given text.  We will use the classroom and our different positions within it to help each other read and interpret, holding up mirrors for one another in order to simultaneously dream both East and West.  It is hoped that this course will offer students a chance to deepen their understanding of the changing Orientalist and Occidentalist images and discourses that have shaped US-China identities and relations, as well as reflect on your own positions and choices within these discursive communities.

Evaluation Criteria:

Requirements for Evaluation

(1) Attendance—A class is a community of learners.  Attendance is a measure of your commitment to this community and to your own learning.  With the exception of serious illness or family emergency, every student is expected to be present at every class.  If you are unable to attend class due to illness or emergency, please let me know via e-mail.  Students with more than three unexcused absences will not receive an evaluation. 

(2) Readings/Discussion—This course is designed as a seminar in which your preparation for and participation in class is essential to the learning experience.  Please come to class having read the assigned readings for that day and prepared to raise questions and engage in discussion with your peers.  As you read, try to get in the habit of writing down questions, comments, and/or interesting or provocative passages through which you can contribute to class discussions.  If you tend to be quiet in class, experiment with formulating one comment or question per class.  If you are talkative, be mindful of your own participation in relation to others.  Let’s all try to be respectful of the different kinds of experience and knowledge we each bring into the classroom, listening and responding to one another in ways that will deepen the learning experience for all!

(3) Film Screenings—In addition to readings, we will screen a selection of films, both documentary and drama, that provide an historical context for understanding US-China relations and those who have moved in between over the last century.  Dates and times of film screenings will be forthcoming.  Students are required to view all films in advance of the class in which they will be discussed.  If you are unable to attend a film screening, it is your responsibility to get the film from the Hampshire library reserve desk (or other sources) and view it on your own.

(4) Class Role Play—Each week, two students will be responsible for performing a role play based on the primary sources assigned for that day.  The goal of the role play is to try to bring to life the experiences and ideas of particular writers by enacting them in the classroom.  Each student will assume the role of one writer and try to give expression to his/her ideas as written in the texts (this can be performed as a monologue or dialogue).  To do this, you will need to read your primary source materials closely and choose particular passages that you think capture the writer’s standpoint.  You will also need to read ahead and make good use of the secondary sources provided, as well as any other sources you may find on your own, to help you set the context and interpret the writer through your performance.  The role play should be prefaced by a brief introduction to the historical context of the writer and conclude with the questions that the writer/text raises for you as a segue into class discussion.

(5) Interpretive Essays—There will be three interpretive essays, roughly 5-7 pages each, due throughout the semester (see syllabus for due dates).  Each essay will involve reading and interpreting primary sources in relation to each other and the secondary sources provided, while bringing your own assumptions and questions into dialogue with these sources.  The first essay (due Sept. 27) will take the form of a letter to one of the primary source writers, in which you engage his/her ideas and perceptions of China or the US in relation to your own.  Your letter should demonstrate your effort to understand the writer’s particular experiences and perspectives while reflecting on your own assumptions and questions as a student of China and/or the US.  The topics of the second and third essays will be announced one week prior to their due date.

(6) Research Paper/Presentation—The course will culminate in a 12-15 page research paper that explores contemporary Chinese and American imagery and discourse through the writings of two individuals who are liminally positioned between China and the U.S.  The paper should be clearly framed around a central question or thesis, drawing from both Chinese and U.S. primary and secondary sources to help you frame and support your arguments.  While a list of suggested writers and texts will be provided, students are encouraged to take up research topics that are of interest and relevance to their own divisional work.  Students will present their research papers in class during the last two weeks of the semester.

Additional Info:

Note on Language and Translation: We will read English translations of all Chinese texts, while working together as a class to translate short segments of Chinese text particularly rich in language and ideas that reflect the writer’s experience as well as his/her social and historical context.  In this way, students will be exposed to critical concepts embodied in one language, while experiencing firsthand the personal and political challenges of translating and interpreting meaning—and representing culture—across communities and contexts.

Prerequisite: To enroll, you must have the equivalent of at least one year of college-level intensive Chinese language study.  Students of both China Studies and Asian/Pacific/American Studies are encouraged to enroll.  This course counts toward the “Global Intersections” requirement of the Five Colleges A/P/A Studies Certificate Program.

Required Readings

There will be two required texts for the course, both available at the Hampshire College bookstore and on reserve at the Hampshire library:

Arkush, David, and Lee, Leo. (1989). Land without Ghosts: Chinese Impressions of America from the Mid-19th Century to the Present. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.*

Leong, Karen J. (2005). The China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, Mayling Soong, and the Transformation of American Orientalism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

 *The Arkush & Lee text is an English translation of primary source materials written by Chinese students, scholars, and diplomats who traveled to the U.S. over the last century.  This text will be supplemented with original Chinese language versions of several of the pieces included in the book. 

 In addition to these texts, there will be a number of additional readings posted on the Moodle course website.  Go to and log in using your e-mail username and password.  Important: Please check the course website regularly for an updated list of assigned readings, changes to the syllabus, and other important announcements.  Also, please bring copies of all assigned readings to class with you for discussion.