“Biography and Autobiography in Chinese History” traces the course of late imperial and modern Chinese history through biographies and autobiographies of Chinese men and women. The reading covers a range of political and socio-economic perspectives. We will read the diary of a seventeenth-century emperor to understand concepts of government from the viewpoint of a man at the peak of the imperial system, as well as an account of a peasant rebel who attempted, in the nineteenth century, to bring that system down. We will read the story of a scholar attempting to adapt to the rapid political, social, and cultural changes of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as the autobiography of a beggar woman struggling simply to survive (and keep her family alive) through the economic upheavals of the same period. And we will read the life history of an early twentieth-century feminist and revolutionary soldier and a biography of the most successful modern Chinese revolutionary of all, Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China.
The course focuses on three important themes of late imperial and modern Chinese history: change in the political system and debates over political responsibility; the transformation of the social elite and the role of the peasantry (and other socioeconomic groups previously excluded from political power) in the new social order; and the re-examination of gender roles in the face of rapid social, economic, and political change.
The course will also include some discussion of the genres of biography and autobiography, which are arguably the most popular form of historical writing. We will analyze the techniques employed by biographers and autobiographers to shape (and distort, imagine, and/or elaborate) life histories; discuss the function of biography and autobiography as historical source material and as a means of shaping popular conceptions of national histories; and compare the ways in which these genres are written and received in China and the West.
Required Reading: The following books are required for the course, in order of use:
Jonathan Spence, Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-hsi.
Other readings will be distributed in class.
I have put two textbooks on reserve for those of you who feel the need for some background reading: Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, and Jacques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization. These are not required readings, but are available for your convenience.
NB: We will use pinyin as the method of romanizing Chinese in the course. Many of the assigned texts, however, still employ the Wade-Giles system. A conversion chart and information on the two systems (as well as on Chinese names and dating) will be handed out in class.
Course Requirements: All students must be officially enrolled in the course by the end of the second full week of the quarter. No requests to add the course will be approved by the department chair after that time. Enrolling officially and on time is solely the responsibility of each student.
Students are responsible for all materials, lectures, discussions, and readings. All work handed in for the course must be the work of the student alone. All university rules regarding academic misconduct apply (“academic misconduct” includes all forms of student academic misconduct wherever committed, illustrated by, but not limited to, cases of plagiarism and dishonest practices in connection with papers and examinations). It is the student’s responsibility to be familiar with these rules (see the Code of Student Conduct, http://studentaffairs.osu.edu/resource_csc.asp; for a discussion of plagiarism, http://cstw.osu.edu/writingCenter/handouts/research_plagiarism.cfm ). If you have any questions about procedures for documentation and citation, contact a member of the instructional staff for the course. Instructors are required to report all instances of alleged academic misconduct to the Committee on Academic Misconduct.
This syllabus and any study aids supplied to the students in this course are subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. Any further instructions regarding course requirements given verbally by the instructor are as binding as written instructions.
More specifically, the requirements for the course are:
Completion of the assigned reading and participation in class discussions (25%). Since this is a discussion course, a significant portion of your grade is based on your attendance and participation in class discussions. Participation in the class discussions should be based on careful reading of the works listed under the relevant class meeting; and students should have completed the reading before the class meeting.
Three short papers (2-3 pages each). These papers are analyses of three of the assigned readings. See the handout on the short papers for instructions. (15% each, for a total of 45%).
A final paper (10 pages). See the handout on the final paper for instructions. (30%)
All essay-type written work is graded according to three major criteria: a) the quality of the analysis or argument; b) the accuracy, relevance, and quantity of evidence provided to support the analysis or argument; and c) the quality and effectiveness of the organization and writing. Remember to keep copies, electronic or paper, of all written work.
Students concerned about their writing skills are encouraged to consult the OSU Writing Center (http://cstw.osu.edu).
Deadlines All written work is due in class on the days indicated on the “Course Outline.” Do not skip class to complete your paper. I will accept papers up to 5:00 P.M. on the day they are due, if you have attended that day’s class—otherwise, your paper will be considered late. I cannot accept assignments via e-mail.
No late assignments will be accepted without the prior agreement of the instructor and/or the submission of a doctor's note. Course overloads and work duties are not acceptable excuses for late assignments, missed exams, or for failure to participate fully in other class activities. Late papers and exams will be marked down one-third grade (that is, an “A” becomes an “A-”) for each day they are late, weekends included.
Disability Services Students with disabilities that have been certified by the Office for Disability Services will be appropriate accommodated, and should inform the instructor as soon as possible of their needs. The Office for Disability Services is located in 150 Pomerene Hall, 1760 Neil Avenue; telephone 292-3307, TDD 292-0901; http://www.ods.ohio-state.edu/.
Course Outline: Week 1 (1/8): Introduction
Week 2 (1/15): No class (Martin Luther King Day)
Week 3 (1/22): Life at the Top: The Kangxi Emperor’s Diaries
Jonathan Spence, Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-hsi, xi-xxvi and pp.
Week 4 (1/29): Family Man and Failed Scholar: Shen Fu
Shen Fu, Six Records of a Floating Life, trans. Leonard Pratt and Chang Su-hui, pp. 9-