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From early modern anxieties about China’s status as the “sick man of Asia” to contemporary concerns regarding the prospect of transnational pandemics, “illnesses” and their related stories have played a critical role in making and contesting individual psychologies and Chinese modernity in the 20th and 21st centuries. Actual illnesses, from tuberculosis to AIDS to the Novel Coronavirus, constitute not only social realities that trouble political and popular minds in their own right; but further provide powerful metaphors for exploring issues of human rights, national identity, and transnational circulation. This course examines how Chinese literature in the 20th and 21st centuries writes and visualizes “illness”–a universal human experience that is nevertheless heavily bounded by culture and history. Specifically, we examine the cultural and social meaning of “illness”; the relationship between illness on the one hand, and the politics of body, gender, and class on the other; we ask how infectious disease, and mental illness are defined, represented, and understood in both male and female writers’ analytical essays and fictional writings in the 20th century; we examine how metaphorical “illness” such as infectious cannibalism and fin-de-siècle “viruses,” are imagined and interpreted by key culture figures ranging from the founding father of modern literature (Lu Xun), to the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature (Mo Yan). Throughout the course, we will focus on the interplay between literature canons (fictions, essays, and dramas) and popular media and genres: blockbuster cinemas and art house films, popular novels, photographs and posters, etc.
Format: lecture; All regular course meetings will be conducted ONLINE with mostly a synchronous mode of instruction. FIRST MEETING: for those who are on campus, we will have our FIRST meeting outdoors; those who remain remote can choose either "Zoom" in or attend a separate online FIRST meeting. For full information, please contact the instructor.
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
None; no knowledge of Chinese language required, though students with Chinese language background are encouraged to work with Chinese sources if they wish; open to all
Chinese, Asian Studies, or Japanese majors; and then to first-year students
Difference, Power, and Equity
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
This course provides students with the opportunity to analyze the shaping of social stigma as well as the dynamics of unequal power by means of closely reading "illness" in 20th and 21st century China. We will exam how "illness" is sometimes gendered and politicized; how "illness", in other times, empowers individuals and bonds underrepresented minorities. Illness, as a seemingly universal human experience, tells diverse stories of (in)difference, (dis)power, and (un)equity.
PHLH Bioethics + Interpretations of Health