EA 252
Hell on Earth?
Chinese Writers on Modern Chinese Society

  Are we living in a hell on earth? This question has consistently plagued modern and contemporary Chinese writers when contemplating their society. In this January course we will look at how Chinese writers have used literature and film to address the various political and social crises their country faced during the 20th century as we read short stories, poetry, memoirs, and view films, written and produced between the 1920s and the 1980s. Some of the topics we will consider are changing assessments of traditional China’s cultural legacy, China’s response to modernity (often represented by the West), revolution and resistance in rural China, the Taiwan experience, the Cultural Revolution and its legacy, and women writers’ self-expression in modern and contemporary Chinese society. The format of the course will be lecture-discussion.  To encourage you to keep up with your reading almost every class session will begin with a five-minute reading quiz.  During one session (a sign-up sheet is posted on our course Moodle site) you will be required to lead a small group discussion and report on your discussion to the entire class.  You will also be required to post a minimum of 5 forum entries reacting to the films viewed in the afternoon class sessions.  Two 4-5 page writing assignments will be required during the term (see the schedule below for due dates), and a final paper of 8-10 pages will be due the last day of class.

National Day Celebrations, Tiananmen Square, October 10, 1984

Learning Goals:

  • Acquire an understanding of 20th century China and its history through Modern and Contemporary Chinese literature and film.
  • Reflect critically on the experiences of the Chinese people during the 20th century as they struggled to modernize and reform society, and what these experiences might teach us about our own society as well as Contemporary China, and express your insights both verbally and in writing.
  • Hone analytical skills through close readings of literary and cinematic texts.
  • Improve ability to construct a clear, coherent and convincing written argument.

Required Texts: All the above are available at the bookstore.


Online reserve readings will be selected from:

            Tani E. Barlow and Gary J. Bjorge ed.,  I Myself am a Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling.  Boston, Beacon Press, 1989.

            Lau and Goldblatt ed., The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature.  1st ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

            Lau, Hsia and Lee ed., Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas 1919-1949.  New York, Columbia University Press, 1981.

            Howard Goldblatt trans., The Drowning of an Old Cat and Other Stories by Hwang Chun-ming.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.


            New Year Sacrifice directed by Sang Hu, 1956

            Family directed by Chen Xihe, 1956

            The Lin Family Shop directed by Shui Hua, 1959

            Hibiscus Town directed by Xie Jin, 1985

            Good Men, Good Women directed by Hou Xiaoxian, 1995

            The Blue Kite directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1992

            Yellow Earth directed by Chen Kaige, 1985

See Course Schedule for Specific Assignments


Detail from a piece of traditional Chinese furniture