Paper Assignments

Before you write, please remember the following:

(1) you must have a meaningful working title that sums up your views like a synopsis

(2) develop a good thesis (focus on an issue or an intellectual concern) in the opening paragraph, like the abstract of a book or dissertation, something you want to focus on; name the works and authors you shall include in this paper and give a very brief analysis of each work, stating how they are relevant (in at least half a page); the scholarly substance of your paper is all in here; if you have a weak or non-existent thesis, your paper will not be coherent no matter how thoughtful you are;

(3) as you deal with each work, don’t lose your thematic focus or lose sight of the point you want to clarify by discussing a group of works. Otherwise your discussions would seem fragmented and incoherent, without a thematic focus running through all the paragraphs. Try to respect the integrity, richness and complexity of each work and resist the temptation to reduce a literary work to a couple of ideas.

(4) it’s a sign of good scholarship to do textual analysis, quote from the literary text, and mention the name of the author. Discuss what the author is doing rather than what the fictional characters are doing in the story, otherwise you fail to understand the first thing about literary criticism, which is having a conversation with the creator/author by interpreting his or her work, even when the author is anonymous. If you treat fictional characters as if they were real people, you entirely miss the point of reading literature, which is to understand the values and attitudes of the writer who is often ambivalent about culture and society.

(5) word count should be around 2,000, font size 12; a top sentence at the beginning of each paragraph to sum up what you say in the paragraph. No need to summarize the fictional plot, or refer to details and quotes as if they were self-explanatory. Your role as a critic is to offer a perspective to read the fictional narrative

First Paper

Among other things, Lu Xun’s fictional writing is symptomatic of a crisis in cultural identity on multiple levels. Talk about how you understand this crisis as evident in his fictional aesthetics and styles of at least four novellas whose meaning is often ambivalent or obtuse. Analyze such problematic heroes as Ah Q, Kong Yiji, and the madman that Lu Xun created to both interrogate Chinese cultural credentials and question the progressive values of the West.

  • Where is the author in these fictional texts?
  • What’s his attitude toward Chinese cultural traditions and values?
  • What is his view on modernity and social progress?
  • Do you detect what W.E.B. Du Bois calls “double consciousness” that African Americans would experience, of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of a racist white society, and “measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt”?

Second Paper

Family is a huge part of the mosaic of a person’s identity, especially in the context of the May Fourth. Discuss the wide range of attitudes and values rendered problematic in the family drama in which personal relationships or domestic strife (between husband and wife, brothers and sisters, parents and children, or lovers) are not working out as expected. See below excerpts from Confucian Classics The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean, idealizing the family as the site of culture and self-cultivation through which a person gains and practices his humanity. * work you must include.

  • Family by Pa Chin*
  • Black Li and White Li by Lao She
  • Camel Xiangzi by Lao She
  • Xiaoxiao by Shen Congwen
  • Golden Cangue by Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing)
  • Regret for the Past by Lu Xun (Lu Hsun)
  • New Year’s Sacrifice by Lu Xun


*大学之到、在明明德、在亲民、在止于至善。知 止、而后有定、定、而后能静、静、而后能安、安、而后能虑、虑、而后能得。物有本末、事有终始、知所先后、则近道矣。 古之欲明明德于天下者、先治其国、欲治其国者、先齐其家、欲齐其家者、先修其身、欲修其身者、先正其心、欲正其心者、先诚其意、欲诚其意者、先致其知、致 知、在格物。 物格、而后知至、知至、而后意诚、意诚、而后心正、心正、而后身修、身修、而后家齐、家齐、而后国治、国治而后天下平。《大学》 “What the Great Learning teaches is, to illustrate illustrious virtue, to renovate the people, and to rest in the highest excellence. The point where to rest being known, the object of pursuit is then determined; and that being determined, a calm unperturbed-ness may be attained. To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose. In that repose there may be artful deliberation, and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end. Things have their roots and their branches. Affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in the great learning. The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things. Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.” from “Great Learning

故 君子不可以不修身,思修身不可以不事亲,思事亲不可以不知人,思知人不可以不知天。天下之达道五,所以行之者三。曰君臣也,父子也,夫妇也,昆弟也,朋友 也,五者天下之达道也。知、仁、勇三者,天下之达德也。所以行之者一也。《中庸》The duties of universal obligation are five, and the virtues wherewith they are practiced are three. The duties are those between sovereign and minister, between father and son, between husband and wife, between elder brother and younger, and those belonging to the intercourse of friends. Those five are the duties of universal obligation. Knowledge, magnanimity, and energy, there three, are the virtues universally binding. And the means by which they carry the duties into practice is singleness.

_______”The Doctrine of the Mean

Third Paper

Out of “the literary revolution” (文学革命) of the May Fourth Movement came “the revolutionary literature” (革命文学) that functions as what Roland Barthes refers to as “myth” [which] is a type of speech … not defined by the object of its message, but by the way in which it utters this message.” In this paper, examine how literary writers and artists work as myth makers who communicate ideas of a good and just society through powerful symbols (dances and images and song lyrics). Pay attention to how details automatically take on symbolic meaning and significance, and how these myth makers help people imagine relationships between people, between Man and Nature, between animal kingdom and humankind. Discuss how these writers and artists reinvent the Chinese as a people and society.

Fourth Paper

The death of Mao in 1976 signifies what is later known as the post-socialist era, in which people were able to rethink critically socialist ideals of the previous decades and, at the same time, question the values of the free market economy. As China transforms, fiction becomes a way to register new values and negotiate cultural ideals. The past is reconstructed in narrative works to reveal the diabolical side of socialism advancing at the expense of man’s wholeness. Yet, mass society and popular culture of the post-socialist China is ruled by a mass-mindedness from which few individuals can escape unscathed. Hence the topic of the last paper: the struggle of modern man against culture. Discuss how writers redefine Chinese cultural identity.