01:098:241 East Asian Civilizations: Pre-modern Era

This course examines the foundational cultures of three major countries in today’s East Asia, namely, China, Korea, and Japan. In surveying the premodern history of East Asia (to 1800 C.E.), it focuses on a central question: How did Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cultures emerge from connected historical processes? You will learn to analyze the major approaches that the peoples in premodern East Asia utilized to consolidate state power, respond to conflicts, and construct their identity. We will also practice thinking beyond the nation-state framework by examining the complexity of the diverse voices from the past. For instance, how do we situate the Mongol legacies in East Asian history? How did the Yangzi basin become South China while the peoples in the Japanese archipelago, the Korean peninsula, and the Red River delta built distinct states autonomous from the “Chinese” empires? Note, all class materials are in English, and no knowledge of East Asian languages or cultures is required. The course is designed to equip you with a good experience upon which you can build skills and knowledge in more specialized classes in East Asian and Asian Studies. For more Rutgers courses in Asian Studies, see: https://go.rutgers.edu/e9idfxvh

There are no required textbooks. All study materials of the course, including films, will be distributed through Canvas. Beside Canvas (and Zoom), we use Google Drive and a collaborative annotation tool called Perusall. You can access Persuall through Canvas (registration might be needed). 

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • develop your knowledge and curiosity about East Asian peoples and their cultures
  • become familiar with key terms and concepts related to major historical processes in East Asia, including the emergence of Confucianism as a dominant political thought, the spread of Buddhism and the development of East Asian syncretic visions of society and cosmos, the interactions between the agricultural and nomadic cultures, the formation of an ethnic political identity in China, Korea, and Japan, and various East Asian responses to the West in the early modern period
  • widen your perspective about changes and continuities between various pasts of East Asia and today’s China, Korea, and Japan
  • develop your verbal and written skills in professional environments through various types of exercises, ranging from collaborative reading, reflective journal, roundtable discussion observation to evidence-based argumentative paper writing.

This course meets the requirements for Asian Studies (098) Major/Minors of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures: https://go.rutgers.edu/ifyman1r

Successful completion of the course fulfills the following SAS Core Curriculum Learning Goals: Historical Analysis (HST), Social Analysis (SCL), Writing and Communication in a Discipline (WCd), Writing and Communication, Revision (WCr).

Perusall Intro (2 pts; Pass/Fail): This assignment is designed to help you get used to the Perusall platform. Access Perusall in the Canvas site of our course. First-time users will need to sign up. Provide one (1) good comment (or annotation) to the reading assigned for class. Each annotation should include several sentences that express a sophisticated idea about the reading. You're also encouraged to comment on your friends’ annotations.

Perusall Annotations [PA] (20 pts): Four (4) PAs are required, each is worth 5 points and due at noon in the previous day of the corresponding class. There are 17 PAs in total, but you are only required to do 4. See the last column of the Class Schedule for the dates in which you can submit PAs.

  • PAs are designed to prepare you to do larger assignments like roundtable participation and paper writing.
  • How to earn points for each PA submission?
    • 3.5-4 points: Provide 3 good annotations (or comments) to the assigned reading. The comments should be distributed evenly throughout the reading. Each annotation (no less than 50 words) must be written in full sentences and express a sophisticated idea about the reading. Raising a good question (with a thoughtful explanation why you are posing the question), responding to your classmate’s question, or commenting on your classmate’s annotation are each counted as one graded annotation.
    • 1.5-1 additional points: Your annotations indicate your efforts to connect the information from the current reading with 1) what we’ve covered in the course, &/or 2) what you might have learned outside the class – you must provide reliable source information with proper citation. *This is a difficult skill, and we’ll cover it throughout the semester.
  • How to lose points for each PA submission? You might lose up to 2 points if your PA is not grounded on your thorough reading of the materials. You will lose up to 1 point if you submit your PA late.
    • • Use the provided Google Spreadsheet to keep records of your work.

Journals (18 pts): During this course, I ask you to keep reflection journals. All journals (6 in total, each worth 3 points) are due at the end of the week (i.e, Friday midnight) marked in the Class Schedule. There are 8 journals in total, but you are only required to do 6. However, everybody must do Journal #1 and #8.

  • In each journal (no less than 150 words), you will use the information you’ve learned during the week and produce a thoughtful discussion.
  • This is a Pass/Fail assignment. However, I reserve the right to request extra work from you and/or deduce points from your total grades of Journals if your journal submissions do not include thoughtful reflections and/or your writing needs significant editing.
  • To submit a journal, go to Canvas/Discussions and create a new Discussion Post with a Topic Title as "[Your name]’s Journals." Each submitted journal will be a reply to this lead Post.

Open Assignment (10 pts): This is the last assignment of the course. To fulfil this assignment, pick the one of following options:

Option 1: A reflection on the study materials, including what has been covered in the lectures, from a week of your choosing. Think about this reflection as a short writing (350-500 words) in which you will connect and synthesize information from at least two readings. Generally, this is an opportunity for you to develop one of your journals into a longer, formal piece of writing.
Option 2: Write a critique (350-500 words) of one of the films used in the class. This is a formal writing that asks you to connect what we’ve covered in the class with what is represented in modern visual mediums.
Option 3: Write a report (350-500 words) on the Library Day class.
Option 4: Submit a revised version of either Essay #1 or #2. This option only applies to essays previously graded as B+ or lower.
Option 5: Come up with your own assignment. To take this option, you must write an assignment description (basically an explanation of what you will do) and come discuss it.

Roundtable Presentation [RP] (10 pts): Through the semester we’ll reserve three classes to hold roundtable discussions. Each student will take responsibility to participate in 1 (one) roundtable.

  • What is roundtable discussion? A roundtable discussion is somewhat similar to a group presentation of 4-5 presenters. The key difference is that the roundtable discussion will be led by a moderator who will be responsible for introducing the central question of the discussion and connecting the ideas presented by other roundtable participants. The roundtable discussion should be also more conversational in the sense that participants will talk with one another rather than simply present their materials to the audience. More detailed guides to organizing roundtables will be distributed through Canvas.
  • Each roundtable class will include 2-3 roundtable discussions of interrelated topics. Registration is required. Use the provided Google Spreadsheet to register for your roundtable talk.
  • How to earn points for your roundtable:
    • 4 points: Submit your reading notes through the provided Google Doc by noon in the previous day of the corresponding class. This activity aims at sharing what you plan to discuss in the roundtable with other roundtable participants.
    • 4 points: Contribute a good, relevant discussion of the question raised in your roundtable. Your discussion must use specific evidence/example from the assigned reading. If you serve as a moderator, you must provide a good introduction and wrap-up message of your roundtable.
    • 2 points: Link your opinion/analysis with other roundtable participants’ opinions.

Roundtable Observation Report [RR] (10 pts): As an audience member of a roundtable, each of you will take responsibility for writing one 350-500-word RR.

  • Note, each roundtable class might include 2-3 roundtable panels; your report only needs to discuss one of these panels. Do indicate clearly in your report the title of the roundtable panel and the names of the roundtable participants. At the end of the report, you should use your own understanding of the topic to provide critical comments on the roundtable discussion. In writing this report, imagine that you are writing it for someone who did not have the opportunity to listen to the roundtable discussion.

Paper Writing (30 pts): Two 1000-1200-word papers (each worth 15 pts) are required. Each paper is a synthetic analysis of a topic drawing from our course. The detailed guides for each paper will be 6 distributed during the semester. Paper #1 discusses the spread of Buddhism in East Asia and Paper #2 on the impacts of Neo-Confucianism in the consolidation of political identity.

Length of written assignments: Each assignment has a firm word count. If your submission exceeds or does not meet the word/page limit, revise it.

Late Assignment Policies: You will lose up to 1 point if you submit PAs after the corresponding classes. A deduction of 1% to 10% of the final grade will be applied to any late submission of other written assignments.

Keep Track of Your Assignment Submissions: Use the provided Google Spreadsheet to keep a record of your submissions of journals and Perusall assignments.

Originality of your work: Your written assignments should be your own original work. All papers must be conducted in academic written language.

Reusing past work: In general, you are prohibited in university courses from turning in work from a past class to your current class, even if you modify it. If you want to build on past research or revisit a topic you've explored in previous courses, please discuss the situation with an instructor.

Falsifying research or results: All research you will conduct in this course is intended to be a learning experience; you should never feel tempted to make your results or your library research look more successful than it was.

I encourage you to cultivate a sense of teamwork. Your participation is as invaluable as that of any other participants, including mine. Be on time.

Absences: If you are unable to attend our class, let me know 24 hours ahead of time or ASAP. You’re encouraged to report absences using the University self-reporting absence system: https://sims.rutgers.edu/ssra/.

Students who have a prolonged health and/or financial issues that are impacting their academics and well-being over an extended period of time should contact the Dean of Students at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You can miss no more than 2 classes, regardless of the excuse. After the third missed class, you will be asked to write a 1-page summary of the assigned readings AND an additional reading that serves as a replacement to the missing lecture. Contact me to get access to the corresponding additional reading. Missing more than two classes without make-up submission will result in a warning grade.

Because learning about the past asks us to trace long-term processes, it is important to keep up with the flow of the class. Missing too many classes will prevent you from being successful in completing many assignments, including journals, roundtable participation, and paper writing.

Do make use of my office hours to make up the class you miss.