Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

This course examines cultural performances of Asia, including both traditional and contemporary forms, in a variety of genres. Explores the communicative power of performances with attention to the ways performers, media, cultural settings, and audiences interact. Also considers the ways the representation of cultural difference is altered through processes of globalization. Performances viewed live when possible, but the course also relies on video, audio, and online materials as necessary. There are no prerequisites for this course and it is taught in english.

Course Aims

Paying particular attention to gendered constructions of "Asian" identity, we will consider a variety of approaches to performance and culture. What does "Asian" mean in the popular imagination and in scholarly research? How can we learn more about how images of Asia and Asians are constructed by attending to theories of performance? Looking at the intersection of three terms "Asian / Performance / Cultures," we will examine the ways that identities are always caught between shifting actors and audiences, settings and economies, and explore what this tells us about how culture and identity changing in a globalizing world.

One premise of the course is that working at the intersection of Asian Studies and Women's Studies can provide insights for both fields. As Judith Butler argues, gender itself is not a core essence, but something that emerges from "performance," both on- and off-stage, which then constitute patterned understandings of masculine, feminine, transgendered, and so on. How can such a perspective enhance our understanding of the ways "Asianness" is constituted? Interestingly, many of the contrasts that are used to compare men and women are reproduced in comparing the West and Asia. Consider, for example, the ways "men/the West" are supposedly rational, individualistic, and competitive while "women/Asia" are allegedly emotional, group-oriented, and harmonious. The construction of national identities frequently, if not always, entails gendered characteristics, and this dynamic will be a key theme for exploring Asian performances. We will look not only at live performances, but also at various media and other spaces (such as museums) where images of Asia are portrayed.

Course Topics

The course will focus on Japan, but include performances related to other areas of Asia. Students will also be asked to identify some kind of Asian performance to explore for their final project (presentation and paper). Some of the particular performances and media that we will examine include:

  • The all-female Takarazuka Revue (Japan) which presents elaborate romantic musicals, yet contradictory lessons for empowering women,
  • The film King of Masks (China) which portrays an elderly male street performer trying to find a male heir for his art, and who is helped by a male actor who only plays female roles, and whose adopted protégé comes with surprises,
  • Samurai imagery in an American film, The Last Samurai and a Japanese film Twilight Samurai, which offer very different portraits of relations between the sexes and the character of the samurai ethos,
  • Japanese popular music, with an emphasis on Japanese hip-hop and the contrasts between male and female rappers, but also considering forms like enka, where men commonly sing from a women's perspective and vice versa, and the New Japan series of CDs on John Zorn's Tzadik label,
  • The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a tremendous range of Asian artifacts, and striking differences in the ways that different civilizations are portrayed. Why are kimono and samurai swords so prevalent for Japan, yet China is more commonly shown through pottery and scholars' stones?

Course Requirements and Schedule of Major Assignments

Class Participation 15%
Essay 1 (5 pages, Week 5) 15%
Essay 2 (5 pages, Week 9) 20%
Essay 3 - Due Final Class (7-8 Pages) 25%
In-class Presentations (Weeks 10-13) 25%

Grading of Written Work

Essays are designed to encourage students to engage with the theoretical propositions of the course, while also taking a comprehensive and analytical look at the materials. Written work will be graded according to three criteria:

  • Argument: Is there a coherent thesis? How clearly is the argument stated in the introduction and developed throughout the paper? Do the steps of the argument make sense and lead logically to the conclusion?
  • Evidence: How well does the essay use the evidence available from the class materials (readings, lectures, films)? Are there contradictory examples that should be discussed to eliminate doubts?
  • Style: How well is the paper written? Has it been carefully proofread? Does the paper length match the assignment?