Education About Asia

Teaching Chinese History and Culture through Film

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For many of my students, China is a faceless, distant land. Others who teach undergraduates indicate that their students view China as an economic or national security threat. I have found the use of film in teaching about China to be most useful in giving students different perspectives on China than those directly connected with either economics or national security.  However, in my first attempts to show Chinese films in world history classes or other courses, I encountered resistance. Students who had never watched a foreign film before described their unease; they feared they would be lost not knowing the language, story, or actors: “I‘m not into subtitles.” “If I wanted to read while I watched a film, I would read a book.” “I think we should only watch foreign films in a language that we know.”

I have since found that students enjoy Chinese films more when we begin with full introductions of the story we are about to see and hear. It is also beneficial to include the arguments for how we may access another culture and larger objectives: to place values in context; to appreciate that foreign cultures are in some ways similar to our own; and to understand the lives of other peoples, with the hope that international understanding is one way to foster intercultural understanding.