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Teaching Asia through Literature: China, Japan, Korea

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Teaching Asia through Literature: China, Japan, Korea

Book cover for My Borther’s Keeper by Julie Lee

Contemporary education at almost every level, through its seeming obsession with “Objectives,” “Learning Outcomes,” and intensely political ideologies, seems to be minimizing the pleasure, varying emotions, and truth that literature conveys about the human condition. EAA readers and subscribers familiar with Asia will know some of the more famous entries in this month’s column but those of you who delight in browsing in bookstores or libraries for new titles might joyfully discover more obscure titles that can enhance liberal learning and classrooms from the following brief descriptions of China, Japan, and Korea-related titles and their possible pedagogical applications.

Excerpts from Chow-soon Chuang Ju’s memoirs Popo’s World, (Youth and College Life) from our winter 2014 issue (volume 19, number 3) give readers a sense of what it was like for a child and young girl to grow up in China’s Fujian Province during the second Sino – Japanese War. The author’s daughter, National Chengchi University Professor Jane C. Ju, provides an introduction to the article. The two excerpts work well with students and a complete copy of the authors memoirs are available for purchase online on Amazon and other online bookstores.

Sarah Schneewind’s The Analects in the Classroom: Book Four as a First Step”(volume 16, number 1, spring 2011) takes perhaps the oldest part of this classic of world literature, re-translates it, and imagines it as a real dialogue between Master Kong and his students.

Book cover of To Live by Yu Hua

Yu Hua’s To Live has perhaps received the most attention in EAA of any twentieth century novel. One man’s story of his family and life from the period before the Chinese Civil War through the Cultural Revolution has such power that internationally acclaimed film maker Zhang Yimou made an award-winning film based upon the novel. Digest readers can first access the late Helen Finkin’s interview with the authorJames Winship’s review of the novelKarla Loveall’s review of the film (all from volume 8, number 3, winter 2003), and then a review revisiting the novel sixteen years later by Charles Newell (volume 24, number 1, spring 2019).

Dan Metraux’s thoughtful review of A Christian in the Land of the Gods: Journey of Faith In Japan (volume 25, number 1, spring 2020) focuses upon former US Treasury Department top economist Joanna Reed Shelton’s biography of her missionary grandparents, who struggled to propagate their faith in a Meiji Japan, whose government gradually grew more hostile to Christian missionaries as time passed, is highly recommended.

Book Cover of Lost Names by Richard E. Kim

Richard Kim’s description of his novel Lost Names, the story of a young boy growing up in Japan-occupied Korea during World War II, is that “ . . . all the characters and events described in the novel are real but everything else is fiction.” Kim’s novel for all the right reasons has received extensive coverage in EAA including Kathleen Masalski’s interview with the author (volume 4, number 2, fall 1999) and three teaching resources essays in the same issue by, a middle school teacherhigh school teacherand a university instructor.

Korea is also featured in Mary Connor’s review of Julie Lee’s Brother’s Keeper (volume 26, number 1, spring 2021). Inspired by her mother’s escape from North Korea during the Korean War, the author tells the story of a twelve-year old girl and her eight-year-old brother who escape North Korea. Brother’s Keeper was the winner in the 2020 Freeman Book Awards “Young Adult/Middle School” Category.

Other Teaching Resource: The Freeman Book Awards

Digest subscribers who seek exemplary literature for younger readers are highly encouraged to visit The Freeman Book Awards, sponsored by The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA), the Committee on Teaching about Asia (CTA) of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), and Asia for Educators (AFE) at Columbia University, for access to numerous titles that are already used in many classrooms. The awards recognize quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of East and Southeast Asia. Awards are given in two categories: Children’s and Young Adult on the several countries of East and Southeast Asia. Award winners from 2016–2020 are available on the website with 2021 winners to be recognized soon in January 2022.

The Freeman Book Awards graphic from the NCTA main website
The Freeman Book Awards graphic from the NCTA main website at


This article was published as part of the November 2021 EAA Digest.