Teaching Asia through Literature: China, Japan, Korea
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.
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 author, James Winship’s review of the novel, Karla 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).
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 teacher, high school teacher, and 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.