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University Bulletin
Undergraduate Degree Programs

These course descriptions are not being updated as of August 1, 2016. Current course descriptions are maintained in LionPATH.

History (HIST)

HIST 183 (GH;IL) (ASIA 183) Gender, Family, and Society in East Asia (3) Investigates the history of gender, family, love, and sex in East Asia.

HIST (ASIA) 183 Gender, Family, and Society in East Asia (3)

(BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements.

The Confucian philosophy that guided family life in many East Asian societies articulated specific relationships between men and women and particular roles for each family member at each stage of life. But these gender ideals were never static. Instead they were constantly challenged and changed—by the “willow catkin” women poets of eighteenth century China, the modan gaaru (modern girls) who advocated for “love marriages” in 1920s Japan, and the “iron women” of Communist China who “held up half the sky,” among many others.

This course tracks these changes in East Asian gender roles, relationships, and family life from 1600 to the present, placing private life at the center of the history of China, Japan, and Korea. The course will begin with an examination of how ideals of gender and family life were prescribed through, for example, classic texts, architecture, public morality campaigns, and law codes, as well as examining how these ideals and norms were described (and contested, satirized, and subverted) in fiction, film, and legal cases. The course will then examine the realities of gender and private life in imperial East Asia, considering topics such as marriage customs, women’s economic roles, the cult of female chastity, family planning and medical practices, prostitution and brothels, footbinding, geisha, ideals of masculinity, alternative families and male-male sexuality, male bonding and brotherhoods, and women writers.

The last part of the course considers the remarkable shifts in gender and private life in East Asia beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present. Topics will include changing work patterns in an increasingly industrialized economy, urbanization and remade family life, women’s education, changing expectations for courtship, marriage and sex, expanded opportunities in public life for women and men, divorce, militarization, war and gender, eugenics and race, homosexuality, gender and revolution, and the state’s role in regulating sex. The post-war period brought even more changes, and the course will highlight these through case studies of, for instance, women in the workplace, China’s so-called “one child” policy, and “gender-bending” in popular culture.

By the end of the course, students should have a firm understanding of changes to private life in East Asia over the past several centuries, and be able to assess the social and political factors that shape cultural phenomena. Students will develop their abilities to read primary sources closely and to read secondary studies efficiently, in addition to learning to reflect and integrate multiple kinds of sources in writing essays.

General Education: GH
Diversity: IL
Bachelor of Arts: Other Cultures and Humanities
Effective: Summer 2012

Note : Class size, frequency of offering, and evaluation methods will vary by location and instructor. For these details check the specific course syllabus.


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Course descriptions are stored in LionPATH, the University-wide student information system. Please visit the LionPATH Course Catalog to access current course descriptions. At that point, you will be leaving the University Bulletin website.

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