Saturday, March 30, 2013

Notes about chapter two of Asia as Method (part one)

Chen, Kuan-Hsing. "Decolonization: A Geocolonial Historical Materialism." Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. 65-113.

A few quotes about what he's up to in this long chapter:
In this chapter, I propose geocolonial historical materialism as a framework for analyzing the problematic of decolonization in relation to cultural formation in formerly colonized spaces. (65)
The first task of the geocolonial historical materialist framework proposed in this chapter will be to work through the third-world discourse on colonial identification in order to first situate geocolonial historical materialism within cultural studies, and then to make the theoretical move to connect it with the spatial turn, a move inspired by radical geography. This chapter is a theoretical exercise that aims to connect and reconnect with these discursive traditions by tracing selected responses to colonialism after the Second World War; it is concerned essentially with the problems within former colonies. (66)

Part of this chapter makes use of three sources that represent three forms of decolonization, according to Chen: Frantz Fanon, who critiques nationalism "at the peak of the third-world independence movement in the 1950s and 1960s" (67); Albert Memmi, who critiques nativism; and Ashis Nandy, who proposes what Chen calls a "civilizationalism" that "is nonstatist and counterhegemonic" (94).

Chen brings in arguments about the psychic dimensions of colonialism, "colonial identification," and the struggle for decolonization:
The well-documented experiences of contemporary social movements suggest that the pain of struggle is always inscribed on the psychic body. Regarded as a personal and sometimes a shameful matter, the issue of recurring psychic suffering is rarely openly discussed, but if lessons about this psychic realm are not learned and shared, the problems will continue to return. Similarly, to fully understand the violence of the colonial condition, we need to enter this same psychic space. Hence, the psychoanalysis of colonization and decolonizing psychoanalysis are one and the same process. (73)
Continuing in this psychological vein, and citing Françoise Vergès,Chen argues that
the epistemological foundation of colonial psychology was the political unconscious of family romance: the relationship between parents and children. The colonized subjects were essentialized as being poor in linguistic expression and lacking the capacity for clear conceptualization: they believed in supernatural powers; they were fatalistic; all their knowledge came from blind faith in their ancestors' superstitions; and therefore, these natives could not mature unaided into adulthood. The colonizer's mission was to guide them. Of course, this entire formulation hid behind the name of science, and the validity of the psychologist's observation was backed by the guarantee of scientific neutrality. (74)
Chen observes that in Black Skin, White Masks, "Fanon puts Lacan's 'mirror stage' theory in the colonial context. Although subjectivity is always mutually constituting, the colonial history of economic domination has put the entire symbolic order in the hands of the white colonials, making them the defining agents of the ideological structure. The position occupied by the whites reduces blacks to the level of biological color alone. For the white subject, this bodily difference marks the boundary of the white subject. It has nothing to do with history or economics but is a 'universal' difference" (78-9).

Arguing that Fanon was aware of "multiple structures of domination," Chen argues that "[M]any postcolonial theorists focus on a singular structure of domination--along the continuum of race, ethnicity, nation, and civilization--and are unwilling to bring other structures into the picture. But if structures of domination have historically always been interlinked and mutually referencing, then colonial structures are necessarily entangled with other structures of power" (80, my emphasis).

More later...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why 外 not?

I haven't written much about my "return" to the US in 2011--I'm not even sure I am comfortable calling it a "return" because that implies sort of a sameness about me and about the US that isn't the case. I enjoyed reading Mark Wilbur's post on "Returning to America," though, because I had some of the same feelings as he did after he came back to the US after years of living abroad (particularly the feeling of going back in time whenever I'm at the commuter rail or subway stations!).

One difference between living in Taiwan and living here is that I no longer see this on my Starbucks cups:

It's not clear, but it says 老外.

So I guess I'm saying I'm not seen as a 老外 anymore--at least not here. (And of course I'm a fan of cheesy bilingual puns, too.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More on Freshman Chinese at Tunghai

About six and a half years ago, when this blog had another name, I posted a response to Kerim Friedman's comments about "Freshman Chinese"in which I described a project carried out by the Chinese Department at Tunghai designed to turn the first-year required Chinese course into more of a balanced reading and writing course. (Their official title is 中文, which simply translates to "Chinese.") Some of the goals of the course, as I noted then, were mentioned in the English abstract for the project proposal. They included the following:
The goal of Freshman Chinese is aimed at improving student’s language skills. However, the average size of 60 students per class makes it impossible for any teacher to help the students efficiently. Therefore, we decided to reduce the class size down to 30 students in the reading & writing class. For the first two years, we plan to offer 12 classes for the incoming students in the six different colleges, namely, the Colleges of Arts, Management, Social Science, Engineering, Science, and Agriculture. These classes focus on writing, but the theme and reading materials for each class is designed by individual instructor based on his or her specialty. We feel that this arrangement would allow individual instructor to demonstrate his or her teaching skills in a more effective way. Student writing could be creative or expository depending on the nature of the assigned topics. Each student is required to hand in at least 4 short papers and one research paper with substantial length each semester.
Six years later, it looks like the program is still going, according to this webpage (Chinese). During the spring 2013 semester, there are 66 sections of first-year Chinese, of which 23 are classified as sections meant to reinforce or strengthen students' writing (加強寫作班). These sections are limited to 30 students (other sections can have up to 60 or more students).

There's a page linking to student writing, as well. I haven't gone through all of this writing (though it looks like it would be an interesting project), but I did glance at some of the essay titles from some of the colleges (the students are divided into courses by college, such as the College of Business, the College of Agriculture, etc.). In particular, I was trying to get a quick idea of the kinds of essays students were being asked to write. My interest came out of a recent article in College Composition and Communication in which the authors--Patrick Sullivan, Yufeng Zhang, and Fenglan Zheng--compare and contrast the teaching of college writing in the US and China. Zheng suggests that Chinese writing instruction stresses the aesthetic and stylistic qualities of writing--student writers should "observe and reflect consciously, describe scenes vividly, articulate thoughts and emotions accurately, and organize an essay strategically" (323--interesting parallel structure in that quote).

I was curious to see if the Chinese writing instruction at Tunghai had a similar focus, or if something else was going on. I was particularly curious to see if there was any kind of Writing in the Disciplines (WID) writing instruction in which students in, for instance, the College of Engineering might learn how to write like engineers. Judging from the quick look I took at the titles of some of the sample student writing, though, it appears that there isn't a lot of that going on, though there appears to be a variety of essay types being written. While there appears to be a lot of the more aesthetic sanwen (散文) being written, there are also some more persuasive texts, like some essays I found arguing about whether the death penalty should be abolished in Taiwan. (One that I looked at was written by a math major, another by a life sciences major, and the third by a chemical biology major.)

I also found the program-wide goals, or "Core Competencies," for these Freshman Chinese classes. They are the following:

1 分析問題與欣賞文藝,提升個人對文學藝術的知性和感性能力
2 掌握語文表達能力
3 具備思辨的內涵和能力
4 對應各學院特色的語文應用能力

This basically roughly translates as follows (corrections appreciated):
1) Analyze problems and appreciate literature, raise personal intellectual ability and sensitivity toward literary art
2) Master linguistic communicative abilities
3) Become equipped with critical thinking skills
4) Language proficiencies that correspond to the characteristics of each college

I was particularly curious about that last core competency, so I looked at the course descriptions for the 23 spring 2013 courses described as "加強寫作班" (courses focused on strengthening writing). Of the 23 course descriptions, 13 were described as helping students become linguistically proficient in ways that would correspond to their college's needs or characteristics. Of course, it's hard to tell what individual teachers mean by this--how they see their courses corresponding to those goals. Some courses seemed to be working with literary texts, even though the students were all from the College of Engineering. Not that engineers shouldn't read and write about literary texts--but I didn't see anything in that particular syllabus that seemed to correspond to the writing needs of engineers.

The course materials and sample student essays look interesting, though, and I'll have to take a closer look at them when I get a chance. It would also be interesting to see how this kind of writing instruction compares with Chinese writing instruction in other schools in Taiwan, and with writing instruction in Chinese universities.

Update, 4/5/13: I found a student essay entitled "巨大能量伴隨著巨大災害-核能運用的反思" ("Enormous Energy Accompanied by Enormous Disaster: A Reflection on the Use of Nuclear Energy") that cites a quote by Einstein. (This essay was written by a philosophy major.)

I also found an essay entitled "從<嘉平公子>看蒲松齡的社會背景與愛情觀" ("Seeing Pu Songling's Social Background and Views on Love from 'The Young Gentleman from Jiaping'") that has a 9 endnotes and an extensive bibliography of works cited and consulted. Another essay "探討<霍小玉>中所映照的唐代社會" (An Exploration of Tang Dynasty Society as Reflected in Huo Xiaoyu"), written for the same professor, also looks like a research paper. These are both analyzing literary works in relation to their social contexts (and they were both written by students in the Chinese Department).

So there are at least three essays that look like academic essays in which outside sources are footnoted and listed in bibliographies. There might be more, but I haven't had time to go through all of the essays. (Note that I'm not being critical of the other types of writings in this collection--the sanwen and poetry, for example--I'm just trying to get a sense of the range of genres in these "加強寫作班.")