Paper Topics

Before you write, please remember the following:

(1) you must have a meaningful working title that sums up your views like a synopsis

(2) develop a good thesis (focus on an issue or an intellectual concern) in the opening paragraph, like the abstract of a book or dissertation, something you want to focus on; name the works and authors you shall include in this paper and give a very brief analysis of each work, stating how they are relevant (in at least half a page); the scholarly substance of your paper is all in here; if you have a weak or non-existent thesis, your paper will not be coherent no matter how thoughtful you are;

(3) as you deal with each work, don’t lose your thematic focus or lose sight of the point you want to clarify by discussing a group of works. Otherwise your discussions would seem fragmented and incoherent, without a thematic focus running through all the paragraphs. Try to respect the integrity, richness and complexity of each work and resist the temptation to reduce a literary work to a couple of ideas.

(4) it’s a sign of good scholarship to do textual analysis, quote from the literary text, and mention the name of the author. Discuss what the author is doing instead of what the fictional characters are doing in the story, otherwise you fail to understand the first thing about literary criticism, which is having a conversation with the creator/author by interpreting his or her work, even when the author is anonymous. If you treat fictional characters as if they were real people, you entirely miss the purpose of literature, which is to understand the views of the writer.

(5) word count should be around 2,000, font size 12; a top sentence at the beginning of each paragraph to sum up what you say in the paragraph. No need to summarize the fictional plot, or refer to details and quotes as if they were self-explanatory. Your role as a critic is to offer a perspective to read the fictional narrative

First paper

Among other things, Lu Xun’s fictional writing is symptomatic of a crisis in cultural identity on multiple levels. Identify the issue(s) with which he rallied and shaped Chinese consciousness (national awareness), making them allegories of “China” in at least four novellas of his. Analyze such problematic heroes as Ah Q, Kong Yiji, and the madman that Lu Xun created to both allegorize China and question Chinese cultural credentials:

  • Where is the author and what is his true voice?
  • What is his view on Western modernity, social progress and Chinese traditions?
  • Do you detect what W.E.B. Du Bois calls “double consciousness” that African Americans would experience, of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of a racist white society, and “measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt”?

Second paper

The term “history,” which consists of two words (his and story), suggests a semantic connection between what people often view as factual and fiction. As the story of a nation, history also allows the individual to narrate his or her lived experience and achieve a personal identity. Discuss the works of Yu Hua, Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Gao Xingjian as epic in which individuals achieve meaning through or in spite of history.*

*To better understand the theoretical basis of this assignment, read excerpts by Norman O Brown, the author of Life against Death: the Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, in which he argues that “psychoanalysis can provide a theory of ‘progress’, but only by viewing history as a neurosis.”

Third paper

Women construct gender identity through their attitudes towards sexuality, love, chastity, and martyrdom. Discuss femininity in no less than four works that are elaborations of women’s roles as mother, wife, daughter and lover. Treat each work as a drama in which the author negotiates the point at which or the degree to which womanhood (femininity) dignifies or alienates (debilitates) women.

For a theoretical framework, read the writings of Julia Kristeva, Jacque Lacan, and Michel Foucault.

Fourth paper

When impacted by the ideas of Western enlightenment, colonial subjugation by the West, wars against industrial powers, global capitalism, and diaspora, the people in China get to experience their Self in the position of the Other. Examine no less than four works of art (Pa Chin’s Family must be one) and discuss how the Chinese (writers and directors) bring the world home and/or trans-nationalize Chinese identity. In these fictional stories of Chinese self-representations and self-reinventions, what attitudes do you find reshaped towards cultural differences?