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BA Film Studies and East Asian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Empire and Culture in East Asia

Unit code JAPA13221
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Japanese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will make use of selected cultural texts and film to introduce students to the politics and complex colonial history of East Asia in the period of Japanese Empire. Lectures incorporating discussion of novels and screenings will introduce to students the formation of colonial and postcolonial Asia and open dialogue about how Japanese expansionism influenced the development of national identities in China, Korea and Japan and across South East Asia. During weekly lectures students will have the opportunity to consider a small selection of representative works, from novelists and directors from China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, each bringing different perspectives the Japanese era. Interspersed between lectures students will view and discuss representative films such as The Last Emperor, Mud and Soldiers, The Human Condition, Karayuki, Dankichi the Adventurer and Warriors of the Rainbow. Literary texts to be included include classics of the East Asian empire period such as Xiao Hong’s In the Field of Life and Death (1932) and Wu Zhuoliu’s The Orphan of Asia (1945, Taiwan). Through this introductory survey of modern Asia forged through the expansion of Japan into the continent and de-colonisation of India and Southeast Asia and China from Europe, and a sampling of literature and film about this process, students will explore structures of feeling across the region, and consider the legacy of empire for the regional relations and coherence of a  postcolonial Asia.  


• to introduce the major points of conflict and unity necessary for a fuller understanding of modern culture and regional relations in Asia serving as a grounding into the East Asian Studies Major

• to provide students with an understanding of the key events and conceptual issues surrounding the Japanese empire in Asia and its legacy

• to enable students to analyse cultural problems and dynamics in contemporary East Asia in an informed and critical way

• to nurture and build skills for source reading and interpreting to support robust essay writing in the following years

• to provide guidance and a preliminary experience of essay planning, class presentations, and class discussion in the first year of the East Asian / Chinese/ Japanese Studies Major

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course the student will be able to: 


1 Thinking about Colonialism, Imperialism and Culture

2 European Powers and the International Context of a New Empire in East Asia

3 Korea: Decentering the Middle Kingdom, Becoming a Nation, Becoming a Colony

4 Taiwan: Peoples of an Island Colony and Issues of Identity

5 Japanese Expansion into China following the Manchurian Incident

6 Colonial Dreams and Settler Life in Manchukuo

7 Empire as Cultural Frontier: Shanghai Cosmopolitanism

8 Pan Asian Romance and the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere

9 The Gender Struggle within Colonial Expansion: Gender, Sex and Women in Empire

10 Korean Colonial Migrants and Workers in Japan

11 Post colonial relations in Asia

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, group-based class discussions of the readings on core questions and themes

Discussion of films and novels in relation to readings and lectures

Written and oral feedback on class presentations and presentation notes

A workshop on preparing and writing essay questions (Week 10)

Knowledge and understanding

• demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the history and cultural reaction to the development of East Asia as a region

• demonstrate critical understanding of key analytical concepts related to the study of history and culture

• show detailed knowledge of some representative cultural works (novels and films) from across East Asia

Intellectual skills

• engage in informed critical analysis of East Asian history and culture

• read and watch critically

• write analytically

Practical skills

• Construct ideas and arguments from own research and apply knowledge to finding solutions to authentic real world problems

• Improve basic skills for academic writing

• Improve presentation skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

• will have honed their skills for reasoned discussion and argument

• will be able to find and use critically a range of materials such as books, journals and web-based resources relevant to the topics studied in the course

• will be able to better participate in world affairs and informed global citizens

Employability skills

Project management
Students taking this unit will be learning to work towards deadlines, work independently and to manage their time effectively.
Written communication
Students on this unit will develop their ability to communicate a coherent and critical argument of depth and complexity in written form and to write in a way that is lucid, precise and compelling.

Assessment methods


Assessment task


Weighting within unit

1) seminar participation

index cards with notes to be collected at the end of seminars


2) three-person team class presentation of 15 mins (5 mins per person) on a cultural item (novel or film)

600 words of individual notes per individual (not per team)

10% (notes) + 10% (presentation)

= 20%

3) creating a fictional cultural source (diary, letter, or local film review)

1000 words (Week 7)


4) essay

1200 words (Week 11)



Assessment task



2500 words


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

  • Written feedback on class presentation and notes – distributed through semester


  • Written feedback on fictional cultural source

summative and formative

  • Written and oral feedback on class participation and written assessments available during weekly office hours


  • Written feedback on essay



Recommended reading

Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire (1998) ebook

Joshua Motow. ed. The Columbia Companion to Modern East Asian Literature (2003)

Peter Duus et al.  Japan’s Wartime Empire (1996) ebook

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sharon Kinsella Unit coordinator

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