Class Name: HUM 3401 – Asian Humanities

Instructor: Lanlan Kuang, associate professor and director of Humanities and Cultural Studies B.A. Program

When is this course offered?: Spring

How many students are typically in a class?: About 40 to 45

Are there any prerequisites for this course?: Any HUM courses or consent of the instructor.

From the Professor

How would you describe this course?

This course is designed to be a gateway to the largest region in the world, Asia. From Sanskrit theaters to Bollywood films, from Buddhist art to Daoist landscape paintings, from Japanese manga, Korean Halluy, to Chinese xianxia martial art series, students in this upper-level undergraduate course will be exposed to some of the critical ideas and interpretations on the developments of the arts and humanities from the geographical and the conceptual area known generally as Asia.

HUM 3401 is the core course for UCF’s Asian Studies minor program and covers regions and countries beyond India, Japan, Korea and China and highlights the impact of local cultures on global issues, and the vice versa.

Departing India, spurring into Eurasia and crossing the Tibetan plateau, we will be journeying through China, into Korea and then finally arriving in Japan. This gateway course guides students to examining critically the changing representations of Asian cultures in different historical and socio-economical contexts in a world increasingly more interdependent and globalized. The course materials offer an interdisciplinary overview covering broad-spectrum topics in the arts and humanities of Asia. Each semester, depending on the academic backgrounds of the students enrolled in this class, new readings for facilitating discussions and research interests each semester will also be introduced. An ethnographic approach is incorporated through live demonstrations by guest lecturers and field trips for enhancing students’ learning experience.

Why should students take this course?

As humanity’s concerns go global, so too must the efforts to understand them. With 60% of the world’s population, Asia is not only the home to the world’s oldest civilizations, but it also represents cultural vanguards and economic vitality. Asia has a major role in manufacturing, technology and investment markets. Predictably, the U.S. government has recently marked Chinese and Korean, in addition to Japanese, as critical languages for economic competitiveness. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) specializing in economic development, healthcare and environmental protection are active throughout Asia. Students from UCF’s top ranking schools and programs, such as public administration, international and global studies, and hospitality management are more competitive when applying to jobs in both private and public sectors when they are equipped with an adequate knowledge of Asian languages and humanities.

Socrates was said to have been “a citizen of the world”. We are facing a future which will bring us closer together than ever. Students would benefit from a better understanding of knowledge beyond national boundaries, as well as the opportunities available for international study, research and engagement.

What do you hope students learn?

In The Analects of Confucius, the Master says: “Shall I teach you about knowledge, You? To know when you know something, and to know when you do not know, that is knowledge.”

I hope the students leave my class full of intriguing questions. Instead of textbook-style answers, I hope the students understand that they have only had a glimpse of Asia’s multifaceted arts and humanities and will continue to explore after they graduate from this course. The ethnographer in me encourages students to always ask questions; the performer in me reminds students to always be mindful to the various contexts before engaging in dialogues with their audience. The quote above might be viewed as vague and imprecise to readers unfamiliar with the ambiguous style of speech articulation found classical Chinese arts and literatures, including that of rhetorical styles. Hopefully, students who complete this class will understand that this ambiguity is but a form of suggestiveness and is at the core of Chinese aesthetics. Finally, I hope students have learned to recognize the concept of interconnectivity through surveying some of the regions and countries in Asia other than India, Japan, Korea and China in this class.

What does the coursework entail?

For the Asian Humanities course, students are asked to generate three questions for group discussion based on the weekly reading assignments. In addition, I also give students the opportunity to generate their own essay exam question based on key words and key concepts during each of the three essay exams. By the end of the semester students should be able to identify and discuss key elements from the course in an analytical manner. Students are free to explore a research topic within the scope of this course. Their research project should demonstrate basic research ability and presentation skills at university level and fulfill the State of Florida Gordon Rule requirement.

What are some of the field trips that you’ve organized for this class?

UCF celebrates its diversity by brining tangible and intangible cultural heritages to our students.

Arranged as a free extra curriculum activity every year prior to the pandemic, my students had an opportunity to participate Chan Buddhism inspired tea tasting ceremony hosted by Buddhist nuns at the Guang Ming Temple. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Central Florida and a branch of Fo Guang Shan, an international Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhist organization and monastic order based in Taiwan that practices Humanistic Buddhism. Students often bring their friends and families to this field trip, which introduces an entirely different tea drinking experience than ordering herb tea at a chain coffee shop.

As a classically trained ethnomusicologist, I believe people are the key in fieldworks, and if we cannot travel to the field, we bring the field to us. For students who stay on-campus, I arrange live performances of classical Indian music and Chinese neo-folk and experimental music, depending on the availability of the guest lecturers. I encourage students to interact with the musicians and artists, learn their stories, and ask questions that either support or contradict what they read in textbooks. This year, I arranged for a live demonstration of classical Indian music online so students could still enjoy the experience during the pandemic.

From the Student

Riley Beaulieu ’23,  human communication alum with minors in digital media and international business, Burnett Honors Scholar

Why did you want to take this course? 

I was interested in Asian Studies and was curious to see how such a broad subject could be covered in one semester.

What did you like most about the course?

I loved the unique readings we were assigned and being able to learn about aspects of cultures that I never would have thought about.

What did you find to be the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging part was keeping up with the readings. I was interested in all of them, but I had to limit myself at times to keep from overwhelming my already busy semester.

What are some things that you learned from taking the course?

I learned how to write a collegiate social studies research paper, which was enlightening and extremely helpful for my future college career. I also want to mention two of my favorite subjects that we learned about: One was the late Ming Dynasty trend of creating imaginary gardens as a refuge from war. In a way, this reminded me strongly of the popularity of Animal Crossing during the pandemic and initial quarantine, which made the material very relatable. The other topic that fascinated me was our readings from Liberal Barbarism, a book about the destruction of the Emperor of China’s palace in 1860. In fact, I liked it so much that I’m currently reading the full book, along with several other of our assigned readings.

If another student was considering enrolling in this course, what advice would you give them?

The first thing is that many of the books can be found as PDFs. Other than that, make sure you read the assigned readings and make comments and highlights in them. It makes all of the other assignments, like the group questions and essay exams, way easier. Do yourself a huge favor and use Chicago formatting. Those deadlines come up sooner than you think and you don’t want to have to cite sources in the MLA format. Most of all, don’t be intimidated by the academic nature of the assigned readings — they are incredibly fascinating and will keep your attention as well as any fiction book you could read.