First Year Program - Asian Studies Skip Navigation

Asian Studies (ASIA)

Director: J. Crespi

Asia holds a unique and vital place within the globalizing world of the early 21st century. Home to an extraordinary range of linguistic and ethnic groups, this broad and dynamic region is rich in cultural and environmental diversity. Engaging the many changes taking place in Asian societies today requires a similarly diverse set of intellectual skills. To this end, the Asian Studies Program at Colgate integrates scholarly approaches spanning the humanities and social sciences: from literature, art, and religion to history, politics, economics, and geography. The Asian studies major encourages students to undertake their own interdisciplinary explorations of this region.

In addition to a wide variety of courses on diverse aspects of Asia, the program encourages students to participate in a study abroad program centered in Kunming (China), Kyoto (Japan), Seoul (Korea) or extended study opportunities in Japan and China. Students are also invited to consider living in the Asia Interest House, which provides a stimulating living and learning environment.

Each year, the Asian Studies Program offers a diverse range of courses and an exciting program of films, speakers, artistic performances, and exhibits. These activities usually complement course offerings, but they are normally open to the public as well.

A number of Asian studies courses are open to first-year students. The earlier you start learning about Asia, the better chance you have to spend an unforgettable semester there before you graduate.


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CHIN 121, Elementary Chinese I
This introduction to modern standard Chinese emphasizes understanding and speaking, with practice in reading and writing approximately 300 characters in either traditional or simplified forms. It covers basic structural patterns and vocabulary needed for ordinary conversation as well as future development.

CHIN 201, Intermediate Chinese I
Offers continued training in Modern Standard Chinese, with emphasis on reading and writing skills. Grammar review is combined with introduction to variations in speech and writing. Recitation and conversation sessions, role-play, and skits reinforce listening and speaking ability. By the end of the year, students may expect to communicate in both speech and writing on everyday topics.

CHIN 222, China thru Literature & Film
Offers an introduction to representative works of Chinese literature in English translation, as well as works of Chinese film with English subtitles. Specific focus and selections vary from year to year. No knowledge of Chinese is expected.

CHIN 222L, Required Film Screening
Required corequisite to CHIN 222.

CORE 165C, China
China has the distinction of being one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures, with 5,000 years of rich, complex history. Today, it is also a rising international power with the second largest economy on the globe. CORE 165C approaches China not as a monolithic entity, but as a complicated place and people best understood through diverse perspectives, including but not limited to history, economics, geography, literature, art, politics, environment, society, ethnicity, gender, migration, and diaspora. Students also gain indispensable research skills as they develop their own projects.

CORE 167C, Japan
Engages in dialogue with popular discourses, scholarly literature, and primary information sources of Japan and those who live in the island nation state. Focuses on key social and cultural issues that characterize contemporary Japan while also paying attention to its historical experiences and traditions that variably shape the present. Examines such topics as changing ‘western’ views on the Japanese, diversity in Japanese society, socio-demographic challenges, literature and religion, Japanese political economy and globalization, societal response to natural disasters, and popular culture. Employs a wide range of learning methods, including lecture, class discussion, films, hands-on experiences (e.g., calligraphy), and intensive projects which require students to collect, analyze, and synthesize a wide range of scholarly and non-scholarly sources. Ultimately aims to nurture students’ ability to understand and empathize with the logic (and illogic), experiences and emotions of the Japanese people; that is to say, to understand them as you would understand yourselves.

ENGL 202, Justice/Power-Postcolonial Lit
An introduction to significant debates and texts in the field of postcolonial literatures. This course explores how the field engages with questions of race, gender, sexuality, class, caste, and migration. It considers how writers located in the global south or in the West as migrants navigate their spaces when faced with inequality and marginalization. The course examines both the legacies that empires have left and the nature of new empires that are being constructed.

FSEM 111, China
China in Relation, From Dao to Mao to Now

Faculty Profile for Professor Crespi

Explores the theme of Chinese relations: not international diplomacy, and certainly not your brother-in-law from Zhengzhou, but the creative forms and patterns through which Chinese people have imagined and reimagined their connections to the cosmos, one another, and the rest of the world. Our approach is interdisciplinary, chronological, and self-reflective. It is interdisciplinary in that students engage with philosophy, poetry, fiction, graphic art, language, film, and more. In terms of chronology, students start in antiquity and make our way by carefully chosen leaps and bounds from the works of Confucius, up through Maoist propaganda films, and into the issues facing China today. The course is self-reflective because from beginning to end you are asked to think about your own cultural assumptions, as well as your own connections to China—a task of crucial importance given China’s unprecedented and growing influence on global economics, politics, and the environment.

Alongside its specific content, this first-year seminar introduces college-level standards of critical reading, written composition, oral presentation, and research methodology. Assignments—from one-page responses to a final research project—aim for step-by-step enhancement of the thinking and expressive skills that will support you through four years at Colgate and beyond. Students who successfully complete this seminar will receive credit for CORE 165C and satisfy the Communities & Identities core requirement.

John A. Crespi is the Henry R. Luce Associate of Chinese. His research interests center upon Chinese literature and culture, with particular focus on modern poetry and the art of the cartoon.

FSEM 113, Japan
Faculty Profile for Professor Mehl

Formerly known primarily for an extraordinarily vital economy, Japan today is best known abroad, probably, for cultural exports such as manga, anime, sushi, and J-pop. The phenomenon of Japan's "soft power" has much to do with ideas and preconceptions about Japaneseness, and in this course we will subject those ideas to a searching analysis. Through a close examination of, for example, Japanese literary texts; image-based works such as manga, anime, film, and painting; Japanese material culture; and primary and scholarly materials by scholars of Japanese studies, this course will help students lay a foundation for scholarly work on Japan. Students will also gain indispensable research and writing skills as they develop their own projects. Students who successfully complete this seminar will receive credit for CORE 167C and satisfy the Communities & Identities core requirement.

Scott Mehl's published research articles and translations focus on the connections between Japanese literature and other literary traditions. His teaching areas include Japanese literature and Japanese popular culture (such as manga and anime).

HIST 265, War and Violence in East Asia
Explores the place of war and violence in East Asian societies from 1200 to 1700. Among the many topics examined are samurai, ninja, martial arts, Ghenghis Khan, and piracy. First, students look at the internal organization of armies, their place in domestic politics and society, and their role in foreign relations. Second, they examine the impact of war on religion, economics, politics, and the arts. Third, because of its importance, violence was tightly linked to religion, literature, and popular theater. Finally, students consider the various ways that these traditions attempted to prevent, control, and manipulate violence through examining political philosophy, law codes, and social mores. (AS)

JAPN 121, Elementary Japanese I
Introduces the four basic skills of speaking, listening comprehension, reading, and writing. Emphasis is on thorough mastery of the basic structures of Japanese through intensive aural-oral practice and extensive use of audiovisual materials. The two kana syllabaries and about 100 Kanji (characters) are introduced toward the goals of developing reading skills and reinforcing grammar and vocabulary acquisition.

JAPN 201, Intermediate Japanese I
The first semester of intermediate-level study of Japanese, this course completes the presentation of basic structures of the language. There is continued emphasis on oral communication, with practice in reading simple texts and acquisition of an additional 500 Chinese characters by the end of the term.

RELG 281, Experiencing Hinduism
As one of the world's most ancient, complex, and fascinating religious traditions, the study of Hinduism provides an ideal arena for examining central questions in the study of religion. Through close readings of primary texts in translation, this course focuses on the history of Hindu traditions from their origins to the development of devotional movements in medieval and early modern India. Following a chronological order, these texts include the hymns of the ancient Vedas, the investigations into salvific reality in the Upanishads, the religious epics, devotional poems in praise of gods, religious philosophy (Yoga and Advaita Vedanta), and classical mythology. While exploring the variety of forms Hinduism has taken, the class engages broader questions in the study of religions such as the construction of religious authority, the definition of the good life, conceptions of the soul, differences between elite and non-elite styles of religiosity, and the significance of gender in conceptualizations of the divine.