POL 334 Contemporary Asia

Course Description

This course is designed to provide students with the opportunity to gain an understanding of the modern political history of Asia. The course will focus on the societies of China, Japan, India, and South Korea. Topics that will be covered include the effects of traditional cultures on modern politics, democracy and authoritarianism, economic change, and international relations in the region.

Reading assignments in this course have included books such as:

  • Ian Buruma, Inventing Japan, 1853-1964.
  • Alexis Dudden, Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States.
  • Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India.
  • Rana Mitter, A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World.

Students also explore topics in MIT’s Visualizing Cultures database by:

  • Analyzing images.
  • Critiquing the analyses of other students.
  • Leading the class through an activity on one of the database topics, like Selling Shiseido.
  • Testing themselves on their knowledge about the topics that other students have presented.

Partial Syllabus

In Spite of the Gods, introduction.

Reading response:

  • Does India have a unique philosophical and moral importance to the future of the world? Why? If so, what is that importance and who in India is associated with it?

Special topic: John Thompson’s China

In Spite of the Gods, Ch. 1; Jim Yardley, “In Indian Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope,” The New York Times; and “Speedy Trains Transform China,” The New York Times.

Reading response:

  • Does China or India have a better strategy for economic growth (choose only one)? Why?

Special topic: Throwing Off Asia

In Spite of the Gods, Ch. 2.

Reading response:

  • What would make local leaders like Arun Gawli more effective members of the Indian government? Why? Define what you mean by “effective.”