Cold War Aesthetics in East Asia

This course is concerned with literature, music, film, and the Cold War in East Asia—the “partitioning” of China, Japan, and Korea into mutually hostile and temporally de-synchronized “zones” in the post-WWII era. How do aesthetic works explore this historical trauma and ideological rift? Beginning with the major historical and social scientific writings on the formation of “East Asia” as a region, we will study shifting cultural discourses in postwar East Asia through a comparison of two case studies in relation to Japan: the creation of North Korea/South Korea, and the division/unification of Taiwan/China. We will compare Korean and Chinese responses to the legacy of Japanese colonialism, industries of popular culture, and memories of anticommunism. The study of Chinese/Korean/Taiwanese literature is complemented by an exploration of contemporary Japanese fiction and social thought on “Asia as method.” In our study of Cold War divisions, we will also explore the possibilities of inter-cultural dialogues (such as Takeuchi Yoshimi’s reading of Lu Xun) and regional reintegration. Course materials include social scientific writings, cultural criticism, literature, and film.


Reading list:

Hwang, Sok-yong. The Guest

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore

Cumings, Bruce. Parallax Visions

Chang, Eileen. Love in a Fallen City

Chen, Kuan-hsing. Asia as Method

Takeuchi Yoshimi, What Is Modernity

Critical essays

Films (Lust CautionJoint Security Area, and Welcome to Dongmakgol)



Course schedule: (class meets four times a week)


Week 1: The World the Cold War Created

1. Introduction: Course goals and responsibilities

2. Carl Pletsch, “The Three Worlds, or the Division of Social Scientific Labor”

3. Bruce Cumings, Parallax Visions, Introduction and Chapter 1, “American Mythology and East Asian Reality”

4. William Pietz, “The Postcolonialism of Cold War Discourse”; Rey Chow, “Where Have All the Natives Gone?”


Week 2: Asia as Method

1. Lu Xun, “The True Story of Ah Q,” “Diary of a Madman,” “New Year’s Sacrifice”

2. Takeuchi Yoshimi, “Ways of Introducing Culture”; “The Question of Politics and Literature”

3. Takeuchi Yoshimi, “What Is Modernity,” “Asia as Method”

4. Chen Kuanhsing, “Asia as Method: Overcoming the Present Conditions of Knowledge Production”; “De-colonization,” “De-Cold War”


Week 4: The (Dis)location of Asia

1. Naoki Sakai, “You Asians”

2. Naoki Sakai, “The Dislocation of Asia”

3. Cumings, “Boundary Displacement: Area Studies during and after the Cold War”

4. Chen, “De-imperiailzation”



Week 5: A Tale of Two Chinas

1. Cumings, “Colonial Formations and Deformations: Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam”;

2. Perry Anderson, “Stand-off in Taiwan”; Hou Hsiao-Hsien et al, “Tensions in Taiwan”

3. Eileen Chang, “Love in a Fallen City,” “Golden Cangue”

4. Film screening and discussion of Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 2007)


Week 6: A Tale of Two Koreas

1. Hwang Sok-yong, The Guest, pp. 1-133 (through Ch. 5, “A Pure Spirit”)

2. Film screening and discussion of Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook, 2000)

3. Hwang Sok-yong, The Guest, pp. 135-end

4. Film screening and discussion of Welcome to Dongmakgol (Park Hwang-hyun, 2005)


Week 7: The East Asian Economic Miracle

1-3 Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 1-149

4. Jini Kim Watson, from The New Asian City; Yoshimi Shunya, “America as Desire and Violence”


Week 8: Pax Americana vs. the Pacific Century

1-2 Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 150-end

3 Giovanni Arrighi, “The Rise of East Asia and the Withering Away of the Interstate System”

4. Cumings, “East Asia and the United States.”