History of Modern China from the Grassroots:
patterns of the past, revolution and reform from the village perspective
This course explores Chinese history from the grassroots perspective of Xiakou Village in western Sichuan Province. How do the villagers of Xiakou understand their history? What memories and meanings from the past still animate their place, and how are they remembered and explained? How does that local understanding of history reflect or differ from historical narratives based on the nation-state, China, as subject? More broadly, how do local “histories” challenge the master narrative of national “History”, and what methods can we use to encounter the historical experience of everyday people? The course centers on the digital monograph, Moral Landscape in a Sichuan Mountain Village, which presents twenty years of research on Xiakou by the instructor (a historian) and his co-author (an anthropologist). The course is multidisciplinary, using the interpretive lenses of history, anthropology, folklore, and cultural geography to approach the past in one place. Our goal is to understand Xiakou Village as an evolving moral landscape, defined as the interwoven field of physical environment, historical memory, and moral agency in which people interact with place. We look at the landscape of the village as at once a resource for economic production, a metaphor for social relations, and an inscription of historical memory. By intensively considering one place in the context of China as a whole, the course explores how contemporary issues of sustainability, development, and social justice are connected to local history at the grassroots level in the Chinese countryside. Students will collaborate through the monograph’s online database, creating multimedia essays and digital mapping based on their exploration of the data, and making database entries from their research projects.