This course is about understanding China as it is seen and as it happens – at street-level especially – and, using the tools of journalism to write about thic country where you are spending your spring semester. This course is in large part a practicum, in which students, through a mix of lectures, briefings and discussions, will delve into nature of observation and engagement with and in China, and write about what they see and what others say.
This course is intended to stimulate students to think about how one reports, writes, talks, and speaks about China, which means, fundamentally, how do we understand the China of today. Among other approaches, this means understanding what “observing” means in China; how journalists, writers and documentary film makers decide what to convey; how observers – Chinese and others based here – decide what to write about and how to write about it; and ultimately, how images of China are reflected in a body of reportage about China, its peoples, its culture, and its place locally and in the world at large.
There are a number of components in this course. For example, students are expected over the course of the semester to read every China story in the four major American newspapers: The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. We will examine how Western correspondents in China write about this country (and, importantly, how they write in general), interview several correspondents and engage in some reporting of our own.
We will also examine how Chinese journalists write about their own country, and discuss the differences between journalism in China and Western journalism, incorporating Chinese perspectives in an equal way.
Observation only means something in the telling, and for our purposes, in the writing. We will discuss at the outset the elements of good writing and the structures and contents of good journalism. And because this is an intensive writing course, students are expected to write a reported piece of journalism (800 – 1,000 words) weekly. We will read each other’s work and discuss it in class with the same verve we discuss the work of Western correspondents based here. While the emphasis will be on the print media, there will be guest lecturers who will discuss documentary film-making, television journalism, and other means of looking at and into China.
Students will also take on one major project for the final four weeks of the semester. It should be either a major piece of reporting or feature writing (all subject to discussion), or a research paper on ways of observing China. Other work products are open to discussion, but all of your work must be original (not done for another course).
Readings in this course will be extensive. Students should count on approximately two hundred pages or more of reading each week. The core adage of this course – “if you don’t read, you can’t write” – must be taken to heart.
This course will be conducted in a seminar format, which means we will take turns leading the discussions of the readings. All students will be expected to participate in our exchanges. By its nature this course has a limited enrollment; please apply to me for admission in advance. This course is intended to be challenging, immediate and fun. Come prepared to talk, to read, and to write.
It is our intent that students will leave this course with a deeper understanding of contemporary China, and of how journalists and documentarians, both Chinese and foreign, observe and write (or film) about China. Over the course of the semester students will, through their original journalism and essay writing, grapple with some of the issues that emerge in our readings. Students will also, most importantly, emerge both with an appreciation of good writing and better writers themselves.
Through our reading, discussions and interviewing conducted for our own writing, we should develop a tactile sense of China (through the lens of Beijing primarily, but also through the two required class field trips) in a vivid and immediate fashion quite distinct from academic inquiry. It is hoped that the students in this seminar will bring to it, in some measure, the perspectives of political science, history, anthropology, and will see how these disciplines, to some extent, color the way journalism frames issues and writes about them. Success will be reflected in their own writing.