Tasting Vinegar: Introductions to Asian Philosophy and Literary Style

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SWBAT analyze particular points of view reflected in world literature from outside the U.S. by participating in class discussion of Chinese philosophy and literary style.

Big Idea

Today we will start reading To Live, a modern Chinese novel. Before we begin looking specifically at the text, we will spend time looking at the vast and diverse thinking and style of Chinese literary history.


10 minutes

We will start class with ten minutes of reading time. I will read with my students during this time. 

Asian Literature Overview

20 minutes

For the next few weeks, we will be studying the conflicts and struggles of the post-colonial world. My history partner will be leading the students through the study of the Middle East and India while I will lead them through the study of China. Once we've done an overview of these three regions, students will choose a country/region from Africa to do research and teach to their classmates.

To say that I can successfully teach Chinese history, culture and literature in three weeks is ridiculous, but it is my goal to give them an overview of key issues this country faced in the 20th century, specifically during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Most of this will be achieved through our reading of the modern Chinese novel To Live by Yu Hua, but I will try to build in mini-lessons and activities around key concepts that will hopefully help students have a better sense of what has shaped China into the culture we might interact with today (RL.9-10.6). 

To begin, I will do a brief whole class discussion (SL.9-10.1) about basic characteristics of Chinese literature and the three big philosophical influences of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, which will all show up in the novel. 

I will introduce our discussion by sharing how important it is to take our Western glasses off when reading Eastern literature. I will talk about the fact that this culture has a different set of archetypes and a different style of story-telling. I will use slides as I talk, but will only have students write down things from slides four and five and then general summary notes about the three Chinese philosophies. 

Before we talk about Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, I will show them the famous Chinese painting of the Vinegar_Tasters (explanation here). I will ask students to think about how each man's philosophy might shape his actions and reactions to the world around him. I will tell them that they will have to think about this when they meet the main character of our novel, Fugui. 

Whole Class Introduction to To Live

20 minutes

After we've talked through our introductory slides/topics, I will spend time reading with the students. My goal is to get through the first ten or so pages, which will establish our narrator and introduce the framed narrative style of the novel, which is the most complicated part of the book, as the students often forget that the narrator is listening to the main character throughout the novel (RL.9-10.3).

The first eight pages are italicized to represent our first narrator, who is listening to the story of the novel along with the reader. On page eight, Fugui, the main character takes over and begins telling his story, which will be the bulk of the story in the book. I will talk to them about how this narrative structure represents the Chinese literary style as well as helps us as readers to feel like we are listening to an old man's life story, allowing for surprise when events don't happen as we expect them to (RL.9-10.5). 

Students will be reading the first 40 pages very independently, so I am going to take this time to get them started with the novel. This is the easiest novel that we read in 10th grade as it has a very linear plot and simple vocabulary and style, so I have full confidence that students will be able to pick up from page eight and read independently. I am also hopeful that they will enjoy this book as this is the novel my students enjoyed most last year. 

Wrap Up and Next Steps

5 minutes

For the last few minutes of class, I will hand out the bookmark/reading schedule for the novel and point out to students that we are going to be reading fast, partly because the book is easy enough to read quickly, partly because we have very little time left in the school year. I will encourage them to read ahead and invite them to email me with questions if they have them over the weekend.