Friday, April 25, 2008

Can we really learn on line well enough? Here is my test-run taking an online class with the University of Kansas on How to Teach East Asia to youth?

This is an article that sets out to demonstrate how far on-line learning has come in terms of teaching an instructor half-way around the planet what the important points of East Asian education and learning should be in creating curricula in the 21st Century.

[1] What challenges and advantages does the geographical location of China offer its inhabitants in each of its nine regions? Consider topography, climate, vegetation and resources.

As far as the potential for international trade is concerned, China has the largest number of neighboring countries in the world. It borders (1) Afghanistan, (2) Bhutan , (3) Burma, (4) India, (5) Kazakhstan, (6) North Korea, (7) Kyrgyzstan, (8) Laos, (9) Mongolia, (10) Nepal, (11) Pakistan, (12) Russia, (13) Tajikistan, and (14) Vietnam. It also has regional borders with its own Hong Kong and Macau. Finally, it is only stones throw from three other states of economical power: South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

By comparison, Kuwait has only two bordering states—as does the United States, my homeland.

Potentially, despite its huge internal market of over 1.2 billion people, China’s many borders provide it with an even larger external market in Asia (alone). Meanwhile, as China is located just across the Pacific Ocean from the United States, its currently greatest trading partnerships are with North American lands.
Another set of ways to look at China geographically, though, is provided in Nancy Hope’s lecture. She looks first at the three major waterways of China and how they have defined China’s history and development. These rivers are: in the north , the Yellow River (Huang He in Chinese), in the central part of China, the Long River (called the Yanzi River in English or Chang Jiang in Chinese), and in the south, the West River (Xi Jiang in Chinese).

Living and teaching in Kuwait, i.e. where there are no rivers nor major productive areas of vegetation, it is important to stress that the heart of great civilizations began at rivers—whether we are talking about the Nile, the Thames, or the great rivers of Asia.

One can look at the three largest rivers in China historically, i.e. as this part of Asia’s fertile crescent.

Or, one can view them by focusing on their characteristics or differences. For example, the Yellow River carries extremely high levels of sediment which enables it to become extended further and further out to sea with each passing generation. The body of water is named “yellow” because of the color of the sediment it brings—making for fertile crops but also for a lot of surprising floods, waters, and changes in river pathways.

Another major water pathway is the man-made Grand Canal which connects the Huang He and Yanzi Rivers. Along with the Grand Canal’s 1000-miles of waterway are the amazing man- made terraces, which enable rice production from south to north. (A further--non-water way-- marvel is naturally the Great Wall of China.)

Karen Hope notes that another way to study geography is by viewing the types of crops grown—from the potatoes and wheat in the north to the rice in the south (which can be planted at least twice a year). Meanwhile, in the Northeast by Korea soybeans and corn are grown as well. In contrast, in the great Northwest, there is mostly only pasture land.

China is slightly larger than the United States, but it has 17 minority populations (with their own languages). Each of these is of 1.2 million (or more) in population, so China is not as homogeneous in many regions as its fame implies.

There are, for example, over 5 million Tibetan speakers in the Southwest near India—while on the Mongolian border in the north, there are nearly that same number of Mongolian speakers in China. Likewise in the south, there are many Chinese who were expelled from Vietnam in the last quarter of a century. There are also nearly 9 million Hui and Manchu in China—along with nearly 16 million Zhuang.

Karen Hope notes that both housing and topography are also important ways to view China. Personally, I was particularly fascinated by the number of cave dwellers and underground houses in the Loesse Plateau region.

Meanwhile, there are small redbrick houses on the great North China plains. There are also mammoth megalopolises of people across the border from Hong Kong and Macau. There mammoth skyscrapers in Shanghai and other fast modernizing locatins in China.

Other regions of special note include the productive and fruitful Szechwan Basin. In addition, there are the boat peoples of the Yanzi river and the thatched housing of the Uplands in the south. Tibet, in the midst of Himalayan mountains, has the higher plateaus, yak, and a special brand of Buddhism. There is also the Manchuria region, with its great forests, which Hope describes as very Russian-like.

China has a lot of natural resources but is not very plentiful in oil. Moreover, it is already currently important a great percentage of world’s resources, e.g. steel, gas, and copper, to propel its booming economic growth.

Many rivers are thus also polluted, and the fact that more and more coal fire plants and chemical factories are still being opened means that China’s great natural resources and beauty are under threat, especially in the East where the greatest amount of industrialization has taken place.

[2]Why should the study of China, Korea, and Japan include a discussion of rice?

First of all, at one level, the study of rice in a rice-growing region is as important for creating both socio-cultural and political-economic awareness about Asia as is educating our offspring about the

(1) importance of food to an entire economy,
(2) the importance of growing grains to stave off-famine worldwide
(See ),
(3) the importance of agriculture—especially wheat—to Kansas history.
Second, and more importantly, as Dr. Tsutsui emphasized, looking at the different political and social agricultural-related demands of a rice growing society as compared & contrasted to a European or North America society over the past 7-plus centuries, one cannot miss the important difference in requirements of:

(a) time (b) organization and (c) overall manpower needs, which have dominated food production in Asia until the last decade or so of the 20th Century.

For example, until recently, despite the population explosions of the 20th Century, much of Asia was able to employ almost all of its people in the agricultural sector—even when economic times were bad.

Until recent times, this enabled China and Japanese societies, to (i) weigh the benefits of manual versus machine labor in favor of manual labor well into the 20th Century.

In the West, this process of preferring efficiency over employment had certainly begun at the very latest in the late Middle with the dividing up (and selling off) of the commons in England. This, in turn, had led to Britain becoming industrialized earlier than other parts of the globe.

Meanwhile, as Dr. Tsutsui has pointed out, rice production has always required more hands than, for example, wheat production. This was true in ancient Egypt and is still true in modern Egypt. Rice cultivation from the outset has required flooding and draining of plots and terraces of land. The climate and monsoons in Asia has long made this grain or crop the staple of choice.

This preference for rice, in turn, reinforced political organization around autocracies, i.e. governments led by strong characters who oversaw the usage of land and redistribution of labor in times of harvest, planting, and drainage. This has led to a societal preference into the 21st Century for this sort of governance in Asia, i.e. a government that provided stability in lieu of simple direct democracy as the basic communal relationship.

China was one of the first societies to be based on the rice crop economy and is still a society organized in this way. That is, China is still affected by these traditional views on governance, societal organization, and individual rights today.

Dr. Tsuisui also mentioned the Luddite-like response to machines of all types in 20th Century China in one of his lectures. This indicates that many Chinese opposed the development of modern train transport, due to fears of job loss. That is, in the name of stability or a sense of stability, Chinese are willing to give up rights and self-government or autonomy.

[3]What are the significant accomplishments of the Shang dynasty; were any of them continued in later eras?

The Shang dynasty was once considered to be a mythical dynasty as no strong evidence of its actual existence was discovered until the 20th Century. It is now considered the first of the three Ancient Chinese Dynasties. The dynasty existed from the 18th Century B.C. to the 11th Century B.C.

Although there were some wealthy peoples and kings, the Shang Dynasty consisted mostly of subsistence society and subsistence activities. However, from the this first generation of China society onwards, China was an autocratic society—with the king also having a strong religious role to play as the peoples representative before the Gods.

Some recent discoveries in ancient artwork have shown that more than one regional center of power existed during the Shang Dynasty, including Dayangzhou and Sanxingdui, south of the Yangzi River in Jiangxi province. One website shares that “Dayangzhou produced a large burial chamber filled with hundreds of ceramics, bronzes (both weapons and vessels), and jades. Some of the bronzes could be related to types found at Erligang, but others, such as the meat-cooking vessels and bronze bells, were unique to Dayangzhou. Dayangzhou was also distinctive for its use of human heads, ram heads, deer, and especially tigers in design.”

Sinologists claim that the king must have been politically and economically quite powerful as well. For example, a bronze age was introduced early on in the history of China and a large number of laborers must have been needed for the diverse mining of ore activities. This bronze was used in ceremonial activities and the mining likely included a vast number of slaves or serfs.

In addition, besides animal sacrifices, it is felt also that human sacrifices likely took place in these early years of Ancient Chinese Civilization. So, like the emperor in the Incan or Aztec societies in the Americas, great fear and respect must have been found among both the friends and the enemies of the Chinese in the days of the Shang for the Chinese king.

Besides running mines and producing bronze goods, other pieces of developmental history evidencing that the autocrats in China had a great deal of authority over most inhabitants is in the area of textile production and rice production. As noted above, rice is the type of grain or main staple which requires great human coordination through (1) terrace building, (2) filling and emptying of water among the terraces, (1) the planting and replanting of seedlings, and (4) the harvesting of the crop.

Similarly, China was one of the first places in the world—circa 10,000 years ago—which had established silk production. This production of cloth requires great attention by many individuals in (1) maintaining good conditions for the silk worms in production and in (2) producing of large quantities of cloth from thread, i.e. by hand weaving.

Silk eventually spawned a pan-Eurasia trade route some centuries later, known as the Silk Route. Silk was produced into modern times. I, personally, still paint on silk produced in China.

In summary, both (1) rice growing and (2) silk production are still important in modern China today. Bronze artwork continued in China to be very important through the introduction of Buddhism, i.e. ceremonial bronze Buddhist statues and bronze bells would eventually be produced in practically every corner of the land during the ensuing millennia(, but bonze production is limited today in modern China.) In short, it is the many bronze vessels that allows us in modern times to appreciate the power of the Shang era autocrats. However, one doesn’t expect such large bronze items coming out of modern China from major Chinese artists in the 21st Century.

In the areas of religious practices in the Chinese Shang Dynasty, fortune telling was considered a key staple. It is through the discovery of the discarded scapula bones written on by high priests and leaders that we know a bit about what society in the Shang Dynasty was like. These scapula were written on by the priests as form of prayer to be brought before the gods for clarification.

This means that the writing system became interconnected with royalty and religion in China to a great degree. This means that during the Shang period and later dynasties in china, writing was for the privileged and the powerful. Writing remained in this social position for millennia.

This means that it is only in the last generations that millions (or billions) of Chinese can read and write in their own language.

One might, therefore, posit that the complexity of the current Chinese system of symbols in used in writing Chinese is a direct result of this millennial-long preference by the autocrats and leaders of China for secretiveness.

That is, this use of some 50,000 pictographs, which take on different meanings through radicalization and contexts, is part of the way the Chinese society’s leadership have engineered a sense of aura or mystery among its people (and among foreigners). Only the elite, who had time to study, could read, translate, and transcribe the data hidden to millions of other Chinese and foreign (or outsider) eyes.



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