ASIA 151: Literature and Society in Southeast Asia
In this course, we learn about people in the eleven nations of Southeast Asia through their creative writings. We read Asian writers’ English-language (or translated) historical novels, short stories, and memoirs along with a few ethnographic background texts. We pursue an intimate understanding of the experiences and cultural values of the region’s diverse peoples.
Southeast Asia includes Muslim majority nations such as Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia; Theravada Buddhist majority nations such as Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia; Christian majority nations such as the Philippines and East Timor; and Confucian-influenced nations as diverse as Singapore and Vietnam. Areas of Southeast Asia experienced colonial rule by Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, England, and the United States. Some endured a 1940s Japanese occupation and terrible violence during the Cold War period. The voices of writers from these nations present alternate perspectives on modern world history, as well as descriptions of human lives born from very different cultural experiences and ethnic relations.
The fiction and autobiographical writings we analyze were created beginning in the twentieth century. We explore both the modern circumstances of their production, and their longer historical background framed by precolonial kingdoms steeped in hierarchical court traditions as well as tropical village environments, folk arts, and ritual. Contextual readings and visual presentations on Southeast Asian societies supplement extraordinary fiction and autobiographies that illustrate how Southeast Asians have responded to colonial rule, global economic pressures, civil war, family relations, gender inequities, and desires for social equality and justice. Our readings, discussions, and visual presentations provide students with the background to formulate their own writings about these masterful texts by renowned Southeast Asian authors, including Pramoedya Ananta Toer. LA, BN.