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Interesting Lectures and Seminars

A Course to Reconsider Chinese Characters - The Culture of China (Chinese Characters and Power) -

Mr. Kazuhisa Tachibana (3rd Year Student at the School of Education)
Ms. Mami Hashimoto (4th Year Student at the School of Education)

Professor Seiya Uchiyama of the Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences (left). Mr. Kazuhisa Tachibana and Ms. Mami Hashimoto are on the right in front of the teacher's podium.

Chinese characters. Just like we take for granted the presence of air, there are undoubtedly few people who have given serious consideration to these extremely familiar characters. The goal of this course is to deepen understanding towards these kinds of characters.

Now, why is does the course have the subtitle "Chinese Characters and Power"? The reason is made clear in the initial stage of the course. In China, a structure had been established in which individuals who are adept in Chinese characters become policymakers. This structure had existed from long ago until recent times. In other words, Chinese characters were not very familiar to the common people of China during the long period from B.C. until just 100 years ago. Other unexpected facts regarding Chinese characters are introduced by using visual materials or PowerPoint mixed with explanation from the instructor. One such surprising fact is that ancient character dictionaries(*) in China did not consolidate the composition, reading, and meaning of characters in the same way as modern dictionaries. Instead, the ancient character dictionaries listed each item independently. Another unexpected fact is that the Chinese art of calligraphy and the Japanese art of calligraphy use different methods for evaluating written characters. In addition to these kinds of unexpected facts, discussion is also given to subjects such as the relationship between Chinese characters and imperial examinations, as well as differences in the way Chinese characters are treated in Asian culture in recent years. The material of the course is highly specialized.

A feature of this course is that the classes are made from the student's questions. Every class, participants write down things which they didn't understand from that day's class and other questions that they have. These questions are then submitted to the professor. A few of the questions are selected for discussion at the beginning of the next class, with an explanation given by the instructor. The time used to discuss student's questions composes a great deal of the bulk of the class. Usually, the questions are answered in around 30 minutes, although in some cases 1 hour or more may be spent. I believe that a course featuring this kind of exchange with students is unusual among general liberal arts courses.

As a resulting of taking this course, I have deeply felt the importance of questioning everything that I encounter. I want to continue this kind of questioning in the future.

*Character Dictionary: A book that arranges Chinese in a fixed order, explaining elements such as the reading, meaning and usage.

(Offered by WASEDA WEEKLY)