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Reading: Teaching Material Culture and Chinese Gardens at American Colleges


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Teaching Material Culture and Chinese Gardens at American Colleges


Li Han

Rhodes College, US
About Li
Han Li is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Rhodes College. Her research interests include seventeenth century Chinese vernacular novels, narrative theory, and material culture in late imperial China.
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The paper reflects on the experience of designing and teaching a course on material culture and Chinese gardens. Involving traditional philosophy, ethics, religion, painting, calligraphy, craft, literature, architecture and horticulture, a classical Chinese garden can be considered a microcosm of Chinese culture. This essay discusses the textbooks and general organization of the course, particularly focusing on how students study the key elements (rocks, water, plants and architecture) in building a Chinese garden. Some Chinese literature with representations of gardens that can be used for this class is also introduced. In addition, this essay uses two classical Chinese gardens built in the United States (the Astor Court and the Garden of Flowing Fragrance) to discuss the appropriation of “Chinese-ness” in different geographical, physical and cultural environments. Finally, some available online resources and technologies that have enhanced student understanding of the subject matter are introduced.
How to Cite: Han, L., 2012. Teaching Material Culture and Chinese Gardens at American Colleges. ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts, 20(1), pp.36–46. DOI:
Published on 12 Nov 2012.
Peer Reviewed


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