15-page essay on Chinese history: What are some good topics?

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15-page essay on Chinese history: What are some good topics?

Unread postby Tonto_Simfish » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:34 am

So here's the prompt for the essay:

Research Paper
The purpose of the Research Paper assignment is to allow students the opportunity to produce a solid piece of historical research within the field of Chinese history.
Topic: The topic of the paper is open to any aspect of Chinese history prior to 1276. A list of potential paper topics will be provided during the second week of the course, but each student is encouraged to search the course materials for a specific topic that interests them. Papers are much easier to write and research when you are interested in the topic.
Sources: As in all history papers, primary sources are the strongest foundations for historical arguments. Students should try their best to base their conclusions on primary source materials whenever possible. The Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture is a valuable source of primary documents and can easily provide strong evidence for a research paper. Students are encouraged to meet with the instructor during office hours if they are having difficulty locating primary source materials.
First Draft: The first draft of the research paper is due in class on February 10th 2011. The First Draft should include a significant portion of the total research for the assignment. It should include a clear thesis statement, a number of strong examples based in historical texts, and a nearly complete list of sources to be used. The purpose of the First Draft is to receive feedback on writing style, organization of evidence, and overall presentation. It is not merely an outline or summary of the impending Final Draft. While the First Draft is not expected to be a polished piece of work, it should stand as a major step toward the completion of the Final Draft.
Final Draft: The Final Draft is due in class on March 1st 2011. The Final Draft should be 10-15 pages (double-spaced) in addition to a title page displaying the title of the paper as well as the student’s name.


So... Of course, my initial thought is to write an essay on the Three Kingdoms! Of course, I have to make an hypothesis about something that's actually concrete. The easiest hypotheses to make are those that concern a general trend that may be prevalent throughout Chinese history (a trend that one can have "reasonable doubt" of). What makes this harder, is that I have to cite primary source material (when I don't know Chinese), although the professor said that predominantly citing material from one to two primary sources should be good enough (on top of numerous secondary sources), so SGZ+ZZTJ would be sufficient in themselves (even though ZZTJ technically isn't a primary source). So, what are some interesting *concrete* hypotheses that you could make on a historical paper on the Three Kingdoms? I'll definitely be re-reading my Rafe de Crespigny "Generals of the South". And, of course, one hypothesis could be to disagree with Rafe on one of his points. :p

I'd also appreciate themes on more general Chinese history (up to 1276), as I'm quite familiar with some of the other periods (most notably, the war-filled ones).
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Re: 15-page essay on Chinese history: What are some good topics?

Unread postby Tonto_Simfish » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:55 am

gahh edit limits.

Okay I now read it as a "research paper". So it doesn't have to be an essay, but rather, just an in-depth exposition of something. But research papers certainly still demand strong thesis statements that must be corroborated throughout.

Of course, a thesis must be historically interesting. There are many theses that have arguments but that wouldn't work for senior-level college papers. For example, you could have a thesis along the lines of this: "numerous Chinese emperors became decadent once they seized absolute power and had no incentive to improve their rule for their subjects". But this thesis isn't particularly historically interesting (even if it could be psychologically interesting). Furthermore, it's very vague and most importantly, is not especially convincing unless you ran an analysis of each and every emperor, which is nigh-impossible since there is very little information on many emperors. You could probably get away with it on a 10th grade history paper, of course.

And, of course, the idiosyncrasies of a particular individual often isn't particularly interesting. You could make an argument about how Sun Jian might have defected from Yuan Shu if he had lived (which is a "what-if" situation, which is not particualrly historically relevant either). But how historically interesting is that? It certainly doesn't sound like academic history, although the argument could be made in the body of a text such as "Generals of the South".

And then there are historical "cliches". You could argue that the Yellow Turbans were not necessarily extinguished with the victorious campaign of Huangfu Song, since the campaign did not alleviate the concerns of the masses, who would find other ways to express discontent. But of course, this is just a "cliche" in terms of a broader historical theme - namely - that history books often overemphasize labels at the expense of continuity. For example, you see the collapse of great civilizations or great kingdoms, but really, there are many cases in which such "collapses" had little impact on the lives of most people. This thesis isn't especially concrete, although there might be specific examples where it could possibly be made concrete.

There are some other theses that are hard to support. For example, maybe you might want to make a thesis about the effects that come from dividing China up into separate kingdoms. Well, how do we quantify those effects? Maybe those effects are nigh-impossible to really find in the early period (if you want to argue that some cause=>effect relationship applies to all historical periods in China, it would be hard since you would have to argue that it applies to all periods, including the periods where you have next-to-no-information about), but easier to find with more reliable data-collection in later periods.

==

Of course, the SGZ came before the development of modern history, and so it was not written with historians in mind. It is more focused on the idiosyncrasies of individuals than the cause-and-effect and significance of major historical events.

==

So let's see here. We could write an argument about how, say, the decline of the Wu Kingdom was caused more by demographics/economics than by military campaigns. That's an argument.

We are talking about a research paper here, though, so maybe it's possible that it's sufficient enough to describe how some aspect of China might have changed over time? Or simply to write about some particular topic in the Three Kingdoms era? (for example, maybe about how new noble families are more likely to emerge in periods of chaos [although "more likely" is hard to quantify when it's impossible to gather all possible data points]). But you could still make an argument about it. History research probably isn't as rigorous as economics research and it isn't necessarily a bad thing.
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Re: 15-page essay on Chinese history: What are some good topics?

Unread postby Sun Fin » Wed Jan 05, 2011 3:00 pm

Could you do something looking at the nobility in comparison to natural talent. For example Liu Bei, Sun Jian/Ce and Cao Cao hardly came from the upper layer of society.
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Re: 15-page essay on Chinese history: What are some good topics?

Unread postby agga » Wed Jan 05, 2011 4:20 pm

what about writing about the Yellow Turbans, as the first (of many) Chinese millenarian movement? WWD and i had a conversation about that a while back, it could be interesting (and i'd like to know what you'd learned)..
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Re: 15-page essay on Chinese history: What are some good topics?

Unread postby Tonto_Simfish » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:17 am

Good point about nobility and natural talent. Hm, that would be hard to formulate into a thesis though? The main question is - who formed the nobility in the Later Han? The Yuans did, for sure (and they were obviously the incompetent ones). Crespigny's "Generals of the South" highlights some examples of southern nobility, but the southern nobility were highly able at what they did (Lu Xun was a member of that for example). What were other examples of nobility? The Yangs? (they were competent too)

Here was a post I just made in another thread:

Edited: Hm, now I'm thinking about writing an essay about Cao Cao and how the popular perception is "wrong" instead. It sounds very cliche - that's for sure. Everyone already knows that the popular perception is "wrong". But it does make for a more compelling thesis, and I really want to use the material from Rafe's latest book. Or maybe a thesis about the interaction between the gentry class and officials in the Three Kingdoms? Was there some discontinuity in treatment of the gentry from the Later Han to the Three Kingdoms? Here's where I could cite Rafe's "Generals of the South", the latest Qiao Zhou book, and others.

==

Anyways though, I'm gravitating towards some analysis of the gentry once again. But I'm not sure where to go from here? The rough draft is due in two days so I'd appreciate suggestions soon. Did Cao Cao win any support from the gentry, for example? His base of support came from his intensely extended family (he basically gets two families for free - the Cao and Xiahou ones). And then from people who were originally in the service of other warlords but who left for him. An analysis of the gentry would require an analysis of the interactions between the gentry and the Later Han Dynasty as well. Also, it would have to include the fact that the interests of the gentry were not monolitically aligned - after all - the riches/power of one family often come at the expense of the riches/power of the other family. And you could consider the entire Liu clan to be an example of the gentry too.

==

Ah, the Yellow Turbans looks interesting too. It could make for an interesting thesis. At this point, I don't know what thesis I could use for that or what historical books I could cite. I'm gravitating towards the gentry now though.
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Re: 15-page essay on Chinese history: What are some good topics?

Unread postby Sun Fin » Tue Feb 08, 2011 1:13 pm

Tonto_Simfish wrote:Good point about nobility and natural talent. Hm, that would be hard to formulate into a thesis though? The main question is - who formed the nobility in the Later Han? The Yuans did, for sure (and they were obviously the incompetent ones). Crespigny's "Generals of the South" highlights some examples of southern nobility, but the southern nobility were highly able at what they did (Lu Xun was a member of that for example). What were other examples of nobility? The Yangs? (they were competent too)


Well the Sima clan certainly got the gentry on board if they weren't gentry themselves, which would be interesting Cao Shuang vs Sima Yi but looking at their respective power bases?

The most obvious nobility is of course the Liu clan... Liu Biao, Liu Yan etc.
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