Tang dynasty mural with women

HST124 Half the Sky: Women in Chinese History

Instructor: Dr. D’Haeseleer (E-mail me)

Course website: Webpage

Canvas website: Canvas homepage

Class meeting time:

Wed-Fri 11-12.15 (Ettinger 108)

Drop-in tutorial times

(Ettinger 300A) Note: hot tea available on request

  • Tue: 2-3
  • Wed: 1-2
  • Thu: 9-10
  • by appointment via e-mail (You can check my google calendar for general availability)
  • when my office door is open (for quick questions or to make an appointment for a longer consultation)
  • alterations to the regular scheduled hours will be announced on the course website and via Canvas.
  • What actually are “Drop-in tutorials”?

Table of Contents

(subject to change- in particular the course schedule)

About the course

Course content:

Where are the women in Chinese history? Men dominate the pages of most textbooks and surveys of Chinese history: emperors, generals and scholar-officials are the ones making history. Yet “Women hold up half the sky,” as Chairman Mao said, and there were female warriors, historians, poets, artists, rulers, and one even proclaimed herself “Emperor”. This course uncovers that hidden half of Chinese history. Using primary sources in translation, including many written by women, this course traces the story of women from the early traditional patriarchal society up to the twentieth century.

Course Goals:

My promise to you: at the end of this course

  • you will be familiar with the major events in the history of China, specifically in relation to the experience of women; and you will be able to identify the political, social and cultural practices which influenced that experience.
  • you will have a good understanding of the main ideas, theories and concepts developed and used by modern historians to study gender in Chinese society.
  • you will have basic experience in using primary source materials, such as documents in translation, paintings, archaeological objects: how to interpret them, which questions to ask and where to find answers, and how to place them in the historical context.
  • you will have developed basic analytical skills as a historian and will be able to engage in informed and critical discussions about gender issues in the context of traditional and modern Chinese society; about the dynamics of creating and maintaining power in traditional Chinese society as it relates to gender; and about the many ways in which women identified with or resisted against the restrictions society imposed on them.
  • you will have developed your own portfolio to showcase your educational achievements, and have a clear insight in how your learning has evolved this semester.

Course unit instruction:

This class is schedule to meet for 3 hours per week. Additional instructional activities for the course include attendance at specified College lectures and events, film screenings, and required conferences with the instructor distributed across the semester. These activities will add an additional 14 hours of instruction.

bamboos after Guan Daosheng

All about grades

This course may be quite different from other courses you take at Muhlenberg. Please read about my thoughts on grading and the learning-teaching experience here.

Course requirements:

  • 30% “Class commons”
  • 70%: self-designed portfolio with multiple components and self-paced due dates, spaced throughout the semester.

Late work:

Deadlines are important for you, and for me: even with a self-designed portfolio, we will work together to space deadlines so that you have enough time to complete the assignments and work with the feedback on earlier assignments. Deadlines also help me to stay on top of the grading throughout the semester, so my feedback can be prompt.

Missing deadlines means you are crowding your submissions closer together, and I may not be able to turn around work as soon as you would like, or in a timely manner for you to apply to the next assignment.

Therefore, I require you to choose and stick to the deadlines. The class as a whole will negotiate a policy for dealing with late work and/or penalties that can be imposed.


If you notice that you will be unable to finish a particular assignment by your deadline, you can request an extension up to 24 hours in advance of the deadline. See me in class, drop by at my office, or e-mail, and give me a new deadline which fits your schedule better. I will confirm this new deadline in writing.

You cannot request a second extension for the same grade component. If you have trouble meeting the new deadline, too, you will need to talk with me, so we can address what the underlying problem is and how I/the College can help you. This does not mean you fail. It only means that I really care about your performance as a student and your wellbeing as a human. To help you find the right balance, we need to communicate.

If you fall ill suddenly, or are otherwise unable to submit your work by the deadline due to circumstances beyond your control you may not be able to ask for an extension in advance. In that case, let me know as soon as reasonable, and obtain documentation, for instance a note from the Dean of Academic Affairs, or the Health Center, to support your case, and we can talk about a new deadline or wave potential penalties.

Incomplete Grade:

Incomplete grades: Please check the College policy. Note that YOU must request an incomplete grade for the course, I cannot initiate this process.

Grading guidelines:

  • A= strong
  • B= satisfactory
  • C= weak
  • D= very weak
  • F= unsatisfactory

Useful information

Required texts:

You do not need to buy any books. All materials will be provided through course website, via Canvas and via Trexler Library course reserves.

Language of instruction:

The entire course is conducted in English, all materials are provided in English and all work will be submitted in English. You may use materials in other languages, for instance translations or originals in your native language, but you have to make sure you can find the corresponding passages and terminology easily in the English text, because we will use that as our common reference point.

Attendance and participation:

The success of this course depends on your active presence and participation in this “learning community”. You cannot participate if you are not present, therefore being present and participating is mandatory. Being absent excessively or habitually not being prepared for class will result in a failing grade for the “Class Commons” component of your grade.

See also Class Commons

Electronic devices policy:

  • Electronic devices such as laptops and tablets may be used in class, for instance to consult materials related to class contents, or to take notes. As a responsible member of the class community you should be respectful of your fellow students, and not distract them by surfing to off-topic sites.
  • Cell phones, while useful, should be used with discretion. Switch to “do not disturb” to avoid distractions from incoming messages and calls during class time, if you choose to use your cell phone to consult online materials.
    • If you expect an important call, for instance due to a family emergency, please let me know at the start of class that you need to have your phone ready for incoming calls.
  • Each student has the authority to request that a fellow student moderates their use of the electronic device if it impedes the learning of other students. If you feel uncomfortable doing so yourself, I’m happy to do it on your behalf (without disclosing the identity of the complainant).
  • Occasionally, I may ask you to put away all devices so we can focus on a particular issue without any distractions.
  • This policy is open for further debate. Changes will be made after a class discussion and with unanimous consent from all students.

What if class is cancelled?

In the event I cannot make it to class, due to illness or other circumstances beyond my control, class will be cancelled, and may be rescheduled at a mutually convenient date and time. I will send a message via Canvas, e-mail and post an announcement on the course website. If you commute to campus, please check your e-mail before setting off on a long journey that may be wasted, or set up an alert system with your classmates to pass the message via your preferred medium (text, WhatsApp, Facebook,…).

Accommodations for disabilities and special needs:

To ensure that you get the most out of this course, I welcome accommodations if you have a disability or special needs. Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services. I look forward to learning how I can best meet your educational needs.

Academic Integrity Code (AIC) and academic (dis)honesty:

Please read in detail and with great attention through the College’s policy. In case of suspected dishonesty, I will follow the College’s policy, and report the offense. The penalty varies on the seriousness of the offence, but you will at least receive a 0 for that particular assignment. May I in particular draw your attention to this sentence: “The College puts the burden of responsibility on students for knowing what plagiarism is, and then making the effort necessary to avoid it.”1

Weekly Schedule

The weekly schedule can be found on the course website under the tab Class schedule(under construction)

“Love study!”

Detailed information about the assignments and grade components

Class commons:

The class commons is wider than the classroom and the time we share, it also means the virtual space and time we spend being engaged with course materials and with each others’ work.

1. “Traditional” active participation:

Active participation requires more than just being in the room.

Before class:

  • Prepare for class by doing the assigned readings and taking notes.
  • Make a summary or list of what you think are the most important points of the chapter(s) or text(s) for that day.
  • Mark passages that you don’t (quite) understand, and be ready to explain precisely what the question is. Likely you are not alone!

In class

  • Take part in the discussions!
  • See also the document This course is hard for tips that apply to most courses.
  • When I ask you, “what did you think about the reading?” this is not a question you can simply answer by “I like it” or “I did not like it”. If you have read the materials, you will be able to say something meaningful about the text, about how you see it fit in with the other materials. At the very least, your reading notes will give you a couple of ideas: what is interesting? What is revealing? What is strange?
  • Given that this is a seminar course, you will need to verbally participate in every class discussion. Having two (or more) points prepared in advance, based on the readings, will make it very easy to lead or enter into the discussion.
  • You should make an active contribution AT LEAST once per two sessions. I will provide opportunities to shift discussion into new topics, when you can jump in with for instance “This is something completely different, but I noticed x”.
  • If several weeks into the semester, a critical number of students are not actively participating, I reserve the right to assign mandatory, formal presentations.
  • “Filling airtime” with contributions that wander aimlessly off-topic does not count toward active participation. You may of course draw on your personal perspective and experiences, but it needs to remain connected to the topic of that session.
  • Group work and small non-graded tasks/assignments count towards participation.

2. Other ways of actively contributing to the “class commons”

  •  Sharing materials with me, to share with the class: e.g. link to a news report on a recent archaeological discovery, a great video you found that helps you to understand the course material better, a useful website or podcast. E-mail me with a brief comment on why you think that materials is interesting for our course and/or how we can discuss this in class

3. Professionalism

Professionalism includes among other things arriving in timely fashion for class, being prepared for class, and having your materials with you, doing micro-assignments which do not carry a specific grade (e.g. a closing exercise, peer reviews). It also includes helping to create an environment conducive to learning, and a respectful atmosphere in class, for instance not being disruptive to the group by starting a picnic on your desk or getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of a fellow student’s presentation (medical emergencies excepted). I expect you to respond promptly (=within 24hrs, Mon-Fr.) to e-mails or other messages, and keep me and if necessary your classmates up to date if you encounter problems in keeping up with your obligations for the course. We often can solve issues easily, if you communicate in a timely fashion.

Skills trained: analytical reading, collaboration, oral and written communication, time management, teamwork


In the first few weeks of the semester you will design your own portfolio of work. This will be a unique mix of assignments that helps you to demonstrate your learning in this course, and as a result each portfolio will be highly individual. Your fellow students will provide feedback to tweak your ideas so we can all agree that the workload you propose is reasonable and on a par with that of your fellow students for a 100-level history course. At the end of the semester you will write a reflection on your portfolio project and how it helped you take agency of your own learning process. Throughout the course I will regularly check in with you to see if you are still on track, and how I can best support your learning.

You will also develop the criteria for what makes a portfolio component strong, satisfactory, weak or unsatisfactory. Your fellow students and I will provide feedback to help you develop these, and we will use these to assess the quality of your work.

You will receive feedback throughout the semester on your portfolio assignments, and how you can take it to the next level. Self-assessments will allow you to reflect on your learning progress, peer-evaluations will give you an indication of how your peers feel your work weighs up against the expectations of the class.

A good portfolio will make connections across the course material, draw in additional materials where appropriate, and in addition to covering multiple topics and time periods also contain at least one assignment that goes deeper into a particular question. Therefore I include a few requirements for your portfolio:

  • A component that demonstrates how you regularly engage with the course materials. (e.g. weekly/biweekly journals, or smaller essays spaced at regular intervals throughout the semester without further research, or more creatively a quick piece or art or a cartoon,…)
  • A component that brings different topics from across the semester into conversation with each other or engages a larger, overarching question (e.g. a larger essay, or a reflection which engages with a theme you have followed throughout the course or history, a timeline with extended commentary around a central theme,…)
  • The use of some independent research, by locating and using two sources we did not cover in class.

Examples of assignments included in portfolios last semester: timeline, podcasts, essays, weekly or bi-weekly responses as blog posts, annotated bibliographies, anatomy of a research paper, designing and teaching an entire class session as a TA, etc. I encourage you to be very creative, and to use a medium that increases your readership from one (the professor) to many (your classmates, the wider Muhlenberg community, the world-wide web,…). You can play to your strengths, or use this as an opportunity to develop new skills or strengthen known weaknesses. Trexler Library provides this handy list of “Alternatives to the research paper“.

Skills trained: analytical reading and writing, designing a research project, planning and time management for larger projects, … (other skills depend on your particular mix of assignments in your portfolio)

  1. Emphasis in original. (last visited August 25, 2017).]