COOL CLASSES: “Advanced Chinese: Food and Food Production”

While advancing students’ proficiencies in key areas of language studies, this class develops narrative skills in thinking and talking about food in Chinese.

Class name: “Advanced Chinese: Food and Food Production

Taught by: The C.V. Starr Professor of Asian Studies, Associate Professor of Chinese and Linguistics, and Director of the Chinese Language Program Shizhe Huang

Says Huang about her class:
This is a topic course in the Advanced Chinese series in the Bi-Co Chinese program where the object language and instructional language are both Chinese. So, it is an intensive language course. As such, the primary purpose of the course is to advance students’ proficiency in all four areas of language studies: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, with more emphasis and practice on formal writing in Chinese. 

The dozen or so topic courses in the Advanced Chinese series we have developed over the past decade are all designed with this primary goal in mind, with various topics selected to enable students to acquire adequate vocabulary and sentence patterns to make coherent arguments in Chinese with breadth and depth. For this particular course, with the selection of writings from ancient thinkers to modern writers and contemporary journalists, as well as multimedia materials exemplifying food conception, food production, and food consumption, I hope students will gain some knowledge as well as narrative skills in thinking and talking about food in Chinese.

Huang on why she wanted to teach this class:
I designed this course and am teaching it for the first time, although I have a precursor of this course that I taught in the spring of 2020 titled “Daily Living in China.” In that class, I made use of the VCAM communal kitchen for a weekly cooking lesson for all the students in that class as part of the practicum. 

For both “Daily Living” and “Food and Food Production,” I have a not-so-purely academic motivation: I want to create an environment where close textual readings and intensive essay writings are coupled with hands-on experiences that make students both appreciate their daily living and also more capable of daily living. In other words, I want students to get down to the nitty-gritty side of things.

In “Daily Living,” students had to take turns washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen after each cooking session. In “Food and Food Production,” we visited the Haverfarm, particularly the vegetable garden that my colleague, Assistant Professor of Biology Foen Peng, and his parents cultivated. It is the best-managed vegetable garden at the Haverfarm because of all the hard work they put into it. Later this semester, I plan to take students to my home for some cooking lessons, and, you bet, they will clean up the space afterward, hopefully doing so happily while speaking Chinese.

Huang on what makes this class unique:
This is the only topic of this kind in the Bi-Co Chinese program. (Students can repeat our Advanced Chinese classes as often as they want precisely because each topic is unique.)

On the other hand, food is such an important topic and can be approached from so many angles that collaborative opportunities exist in the future. This semester alone, three language programs — French, Japanese, and Chinese — have offered a food-themed course. I have also heard from faculty in other departments, such as Chemistry and History, who are interested in collaborating to create a cluster of food-themed courses with campus-wide events associated with them. We are still at the embryonic stage of such ideas. But just like any endeavor in vegetable gardening, if you sow the seeds, you might have a beautiful garden down the road if you put in hard work. I hope to report on our future crops in this space!