NYU, Orientalism


HIST-UA 9525

4 points

Name: Erik Ringmar

Email: erik@ringmar.net

Office Hours:

Wednesdays, 5:00-8:00 PM

“Orientalism” is a concept made famous by Edward Said’s book of the same name. What the concept refers to is, however, less clear. This course starts by looking at the debate initiated by Said’s work, but goes quickly on to consider a long series of cases of European encounters with, and interpretations, of “the East.” The material is roughly chronologically ordered: we start by following medieval European monks and merchants to China, study the rise of the idea of “Oriental despotism,” the fascination for tea and opium, the impact of chinoiserie and Chinese garden art in Europe, the British in India, and the impact of the Orient on European Romanticism. We conclude by two contemporary topics: the Orient as a site of spiritual experiences and as a place of sex tourism.

To teach students to think critically about received stereotypes regarding Western and East Asian cultures; to appreciate cultural differences as well as cultural similarities; to see the self in the other and the other in one self.

Online mid-term exam (20%)

Final exam (20%)

Midterm research papers of 12 pages (20%)

Final research paper of 12 pages (20%)

In-class participation (20%). In-class participation is defined as giving presentations to the class, actively engaging with the literature in class discussions, and actively using the class web page.

Erik Ringmar is chaired professor of international relations at Shanghai Jiaotong University. He has a PhD in political science from Yale University and worked for 12 years in the Dept of government at the London School of Economics. He is the author of five books including, most recently, Liberal Barbarism and the European Destruction of the Palace of the Emperor of China. His next book, Performing International Systems: Europe and Its Alternatives, will be published by Cambridge UP in 2015.

A: Excellent performance showing a thorough knowledge and understanding of the topics of the course; all work includes clear, logical explanations, insight, and original thought and reasoning.

B: Good performance with general knowledge and understanding of the topics; all work includes general analysis and coherent explanations showing some independent reasoning, reading and research.

C: Satisfactory performance with some broad explanation and reasoning; the work will typically demonstrate an understanding of the course on a basic level.

D: Passable performance showing a general and superficial understanding of the course’s topics; work lacks satisfactory insight, analysis or reasoned explanations.

F: Unsatisfactory performance in all assessed criteria.

Optional and suggested trips and events will be discussed throughout the semester.

NYU Shanghai has a strict policy about course attendance that allows no unexcused absences. Each unexcused absence will result in the deduction of three percentage points from the final grade. More than two unexcused absences will result in failure of the course.

Students should contact their instructors to catch up on missed work but should not approach them for excused absences. All absences due to illness require a signed doctor’s note from a local facility as proof that you have been ill and have sought treatment for that illness. Non-illness absences must be discussed with the Assistant Director of Academic Affairs or the Program Director prior to the date(s) in question.

Students are expected to arrive to class promptly both at the start of class and after breaks. Arriving more than 15 minutes late or leaving more than 10 minutes early can be considered an unexcused absence.

Unexcused absences from exams are not permitted and will result in failure of the exam. If you are granted an excused absence from an exam by the Assistant Director of Academic Affairs, your instructor will decide how you will make up the exam.

This attendance policy also applies for classes involving a field trip or other off-campus visit. It is the student’s responsibility to arrive at the agreed meeting point on time.

There will be no adjustment of attendance records after the end of the semester. If you wish to contest a marked absence, you must do so before you leave Shanghai; if you think that there may be a discrepancy about your attendance in class on a given day, ask the NYU Shanghai academic staff to let you look at the attendance record.

Written work due in class must be submitted during class time.

Late work should be submitted in person to the Academic Support Coordinator during regular office hours (9:30-6:00, Monday-Friday). The Academic Support Coordinator will mark down the date and time of submission in the presence of the student. In the absence of the Academic Support Coordinator, another member of the administrative staff can accept the work in person, following the same protocol.

Work submitted within five weekdays will be penalized one portion of a grade for every day that it is late (so if it is late by one day, an assignment marked an “A” will be changed to an “A-,” and so on). Work submitted more than five days after the due date without an agreed extension will be given a zero.

Please note that final essays must be submitted on time.

Plagiarism: the presentation of another person’s words, ideas, judgment, images or data as though they were your own, whether intentionally or unintentionally, constitutes an act of plagiarism.

Students must retain an electronic copy of their work until final grades are posted on Albert. They must be prepared to supply an electronic copy if requested to do so by NYU Shanghai. Not submitting a copy of their work upon request will result in automatic failure in the assignment and possible failure in the class.

Penalties for confirmed cases of plagiarism are set out in the Academic Guide.

There is no course text book but different articles and chapter will be assigned for each respective week (see below).

Class 1: Introduction to the course

  • readings and requirements

  • use of the web page

Introductory lecture:
  • Why did the Europeans destroy Yuanmingyuan?

  • Erik Ringmar, “Malice in Wonderland: Dreams of the Orient and the Destruction of the Palace of the Emperor of China,” Journal of World History 22, no. 2 (2011): 273-297.

Direct link: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=63190894&site=ehostlive

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  • Wang, Zheng. “National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China”. International Studies Quarterly 52, no 4 (December 1, 2008): 783–806.

Direct link:


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Class 2: Edward Said and the Orientalism Debate


  • What does Said mean by “Orientalism”?

  • What can, and cannot, this notion explain?

  • What have subsequent writers made of the notion? Why do his critics believe he is wrong?


  • Michael Richardson, “Enough Said,” in Alexander Lyon Macfie, Orientalism: A Reader (New York: NYU Press, 2001) pp. 208-216.

Direct Link: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3032736

Class 3: The ancient Greeks: polis vs. cosmopolis


  • What did the Greeks know about Asia? How were they represented in the works of Greek historians and travelers?
  • How was the East represented in Greek tragedy?
  • Who is Dionysus? Why did Nietzsche like him so much?


  • François Hartog, “The Invention of the Barbarian and an Inventory of the World,” in Memories of Odysseus: Frontier Tales from Ancient Greece (Edinburgh: Edinburg University Press, 2001) pp. 79-106.
  • Patricia Springborg, “Politics, Primordialism and Orientalism: Marx, Aristotle, and the Myth of the Gemeinschaft,” American Political Science Review 80, no. 1 (1986): 185-211.

Class 4: The marvels of the East


  • What did people in the European Middle Ages know about Asia?
  • What did early modern travelers see and report back home?
  • What is “wonder” and “marvel”? What did people wonder and marvel at?


Erik Ringmar, “Audience for a Giraffe: European Exceptionalism and the Quest for the Exotic,” Journal of World History 17, no. 4: 353-397.

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Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) 52-86.

Direct Link: https://docs.google.com/a/ringmar.net/file/d/0B0qtbqC5qFllSVJsYkpuSWRndDg/edit

Class 5:

Sinophilism and Sinophobia in England & France

Compare Voltaire and Montesquieu’s views of China? How can there different interpretations be explained?

What is “chinoiserie” and why was China in the 18th century understood as a “peculiar but uninteresting nation”?

How, and why, did Europeans stop marveling at what they found in the East?


Ho-Fung Hung, “Orientalist Knowledge and Social Theories: China and the European Conceptions of East-West Differences from 1600 to 1900,” Sociological Theory 21, no. 3 (September 2003): 254-280.

Direct link: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sih&AN=10441227&site=ehostlive

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David Porter, “A Peculiar but Uninteresting Nation: China and the Discourse of Commerce in Eighteenth-Century England,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 33, no. 2 (Winter 2000): 181-199.

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Class 6: The great Chinese garden war

  • In what sense, if any, can it be argued that Chinese gardens provided “the origin of a Romanticism”?

  • Why did Chinese gardens give rise to such ferocious debates in late 18th century Europe?

  • Arthur O. Lovejoy, “The Chinese Origin of a Romanticism,” in Essays in the History of Ideas (New York: George Braziller, 1955), 99-135.

  • R.C. Bald, “Sir William Chambers and the Chinese Garden.” Journal of the History of Ideas 11, no. 3 (June 1950): 287–320.

Class 7: Opium eaters and tea drinkers


  • Why did tea become such a common commodity in Britain in the 18th century?

  • Why did opium become an addiction in China in the 19th century?

  • What were the social and cultural consequences of these addictions?

  • What did De Quincey think of China?


  • Zheng, Yangwen. “The Social Life of Opium in China, 1483–1999,” Modern Asian Studies, 37, no. 1 (2003): 1-39.

Direct link: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3876550

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Class 8: Racism, Darwinism, Civilization

  • Why did “race” suddenly appear as an explanatory concept in mid-nineteenth century discussions of Europe and the non-European?

  • What was the attraction of Social Darwinism?

  • How did the Europeans define “civilization”? Why were the Chinese considered “uncivilized”?

  • Gregory Blue, “Gobineau on China: Race Theory, the “Yellow Peril,” and the Critique of Modernity,” Journal of World History 10, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 93-139.

Direct link:


  • Mitch Keller, “The Scandal at the Zoo,” The New York Times, August 6, 2006.

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Class 9: Mid-term

Class 10: The British in India

  • What were James Mill’s views on India?

  • How powerful, according to Colley, was the British grip on India?

  • What, according to Nandy, were the consequences on India of British imperialism, and vice versa?

  • In which ways did the Uprising of 1857 change British perceptions of empire?

  • Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism (Oxford University Press, USA, 1989) `1-99 (selections).

Direct link:


GetIt Link: https://getit.library.nyu.edu/go/4872428

Class 11: Romanticism and the exotic east

  • What role did the Orient play in the imagination of the Romantics?

  • Give examples of European representations of the Orient in music, poetry, architecture and the arts?

  • What is a “harem” and a “seraglio” according to European authors?

  • Why were images of the Orient often sexualized?


  • Hugo, Victor. “The Sack of the Summer Palace.” UNESCO Courier (November 1985): 15. Originally written in November, 1861.

Class 12: The spiritualism of the exotic east

  • Why do Westerners go to Asia to “find themselves”?

  • Are Asian cultures more “spiritual”?

  • What other ways have Asia been “commoditized”?

  • Gita Mehta, Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East. Vintage, 1994.

Class 13:

Orientalism today: Asian sex tourism
  • Why is Asia the most popular destination for sex tourism?

  • Are Asian women more passive than Western? Are they more easily available?

  • Are Asians more into sex? Are Asians sexier than Europeans?


Class 14: Final exam

  • term-paper seminar (12 pages)

  • final online-exam