China: Ancient History, Modern Nation

Lessons:

  • The Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang and the Projection of Power: Qin Shi Huang (260–210 BC) was the King of the state of Qin (r. 246–221 BC) who conquered all other Warring States and united China in 221 BC. What makes a great leader?  How do we know when a government is powerful? Can these words “great” and “powerful” mean different things?
  • The Great Wall and Borders Beyond Our Control: The largest defensive fortification on Earth is one of China’s most iconic and enduring symbols. How and why do governments regulate the flow of people and information?  Is the government’s interest always the same as the people’s?
  • The Silk Road, International Trade, and Global Prosperity: The Silk Road is an ancient network of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads, and urban dwellers. How do goods, wealth, technology, and culture spread?  What is gained or lost in the exchange?  Does trade benefit all sides equally?  Who sets the terms of international trade?
  • Imperial Examination, the Gaokao, and the Measure of Success: The imperial examination was the world’s first high stakes examination system in Imperial China, designed to select candidates for careers the state bureaucracy. How do we decide who is intelligent in our society? Qualified?  Successful?  Does everyone have an equal shot at these things, or do certain people have special advantages over others because of their parents, their money, their language, or other factors?
  • Foot Binding and the Standard of Beauty: Foot binding is the Chinese custom of applying tight bandages to the feet of young girls. What is beauty?  Is it universal, or specific to one’s culture?  What effect do concepts of beauty have on the behavior and self-image of everyday people?

Scenes from China, 2015 – supplementary photos to enhance a sense of place.

This unit is broken into five media rich texts, each of which should take approximately one class period for students to process.  These are completely modular – they can be taught consecutively in cooperation with each other or as standalone lessons.  Texts are based on original writing by the author and open sourced texts from the internet at large.  They are full of hyperlinks, encouraging curious students to click and surf in a natural and fluid digression that enriches the central concepts.  The texts are accompanied by four to five prompts which are designed to function according to an educator’s need.  Most can serve alternatively as discussion or short answer questions, essay prompts, or departure points for further research into Chinese history or current events, or as the basis of full on student projects.  If a teacher were to assign every prompt, this unit could serve as the basis of an intensive, Common Core aligned two-three week investigation of China appropriate for either middle or high school grades, but at its core, it is designed to serve as a basic primer on the key events, notable cultural contributions, and major figures of Chinese history, as well as an introduction to some modern developments in China.

Here’s a short documentary featuring an Open Ended Social Studies lesson on The Silk Road playing out in a sixth grade world history classroom:

Grade Level: adaptable between grades 6-12 with modifications and extensions

Length of Time: Each lesson takes one 50 minute class period

Objectives: Students will be able to discuss and evaluate the significance of the key events, notable cultural contributions, and major figures of Chinese history.  Students will be able to examine and evaluate related concepts from the history of China and from their own nation through extended research prompts included within the lessons.

Standards Reference:

  • Middle School: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.10.
  • High School: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8

Procedures: Assign text before or during class.  Preview the numbered prompts at the end of each text.  Select the prompt or prompts that is most appropriate to your time, grade level, or objective, allowing appropriate time for students to complete prompt to your expectations.
Enduring Understandings: Students who complete this unit will develop a basic understanding and appreciation of the key events, notable cultural contributions, and major figures of Chinese history.  They will be provided with opportunities to reflect on points of view foreign and alternative to their own, and to consider the world and their place in it.

Modifications and Extensions: This unit is broken into four media rich texts, each of which should take approximately one class period for students to process.  These are completely modular – they can be taught consecutively in cooperation with each other or as standalone units.  The texts are accompanied by three to four prompts which are designed to function according to a teacher’s need.  Most can serve alternatively as discussion or short answer questions, essay prompts, or departure points for further research into Chinese history, or the basis of full on student projects.

Sources: In accordance with the philosophy that every student deserves a free, high quality education – and therefore educational materials should be free.  Every effort has been made to use open-sourced text and media as the basis of these lessons.  Sources are typically hyperlinked with each text, allowing students the opportunity to extend their own reading beyond the specifically assigned text.  Special thanks to the U.S. Department of Education, the Chinese Ministry of Education, and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations for the exceptional opportunity to conduct original research for these lessons on location in China as a Fulbright-Hayes Delegate.

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