Guide to Using Case Studies

China Mirror Case Studies require no background in Chinese Studies.

Each unit provides everything a person might need to understand how a particular object relates to larger issues in Chinese history and culture, such as women’s health or international relations.

China Mirror Case Studies consist of nine sections that walk you through the historical meaning, cultural value, and implications of the item or piece featured in the particular case study. The sections are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. What is this Thing?
  3. About the Genre
  4. How to Read it
  5. How it Evolved in History
  6. Global Context
  7. Social Function
  8. Critical Assessment
  9. Now and Then

Explanation of Case Study Sections 1-9

This section describes in one or two paragraphs what the object is and its significance for study.

This section introduces the object, its materials, and its technique of fabrication. For example, if the object is an engraving, then the case study explains how engravings are made, what they look like, the different techniques of engraving, and other relevant information.

An established form can exist if a majority of people regularly consume products in that specific genre. Usually certain kinds of people consume a certain genre of art, literature, or entertainment (e.g., the people who listen to classical music stations are provided different advertisements from those who listen to jazz). Every genre, whether it is “rap music” or “religious painting,” reveals information about both an object’s “form” and its social meaning. Therefore, when historians look at objects, they first want to know its genre.

The How to Read It section explains to the reader what to look for in this kind of object, its organization, and other relevant information. For example, if the object is an official memorial written to the emperor during the Song Dynasty, then you will learn what to look for in the opening lines, what forms of address were expected in official documents, and how to trace the argument. If the object is a work of art, you will learn how it was viewed, what elements should be considered significant and where to find them, how that kind of art was evaluated and valued, and what kinds of things could reveal more information about the time that it was created.

The Historysection explains what social needs were addressed by this type of object, when or how that need arose, and how the genre developed over time. For example, if the object is an international treaty, you will learn when people first started using such treaties in China, why they were needed, what different forms a treaty could take, and how they evolved in response to changing international conditions.

The Global Context section considers the artifact within a global perspective at the time it was produced. This section is intended to help you to appreciate the object’s novelty or similarity with objects or items made in Europe or elsewhere at about the same time.

This section helps to avoid anachronistic comparisons and shows how relationships between different cultures can change over time.

This Social Function section discusses who would make or write such things, who would use them, how they circulated, what was done with them, and how they affected people’s lives. For instance, if the object is a medical manual, you will learn who wrote such manuals, what types of people read them, and how medical manuals might have affected healthcare for women and others.

The Critical Assessment section explains how to critically assess what this object can reveal about China in relation to the past and to the present. It explains what would be a reasonable inference from such an object and what kinds of conclusions cannot be justified.

The Now and Then section compares China’s past to its present. It explains how the kinds of challenges discussed in the case study are met in China today (e.g., how treaties are written and ratified, what kinds of accessories women buy and display, or what kinds of public monuments make an impression on international visitors). In other words, this section helps the reader to situate modern China in an historical perspective and to relate China’s history to the present.

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