Microcosm of 1940s Shanghai

Grades 9-12, Arts & Literature, Beliefs/Religion, Society Lesson or Unit Plan
  • Eillen Chang and 1940s Shanghai, China.

In this lesson, students will learn about 1940s Shanghai by reading and analyzing Eileen Chang’s short story “Sealed Off”. They will discuss change and continuity over time in the context of China. Students will walk away from this lesson with a better knowledge of author Eileen Chang and the 1940s in Shanghai.

Title: Microcosm of 1940s Shanghai in Eileen Chang’s “Sealed Off”
Author: Sarah Crichton
Subject Area: History
Grade Level: 9-12
Time Required: One 1-hour period
Standards: Common Core
RH.9-10.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

RH.9-10.9. Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
(Source:http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf)

Keywords / Vocabulary: Microcosm
Essential Question(s): What is “modern”?
Learning Objectives/Goals/Aims: How is the tramcar in Eileen Chang’s “Sealed Off” a microcosm of 1940s Shanghai?
Introduction: In this lesson, students will learn about 1940s Shanghai by reading and analyzing Eileen Chang’s short story “Sealed Off”. They will discuss change and continuity over time in the context of China. Students will walk away from this lesson with a better knowledge of author Eileen Chang and the 1940s in Shanghai.
Procedure/Pedagogical Technique/Instructional Strategy:  Assign this short story at the start of the week, providing students with photocopies and giving them several days to complete the reading. In anticipation that some students will not find time to read the story, make sure that students have opportunities to engage the text during the class period.

Use Karen S. Kingsbury’s translation of “Sealed Off” in Chang’s collection of short stories Love in a Fallen City.

Warm-Up Activity (15 minutes)
Give students 10 minutes to do a silent journal entry on the following prompt:
A “microcosm” is “a community, place or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics or features of something much larger.” How could a New York City bus or subway car be a microcosm of New York? Or of the United States?

Have students do a “think-pair-share,” where they share their written responses with a student sitting next to them. Then, invite students to share with the whole class.

Introduction (5 minutes)
Introduce the story as a piece of literature that uses a tramcar as a microcosm of Shanghai in the 1940s. Contextualize the story by telling a little about Eileen Chang’s biography:

  • Born in 1920, in the May 4th Era.
  • Her great-grandfather was Li Hongchang—a Qing dynasty general and statesman who helped suppress the Taiping Rebellion and was an early leader of the self-strengthening movement.
  • Chang’s mother was western-leaning and modern, and her father was an abusive opium addict. At one point, he confined her in his apartment for six months and denied her medical treatment when she was sick.
  • Chang went to college in Hong Kong. She lived in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese War and became a very popular published writer. She fled to the United States in 1955. Her writing enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in mainland China in the 1990s.

Group Reconstruction of a Text (5 minutes)
Call on students to summarize what happened in the story and to add to each others’ stories. This is a good way to refresh their memories and for students who didn’t read to get the main idea.

Group Read-Aloud (5 minutes)
Have students read a section of the book aloud. A different student can read each paragraph and pass it to the next person. A good passage to read aloud would be starting on p. 241 with “Cuiyuan took abuse at school, and she took abuse at home,” and ending on p. 243 with “Her body was like squeezed-out toothpaste; no shape at all.”

Discussion Points/ GroupInteraction: Group Discussion Questions (20 minutes)
Have students break into groups of four and discuss the following questions. Emphasize that is not necessary to write down answers. Instead they should discuss their thoughts and annotate the text, underlining appropriate passages and making notes in the margins.

1. If the tramcar is a microcosm of Shanghai, then what do we know about Shanghai in the 1940s from this story? What do we know about China?
2. What makes this a modern story?
3. What do you make of Eileen Chang’s statement on p. 247 “They were in love”? Were they really? Did love mean the same thing to Cuiyuan and Zhongzhen?

Whole-Group Closing Discussion (10 minutes)
Discuss the questions as a whole group and help students clarify misunderstandings. Call on specific students who made insightful comments in small groups to share their thoughts with the whole class.

Exit Journal Entry (5 minutes)
“Choose one of the questions from the group discussion, and write a written response in your journal. This is how you will remember what you discussed, and how I will assess you.”

Assessment: 1. Low-stakes writing: Journal entries at the start and end of class
2. Participation in small-group discussions and whole group discussion
Closure: 
Instructional Resources/ Materials: Zhang, Ailing, and Karen Kingsbury. Love in a Fallen City. New York: New York Review, 2007. Print.
Extending the Lesson / Follow-up Activity: One potential follow-up lesson is to have students read “Lessons for Women,” a classic instructional guide on women’s proper conduct written by female philosopher Ban Zhao in the Han dynasty. Potential questions discussion include: What has changed for women since the Han dynasty? Has anything stayed the same? These questions are intended to get students thinking about issues of continuity and change over time in global cultures.
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Caterogy: Grades 9-12, Arts & Literature, Beliefs/Religion, Society Lesson or Unit Plan

Author

Teach China Team

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