Poets, Politics, and Paintings:
The Significance of Rivers in Chinese History


Lesson 1: Ancient River Valley Civilizations of China

AIM: Describe how the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers led to the first agricultural societies in China.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES:
· Students will identify the sources and mouths of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers on a topographical map of China.
· Students will explain how silt is produced and how it fertilizes the banks of a river.
· Students will describe the major crops and flooding cycles of the Yellow River
· Students will imagine what it would be like to be a rice farmer in ancient China, dependent on the waters of the Yellow River.

MATERIALS:
· Topographical map of ancient China, photocopied handouts
· One large topographical map of ancient China for the blackboard
· Reading on the crops and flood cycle of the Yellow River
· Excerpt from National Geographic Magazine

MOTIVATION: List at least five ways in which we, as modern New Yorkers, are dependent on the Hudson River?

ACTIVITIES:
1. In pairs, students will examine a topographical map of China and write down five observations that they have about the geography of China.
2. The teacher will ask students to come up to the big map and present their observations.
3. Students will complete readings on the silt, crops, and flood cycles of the Yellow River.
4. The teacher will lead a discussion relating to the article:
  A. How is silt produced?
  B. Why is the Yellow River named such?
  C. List two advantages and two disadvantages of silt.
  D. Describe the major crops of the Yellow River. What types of diets did the early Chinese farmers have? How do these diets compare to ours?
5. Students will read the short excerpt from National Geographic (see attached).

EVALUATION/HOMEWORK:
You are a Chinese rice farmer living on the Yellow River in the year 2500 B.C.E. Describe:
1) how you feed your family;
2) how you spend your days;
3) your greatest fears;
4) your greatest joys; and
5) your religious beliefs.

Lesson 2: Rivers and Water in Taoist Thought

AIM: Describe how Lao-Tzu understood the role of water and rivers in the Tao te Ching.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES:
· Students will identify the historical background of Taoism (the political state of China at the time, the Confucian tradition, Lao Tzu).
· Students will explain the basic philosophy behind Taoism: the concepts of Li, Wu Wei, Yin Yang. Students will interpret how Taoist philosophy understood the relationship between man and nature.
· Students will compare Taoist ideals with other ancient belief systems.

MATERIALS:
The following are suggested readings on Taoism which explain the concepts of Tao te Ching, Li, Tzu-jan, Wu wei, and Yin Yang. Students will find it helpful to have some background materials distributed prior to the class discussion.
· "Lao Tzu: Tao te Ching." Reading About the World, Volume 1. Ed. Paul Brians et al. Pullman, WA: Washington State University, 1999. Online: http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_1/lao_tzu.html
· Taoism/Daoism. Yakrider. Online: http://www.yakrider.com/Tao/Taoism_Daoism.htm

MOTIVATION: The year is 580 B.C.E. China is experiencing constant feudal warfare, physical disaster, and consequently, starvation. You are the town scholar and sage. The people of the town come to you and ask you why so much tragedy and suffering have befallen China. How would you answer them?

ACTIVITIES:
1. The teacher will introduce the basic historical background to Lao Tzu based on readings from the textbook.
2. Students will divide up into pairs and will read the selections from "Tao te Ching" (enclosed). Each pair must answer the questions: How did Lao Tzu understand the relationship between man and nature? Define the concepts of Li, Wu Wei, Yin Yang.
3. The teacher will lead a class discussion on the understanding of water and nature's role in the Tao te Ching.
4. (If time allows) The class will be divided into three groups: the Ancient Egyptians, the Hebrews, and the Taoists (assuming that the former have been taught; if not, feel free to substitute two other early civilizations such as the Mesopotamians, Indians, etc). Each team must create their own Ten Commandments or a set of rules that will govern society.

HOMEWORK/EVALUATION:
Students will write 2-3 paragraphs comparing Taoist philosophy with Judaism (or Hinduism, depending on what has already been taught).


Lesson 3: Rivers in Chinese Landscape Paintings

AIM: How are the ideas of Taoism and the theme of water manifested in traditional Chinese landscape paintings?

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES:
· Students will identify the basic elements of Chinese landscape paintings.
· Students will analyze Chinese landscape paintings as manifestations of the Taoist ideal of nature.
· Students will paint or draw their own interpretations of Taoist thought.

MATERIALS:
Pictures of Guilin : Picture1, Picture2, Picture3, Picture4, Picture5, Picture6
4-5 copies of landscape paintings that include water scenery;
Reading from the previous lesson on Tao te Ching;
Sketch Paper;
Charcoal/Pencils;
Refer to the China Project Lesson on Scroll Paintings at: http://www.globaled.org/curriculum/china/leslie/handouts.htm

DO NOW:
Students will examine the real-life photos of Guilin's unique karst rock formations and will write down at least three separate observations.

ACTIVITIES:
1. Place Chinese landscapes all over the room and tell the students that they will be in a museum, and have 5-10 minutes to observe the paintings. At the end of the quiet museum time, students should each compile a list of five traits common to all landscape paintings.
2. Using handouts from the lesson on scroll paintings, ask the students to identify each of the parts of the painting. Ask students what feelings, ideals, and values the images evoke. Compare these ideals with other types of art that students have already studied (pyramids, Hindu gods, Renaissance sculpture, modern art, etc.).
(Refer to http://www.globaled.org/curriculum/china/leslie/handouts.htm)
3. Ask students to choose one passage from Taoism that is particularly inspiring to them and to create their own landscape sketch corresponding to the content of the passage.

HOMEWORK/EVALUATION:
Student will complete their landscape sketches for homework.


Lesson 4: Contemporary Chinese Rivers: The Three Gorges Dam

AIM: Describe the arguments in favor and against building the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. How is the Dam project proposal similar to or different from other uses of rivers in Chinese history?

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES:
· Students will identify the major components of the proposal to build the Three Gorges Dam.
· Students will analyze the pros and cons of the Dam proposal.
· Students will take a position on the Dam proposal.
· Students will analyze how the Dam proposal is similar to or different from other uses of rivers in Chinese history.

DO NOW: List three functions of a dam.

READING: Any material on the Three Gorges Dam is appropriate. A variety of information is available at www.cnn.com, such as:

Kennedy, Bruce. "China's Three Gorges Dam." 1999. Online: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1999/china.50/asian.superpower/three.gorges/
Strieker, Gary. "As Yangtze River Dam Rises, Questions Arise." May 8, 1998. Online: http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9805/08/china.doomed.river/index.html

ACTIVITIES:
1. Students will read the assigned article/reading. Each student should list as many pros and cons of the proposed Three Gorges Dam as possible.
2. The teacher will divide the class into five groups:
A. Chinese Communist Part Officials;
B. Green Peace International;
C. Chinese Archaeological Association;
D. Farmers of Fenjie;
E. Merchants in Beijing.
3. Each group must prepare a three-minute oral statement with their position on the dam. After each group presents, the rest will be allowed to prepare a one-minute rebuttal.
4. Ask the students: How does our understanding of the role of rivers and nature in Chinese history help us in our deliberation of the Three Gorges Dam project?

EVALUATION/HOMEWORK:
Students will write an essay comparing the various uses of rivers in Chinese history.


 

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