East Asian Text Diagrams


This activity helps students read texts, analyze them, and present the information into a diagram.

Goals:  Enable students to closely and quickly analyze texts.

Introduction/Background: Students were given texts to read in class. Each of the texts was of a kind that can be represented straightforwardly as a diagram: geography (map), a series of events (cyclical calendar), or a description of the body in relation to the cosmos (a star map or zodiac). However, where the geographical text described the land, for example, it talked about hot or damp regions having certain effects on health, yet it did not explicitly state the principles or assumptions underlying the work. Similarly, while the calendar told the reader to eat certain foods at certain times of year, and the cosmological text talked about planets rising and falling and about certain colors, they did not explain how or why these related.  This activity asks students to diagram the texts, thus coming intuitively to uncover the visions of the world informing each reading. 


  1. Students were split into groups of three and given colored markers and papers.
  2. The instructor explained the assignment to the class and gave out a different handout to each group, each pertaining to food, time, space, and the body from a different culture.
  3. Each group was assigned to read their group's text and diagram it.
  4. Students read the handouts as they worked.
  5. After students had finished their diagrams, each group held up their papers and explained their observations and how the different systems worked. Students asked each other questions about the diagrams. Through their conversations, they came to understand a few of the different ways that culture mediates the experience of the body.

Comments: This took about ten minutes, although the instructor has also done this activity in six minutes with similar results. Students produced diagrams of surprising richness and variety. They read closely, and then they looked closely, both at their own work and at others'. They took obscure, unfriendly texts that seemed impenetrable and collaboratively turned them into intuitive visual representations.

Attachments: The attached three documents are course readings use for this module.

Submitted by Eric Schluessel, East Asian Languages and Civilizations

illness and medicine.pdf621 KB
flavors of byzantium.pdf577 KB
article.pdf481 KB