Ordered & cross-referenced list of key words, phrases, abbreviations and main ideas

Key terms and concepts, listed in A-Z order

▷ actions (and reactions) — see: Theory of Mind (ToM) / mindreading
▷ affective love — see: love (aspects analyzed in this course)
agape — see: models of selfless, giving love
▷ alternating contexts — see: array

“always about high-order love” (“always about love”) standard

“Bounded dialogue” allows us to independently generate sets of analytic conclusions about a narrative that we can then compare. “Bounded dialogue” means to approach a topic in accord to a specific set of rules. One of those rules is that whatever we explore, it must have a meaningful connection to love and not just love in its many broad and complex meanings but rather cognitive (high-order thinking) love and affective love when it is tightly related to cognitive love. We set aside neurochemical love.

Because it is redundant to mention explicitly at every occasion, please remember that we are always analyzing issues related to love, not other things. If I say, “What is the main point of this passage?” I mean: “In terms of the love narrative, what is the main point?” We discuss government, money, deceit—all types of things—but everything must be easily identifiable as relevant to this context of love. So, for example, we do not debate, “Is lying right or wrong?” but rather, “What is the role of lies in an intimate relationship?”

It is surprisingly easy to fail to uphold this important standard. Please remember: always about high-order love, all the time.

▷ amae (甘え) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency


This refers to a schema of various configurations in context-ToM relationships that affect content-to-Tom-distance. We think of these as four types: autonomous entities, competitive multiplicities, alternating contexts, and layered contexts.

attractors (cognitive and cultural)

“Attractors” are a core concept for this class. In chaos (complexity science) theory, one of the dominant questions is how systems that appear chaotic also embrace orderly formations. For example, earth’s weather patterns remain too complex to predict even with supercomputers, yet there is order to the chaos. These orderly formations, among chaotic systems, are explained in part with mathematical models (such as the Lorenz Attractor). This notion of complex phenomena settling into recognizable patterns has been applied to cognitive psychology and culture studies to explain repeating of similar interpretations regardless of the variations of the information. For our purposes, the difference between an attractor leading to an interpretation and a pattern leading to an interpretation is that the first will always be preconscious while deployment of patterns to “make sense” of data may or may not be.

authoritative systems of thought, their fragments, and derivatives

  • authoritative systems of thought (sometimes called in the text “authoritative thought systems” and abbreviated ATS): We consider three—ancient Chinese cosmology and its formulation within Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. All are full-fledged sets of worldviews and values working together as a powerful culture unit. This is why the term “system” is used. All have philosophical and religious components. The term “thought” is mean to set aside classifying them as either one or the other. An example of a statement treating the cultural context as a full-fledged system: “Japanese Buddhism dominated the arts in Japan’s Middle Period.” I call these “systems of thoughts” rather than religions because of the difficulty of calling Confucianism a religion and to put emphasis on their conceptual content rather than social practices.
  • fragments: a portion of a thought system that can still meaningful be traced back to its “parent” system but where evoking the entire system is not particularly useful. Example: “Don’t kill that spider, your karma will be bad.” This can be a reasonably convincing argument to some people, even if they are not really “believers” of Buddhism. “You will get something bad in the future if you do something bad now because that is how karma works.” We do not have to worry whether the individuals involved also believe in the doctrine of impermanence or whether they suffer over the thought that the world is constantly changing — other fundamental truths of Buddhism. “Avoid bad karma by doing good things” is a fragment loosely associated with Buddhist teachings. We cannot deduce from this that other behavior by that individual will also be Buddhist or *Buddhist-like.
  • derivatives: these are ways of thinking that can be  better understood perhaps if the possible origin of the idea is known but culture itself does not make the connection to the original authoritative thought system. “I am enjoying this romantic relationship but romantic relationships don’t last” may or may not be a common way of thinking of Japanese, but if someone is thinking like that, they might not be thinking, “Ah, I am being so Buddhist right now.” They may not know that this was originally a common proposition of Buddhism that just became a general, widely held notion in culture, losing its connection to Buddhism. In the case of “fragments” it might be useful to better understand the fragment by thinking of its origin. In the case of derivatives, it is probably inaccurate and distracting (in terms of understanding the nuances and details of the concept) to drag the original thought system into all the factors under consideration. The idea is orphaned and independent and speculating on its origins is interesting and might open up lines of thought, but should be undertaken only with the greatest of care
▷ autonomous entities — see: array

“beyond-first-thoughts” standard

“Beyond-first-thoughts” is a course standard that is expected for  interpretive analysis. It means that one’s thinking around an issue will exceed the thinking that any well-educated individual could arrive at within the first few minutes of thinking over the same topic. There are two concepts behind my interest in requiring ‘beyond-first-thoughts” observations. The first is the belief that early, initial, quickly-arrived-at ideas are more likely to represent cultural patterns and models rather than be grounded in the actual situation, and so may or may not be accurate to the situation. The second is my view of analysis as time-intensive on the side of the person doing the analysis while time-efficient on the side of the consumer of the analysis: if the consumer could arrive at the same quality of insight in a couple of minutes of thinking on her or his own, the analysis results lack much value.

bounded dialogue

Our interpretative method asks members of a group to develop independent interpretations that are then tested against those of other group members. This trial of ideas is done through discussion. That discussion, when required to following the rules and standards of the course and cleave closely to the course method, is called “bounded dialogue.”

▷ Buddhist benevolence () — see: models of selfless, giving love
▷ Buddhist Middle Way — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world


A sense of discomfort while consuming (viewing, reading, analyzing) a story or film that results from a segment of the narrative “feeling” as if it does not make sense (when it seems it should—this does not include suspense, puzzles, and so on). This might be for many reasons but, for the purposes of the course, we are interested in determining whether the reason is the dissonance between a worldview or value we deployed to make sense of the narrative and a worldview or value that the author or director of the work expected us to use.

▷ caizi-jiaren storyline — see: scholar-beauty (caizi-jiaren) storyline
▷ cause-and-effect chains — see: “making sense”

CDE template / CDE report (full name would be “CG-C-D-E-R&O template”)

When the results of analysis are reported, you will often be asked to use a response template that is meant to help articulate and preserve diversity of opinion within the group together with the effect of the discussion itself on various ideas. This is called the CDE template for simplicity of terminology. However, it actually includes all of the following components:

  • CG=Common Ground (content upon which the group agrees upon before talking with each other);
  • C=Convergence (content that becomes accepted by some or all group members after discussion);
  • D=Divergence (content upon which the group cannot agree upon);
  • E=Emergence (discoveries—new content—developed in the process of discussion but had been noticed by no one before the discussion began); and,
  • R&O=Random & Other (content randomly arrived at or content the group wants to report that does not fit into any of other above categories).
▷ Christian devotion — see: models of “true love”
▷ “Christian Love” — see: models of “true love”

code (and data)

This term is used in this book to mean the words, sounds, images and other associated multimedia data that have been produced with the intention of being interpreted and, once interpreted, to have meaning and significance of some sort, even if that meaning is absurd or puzzling. They are those words, sounds, and so on before the interpretation. The brain seeks to make sense of incoming data. It will decide a table is a table, it will attempt to give meaning or construct a narrative to which is commonly called “texts” but which we call “code” because “texts” are the interpretive results we construct. In this book, the only real difference between “incoming data” and “code” is that code is the result of intentional assembly of symbols and such that the creator believes can be interpreted meaningfully (even if the product is the result animal, human, or computer action) while “data” is just the physical attributes of an object or event impinging on our senses. A faded rose randomly encountered is seen as a faded rose (data) unless it is a gift, in which case is it probably seen as code to be interpreted.

▷ cognitive attractors — see: attractors (cognitive and cultural)
▷ cognitive love — see: love (aspects analyzed in this course)
▷ common practices  — see: worldviews (social and cosmic), ethical values /  common practices (WV/CP)
▷ competitive multiplicities — see: array
▷ Confucian devotion — see: models of “true love”
▷ Confucian duty (yi 义・) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ Confucian faithfulness (xin ) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ Confucian harmony (he ) —ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ Confucian loyalty (zhong ) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ Confucian moderation — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ Confucian righteousness (yi 义・) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ Confucian xin () — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ Confucian zhong () — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ constructing ToM — see: Theory of Mind (ToM) / mindreading

content-rich (and “content rich” standard)

By “content-rich” I mean substantive statements that provides details rather than summary or topical statements that only tell me about the object or what was thought, decided, or done. Students can assume that unless otherwise stated, all analysis and submissions should uphold this standard except where common sense suggests otherwise.

Here are some examples:

Meeting report —

Topical: “My partner and I met and noticed we have a lot of differences in how to interpret the films.” (You have only said that there were differences. I still do not know what they are.)

Content-rich: “My partner and I met. Anne felt that Himiko’s jealousy was primarily the result of a difference in status between Himiko and the other woman. Jeremy thought that was possible but personally felt the jealousy was the result of an insecurity Himiko had based on an earlier relationship.” (You have said both that there were differences and what those differences were.)

Thesis statement —

Topical: I will explore sacrifice in two films, “My Little Sister” and “The Last Letter.”

Content-rich statement: I will explore the final sacrifice that is made by the main protagonist in two films: “My Little Sister” and “The Last Letter.” I will conclude that the sacrifice in “My Little Sister” isn’t really that at all. Because of the content of her suicide note, as well as the location of that suicide, it is, instead, simply an act of anger meant to hurt her lover. However, “The Last Letter” involves a real sacrifice by the protagonist: he gives up his love to allow her to marry someone else. This is not what he wants for himself, but he realizes this is best for the person he loves. I compare these two sacrifices and suggest that, in the case of the Korean film, the movie is less about romance than plot twists and the dark nature of people, while in the case of the Japanese film, the theme is unrequited love from beginning to end. I suggest that the Korean film is fairly distant from any premodern roots but the Japanese film continues a long tradition of not being able to be with one’s lover, something we saw already in The Tale of Genji.

Analysis appearing in an essay —

Topical: “Encounters on a Dark Night” is a heavy-feeling story.

Content-rich: “Encounters on a Dark Night” is a heavy-feeling story because of its detailed portrait of a woman entangled, if not completely entrapped, in strong, painful memories.

context-to-ToM distance

This is a descriptive term used to characterize the level of energy between a cultural context and a ToM. (Or, if you prefer to think of it this way, how powerful and present a cultural context is as part of the ToM.) It is not an indication of the degree of acceptance of a cultural context, since a ToM might be in a posture of resistance or acceptance of a worldview or value which is part of the context. (Status describes a ToM’s relationship to a worldview or value on the acceptance-rejection spectrum.) This is instead a “strength” factor—Distance is the result of the dynamics between the nature and degree of the robustness of the cultural context, on the one hand, and the nature of and degree of ToM’s receptivity to it, on the other.

Connectionism, Connectivism, (and connectedness)


The Wikipedia definition is succinct and helpful:

Connectionism is a set of approaches in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind, that models mental or behavioral phenomena as the emergent processes of interconnected networks of simple units.[1]

Connectionism supports the idea of various biological systems and neurocognitive systems working semi-independently but — in sometimes competitive, sometimes harmonious communication with one another— all leading to our thoughts and behaviors. It gives us interpretive space in that we need not expect there to be a single principle that explains all aspects of what we considering. It encourages us to situate an individual squarely within culture and all its content rather than as a conceptual spirit that floats, somehow, separate of it.

Both of these are good explanations of “Connectionism:”


The Wikipedia definition is, again, succinct and helpful:

Connectivism is a theory of learning in a digital age that emphasizes the role of social and cultural context in how and where learning occurs. Learning does not simply happen within an individual, but within and across the networks.[2]

This summary statement is also informative, in foregrounding the place of the Internet in the theory:

Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the World Wide Web and among themselves.[3]

Siemens original article that proposes the pedagogical approach is here:

connectedness (musubi)

This is an English translation of a Japanese term we consider. I list it here just to remind that it is entirely different from the other two terms, although it would appear similar. See: musubi (“connectedness”).

▷ Confucian duty / Confucian righteousness (yi 義/义)  — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, and monogamy
▷ cosmic worldviews — see: worldviews (social and cosmic), ethical values /  common practices (WV/CP)
▷ course method — see: interpretive project (interpretive method, course method)

course standards (as list)

The various standards are defined elsewhere. Standards identify what should be aimed for; they can be difficult to achieve. Effort is expected but not always success. Here they are just collected into a list for convenience:

  • “all about high-order love” (interpretation and analysis)
  • “beyond-first-thoughts” (interpretation and analysis)
  • “content-rich” (interpretation and analysis)
  • “fair and accurate” / “over-the-shoulder” (use of secondary sources, see syllabus)
  • “context is king” (avoidance of plagiarism, see syllabus)
▷ cultural attractors — see: attractors (cognitive and cultural)

cultural contexts

This is a practical component of our interpretive analysis. In our attempt at constructing a ToM for an individual, we are considering some of all of these:

  • What is that individual’s thoughts (strategic thinking, hopes, expectations)?
  • What will that individual do or what does she or he think someone else will do, and what might be the reaction?
  • What are the feelings or states-of-mind of the individual?

Many factors, of course, are at play in determining answers to such questions. We take only one corner of those many factors, all of which have to do with widely known principles or behaviors and which exert pressures, or influence, or offer guidance and can all be reasonably labeled as cultural artifacts relevant to that individual at that *instance.

These can include broad principles such as “Revenge is okay” or “One should never lie to one’s spouse” or the common behaviors of those in relevant cultural circles such as “it is acceptable to text during a dinner with others,” or even genre-based factors such as “In horror films irrational behavior that seems not originating in any credible reason is pretty common and we don’t worry much about illogical *narrative progress.”

We call these, collectively, “cultural contexts,” although they include diverse types of things. They all, however, have the potential of altering or informing a person’s ToM.

We are not suggesting that these are all the possible cultural contexts. We have selected areas of cultural contexts for our analytic focus.

There are other factors very important to accurate interpretation including common practices (which may or may not be fairly described as “cultural” depending on the factor itself) and other situational conditions. If I primary interest was in a full and rich interpretation, these would be at the forefront of our analysis. However, our analysis of films is simply one possible process for discovering and discussing cultural contexts, so we keep our focus in that direction, even when the analysis feels uncomfortably incomplete.

cultural context mirage

This is when a ToM believes (casually or strongly) that the cultural environment includes a certain worldview or value—that “everyone” has that worldview or value—when, in fact, they do not. It is a mistaken assumption which is unknown to the ToM as mistaken. This term is meant to capture differences in defining things that one would think everyone shares the same opinion about such as, for example, “fate” in the phrase “that was fate” where the ToM’s understanding of fate and the of others are out of alignment, a little or greatly. “Really?? I just assumed that you thought …” is one way to visualize a reaction to an evaporated context mirage.

culture and cultural groups

About “groups”

In the context of our work, there are many types of groups. Some are joined by choice, some are not. Some are persistently present, others are ephemeral. Some are “real” in that they can take actions over which members have no control but which affect the group member. Others are “internal” in that an actor imagines to be a part of the group, whether or not that is the fact and whether or not the group has an empirical existence. For example, one can imagine one is part of a secret society whose members were born into this world to save the planet even if one has not met another member and even if one cannot confirm the existence of the group. Nevertheless, its imagined worldviews and values are relevant for understanding that individual.

About “culture”

For us and our interest in how perception (understanding, and the subsequent thoughts, feelings, and actions)  is affected by cultural contexts, “culture” represents a set of practices and/or beliefs which seem to be widely affirmed by members of the group, allowing for variations and exceptions but only to a certain degree. The practices and boundaries are known by its members. If they are unknown, the individual is not yet fully a member since the individual has not internalized (or accepted) yet the worldviews and values (but is of course subject to the group’s actions nevertheless). I recently heard this use of the world “culture” which is close to the meaning I am suggesting here: “UDL (Universal Design for Learning) is first implemented by the university’s administration, begins to become adopted by faculty, and finally becomes part of the culture of the university.” What is implied here is that the final stage is close to a state of affairs where faculty unquestioningly and as a matter of common practice, develop course material that meets UDL standards and knows that to challenge the value of that will be met with resistance.

Culture, for us, is a widely accepted (by group members) set of ways of thinking (worldviews), values (upheld in theory whether or not actually practiced), and common practices. With this type of definition, cultural change, then, is when a tipping point has been reached and a certain value transitions from one position to the next, such as equity of pay for female employees. At the level of an ideal value, the cultural change is in place in America—few believe that they can mount a successful nationwide argument against this (although they can find sub-groups which will agree with them)—but pay equity is not yet a common practice. There is still an unspoken “understanding” that inequity of pay is “inevitable” at times. When this changes to “hey, you cannot do that, no one does that anymore” then the cultural change has reached the level of common practice, too. Thus, our treatment of culture follows our best estimate of  the group member’s subjective understanding of the group’s views and values.

▷ data — see: code (and data)
▷ derivatives — see: authoritative systems of thought, their fragments, and derivatives
▷ devotion — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ devotion-obsession (obsession) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ distant / distance — see: context-to-ToM distance
▷ duty (yi 义・) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency

East Asian (narratives, cultural groups, etc.)

We are interested in the ToM of members of cultural groups that might engage traditional East Asian worldviews and values. It is enough, for our purposes, that these ToM has a subjective sense of relationship to the cultural group. However, for convenience’s sake, this course operates on the assumption that culture is embedded in language and those who are native or near-native speakers of the language of the cultural group are, subjectively speaking, more entangled in the worldviews and values of that group than those who are not. Thus, we put more emphasis on linguistic boundaries than geographic ones; defining cultural boundaries in geographic terms (“China,” “Japan,” “Korea,” “Beijing,” “Seoul,” and so on) does not necessarily position us well.

In order to define boundaries within which our objects of analysis must fall, we limit ourselves to objects to those that meet all of these criteria:

  • the narrative is primarily in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean;
  • the narrative was created by native or near-native (culturally fluent and nearly language perfect) speakers of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean;
  • the narrative uses immediate settings that are primarily populated by a social network of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean speakers (even if, in a larger context, other cultures have a significant role in the story); and,
  • the narrative was created primarily for an intended audience of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean speakers
  • the ToM that we will construct is a native or near-native speaker of the language of the cultural group.

emergence (weak emergence, strong emergence)

Emergence, broadly defined, refers to phenomena that arise from the complex synergies of combining elements or networks. “Weak” emergent phenomena have a recognizable relationship to the elements or networks that produced them. “Strong” emergent phenomena are difficult or impossible to understand simply based on descriptions of the elements or networks or the cause-and-effect relationships among them. Emergent phenomena can have a “downward” effect on the elements or networks that produced them. They are not merely a symptom of them. emergent phenomena are in essence ephemeral since they exist as an effect of synergies, but if the elements or networks that produce them persist, then the emergent phenomena can persist, too.

We are interested in the concept of emergence for multiple reasons: We treat narratives, cultural contexts, and love as strong emergent phenomena. Further, the course’s structure is to enhance the possibility for unexpected discoveries in the process of dialogue. Rightly or wrongly, I view the sort of insight that can be obtained in this course that might overcome horizons of expectation—the “Ah-ha” moments—as, in some ways, emergent events.

▷ emergent love — see: love (aspects analyzed in this course)

“equal interest” rule

Regardless of the cultural group (East Asian or otherwise) that is, was, or will be the focus of the interpretation, students engage that analysis with the same effort to learn and understand as they would for any other cultural group. Regardless of the clarity or apparent credibility of a student’s observations, all students are afforded careful consideration when they offer observations. “Equal interest” in these two ways is one of the course’s core rules. Failure to uphold this rule can cause the student to fail the course.


Equality has two specific meanings in this course:

  1. Equal investigative interest in general topics and general subject matter. In this sense it is another way of stating the “equal interest” rule. But also, equal initial consideration given to a wide variety of details to determine whether they are relevant to an interpretive project. This is, for example, part of gathering cultural contexts or deciding what to pay attention to in a film. In other words, take some care not to skip over details that might turn out to be useful.
  2. Individuals help preserve equal contributions among team members through actions taken to insure that all ideas receive equal consideration (whether or not ultimately kept). Further, all group members should have an equal presence in a discussion. Members make an effort to bring ideas to the discussion, on the one hand, and, on the other, members make an effort to include the perspective of other members through listening, invitation to speak, and so on.
▷ ethical values — see: worldviews (social and cosmic), ethical values /  common practices (WV/CP)
▷ faithfulness (xin ) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ “Familiarity-arising-over-time” — see: models of “true love”
▷ fidelity — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ fighting for what is right — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ figures— see: ToM, narrative figures (characters), and people
▷ filial piety (xiao ) — see: Models of selfless, giving love, also see terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ five elements / five movements — see: wuxing
▷ fragments — see: authoritative systems of thought, their fragments, and derivatives

framing question

The framing question is the start point of any interpretive project. Interpretive projects are most powerful when they have a well-defined contract that captures into it a large and interesting issue but has found a way to explore that issue through a narrowly defined topic.

These larger issues are conceived by the individual and group and articulated and given direction through a framing question. The authors of an interpretive project then “translate” this general idea, as posed by the question, into something that can be explored via the course method, with its terminology and specific process.

The framing question, then, is:

  • a question that is interesting, relevant, or otherwise useful in some way toward considering cultural differences and similarities among our East Asian countries or exploring the fading or persistence presence (*status) of traditional worldviews and values—but is, itself, too large to have any realistic, credible conclusions only tentative ones,
  • something that an interpretive project can offer insight towards,
  • free of course jargon but instead is general, intuitive, casual, natural, or conversational in its language.
▷ God’s love — see: Models of selfless, giving love

han, hen, urami (“hatred” “resentment” “rancor”)

These terms point towards feelings that might be described in English as “hatred,” “resentment,” “rancor,” “regret,” “feelings of revenge,” and so on. The Korean han, the Chinese hen, and the Japanese urami can all be written with the same Chinese character—恨—and are similar in that all definitely engage visceral (primal) emotions of aggressive or pained feelings when a ToM sees itself as being mistreated, threatened, or attacked, especially when that mistreatment is experienced as unfair.

However, for culturally accurate interpretations, more specific cognitive content should be associated with each of these terms (what line of thought instigates the feeling, what actions are invited, and so on), in their various specific cultural contexts. These contexts can be as large as “all Korean speaking people everywhere in the world” or small “freshman at such-and-such a university” but a group of some sort is always involved since the sense of “fairness” derives from what the ToM thinks are the values of a given group (even if that group is just “all humans in how they treat one another”).

▷ hen — see: han, hen, urami

high-order love

Cognitive love with reference to affective love when truly necessary, but an avoidance of elements that are mostly related to neurochemical love. The method in this book is based on the assumption that most of the influence of cultural contexts arrives via cognitive love, thus the focus on high-order love for interpretive projects. There are more details about “high-order love” at “love.”

“horizon of expectation”

“Horizon of expectation” is a term I have borrowed from Hans Robert Jauss (mid-20th century; “Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory” was given in 1967) but used in a somewhat different way. In his theory, “horizon of expectation” designates the expectations of a cultural group that are used for understanding and so, conversely, the limits of imagination and understanding of a cultural group. For us, “horizon of expectation” emphasizes the interpretive problem of not knowing when we are entirely wrong in an interpretation because the content we should use to interpret code is unknown to us or known but not used. Unlike Jauss, who links the horizon to historical circumstances, I view it as an effect of fluid cognitive processes of perception affecting SO/M (selection, organization, and matching). Some of our horizons can and do shift. Others, may not: there is much we do not know that we even do not know that we do not know. This is one of the most challenging factors of cross-cultural interpretive processes. Our effort to construct a “more culturally accurate” ToM is, in part, an attempt to step inside the “horizon of expectation” of that ToM rather than operate within our own. My view is that it is possible to have limited success in this, but probably never complete success.

▷ human-ness (Confucian ren ) — see: Models of selfless, giving love

“in good taste” rule

All comments during discussion and observations shared verbally or in writing should be in good taste and sensitive towards the possible views and feelings of others.


An instance is the well-defined object around which we build analysis. It might be a moment in time such as “What are the thoughts and feelings of Ah Mei when she read the letter from Zhang in which he includes a poem?” Or, it might be a specific aspect of a film such as “Does it matter that the director of Norwegian Wood cannot speak Japanese?” Or, it might be a theme such as “What is the role of gifts and the exchange of money in the film 2046?” Or, “Do secrets appear to facilitate or inhibit the development of love relationships in this film?” Or, it might directly take up an ethical value such as “What is the status of loyalty in the minds of Jin and Xiao Mei in House of Flying Daggers?”

The point of an instance is to narrow the direction of analysis enough so that the work produced by all teams is mutually beneficial. When the object is not well defined, analysis might be insightful but if it splits away from the analytic direction in the room, it cannot cross-check or stimulate the work of other groups.

On the other hand, when the instance is too narrowly defined, the analysis becomes insignificant and uninteresting.

It is not always easy to identify a good instance. In class exercises, instances are sometimes predefined by me.

The word “instance” has an admittedly unnatural feel to it. “Topic” is more usual but suggests something too broad. The advantage of “instance” is that it reminds us that it is difficult to make broad, sweeping conclusions from the results of our analysis. The premise of the course is that we begin to understand a culture not from the enthusiastic extension of a few organizing essential principles but rather from the meticulous consideration of the texture arising from a variety of smaller observations, considered collectively.

interpretive project (interpretive method, course method)

Course method

The fundamental project of the course is to learn something about the status of premodern worldviews and ethical values that help interpret love narratives.

The learning process primarily occurs through carrying out interpretive projects which include independent analysis, and the subsequent sharing of conclusions through bounded dialogue, open dialogue, and reports. The workflow of an interpretive project is:

  1. Decide the film or text to be analyzed
  2. Define the ToM and instance
  3. Fashion an appropriate narrowly defined topic that will explore the status of certain worldviews and ethical values
  4. Gather cultural contexts, array them, and decide the context-to-Tom distance
  5. Make concise conclusions that answer or respond to the narrowly defined topic
  6. Discuss these conclusions (at the level of work group or class-wide) via open or  bounded dialogue or both.

This workflow, the terminology associated with it (some of which are in bold above), and the theoretical positions supporting this particular approach to interpretation are called, collectively, the “course method.”

Interpretive project

This is the name of the workflow that is the central activity of the course method.

In its shortest form, it is often an individual asking questions in her or his mind how we should understand something in light of cultural contexts.

In its full form, it is entirely constrained by the course method and uses a template. The components are:

  • Contract (the shared information and shared analytic direction of anyone completing the project)
    • Film basics
    • Relevant cultural details of film financing
    • Relevant background and cultural details of film’s creators
    • Relevant background details of film’s content
    • Relevant background details and cultural implications fo film’s reception
    • Bridging topic or question (a line of inquiry relevant to course topics than can be accomplished with the film at hand)
    • ToM List (list of ToM for whom one will construct thoughts, feelings, or actions; possible ToM are the narrative consumer (reader or audience), a creator of the narrative, or an actor within of the narrative)
    • Instance(s) as moment(s), scene(s), or aspect(s)
    • Target of Analysis (TOA) (the bridging topic of question reformulated to something very specific)
  • Analysis and the reasoning behind it (individual work)
    • Cultural contexts (what to select, content to provide, relationship to ToM)
    • Positions (if an individual, her or his tentative conclusions, if a group this is in the form of a list that identifies common ground, where members finally agree, where they agree to disagree, and discoveries via discussion)
  • Sharing
    • Individual Report (IR), or Group Report (CDE Report), and its distribution

Projects do not try to capture the larger scheme of an issue. The are narrowly defined, credible, disciplined, insightful statements on smaller elements that, when considered collectively, might be useful in answering larger questions.

See also: course method

▷ “Intimacy (closeness)-developed-over-time” — see: models of “true love”
▷ “Intimate Love” — see: models of “true love”
▷ Japanese amae (甘え)— see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ Japanese harmony (wa 和) — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ Japanese musubi (“connectedness” “bondedness”) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ jie (节・節) — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ layered contexts — see: array

layers and layering

Layering in a key concept for this course, used in a variety of ways.

  1. Straight-up ontology:  “Presence” is not only a direct and singular phenomenon but also can relevantly exist as filtered through something else. Further, this fact of being behind something else, I argue (probably as a fragment of Daoist views), can actually lend it power rather than diminish it.
  2. Chronology: I have observed, but cannot offer a fully convincing reason why, that East Asia love narratives very frequently layer and mix timelines. The most common narrative shape is the prominent place of memory, of course. But in fact there is a predilection beyond this to mix, confuse, or convert to labyrinths, all sorts of timelines.
  3. Identity: Lovers who resemble previous or current lovers, brother-brother-girl or sister-sister-boy love triangles, comedy or tragedy from confused or multiple identities (such as spies in love with one another), and many other configurations that blur or confuse identities is another common feature of East Asian love narratives. This is particularly interesting in its challenge to the Western romantic model of the dramatic discovery of that unique other in the world who is meant to be your soulmate (love at first sight) and other notions of love that valorize the individuality of the people involved. (Think troubadours.)
  4. Complex cultural contexts: This recognizes that cultural influence is not just mixed (where the various elements are so blended there is not way to tell them apart any more) but can be powerful even when not obvious. In other words, obviousness or overt presence of a value is not the best measure of its influential strength.
▷ -like — see: “X” and “X-like”

love (aspects analyzed in this course)

“Love” as defined for this course is, in its broadest formulation, the strong emergent effect arising from the synergy of neurochemical, affective, and cognitive processes occurring simultaneously and situated in complex contexts.

Examples of neurochemical love would be non-discursive urges towards physical intimacy (sexual desire, and so on). Examples of affective love are longing when the beloved is absent or a sense of security or sense of insecurity. A couple of cognitive love examples are a trust or commitment (promises, contracts, obligations). In nearly all cases, it is common for any given love attribution to resides in not one but two or all three of these three categories. A cognitive sense of obligation (“I promise to care for you until I die”), for example, may well include a deeply felt urge towards nurturing or partnering (“I so much feel like protecting you all the time”) and that may well invite more neurochemical-like intimacy.

We do not treat love as a metaphysical, universal, or spiritual entity/reality, but neither is there any intention to deny such possibilities. We also do not try to decide or define what might be called “true love,” “best love,” “right love,” or “ideal love” or measure the love we identify against these concepts. We explore love as it arises in multitudinous formulations from the interpretation of narratives. While such love might well resonate with love as experienced in the real world, we keep in mind that our space of analysis is fictional narrative and allow for the special shapes love might assume in such contexts.

Love defined broadly in this class is not always a good thing. It can be characterized as a mixture of all or some of the below, as well as other things:

  • to wish to be or be the center of attention, to have one’s existence acknowledged / to give such attention and acknowledgment
  • to think endlessly about the other, obsession, hyper-awareness of the other
  • to nurture, serve, provide comfort, or protect / to be nurtured, be served, be comforted, or protected
  • to be in awe of or respect / to be adored or receive respect
  • to possess or sense ownership, to dominate or command / to be possessed or be owned, to submit, follow, or feel loyalty
  • to intimately partner (bond), and/or to reside in a sense of familiarity or mutual understanding, and/or feel inexplicably connected (bonded)
  • to trust / to be trusted
  • to share.

In this course, love is not just something arising from body chemistry; it is not just our powerful emotions, it is not just our hopes, expectations and strategic conclusions. It is all of these things as they together—but hardly in unison or harmony—start, fashion, and end relationships, as individuals together confront a world that supports or challenges a relationship, and as all of this plays out in the context of other life adventures and crises. What we call “love” in this course emerges from these many things as ephemeral and mysterious entities, or as powerful excesses, or both.

Yes, in English love means things other than the above: “There is no greater love than that of God.” “I loved her more than anyone else, although I was not yet ten years old.” “My love of food exceeds my love for study.” Nevertheless, for the purposes of defining the boundaries of this course, since all interpretive projects must meaningfully relate to the topic of love, we use the above definition.

Because of our interest in identifying cultural similarities and differences among East Asian cultures, we are focused on how these various cultures in their many formulations affect how we interpret narratives. In particular, we focus on worldviews and ethical values. To that end, we maintain a hierarchy of “high-order / low-order” love with the body associated with “low-order” and cognition associated with “high-order.” In this schema, because neurochemical love is most closely associated with the body it viewed as the least affected by cultural conditions, while affective (limbic love, emotions of love) is somewhere in the middle, and cognitive love is the most inextricably entangled in cultural contexts.

Since it is a premise of this course that cognitive love is the most closely associated with culture, we focus on that type of love. But it should be noted that how we interpret emotions (affect) may well be deeply involved in cognitive movements and that, further, the neurochemical-affect-cognition complex is definitely a mixed entity where it is therefore sometimes not useful or possible to discuss just one isolated aspect of it. Even so, to the degree possible, we gaze toward cognitive love and culture’s involvement with it.

▷ “Love-by-familiarity” — see: models of “true love”
▷ love circle, love story circle — see: love narrative circle (love story circle, love circle)
▷ “Love-from-closeness” — see: models of “true love”

love phases circle / spiral (LPC)

This characterizes five phases of a relationship: pre-relationship, early relationship, mature relationship, declining or deteriorating relationship, and post-relationship. Both in “real world” relationships and relationships as presented within narratives, there is no clean and simple movement through these phases. A ToM might not know where to put its relationship on the circle, or might think it is in several places at the same time, or might change its minds numerous times about where is the best location to describe the phase of the relationship. And, of course, two ToM in the same relationship may well describe this in different ways. It is, in short, schematic and predictive: when in such-and-such a phase where the relationship is headed might well be such-and-such. It can also be part of a constructed  historical narrative for a ToM: “Ah, that is when I fell in love” “That is when we fell in love” “That is when trouble first appeared” and so on.

I have decided to use a circle to represent these phases to align the schema better with East Asian cyclical thinking, including Buddhist teachings that we repeat the same things over and over until we gain enlightenment. A circle also challenges the Western “happily ever after” pattern. We use a spiral when we want to layer previous love experiences with the current one, or to indicate it is the first but not last relationship.

The primary purpose of this schema is to afford a graphic way for an interpreter to state the character of a relationship to others. However, it can serve as a reminder that the present moment is best thought of as a moment the can be entangled in memory or expectation or both.

low-order love

Neurochemical love and emotions closely tied to neurochemical cascades in the body. There are more details about “low-order love” at “love.”

▷ loyalty — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency

“making sense” (of the apparent content of a ToM’s thoughts, feelings and actions, and of narrative progress)

For the purposes of the course we take as a premise that an author or director seeks to offer a narrative that will “make sense” to the readers or viewers.

What this means is that the narrative progress and the cause-and-effect chains in a narrative proceed along lines that we “understand.” Whether or not we agree with the action is a separate matter. We might be puzzled either as a result of deliberative writing by the creator of the narrative, or limited understanding, or poor reading. This might indicate that we need more thought or information. But when we concludes “No, that does not make sense at all” then either we are working with an “absurd” narrative that does not intend to make sense, or it is evoking an entirely different worldview or value. To “make sense” we need to draw on this information.

Buddhist Chan/Zen koans were stories with cause-and-effect strings that do not make sense with ordinary common sense but do make sense to those who are enlightened (or so claim). For example,

The monks of the East Hall and the monks of the West Hall  were quarelling over a cat. Nansen picked up the cat, and  said: “If any one of you can say even one word of zen, you can have the cat. Otherwise, I’m going to cut it in half.”

No-one spoke. So Nansen drew his sword, and killed the cat.

Later, Nansen asked Joshu what he would have said if he had been there. Joshu took off his sandal and put it on his head. Nansen said: “It’s a shame you weren’t there: I wouldn’t have had to kill the cat.”

We are left with a puzzle. This narrative does not “make sense” regardless of how we adjust it, until we simply say, “Well, it is a koan and this is how koans are.”

For us, when a narrative does not make sense either we have been careless in our reading (failed at the level of basic understanding) or there are worldviews and values or other contextual information in play that either we do not know (being not a member of the targeted cultural groups) or do not agree with. “Making sense” of a narrative, for us, is not altering interpretation it until we can personally agree with it but rather understanding the relevant contexts sufficiently that the narrative proceeds more smoothly (the reasonable progression of cause-and-effect chains) , with fewer puzzles. In general, when a narrative stretch does not “parse” easily, either it is:

  • poorly written, or
  • we are reading insufficiently carefully, or
  • the puzzle is meant to puzzle us, or
  • we are missing contextual information.

It is this last area that interests us the most because it is where cultural information resides.

▷ matching — see: selection, organization / matching (SO/M)
▷ Middle Way — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ mindreading — see: Theory of Mind (ToM) / mindreading

mimetic desire

Mimetic desire, a term coined by Rene Girard (literary critic and philosopher), is one’s desire for an object that arises because one is aware that someone else desires that object. In other words, one’s desire is in imitation (mimesis) of someone else’s desire. For us, this concept is one among many others that indicate that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected with our social (cultural) world. Although Girard argues that all desire is mimetic desire, and I agree, that more absolute position is not necessary for the theory of this book.

mixture (and mix)

The topics in this class are often complex and whereas analysis is sometimes the disassembly of the parts to take them on one-by-one and thereby better understand the whole, that does not work well with *love which, as an emergent phenomenon (in my view), is not so much an assembly of parts but something that results from the coming together of a variety of things. *Worldviews and *values can be so intertwined that there is no way to talk about them meaningfully by pulling them apart. Jealousy, insecurity, and urge to bond can present such a problem: it is possible that one cannot talk about the jealousy of a narrative figure without also discussing his or her issues of insecurity. These are so mixed together that there is no way to separate them anymore. In this course, we call this situation a “mixture,” borrowing a common use of the term in sentences such as “My feelings towards that person are a mix of envy and attraction.”

So, there are two principles behind this term or, rather, two sides to one principle: We will recognize that our topic evokes multiple elements in nearly any attempt to understand any aspect of it — that’s culture, a mixture of things. But, we will accept that we cannot talk about everything under the sun each time we are trying to make a conclusion. While we might be uncomfortable with the narrow range of our claims (that is, recognizing that the statements need to be longer and take up a greater variety of ideas) we trade off comprehensive statements for accuracy and portability in these narrow statements. We want interpretations that are sufficiently short and specific so as to be able to share them easily across the class.

Perhaps the above could  be restated simply in this way: Life is complicated. We know that. We are going to keep our observations narrow anyway, and remember that there are other pieces of the puzzle we had to leave untouched.

model reader / model viewer

Umberto Ecco developed the idea of a “model reader.” He writes in The Role of the Reader: Explorations In the Semiotics of Texts (p. 7) as quoted by Guillemette:

Although the text is a cloth woven from signs and gaps, the Model Reader, using his encyclopaedia, has the ability to fill in the gaps to the best of his knowledge, using his social baggage, his encyclopaedia (sic) and cultural conventions. The author has in fact foreseen a Model Reader who is able to cooperate in the text’s actualisation in a specific manner, and who is also “able to deal interpretively with the text in the same way as the author deals generatively [in producing the text, that is].”

( Lucie Guillemette and Josiane Cossette, “Textual Cooperation,” Sign o/0: Theoretical Semiotics on the Web, accessed February 8, 2018, http://www.signosemio.com/eco/textual-cooperation.asp.)

From our perspective, a “model reader” is the ideal reader that the author or director imagines when producing narrative.

It is one of the assumptions of the course that in the writer-reader contract is an unspoken promise that the writer will product narrative that can make sense to the reader. When I, as the reader, feels that this contract has been broken, I will probably lose interest in the text because it feels as if it is not “about me” anymore.

Eco definitely convinced me that writers do indeed imagine readers, either generically or in very specific terms, and do write for an array of them in most cases. This might be a diverse or not diverse group of course. One that is familiar to us, or not (such as the original readers of The Tale of Genji).

In any event, the theoretical point is that the writer is putting words (code that has, in the above language “signs and gaps” — “signs” here are semiotic signs, not actually sings like stop sings ) on the page that can only be completed by the reader — it really is code, a symbolic representation of a world and the actions in it — and so the writer will include whatever is necessary for that decoding to happen to a satisfying degree but, on the other hand, will tend to be sparse in this offering since to over-explain is unpleasant to readers, giving them a sense that the writer thinks they are not very intelligent. (Example: “Mariette was sad when her car was stolen. It is often the case that people become sad when their cars are stolen.”) We can use what is there and what is not as clues to the cultures of the model reader imagined by the writer. And when something does not make sense to us we should consider that possibly there is a culture gap between us and the model reader.

NOTE: I noticed that Wikipedia has an article on “Reader model.” While this is not Eco’s “model reader” it might be derived from his theory, which was widely discussed in film studies. In any event, this “reader model” is also useful to us. As Wikipedia explains: “A reader model is the term used for the hypothetical average person who is the target audience for a product.” This is similar and perhaps worth keeping in mind, and certainly it is a good idea not to confuse the two. (Wikipedia contributors. “Reader model.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed February 8, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reader_model.)

▷ models — see: patterns and models

models of selfless, giving love

Multiple thought systems uphold the value of selfless, giving love.

Christianity asserts that God’s love is a perfect love and that it is unconditional, universal, forgiving, and entirely free of personal motive (instead, it is a selfless love). Christians, to the extent that they can, try to love in this godly way. This sets a powerful standard for what ideal love should look like and what loving behavior should attempt to achieve. The role of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is key within this system although often moderated by an ethic that one should be kind and fair to oneself as well. Agape is introduced as one of the types of love described by the early Greek philosopher Aristotle. For Aristotle, it meant “affection” but the term evolved in Christian thought to represent the highest possible type of love as described above.

Buddhist benevolence ([Pali:] metta [Sanskrit:] maitri  慈) is kindness, friendship, love, benevolence, or pity and is the position taken by Bodhisattva’s to remain in this world of suffering until all sentient beings find enlightenment. In its highest form, it is a type of detached, wise benevolence or concern for others but in practice it is a Buddhist’s helpful, concerned, loving attitude towards.

Confucian “human-ness” (ren 仁) is a key principle of Confucian ethics (some place it as the dominant principle that guides all others) which includes, among many things, care towards others, understanding, honesty, sincerity, and warmth.

Confucian xiao (filial piety 孝) is considered the most natural formation of love, with the parent caring for, sacrificing for, protecting and loving the child and the child reciprocating by showing respect and gratitude for the parent. However, Confucian xiao lacks the associations with the divine that Christian love has, so it lacks, too, the nearly magical powers of healing, transformation, solution, and the overcoming of obstacles associated with Christian love.

models of “true love”

In this course we try to avoid a casual use of “true” that would mean “the most important” or “the best” or “desirable” in sentences such as “He was my only true love,” “I don’t think I truly loved her,” and so on. Instead, we keep the word set aside to point towards specific models of love, as below:

“Sincere Love” (not-a-game, honest, not strategy-based)

This might be an evaluation of one’s own feelings but it is more likely an estimation of a partner’s feelings or intentions, and this estimation is measured more for what it is not than what it is. (I have listed “commitment” elsewhere—that would be a present quality of love, reliability for example, the absence of a quality as here.) Examples of TF/A that need to be absent to consider true love along these lines are seduction or companionship for ulterior purposes not beneficial to one, falsely declaring love, and casual dating.

“Christian Love” (Christian ideal love)

This phrase means “true love in the Christian, idealized sense of an enduring, pure, aspiring-to-be-perfect, unselfish, sacrificing, unconditional love in the spirit of God’s love for man” together with its associations that this is was everyone seeks and “should” select if the opportunity arises. Further, it includes a promise of fidelity and the likelihood of devotion.

“Reliable Love” (stable, commitment, reliable, trustworthy, on-going, monogamous)

Confucianism establishes stability in a relationship through xin and other ethical values and common practices, all working together to uphold social order. Christianity, drawing on Greek thought, embraces the formula that “what is good = what will endure” so as long as the love is “true” is can be expected to continue. Social mores around marriage help support stability in both cultural contexts.

Daoism does not expect or promise stability. According to its view, everything changes. Buddhism is similar in its doctrine of constant change (無常) but adds the psychological perspective that we experience change as painful. All relationship, whether good or bad, will end, it is just a matter of when and how.

“Passionate Love” (affective / neurochemical, low-order love)

Visceral indications of love:

  • “When I kissed you, I knew I loved you.”
  • “My body tells me I am in love.”
  • “When you are around, I am inexplicably happy; when you are gone I am endlessly lonely.”
  • “To my eyes, you are the most beautiful person in the world.”

There are darker versions: extreme possessiveness, for example.

Because, in some ways, we trust our feelings more than our thoughts, body-based emotions, especially in love narratives, often have the status of truth and love without little or no affective or neurochemical content feels dry and empty.

“Natural Love” (naturally occurring and untroubled)

I have not defined this term although students use it as if there is a definition. Clearly it is a phrase that is broadly useful for our discussions and probably, in the way we are using it, means “the East Asian equivalent of Western ‘true love’ in terms of indicating an authentic, or desirable, or ‘true’ love.”

However, what it is seems not clearly defined but perhaps is in the range of “unforced love,” “love that happens of its own and seems right,” or “love that lacks conflict and so must be right or desirable or good.”

In a sense I think there is a uncritical or unconscious deployment of a measurement that parallels the Greek formula of true=good=beautiful, in this way: If it seems unforced or requires little work or causes little pain, it must be good and if it is good it is in some sense “true.”

The phrase “natural love” opens the door to many rich areas of thinking about cultural contexts and is best left undefined, in order to allow wide-ranging speculation that is useful to our course.


Familiarity-arising-over-time (“Love-by-familiarity”)—Chinese: qin (亲・親)

This is a bond with gathering stability due to the shared history between partners, a developed sense of trust that can grow with the passage of time, and just a “habit” in a person’s life. Caution and distance gradually fall away overtime even if the shared history includes episodes of pain for one or both in the bond. “Familiarity” includes the nuance of “as if family” or “like family” with the confidence and openness that might be a component of family relationships.

Intimacy (closeness)-developed-over-time (“Reduced-distance Love”) —Japanese: shitashimi (親)

In a psychological environment when other people (even a partner) are seen as outsiders or insiders, the phrase suggests insider status as a personal level. “In-house divorce,” for example, would be a couple that maintains the appearance of a marriage but no longer feels close (shitashimi) towards one another. Shitashimi tends to develop over time but can arise rapidly in some cases.

modern times

“Modern times” will be used in this class to designate the point at which East Asian ideas have begun to be influenced by “the West”—Western European romanticism, individualism, communism, democracy, Christianity, the mashup of cultures that is the result of globalization, and so on.

▷ musubi (“connectedness” “bondedness”) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ narrative figures— see: ToM, narrative figures (characters), and people
▷ narrative progress — see: “making sense”

narratives (texts)

Among others, these definitions can be found in the English Oxford Living Dictionary:

  1. A spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

1.1. The narrated part of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue.

1.3. A representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

We will use the word broadly, that is, as a way of referring to the storylines in a literary work or film or “template” storylines that exist in a culture (such as “finding one’s soulmate” or “lovers painfully separated by circumstance like Romeo and Juliet”). This also helps us avoid genre designations (such as “short story” or “novel” which are often not a good fit for premodern *East Asian works) and reminds us of the importance of story progress (narrative events) for our interpretive method. Example: “Narratives that engage love as a corrosive event are not uncommon in East Asian cultures.”

However, when the word partners with another word it has a narrower meaning closer to how it is defined in 1.3. of the Oxford Living Dictionary, in other words, events that proceed from one to another meaningfully. Example: “‘Narrative events’ that turn on the issue of  ‘*xin‘ (trustworthiness) are key to understanding the *status of Confucianism in this film.”

The following website has some thoughtful, well-organized, and fairly basic comments on narratives in film: James Mooney, “Film Narrative,” Filmosophy, posted February 11, 2015, accessed February 9, 2018, https://filmandphilosophy.com/2015/02/11/film-narrative/ .

narrowly defined topic

A narrowly defined topic is an early step in interpretive projects. Together with the film selection, the instance, and the ToM, it creates the interpretive project contract. The narrowly defined topic defines the focus and boundaries of the interpretive analysis that will be carried out. Thus, it is an exceptionally important element of the project and often is the most difficult element to construct usefully or correctly. It has these key qualities:

  • It positions the interpreters to think usefully on issues of cultural contexts and their status in the narrative.
  • It is narrow enough that individual interpretive projects, when compared, are meaningful to each other.
  • It is broad enough that there is room for discovery.
  • It is entirely free of prejudicial language, presumptions, conclusions, or suggestions of conclusions. It is never a step toward an outcome that has already been decided.
  • It avoids confusing language or suggesting multiple topics. Instead, it is short, specific, and exceptionally clear as a statement. Beware, in particular, that it avoids “X and Y” and “X or Y” constructions.
  • Of course it remains faithful to the movie, instance, and ToM selection, as well as the course’s discourse rules and guidelines.
▷ “Natural Love” — see: models of “true love”
▷ neurochemical love — see: love (aspects analyzed in this course)
▷ no-self / detachment (無我) — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ non-action / wuwei (無為) — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ obsession — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷ organization — see: selection, organization / matching (SO/M)
▷ parameters — see: analytic parameters
▷ “Passionate Love” — see: models of “true love”

patterns and models

Patterns and models are cognitive structures of which a ToM is aware and which are the basis for matching, to give meaning and significance to incoming information (and so pre-exist the arrival of that information).

Cognitively, these can be very simple, such as the shape of a letter of a script, or very complex, such as a collection of worldviews and values set out by a thought system. At the level of biology, they may exist primarily  as a network of neurons that act together reflexively, or networks of neurons that, by habit or tendency, frequently interact.

Patterns and models may participate in interpretation either with or without the conscious awareness of the perceiver/interpreter.

Patterns and models either reside within the mind or within the relevant cultural group, but in the view offered in this volume, the internal/external distinction is not key except that it is important to note how patterns are not cleanly separate from external (real or imagined) social connections and networks.

Patterns and models are used differently in different fields of thought. For this volume, patterns are more singular and models are more complicated structures usually assembled from patterns. Not a lot of care has  gone into using them in distinctly different ways. (By the way, either can be static or include the element of time.)  So, recognition of a stop sign draws on a geometric pattern already known to the perceiver while that a narrative figure decided to tell the truth rather than lie at a certain moment would be explained by the reader based on the model of that person’s mind that the reader has put together.


Practicability describes a quality of an interpretive project. In this course, practicability has these two basic facets:

  1. Is the scope of the project being considered realistic enough that it is possible (practicable) to finish the project with a short list of excellent observations?
  2. It the project designed so that its results are shareable (have practical value to others)?

“premodern” and “traditional”

In this course, “premodern” simply designates a time before *modern times. Example: “The status of today still needs improvement but the status of women in premodern times was worse.”  “Tradition” or “traditional” suggests that the status of a value or worldview in limited or otherwise being viewed from “outside” of it. Example: “I don’t accept some of the traditions of my parents.”

These terms are discussed more fully in the chapter on *worldviews, *ethical values, and *common practices.

▷ propriety (li 礼・禮) — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ qin ()— see: models of “true love”


In terms of the course method, “receptivity” is a description of ToM’s engagement with a worldview or value. While the term inadvertently suggests “willingness to accept” what is meant instead is the degree of engagement, whether positive or negative. Receptivity includes considerations of how important it is to the ToM to show allegiance to the cultural group by accepting a value, but other factors also need to be kept in mind, including ToM’s physical location (for example, ToM’s particular Korean value may seem more important to uphold while living in Korea), and so on.

▷ “Reduced-distance Love” (Japanese shitashimi) — see: models of “true love”
▷ “Reliable Love” — see: models of “true love”
▷ ren () — see: models of selfless, giving love
▷ righteousness (yi 义・) — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency


In terms of the course method, “robustness” is a description of presence-absence across a spectrum where something can be strongly present (influential, relevant) or weakly present or absent. It is the result of many factors including status and how close to a full authoritative system should be evoked for the interpretation.

scholar-beauty (caizi-jiaren) storyline

The caizi-jiaren storyline, as the notes below indicate, refers specifically to a Ming-Qing dynasty stereotypical narrative shape; however, the fundamentals are exceptionally old and widespread in East Asia. Among iconic texts, even the 11-th century Japanese long narrative The Tale of Genji has similar features, as does the 17th-century Korean long narrative Nine Cloud Dream and the Korean pansori epic also from the 17th-century, or earlier, Chunhyangga. It remains, I would suggest, one of the standard storylines of modern East Asian romantic films. Of the many outstanding features of the brilliant 17th-century Chinese massively long narrative Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), one is its ability to rise above this oh-so-predictable cause-and-effect chain.

Below are a excepts from scholarly works that outline the main features of this narrative line.

from Geng Song, The fragile scholar: power and masculinity in Chinese culture (Hong Kong University Press, 2004):

The ideals of the masculine and the feminine in pre-modern Chinese literary representations of love and sexuality are best defined by the designations caizi (才子) and jiaren (佳人), which, far from conveying the full connotations of the original words, have been translated as “scholar” and “beauty.” Broadly speaking, the terms can be applied to any hero and heroine in classical Chinese representations of love and courtship. In a narrow sense, however, caizi-jiaren refers exclusively to a model of romantic stories in popular drama and fiction that flourished in late imperial China … [13th-19th centuries]. This model is notoriously known for its standard story line, highly conventional (and even hackneyed in the later period) style, theme, characterization and, above all, stereotyped and established gentry-class notions of masculinity and femininity.

The scholar-beauty romantic pattern is characterized by a set of stereotyped formulas. According to Hu Wanchuan, the following motifs are essential for a standard caizi-jiaren story:

1) It is a love story between a handsome young scholar and a beautiful girl, both of whom display exceptional gift for poetry and prose, especially poetry.

2) Both the hero and heroine come from distinguished families. They are usually the only child of their families an amusingly enough, they are most likely orphaned, or at least one of their parents is dead. (apart from reducing the number of characters on stage, this plot line may also serve to emphasize the extraordinary value and peerless perfection of the scholar and beauty.)

3) They meet under an unexpected circumstance and fall in love with each other at first sight.

4) Some hindrances will occur in the way of their marriage; it is usually the girl’s mother or father who is opposed to the match because of the scholar’s lack of an official rank.

5) The beauty sometimes has a clever girl servant who helps mediate in-between the lovers and thus functions as a matchmaker for them.

6) The love story invariable ends with the happy reunion of the couple, which is in most cases made possible by the caizi’s success in the imperial examination.

notes from Keith McMahon, Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists: Sexuality and Male-Female Relations in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Fiction (Duke University Press, 1995):

page 105

As comic romances (although some of the above antecedents are not comic), caizi-jiaren stories differ little from those in any culture about a young man and woman who are destined to be together, encounter obstacles to their union, but finally overcome them and unite in marriage. As a group of like books, not simply stories with universal features, however, the caizi-jiaren romances constitute a genre that attains a specific historical identity because of its appearance in ten- or twenty-chapter (or so) form about the early Qing. [The Qing begins 1644.]

As Lin Chen notes, although the term caizi-jiaren was common by the early Qing, it already bore what was then the notorious connotation of self-determined marriage between two talented and good-looking youths (56). Some of the works even eschew the appearance of free choice …

page 106

Honglou meng [Dream of the Red Chamber] suggests that these types of books are “all alike, of inferior literary quality, and obscene.”

page 306, note 19

According to Christina Yao, the terms caizi and jiaren have been linked together since the Tang to refer to three types of love stories: those involving a relationship between a gifted man and a courtesan, between a man and a ghost or spirit, and between elite young men and women involved in premarital affairs (Yao 1983).

selection, organization / matching (SO/M)

This refers to one way of describing the basic processes of attributing meaning to incoming sensory data or code. A portion of the data or code available is selected, this is organized, and these organized objects are matched to patterns or models around which further cognitive thought might occur.

The process is abbreviated SO/M to set the first two closer to the objects themselves and the last to cognitive patterns that are “internal” but that the phases are ever-entangled, affecting one another.

The process is hermeneutic and on-going, to end when circumstances dictate. I suggest that what we select, how we organize what we select, and what we match incoming data or code to all are affected by culture. Since basic perception is a sensory-cognitive neurological process, the state of the body will of course play a role. However, we are interested in those aspects of the cognitive process that can be bent by cultural influence.

▷ self-in-world — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world

Through adherence to the course method and thoughtfulness toward the needs of one’s group members or other groups in the room, interpretations are fashioned so as to be credible, intelligible, and useful to others.

▷ shitashimi (“Reduced-distance Love”) — see: models of “true love”
▷ “Sincere Love” — see: models of “true love”
▷ situational considerations / factors — see: worldviews (social and cosmic), ethical values, common practices (WV/CP)
▷ social harmony / he () — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ social worldviews — see: worldviews (social and cosmic), ethical values /  common practices (WV/CP)
▷ standards — see: course standards


For the course method, this is a technical term when it is in sentences such as: “Where the ToM is the director, the status of Confucian faithfulness in My Sassy Girl is strongly and unambiguously affirmed despite the wayward lifestyle of the boy and the ‘modern’ ways of the girl.” In non-technical language outside the method of this course: “This film has a lot of Confucianism in it, even if it seems modern and was really popular.”

Briefly put, the status of a worldview or value within a narrative almost always needs to be described as part of our analysis and will fall into one of three broad categories: affirmed, conflicted, or rejected.

*Please note that we often need to talk about socio-economic differences in this course and “status” in those case has its usual meaning, as used in sentences like this: “Men of high status were often found attractive by women of that time.”

▷ strategic considerations — see: worldviews (cosmic and social), ethical values / common practices (WV/CP)
▷ systems of thought — see: authoritative systems of thought, their fragments, and derivatives
▷ system fragments — see: authoritative systems of thought, their fragments, and derivatives

term slippage

Term slippage is a type of undisciplined step in an argument, or a rhetorical strategy—one that is unwelcome in this course in order to enhance  discourse accuracy. Term slippage is when one word that represented a certain concept is later replaced with another word which is presented or treated as an equivalent, although in fact it introduces a slightly different concept. The initial term has “slipped away” with another not quite equivalent term taking its place.

terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency

We use words to describe postures that are primarily active (engaged in by choice) and words that describe “natural” or passive postures that seem to occur of their own or are stronger than one’s own intentions. Sometimes these two are mixed.

Confucian duty / Confucian righteousness (yi 义・義)

The expected behavior derived from the ethical principles of the Confucian authoritative thought system. I ask students to use “Confucian duty” or “Confucian righteousness” (that is, not just “duty” or “righteousness” or “moral honesty,” etc. ) when they want to indicate that the duties or sense of what should be done that are felt by the ToM are identifiable as derived from Confucianism (whether or not the ToM is aware of this). “Duty” can be used in many other circumstances. A Japanese samurai will think it is his duty to protect his general but it is probably more accurate to see this type of duty as derived from a warrior’s moral code rather than Confucian ideals. It comes down to the same thing in terms of setting aside one’s own wishes to fulfill a requirement defined by a principle. On the other hand, to fully understand the cultural context, it is unwise to import Confucian values simply because you observe someone acting dutifully. The pressing moral argument should reference Confucianism as an authoritative thought system. If it does not, then it is a fragment or perhaps it is righteousness based on a different authoritative thought system, such as Christianity.

devotion (Confucian devotion, Christian devotion, devotion-obsession)

In all cases “devotion” refers to a single-mindedness towards the individual one loves. It is present (even if its “presence” is that it is missing when it should not be) in nearly all narratives, but how it is understood can differ according to cultural context and it is one area where cultural contexts mix frequently and easily. It may not be useful to be more specific than just using “devotion” to characterize the thoughts or feelings or actions of the ToM. However, in cases it might be helpful. We will use “Confucian devotion” to refer to a mixture of duty and/or respect towards the individual loved. “Christian devotion” is used to designate a single-minded, high-valuation of one’s partner where one humbles oneself before the beauty of the partner as if before God, shows a type of commitment to a person as one would to a religious faith, or hyper-values the partner as perfect. “Devotion-obsession” or just “obsession” will be used when devotion has a negative nuance, regardless of the cultural context because this seems to be close to a primal emotion (jealousy or possessiveness) and so, according to our system, is closer to a universal (similar across cultures) affective or neurochemical state.

Note that we use two other terms as well: “faithfulness” (Premodern Confucian xin 信) and “fidelity” (being monogamous). “Devotion,” “obsession,” “faithfulness,” and “fidelity” give us a range of words to help characterize expectations or intentions of monogamy and/or bonded-ness.

faithfulness (Confucian xin 信)

We use this only to indicate premodern Confucian, or Confucian-like xin (信), which can be loosely defined as “keeping one’s promises, being reliable.” This term is not used in this course to describe monogamous values. “Fidelity” is used for that.


When characterizing a love relationship, it is one of the terms with a specific course definition. It designates monogamous behavior while in a relationship. Whether it means monogamous in both body and mind, or just body, is left undefined. What “in a relationship” means is also left undefined.

Confucian loyalty (zhong 忠)

When characterizing a love relationship, Confucian loyalty means “behaving in ways that support the needs, position, or honor of one’s superior.” While it is common English practice to use loyalty to mean “devotion” or “monogamous” we need a term that points exactly at a hierarchical relationship between two partners. Thus, I have set aside loyalty to be used in this specific way. This is not the same, by the way, as a submission-dominance relationship where a sense of belonging or possession derives from being in command or offering oneself as a servant to the other. Nor is this meant to invoke sadomasochistic relationships. However, as is the case with much of what we analyze, distinctions are not in practice easy to make and blended states-of-mind are the usual “actual” conditions.

musubi (“connectedness” “bondedness”)

Musubi derives from the verb musubu “to tie together.” Knots and the state of being tied to another or to something is a common way to describe the “stickiness” or persistence of a relationship. Metaphors (strings, robes, knots and their unraveling) are common ways to refer to a bond. While it may be more frequently described as grounded in Buddhist notions of karmic bonds—and Buddhist did offer powerful doctrinal positions to support this type of inexplicable and invisible bond—robe and knot imagery are more fundamentally related to Shintoism, which predates the arrival of Buddhism (not as a formal thought system but in its essential worldviews and values). I prefer the term “musubi” to English words since we already have two other terms using the root word “connect” and “bondedness” can have negative nuances while musubi (even in situations where it is unpleasant to be bound to the other), at root, is never negative.

Japanese amae (甘え)

While the common translation of amae is “dependency” and, when a verb, is “to indulge” or “to rely on someone,” all of these carry too negative a connotation. Amae is to receive the benefits of another (care, attention, protection, gifts or deeds of giving) and to believe that the relationship is such that these things can be expected. In that sense it is a vulnerable embracing of trust and intimacy. It is also to behave in a way that might elicit the desire to be cared for (cuteness, helplessness, childishness). Japanese visualize this as a two-way structure in relationships of mutual trust and intimacy (either partner can amae), not always in one direction.

filial piety (xiao 孝)

Filial piety (xiao 孝) is described in its core principles under models of selfless, giving love. In this context (attachment, loyalty), however, the focus is not on the benevolence of the parent or appreciation expressed by the child but rather the comfort of feeling protected, of being loved ,and the sense of bonding that arises from that. This quality, I would suggest, can arise in amorous (non-family) relationships although it is unlikely to be called xiao. It is listed here because I wanted to position it next to “amae” with which is shares some qualities.

▷ texts — see: narratives (texts)
▷ TF/A — see: thoughts, feelings, and actions (TF/A)

Theory of Mind (ToM) / mindreading

Theory of Mind, abbreviated by us as ToM, is a concept of both philosophy and cognitive psychology, with considerable cross-over between the two. For us, ToM is our construct of (our best guess at) the thoughts, feelings, and reasons for actions taken or contemplated of another (TF/A), either to understand that other or predict its actions.

Construction of ToM falls into two general categories “Theory-Theory” and “Simulation Theory”:

In the case of Theory-Theory we apply general ideas of what someone is likely to think, feel, or how that someone might act based on experience, knowledge of the context, and our general view of how humans behave in many circumstances.

Simulation Theory posits us as the model for the ToM: “What would I feel in such a situation?” “What would I do in such a situation?”

Give our project of trying to understand a ToM in terms of its own culture, clearly we are less interested in Simulation Theory (in fact it would be an interpretive error in many cases) than we are in Theory-Theory. But, of course, much of how we think of what humans feel and do is based on our personal experiences so, in a sense, these two approaches blend.

ToM is absolutely central to the theory of interpretation offered in this book. Our interpretation of narratives derives from our construction of ToM for various individuals. We do not talk about people but rather the thoughts, feelings and actions (TF/A) of them as a cognitive construct by us.

Our ToMs, in essence, do not require a gender and will be referred to as “it” or “they,” but in practice most ToM subjectively associate with a gender.  My ToM of person X and another’s ToM of person X are probably similar in some ways and different in others.

thoughts, feelings, and actions (TF/A)

This phrase, and its abbreviation TF/A, are shorthand for those aspects of Theory of Mind modeling (construction) that interest us most. We imagine what might be the content of the thoughts (cognitive content) and feelings (affective and neurochemical content) of a ToM, and what might be the reasons for the actions (or reactions) of a ToM or what might be the actions a ToM is contemplating.

While most frequently we are interested in the TF/A of narrative figures, TF/A can also be those of the writer making writerly choices. There may even be times when it is appropriate to target oneself as a sort of third-person reader responding to the narrative.

Although listed as three words, thoughts, feelings, and actions arise from, cause, and otherwise shape one another so completely that it usually is counter-productive to focus on just one. For our interpretive projects, it is usually most effective to discuss them collectively.

That being said, in a more granular way of contemplating the three, thoughts and feelings stand apart from actions in that we can only speculate on the thoughts and feelings of narrative figures or the author, while actions taken occur in an external environment. The slash in the abbreviation is meant to represent this internal/external split.


To facilitate diversity and liveliness of discussion, a student’s attitude in all ways should be welcoming towards the ideas and observations that another student is offering. Additionally, students should never belittle the language abilities of other students by showing off linguistic knowledge or criticizing those abilities.

▷ ToM — see: theory of Mind (ToM) / mindreading

ToM, narrative figures (characters), and people

When we are imagining what are, or were, or might be the thoughts, feelings of actions of someone, whether that be a real person who has or had an empirical existence or a figure (character) in a narrative, we are constructing a ToM: “that person probably will ….” “that person probably now feels.” We may or may not be able to articulate the reasons why we have thus concluded and we may or may not have confidence in our conclusion, but generally speaking we will construct these ToM frequently, casually, and more or less accurately.

In this way, ToM should be viewed as an aspect of a narrative figure or person—its internal thoughts, feelings, and reasons for actions. (If someone is confronted by a tiger, that person will probably run away. The event, from the perspective of creating a ToM, is uninteresting. If, however, the person decided instead to leap towards the tiger and wrestle with it, our brain kicks into action remaking the generic ToM, looking for explanations of the behavior. “That person has a death wish.” “That person has an over-confident attitude towards her strength.” “That isn’t a person, it is some sort of spirit in human form.” We look for plausible explanations (try to “make sense” of the narrative). In this way, in this course, our discussions of ToM, narrative figures, and real people overlap over the issue of explaining thoughts including strategic calculations, hopes & expectations, actions & reactions, and/or feelings / states-of-mind.

Additionally, because of my affinity to Melanie Klein’s way of seeing how we relate to the world (Object Relations Theory), I do not see a great deal of difference between how we contemplate a narrative figure and some real person in our life. Naturally, the value we place in the two is different and, of course, the real person can do all sorts of things that a narrative figure cannot. But at the level of puzzling out what someone is thinking and what a narrative figure is thinking, I do not see a great deal of difference. At least when the topic is looking for cultural influences.

Finally, English strongly affords the subjects and objects of a sentence with substantiality: “The main narrative figure of Flying Daggers is caught between her love for two men—this figure is plagued with split loyalties” versus “The main woman of Flying Daggers is caught between her love for two men—she is plagued with split loyalties.” The second sentence is much easier to work with although there is accuracy in the first sentence through its reminding us that the woman is fictional. In fact, stories become “real” to us as we forget that we are reading about fictional entities. We suspend reality to enter the reality of the narrative. In this way, the use of pronouns and designations such as “person” “woman” “man” when discussing figures in a film treats narrative figures as real people and this can be useful, and is quite natural, even if, ultimately, inaccurate.

In terms of the confusion between these terms “ToM,” “figure,” and “person,” I offer as a working solution for the purposes of this class that we do not worry too much about these crossovers between them. We keep in mind that in most cases we are probably actually talking about ToM. When we need to call attention to a specific aspect of the situation, it is best we use the correct term. For example, “My professor is an important narrative figure in my life” means something entirely different than, “My professor is important in my life.” We should ask ourselves why that person has gone out of his or her way to use the term. Similarly, “I see that Jin is sad, but I can’t understand why” seems like a reasonable way to talk about the ToM of a character in a film without using the more precise “I am having some difficulty constructing a plausible ToM for the narrative figure named Jin.”

In short, I would suggest that we remain aware of our language but not be too wooden in the deployment of the more technical terms “ToM” and “figure.” Finally, I find “figure” and “character” to be, basically, synonyms in the way I use them. You might hear either one, and whichever you use will sound nature in the parlance of this course.

ToM’s position about self-in-world

Broadly speaking, a ToM’s thought, feelings, and actions (TF/A) are very likely to be better understood if you know its position about “self-in-world” for a given situation. By “self-in-world” I mean, broadly, one of the following three positions.

Context (cosmic or social)-first, where the ToM puts great value on context, whether something cosmic such as “fate” or something more immediately at hand such as the needs or pressures of a social group or a multiplicity of social groups or even combinations of social groups and cosmic elements. The ToM affirms the value and/or power of its complex context.

God (or other)-first, (devotion, loyalty, obsession) where the ToM expends single-minded attention towards a singular entity whether that be God or a god, an institution, or an individual. Devotion, loyalty, and obsession are some ways to describe the position. (Obsession suggests a state-of-mind outside the control of the ToM, the other’s may or may not be position freely chosen.

Self-first, where the ToM views its own needs, desires or intentions to have higher priority than that of others. Modern individualism is in this category.

Why a ToM selects one of these may be for a wide range of reasons that derive from natural feeling cultural positions to strategic choices. We are most interested in the cultural dispositions.


Depending on the mix of the three above, the ToM is likely to perceive a need to match to a context or sees an opportunity to change the context. We can use our analysis along these lines to describe in a neutral, non-judgmental way whether an action is passive (disengages from or works with a context) or active (attempts to alter the situation).


That being said, the above calculations and reactions occur, in my opinion, almost always in a context of the ToM’s view of whether moderation is superior to passion or whether passion is superior to moderation. Again, this is context-bound of course (is one is being chased by a bear it is better to run with all your passion than with moderation) but in ambiguous situations predispositions may well come into play (“I would rather to be loved a little more softly by you than this constant, tearful, passionate love that you have for me” vs “You are never jealous—I think you don’t really care”).


Similarly, ToM’s attitude towards whether orderliness is beneficial or oppressive, and whether disruption, chaos, or anarchy is useful or to be suppressed, will almost certainly be another key element.

With these four in mind (the three ways to relate to context, attitudes towards passive and active approaches, attitudes towards the value of moderate or passionate state-of-mind and behavior, attitudes towards the merit of orderliness and chaos) we consider the status of various traditional worldviews and values. In a contemporary context, these various elements have likely blended to the point that deciding which is in play have no real interpretive value. But this is not always the case, and some clarity about the original positions gives us an expanded and more nuanced vocabulary for analysis and the conclusions that might derive from it.

Daoism: non-action/ wuwei (无为・無為) cosmic harmony

For the purposes of this course, wuwei (无为・無為) refers to the Daoist notion of “non-action” where harmonizing with the deep conditions of a situation is considered wise and which often means allowing the situation to develop on its own rather the proactively push a course of action. When filtered through Buddhism, especially Japanese Buddhism, it means “no-self” or enlightened and free action. In modern societies is often means “patience is good, waiting is often a valuable action” but also leads to overvaluing passive stances.

Confucianism: social harmony/ he (和)

Social harmony is a key element of Confucian ethics. It seeks and orderly social structure where each member knows his or her proper place within the society according to the basic relationships (the “five bonds”), respect for authority, propriety (li 礼・禮), self-restraint (jie 节・節), reciprocity, and so on. Implicit in the system is that social order is more important than personal happiness but that, with good social order personal happiness is also enabled. Fulfilling one’s duty (yi 义・義) is part of upholding harmony but hiding what would be disruptive behavior is also, in practice, a part of upholding harmony as well. For example, disorderly conduct (such as having an affair when married) is never truly welcome but it is more unwelcome when not hidden from others. It can be considered wise, even considerate, to keep one’s negative thoughts to oneself. Confession for purposes of forgiveness is possible, but it is more strongly supported in Christian cultural circles. It might be better not to expose one’s actual crimes or “crimes of the heart.” Extreme actions, not “knowing one’s place,” highly selfish actions, immoderate behavior, insubordination, deviant behavior, minority opinions, all things along these lines might be looked upon sternly as disharmonious.

Japanese social harmony / wa (和)

While much of what is said about Confucian social harmony is appropriate under this category as well, the intense “groupness” of social units in Japan leads to a somewhat different affective response to disharmonious behavior as not just incorrect but truly threatening and, perhaps, even personally threatening. The positive virtues of harmony perhaps also have more of an affective content of “comforting” or “reassuring” on top of the more principle-based “it is the right thing to do.”

Buddhism: no-self/ detachment (无無・我無)

A central doctrine of Buddhism is that there is no true, substantive, ontologically stable self but rather only the illusion that one has a self. This illusory belief leads to suffering as we tend to the needs and wants of a self that does not, in fact, exist. Insight into this “truth” leads to enlightenment and stops the arising of suffering related to it. Setting aside whether there is actually such a thing as enlightenment, most who accept either in part or in full Buddhist teachings around no-self will consider that one way to reduce or escape suffering is to assume an attitude of detachment to worldly things, situations, even one’s own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Buddhism: Middle Way

If we were interested in Buddhist doctrine, an understanding of the “Middle Way” would be a complex endeavor. This is one of the first of Buddhist doctrinal positions and has been debated as to its meaning ever since. For example, in the case of Mahayana Buddhism the debate is around the meaning of “emptiness” (sunyata), looking back to Nagarjuna’s dialectic that positions “emptiness” as neither existence nor non-existence (a description that presupposes that there is such a thing as existence, which he denies). However, while such doctrinal scaffolding manifests in cultural awareness, by far the most common way of thinking about the Middle Way of Buddhism is as an proscription for behavior: be moderate in all things, neither wish for too much or wish for too little, be neither indulgent nor an ascetic in your approach to life. In other words, Buddhism as practiced in a social environment usual evokes images of moderate, reasonable behavior and a balanced lifestyle.

Current major religions originating in the Middle East: action-oriented righteousness / fighting for what is right

All the Abrahamic religions that developed in the Middle East (Judaism, Islam, Christianity) believe that the religious follower is obligated to fight to change immoral contexts. These religions take the view, fundamentally, that God’s kingdom of heaven is the ultimate model for human societies. When a social situation is immoral or too far from the heavenly model, it is considered proper (or incumbent) to take action that will bring change. Again, it is not that reform is not a part of Eastern thought systems but action is more likely measured against the context and the element of action as a representative of divine intent is absent.

topical intensity

This refers to the degree of involvement of a worldview or value, from the ToM’s perspective. Does the ToM constantly think about how dangerous the world is? That might be a great degree of topical intensity about a certain worldview. Does the ToM seem to be callous towards others? That could be a low level of intensity, even if, at the level of the film overall (director ToM) the topic is very intense and it is just that this figure is an example of not being considerate when the value at the level of the film is “One should be considerate to others.” When a value is rejected, that is not low intensity. When it is ignored that might be: If is seems not to be a topic of the film, unnoticed, not discussed or presented, that is very low intensity. However, when the topic seems to be floating about in the film but the negative figures ignore it, it has high intensity at the level of the film but low intensity at the level of the narrative figures. Thus, there is absence of the topic (a neutral position) and conspicuous absence (absent when the expectation is that is should be present but it is being ignored).

▷ traditional — see: “premodern” and “traditional”
▷ true love — see: models of “true love”
▷ urami — see: han, hen, urami
▷ values — see: worldviews (social and cosmic), ethical values, common practices and other situational  considerations

white noise

Functionally speaking—that is, in terms of achieving “good” interpretation that offers a more complete cultural understanding through the contexts of a ToM’s thoughts, feelings, and actions / reactions—white noise is any or all prominent features of an instance that are important for understanding the non-culturally specific basics of the ToM’s situation, but in their prominence and familiarity distract us from finding more nuanced cultural insight.

worldviews (social and cosmic), ethical values, common practices (WV/CP)

Abbreviated as WV/CP, following the same model as SO/M and TF/A.


Worldviews are assertions or notions of how the world works (in contrast to how we should behave). A worldview might assert something about how the Universe itself works (cosmic worldviews) or more specifically about the makeup of human nature (social worldviews). Worldviews are highly influential because they tend to be widely held among members of a cultural group and are often unnoticeable. If the group is self-aware of the worldview, it is usually relatively unassailable. Worldviews invite participatory resistance on the part of readers and viewers if the worldview does not match well with their own; it is, therefore, one of the ways we feel or can discover differences in culture.

ethical values

Ethical values proscribe behavior—they tell members of a cultural group what they should do. Some are more insistent than others in whether or not to submit to or otherwise affirm and uphold the value. Some stand merely as ideals; others are strongly asserted by and policed by the culture (if the proscription against something as represented by a value is exceptionally strong, it might be called a “taboo”). This article is a good overview of what an ethical value is: Wikipedia contributors, “Value (ethics),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed February 22, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_(ethics).

In other words, *worldviews state how things are, how things work (what are the expected cause-and-effect chains) while *values state what should be done and indicate cultural pressure to behave in certain ways.

It can be difficult to separate these two, since ethical values are founded on worldviews. “Because people have a tendency to lie, the right thing to do is tell the truth.” The first half of this sentence is a social worldview. The second half of the statement is a social value because of this view since if everyone always told the truth there would be no need, fundamentally, to have an ethical value that insists on it.

common practices

Common practices may or may not be fairly labeled as an element of a culture, depending of what is being considered. “Doesn’t everyone keep a 100-dollar bill if they find it on the ground?” might just be a comment on a universal tendency of humans, or it could be based on one’s perception of a specific cultural group. If so, then it is a cultural description. We are not too concerned about this theoretical conundrum of whether or not common practices are always cultural features. Instead, we use the concept of common practice to explain the gap between what is generally considered ethical behavior and what people actually do, based on their belief that the majority of people would do the same. This helps us from over-applying ethical values or ethical ideals in our interpretations.

situations (strategic)  considerations

In addition to the above, it is normal reading practice to consider the situation and the strategies that might best work in that situation. We embed what we believe a ToM needs or wants in a situation, then calculate plausible possible thoughts, feelings or actions (TF/A). Situational factors are often the single most powerful element in determining ToM content. Even so, we set this aside and look further into the situation to analyze what might not be primarily derivative of the situation but is still worthy of consideration.


Some examples of the above categories:

  • “I will have bad karma if I keep this money” — sounds like a cosmic worldview.
  • “No one tries to return money found on the ground” — sounds like a social worldview.
  • “One should try to return money, if found” — sounds like an ethical principle.
  • “I don’t need to try to find the owner of this money because most people would just keep it” — sounds like common practice.
  • “I can keep this money because no one saw me pick it up” — sounds like a strategic consideration (part of our “other situational considerations.”)


For the purposes of this course, wuwei (无为・無為) refers to the Daoist notion of “no-action” where harmonizing with the deep conditions of a situation is considered wise and which often means allowing the situation to develop on its own rather the proactively push a course of action. When filtered through Buddhism, especially Japanese Buddhism, it means “no-self” or enlightened and free action. In modern societies is often means “patience is good, waiting is often a valuable action” but also leads to overvaluing passive stances.

▷ WV/CP — see: worldviews (cosmic and social), ethical values / common practices (WV/CP)

“X” and “X”-like”

In the pursuit of accurate terminology we use the suffix “-like” to create a distinction between something that is, say, Buddhism, and something that seems to be intended to make one reference Buddhism in some way but might only be in the guise of it, or reminds you as the interpreter of Buddhism but whether it is reasonable to associate that something with Buddhism is unclear or undecidable.  So, as another example, if I say “Matsumoto seems to have sacrificed his whole way of being in order to devote himself to the mental damaged Sawako in the vein of a Christian-like love” I am raising the issue as to whether or not Christian values or relevant. I think they might be but either I am not sure or I am not sure the director or Matsumoto consciously make this connection. On the other hand, if I say “Matsumoto displays Christian love when he decides to sacrifice his whole way of being in order to support  the mental damaged Sawako” then I am claiming Matsumoto consciously and unambiguously views his action as Christian.

▷ xiao (filial piety ) — see: Models of selfless, giving love, also see terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷  wa () — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world
▷ wuwei / non-action (无为・無為) — see: ToM’s position about self-in-world

wuxing (five elements, five movements 五行)

In ancient Chinese cosmology, wuxing refers to phases of cosmic spirit (qi, 气・氣) and are seen as generating and interfering with one another. Some sequences are natural, some are not, and when the system is out of balance, disarray, chaos, or ill health can be expected. We are interested in this system primarily as in indication of how deeply embedded the idea of change is in the ancient Chinese cosmological system, on the one hand, and, on the other, how it offers an entirely different worldview for the explanation of interaction (cause-and-effect) and so narrative progress lines.

▷ xin () — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency
▷  zhong () — see: terms for attachment, loyalty, monogamy, dependency

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Connectionism," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed Jan 4, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectionism.
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Connectivism," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed Jan 4, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectivism.
  3. Learning Theories, "Connectivism (Siemens, Downes)," accessed Jan 4, 2018, https://www.learning-theories.com/connectivism-siemens-downes.html.


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Interpreting Love Narratives in East Asian Literature and Film Copyright © 2019 by John R Wallace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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