1. About this book

The book's audience ◆ the book's parts ◆ notes on eBook format

— Introductory note —

At the beginning of each chapter, I will list the key course terms that appear in the chapter in boxes like this one. This textbook, the course, and course grades are built around these terms. An asterisk before a word indicates that the word or phrase has a specific definition with further explanation in Part Five. (Asterisks are not used in these cases: chapter titles, these boxes, captions, footnotes, and Part Five.) However, a full understanding of most key terms requires that you know the content of Part Five, the explanation in the textbook where it is introduced, and elsewhere in the textbook (and in the classroom) as nuances are added and it takes shape as a working component of *interpretive projects.

When you are unsure of a term’s specific meaning or need to jog your memory, take advantage of the rapid search for terms that can be done with digital books.

— Key Terms —

  • Introduced:
    • cultural contexts
    • East Asia
    • interpretive projects (interpretive method, course method)
  • Mentioned and should now be familiar (review if necessary):
    • none

— Chapter Abstract —

This chapter describes the book’s target audience, the book’s five parts, my thoughts on the advantages of the eBook format, and the current state of this ongoing writing project.

— Chapter Outline —

  • 1.1. The primary reading audience
  • 1.2. The five main parts of this book
    • 1.2.1. Part One: About this book and the course
    • 1.2.2. Part Two: Course assumptions, premises, and other theoretical positions
    • 1.2.3. Part Three: Course method—rules, standards, and procedures
    • 1.2.4. Part Four: *Cultural contexts
    • 1.2.5. Part Five: Course terminology
  • 1.3. Advantages of the eBook format
  • 1.4. Versions of this work

1.1. The primary reading audience

This eBook is the primary textbook for an upper-division undergraduate course that explores what the role might be and how to use *cultural contexts to interpret *love-related aspects of *East Asian *narratives, particularly contemporary film. Our goal is not to answer the question “What is *love?” or even “What is *East Asian *love?” nor it is to offer rich literary or film analysis. Rather, we borrow the unique space of *love-narratives to focus on *cultural contexts—more specifically social cultures of specific groups as can be articulated as *worldviews, *ethical values, and *common practices. Students[1] correctly expect the course to provide an opportunity to view and discuss *East Asian films from a cross-cultural perspective and may even expect that that will include time spent learning *traditional *values and ways of thinking (*worldviews). What is perhaps less expected are the theoretical journeys we will take into the relationship of culture to interpretation. Thus, while I address directly the core readership of this book, namely, the students who take the course from an interest in *East Asia, I also visualize a wider audience composed of those who ponder theories of interpretive processes including what psychology and cognitive neuroscience might suggest, or those who study culture’s role in identity construction and *narrative formation, or who have an interest in the complex dynamics among *traditional and contemporary social *values in *East Asian *cultural groups. As you will see, the theory of interpretation set out in this book complicates the boundaries and ontological status of *cultural groups. For our analytic intentions, we cannot meaningfully define cultural boundaries in geographic terms. So, in order to define a pool of potential films and other narratives, we limit ourselves to objects 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.

A film set in Australia about a Chinese family that has immigrated there qualifies if the director is Chinese and the film is in Chinese, even if, say, a member of the family marries an English-speaking Australian citizen since the primary group remains the Chinese family and the social setting is constructed from the many thoughts, conversations, and actions of the family members. On the other hand, a spy film by an American director that is in English and that has American actors, although the setting is Hong Kong, does not quality, even if Chinese is occasionally used in the film.

This is not the only way to approach the topic, but for the purposes of *bounded dialogue (our primary method of inquiry—to be explained later) we need a pre-defined boundary and this offers one.

1.2. The five main parts of this book

1.2.1. Part One: About this book and the course

Part One describes this book and a course for which it is the basis.

This volume began as an e-textbook for a class I teach but, along the way,  evolved into a more thorough presentation of theory. It is, therefore, hybrid in content. Thus, the first part presents a theory of the processes involved in attributing meaning and significance to narratives, but with an eye on what this means when one encounters narratives not of one’s own native culture. The remaining parts of the book engage the theory’s deployment in its specifics towards  interpretations of narratives that better recognized cultural content that is unfamiliar to the interpreter.

Since this book is closely tied to in-class instruction, and since the state of understanding of perception and meaning-attribution processes is rapidly changing,  and because of the multimedia capabilities as well, the eBook format is a good one for this work. I make a few comments on this format in this part. I also lay out the basic learning objectives and structure for the course for which it serves as the basis.

1.2.2. Part Two: A theory of interpretation for cross-cultural reading

Part Two offers my theory of how we construct narratives and what we draw on to do so.

Schematically stated, I view the arrival at a state that could be described as “what the story is and what it means” to be a conversion of code to text by the reader (interpreter) via a variety of cognitive processes some of which are willed and some of which are automatic. Significance (meaning) is achieved through hermeneutically entangled processes of information selection, organization, and the matching to known material (patterns and models), all to arrive at a meaning result that is “good enough” for the purposes at hand. This view of arriving at significance identifies a wide spectrum of areas in which our native culture supersedes the cultural content in which the narrative is embedded, leading to an interpretation that might feel correct but would not be perceived as such by an interpreter familiar with the “home” culture(s) of the narrative.

These theoretical positions form the basis  for the *interpretive method (course method) I have designed for the course.

1.2.3. Part Three: Method—Elements of the interpretive projects

The *interpretive projects described in this book deploy a number of elements. Part Three  describes the major ones. Others are better introduced in the following parts.

The *interpretive project is designed to allow individual analysis of an aspect of the *narrative well enough designed to allow comparison with the individual work of others once the process is complete but no so well-defined as to push conclusions into the same direction (which would subvert the purpose of individual, independent work).

To this end, this part introduces and describes the type of *love considered  (*high-order, *cognitive-affective love) and sets out as analytic targets that the contexts of greatest interest to be considered are not only those that can be easily related to culture but, more specifically, can be said to derive from the *worldviews, *values, and *common practices (*WV/CP) of a identified and described, relevant, *cultural group. The *status of these *arrayed *WV/CP are considered with respect to a *ToM (*Theory of Mind of a *narrative figure, as constructed by the reader/interpreter), more specifically a *ToM‘s *thoughts, feelings, and actions (*TF/A).

Put another way, the interpretive goal is to answer this question:

In a specific situation, what—plausibly and in terms of the culture(s) of the narrative, not one’s own—might be the thoughts and feelings or reasons behind certain  actions of  a particular character in the story, at a particular moment in the narrative (that is related regard to love in some way) and to what degree do traditional worldviews or values explain that?

Individuals or individual groups develop answers to this, then those results are compared and tested against one another in a process called *bounded dialogue.

1.2.4. Part Four: Method—Designing and completing interpretive projects

Part Four explains how to build and manage the *interpretive projects.

An *interpretive project is a student process-to-report activity constrained by the defined *course method and the template associated with it. For these projects, students on their own or in groups analyze an aspect of a *narrative relevant to the course topic. The results are often shared. The *course method (based on course rules and standards) is designed so that these following qualities will be part of any *interpretive project: practicability, shareability, credibility, discovery & insight, accuracy, *equality, diversity, and liveliness.

1.2.5. Part Five: Cultural contexts—Traditional thought systems in East Asian love narratives

Part Five introduces some of the basic content of several major *authoritative thoughts systems (cosmologies, philosophies, ethical systems, religions)  and explores how these might be manifesting in *narratives.

By *cultural context I mean those aspects of a *cultural group (ideals and practices) of which one is a member that constrain, prod, or inform that individual’s *thoughts, feelings, and actions (TF/A)  in some way.

With this in mind, *interpretive projects follow one of these two basic analytic orientations:

  • We can take an annotative or predictive stance, trying to explain aspects of the *narrative with such questions as “What is ‘X’ (of the narrative) thinking or feeling? Why did she or he do that or what will she or he likely do?” Here, “X” is a *narrative figure, or someone who contributed to the creation of the *narrative such as the director, or those who consume the *narrative such as readers or viewing audiences. We call this *”making sense” of the *narrative and it is a process of checking the narrative progress as a way to check our own cultural understanding.
  • We can take a broader view that may well be based on initial work more like the above. This second perspective is a historical stance that explores to what degree a *traditional *worldview or *value remains viable for the best interpretation of a situation. We couch these questions as questions of the *status of a *traditional *worldview or *value such as “What is the *status of the Confucian *value of xiao in relation to this narrative event or the narrative overall?”

Either of these analytic lines requires of the *interpretive project a selection and definition of relevant *cultural contexts. It is a premise of this course that *traditional *worldviews and *values, to some degree, frequently remain relevant to the accurate understanding of a *narrative (and, by implication, of real-world events). To this end, the course provides a discussion of various *traditional *worldviews, *values, and *common practices to construct possible *cultural contexts that might be relevant and of which the student may not have a detailed understanding. Contemporary *worldviews, *values, and *common practices are not taught as systematically, and often this information has peer-to-peer origins rather than being introduced by me. (Since this is an open-ended course with the intent of describing credibly the interpretations others might actually have, there will be many areas that might require our attention. We should be willing to consider any mode of thinking or practices or identities that might be relevant.)

Part Five begins with a broad discussion of Greek ideals of love and medieval European ideals of romance in the West because most of you have traces (*fragments or *derivatives) of these as part of your own *love-related *values. Self-awareness of your own *values helps clarify and sharpen your interpretive analysis. Then, in sections for each, we consider *worldviews and *ethical values of *traditional Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism that might inform the *love-related components of *narratives.

1.2.5. Part Six: Key terms and concepts

The lifeblood of this course is its lexicon of defined terms. Part Six works in conjunction (does not substitute for) the discussion of a term in the body of the book itself to help give it a full and rich definition. In some cases, the term is an abbreviated representation of a key course concept. In other cases, it is to establish shared vocabulary, since the most fundamental premise of the course is that a word such as “true love” almost certainly does not mean the same thing to each of us. If we do not define terms, our analytic positions lack clarity to one another and lose their power to compare cultural objects or offer a crisp interpretation.

Some terms are about method; others, about theory; and still others, specific to *authoritative thought systems such as Daoism, Confucianism, or Buddhism. In actual class practices and exercises, many of these terms occur together, so it seems best to present them as a single list in A-Z order rather than ask you to remember under which category a term might occur. The result is a list with a wide variety of terms, but one that reflects well the conceptual content of this course.

1.3. Advantages of the eBook format

I have been thinking about the contextual frameworks (*cultural contexts) for *love *narratives in *East Asia for most of my professional career. My early training was in Heian period Japanese aristocratic women’s memoirs, which have extensive musings about love relationships, as does much of the literature from that cultural moment. In the process of designing and refreshing this course, I have changed my interest and focus, evolved the theoretical basis, and redrawn the boundaries numerous times. Developments external to the specific content of the course content—in various fields of critical thought to some degree, but particularly in neuroscience—have changed my thinking, and this continues. However, what has influenced and expanded my thinking more than anything else has been the process of teaching itself, and the many discussions with students that ensue when teaching. Since this is a course about interpreting *love in *narratives, including the way you students are inclined to interpret things, I must listen with care to your comments and conclusions. For example, a prior student once used in her analysis the phrase “*natural love,” and I finally realized this was a standard many of you were sometimes using. I suspected it was probably something loosely defined and flexible. But when I designed an exercise to obtain a range of definitions that we could include as an official part of the course, I was surprised at how similar these definitions were in embracing the promise of longevity of the love, and its lack of conflict. Many expressed the opinion that “natural love” was the closest equivalent *East Asia has to the Western notion of “true love.”[2]  I realized that the answer to the question of whether or not the narrated love could be called a *natural love had considerable influence on how that reader (student) would understand the *love being narrated.

The eBook format has enabled me to present my current state of thought in a way that responds to these changes without waiting for it to settle into some more stable form, or forcing it to do so. It allows me to include newer thoughts that I am not sure will prove to have longevity but which seem promising. It allows for thinking that is a bit more experimental, less tested, and with flaws both known and unknown but hopefully nevertheless interesting. The ideas presented here are, indeed, far flung and often reach beyond my comfort zone in terms of research. However, since this is a teaching text, I have taken my task not to be the construction of theories that can withstand sustained critical review but rather the creation of a forum for thinking that opens pathways for talented students to pursue. This book, then, is most definitely more about start points than finish lines. That the contents can be freely shared fits well with my intent to stimulate rather than conclude thinking on a wide variety of topics.

I would also like to add just simply that this format allows me to address you, the students, directly as the primary audience, which is the most appropriate “writer-reader” contract for this particular writing project. Others are most welcome to join our discussion, but I am writing this for you.

1.4. Versions of this work

Release One: The book was developed from course notes. The first electronic version to be released publicly was written, sometimes feverishly, while teaching the class for which it was the textbook. Sometimes during that semester (Spring 2018) I was only a few days ahead of the students in their use of the book. Portions of the book were blank and portions were basically only my notes.

Release Two: The book was reread and cleaned up for Summer 2019. That release is dated June 21, 2018.

Release Three: The book began a serious rewrite in August 2018 and continues when time permits. This version represents the results of that rewrite. This is the first version with extensive new material and research. The entire doubled in size as theoretical issues were settled. This version was released in June 2019. It needs editing for spelling, grammar, concision and some smoothing out of formatting. There are several chapters waiting to be included although the ideas are already in this version, just not fully argued. One part was withheld so I could work directly with students.


  1. My students are undergraduates at the University of California at Berkeley. While some major in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, most come from a diverse array of majors in the sciences and humanities. Many are from overseas, and most but not all are intimately involved in one or many *East Asian cultures either through family, or having lived in the country, or by having extensive knowledge in the language and culture of the country perhaps through partnering with individuals from these cultures. Class size is typically around fifty students.
  2. This submission is representative: "… you are harmonizing within yourselves. Then, if you are fated to be together you will get closer and harmonize with one another, as natural love. It isn't a forced thing—you came together on your own terms."