Contemporary Eastern Literature

This week’s reading all have a theme of human connection. The first story is “Diary of a Madman” by Lu Xun, about a man suffering from delusions that everyone around him is a cannibal planning to eat him. Throughout the story, despite his delusions, the reader can see that his brother is still trying to connect and be there for him. The second story is “Sealed Off” by Zhang Ailing, about two people who would normally never interact talking on a bus during a stop in a warzone. The final story is “The Man of La Mancha” by Chu T’Ien-Hsin, about a person preparing for their death, and fearing people truly knowing him when he dies. Each of these stories deals with connection in some way, some focusing on people connecting, and some on people avoiding genuine connection. 


I think the story that best embodies the theme is “Sealed Off”. In Sealed Off, the tram stops due to the war, and two people unlikely to meet or talk end up meeting. it is a beautiful depiction of the connection between people. They are different ages, different social classes, and one is married while the other is single. Still, they have something in common. Both feel isolated and distant in their lives, both want more from life than what they currently have, and in that moment where time seems to have stopped, they connect in the way they have been longing for. Then as the tram starts up again, they return to their seats, and the world moves on as before.


One of the ways I recommend teaching this theme to students is by asking them if they’ve ever had a moment like in one of the stories, where they genuinely connected with someone else, be it a stranger, a family member, or a friend. Ask them to write a short story about it, trying to make the reader understand that connection.


Give them the option to put them up for the class to read too, so that after stories have been put up, the class can discuss their classmates’ stories. Give them a few prompt questions, such as “How does the story make you feel?” and “Have you ever had a similar experience?”. Split the class into groups and assign them each a story to analyze as a group. 

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