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One Hundred and Eight Possible Term Paper Topics

Related to Traditional Chinese Society

The Taoist Heavenly Master

Page Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. 108 Term Paper Topics
  3. Extremely Bad Term Paper Topics

Introduction

As far as I know, all of the topics on this page can actually be developed into term papers suitable for a college course on traditional Chinese society. The list was originally developed in order to provide students in my course with a broad enough list of topics that they wouldn't all try to use the same library resources simultaneously. Over the years many good papers have been developed from the list. (Actually, so have many bad ones, but never mind that.) It is offered here for the use of students needing inspiration as they start developing topics.

As to length, I notice that the Encyclopaedia Britannica editors maintain that there is no topic too complex to summarize in 750 words. On the other hand, there is no topic so inherently straightforward that nobody is willing to be longwinded about it. That said, most topics listed here can probably be handled adequately in about ten to twelve pages, the length of an average college term paper.

Term papers should always be legible, written in graceful English, and correctly spelled and punctuated; the list of citations at the end should follow a normal citation format. (Click here for help with graceful English or an easy and widely acceptable citation guide.)

If bibliographic resources are ample enough, you may wish to focus your paper more closely than is implied by the topic as stated here. For example:

On the other hand if the information is spare and hard to find, such a restriction is impossible, and you may find yourself even having to broaden the topic. In a prologue to your paper, placed before the first paragraph, you may if you wish explain what sorts of bibliographic constraints you experienced and the changes you were able (or forced or delighted) to make in the original topic in view of the materials you found.

An appendix at the end of this list suggests three utterly terrible topics for which it is nearly impossible to receive a decent grade.

(Pet Peeve of All Right-Thinking Paper Graders: Princess Di's England was not the same as Julius Caesar's Italy, Napolean's France, or Count Dracula's Romania. So what makes you imagine that China didn't have any variation!? If you write a term paper that refers to 1920 as "ancient times" or uses quotations from Mao Zedong as examples of Hàn dynasty court decisions, or cites modern business practices as the opinions of Confucius, your professor may have apoplexy. Or run amok. Or both. Think about that!)


Topic List

Economics

The Taoist Heavenly Master

1. Chinese craft and mercantile guilds.
2. Chinese domestic animals and ideas about domestic animals.
3. Finance, money, and credit in Chinese farming life.
4. How Chinese irrigation systems worked.
5. How marketing operated.
6. Land and labor: the ecology of Chinese village life in [a particular region]
7. Landlords and tenants.
8. Peddlers.
9. Money lending and money lenders: rural credit in traditional China.
10. The silk industry and the organization of labor.
11. Did ancient peasants really wear silk? Most ancient clothing in China.


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

Family Life

12. A man and his wives: polygyny.
13. Adoption of children.
14. Birth control, reproduction, and fertility.
15. Chinese genealogies.
16. Famale infanticide and the sale of children.
17. How big were families really?
18. Mothers are compassionate, fathers are severe: parental stereotypes in traditional China.
19. Love: the place of romantic love in a society with arranged marriage.
20. Reflections of familistic ideology in New Year rites.
21. The expression of values about families and family life in pre-XXth century short stories.
22. Tiger women: myths of dangerous female sexuality in traditional China.
23. Why clans and lineages divide and when.
24. Why families divide and when.


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

Government

25. Chinese city walls and city planning.
26. Civil Service examinations as a route to social advancement.
27. Contracts, written & unwritten, in traditional times.
28. Crime and crime rates among Chinese populations: Is there a "Chinese pattern of Crime"?
29. Crime and police work.
30. Heroic warriors and military lore in folk life.
31. Intervillage warfare in the Cantonese-speaking world.
32. Cheating the tax man: the collection of taxes in traditional China.
33. The model of an ordered state implied in the Confucian canon.
34. The use of torture under traditional Chinese law: theory and practice.
35. Village-level organization in two dynasties.
36. Was the Chinese local government adequately staffed for the job it was supposed to do?


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

History

37. Different schools of interpretation concerning the nature of Shang and Zhou period bronzes.
38. Manchus and Mongols: How two kinds of outsiders tried to run the Chinese empire.
39. Recent archaeological evidence concerning the origins of agriculture in China.
40. Taiwan at the time of the Dutch & Dutch policy concerning Taiwan.
41. Taiwan at the time of the Japanese annexation: What did the Japanese get?
42. The Chinese migrations into Malaya and their local-level organization.
43. How can we know how big the population of China was in the Yuan dynasty?
44. Was the famous Tang dynasty persecution of Buddhists really necessary? A study of the anti-Buddhist position.
45. Western experience of China: The view of three nineteenth- or early twentieth-century missionaries.
46. What are the Dunhuang manuscripts and what do they tell us about Chinese society?
47. What do we actually know about the reforms of Wang Mang?
48. What we know about most ancient Chinese writing and what needs to be done if we are to find out more.
49. What we know about the Xiongnu.
50. Who are the Hakkas?


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

Medicine

51. Chinese "Culture-bound psychiatric syndromes."
52. Medical diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine.
53. Religion and the treatment of childhood illness in traditional China.
54. Diet and nutrition before the discovery of the Americas.
55. How Chinese thought about the human stomach.
56. Plagues, pestilence, and famines.
57. The idea of qi in Chinese medicine.


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

Education

58. How did Chinese children learn to read?
59. How much literacy was there in China really?
60. Elementary education in imperial times: village schools, clan schools, and tutors.
61. What were "textbooks" like in traditional China? Did they work?
62. Was there education for people who didn't aspire to the civil service exam system?
63. How were "clan schools" organized anyway?


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

RELIGION

64. The cult of the goddess Mazu in south China.
65. Buddhist monasticism.
66. What's in the Buddhist canon as known to most Chinese?
67. The Kings of Hell and Judgement after death.
68. Chinese contributions to the Buddhist canon.
69. Chinese place gods: Chenghuang (the city god) and Tudi Gong (the earth god, a.k.a. She).
70. Chinese theology and the view of hell.
71. Divination: when must the goeds be consulted and why?
72. Evidence for nature worship in pre-Han times.
73. Evidence for popular (i.e., non-royal) ancestor worship in pre-Han times.
74. The evolution of the idea of reincarnation after it is introduced to China from India.
75. Lay Buddhism.
76. Liturgical Taoism (as against philosophical or literary Taoism).
77. Elixirs of immortality in Chinese tradition.
78. The nature of indigenous Chinese Christian churches.
79. Nuns, priests, and other religious professionals.
80. Patterns in Chinese ghost stories.
81. The religious beliefs of the Taiping rebels of the 19th century and their relation to traditional religious beliefs.
82. The role of texts in Chinese Buddhism as it was practiced.
83. Secret societies and small-scale religious sects during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
84. Secret societies in pre-Ming-dynasty times.
85. Tai Shan: a sacred mountain.
86. Trance and possession in Chinese society.
87. What actual evidence is there about the behavior of the ancient Wu ("shamans")?


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

Behavior

88. Banditry.
89. Charity and welfare in theory and practice.
90. Chinese rhetoric: how Chinese argue.
91. Chinese styles of conflict and conflict resolution.
92. Ethical dilemmas and the celebration of ethical dilemmas.
93. How Chinese thought about painting and paintings.
94. Jokes and farces: the underlying patterns in what Chinese found funny.
95. Life in the army.
96. What is "face" anyway?
97. Patterns in the conceptualization of the "martial arts."
98. Song Dynasty Prostitution.
99. The punishment of children in traditional families.
100. Theatricals as a way to teach morality and history to illiterate people.
101. Two Chinese games and their social and cultural significance.
102. Value orientations in Chinese proverbs & popular expressions.


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The Taoist Heavenly Master

Archaeology

103. Neolithic peoples of Heilongjiang: a second Xia dynasty?
104. Neolithic peoples of the Sichuan Basin: a second Xia dynasty?
105. So what's with the Xia Dynasty?
106. Who was "Peking Man" and does he matter to later China?
107. Is there any actual evidence that prehistoric China was matriarchal?
108. What were the "Dunhuang Caves" all about?


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Extremely Bad Term Paper Topics

Very broad topics tend to result in appallingly superficial papers. It is always best to start with a broad interest, try to narrow it as far as humanly possible, and then broaden it again only as sources require. A paper on why peach wood is considerd to have magical properties will almost always turn out to be more successful than a paper on "Buddhism."

Certain topics are especially terrible because, in my experience, they have never in all of human history produced adequate term papers. Here are some examples:

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