Why the Term Paper on China is not your Friend




Statue of Yu the Great at Wenchuan

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1_wenchuan_sichuan_panorama_2013.jpg


When she was a freshman in college, Anna Hundert explained why college students should avoid what she calls the "'three-pronged thesis' structure" which is sometimes also called the five-paragraph theme. As Hundert explains, this structure in effect says "This paper will argue that A because of X, Y, and Z. Here, X, Y, and Z are often three different aspects of the argument that spread out horizontally from the main point." She calls this a "formulaic approach" and notes it "doesn’t translate well into the longer papers you’ll have to write in college," as it "leads to an essay structure that provides a breadth of discussion without a depth of discussion." Instead she explains, it is better to  "try to structure your paragraphs so that they thread a single idea through different layers of critical thinking, working through the argument in a more vertical — rather than horizontal — approach." And, I would add, try developing your thesis further with each paragraph and showing that you have done so with what I call "So What?" transitions.


The lack of depth Hundert discusses is related to what I am concerned about when I ask you to avoid "the term paper on China." That's like the papers many people wrote in high school where you covered all of China (or something) in a single paper with separate unrelated sections on geography, history, industry, the role of women etc. Instead, if all of your paper is related to a single thesis, you can achieve the depth that a college paper calls for. In fact, you might be better off to focus on a single detail and explaining in depth why and how it shows the nature of your subject. For example, in the article cited below, scholar Robin McNeal explains how the statue of Yu the Great (pictured above) shows the contemporary Chinese attitude toward mythology. The statue, built in 2001, is one of a new crop of monumental statues of Yu, also called the Yellow Emperor, that have been erected by the modern government despite the traditional Confucian desire to remove personal traits from the great figures of Chinese culture (McNeal 689). These figures, McNeal argues, aim to represent the values of Chinese culture to a global audience (703). Now that's a thesis!



Works Cited


Hundert, Anna. "How to Stop Writing Like a High School Senior" The Writing Cooperative.

 Sep 5, 2016 https://writingcooperative.com/how-to-stop-writing-like-a-high-school-senior-8b64330408d9


McNeal, Robin. “Constructing Myth in Modern China.” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 71, no. 3, 2012, pp. 679–704. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23263582