Rhetoric and composition studies, as a field that used to focus on the “Western tradition” of rhetoric and writing instruction, has been slowly yet steadily trying to incorporate comparative perspectives. My dissertation targets the intersection of two areas that cry out for scholarly inquiry: comparative research on writing instruction and argumentative/persuasive writing pedagogies in secondary schools. I conduct a comparative analysis of the key concepts and directives in the units on persuasive writing/yilunwen [expository argumentation] in widely used language arts textbooks in the U.S. ( Writer’s Choice ) and Mainland China ( Yuwen ). Two sets of research questions are posed: descriptive and analytic. The descriptive questions are directed toward what is explicit in these textbooks, namely about concepts and directives essential to the teaching of written argumentation, such as the definition of the genre, suggestions for organizational strategies, and logic/reasoning, etc. The analytic questions probe the rhetorical traditions that drive the concepts and directives.
By mapping the historical context for written argumentation instruction as a school genre at the secondary level in the U.S. and China, with a focus on the 20 th century and thereafter, I identify the hybrid nature of the school genre shaped by the complex social, theoretical, and curricular factors. Then I compare and contrast the key concepts and directives for written argumentation instruction in the textbooks. The key concepts and directives in Writer’s Choice can be traced to Aristotelian rhetoric and Alexander Bain’s 1866 influential English composition manual, and those in Yuwen can be traced to traditional Chinese rhetoric and dialectical materialism. Some focal points, such as purpose, the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric, logic, the place of emotion, and perceptions of the writer and the audience are compared and contrasted. Finally I discuss the implications of the findings for rethinking written argumentation instruction in the 21st century, calling for coupling of formal logic and dialectical logic and reconsidering the place of emotion.