Welcome to the Boston University
Center for the Study of Asia

Boston University’s Center for the Study of Asia, established in 2008, promotes comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and cross-national understanding of Asia through coordination of teaching missions, research support, community-building among faculty and students, and broad outreach beyond the university. It strives to be an intellectual hub for new ideas and cutting edge research in the humanities and social sciences. The recent integration of AsianArc (BU’s Asian Archaeology & Cultural Heritage Research Initiative) enhances our capacity to live up to this role. The Center also facilitates communication and cooperation among the different Asian Studies sub-fields; provides an administrative structure for raising and managing grants that support the Center’s mandate; maintains the Asian Studies website; provides collaborative affiliation opportunities for Visiting Researchers; develops and manages conferences and cultural events; and works to expand access to Asia-related resources across the university. The Center is part of a broad and diverse Asian Studies community across New England with strong ties to other universities, museums, nonprofit organizations and private entities, as well as Asian government agencies.

Annual Theme for 2019-2020

Asian Citizenships: Inclusions and Exclusions

We are delighted to announce that the 2019-2020 annual theme for the BU Center for the Study of Asia is Asian Citizenships: Inclusions and Exclusions, focusing on the theme of citizenship, exclusion and inclusion in Asia and in Asian diaspora communities. Decades of globalization have brought increasing density of economic, social and political contacts between different countries around the world and the concomitant diffusion of norms and practices that seek to open Asian societies to the outside world. These changes have brought with them a backlash, with many governments and movements both in Asia and in the rest of the world seeking to reassert national sovereignty and return to indigenous definitions and forms of community. Central to this project is the redefinition of citizenship, the relationship between the state and society; between political authorities and those who are subject to their control, as well as between groups within society over who should be regarded as part of the national community (with all the rights and duties attached thereto) and who not. In China we are witnessing the Xi Jinping government tighten its control over minority groups and regions, most notably in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. India under Prime Minister Modi is similarly asserting its authority in the semiautonomous region of Kashmir, while promoting the ideology of Hindutva that places Hinduism at the core of Indian national identity. Perhaps the most radical expression of a new conception of citizenship is the continuing persecution of the Rohingya community in Myanmar, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are being driven out of the country in which they have lived for generations. And of course, the United States as well is moving towards a more exclusionary definition of American identity, under the slogan of “make America great again.”

Not every trend in Asia, however, is necessarily exclusionary. Remarkably, many Asian countries—most notably Japan, South Korea and Taiwan—are becoming increasingly open to immigration, even as the United States and European countries seem to be closing their doors. Changing conceptions of gender roles are allowing women to participate in public life in new ways. And certainly the demonstrators in Hong Kong are asserting with remarkable courage their right as citizens to representation in political affairs. While Asia, like the rest of the world, may in certain respects be moving in the direction of more closed and/or illiberal conceptions of citizenship, the forces that run in the opposite direction remain powerful and undeniable.

During the 2019-2020 academic year BUCSA will explore these and other trends in Asian citizenship in their social, cultural, political and historical dimensions. While the concept of citizenship is in the first instance a political one, it is also one that is profoundly shaped by broader social and cultural forces, and the process of its definition plays out across a variety of arenas, including most importantly the artistic one. Already we have organized a number of events dedicated to this theme, including our Fall symposium in which three experts on immigration in Asia will be exploring recent developments in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and comparing them to trends in Europe and the United States. In September we will have a talk by prominent Pakistani journalist Nasim Zehra on Pakistan’s response to India’s moves in Kashmir. We are also organizing a series of events – beginning with a lecture by Gilbert Rozman of Princeton – on the interaction between Hong Kong,

Taiwan and the PRC. We are also working on a number of events that will examine the growing number of restrictions being placed on foreign students and researchers – especially from the People’s Republic of China – working and studying in the United States. The historical nature of exclusionary tendencies will also not be neglected. This year we are planning to organize an event that puts a spotlight on the US Army’s 442nd Infantry Regiment, comprised of second generation Japanese-Americans who fought in WWII with extraordinary valor even while their families were held in internment camps by the country they were seeking to defend.

In short, this is an exciting time to explore the subject of Asian citizenships. We invite the members of the BU Asian studies community to contact us with their ideas and suggestions for additional events, and we extend a warm welcome to the broader New England community to come and join us as we explore these and other fascinating topics at the BU Center for the Study of Asia during 2019-2020. These events are being organized and presented with many different cultural and institutional partners from across Boston and New England. Details will be available on the BUCSA website as they are finalized, and will be continuously updated in the BUCSA calendar, so check back often!

Announcing the launching of

Asia at the World’s Fairs:
An Online Exhibition of Cultural Exchange

Presented by the Center for the Study of Asia, Pardee School of Global Studies

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Beginning with the earliest international exhibition at London’s “Crystal Palace” in 1851, “world’s fairs” became a prominent stage for the presentation of peoples and cultures of Asia to a world audience. With its rich, vibrant and diverse histories and cultures, Asia as represented at these universal expositions provided many fairgoers with their first encounter with Asia and helped shape their understanding of the world. Taking place during a time of widespread colonialism, the notion of the world presented at these fairs had many complex layers of meaning. In many cases, indigenous arts and crafts were selected and showcased by their colonial administrators. Yet, many Asian countries chose to actively confront the asymmetry of power in their relationship to the West by presenting in these exhibitions their own image of their country and culture. These expositions served as a grand stage that displayed a complex history of conflicts, contradictions, and engagement of Asia with the world.

This online exhibition focuses on the presence in these early international fairs of Asian cultures and the stimulus they gave to transcultural interactions in areas as diverse as performing arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, print, and even food. Without seeking to minimize the unequal political and economic backdrop of the various early world fairs, our focus on cultural themes in this exhibition will demonstrate the power of culture to engage with and, at least in certain aspects, overcome power asymmetry. It also creates a platform for an open discussion of the contributions Asian cultures have made on the world stage through these fairs and the enormous impact they had on millions of fairgoers for whom the “world” as a concept became real for the first time. The dynamics of cultural interaction reveal, often in surprising ways, a blending and sharing of cultural features that have enriched all sides.

Explore with us our ongoing project
Asia at the World’s Fairs 

The project is organized by themes, each of which is illustrated by a growing number of different exhibitions. At present, the website opens with two main themes, Asian Architecture (illustrated here by the exhibition Tracing the Japanese Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago), and Asian Dance (which explores in The Moving Image of Asia the interplay of Asian and modern Western dance at the 1900 Paris world’s fair). In the coming months, additional themes and exhibitions will come online. We welcome your comments and suggestions!