Category: Event in Review

EVENT IN REVIEW: BU Asian Studies Spring Reception (04/28/2014)

May 8th, 2014

The Boston University Asian Studies Spring Reception took place on Monday, April 28, 2014 in the beautiful BU Castle on Bay State Road. The reception warmly welcomed friends of the BU Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA) at the conclusion of the semester, including Asian Studies faculty across BU, visiting scholars, board members of the student organization ASIABU, representatives of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, and students in the Asian Studies programs with outstanding achievements. The reception, as is tradition, was generously hosted by BUCSA supporter and BU alum Al PetrasSenior Vice President at Bank of America and Senior Service Delivery Manager Technology Consultant for China Construction Bank.

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BUCSA Director Eugenio Menegon highlighted the achievements BUCSA made over the past academic year, and proudly announced the publication of several books by BU faculty, including Wiebke Denecke’s Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons, and Gina Cogan’s The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan (see details about the publication of these books in this news piece.) Two BUCSA visiting researchers also published their work in the series BUCSA Occasional Papers on AsiaU.S. – China Engagement: Creating a Massachusetts Model for Study in China byGrant F. Rhode, and On the Anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s “Three Fors.” Thirty Years of School Reform in China by Charlotte Sanford Mason.

The academic year 2013-2014 was also a very fruitful year for students in the Asian studies programs at BU. The student organization ASIABU continued to do excellent work in promoting Asian culture among peer students, and two undergraduates in the Japanese language program (MLCL) won first and third place in the Japanese speech contest in Boston.

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At the conclusion of this academic year, BUCSA looks forward to another fun-filled and productive year in Asian studies at Boston University, with the theme “Asia in Love” as a thread for events and activities in 2014-15. One of the highlights of the year will be the Spring 2015 BU Asia Film Week “Asia: Love and Other Obsessions. BUCSA was awarded a grant from the BU Center for the Humanities (Project Director Prof. Cathy Yeh) for this festival, which will bring outstanding Asian films to the BU community. New synergies will also come from the affiliation of BUCSA with the new Pardee School of Global Studies, within its Division of Regional Studies. Please stay tuned and sign up for our weekly newsletter!

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EVENT IN REVIEW: China and the City (11/23/2013)

December 8th, 2013

 “China and the City”:

Chinese Students and Scholars discussion at Boston University 

As part of its yearly theme “Asia and the City”, Boston University Center for the Study of Asia co-hosted with the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association a public event on “China and the City” on November 23, 2013. This workshop discussed the challenges and opportunities of urbanism in China, and gathered around forty BU faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and BUCSA visiting scholars.

After introductions in the morning by Haisu Yuan, President of the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association, and workshop coordinator Taiyi Sun (Ph.D. candidate in the BU Department of Political Science), Professors Eugenio Menegon (Director of Boston University Center for the Study of Asia) and Enrique Silva (Urban Affairs and City Planning, BU Metropolitan College) commented on a thought-provoking presentation by Professor Jinhua Zhao (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT).

In his presentation, entitled “China’s Urbanization: Immense, Rapid, but Out of Sync – Is China an Outlier?” Zhao pointed out that China’s urbanization is similar to that in developed countries in terms of its level, its rate of change, its relationship with the economy, and its growth trajectory, following the historical trends of OECD countries.  But China is indeed unique in comparison with other developing countries, in its scale and density, in its internal complexity and in its peculiar institutions, specifically the “hukou” (residence system) and land systems.

In order to make the event both intellectually stimulating and accessible to the general public, the program included a story telling section in addition to the academic panel. Story telling exists ubiquitously among almost all cultures and is one of the best ways to examine cities through a private, micro lens. The workshop, therefore, merged the public and private narratives and provided a fuller, experiential picture of cities in transition in China.

Six Chinese BU students and guests shared their stories on urbanization and their hometowns: Taiyi Sun (Hangzhou); Chen Cheng (Beijing), Xiaopei Luo (Chongqing), Juntao Zhang (Shenzhen), Jianying Zhu (Shanghai) and Yuxi Chang (Shenyang).  Every participant was thrilled about the rapid developments in his or her hometown, but was also sad that a few special places and features of their cities, as recalled in their childhood memories, had vanished.

In his closing remark, Professor Menegon emphasized that local governments in China should protect the individuality of cities during urbanization, avoiding a homogenization of the urban landscape and a loss of cultural, architectural and social diversity.

The online Chinese TV channel Sinovision filmed parts of the event and broadcasted a Chinese-language service on the workshop (波大学生会与亚洲研究中心办论坛 探讨中国城市化进程), available at this link.

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EVENT IN REVIEW: Asian Studies Annual Reception (9/25/13)

September 29th, 2013

On September 25, Boston University’s Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA) and the Asian Studies Initiative at Boston University (ASIABU) held the annual Asia Studies reception. The reception was a great success, with faculty and students from BU Asian Studies, BU administrators from Global Programs, Study Abroad and Alumni Relations, Boston’s Asian consular personnel, and fellow undergraduate and graduate students as guests. The reception was introduced by the Director of Boston University Center for the Study of Asia, Eugenio Menegon, and featured the student group ASIABU, who cohosted the event. The highlight of the reception was the wonderful live music performance from Youth Ambassadors Taiwan ROC, which showcased the beauty of oriental music. With live music, Asian cuisine, making new friends and catching up with old ones through engaging conversations, the Asia Studies reception concludes in a lively atmosphere, looking forward to another fruitful academic year in various areas of Asian Studies.

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EVENT IN REVIEW: Prof. Denecke thanks BUCSA

June 14th, 2013

Prof. Wiebke publishes volume on the Long History of the Concept of “Literature” in Japan, a conference volume on the changing faces of the concept of “literature” in East Asia and Japan, edited by Wiebke Denecke (BU, MLCL) and Kimiko Kono (Waseda University, Director of the Institute of Japanese Classics, Tokyo).

Professor Wiebke writes,

I wanted to thank BUCSA once more for the very generous support of the conference I co-organized with a Waseda colleague last summer in Tokyo. It was a wonderfully productive event (we already published a volume on the notion of “literature” in Japan, in good part based on the conference contributions. BUCSA’s contribution is gratefully acknowledged in our preface). Also, in response to the success, my colleague Kono Kimiko and I got a contract for a three-volume series on the history and future of the notion of literature/bun in Japan and East Asia, so last year’s event was really very fruitful.

This volume is the first attempt to recapture the adventurous history and future critical potential of the Chinese concept of wen 文 (Japanese pronunciation bun), which encompasses a broad range of meanings ranging from “pattern” and “refinement” to “writing,” “civilization,” and “literature. The concept of wen/bun has played an exceptionally prominent and manifold role in the cultural history of East Asia. The character for wen, 文, already appears on Chinese oracle bones used for divination and in bronze inscriptions from the 12th century BCE on, where it seems to refer to patterned animal fur or tattooed human skin. The rich connotations this concept accumulated over a period of almost two millennia in China were quickly adopted in Early Japan. However, with the Meiji Period (1868-1912) the particular relation between bun and the East Asian traditional notion of elite “Letters” changed dramatically, as “bun-gaku” (bun-learning) became the standard translation for the contemporary European idea of “literature,” in particular for fiction and belles-lettres, which had traditionally a low standing in the East Asian genre hierarchy. Nowadays the Western concept of literature has overwritten the traditional concept of “Letters” in Japan and we need to invest much effort in historical research to recover that lost world of wen/bun and reflect on what it meant in traditional East Asia and what it can contribute to critical discourse in contemporary literary studies around the globe.

Based on regular cyber-conferences of the two editors over the past couple of years and an international symposium held in Tokyo in July 2012, the volume presents articles by 19 scholars from Japan, China, the US, and Europe. Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences and Center for the Study of Asia generously sponsored the workshop and made this volume possible.

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EVENT REVIEW: BU at the National Chinese Language Conference

April 17th, 2013

From April 7-9 2013, the National Chinese Language Conference (NCLC), which is “dedicated to encouraging dialogue in the field of Chinese language education and ensuring wide-scale success,” had their 6th annual conference in Boston.

Boston University took part in two panels at the Conference. The first was entitled Next Steps for Our Chinese Language Students: Study In and About China at the University Level.
In this session, panelists will draw from Boston University’s programs of study to demonstrate the  continuity of experiences available to students who are already interested in China and the Chinese  language. Members of the panel will explore the breadth of programs available for such students at  the university level in the following areas: the value and rationale of study abroad in China (in this  case, Shanghai), Chinese language study and subject areas, and the resources of the Center for the  Study of Asia. A student will speak about his experience in transitioning from high school to college  and then to Shanghai in pursuit of his interests. Participants will leave with an understanding of what  opportunities lie ahead for their China-interested and Chinese-proficient college-bound students. With Joe Fewsmith, Weijia Huang, Charlotte MasonDebra Terzian, Lee Veitch.

In a report from Charlotte Mason, a visiting researcher with BUCSA and moderator of the panel:

The B.U. panel’s presentation at NCLC encapsulated the college experience for a prospective student from high school already interested in Chinese language, culture, and history. It did this by drawing generalizations from B.U.’s program.
DSC00911Lee Veitch (Student Ambassador for Boston University Study Abroad Diplomats) said that he felt well prepared by his Chinese teacher at Bronx Science for college level Chinese, but returned to the school later to suggest that simplified characters and pin yin be used. He described how study abroad in Shanghai made him a more focused, more confident, and more engaged student, active in Asiabu. He feels confident in finding work in his field of International Relations.

DSC00913Debra Terzian provided an overview and rationale for study abroad, and described B.U.’s effort to design different models of program at Fudan to attract increasing numbers of students in different majors and at different levels of Chinese language study.

Huang Weijia suggested how Chinese teachers can better prepared their students for college level Chinese, and suggested that better articulation of Chinese levels between schools and college is necessary, as well as differentiated materials.

DSC00915Joe Fewsmith explained that, in this age of globalization, it is increasingly important to engage with Asia to understand issues and solve problems in a world context. He explained that it is a trend in large research universities to create centers for the study of Asia helps to improve communication across disciplines, provide a greater depth of experience for students, and generate more enthusiasm for the field. He said that students who major in Asian Studies (and related fields) and who are proficient in Chinese have many opportunities in the job market: in business, in diplomacy, in academia, and in all professions.

Meanwhile, in the China Across Subject Areas: The Career Connection panel, Boston University professor Robert E. Murowchick, Assistant Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology and Director of the International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History (ICEAACH) was speaking about Asia throughout the curricula and about opportunities to work in field related to the study of Asia/China.

Robert E. Murowchick

As more and more U.S. students develop high levels of proficiency in Chinese, it becomes ever more necessary to understand the connections between Chinese language learning, other academic content, and career and professional development. It is simply not enough to learn the language or engage with the culture. Students must integrate the study of the Chinese language with a broader vision for their academic and professional interests and their long-term career goals. The participants in this panel are leading voices in the field who have worked with students at all levels to broaden and deepen their understanding of and engagement with China, and to connect language learning with the development of other critical skills. We will hear from representatives of fields and perspectives as diverse as archaeology, engineering and business, and explore the ways in which learning Chinese is helping students to create new and exciting career trajectories. Introduced by Julia de la Torre, Executive Director, Primary Source. Moderated by Sara Judge McCalpin, President, China Institute in America. Speakers: Sigrid Berka, Executive Director, International Engineering Program, University of Rhode Island; Der-lin Chao, Director, Chinese Flagship Program, Hunter College, City University of New York (and President, Chinese Language Teachers Association); Robert E. Murowchick, Director, International Center for East Asian Archaeology and Cultural History, Boston University.

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EVENT REVIEW: BU at the 2013 Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference

April 8th, 2013

Our Asian Studies Presenters and the American Institute of Indian Studies Board meeting

Several faculty and graduate students attended the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego, March 21-24, 2013.


Marié Abe, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, Presenter,“Shaking Bodies on Shaky Ground: Henoko Peace Music Festa and the Anti-US Military Base Struggles in Okinawa”

In February 2007, on Henoko Beach in northern Okinawa, a group of musicians held the first “Peace Music Festa” in protest against the construction of a new offshore U.S. military base. A constellation of various musical sounds and political aspirations resounded across the contested beach, simultaneously offering a critique of the imperial politics that has valorized Okinawan difference and celebrating the very difference through diverse musical programming that evoked “multicultural Japan.” This paper offers an ethnographic analysis of the shifting strategies of the festival as it continued annually in the subsequent years. I locate the efficacy of the festival at the intersection of the politics of pleasure, which enables translocal alliances among activists from all over Okinawa as well as mainland Japan, and the politics of survival, which emphasizes the well-being of the economically marginalized local community. Focusing on the performance of these strategies at the Peace Music Festa, this paper considers the possibilities and constraints offered by the rhetoric of multicultural Japan within the specific struggle in Henoko. I will show that while the articulation of a contested site, musical sounds, and the emphasis on conviviality at the Festa enabled a new modality of political expression in Henoko, mobilization of Okinawan difference posed limitations on the organizing efforts for the musicians. Further, I posit that the festival made audible not only the ambivalence of Okinawan difference, but also the internal differences within Okinawa that are often elided in the narrative of Okinawan marginality within the nation state.


Andrew Barton Armstrong, PhD (BU Anthropology), Presenter, “The Japanese ‘Ghetto-Gangsta’: Neighborhood and Experiential Authenticity in Kansai Hip-Hop Performance”

My research treats emergent, outspoken class consciousness among performers of what I call “ghetto-gangsta” hip hop in Japan’s Kansai region. Musicians, including Anarchy from the public housing projects in Mukaijima (Kyoto) and Shingo Nishinari from the day-laborer neighborhood of Nishinari Ward (Osaka), are earning prestige in spite of, but also in part because of their humble origins. My ethnography of Kansai hip hop culture demonstrates that “marginality” is a source of prestige for performers who embody keywords including “ghetto,” “gangsta,” and “Korean,” and who critique Japanese society using language typically associated with right-wing ultranationalists (uyoku). These musicians trump the “authenticity” card, the critique of cultural plagiarism, because they really have experienced economic hardship and social stigmatization, and because in some cases they really are gangsters (yakuza). Their lyrics represent marginal identities that are defined by socioeconomic status and ethnic identity, but the MCs speak of marginality in terms of neighborhood of origin. In a society where people rarely are willing to speak openly about socioeconomic status and ethnicity, neighborhood can function as a proxy and thereby confer experiential authenticity to the musicians. My presentation will analyze the ambivalence that local musicians express towards their neighborhood of origin, and show that they view “Japan” with equally mixed feelings. In doing so I demonstrate that Japan is far less “other” than has often been presumed in anthropological studies.


Joe Fewsmith, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Presenter, “The Logic and Limits of Political Reform in China”

The idea of incremental political reform has been both assumed and advocated by reformers in China for many years. In the late 1990s and first part of the first decade in the new century there was reason to believe that this vision might become reality: there were hundreds, even thousands, of experiments throughout China that were designed to introduce some measure of openness, usually under the rubric of “inner-party democracy.” A convergence of interests between some in the central government and those on the front lines in the localities lay behind these initiatives. Many of them were widely publicized and set as models for others to follow. Notions of “path dependence” suggest that this progress would be self-sustaining, bringing ever greater returns in terms of better governance and social stability. Unfortunately this has not happened. Although there are still experiments of various sorts, one can say that the thrust of incremental reform has stalled and that the old hierarchical system has reasserted itself, leaving a variety of social problems to accumulate. Drawing on investigations of many reforms throughout China, this paper will explore why the path of incremental political reform has not, to date, been successful and the problems that creates.


Sarah Frederick, Co-Associate Chair of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, Associate Professor of Japanese, Discussant


Julian Go, Associate Professor of Sociology, Session Organizer, “Asia-Pacific Islands in the Sun of Empire”


Eugenio Menegon, Associate Professor of History, Presenter, “Who was using whom? Europeans, Western Commodities, and the Politics of Gift-Giving in Qing Beijing”

In the early to mid-Qing period around thirty Western European Catholic missionaries lived in Beijing, partly employed in technical services, and partly engaged in religious work. Starting with the Yongzheng reign (1724), Christianity was forbidden empire wide. Yet these foreigners, with semi-official permission, continued missionizing, maintained a network of churches, and acquired real estate in the city and its environs to support their activities. Besides producing luxury objects for the court, the priests also imported Western commodities (tobacco; chocolate; wine; clocks and other mechanical devices; glass objects etc.) for their own use, as exotic gifts, and to resell on the capital’s market. The emperor and the Qing court allowed the Europeans to remain in Beijing and tolerated their religious activities in exchange for their exotic commodities and their services, including those useful for important state-building projects. The European missionaries used their skills and a relentless gift-giving strategy not only to please their main imperial patron, but also to create a network of support among princes, ministers, employees of the Imperial Household Department, eunuchs, and Beijing commoners. Using financial ledgers and reports preserved in European and Chinese archives, this paper will explore the two faces of the medal, asking an apparently simple question: “who was using whom?” Luxury objects and commodities in fact became the currency of negotiation between divergent interests, contributing to weaken Qing imperial prohibitions and laws, and to create ad hoc arrangements tolerated by the emperor, and benefiting the palace personnel, the missionaries, and their communities.


Teena Purohit, Assistant Professor of Religion, Presenter, “The Aga Khan Case of 1866”

In the famous Aga Khan Case of 1866, the British colonial court officially redefined the Khojas’ caste group as part of the “Ismaili Muslim sect.” This paper analyzes how the beliefs and teachings of the Ismaili community were firmly embedded within the diverse cultural practices indigenous to South Asia. These complex identifications were undermined and reshaped as a consequence of the court’s interpretation of sectarianism. The paper offers readings from the devotional texts of the Ismailis to illustrate how the heterogeneous forms of practices peculiar to the vernacular history of Islam in early modern South Asia were displaced by the culturally alien discourse of sect and religious identity in the colonial period.


Robert Weller, Chair of Anthropology, Professor of Anthropology, Presenter, “Religious Pluralism in Chinese Policy and Practice”

Religious pluralism in China is part of the larger problem of how to deal with diversities of all kinds, with those differences of category and qualities of boundary that are so much a part of human life. Policy solutions to these problems usually attempt to clarify and control the boundaries between groups through what might be called processes of notation—adopting laws, statutes, and regulations. The first part of this paper traces the evolution of modern Chinese policies toward religion and the kind of vision they create for a plural society. The space of shared experience beyond this notational effort, however, can be just as important in understanding how diversity can survive successfully. Part of China’s current adaptability is its ability to accept a mismatch between notation and shared experience to create a form of informal governance with its own internal tensions, but which has delivered increased religious space for most of its population. This form of governance involves officials turning a blind eye to religious behavior beyond the law as long as adherents pay lip service to the regulatory world. The paper concludes with some thoughts about comparative situations where such “blind-eye” governance become important.


Frank Korom, BU representative, Board of Trustees meeting of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS)

Frank Korom (Religion and Anthropology) attended as BU representative the annual Board of Trustees meeting of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), held during the AAS Conference, and reports on the proceedings:

The AIIS is without a doubt the major funder of educational enterprises in India. It supports both language study in India as well as junior and senior research fellowships, with short- and long-term grants ranging in duration from 1-3 months and 6-9 months respectively. Formerly, much of the operating budget came from a rupee fund handled by the Smithsonian, but this money has been drawn down over the years, so now new sources of revenue are being sought through aggressive fundraising campaigns both in the US and in India. Investing also continues, but the recession and the current state of the economy has taken its toll on AIIS, as it has on other such operations (e.g., Fulbright), which has led to budget and staff cuts. Despite this, over 2000 fellowships were awarded in the previous academic year (consisting of both language and research fellowships).

Due to the decrease in operating budget, the major issue that immediately confronts the AIIS is how to generate more income to sustain operations in India that support the research of American and Indian scholars. To this end, large investments were made in facility renovations, which will eventually generate funds in the long term through rent income. In the meantime, however, the budget is very tight, which means that there may be cutbacks, such as those implemented by Fulbright and other federal granting agencies. The cutbacks might consist of eliminating spousal support or reducing the duration of grants. A last resort might be to reduce the amount of the monthly stipend provided to junior and senior scholars. It is most likely that senior scholars would be hit the hardest, since a major goal of the AIIS is to train future scholars of India through language training, then doctoral research. The Board felt that this was a reasonable move.

As for BU, we have already benefitted from our membership with AIIS. We have had students attend summer language programs in India, and a few faculty have applied for research fellowships.. However, with the growth of South Asian Studies at BU and the new India Initiative launched by the president of the university, it is likely that more and more faculty and students will avail themselves of the benefits afforded by AIIS membership.

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