Category: Featured

Boston University in Belgium: A Workshop on Chinese-Western Cultural Relations in the Early Modern Era

August 7th, 2014

Picture participants Workshop

Participants and guests at the Leuven Workshop

A workshop jointly organized by Boston University and the University of Leuven on the history of Chinese-European relations was successfully held on May 26-27, 2014 in the historic university town of Leuven (Louvain), in Flanders, Belgium.

The workshop was coordinated by Professor Eugenio Menegon (Department of History, and Director of the BU center for the Study of Asia, Boston University) and Professor Nicolas Standaert (Department of Chinese Studies, University of Leuven, Belgium).

Supported by generous funding from the College of Arts and Sciences at BU, and the Department of Chinese Studies at KU Leuven, this gathering of scholars focused on the topic of “materiality” in the cultural exchange between China and Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Junior and senior scholars from Belgium, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States presented their ongoing research on the circulation of books and scientific instruments, the financial system sustaining that circulation, and the use of gifts, luxury objects, art, and technical skills in diplomacy and Christian proselytization.

Below is a detailed concept and the program of the workshop.


KU Leuven and Boston University Workshop

“The Materiality of Chinese-Western Relations
in the Ming-Qing periods:
Methodological Approaches, Empirical Cases”

Leuven (Belgium), May 26-27, 2014.


Workshop Concept

This workshop built on recent scholarship and other workshops and conferences on the presence and role of Europeans (especially Catholic missionaries) at the imperial court and in the provinces in Ming-Qing China. It aimed to explore methodological issues and empirical case-studies that might help us re-focus some of our predominant concerns about texts and intellectual exchanges towards the material and sociological underpinnings of text production and circulation of knowledge.

Much recent research has focused on these topics:

  • Creation of epistolary and book-centered networks between Europe and China
  • Circulation of European-Chinese technical and scientific knowledge within China and with Europe
  • Artistic Circulation from Europe to China and viceversa, and related networks of patronage
  • Creation of religious networks (e.g. related to the Chinese Rites)

Most scholarship concentrates on the written texts (more rarely the physical objects) produced and circulated between Europe and China, and viceversa. We also have impressive prosopographies of different, sometimes overlapping networks, with a various degree of richness depending on periods and depth of existing research. Obviously, as historians, all we have are texts and material objects to rely on. Those texts and objects were produced by individuals or groups whom we can identify as authors; or the names and identities of those historical actors are simply mentioned within texts (letters, prefaces etc.) as participants in circulations and networks.

The objective of the workshop was to leverage existing research to explore the materiality of these circulations and prosopographies. Rather than an abstract comparison of similar systems in the European and Chinese contexts, the workshops focused on empirical cases of actual circulation and network-building in China, and between China and Europe. The workshop, while open to the entire Ming-Qing period, encouraged research on the eighteenth century, and especially the period between the Late Kangxi to Jiaqing reigns, as they are generally less studied periods.

These are some questions offered to presenters in order to focus on “materiality”:

  • How can we construct a comprehensive sociology of the networks we study, an aspect that we have been considering all along more as proxy to text/object circulation rather than on its own merits (indicator of material/financial support; friendship; enjoyment of common resources; social capital)? Are there methodological approaches we can take to go in this direction, inspired by appropriate disciplinary methods in anthropology, historical sociology, art history, history of science etc.?
  • How can we bring back to the fore the materiality of the networks and circulations we study, including topics such as travel from a location to another (via boat, cart, on foot, using local guides, Christians and non-Christians etc.); financial support; labor and gender relations etc.?
  • What does recovering the materiality of these phenomena contribute to historical knowledge? Does this focus on materiality change the way we see Sino-Western cultural relations? 



Day 1 (Monday, May 26, 2014)

Panel “Circulations of Knowledge”

Chair:  Eugenio Menegon

Discussant: Elisabetta Corsi, Professor, Department of History, Cultures, and Religions, University “La Sapienza,” Rome 


Nicolas Standaert, Professor, Department of Sinology, University of Leuven: “Circulating Chinese Books: Jean-François Foucquet’s Contribution to the Establishment of Chinese Libraries in Europe.”

Wu Huiyi, Post-doctoral Fellow, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge, UK: “Knowledge in ‘Commercial’ Printings: The Jesuits’ Use of Daily-use Leishu 

Chen Yanrong, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sinology, University of Leuven: “Exploring the Tangibility of the Misa jingdian 彌撒經典

Final panel plenary discussion

Panel “Mapping Space and Networks”

Chair: Kristina Kleutghen

Discussant: Catherine Jami, Professor, Université Diderot and Research Director, CNRS, Paris


Nadine Amsler, Ph.D. Candidate, Historical Institute, University of Bern: Fabrics of Devotion: Women’s Share in Chinese Christian Material Culture during the Seventeenth Century” 

Mario Cams, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sinology, University of Leuven: “Tracing Instruments and Maps in the Early Eighteenth-Century Cartographic Exchange between Europe and Qing China.”

Frederick Vermote, Assistant Professor, Department of History, California State University at Fresno: “Making and Losing Money Globally: The Financial Outcomes of Jesuit Trans-Imperial Networks”

Final panel plenary discussion

Day 2 (Tuesday, May 27, 2014)

Panel “Travel & Diplomacy”

Chair: Nadine Amsler

Discussant: Dominic Sachsenmaier, Professor, Department of History, Jacobs University, Bremen


Gregory Afinogenov, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Harvard University:  “Noble and Common. Ideas and Objects in the St. Petersburg-Beijing Correspondence”

Noël Golvers, Researcher, Ferdinand Verbiest Institute, University of Leuven: “Communication and Exchange of Knowledge between West and East (Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries):  The ‘Routes’, Illustrated by the Case of the Via Ostendana”

Henrietta Harrison, Professor of Modern Chinese Studies, Chinese Studies Institute, University of Oxford: “Chinese and British Diplomatic Gifts in the Macartney Embassy of 1793”

Panel “Luxury and Consumption”

Chair: Nicolas Standaert


Nicolas Standaert: paper by Marco Musillo

Elisabetta Corsi: paper by Kristina Kleutghen

Catherine Jami: paper by Eugenio Menegon


Marco Musillo, Research Associate in the Department of Chinese Art at the Museo delle Culture, Lugano, Switzerland:  Tangible Jesuits and Intangible Objects: Sino-Western Relations between Empiricism and Historiography”

Kristina Kleutghen, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Washington University in St. Louis: Magnification and the West: Lenses as Material Mediators of Cross-Cultural Contact in High Qing China”

Eugenio Menegon, Associate Professor, Department of History, Boston University: Sotto questa coperta, facciamo il fatto nostro: Court Missionaries and the Politics of Luxury Consumption during the Qianlong Reign”

Final panel plenary discussion

Final Workshop Roundtable


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.


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.


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!


EVENT: American Association of Teachers of Korean 19th Annual Conference (06/19/14-06/21/14)

April 23rd, 2014

June 19-21, 2014
Boston University
Boston, MA

Korean Language Teaching through Film and Literature: Creating Connections


Conference & Workshop Theme:

Korean Language Teaching through Film and Literature: Creating Connections

The topic of teaching and learning through study of literature and films has been a matter of considerable interest to language educators. Renewed interest in this approach has been generated by The National Standards for Korean Teaching, which frames curricular and materials developments in the five inter-related areas: communication, culture, connections, comparisons, and communities. Use of film and literature in language teaching is a quintessential example of connections between language teaching and other academic disciplines. Curriculum that bridges students’ linguistic needs and interests to content areas is in greater demand as the number of advanced language learners (heritage speakers with diverse backgrounds in particular) is increasing. More challenging and stimulating materials can be developed by grafting literature and film onto language classes. Highlighting connections between language and film/literature can encourage students to explore Korean culture in greater depth and get a more nuanced understanding of language and culture. Ongoing discussion is needed on strengthening connections between Korean language instruction and academic topics considered in other disciplines for the benefit of students and teachers in Korean education.

With the theme “Korean Language Teaching through Film and Literature: Creating Connections”, the 19th annual AATK meeting invites proposals for exploring how to enrich and augment language curricula with cinematic and literary texts and use them to help students become astute readers and interpreters of diverse texts. We encourage submission of workshop proposals and conference abstracts that report, analyze, and discuss course and material developments involving film and literature, initiatives and strategies for collaboration across disciplines, and practical and theoretical issues regarding the use of content from other areas. We also welcome proposals and abstracts that discuss other aspects of learning and teaching of the Korean language.

For more information, click here.


EVENT: Daoism: Tradition and Transition (05/29/14-06/01/14)

April 22nd, 2014


For the last ten years, the series of international conferences on Daoist Studies has been instrumental in enhancing the study, application, and awareness of Daoism throughout the world. The only major Daoist conference series, it follows a tradition that began in Boston (2003) and continued through Mt. Qingcheng (2004), Fraueninsel in Bavaria (2006), Hong Kong (2007), Mt. Wudang (2009), Los Angeles (2010), Mt. Nanyue (2011), and Ammersee Lake near Munich (2012). In honor of its great success and as a tribute to Boston University for the initial conference, the 9th International Conference on Daoist Studies will take place once again at Boston University.

This year’s conference theme is “Daoism: Tradition and Transition.” The focus is on Daoist thought, history, and practice—with particular attention to the impact Daoism has exercised in Chinese history and the contemporary world. Panel topics include DaodejingZhuangziHuainanzi, Comparative Philosophy, Daoist Ritual, Doaist Ethics, and more.

For more information, click here.


EVENT: Writing Between Languages and Cultures with Yoko Tawada (04/15/14)

April 6th, 2014

Join us for a reading and conversation with the internationally renowned writer Yoko TawadaTawada was born in Tokyo in 1960 and moved to Hamburg when she was twenty-two, where she received a PhD in German literature, and then to Berlin in 2006. She writes in both Japanese and German and has published several books—stories, novels, poems, plays, essays—in both languages. She has received numerous awards for her writing including the Akutagawa Prize, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize (a German award recognizing foreign writers for their contributions to German culture), the Tanizaki Prize, the Goethe Medal (an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany), and the prestigious Yomiurui Prize for Literature. New Directions has published her story collections Where Europe Begins (with a Preface by Wim Wenders) and Facing the Bridge, and her novel of Catherine Deneuve obsession, The Naked Eye, and a stand alone edition of her famous story, The Bridegroom Was a Dog.

This event will be moderated by Anna Zielinska-Elliott and Peter Schwartz. Elliott is Senior Lecturer in Japanese at Boston University and a translator of modern Japanese literature into Polish. She has published numerous translations of novels, stories, and plays by Murakami Haruki, Mishima Yukio, Yoshimoto Banana, and others. Schwartz is Associate Professor of German & Comparative Literature at Boston University. His interests include the Enlightenment (as historical event and unfinished process), European neoclassicism and modernism, American, French, Dutch and Japanese literature, early film and photography, the history of New York City, the critical work of the Frankfurt School, and the “science of culture” (Kulturwissenschaft) of the art historian Aby Warburg and his circle.

Facing_The_Bridge_134_201_c1_smart_scale whereeuropebegins_134_201_c1_smart_scale Bridegroom_was_a_Dog_134_201_c1_smart_scaleThe_Naked_Eye_134_201_c1_smart_scale

This event is jointly sponsored by the Center for the Study of Europe and the Center for the Study of Asia at Boston University and the Japan Society Boston in cooperation with the Goethe Institut Boston and the literary journal AGNI.

Yoko Tawada and free jazz percussionist Paul Lovens come together for a rare performance of interacting verse and music with onomatopoeic elements at the Goethe Institute Boston on Wednesday, April 16. Texts will be read in German with projected English translations. No knowledge of German is necessary. [More info]


NEWS: Global Music Lunchtime Concert Series-Red Baraat: Bhangra, Funk, Dhol n’ Brass Band (04/14/14)

April 2nd, 2014

Boston University
BU Central (775 Commonwealth Ave)
George Sherman Union Basement

FREE to all BU members
with pre-concert talk by Shalini Ayyagari (American University)


Red Baraat is wild — and loud. It’s also a genre unto itself. The Brooklyn ensemble self-identifies as “dhol ‘n’ brass,” a hybrid of Indian bhangra, contemporary Indian dance music that mixes Punjabi folk beats with popular contemporary genres, and New Orleans brass band music. One of the best party bands around, Brooklyn-based 8-piece band Red Baarat plays rollicking funk music steeped in Northern India’s wedding celebrations with a dash of D.C. go-go beats, brass funk, and hip-hop. Red Baraat has performed at the White House, the flagship TED Conference in 2012, Google’s Mountain View Campus, and closed the London 2012 Paralympic Games.  But even as it’s clear that Red Baraat is building a startling history of performances in iconic settings, the band’s bread and butter remains the sweaty clubs, festivals, packed performing arts centers, and college auditoriums that have kept the band on the road all over the world for nearly 200 dates a year. It’s here where the band does what it does best- communing with their audience in a joyful, near hedonistic celebration of music and dance, which tellingly, draws a crowd even more diverse than the players on stage.

Red Baraat will be joined on stage by BU’s own award-winning student bhangra group, BU Bhangra.

Live on NPR’s Tiny Desk, click here.


NEWS: Boston University Asian Alumni Meeting in Beijing

February 26th, 2014


Boston University alumni are on the move — around the world!

This March, BU alumni are meeting in Beijing for BU Momentum, the largest gathering of alumni in Asia in Boston University history. This weekend-long event combines BU’s 5th Asian Alumni Festival and 5th Asian Business Forum into one can’t-miss opportunity to network, reconnect with classmates, and celebrate the energy and trajectory of your alma mater.

The gathering is going to take place at the five-star China World Hotel for three days of cultural excursions, networking events, business panels, celebrations, and more.


March 28-March 30

China World Hotel
No. 1 Jianguomenwai Avenue,
Beijing, 100004, China

Check also the profile of one of our most successful alumni in China, Hugo Shong, Boston University Trustee, and based in Beijing, as featured in a recent issue of BU TODAY:


EVENT: “Experimenting with Apsara 飛天: Mei Lanfang’s New Opera ‘Fairy Gives Flowers to the Earth’ and Peking Opera Modernism” Workshop (03/07/2014)

February 21st, 2014




Eileen Cheng-Yin Chow (Duke University)

Wai-Yee Li (Harvard University)

David Wang (Harvard University)

Eugene Wang (Harvard University)

Rudolf Wagner (Heidelberg University)

Catherine Yeh (Boston University)

Conference abstract:

Mei Lanfang’s new opera “Tiannü sanhua” 天女散花 performed in 1917 can be considered as a milestone in the history of Peking opera. It was an artistic tour de force: an opera newly written by Mei’s supporters and tailored to him; a new dance arrangement that integrated singing, new types of costumes, a new makeup (including hairdo), and a new stage design and lighting with props. It was also an event of unprecedented social engagement of literati, politicians turned patrons, a new breed of newspaper theater critics, as well as photographers and eventually painters. Billed as a major event at the time it turned out to be a historical moment for Peking opera that also propelled Mei Lanfang to international stardom. The piece was the much discussed highlight of his Japan tour in 1919, and provided one of the advertising photos for his New York 49th  Street theater performance in 1930.

This conference explores the different dimensions of this event as an expression of the 20th century Chinese search for cultural and artistic identity and of Republican period modernity. Scholars will explore the text of the opera (Wai-Yee Li, Harvard University), the performance (David Wang, Harvard University), the echo in film and the press (Eileen Chow, Duke University), Xu Beihong’s paining on the subject (Eugene Wang, Harvard University), the international dimension and impact of the piece (Catherine Yeh, Boston University), and the piece’s relationship with new drama (Rudolf Wagner, Heidelberg University).

With the support of BUCSA and MLCL Boston University.

Time: March 7, 2014. 9 a.m. -5 p.m.

Place: Boston University, CAS Room 200, 725 Comm. Ave. Boston 02215.


Workshop Schedule:


Tea and coffee

9:00 -10:00

Rudolf Wagner, “The Tiannü sanhua Libretto and its Contemporary Buddhist Implications: Choices Made and Options Rejected”

10:00 – 11:00

Wai-Yee Li, “The Allusive Range of the Image of ‘Tiannü sanhua’”

11:00 -12:00

David Wang, “Mei Lanfang and the Theatrics of Lyricism”

Lunch 12noon – 1pm (short films on Mei Lanfang: Hong Kong, 1931; Soviet Union 1935)


1:00 – 2:00

Cathy Yeh, “Mei Lanfang’s ‘Fairy Gives Flowers to the Earth’ and the Inherent Ambiguity of Modernism”

2:00 – 3:00

Eugene Wang, “Who Is the Subject of the Painting – The Actor or Painter? Xu Beihong’s ‘Goddess Sprinkling Flowers’ (1918)”

3:00 – 4:00

Eileen Chow, “Digitizing the Ephemeral: A Modest Proposal for Archiving Mei Lanfang’s Tiannu Sanhua”

4:00 -  5:00 Final discussion




NEWS: Wiebke Denecke and Gina Cogan Publish New Books

January 18th, 2014

This Spring, Boston University Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA) is proud to present two new books published by its two affiliated faculty members: Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons by Professor Wiebke Denecke, and The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan by Professor Gina Cogan.

wdEver since Karl Jasper’s “axial age” paradigm, there have been a number of influential studies comparing ancient East Asian and Greco-Roman history and culture. However, to date there has been no comparative study involving multiple literation traditions in these cultural spheres. Classical World Literatures compares the dynamics between the younger literacy cultures of Japan and Rome and the literatures of their venerable predecessors, China and Greece. How were writers of the younger cultures of Rome and Japan affected by the presence of an older “reference culture,’ whose sophistication they admired, even as they anxiously strove to assert their own distinctive identity? How did they tackle the challenge of adopting the reference culture’s literary genres, rhetorical refinement, and conceptual vocabulary for writing texts in different languages and within distinct political and cultural contexts?

Classical World Literatures captures the striking similarities between the ways early Japanese authors wrote their own literature through and against the literary precedents of China, and the ways Latin writers engaged and contested Greek precedents. But it also brings to light suggestive divergences that are rooted in geopolitical, linguistic, sociohistorical, and aesthetic differences between early Japanese and Roman literary cultures. Proposing a methodology of “deep comparison” for the cross-cultural comparison of premodern literary cultures and calling for an expansion of world literature debates into the ancient and medieval worlds, Classical World Literatures is both a theoretical intervention and an invitation to read and re-read four major literary traditions in an innovative and illuminating light. For more information, click here.

CoganThe Princess Nun tells the story of Bunchi (1619–1697), daughter of Emperor Go-Mizunoo and founder of Enshōji. Bunchi advocated strict adherence to monastic precepts while devoting herself to the posthumous welfare of her family. As the first full-length biographical study of a premodern Japanese nun, this book incorporates issues of gender and social status into its discussion of Bunchi’s ascetic practice and religious reforms to rewrite the history of Buddhist reform and Tokugawa religion.

Gina Cogan’s approach moves beyond the dichotomy of oppression and liberation that dogs the study of non-Western and premodern women to show how Bunchi’s aristocratic status enabled her to carry out reforms despite her gender, while simultaneously acknowledging how that same status contributed to their conservative nature. Cogan’s analysis of how Bunchi used her prestigious position to further her goals places the book in conversation with other works on powerful religious women, like Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila. Through its illumination of the relationship between the court and the shogunate and its analysis of the practice of courtly Buddhism from a female perspective, this study brings historical depth and fresh theoretical insight into the role of gender and class in early Edo Buddhism.


EVENT: “Asia and the City” Forum: The Changing Meanings of Beijing (02/27/2014)

January 17th, 2014


Co-sponsored by the BU Department of History of Art and Architecture & City Planning and Urban Affairs Program, BU Metropolitan College

In this forum, part of the “Asia and the City” BUCSA yearly series, two short presentations will highlight the changing nature of the Chinese capital between the late imperial and contemporary periods, followed by a conversation with Boston University faculty.

BU Hosts: Professors Alice Tseng, Paolo Scrivano, Eugenio Menegon, Cathy Yeh, Enrique Silva


Professor Ya-chen Ma
Institute of History, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan
Visiting Scholar, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

“Capital Reimagined: Beijing as the Center of Time and Space and Its Imagined Other”

 Embedded in the intensive visual interactions between the court and local societies in the eighteenth century, Beijing could not be projected as a political center without marginalizing the provinces. Measuring more than 8 feet in width and almost 8 feet in height, Xu Yang’s (c. 1712-a. 1779) the painting “Springtime in the Capital” was commissioned by the Qianlong emperor to redefine the capital as the center of time and space in the Qing empire. This presentation examines how Beijing was constructed pictorially as a magnificent imperial capital through reference to its imagined Other, the southern city of Suzhou, and the provinces.

Professor Shuishan Yu
School of Architecture – College of Arts, Media and Design
Northeastern University
Author of Chang’an Avenue and the Modernization of Chinese Architecture, University of Washington Press, 2013.

“Cutting the Dragon Vein: Modern Transformation of Imperial Beijing”


Dominated by a north-south axis,  Ming-Qing Beijing featured a concentric plan with layer after layer of walls and gates, screening the invisible center of power away from public view. Lining up all symbolic structures legitimizing the Mandate of Heaven, this axis was known as the “Dragon Vein.” The modern transformation of Beijing had been posed as an antithesis to such an imperial urban model, tearing down the walls and gates and cutting the dragon vein with big avenues. Yet like the imperial model, the modern urban space strengthened the centralization of power rather than weakening it. Analyzing the metamorphosis of Beijing in the mid-twentieth century focusing on its old and new axes, this presentation demonstrates how the imperial framework affected the modern transformations of Beijing and its political implications in the current development.

Location: Eilts room, Department of International Relations, Boston University, 154 Bay State Road (2nd floor)

Time:  Thursday, February 27, 5-7 PM