Ms. Jenny Shi Brings “Finding Yingying” to Vanderbilt

During the winter of 2020, in the heat of the presidential election, international students, especially those from China, became easy scapegoats targeted by some mean and malicious politicians in the U.S. I was angry. I was infuriated. I designed and offered a course that I called “Overseas Encounters: Reading the World through Students Abroad”. The subtitle is too long to fit into the registrar catalogue, but I insist on keeping it on my syllabus. This is a course about international students, those to and from U.S., who travers the world and make history.

The 2021 spring course was taught online, with students participating from around the world–thanks to covid. While searching for materials for this class, I ran into the documentary about Finding Yingying directed by Jenny Shi. My students watched the movie and had a virtual conversation with Jenny.

Two weeks ago, in the spring of 2023, Jenny visited Vanderbilt and met with my students in the Overseas Encounters class. It’s such a powerful movie; Yingying’s dead body was not found, but Yingying is discovered and remembered by all of us thanks to Jenny’s courageous work.

Students in my class shared their experiences of accepting rides from strangers in the U.S., about the challenges related to languages, religions, and ideas about race and gender. One student who transferred from UIUC talked about passing by Yingying’s tombstone on the roadside every day.

I also recall that, fourteen years ago, I borrowed money from my former college roommate to buy a one-way ticket to attend graduate school in the U.S. It’s been more than a decade. Now we encounter each other in this classroom, former and current international students.

Thanks so much to Jenny Shi for producing this documentary and for visiting Vanderbilt and my class. We are trivial beings; but we are all significant enough to be known and remembered.

Grant for Trans-Pacific Links: The Vanderbilt Asian Alumni Project

I’m glad that Trans-Pacific Links: The Vanderbilt Asian Alumni Project is among the first group of projects to receive a Vanderbilt University Sesquicentennial Grant ($50,000, 2022-2024). The Trans-Pacific Links project aims to uncover the history and stories of Vanderbilt University’s Asian alumni and the university’s linkage with Asia. The project will involve Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members in Asian Studies, as well as librarians and staff.

As a first step, students in my class ASIA 2610 Overseas Encounters will work in groups to track down Asian students who came to study at Vanderbilt since the late 19th century, including Charlie Soong (China) and Yun Chi-ho (Korea), among others. It will involve archival work, field work, interviews, and website building.

The project will be co-directed by my colleague Gerald Figal and myself.

The Legend of the Red Lantern

The Legend of the Red Lantern is one of the eight modern operas during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). It was based on movies and novels produced in the preceding decades. It was a work of art as well as propaganda for decades in contemporary China. The episode performed by Isaiah Degen features the interrogation of a Communist army member by a Japanese military official. Isaiah innovatively plays both roles by himself.

Peony Pavilion on Zoom

Peony Pavilion is a Chinese opera composed by Tang Xianzu (1550-1616). It is often compared with Romeo and Juliet due to their shared themes of love and death. After discussing part of the drama with a focus on the protagonist Bridal Du’s death caused by lovesickness, a group of students came up with their own ways to dress up and read/perform the encountering in dream between Bridal Du, her lover Student Liu, at the presence of a God of Flowers.

The Orphan of Zhao

The Orphan of Zhao is a canon in the repertoire of classical Chinese drama. Composed by Ji Junxiang during the 13th century, it is arguably the best “tragedy” in premodern China. It was also the first Chinese drama ever translated into European languages.

During the spring semester of 2020, a group of students in US and Asia collectively produced this play on the platform of Zoom. Because most of the could not meet in person, they made the best use of the online platform to present a virtual version of the ancient historical play.

The Injustice to Dou E

The Injustice to Dou E is a Chinese opera written by Guan Hanqing during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). the story is about a widow who is wrongfully accused of murdering her father-in-law. The original play was composed for performance with dialogues and arias. A group of students produced an animated version of this play during fall 2020. Because of the pandemic, many of the students could not meet in person so they communicated online and completed this amazing project.

The Gender of Memory: 2021 MLA Session

Memory plays a central role in literary production––one writes from memory and writes to make memory. Memory writing is always gendered––from the author’s self-perception to the constructed gender relations in literary works. The entanglement between gender and memory was particularly salient in early modern China (17th–19th centuries) with radical social changes and fast-growing literacy among women. Recent studies have paid much attention to gender-related literary writing of that period, especially in homosexual stories, works by women authors, accounts of female chastity, and writings involving medicine and emotion. However, the gendered construction of memory in pre-modern China is rarely studied. Focusing on cases in Chinese history, this panel interrogates the relationship between gender (sexuality) and memory in literary production. In particular, the session explores how memory writing engenders and enables negotiation with male-dominant literary discourses. The four papers in turn address the roles of memory in homosexual stories, hagiographic essays, garden writings within a family, and collective memories of historical changes.