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.

2021 Overseas Encounters

2020 was a chaotic year in America, with the presidential election, the pandemic, and so on. I designed and offered a new course titled Overseas Encounters: Reading the World through Students Abroad. We read and discussed the history and literature about international students in the world from the seventh century China to the 21st century America. We also explores themes related to those experiences: religion, culture, gender, language, etc. Below are some projects my students created to document their discoveries.

My Sense of Nationalism

The Overseas Encounter of Bhangra

Viewing Cultural Interactions Through Different Lenses

Crossroads in a Storm for Chinese Overseas Students

This World of Ours

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.