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April 05, 2011

Professor Christian de Pee's AAS blog

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Professor Christian de Pee, U-M Department of History, shares his experience from the Joint Conference of the Association for Asian Studies and International Convention of Asia Scholars in Honolulu. We are grateful for his time and attention.

Thursday, March 31:

Trickles of scholars flowed westward from the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest, collecting in more substantial streams in California for the journey across the Pacific to Hawai’i—and some of these trickling streams were Blue: at Wayne County International Airport, I encountered fellow CCS members Pär Cassel, Ellen Laing, and Shuen-fu Lin, and in Los Angeles we were joined by Gang Liu (Rackham 2010) and Deborah Solomon (Rackham 2009). The shuttle bus from the airport was full of scholars of Asia, leafing through their programs and catching up with colleagues from distant places. But as the bus emptied its contents into the hotel lobbies of Waikiki, the scholars disappeared among vacationing families and sunburned tourists, amid leis, souvenirs, and surfboards.

Friday, April 1:

Some fifty scholars gathered at 10:15 a.m. to attend the panel “Metropologies: Imperial Cities and Literary Form in China,” conceived by Benjamin Ridgway (Rackham 2005) and Gang Liu. Shuen-fu Lin provided introductions, and four presenters each gave a concise analysis of the representation of an imperial city in one distinct literary genre: Michael Nylan (UC Berkeley) analyzed Chang’an during the late Western Han (206 BCE-9 CE) as it emerges from memorials to the throne; Linda Feng (University of Toronto) pointed to the commercial pageantry surrounding the imperial examinations in Chang’an, visible in the margins of informal prose works of the Tang dynasty (618-907); Benjamin Ridgway (Valparaiso University) examined the literary and discursive politics of Wang Shipeng’s rhapsodies on Shaoxing, the spurned temporary capital of the Southern Song (1127-1279); and Gang Liu (Carnegie Mellon University) spoke about the combination of nostalgia and criticism in accounts of Hangzhou, in notebooks written during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). After I offered some brief, general remarks about the relationship between urban space and literary form, and proposed some specific ways in which a semiotic approach to generic conventions might strengthen the argument of the individual papers, members of the audience contributed their insights and questions. Discussions continued in the hallway of the convention center, until the members of the panel descended the escalators and crossed the street for a celebratory luncheon at a Korean restaurant.

Saturday, April 2:

At 8:00 a.m. I met with a dear friend who had invited me to join her on a visit to the Hawai’ian estate of the late Doris Duke, which is managed by the Honolulu Academy of Arts. In the company of a guide and a small tour group we wondered at the combination of Islamic antiques, nineteenth-century Near Eastern crafts, and twentieth-century American imitations of Islamic patterns and techniques that decorate this idiosyncratic piece of 1930s architecture, situated on a bluff amid landscaped gardens. And we admired the view of the ocean, stretching under a blue, wind-swept sky beyond the sliding windows and hydraulic façade of the living room and below the colonnaded terrace.

Back at the convention center in the afternoon, I attended a meeting and a panel, and sought opportunities for the random encounters that are the most enjoyable and often the most valuable part of these professional conferences. Where else does one meet in one place former teachers and former fellow students, old acquaintances made at a seminar in Europe or at a research institute in China, and esteemed colleagues from across the world? It is not uncommon that one walks up to a group of friends who introduce one (“Oh, do you know each other?”) to an unfamiliar person who turns out to be the author of an admired monograph, or whom one knows from an instructive electronic correspondence. And so I reminisced about a sojourn in Chengdu, shared insights with graduate students pursuing work parallel to my own, discussed work in progress with a variety of peers, repeated old jokes with a former colleague, and shared with a few friends a bottle of Michigan sparkling wine that I had brought to celebrate the recent approval of my tenure file by the College.

Sunday, April 3:

On Sunday the conference gradually ebbed away. Booksellers sold their display copies, panels became more sparsely attended, and scholars with hurried step (their forgotten name tag flapping) rolled their well-traveled suitcases toward buses and taxis. Some confessed that they had not yet overcome their jet lag as they prepared to return to California, to Ohio, to Europe. And just as suddenly as this community of Asian scholars had gathered in academic debate and lively conversations, so it dispersed into the dark, humid skies above Honolulu International Airport.

Posted by zzhu at April 5, 2011 01:08 PM