Chair’s Message

Jacob Eyferth


Chair's Message

EALC is one of the world’s leading programs in East Asian Studies. Our graduate students continue to excel, winning prestigious fellowships, writing path-breaking dissertations, and moving on to teaching and research positions at universities around the globe. Between 2005 and 2016, EALC awarded doctoral degrees to 50 students; of these, 45 currently hold academic appointments, 33 of them tenure-track. Our undergraduate majors, too, carry on the proud traditions of the department, many graduating with honors and going on to pursue advanced graduate training, as well as Asia-related careers in business, government, and the arts.

2016 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of EALC. The roots of our department go back to 1936, when Herrlee G. Creel established a Chinese Studies program in the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures. 1951 saw the establishment of an interdisciplinary Committee on Far Eastern Studies (forerunner of today’s Center for East Asian Studies). Our Japan Studies program was launched in 1959. Then, under the leadership of Creel and Edwin McClellan, the department was formally established in 1967. In 1985, we expanded our faculty and course offerings to cover Korean Studies as well.

Our current faculty includes specialists in many different cultures, disciplines, and historical periods, but we are linked by a shared emphasis on the careful reading and analysis of texts, ranging from recently excavated manuscripts to contemporary novels, films, and plays. The department continues to provide outstanding linguistic training at all levels in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Hiroyoshi Noto, Youqin Wang and Ji Eun Kim are our three language program directors, and Jun Yang serves as EALC Director of Language Programs.

On the Japan side of things, Michael Bourdaghs is a leading authority on the novelist Natsume Sōseki and on Japanese popular music. His Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Pre-History of J-Pop, was published in 2012. He is currently at work on two books that rethink Sōseki, one in relation to modern property regimes and another in relation to the problem of world literature. Other recent work includes a translation of Kojin Karatani’s Structure of World History. Hoyt Long published On Uneven Ground: Producing, Consuming, and Writing Locality in Modern Japan in 2012 and has ongoing research projects on the role of new mediums of communication in nineteenth-century Japan (letters, postcards, telegraph). Hoyt has also emerged as one of the leading figures in Digital Humanities research in the field of East Asian Studies. We are joined by our colleagues in History, Susan Burns and Jim Ketelaar, both of whom have broad interests in traditional and modern Japanese social and intellectual history. Jim’s co-edited volume Values, Identity, and Equality in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Japan appeared in 2015; Susan’s co-edited volume Gender and Law in the Japanese Imperium came out in 2013.

Our Korean Studies program is centered on the person of Kyeong-Hee Choi. Kyeong-Hee is completing a remarkable study of the complexity of censorship regimes in colonial Korea during the first part of the twentieth century. In March 2015 she organized an international workshop here at UChicago on “The Heartless, Dual-language Work, and Modern Korean Literature." She is also affiliated with the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and chairs the Committee on Korean Studies at the Center for East Asian Studies.

On the China side of things, our faculty works on early, medieval, early modern, and modern China. EALC is a leading center for scholarship on traditional Chinese civilization, with a long tradition of paleographic research. Don Harper is completing a book that treats medieval manuscripts, and much else as well: Occult Texts and Everyday Knowledge in China in the Age of Manuscripts, Fourth Century B.C. to Tenth Century A.D. Ed Shaughnessy’s recent books include Unearthing the Changes: Recently Discovered Manuscripts of the Yi Jing (I Ching) and Related Texts (2014) and Lineages and Their Places in Ancient China: Based on Recently Discovered Bronzes (2015). Yung-ti Li, an archeologist specializing in Bronze Age China, studies state-sponsored craft production in Anyang and Houma during the Shang and Eastern Zhou periods.

Moving on to China’s middle period, Paul Copp recently published The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism (2014) and continues his path-breaking work on Dunhuang manuscripts. Judith Zeitlin, whose interests over the years have evolved from ghosts to law, medicine, theatre and film, has embarked on a new project entitled “The Culture of Musical Entertainment in Early Modern China: Voice, Instrument, Text.” She also was one of the organizers for an exciting collaborative research project on “The Voice,’ sponsored by Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Ariel Fox, the newest member of our department, focuses on the intersection of literary and economic imaginaries in late imperial China. Her book project, tentatively titled Commercial Acts: Money, Merchants, and Markets in Late Imperial Chinese Drama, explores the performance of commerce both on and off the seventeenth-century stage.

Paola Iovene guides our program in modern and contemporary Chinese literature. Her Tales of Futures Past: Anticipation and the Ends of Literature in Contemporary China (2014) explores the ways in which the changes that have overtaken China in the recent past manifest themselves in contemporary literature, especially in its shifting imagination of the future. She is currently working on a project on landscape in post-Mao literature and film. My own study of rural artisans in twentieth-century China (Eating Rice from Bamboo Roots: The Social History of a Community of Artisans in Southwest China) appeared in 2009, and I am currently completing a book on women cotton weavers in rural Shaanxi.

Guy Alitto and Ken Pomeranz, whose primary appointments are in History, are internationally acclaimed historians of China. Guy was honored in 2015 at the China National Book Awards for Exceptional Contributions for his role in fostering cultural exchange. Ken is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was President of the American Historical Association in 2013-2014. Haun Saussy, who has appointments in Comparative Literature and the Committee on Social Thought in addition to EALC, is one of the world’s leading scholars in Comparative Literature and Chinese Literature. He is past president of the American Comparative Literature Association and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Finally, how could we ever forget Hung Wu, the world’s leading authority on just about every aspect of China’s visual culture, from antiquity up to the most recent exhibitions in Chicago or Beijing; although his primary appointment is in Art History, a great many of our students find their way across campus to his office and his classes.

I should also mention Chicago’s famous graduate workshops. These workshops, designed and run by the graduate students, are among the most exciting interdisciplinary programs on campus. EALC students participate in many of them, notably, Art and Politics of East Asia; East Asia: Trans-Regional Histories; and Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia.

A half-century after our founding, EALC remains a vibrant community of scholars pursuing cutting-edge research in multiple disciplines. As East Asia continues to surprise with its ability to reinvent itself in unexpected directions, EALC remains a world-class center for making sense of one of the world’s richest and most fascinating areas.

Jacob Eyferth