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Robert Oppenheim, Director WCH 4.134, Mailcode G9300, Austin, TX 78712 78712 • 512-471-5811

Dr. Chiu-Mi Lai on Center Outreach

Posted: February 12, 2008

Dr. Lai has taught, or will teach, the following courses:
Decoding Classical Chinese Poetry
Why Chinese Has No Alphabet
Communion with Nature in Traditional Chinese Literature
Ideas and Concepts in Classical Chinese Literature
Identity and Memory in Asian American Literature
First-year Seminar – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly in Chinese Literature
New course: Asian Studies Graduate Level Academic Writing (for non-native speakers of English)


When did you arrive here?

I've been here since Fall 2006.

Where were you before you came here?

I was at the Harvard-Yenching Institute doing research in early Chinese literature.

What are your primary research interests?
My current research interests involve bio-literary species in early Chinese culture, or the evolution of flora and fauna as represented in Chinese texts. Much of my research has been focused so far on creating a taxonomy of "literary species" of flora and fauna in Chinese literature and history.

You have been involved in outreach activities for the Center; what kinds of activities have you done?

I had some initial conversations to explore collaborative relationships with other universities, such as Rice University. And last spring, the Humanities Institute co-sponsored several Mayor's Book Club events for a book selected that year: Around the Bloc by Stephanie Griest, a UT alum. The book is about her experiences as a journalist in Cuba, the Soviet Union, and China. The Humanities Institute asked me to do the China portion of the book.

What did that event accomplish?

It gave visibility to the CEAS within Austin, and allowed us to interact with the larger civic community of Austin, including people such as the mayor and head administrators of the Austin public library system.

What other things have you done?

At Southwestern University last October, I was the "warm up act" for Amy Tan's talk there. Amy Tan was the invited speaker for Southwestern's "Writer's Voice" series, for which the university brings in distinguished writers each year. Southwestern and the Asian American Cultural Center here in Austin brought me in to do an introduction a few hours before her talk. In that introduction, I placed her in a context in terms of American writers and Asian-American writers. The audience included a variety of people, such as high school students who read Joy Luck Club, members of the Cultural Center, and people from the community. After that presentation, high school students interested in Asia came up to me and asked for information on Asian Studies and language study, which was good visibility for the Asian Studies program here. Even though Amy Tan was going to present a Chinese-American novel, many of the students present were interested in East Asia.

Also, I took part in a Southwestern faculty forum on Amy Tan the month before the talk. Faculty from different areas were part of the forum: there was a Latin-Americanist, an American historian whose area is immigration, a sociologist, among others. Interestingly, a Chinese language and literature professor discussed how Amy Tan is viewed back in China. The featured speaker for the Distinguished Writers' Series is scheduled enough in advance so that different faculty can work the author's works into their syllabi. The author's works is then selectively taught across the curriculum, and so the entire academic community of faculty and students become involved and invested in the writer's talk and visit. (The invited writer spends a second day of interaction on campus.)

This is a model that is easier done at a small college like Southwestern but I really would enjoy some semblance of this kind of involvement, perhaps facilitated by the CEAS. Except for the teaching across the curriculum, the Humanities Institute has a similar model of a two-day intensive visit with the invited speaker for the Paul and Mary Ho Distinguished Lecture Series in China Studies. I incorporated "exotica" in two of my Chinese literature courses this year (a Fall First-year seminar course, and China's Great Wall and Silk Road Literature this Spring) to loosely "mesh" with the areas of interest for this year's speaker, anthropologist Dr. Erik Mueggler.

What would you like the Center to do for outreach in the future?

I have different ideas of what outreach can be outside of K-12 educational programs. The director of the Center and I talked about going to different undergraduate programs at universities in Texas to make connections for prospective graduate students, as advertising or recruiting for our program. I think we need greater visibility in Texas for the graduate program in East Asian Studies.

In addition, I have connections at several institutions in Texas; Rice, University of Houston, Southwestern, UT-Dallas, and Trinity, for example. I would like to perhaps create some collaborative relationships with these and other institutions. I'm also doing some outreach in my role as an assistant undergraduate honors thesis advisor. I view outreach as not just in the greater Austin or Texas communities but within the UT community as well. It's important for the East Asianists here to raise our visibility at UT, and CEAS is a good vehicle through which some contributions to visibility can be made.

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