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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Faculty Profiles - Asian Studies

Dr. Yvonne Chang - East Asian Literature


Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; Ph.D. Asian Languages, Stanford University – Stanford, CA; M.A., Comparative Literature, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, MI; Undergraduate Degree in Foreign Languages and Literature (similar to English in the US), National Taiwan University – Taipei, Taiwan

What is your current research focus at UT?
I have written two books on literature of contemporary Taiwan. The first focused on the western-influenced Modernist literary movement in Taiwan during the 1960s and 1970s; the second tried to explicate the determinate logic of Taiwan’s cultural production in the second half of the 20th-century. Currently I am in the early stage of a research project aimed to explore the role aesthetic modernism plays in different East Asian societies--China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong—and how it correlates with the trajectories of societal modernization in these places.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Asian studies in the U.S. or around the world?
In the cold war era cultural imaginations in individual East Asian countries were predominantly oriented toward the West, in particular the US, rather than their East Asian neighbors. This has dramatically changed in our post-cold-war, globalizing era. In the last two decades, we have witnessed much greater cultural interaction between East Asian countries. The study of intra-East Asian cultural relations, then, is an exciting new direction of research in my area that I am currently following. A positive by-product of this latest research direction is that it helps to redress a long-standing misconception, that is, to regard East Asia as one large entity characterized by a high degree of homogeneity, which cannot be farther from the truth.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
Growing up in the conservative Chinese society of Taiwan during the postwar period, when social conformity was emphasized, I was always attracted to intellectual discourses that probed into canonic knowledge and challenged received wisdom. As an undergraduate student, I fell intensely in love with the Euro-American modernist literature, which, to me at that time, embodied a passion for radical truth. After coming to study in the American universities, however, I gradually was able to put into perspectives that youthful passion, which was then transformed it into a sustained interest in pursuing sound, demystifying theoretical understanding of cultural processes under different socio-historical circumstances.

What makes a good grad student?

  • Strong intellectual curiosity, a logical mind, and refined cultural sensibilities
  • Good studying habits
  • A balance of idealism and realism. In particular, graduate students in the humanity disciplines, who will be entering the job market a number of years down the road, need to have both “idealistic visions” and “realistic knowledge” about the academic profession.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Lay a solid foundation in the foreign language in which you would like to pursue the graduate work.
  2. Choose the option to write an Honors thesis, or select a couple of your term papers and substantially develop them, as writing samples are given heavy weight in the admissions process.
  3. It can really pay off if you spend a year studying abroad in the country that you intend to specialize, either before or after graduation.

What are the top five programs in this area in the US?
East Asian programs tend to be small in universities all over the country, and typically have just a few (1 to 3) faculty members specializing in literature and culture. Generally speaking, Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia, Princeton, Michigan have more established East Asian graduate programs, but each has its own distinctive strengths and weaknesses.

Could you please provide a snapshot description of the Asian Studies graduate program at UT?

The Asian Studies graduate program offers two types of graduate degrees. The Asian Cultures and Languages program offers doctoral degrees in East and South Asian literature, culture, religion, film, and popular culture. The Asian Studies program offers a terminal Master’s degree and is oriented toward a generalist approach.

What distinguishes our department from other similar programs is its considerable strengths in both the East Asian and the South Asian sides. It therefore offers better opportunities for students to gain knowledge about a wide range of non-western cultural traditions and, most importantly, perspectives that are always by definition comparative.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Ph.D. students generally get an academic job at universities. MA graduates pursue different careers in public and private sectors, such as the Foreign Service, World Bank, or entrepreneur companies. Some of our MA graduates continue academic work in professional schools (law, public affairs, film production).

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