UCLA-HKUST partnership transcends geographic and intellectual boundaries
Tian Tan Buddha towering over Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Photo: Mark McLaughlin (cropped). Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

UCLA-HKUST partnership transcends geographic and intellectual boundaries

UCLA's partnership with HKUST seeks to internationalize scholarship on Asia, which has often been marginalized in study of the humanities.

By engaging scholars from both continents, the project “brings the American study of Asia out of area studies without losing the foundation of knowledge that area studies expertise can offer,” explained Asia Institute Director Bin Wong.

by Catherine Schuknecht

International Institute, June 3, 2014 — “A broader view of patterns in Asia and the West — be these cultural, economic, social or political — should allow us to expand the explanatory capacities of the social sciences and enrich the interpretive possibilities in the humanities,” said UCLA Asia Institute Director R. Bin Wong (UCLA, History).

This emphasis on the interdisciplinary study of Asia is at the heart of the collaborative research partnership between UCLA and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, a partnership that Wong has helped develop.

The joint initiative is one of several institutional collaborations promoted by the UCLA Asia Institute to foster a greater understanding of Asia through research. In addition to providing much-needed research support of Asian studies, the Asia Institute also sponsors public programs and community outreach.

The partnership was launched in 2010 with a grant of $150,000 over five years from Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh; HKUST Division of Humanities and Social Sciences responded with a grant of $300,000. The East Asian programs of the UCLA Asia Institute are also supported by a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant.

Established to facilitate international research collaboration, the initiative offers collaborative faculty grants of up to $90,000 for three-year joint projects, as well as graduate and undergraduate student exchange opportunities.

Research exchange

The research partnership embodies the UCLA Asia Institute’s commitment to international scholarship on Asia; it supports collaborative faculty research while building networks among scholars in the United States and China.

In creating the partnership, said Wong, “Our initial intent was to develop some intellectual conversations between UCLA and HKUST faculty and graduate students with the aim of fostering collaborative research and graduate training.”

The participation of scholars and graduate students from both regions enables faculty members to exchange research ideas and pursue innovative projects that transcend national boundaries.

HKUST is particularly well suited for this partnership because the teaching language at the university is English, making it an inviting space for UCLA faculty from all fields to engage easily with their counterparts in Hong Kong. Furthermore, the current president of HKUST, Tony Chan, was Dean of Physical Sciences at UCLA several years ago, which reinforces the relationship between the two campuses.

The first round of projects that initiated the partnership are now in their final stages, so the Asia Institute recently awarded three new grants. Those initiativesare currently underway, each to be completed over the course of three years. The projects that are coming to a close address such issues as labor migration, employment, and the economic and social history of China.

The most recent project, co-led by Wong and HKUST Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences James Lee, is entitled “The New Economic and Social History of China in Comparative Perspective.”

Wong recently traveled to China with two UCLA graduate students to attend a workshop on economic history. “For the students, it is an opportunity to get feedback from faculty at both our institutions,” said Wong, adding that a number of Hong Kong– and internationally based students and scholars were also in attendance.

Amy Quon, a UCLA graduate student who spent 2013 conducting research in Asia through the UCLA-HKUST Graduate Exchange Program, is thankful for the contacts she made during the program. “I was able to work with, study and meet so many people in Hong Kong and Mainland China that helped me acclimate to life in Asia and make important connections for my work.”

Asian studies in the humanities

The partnership between UCLA and HKUST seeks to incorporate different approaches to scholarship on Asia, which is often marginalized in humanities studies in the United States.

By engaging scholars from both continents, the project “brings the American study of Asia out of area studies without losing the foundation of knowledge that area studies expertise can offer,” explained Wong.

He added that Western social scientists must be “careful not to import too many assumptions about how any particular subject in the humanities or social sciences will look when examined in Asian settings.”

Having experienced the partnership’s graduate exchange program, Quon agrees that interdisciplinary study of Asia is essential. “[I]t offers a fuller picture of real-world situations and more plausible solutions to contemporary problems by focusing on how economics, politics, social life, health, urban planning and education — just as examples — are interconnected.”

Conducting research in China, instead of at home in the United States, also enabled Quon to learn from the people living there and to better understand their opinions and perspectives on the world.

In addition to cultivating faculty and graduate research, the UCLA Asia Institute is also working to establish opportunities for undergraduate students within the UCLA-HKUST partnership.

This academic year, two UCLA undergraduates in International Development Studies were able to attend the Jefferson Global Seminars at the University of Virginia — another partner of HKUST. Efforts are also underway to incorporate a humanities and sociology program for undergraduate students into the pre-existing UC Education Abroad Program partnership with HKUST.

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