Database reveals Chinese love for American literature

October 5, 2009

Imagine a Chinese student curled up with a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” trying to figure out whodunit.

Or such other quintessentially American books as Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild,” Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” or Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” Download Full Image

What works of American literature are Chinese readers devouring? And why?

Questions such as these will be answered by a new database, Project Yao, that has just been launched as a tri-university, multicontinent project by scholars in China and the United States.

Project Yao, which takes its name from an ancient Chinese word for “when two people meet and look at each other,” is a large, searchable database of Chinese translations of pre-1920 American literature. The time period will be expanded as scholars at the three participating universities – ASU, Iowa State University and Sichuan University – continue their process of discovery.

Cheng Xilin, director of Sichuan University’s American Studies Center, says he and his colleagues are thrilled with the project. “I believe that Project Yao will help promote cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Chinese and American academics.”

Project Yao’s creator, ASU associate professor of English Joe Lockard, says, “We did not know what size data set we were dealing with, so we are beginning with a limited sample of more than 1,300 works. Even this number of published translations from the 19th century forward demonstrates the depth and strength of literary relations between the two countries.”

With the database, a user can check whether a specific author or text has been translated from English to Chinese, or research different types or periods of translation.

“Translation functions within a social context and this tool helps users to understand the development of the corpus of U.S. literature in Chinese,” Lockard says. “What authors and works get translated, and why? The information here enables mapping of literary relations between China and the United States.”

Why do Chinese readers like to read American literature?

Lockard suggests that “China has a lengthy and complex intellectual relationship with the West, and that this relationship has gone in both directions more than many Americans recognize or credit.

“For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and to a lesser extent, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were both deeply interested in Chinese philosophies and literature. Among Chinese readers, it is interesting that so much publishing attention gets paid to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin gets treated as an example of a successful life and as a moral model.

“There have been many editions of his ‘Autobiography’ and his aphorisms from ‘Poor Richard's Almanack’ seem to have particular appeal.”

Lockard says the project intrigued him because he has a long-standing interest in ideologies and economies of translation.

“Why, for example, are there so many translations of Longfellow's 'Song of Hiawatha' into Chinese?" he says. "Since 1930 there have been five Hiawatha translations. What do such translations inform us about the global representation of native peoples in the United States?

“Have there been more recent translations of the work of Native American authors into Chinese? Is the translation economy shifting to acknowledge ethnic self-representation? These are the sorts of questions that one can begin to address by using the Project Yao database.”

The project had its genesis in relationships between ASU and Sichuan University, and ASU and Iowa State University.

"The ASU Department of English has expertise in digital publishing emerging from the Antislavery Literature Project and its collaboration with the EServer at Iowa State University,” Lockard adds. “That provided a foundation for partnering with Sichuan University to create a new online public scholarship project. Sichuan University is responsible for administrative management of the Project; Arizona State and Iowa State universities provide development assistance and technical support.”

The EServer, the world’s most popular online humanities Web site (">">, is a digital cooperative directed by Geoffrey Sauer, an assistant professor in the ISU Department of English.

EServer is open to the global academic community and the public, Lockard says. “This is what we mean when we use the phrase ‘public scholarship.’

“Public scholarship provides free, accessible, high-quality digital scholarly resources to everyone who can use them. The resources we build are low or no-cost to operate, and can be developed and sustained without huge expense.”

Project Yao also is important because it fosters collaborative relationships, says Maureen Daly Goggin, interim chair of the ASU Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Projects like this emphasize the value of academic collaboration and transnational work, productively engaging new information technologies.

“We have been partnering with Sichuan University for several years as a sister institution and are delighted to see the latest fruit of this cooperation,” she adds. 

A related research project already is under way between ASU and Sichuan University, Lockard saiys. “We have already begun work on a paper on Chinese anthologies of American literature, and further collaborative work is planned.”

Eserver is located at">">, while Yao’s address is">">

For more information about Project Yao, contact Lockard at joe.lockard">">

History, philosophy, religious studies cross boundaries in new school

October 5, 2009

The Arizona State University community is invited to a series of events Oct. 14 to officially launch the new School">">School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in the College">">College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The launch celebration begins a year of special lectures, research conferences, colloquia and an art exhibit to introduce students, faculty and staff to the new school.

"Though our core is firmly based in the humanities – the critical, historical and comparative study of texts, practices and contexts – we cross boundaries to sustain strong ties with our colleagues in the natural and social sciences, the professional schools and beyond," says Mark von Hagen, a professor of history and founding director of the school. Download Full Image

ASU President Michael Crow will be among the speakers at the launch ceremony and reception, which begins at 10 a.m. Oct 14 in Old Main Carson Ballroom on ASU's Tempe campus. Other speakers include von Hagen; Quentin Wheeler, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Deborah Losse, dean of humanities.

The School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies was established last year through action by the Arizona Board of Regents. It combines three previous departments: history, philosophy and religious studies.

The new school creates a research and teaching environment that cuts across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences while maintaining existing degree programs in traditional areas. Faculty members will develop educational and research opportunities – including new curriculum – at the intellectual intersections of these fields.

Within the school are 80 faculty members representing a wide range of disciplines. They are organized into three faculties, each with a faculty leader: Associate Professor Kent Wright (History), Professor Peter de Marneffe (Philosophy) and Associate Professor Joel Gereboff (Religious Studies).

Among the current strengths of the new school are: history and philosophy of science, intellectual history and history of philosophy, American and global religious history and cultures, environmental history and bioethics, women's history and feminist philosophy, Native American history and indigenous epistemologies, history and philosophy of politics and the quest for justice; history, philosophy and politics of religion.

Also planned for the Oct. 14 launch is a Chinese socialist realist art exhibit, film screening and panel discussion – a retrospective of the past 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The exhibit of Chinese art, including work by Jin Zhilin, will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 30 in the Old Main Basha Family Library, with the exception of Oct. 19-21, when the exhibit is closed.

At noon on Oct. 14 is the screening of a segment of the documentary "From the Masses to the Masses: An Artist in Mao's China." The clip depicts China's cultural revolution. "From the Masses to the Masses" is the third in the Beyond the Border eight-part collection of films covering war, geography, politics, history and current affairs. It originally debuted in 2004 and was produced by Combat Films and Research for the David M. Kennedy Center at Brigham Young University.

The documentary segment will be shown in Old Main Carson Ballroom and be followed by a panel discussion on a 60-year retrospective of China. Panel members include Assistant Professor John Zou from the School of International Letters and Cultures in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and professors Stephen Mackinnon and Hoyt Tillman from the new School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

A lecture by von Hagen is set for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in Coor Hall, Room 4403. The lecture is titled "History Wars: Memory and Geopolitics in Eastern Europe and Eurasia."

Other events to celebrate the new school are planned throughout the year. Information about those events, the launch ceremony and the new School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies is online at">"> or at 480-965-5778.