2003 Student-Faculty Fellows: Trinity University

Mentor: Randall L. Nadeau, Department of Religion
Students: Bianca Abate ’05; Kyle Brillante ’05; Elizabeth Hugetz ’05; Arthur Merschat ’05; Randall Robinson ’05

Research trip to China postponed to Summer 2004 because of 2003 SARS Crisis

Abstracts of Reflections and/or Research

Randall L. Nadeau

I have traveled to China before, but the last time I visited the sites on our itinerary I was a student myself, and I had never had the experience of guiding university students on an educational trip. Many of the sites we visited I had not seen in fifteen to twenty years, and the change in terms of modernization and social/political transformation amazed me at every turn. Thinking I would be a “guide,” I felt myself more to be a “discoverer” – of cultural upheaval and advancement, of transformation, of hope and growth. This was a moving trip for me, a return, and I was very pleased to have been able to share it with my students.

The trip was, for me, personally rewarding. I delighted in introducing my students to exotic foods (“real” Chinese fare, including live shrimp – kicking in the platter), to cultural treasures (the “Hong Kong Story” exhibit at the Museum of History, and Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou were among many high points), to scenic overlooks. From a professional point of view, the trip added immeasurably to my teaching portfolio, as I gave several impromptu lectures on Chinese history, religion, and culture to students who were genuinely inquisitive and attentive. On the whole, it was what every student described as an “awesome” trip. I saw China anew, not only because of its tremendous growth, but also because I had the benefit of seeing it through my students’ eyes. I am confident that I was able to lay foundations for my students’ further work, and I share with them my gratitude to ASIANetwork and the Freeman Foundation.

Research Abstract: The trip encompassed stops in six cities with formal visits to seven institutions of higher learning and tours of fifteen major museums and cultural sites. Throughout, I was able to arrange interviews with people who live and work at the sites we visited, from a high-level woman manager at Proctor and Gamble to women graduate students in fields related to my students’ research. In retrospect, I wish I had planned a more intensive immersion in one location, on a more narrowly defined research topic.

During the trip, I focused my attention on my students’ projects, but also collected materials for my teaching in Chinese culture and religious traditions. The focus of the trip was undergraduate research and my teaching of undergraduates in the classroom back home. In the conference presentation at the end of the trip, I discussed (1) the idea that both social gender and biological sex are socially/ritually constructed, with evidence from literati (Confucian) and medical texts, (2) the function and purpose of gender-switching (including biological transformation) in Taoist alchemical texts.

Bianca Abate
Gender in Chinese Buddhism

After just a brief month, I now feel like a new person, someone with a more insightful view regarding life. By seeing the opposite side of the world I also saw the opposite side of myself. The excursion had many effects: it intensified my love and intrigue for the country, reinforced my desire to learn the language, and gave me post graduation plans. I practiced my minimal Chinese speaking skills and gained confidence in my capabilities. Furthermore, I learned the fundamentals of Chinese culture, including manners and table etiquette. The entire trip was by far the most amazing experience I have had and I now feel more confident in all arenas of life.

Research Abstract: In China, I conducted a study of early statues and paintings to determine more precisely when Guan-yin’s change in sex took place. During the trip, we visited several temples and art museums which display historical Guan-yin statues and paintings, including the Hong Kong Art Museum, Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, the Shanghai Museum and Shanghai Museum of Art, and the various temples of Emei Mountain. I have much photographic data showing Guan-yin’s gender identity. I also conducted library research on Guan-yin, Buddhism’s movement through Asia, and gender roles in both Buddhism and China.

Kyle Brillante
The Mosuo: A Matriarchal Society in Southwest China

My travels in China allowed me to witness the incredible diversity that exists within Chinese society. The Chinese people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different upbringings, social mores and values, and religious ties, much like our American culture. This experience gave me the initial experience to visualize such a vast culture. Additionally, I also saw firsthand the openness and willingness to accept differences from the Chinese people. Chinese people are very inquisitive and eager to learn more about foreigners, and I was surprised about their willingness to show and help me understand their lives (while at the same time, eager to learn about mine). Coupled with their own diverse background, the Chinese people have a unique openness that stems from their own desire to preserve their rich and historical background.

Research Abstract: I gained a better understanding concerning the immersion of contemporary Chinese minorities into modern Chinese culture and society. Since the study of gender relations is one of my current interests, my visit to Chengdu also gave me the opportunity to observe some of the common interactions and responsibilities of women and men in Chinese society. With the information I gained and the people I networked with in Chengdu and the rest of China, I now have a foundation of knowledge and connections needed for future research and scholarship in China.

Elizabeth Hugetz
Women in Chinese Education

Most surprising about my experience is not only what I found out about China but what I found out about myself and my own culture and what it means to be an American. As well as learning about my own culture I learned a great deal about China that I never could have understood unless I traveled there. I think the thing I enjoyed the most was seeing how proud the Chinese were of being Chinese. The people we met along the way were so enthusiastic to give up their time to show us around their city. All of them were just as interested in us as we were in them.

Research Abstract: While in China I asked both men and women, “When were women first admitted into your university?” “Does your university have more male or female students/professors?” “Do you think girls work harder than boys?” I got the impression that they thought my questions were strange. The problem I found was that no one really perceived gender as a problem in China. Maybe my questions just came from my American upbringing. For the Chinese I talked to, gender inequality just didn’t seem to be part of their consciousness. This viewpoint could be a result of cultural differences. The American culture is based on the individual while the Chinese is focused on the collective maybe explaining why the push for women’s equality to men is not seen like in America where there is a strong drive for the rights of all individuals.

Arthur Merschat
The Female Artist in Chinese History

The trip affected my ultimate career plans and view of the world. I now plan to pursue a concentration in international law studies in my J.D. This trip brought me to the realization of how interesting the dynamics of relations between two such different nations can be. There is a distinct problem that we may use a term one way and it has a different connotation to a Chinese person than it does to us. The only way to bring clarity to a situation that involves so many subtleties as one involving the convergence of two legal systems is to have people who can transcend the cultural barrier. It is necessary for someone working in this arena to learn the behavior behind the contractual machine, to understand the philosophical and sociological underpinnings of the law.

Research Abstract: If all that was known of the role of Chinese women in society was what is depicted in calligraphic art, then we would assume a much more egalitarian view of their contributions as compared to that of men. True, there may be extremely little to no masterful art contributed to female artists in Chinese history, possibly excluding the twentieth century, but their depictions are quite numerous and interesting. Historically in China, as well as in the majority of cultures through the ages, women have played a subservient role. Their tasks were keeping the household and bearing sturdy boys whilst the men took charge of things such as going out and providing for the family. However, in art they have been depicted as artistic as much as subservient.

Randall Robinson
Gender and Business Institutions

The trip gave me the rare opportunity to be able to visit industrialized cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen while almost simultaneously trekking through towns such as Tongli and Emeishan Town. I believe that is one of the few ways to see China for what it really is: bustling on the edge of modernity with the rest of the industrialized world while retaining its rural beauty and breathtaking sights.

Research Abstract: In a world where women’s rights have become an issue, the impact on the professional community that simultaneously strives for modernization needs to be analyzed in order to find the result of the influx of educated women into the job market and expose some of the differences between men and women in the workplace today. With the influx of international investors into the mainland, Chinese women can find impartiality in joint-ventures and wholly owned foreign company offices. These women then became the best hope for bringing necessary social changes by using their newfound financial power to influence the rest of their countrymen.

Venues for Sharing

The International Studies Program and the Study Abroad Office at Trinity University have asked us to do a poster board presentation to the student body. In addition, many of the dozens of digital photos that I and the students took during the trip have already appeared in PowerPoint presentations in my Asian Religions and Chinese Religions classes. In addition, several students are interested in pursuing their research in graduate school, or in applying their research to work experience after college.