2008 Student-Faculty Fellows: Eckerd College
Individual Research Projects
Mentor: Andrew Chittick
Students: Suzanne Simpson, Galway B. Traynor, Christina Marie Welter
The faculty mentor and three students traveled together in China from May 23rd to June 16th, 2009 to facilitate independent research by the students on the “Immorality of Celestial Masters,” “Cao Cao as Villian or Hero,” and “Guan Yu in the Lives of the Chinese People.” While working with students, the mentor was also able to deepen his own understanding on the poet Qu Yuan and the dragon boat festival. Sites visited and studied in included: Shanghai, Xi’an in Shanxi Province, with side excursions to Yunchang and Louguantai; Xiangfan in Hubei Province, with a side trip to Wudangshan; and Jingzhou in Hubei Province with a side trip to Dangyang; and finally Wuhan in Hubei Province.
Participants were impressed by the tremendous resurgence of interest in, and official promotion of, early Chinese historical figures and Chinese culture. The nationalistic and patriotic purpose of this development is obvious, but it is not merely artificial. Chinese people are genuinely interested in learning more about China’s traditional culture even if their interest is primarily drawn to the obvious and the heroic. Museums were well-stocked and packed; the public monuments and displays celebrated figures and episodes in history and literature; the shopping malls and stores, devoted more to Chinese than to foreign tourists, drew on the glory of earlier periods as a way to generate pride as well as sales.
Student participants proved to be avid consumers of both early and contemporary Chinese culture, especially as it relates to the Three Kingdoms cycle, and were not only eager trollers of museums and antique bookstores, but also connoisseurs of video games and popular music, and attuned to all manner of visual and pop culture references. Some of the contacts we made in China may also prove useful. In Xiangyang we had a lively meeting with one of the nation’s premier scholars of the Three Kingdoms era, Yu Pengfei, who invited us to return for a conference on the Three Kingdoms period scheduled for 2010. We also got to know several of the curators of the Jingzhou museum, who would have gladly taken us on a tour of local Chu archaeological sites if it had not been pouring down rain the entire time we were there.
Suzanne Simpson – “Immortality of the Celestial Masters”
From the beginning of this project I found a great many contrasts in views among Daoists about immortality and how one obtains it. Some practitioners were confident that they could achieve it; others thought that only a select few would attain this goal. There were also a variety of answers in regard to how one becomes immortal. The most common notion is that people can become immortal through diligent practice of certain regimens, the study of texts, and things like adjusting one’s internal alchemy. However, some monks insisted that one becomes immortal through his/her own merit and thoughts and deeds. Some believe that only a few are chosen to become immortal. There is no point in time when someone became immortal – they simply were always immortal and destined to fulfill this potential.
Galway B. Traynor – “Leadership Ideals in Modern China: Cao Cao as Villain or Hero”
Despite a need to alter the main focus of my research due to difficulties in obtaining permission to conduct a survey in China, my project on Cao Cao is proceeding quite successfully based on my analysis of various texts I obtained in China and interviews I conducted while there. Moreover, in addition to evaluating the views of contemporary Chinese on Cao Cao as a hero or villain, I was also able to research the evolution of visual symbols associated with Guan Yu, another important historical figure from the Three Kingdoms era who is now a popular diety. This study was done to complement research being done on the religio-social aspects of the worship of Guan Yu by another student researcher in our group. We visited a number of important sites for worshipping Guan Yu, and I have subsequently completed a paper that explores both the historical basis of imagery focused on Guan Yu as well as the way modern artists are modifying this imagery to better suit the tastes of popular culture.
Christina Marie Welter – “Guan Yu in the Lives of the Chinese People”
When I first conceptualized this project, I intended to examine the evolution in views of Guan Yu, later known as Guandi, throughout history as he evolved from being praised as an heroic warrior during the Three Kingdoms period to being worshipped as a popular diety. However, I soon discovered my limitations in interviewing people in China in Chinese to obtain their views of Guandi. As a consequence, I have broadened the focus of my research to the subject of hero worship among the Chinese which allows me to draw more fully from already published works in English on this subject.