East Asia is often thought of in terms of its long traditions of written and oral cultures. With the dramatic global shifts and political changes of the nineteenth century, however, China, Japan, and Korea underwent radical transformations that profoundly undermined those traditions. And yet, even as writers and intellectuals
in these nations embraced modernity and Western-style literary and cultural forms, tradition continued to exert a profound influence. Indeed, one of the key characteristics of the culture of modern East Asia is the dynamic tension between modernity and tradition, a concern that runs through much of the work of the faculty in this area. Moreover, this work also suggests that the very categories of "tradition" and "modernity" are problematic.
Some DEALL faculty in this area explore the continuing legacy of traditional forms in the modern context. For example, Chan E. Park's book Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward an Ethnography of Korean Story Singing looks at the modern reconstitution of the traditional storytelling form of p'ansori in Korea and how it gets grafted on to nationalist ideologies. Mark Bender's book Plum and Bamboo: China's Suzhou Chantefable Tradition deals with Suzhou tanci not as some immutable cultural form, but as a living tradition. In his more recent work on the
Chinese-language poetry written by poets of the Yi ethnic group in the PRC, Bender is also concerned with how traditional Yi folk motifs get reconstituted in "modern" poetry written in Chinese or Nuosu Yi by ethnic Yi. Patricia Sieber teaches a course that analyzes modern and contemporary retellings (in literature, drama, and film) of premodern stories.
Kirk Denton's early research focused on modern Chinese literature in the
iconoclastic May Fourth mode. But his books, The Problematic of Self in Modern Chinese Literature: Hu Feng and Lu Ling and Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature, 1893-1945, are also concerned with the role that traditional worldviews and traditional literary thought played in the reception of Western literary modes (such as realism and romanticism) and Western conceptions of selfhood and creativity in the first half of the twentieth century.
Richard Torrance is concerned not with literature in some abstract or rarefied form, but with the social implications of writing. In The Fiction of Takuda Shusei and the Emergence of Japan's New Middle Class, Torrance presents not only an important introduction to a neglected modern Japanese writer, he explores the social world of Shusei's fiction and the social world inhabited by Shusei the writer. Torrance's translation of Shusei's novel Rough Living offers a wonderful example of Shusei's concern with the "common people" (shomin). Torrance's current research is on
literacy and reading in parts of Japan beyond the metropolis of Tokyo. This "local" focus is also characteristic of Bender's research.
Like Bender, Chan E. Park works in the area of contemporary poetry--in her case, contemporary Korean poetry. Her book In the Tree Selected Poems by Kim Hyung-Young offers a bilingual selection of poetry by this important contemporary Korean poet. It is the first volume in a projected series of volumes to present
contemporary Korean poetry in English translation.
DEALL faculty in this area focus not just on conventional "literary texts." Denton's most recent work has been on the politics of historical memory in the museums and exhibitionary culture of China and Taiwan.
Although her primary area of research is premodern drama, Patricia Sieber has
also published a collection of short stories by contemporary Chinese women writers--Red Is Not the Only Color--that presents fiction on female same-sex themes.