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Brown University’s initiative to strengthen its international programs now includes a research partnership linking the Cogut Center for the Humanities, the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women and the East Asian Studies Department at Brown with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Science at Nanjing University.

Nanjing University has long been a leading university in China and is especially strong in the humanities and social sciences. Nanjing University was also the first university in China to admit women (1920). The “Transnational Collaborative Project on Women and Gender” seeks to bring outstanding scholars in China, initially those from Nanjing University but eventually others as well, into dialogue with scholars here at Brown about the global future of gender and feminist studies and the humanities in general.

In 2007, the Provost’s Office called for proposals for seed money in support of the University’s internationalization initiative. Forty-two applications were submitted from across the University. The proposal “Transnational Collaborative Project on Women and Gender” was selected to be funded. The award will be used for the first phase of the project, specifically to edit and publish two volumes, one in English and one in Chinese, from an international conference on Chinese female film directors.

Nanjing University hosted a faculty symposium on gender and feminist theory and an international conference on Chinese female film directors in June 2008. Brown scholars visited Nanjing University to participate in the symposium. For more information on the Brown speakers and to view photos from the trip, click here.

This collaboration between U.S. and Chinese scholars emerged from the understanding that the study of gender has significantly transformed the humanities and social sciences in both the United States since the 1970s and China since the 1980s. China and the United States have approached both the improvement of the status of women and the development of feminist research very differently. During the decades of socialist egalitarianism and the self-defined feminist state (1949–1976), the status of Chinese women in the social, political, economic, and legal realms rose significantly. For the first time in China’s history, women enjoyed equal educational and professional opportunities with Chinese men. But in China’s tightly controlled public spaces, women’s and scholars’ voices were seldom heard.

It was not until China’s embrace of the market economy in the mid-1980s that feminist scholars were able to develop women’s studies as an academic discipline independent of the state. Paradoxically, the recent and rapid expansion of market forces has led to a markedly reduced emphasis on gender equity in state policies and a sharp decline in the development and status of women’s and gender studies in higher education.

In the United States, the feminist political movement that began in the 1960s achieved some social and political gains for women, though far fewer than in many other countries.

During the same period, feminist research flourished, resulting in the establishment of programs in women’s and gender studies and in the transformation of numerous traditional disciplines. Today, with the “mainstreaming” of feminist scholarship and increasingly conservative state policies, there is growing concern across disciplinary and generational lines about the vitality of both feminist research and politics.

It is in this context that the project will address both the potential and the problems produced by globalization with regard to politics, higher education, and gender in today’s world. It will forge important and concrete alliances among scholars in gender studies and feminist theory in China and the United States, highlighting the connectedness of gender studies in today’s globalized world. It will promote the critical importance of gender to interdisciplinary teaching and research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

Directed by Brown’s Lingzhen Wang, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, the project will focus on the exchange of short- and long-term visiting scholars, faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students. In 2007-2008, a PhD student from Nanjing University, Xiao Hua, already accepted at Brown as a special student, will conduct his research on Chinese-American women writers under the supervision of faculty in the departments of East Asian Studies and American Civilization; he also will participate in activities organized by the Pembroke Center and the Cogut Center. In addition, the project will provide regular opportunities for scholarly exchange.

The Transnational Collaborative Project also aims to promote the translation and publication of feminist research and theory into Chinese; the translation and publication of books by both Chinese and American scholars on Chinese women and gender issues; and the formation of a new Chinese scholarly journal on gender studies that will have a collaborative relationship with the Pembroke Center journal differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. The two journals will be independent but will exchange selected journal articles and regularly devote issues to topics of common concern.

For photos from, and more information about, the Nanjing conference, click here.