Zi Yan: The Rise of “Spatial Consciousness” in Modern China

Read about Zi Yan’s summer research in Shanghai and Beijing, China…

The Rise of “Spatial Consciousness” in Modern China: Travel Essays and Geographical Practices in the Republican Period

By: Zi Yan, PhD Modern Chinese Literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

As a Second Year Ph.D. student, my research aims to investigate the rise of a “spatial consciousness” in modern China by examining travel essays and geographical practices during the Republican period. The juxtaposition of these two seemingly distinctive research objects – travel writing and geographical surveys – follows the historical establishment of the railway system in China from the turn of the twentieth century. Thus, my resources include travel essays, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, geographical reports, working lots, governmental archives etc. The diversity of my resources requires a loaded fieldwork, which could not be achieved without sufficient financial support. My fellowship enabled me to stay in Shanghai and Beijing for one whole month – from June 4th to July 5th. During my stay, I succeeded in getting access to and collecting a variety of materials in the Shanghai and Beijing Municipal Archives, the Shanghai Library, the National Library of China, and Perking University Library. In the meantime, I established a close relationship with both the faculty and library stuff in some of these institutions, which will benefit my future work a lot.

During the following six weeks I finished a language-training course provided by the German Department of Columbia University. The accelerated reading and translation German course was so intensive that it provided me, surprisingly, the basic reading and translation skills of German within only six weeks. German language learning means more than fulfilling the language requirement, which also provides me with the basic tool for a study into cartographic practice in early modern Germany, and therefore reading proficiency of Germany is necessary for my research project. With the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, I was able to afford the expensive rent of a Columbia apartment and the basic life expense.

In other words, the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund indeed did me a big favor. Without the generous help, I could never have spent such a fruitful and meanwhile vivid summer break. The summer funding covered most of my travel expenses between China and US, and the high living cost in New York City. I am feeling warm-hearted that Tokyo Foundation and Weatherhead Institute could trust doctoral students like me to do our research in East Asia, and the kind support means much more than a financial support. It is true that doing research is challenging, for which many of us have to spend a lot of time and have to conquer different kinds of difficulties. But the generous help and support from academic institutions, like Weatherhead Institute and Tokyo Foundation, provide us with the courage and inspiration to aid us with our tasks. For WEAI, I would like to express my most sincere gratitude.

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