Columbia University senior Junjie Jiang describes her research on Phoenix, a work by contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing, and the Weatherhead Undergraduate Summer Training Grant that made it possible. For more information regarding fellowships, please click here.
WEAI Undergraduate Training Grant
I am a senior in East Asian Studies, and I applied for Weatherhead Institute’s Undergraduate Summer Training Grant to facilitate the research for my senior thesis. I am extremely grateful that I have been awarded the funding, which enabled me to do research both in China and in the U.S. in the past summer. My senior thesis is on Phoenix, a piece of artwork by one of the most prominent contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing. Xu Bing has been awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant for his creativity and ability to bring together the East and the West. Although I familiarized myself with his works through the Internet, I have always wanted to see those pieces myself and write about his works. When Phoenix started to be displayed in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, just a few blocks away from Columbia, and was going to stay there for a year, I knew I finally got the opportunity to do so. Though I had seen a few calligraphy works by Xu Bing exhibited at Columbia, I had not seen most of his works in person. In the spring, there was a big retrospective show—the first and probably the biggest—of all of Xu Bing’s works in Taiwan, and I really wanted to attend during the Spring break; unfortunately, however, I could not afford the air tickets. Things changed after I was awarded the WEAI grant. Though I missed the retrospective show in Taiwan, the grant made my other research plans possible. I went to the Nanjing Museum, the Shanghai Museum, and the Suzhou Museum to look for representations of phoenixes in traditional Chinese paintings, porcelains, and other objects. I bought books related to my research project, including a Chinese annotated version of Ouyang Jianghe’s long poem “Phoenix,” which directly responds to Xu Bing’s Phoenix. I also attended the International Literary Week held in Shanghai, where Ouyang Jianghe gave a public reading of excerpts from his poem “Phoenix” and there were also discussions on translation. In addition, with the funding, I was able to come back to Columbia earlier and use the resources of the libraries. Considering the limited funding opportunities for undergraduate research, I am extremely grateful to the WEAI grant, and I would like to express my gratitude again.