Tell us a little about yourself, your background and what inspired your early interest in Chinese history and culture?
My name is Haoyue Li. After taking the BC high-school curriculum in China, I came to UBC Vantage College in 2014 and majored in Asian Studies from 2015 to 2018. Last September, I began my MA degree in UBC, Asian Studies Department, under the supervision of Dr. C. D. Alison Bailey.
My attachment to Chinese history and culture is from my obsession with premodern Chinese literature, including fiction and plays, prose and poetry, especially late-imperial stories of scholars and beauties. On the one hand, this early experience cultivates the roots of my emotional attachment to such literature; on the other hand, as long as I explore Chinese literature, history and culture through premodern texts, I realize that the premodern world is another realm that is somehow “alienated” from modern people and definitely deserves further exploration.
Could you explain to a non-expert what you are researching and why it is significant?
My research aims to investigate the olfactory feeling in premodern Chinese literature, particularly Tang tales of the strange and Ming-Qing vernacular fiction. How and why can such an invisible feeling be visually reconstructed through texts? What specific objects and characters could carry, transfer, and stimulate readers’ sense of smell? What cultural implications are reflected through this literary phenomenon?
Indeed, the sensory study is a rather new but significant research field. Many scholars have recognized the importance of the humanities and social sciences as the foundational approach for sensory studies. There has been considerable ground-breaking scholarships on “sight” and “sound” (sights, sounds, touches, tastes and smells are the five senses in total) in pre-modern Chinese literature; however, the study of olfactory senses in premodern Chinese literature is still a very new field. Indeed, this study would produce even more significance as it is interdisciplinary research, between cultural study and literary review.
As a graduate student, what have been your main activities and responsibilities?
Like the other MA students in the Department of Asian Studies, I have both research activities and teaching responsibilities. In terms of research activities, I take graduate seminars to enrich my knowledge, be trained in research skills, and to find an enticing thesis topic. Also, I work as a Research Assistant for my supervisor, which is an unmissable opportunity for learning, imitating and thinking. In terms of teaching responsibilities, I have served as an undergraduate and graduate TA in several undergraduate courses. I would like to say that these experiences cultivate my teaching skills and inspire me at the same time.
Can you give any advice to new students in our program or for students considering applying to it?
My suggestion is to ask yourself a question before making a decision. Do I have the passion and patience to do research? Unlike undergraduate programs, the graduate program in Asian Studies at UBC is a research program, which means graduate students here are expected to produce their own research outcomes before graduating. In other words, beyond understanding the course materials, graduate students need to formulate research questions, make their own arguments, and even fill research gaps. Once students confirm their passion and patience for research on Asian culture, literature and philosophy, I would like to say that UBC is definitely one of the best choices.
Read full interview here