AAS Member Spotlight: Wen-hsin Yeh

Wen-hsin Yeh is Richard H. & Laurie C. Morrison Chair Professor in History at the University of California at Berkeley. She will deliver the keynote speech at this year’s AAS-in-ASIA conference at Korea University on Saturday, June 24.

Your discipline and country (or countries) of interest:

Modern Chinese History

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Possibly since 1983—I can’t recall!

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I joined when I was a graduate student. AAS provided great opportunities to learn about the state of the field.

How did you first become involved in the field of Asian Studies?

I can’t say for sure. I have always been interested in history and I love reading books. One book leads to another. And I also enjoy working with documents—about recovering the circumstances of their creation.

What do you enjoy most or what were your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

I enjoy learning to unlearn: to grow out of old mindsets or assumptions and then to relearn. I enjoy doing that sort of thing back and forth, time and again.

Tell us about your current or past research. 

My past research has been about ideas and cities, in places such as China’s leading universities or major urban center (such as Shanghai). I like to see ideas in spatial contexts. I am calling my keynote for AAS-in-ASIA “Ships, Savages, and States: Rethinking the China Coast in the Nineteenth-Century.” I am trying to think of how the world might have looked for people (“savages”) occupying positions of marginality and commanding little discursive resources.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Learn your research language and learn it really well. Learn more languages if you can. There are career opportunities outside of the academia but they do not come ready-made. 

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I have a pond of koi and I have come to know them individually. I think a pond is a wonderful thing to own and it provides space for reflection.