Vice Provost Wendy Larson back in Portland after research sabbatical in China and Singapore

July 21, 2013 - 9:40pm

What happens when a country with deep cultural roots becomes part of the global world? How do the citizens adjust to new influences, while maintaining ways of living that seem natural to them?

Wendy Larson, vice provost for Portland Programs and a professor of East Asian Languages, is back in Portland after a sabbatical year to conduct research for her fourth book, “Zhang Yimou: Globalization and Subject of Culture.”  The research focuses on Zhang Yimou, one of China’s most famous and controversial film directors.

“I chose Zhang Yimou, because he is the most persistent in exploring the influence of globalization on culture as national and other borders become easily crossed,” said Larson, who is reviewing most of the director’s films from the 1980s through present. Zhang became known outside China for the 1987 movie “Red Sorghum,” and directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Larson spent four months in the Minhang district of the Shanghai suburbs, at East China Normal University, which has a partnership with the UO’s Confucius Center. During the last six months, she was a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore at the Asia Research Institute. She was one of a dozen in a culture cluster, researching different kinds of culture in Asia.

While in Singapore, Larson attended a conference on cultural preservation in Bhutan, where she joined representatives from the Bhutanese Ministry of Culture in hiking to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, first built in 1692.

In her research, Larson is using the works of Zhang to look at the globalization of larger cultures, such as Egypt, India and China, where there are strong language and cultural histories.

“Globalization is metamorphosing those cultures in a variety of ways. The first category is easily recognized styles and forms such as those of architecture, music and art,” Larson said. “The other is ‘the way we live.’ This is where deeper roots come in and the individual experience is important. Things like how we organize our time, our personal space, education priorities and gender practices. Changes here tend to shake people to the core and they become worried about losing something from their lives and their cultures.”

One of Larson’s favorite discoveries while in Singapore was hawker stalls, an open food market with a variety of dish options. “You could have a fabulous meal for $2-3 US dollars. I would attend a lecture with fellow researchers and we would continue the discussion and debate through lunch.”

- by Heidi Hiaasen, UO Portland