During the 2016-2017 school year, Professor Emeritus Stephen Sumida was able to serve as a host and mentor to a visiting scholar from the University of Dalian in China, Professor Helen Jiang. Jiang is an associate professor of literature who has published scholarly work in American Ethnic and African American literary studies.
Jiang contacted Sumida in 2015 to express interest in studying with him at the University of Washington. She wanted to come to work with Sumida to enrich her studies in both Asian American and, more broadly, American Ethnic literature. Sumida has enjoyed the opportunity to work with Jiang and have her sit in on some of his classes at the UW, while also diligently maintaining her own research at the library every day. From the beginning, Jiang wanted to develop her work on two key works in Asian American literary studies with Sumida’s support: Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior and Jon Okada’s No No Boy.
As Sumida explains, the study of American Ethnic and Asian American literature is different within the Chinese academy. Part of Jiang’s work at the UW was to develop new ways of reading the literature and engaging it in her scholarship. According to Sumida, “When they read a work of ethnic literature in China, it is often seen as the text reporting and recording the experience of a group, instead of as an interpretation that we have to analyze to see what the author is trying to tell us. For us, in our tradition, it’s not direct, it’s not transparent, we have to work for it.” Jiang’s research takes up Kingston’s Woman Warrior as a site to review different reading strategies for her own academic audience.
Jiang was excited to find out, shortly before she was meant to move to Seattle for the year that her husband would also be receiving a research grant to study in Seattle. Jiang’s husband, Yan Wei Xu, is a sociologist at the University of Dalian. Although he had initially planned to take a sabbatical and help care for their 9-year-old son, Xu is now also pursuing his research in Seattle that focuses on the sociology of sports culture. Despite encountering some difficulties in acquiring a visa for his work here, Xu did eventually get the opportunity to join Jiang on the UW campus with their son. Xu joined Jiang at the end of January, right at the start of lunar new year, which Sumida remarked was a “momentous time to be reunited."
Xu, who is interested in developing strategies to increase interest in sports in China, has also relished the opportunity to meet with representatives from the UW athletics community, especially advisers and coaches involved with UW football. Between observations, interviews, and new scholarship being published in the US, Xu has also been able to develop his work through his relationship with Sumida and the University of Washington community.
Jiang’s son has also had the opportunity to get exposed to a different kind of educational experience at his elementary school in the Seattle area. According to Sumida, he has enjoyed his year abroad in the US, and Jiang and Sumida often joke that her son will want to attend the University of Washington in the future. Prior to her son’s arrival, Sumida and Jiang would have a weekly lunch outing to try different hamburgers in the Seattle area as she assumed that her son would want to try them all once he was in Seattle. It’s through these lunches, as well as their research together, that Sumida and Jiang have been able to develop a strong friendship based on their work together that will no doubt offer new perspectives to both the UW and Chinese academic communities.