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Dynamic couple brings expertise in East Asian studies to campus

DYNAMIC DUO: Professors Ruoyan Bai (left) and Li Chen have joined the University of Toronto Scarborough as teachers of East Asian studies. (Photo by Caz Zyvatkauskas.)

by Anjum Nayyar

Sharing a life with a partner can mean sharing success stories, and for Ruoyun Bai and Li Chen, it also means sharing a love of academics, particularly when it comes to Asian studies.

Chen and Bai were undergraduate classmates in Beijing. They both did graduate studies in the United States, where they later got married. Bai received her PhD in communications from the University of Illinois, where Chen also got his law degree before pursuing a PhD in history at Columbia University. As assistant professors, this dynamic duo will bring their love of teaching and academia to U of T Scarborough’s Department of Humanities this fall to teach new courses in Asian studies. Chen will teach Modern Chinese History and Bai will teach Media and Popular Culture in East Asia.

It’s the first time the two will teach together. Chen said he’s looking forward to sharing ideas and differences with his wife. “There are certainly some academic issues that we don‘t always share the same ideas about,” Chen said, “We try to use the fact that we are both in academia as a factor to motivate us instead of competing with each other. We try to help each other to make sense of the career challenges.”

Bai agreed. “I really love having conversations with Li about different lines of inquiry in our respective fields. I see such exchanges as highly beneficial to each of our projects in teaching and research.”

Those projects include their new course offerings: Modern Chinese History, Law and Society in Chinese History and China and the World for Chen; Media and Popular Culture in East Asia and Media and Globalization for Bai.

These courses are part of U of T Scarborough’s response to the growing demand for offerings in Asian studies. Professor William Bowen, chair of humanities, said hiring Bai and Chen is a significant step in consolidating current interests and building the faculty complement to support a planned 2009 program in global Asia studies. It is expected to be an interdisciplinary undergraduate program committed to cutting-edge humanities scholarship that places Asia within a global context.

“In order to meet the rising demand for knowledge about Asian societies, cultures and contemporary politics, this program will work closely with a wide range of disciplines and faculty to meet the distinct needs and experiences of U of T Scarborough students. Global Asia studies is a program that speaks to the uniqueness of Scarborough as a campus and

as a community. It aims to offer a cohesive and constantly renewed curriculum that presents an open and accessible interpretation of Asia in the world,” Bowen said.

Chen and Bai are thrilled to be part of U of T Scarborough’s mission to expand offerings in Asian studies. “Because of the diverse student body here, we see a strong interest to seek more exposure to different cultures in the world, especially China, Japan and Korea,” Chen said. “The courses that we are going to offer, I hope, will add a strong dimension to

some of the courses on global studies so that students will also become better global citizens.”

Bai said her media course will focus on such topics as Japanese TV dramas similar to mini-series which are primarily youth-oriented, as well as diverse formations of youth cultures on the Internet in East Asia. Chen’s course on modern Chinese history will be a survey course to give students a foundation for upper-level classes on China and the world.

Students will be assigned readings related to major political events and social and cultural transformations since the 17th century that helped define modern China.

© University of Toronto Scarborough