Texas Tech University

Yuan Shu

Associate Professor of English
Department of English
College of Arts and Sciences

Director of Asian Studies Program

What are your research objectives and interests?

When Shelley Fisher Fishkin delivered her presidential address on the transnational turn in American studies at the annual convention of American Studies Association in Atlanta in 2005, I started thinking about how transnational American studies would inform and reshape my research and teaching.

Since 2010, I have been working on transpacific American studies and reconsidering American literature, Asian-American literature specifically, in terms of this new paradigm. In comparing and contrasting what historians call the Atlantic World, which was defined by the colonization of the Americas, the slave trade, and the founding of the American republic, I realize that the Pacific has pretty much served as an extension of the American frontier, which means expansion of American economic and military powers from the Far West on this side of the Pacific to the Far East on the other side. To explore the meanings and implications of the transpacific, I've collaborated with leading American studies scholars in both North America and East Asia, and investigated transnationalism and globalization in light of planetary consciousness, indigenous epistemology and oceanic archives.

In a volume co-edited by me and Donald Pease, "American Studies as Transnational Practice: Turning toward the Transpacific," we propose a paradigm shift from the transatlantic to the transpacific in the field of transnational American studies and suggested the specific ways in which such a move may inform and reshape the modes of disciplinary analysis, cultural locations, and objects of study in the field.

shu in front of black boardHow do you feel your research impacts the globe?

Since 2010, I have given talks in East Asia, varying from Hong Kong University in the city island to Academia Sinica in Taipei, from Tsinghua University in Beijing to Nanjing University in Nanjing, from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou to Guizhou University in Guiyang in mainland China. My talks have covered a wide range of topics, which encompass: "Futures of American Studies," "Representation of Chinese Railroad Workers in North America," "Indigenous Epistemology and Ecocriticism in Pacific Islander Poetry," "Post-9/11 American Literature," and "The Trope of the Chinese High-Tech Spy in American Media and Politics."

My talks have received positive feedback from faculty members and graduate students in East Asia, particularly in mainland China. Because of these activities, I have also received many requests from faculty members and Ph.D. students in China to do research and post-doctoral work at TTU with me. My co-edited volume with Donald Pease, American Studies as Transnational Practice: Turning toward the Transpacific, has also been well received by Chinese scholars.

What types of service projects have you been involved with?

In spring 2016, I served as a faculty fellow of the TTU Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center and designed a service learning course on "Vietnam, Life Writing, and Oral History." In this course, I exposed students to the current theories and practices on life narratives and oral history and brought in a group of speakers who varied from archival librarians to oral historians, from Vietnam veterans to members of the local Vietnamese community, from the Lubbock Veteran Center staff members to Vietnamese students studying on campus. I helped students do research at the TTU Vietnam Center and Archive and transcribe more than 20 oral history interviews for the archive. Furthermore, I also contacted local and national Vietnam veterans' associations and the Vietnamese community and assigned my students to conduct oral history interviews with these veterans and refugees. In this way, students not only practiced what they had learned in the theories of life writing and oral history but also experienced firsthand the process of knowledge production. After they digitized and transcribed their interviews, they submitted their work to the Vietnam Center as part of its Vietnam War Oral History Collection.

What are you currently working on?

My current project, "Empire and Geopolitics: Technology, Transpacific Movements, and Chinese American Writing," aims to reframe Chinese-American writing in light of changing US-China relations with special attention to technology and geopolitics of the transpacific since the late 19th century. By such reframing, I am not trying to downplay the influences of American domestic politics, society or culture upon Chinese American writing, but rather, I am seeking to respond to three critical situations that have confronted Chinese-Americans, immigrants particularly, for decades. First, as immigrants have continued to dominate the Chinese-American population and community demographically, Asian-American identity politics can no longer adequately address the full scope of Chinese-American experiences and articulations. Second, with advances in technologies in telecommunication, transportation, energy, space, and biochemistry, Chinese immigrants/American scientists and scholars have played an important role in facilitating exchanges between the United States and China as well as in influencing China's political, economic, and technological developments. Finally, as China becomes more assertive politically and militarily in the Asia Pacific, which implicitly poses a challenge to the U.S.-centered global order, representation of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in American media and culture has shifted from the image of cheap labor of the late 19th century to the image of the high-tech spy of the late 20th century.

shu at desk in front of black board

Where do you find your inspiration?

I find my inspiration from the role models in Asian-American history and culture. Yung Wing was the first Chinese student to graduate from a U.S. university, Yale College in 1854. Rather than becoming a wealthy comprador in Hong Kong or Shanghai upon his return to China, Yung Wing was committed to modernizing China, educating the Chinese and building a bridge between the U.S. and China. In 1872, he established the Chinese Educational Mission in Hartford, Conn. and brought 120 young Chinese students to study in the U.S. institutions of higher education. These students made great contributions to China's civil services, engineering, and sciences after they returned to China. Throughout his life, Yung Wing supported political reform in China and promoted cultural exchanges between the U.S. and China.

Among contemporary Asian Americans, I really admire Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, whom I brought to campus for a lecture in 2013. Ambassador Bloch is not only the first Asian-American woman to have served as a U.S. ambassador overseas but is also the founding president of the U.S.-China Education Trust, a nonprofit organization, which aims to promote U.S.-China relations through education and exchange. Through her efforts, many Chinese students from under-developed regions and rural areas in China can come to study American culture and visit U.S. political and educational institutions in summer programs. She has made tremendous contributions to the U.S.-China relations and the understanding between the two peoples.

What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research, and service—in their careers?

I consider the relationship among teaching, research and service as dialectically and mutually reinforcing. While new faculty members should focus on their research, teaching can often give them incentives and motivations in developing good writing topics, furthering research projects and perfecting their theoretical hypotheses. Service may also inform and shape both teaching and research.

More about Yuan Shu

Yuan Shu is an associate professor of English and comparative literature and director of Asian Studies Program at Texas Tech University. He specializes in contemporary American literature with an emphasis on postmodern American literature, post-9/11 literature, Vietnam War literature and Asian-American literature. His research interest includes transnational American studies and globalization theory, technology, and discourse, as well as critical and comparative race studies. He has published articles in journals varying from Cultural Critique to MELUS, from College Literature to Amerasia Journal. He has co-edited two essay volumes, "American Studies as Transnational Practice: Turning toward the Pacific" (with Donald E. Pease at Dartmouth College), which was published by Dartmouth College Press in 2015, and "Oceanic Archives and Transnational American Studies" (with Otto Heim and Kendall Johnson at Hong Kong University), which will be published by Hong Kong University Press. His manuscript, "Empire and Geopolitics: Technology, Transpacific Movements, and Chinese American Writing," reframes Chinese American literature in terms of changing U.S.-China relations with special attention to technology as a key material force and a cultural discourse and also to geopolitics as the logic of empire envisioned and articulated by Captain Alfred Mahan in the late 19th century.