On their way to Thailand, members of the Indiana University delegation made a quick stop in Taiwan. We arrived here just a few days after the annual Lantern Festival, the first major feast after Chinese New Year. Held on the 15th day of the first month in the Lunar New Year – and dating back more than 2,000 years – the festival marks the final day of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, when people of all ages spend their time playing games, solving riddles, eating glutinous rice balls, enjoying fireworks and lighting red paper lanterns that signify hope and good fortune for the year ahead.
Lantern Festival, sometimes called Chinese Valentine’s Day, is a chance to spend time and reconnect with family, friends and loved ones. Thus, it seemed appropriate that the IU delegation would arrive in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital and largest city, on the heels of this holiday – excited to reunite with several successful members of IU’s ever-growing international family.
As with Thailand, IU’s connections to Taiwan run deep. IU has one of our nation’s strongest China studies programs, which includes extensive educational and research programs in the culture and history of China as well as courses in Cantonese, Mandarin and classical Chinese languages.
IU has more than 200 Taiwanese students, each of whom is a valuable part of IU’s increasingly diverse student body, which now includes over 8,000 international students. We also continue to welcome many Taiwanese scholars and dignitaries to our campuses across Indiana each year.
What’s more, today there are nearly 2,300 IU alumni affiliated with Taiwan, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in education, business, arts and culture, and government here in their home country and around the world.
On Sunday afternoon, IU President Michael A. McRobbie, who became the first sitting IU president to visit Taiwan when he last visited in 2013, and Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum met with several of our Taiwanese alumni in downtown Taipei to celebrate the official registration of the Taiwan Chapter of the IU Alumni Association with the Taiwanese government. The official recognition by the government as a nonprofit organization will almost certainly help this already vibrant alumni chapter enhance its reach and impact, making it easier for members to stay actively engaged in university life, recruit new members and help future generations of Taiwanese students follow in their footsteps at IU.
If the chapter’s inaugural conference offers any indication, its dedicated members – led by Spencer Yang, chapter president and professor of political science at Chinese Culture University – will have little trouble meeting their mission. About 40 alumni battled a steady, all-day rainstorm on Sunday to participate in the conference and attend a spirited evening celebration, where President McRobbie delivered an update on the most recent “banner year” at IU.
Among the many highlights McRobbie mentioned were IU’s record levels of global engagement, including more international students and more students studying abroad than ever before in the university’s nearly 200-year history. He also heralded the arrival of the new IU ASEAN Gateway office in Thailand, which he will help inaugurate later this week. And, to the delight of those in attendance, he even shared some hot-off-the-presses news: that IU’s women’s swimming team, led by Olympic gold medalist Lilly King, had just captured its sixth Big Ten championship and first conference title since 2011.
I can safely speak for all members of the IU delegation when I say that I hope we’ll see many of our Taiwanese friends soon and perhaps as early as June 2020, when the university hosts its Bicentennial Global Alumni Conference and Reunion. This highly anticipated event, to be held Bloomington and Indianapolis, will showcase the university’s vast alumni network and the major impact its members have had in the Hoosier state, nationally and all around the world.
An expanding global partnership
On Monday morning, members of the delegation traveled to National Taiwan University, the most prestigious university in Taiwan, one of the top-ranked universities in the world and an important international partner of IU in Asia. By this point, the rain that had fallen all throughout the previous day finally ceased and the skies had cleared just enough so that we could admire, albeit briefly, the colorful flowers, fountains, trees and brick buildings that make up NTU’s picturesque main campus.
At NTU, where a remarkable 29 faculty members, including 16 full-time professors, are graduates of IU, President McRobbie and Vice President Buxbaum met with NTU President Kuan Chung-ming and other senior university officials to discuss renewing a formal partnership agreement between IU and NTU, which dates back to 2004.
IU’s Maurer School of Law continues to enjoy a productive partnership with NTU, which has resulted in a number of student exchanges and faculty research collaborations. Additionally, IU students are able to spend a summer studying at NTU through IU’s Chinese Language Flagship Program, which is one of four federally funded Language Flagship programs at IU Bloomington – more than any other university. The director of IU’s Chinese Flagship program, which is housed in the newly renamed Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, is Chen Yea-Fen, a graduate of NTU and a professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at IU Bloomington.
At Monday’s meeting, officials from IU and NTU also expressed interest in potential new collaborations in medicine, given their respective teaching and research strengths in this area, particularly in cancer-related research, genomics and precision medicine. On July 4, NTU will open a major new cancer research center, funded by a $500 million gift from Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturing company with headquarters in Taiwan. Members of the delegation were given an impromptu tour of the impressive 15-floor, 139,000-square-meter facility, which will be the first comprehensive public cancer medical center in Taiwan and provide such services as hospitalization, stem cell therapy, preventive health care, clinical treatment and cancer research.
Much like IU’s Grand Challenges Precision Health Initiative, NTU’s new cancer center has set some lofty objectives, including establishing new research programs and state-of-the-art facilities dedicated to precision health; bringing new patient-centered therapies and prevention into clinical use; and ultimately developing cures for devastating diseases prevalent among the communities served by the university.
Honoring a ‘guardian angel,’ the great Chi Pang-yuan
“In Genesis, Jacob dreams of a stairway to heaven. At Indiana University in Bloomington from spring flowers to winter snow, I too had dreamed of my academic stairway, with angels ascending and descending. But just as I placed my foot on the first step, the stairway was withdrawn, which provided me with regrets for many years.”
Chi Pang-yuan in “The Great Flowing River”
Our time in Taiwan concluded in the most memorable and inspiring way possible: with IU shining the brightest of spotlights on one of Taiwan’s best-known and most beloved contemporary writers, the remarkably accomplished Chi Pang-yuan, who was also a student at IU.
Chi, a former distinguished faculty member at National Taiwan University, has been instrumental in introducing Taiwanese literature to the western world through translations. For these efforts, she has been called the “guardian angel of literature in Taiwan.”
Born in 1924 in Manchuria, Chi grew up during what was the most tumultuous time in modern Chinese history. Like other members of the last generation of 20th century China, she had to overcome exile and diaspora brought about by fierce revolution and war.
Today, at an extraordinary 96 years of age, she is renowned as the pre-eminent expert and interpreter of Taiwanese literature. She translated and edited “An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Literature: 1949-1974,” a first-of-its-kind anthology that introduced works by Taiwanese authors to the world. With professor David Wang of Harvard University, she helped edit the series, “Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan,” which has published nearly 30 books by Taiwanese authors. She and Wang also edited the book “Chinese Literature in the Second Half of a Modern Century,” an important contribution to the critical study of Chinese literature from 1949 to the end of the 20th century, which was published in 2000 by Indiana University Press.
Chi also guided the establishment and development of the study of Taiwanese literature as an educational discipline around the world. She was the founding chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Chung Hsing University, and she served for more than a decade on the faculty at NTU. Over the course of her distinguished career, she also helped establish graduate programs in translation and interpretation at other institutions, and she taught a generation of scholars and translators, who benefited from her mentorship.
Her 2009 memoir, “The Great Flowing River: A Memoir of China, from Manchuria to Taiwan,” is an acclaimed best-seller, and it has been translated into Japanese, German, Korean and English. The book, which several critics have called a masterpiece, is being taught this semester at IU in at least one course that focuses on advanced language practice with texts in humanities disciplines.
In “The Great Flowing River,” Chi fondly remembers her time at IU. She came to the U.S. in 1967 as a Fulbright Scholar and taught at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana. Soon thereafter, she came to IU Bloomington to study English and comparative literature. She writes in her memoir that the literature classes she took at IU “were among the best in the United States.”
Among the professors under whom she studied was the late IU Bloomington Chancellor Emeritus Kenneth Gros Louis, a dedicated scholar known for his writings on medieval and Renaissance literature and history. Chi was also heavily influenced by professor Clifford Flanigan, who was chair of her master’s committee.
Although Chi passed her qualifying exam at IU and was only six credits away from completing a master of arts degree, her plans were cut short when she needed to return to Taiwan to support her family, just as her visa as an exchange scholar was about to expire. Her experience in Bloomington, however, helped build what she called “an academic stairway,” built “book by book, climbing upward with every word and sentence I read.” Indeed, she writes that, while at IU, she took advantage of every “stolen” moment to study, and she counts her time in Bloomington as among the most rewarding in her life.
At a special ceremony Monday afternoon, a crowd of about 150 adoring friends, family members, former colleagues and fellow IU alums gathered, including Nicholas Koss, a frequent translation collaborator whom Chi mentions in her memoir. There, President McRobbie presented Chi with an honorary IU Doctor of Letters degree – the highest academic recognition the university can give – in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the world of literature. McRobbie, who was assisted in the presentation by Vice President Buxbaum and IU professor Chen Yea-Fen, described Chi as a “pioneering and visionary scholar of the highest caliber” and a “great internationalist, who, through her dedicated and painstaking efforts to bring Taiwanese literature to the world, has helped build bridges of international understanding.”
When it was Chi’s turn to speak, a red-carpet-like flurry of camera and iPhone flashes followed her to the podium, where she spoke movingly about her time in Bloomington a half century ago, the transformative impact IU had on her life and career as a writer, editor, translator and educator, and how much it meant to her to finally receive her well-deserved IU degree.
“This is truly a great honor in my life,” Chi said.
In that moment, the stairway that Chi described in her memoir as having been “withdrawn” was properly restored and a scholar who has made such extraordinary and eloquent contributions to world literature, inspired countless students and readers, and truly earned the moniker of guardian angel had at long last been given a day she had always dreamed of.
Thank you, Taipei, for a most memorable detour. And see you soon in Bangkok!