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Leslie K. Wang, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
How long have you been a member of AAS?
Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?
I attended my first AAS annual meeting as a graduate student in 2009, for which I organized the very first panel of my academic career. I enjoyed the dynamic interdisciplinary conversations I had there and was impressed by the support provided by AAS for graduate students to participate. Since then I have presented at the AAS meetings on three other occasions. These conferences connect me to other Asian Studies scholars not in my discipline, allowing me to engage with my research in a more holistic manner. I am also grateful to the AAS for giving me a small grant that supported follow-up fieldwork to China in 2011 that helped me complete my first book.
How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?
My introduction to Asian Studies began as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego. I decided to become a Chinese Studies/Sociology double major after spending my junior year abroad in Beijing in 1997-98 experiencing first-hand the rapid, all-encompassing socio-economic changes that were sweeping the nation. Furthermore, after graduation I spent two years in Japan teaching English before returning to graduate school to continue my studies on Chinese society.
What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?
What I find most fulfilling is producing research that challenges certain generalized notions held by Western audiences about China or Chinese culture that are often reinforced in the media. In this increasingly transnational era, the American public has a great interest and need to learn more about the diversity and nuances of Asian cultures and societies. In my view, academics should play a central role in this endeavor.
Tell us about your current or past research.
My research centers on families and children to highlight increasing transnational ties between China and the global north. My first book, Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China, was based on a year and a half of ethnographic fieldwork in Chinese orphanages that collaborated with Western humanitarian organizations. The book links child abandonment and adoption in China to larger state-led economic transitions and the nation’s quest to achieve higher global standing. Although countries that allow their vulnerable children to be cared for by outsiders are typically considered weaker global players, I argue that the PRC has turned this notion on its head. Instead, state authorities have strategically used the international adoption of some of the country’s most marginalized children to attract foreign resources and secure closer ties with Western nations—especially the United States. My next major project focuses on the trend of “satellite babies,” or offspring of Chinese immigrant parents in the U.S. who are sent back to the PRC to be cared for by grandparents or other relatives for extended periods. Though this practice is quite common, little is yet known about the experiences and outcomes for children and families who undergo this type of transnational parent-child separation.
What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?
As someone who spent a number of years seeking a position in an increasingly crowded and competitive academic job market, I would advise students to envision early on some different possible academic and non-academic career paths to which your degree can lend itself and that you might enjoy. Being open and flexible to the myriad possibilities that come from having expertise in Asian Studies will benefit you throughout graduate school and beyond.
Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.
I am very interested in mindfulness and have found meditation to be one of the best ways to maintain a sense of balance and gratitude while navigating an academic career. I’m excited to be part of a larger effort to explore ways of incorporating mindfulness into the classroom and higher education in general.