Undergraduate Research in Asian Studies

Pomona is a community of daring minds. It is a place for students who are venturesome by choice, who have talent, passion, and independence of spirit, and who are prepared to dream big and work hard in order to make a difference in the world.

One way that Pomona College provides opportunities for students to excel is through research opportunities. Conducting research as an undergraduate not only gives students an advantage when applying for fellowships or graduate school; it also gives them a chance to tackle real-world problems and to find out what it's like to be treated as colleagues by their professors, many of whom are the leading experts in their fields.

Contested Memories: Narratives of WWII Among Japanese Civilians

David Yu ’21
Advisor: Samuel Yamashita

There is a multiplicity of narratives about WWII in Japan today, each of which casts wartime Japan in a different light – typically as either victim or aggressor. This paper examines the presence of these narratives in the testimonies of Japanese civilians given 40 years after the war, relying on theories by Lawrence Langer, Fujitani et al, and some quantitative analysis. I find that these narratives vary slightly based on the information emphasized in the testimony: the victim narrative arises with emphasis upon personal accounts of suffering whereas the aggressor narrative comes with emphasis on suffering Japan caused other nations. Furthermore, these narratives are not mutually exclusive, but rather can co-exist within the same testimony. Given that the victim narrative is the dominant narrative, the aggressor narrative often has to appeal to the victim narrative in order to be heard within the current power structure. Also, testifiers are aware of other narratives of the war, so they often feel compelled to respond to those narratives within their own. I also find significant discrepancies among subgroups of Japanese civilians in how they remember the war. Females are more likely to lapse into a victim narrative, as are the testimonies of the generation who survived the war. These discrepancies can be explained by differing levels of subjection to the dominant narrative, differing wartime experiences, or total lack of wartime experiences.

Cultural Resistance in Colonial Korea (1910-1945)

Salamanta Bah ’20
Advisor: Samuel Yamashita

Following the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910, Korea was annexed against her will by Japan, which marked the beginning of a turbulent relationship between Japan, the colonizer, and Korea, the colonized. The purpose of this project was to treat the ‘novel’ as a primary discourse that provides a crucial window into colonial Korea as it offers a great means for analyzing cultural resistance in colonial Korea (1910-1945). This SURP intentionally focuses on novels and short stories written by Korean women writers in order to center the experiences of Korean women during colonial rule as it is largely marginalized in scholarly literature on colonial Korea. Using a Foucauldian-approach, I examined Kim Myong-sun’s A Girl of Mystery, Na Hye-sok’s Kyonghui and Kang Kyong-ae’s From Wonso Pond in order to gain a better understanding of how power was exercised on the lives of Korean women and how these women responded to this exercise of power. Korean women writers did not only respond to power exercised by the Japanese colonial state, but they also responded to the forms of power that were exercised by traditional Confucius ideology that continued to be enforced by nationalist discourse as well as capitalism. Through the interpellation of their readers, Korean women writers pushed for different means of achieving liberation.

Double Take: Transnational Adoptees' Second Look at Identity in Adulthood

Chaelee Dalton ’19
Advisor: Samuel Yamashita

I hope to investigate adoptees’ relationships to their names in the year ahead. I am well-connected in adoptee communities in Korea, and during this project was able to interview people with different relationships to their names—some had completely reclaimed their Korean names, some had changed a part of their name, some had kept the names given to them by their adoptive parents, and some who used different names in different contexts. Names are the very basis of our own identities, so I want to continue to explore a more specific facet of the identities of adoptees.

Turning a New Leaf: The Shift from Cake Tea to Loose-Leaf Tea in Ming Dynasty China (1368-1644)

Andrew Nguy ’19
Advisor: Samuel Yamashita

In 1313 the scholar Wang Zhen noted that loose-leaf tea was popular among commoners but inferior to cake tea. This changed in 1391 when loose-leaf tea officially became Emperor Taizu’s (r. 1368-1398) preference. Then, literati began publishing numerous books on tea in the 1590s praising loose-leaf tea after centuries of a stated preference for cake tea. This raises the question: Why would the elite, who previously found loose-leaf tea distasteful, begin to promote it in the late-1500s? To answer this question, I consulted agricultural texts such as Wang Zhen Nongshu (Wang Zhen’s Book of Agriculture, 1313), classical tea texts compiled in Zhongguo lidai chashu huibian jiaozhuben (Collected Annotated Edition of Works on Tea from Chinese History, 2007), and historical records in the Taisho and Jiaxing editions of the Chinese Buddhist Canon as well as the Shinsan Dainihon Zokuzokyo (New Compilation of the Japanese Extended Buddhist Canon, 1975-1989) and determined that agricultural, cultural, and religious changes explain the popularization of loose-leaf tea. This boom in loose-leaf tea followed the invention of pan-firing and sun-wilting tea leaves, which were first recorded in the mid-1500s as alternatives to steaming tea leaves in Buddhist temples. Thus, I concluded that loose-leaf tea became popular among the elite due to advances in tea production at Buddhist temples, which attracted the attention of their literati patrons, who in turn promoted it as a refined drink.