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Embracing the past, looking to the future

Our university's vision is to engage in research with the quality, intensity, depth, diversity, and openness that leads to fundamental breakthroughs and new understandings. Trinity College Dublin is one of the world's leading research-intensive university, and the only university on the island of Ireland to become a member of LERU, the League of European Research Universities, Europe's leading network of research-intensive universities. Staff at the Trinity Centre for Asian Studies have an international reputation for excellence and innovation in research and scholarship. We offer doctoral supervision to qualified candidates in our areas of specialty.


GyU-LHA - Gyalrongic unveiled: Languages, Heritage, Ancestry

    Dr Yunfan Lai has been awarded a SFI-IRC Pathway Programme grant to explore the history of the Gyalrongic language branch in the Sino-Tibetan family.

      more information can be found here

      CHINACHILD: Slave-girls and the Discovery of Female Childhood in Twentieth-century China

        Dr Isabella Jackson has received a prestigious new Laureate award from the Irish Research Council, worth €400,000 over four years, to lead a team of researchers on a new project which investigates how controversies over keeping unpaid domestic servants (binü婢女 or mui tsai) reflect changing and expanding conceptions of Chinese childhood.

          For much of Chinese history, childhood as a period of education and development when young people should be nurtured and their innocence protected was a category that was applied almost exclusively to elites and boys. Elite girls and poorer boys might access education and some of the other characteristics of childhood, but poor girls were not included. Instead they were treated as small women, often sold in the same way that women could be sold by their families as wives, concubines, or mui tsai/binü, and when they were protected under law or as potential victims of abuse, they were categorised with adult women. This is the picture that emerges from the current, quite limited, historiography of Chinese childhood, which focuses on the education of elite boys (Saari 1990; Wang 2013) and examines girls only through the prism of women (Kinney 2004, 120-31). CHINACHILD will address how public and official discourse about girls changed between approx. 1919 and 1959 to include the poor and girls in a universal conception of childhood. Dr Jackson’s research as Principal Investigator (PI) will focus on what changing responses to child slavery reveal about conceptions of childhood and girlhood. The project aims to open a new field of enquiry in modern Chinese history that explains the expansion of the category of ‘child’ to include girls of all social classes between 1919 and 1959. This will dramatically alter the existing landscape of the field of childhood studies, not just in relation to China but highlighting the need for gender to be central to examinations of childhood in all contexts. It will also have ramifications for women’s and gender history and the study of women and gender in contemporary China. It will also redraw the line between gender and childhood, showing how women and girls developed into separate categories in Chinese society and challenging scholars to take better account of this in their research.

          In-depth with Dr Isabella Jackson: Debating Chinese Child Slavery: Child Protection in 1930s Shanghai

          In 1936 the Shanghai City Government Police Bureau called for the voluntary registration of all ‘female slaves’ in the city. The government was responding to international and local pressure to clamp down on the practice of Chinese families adopting ‘younger sisters’ or mui tsai to work as domestic servants, sold by parents who could not afford to keep them.

          Professor Jackson says that while there is not a huge amount of knowledge about why this practice began, by the 18th century it was widespread in China. The practice of adopting a mui tsai is said to have originated from Southern China but as people migrated to other areas in China and further afield, even to San Francisco and Australia, the practice continued there. During the 19th century the practice came under increasing scrutiny. While some girls were sold unknowingly into trafficking, others suffered abuse at the hands of their adopted families.

          "Some people would sell their daughters to traffickers believing that they would be placed into nice middle class families while actually they would be fed into prostitution. Within the household, there are many interviews with women who remember being abused by the head of the household or people who were supposed to be their brothers or the mother of the household beating them or sexually abusing them; this is not to say that this was happening everywhere –some of them would have been given better life opportunities – but as a result of the girls being placed in such vulnerable positions, many of them remember being treated badly."

          When criticism of the ‘younger sister’ practice first arose in Hong Kong in the 1870s, Professor Jackson says the dominant response within Chinese society was to defend the system, saying that it was an alternative to infanticide and the neglect of children. The interference of the Hong Kong Government in ‘traditional practices’ was viewed with contempt. Ironically in later years, the one child policy would change the traditionally low value attached to daughters. Increased scrutiny around the adoption of mui tsai was driven in part internationally by Clara Hazlewood, a British woman who found out about the practice and campaigned against it in Britain. She raised awareness of the plight of mui tsai in the British parliament where Winston Churchill spoke about the issue. The League of Nations, which at the time had an anti-slavery committee, heard about this controversy and decided that it should become part of its campaigning activities, which then propelled the problem into a global issue. When the system came under renewed scrutiny in the 1930s, Professor Jackson points to an increased level of disagreement in Chinese communities.

          "One of the things I want to investigate is why scrutiny of the system died away and then resurged in the 1930s. By that point it seems that there was much more disagreement among the Chinese communities. There were some people who still saw it as a widespread practice - the dominant classes often had mui tsai themselves so they thought it was acceptable - but there was now a new reforming younger generation who were very aware of China being criticised internationally and didn’t like the way that this made them look, so they started campaigning against mui tsai."

          Professor Jackson's research project explores the way in which anti-mui tsai campaigns saw the emergence of civil society in China and reflect the growing influence of international civil society through organisations such as the League of Nations. This tension between diverging responses to traditional practices in the 1930s will be the focus of Professor Jackson’s research when she visits Shanghai in July 2016, a research trip which will be funded by the Royal Irish Academy Charlemont Grant. Professor Jackson’s research brings a renewed focus to debates about the existence and nature of the public sphere in China, in the context of humanitarian concerns.

          Multilingualism in Hong Kong

            Dr Lorna Carson has been awarded a Provost's PhD Project Award to investigate discourses on language and identity in Hong Kong during a crucial period of political transition.

              This research project sets out to examine the changing linguistic environment in modern day Hong Kong and seeks to determine empirically whether and how language proficiency, language attitude and language use are related to identity construction in Hong Kong, in terms of Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Hong Kong’s linguistic and geopolitical identity is complex, with a significant generational identity and language gap. Over the course of this research project, the PI and research team (Dr Chung Kam Kwok, Mr Pak Hein Chan) will the role of language as a key identifier within a shifting cultural and political environment. Understanding patterns of language usage, proficiency and attitudes as well as the interactions between this constellation of languages, each fulfilling specific functions for speakers in different domains, contributes to our understanding of how identity in the region is constructed and is being transformed through language policies and practices. Using a mixed-method approach, target respondents are Hong Kong citizens who were born and raised in the city, aged 18 or above at the time of the study, those who report Cantonese as one of their first languages, and received primary and secondary education in Hong Kong. PhD student Mr Pak Hei Chan received the doctoral award which includes a fee waiver and annual stipend for four years.

              The emergence of divergent interpretations of Republican governments in post-Mao China

                Dr Isabella Jackson has been awarded a Provost's PhD Project Award to examine the emergence of divergent interpretations of Republican governments in post-Mao China.

                  The doctoral project of Ms Siyi Du Her PhD project focuses on modern Chinese historical representation and public history in China. The dissertation examines the narrative of Republican China by collating and analysing the alternative historical accounts of the lives of significant figures around which state-endorsed historical narratives have been constructed. The Provost's PhD Project Award includes a PhD fee waiver and annual stipend for four years.

                  Language learning motivation among students of Japanese

                    Dr Chung Kam Kwok and Dr Lorna Carson have published a recent study which measured the constructs of integrativeness and intended effort in the Japanese language classroom.

                      Since the 1990s, many researchers in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) have become focused on second/foreign language learners' motivation to learn a language, and the role of motivation in determining future success. However, much of the research agenda has revolved around the acquisition of English as an Additional Language, and target languages other than English have been under-researched. This paper reports on a survey study designed to investigate the motivation of 84 beginner learners of Japanese learning the language in a university language centre evening programme. Examining the relationship between learners' intended effort and six motivational orientations commonly used in SLA motivational studies using multiple linear regression, this study found that integrativeness was the only variable that contributed to learning motivation. This finding is in distinct contrast to studies focused on English learning where the ideal L2 self has often been found to be the best predictor of motivation. While it is far from sufficient to draw a conclusion that Japanese learning motivation is different from that of English based on one study, the current study does point to the key role of cultural identification in second/foreign language motivation, consistent with a small group of other motivational studies conducted in the context of Languages Other than English (LOTEs). Their findings appear in the journal of Language Learning in Higher Education (8:2, 265-279, Oct 2018).