Steady Stream of Chinese Scholars Coming to Faulkner Center
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Dec. 3, 2008 -- In 2005 Changlei Li, an English professor in the People’s Republic of China who wanted to travel to the United States to complete his doctoral dissertation on William Faulkner, sent letters of inquiry to two American institutions that hold significant Faulkner collections. Only one answered immediately with an invitation to visit -- Southeast Missouri State University’s Center for Faulkner Studies.
Li spent a year at Southeast, conducting research in the Brodsky Collection and completing his dissertation with the assistance of Dr. Robert Hamblin, the director of the Faulkner Center. Li then returned to China to become chairman of the English department at Jinan University in Shandong Province.
Since Li’s visit to the Faulkner Center, 10 additional Chinese scholars have come to Southeast to study Faulkner with Hamblin and to use the resources of the institution’s Faulkner Center. Three more are scheduled to visit in 2009.
Some of the visitors, like Li, first learned of the Center for Faulkner Studies through the Center’s Web site. Others have been recommended by previous visitors. And some have been encouraged to come by Prof. Minghan Xiao, a Chinese scholar who has authored two books on Faulknerᾰand whose wife, Dr. Deqi Zen, is an English professor at Southeast.
One of the scholars, Qinghua Kong of Qingdao University, who visited the Faulkner Center in 2006, is a 73rd generation descendant of Confucius. At Southeast, Kong conducted research on Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying.
A recent scholar, Hong Zhen Lei of Chang’an University, completed a psychoanalytic study of two Faulkner characters, Quentin Compson and Thomas Sutpen, which she presented at the Faulkner and Chopin Conference hosted by the Faulkner Center.
The current Chinese scholar is Aihong Pi, who teaches at Central South University in Changsha. Her home city has a population of more than six million, so she enjoys the small town atmosphere of Cape Girardeau.
The Chinese scholars’ desire to study at the Faulkner Center reflects the rising interest in Faulkner’s works among Chinese academics.
“I’m told by the visiting scholars,” Hamblin says, “that there is now in China more scholarly interest in Faulkner than in Shakespeare.”
According to Hamblin, “A Rose for Emily,” perhaps Faulkner’s best known story, was translated into Chinese during the 1930s, but only in recent decades have all of Faulkner’s novels and stories been issued in Chinese translations.
As Hamblin explains, “During Chairman Mao’s Communist regime, the only Faulkner works made available to Chinese readers were those that deal with negative conditions like racism and poverty.”
Hamblin continued, “In recent years, however, as China has become increasingly open to Western ideas and influences, a wider range of Faulkner’s works has become available in Chinese translations, and Chinese scholars are encouraged to study in the United States.”
The Chinese scholars who visit the Faulkner Center typically stay for four to 12 months. Most of them receive travel grants from their institutions or from their provincial or national governments. And most are making their first visit to the United States.
In addition to furthering their interest in Faulkner’s life and works, the scholars participate in a number of cultural exchanges. They visit classes in the Department of English to observe American teachers and students, and they occasionally give guest lectures. They attend church services and civic club meetings. And, as time will allow, they travel.
Hamblin always arranges a trip to Oxford, Miss., Faulkner’s hometown, for each visiting scholar. Oxford is the model for Faulkner’s fictional Jefferson, and Hamblin, a native of north Mississippi, enjoys showing the scholars Faulkner sites in and around Oxford.
On the return trip, Hamblin takes the scholars to Memphis’s Beale Street, where they enjoy an evening of music and barbecue.
“Faulkner is the common bond that brings these scholars to our campus,” Hamblin says. “But they go home with much more than an increased knowledge of Faulkner, including a whole bunch of new friends.”