Professor Emeritus Julia Ching

Posted: July 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

While surfing Google to find potential letter writers willing to support the protest against the disappearance of the East Asian Studies Department, we came upon an interesting article (the link has unfortunately expired) about a former UofT professor. The life of Professor Emeritus Julia Ching is truly the story of a woman who fought all her life. Professor Ching came to UofT in 1978 after having survived the Japanese invasion of China and two battles with cancer. She also taught at Columbia and Yale, and specialized in Religion, Philosophy and East Asian Studies.

After looking into her book, which is titled The Butterfly Healing: A Life Between East and West, we discovered, as the title implies, that the book is about coming to an understanding of the meaning of a life between East and West. It also deals with issues of spirituality and illness. Professor Ching had always fought to raise awareness of the problems with the university’s “white male” faculty, for human rights and world responsibility.

The Star article mentions a funny, yet deplorable incident that happened to Professor Ching. After attending a Korean conference with 30 male professors, the group went out one night, with Professor Ching receiving, like all the rest of the group, her very own geisha. It seems this incident did not happen at our university, but the example provides us with a very good mean of understanding what might have pushed Professor Ching, along with her life career as East Asian Studies scholar, to call for a reform of the academic system.

Let’s be serious here, the East Asian Studies Department at our university is hardly what it was before. Today the faculty counts several female professors, all extremely talented. Since Professor Ching’s time, things have also changed regarding the faculty’s scholarship. As the Dean put it so well, the department has pushed for a “fundamental shift away from the philological and hermeneutical approaches traditionally supported by the Department toward critical theory and more problem-based … transnational approaches.” This is exactly, I believe, what Professor Ching would have wanted. Sad that the Dean wants to put an end to it.

The disappearance of the department and the dispersal of the faculty can only mean one thing: the end of a department which has evolved tremendously and still strives to develop new perspectives on Asia and hence give a meaning to the East and the West, exactly what Professor Ching wanted to shed light on in her 15 books and her career.

The inclusion of the department of East Asian Studies in the new School for Languages and Literature would simply be going back to an archaic conception of the discipline and ignore the life and fights of such prominent scholars as Professor Ching.

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