About Us

The most recent external department review (Jan. 2008) noted, “UBC Asian Studies is now clearly the leading such program in Canada and among the best programs in North America. In both Chinese and Japanese studies, the department is in the top tier of North American programs, and its offerings in thought, philosophy, religion, and literature are truly outstanding. The reputation of the faculty in Korean Studies, a smaller program, is no less excellent. The department has also made extremely strong recent hires in South Asian studies; its offerings in Punjabi language and Sikh studies are particularly impressive.”

We are indeed an Asian Studies department with strong coverage of East and South Asia. The languages that we teach in these areas are: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Punjabi, Hindi, Sanskrit. In addition, we also have one faculty member teaching Indonesian language and literature.

The disciplinary strengths of the department are without question thought~philosophy~religion, history, and language and literature~literary culture. In the case of thought~philosophy~religion, our strengths are such as to warrant consideration of a new undergraduate Major in Asian Religions, something the department will be considering over the next year or two.

In history, a sort of ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ of bygone days whereby the History Department did ‘modern’ Asian history, and Asian Studies did premodern Asian history, has given way to, on the one hand, fuzzier boundaries between these two departments in the area of Asian history, but, on the other hand, increased cooperation, collaboration and consultation between the two departments, especially as concerns graduate admissions and graduate teaching. Asian Studies has significant strengths in premodern Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Indian history.

In literature and literary culture, we have unsurpassed faculty resources in premodern Japanese literature, but also strengths in premodern and modern Chinese literature, in premodern and modern Korean literature, and in Hindi~Urdu, Punjabi and Sanskrit literature. Indo-Persian literary culture is an area of high interest for future development in the department. As Asian literature teaching and research continues to broaden its sphere of coverage to include popular culture, visual culture, diaspora literature, gender studies, and film, Asian Studies hopes to make new faculty appointments in one or more of these areas in the future.

In terms of our language programs, Asian Studies serves a huge, diverse and demographically complex clientele of learners, including heritage and non-heritage learners of various Asian languages, as well as learners from outside the Faculty of Arts who place intense enrollment pressures on our most popular languages. We have large, and in many cases, oversubscribed programs in a number of Asian languages, and have also developed some impressive learning tools and curricular materials for some of these languages. Thus, our Mandarin and Japanese language programs each record 1500+ enrollments every year, making them the largest such programs in mainland North America; but these languages also post waiting lists in excess of 300 students each year. Based on survey results in the department that showed that some 60% of UBC students learning ‘CJK’ (Chinese~Japanese~Korean) already knew at least one other East Asian language, our CJK language programs have developed – with over $100,000 in funding support from UBC — an impressive online learning tool for Chinese characters called the “UBC CJK Chinese Character Multimedia Dictionary” (www.ubccjk.com). Our Korean language program has also developed an impressive array of online teaching and learning aids at www.korean.arts.ubc.ca. But there is currently no funding for continuous development and maintenance of these resources.

In some cases (Chinese, Punjabi, Korean), our language programs present additional pedagogical challenges (and teaching costs) because of the high percentage of heritage learners, but the learner profiles of these language programs also represent a huge opportunity for research on heritage language teaching and learning, as well as an opportunity for UBC to assert leadership in the increasingly important, but heretofore neglected area of ‘strategic’ language development in general, and Asian heritage language maintenance, in particular. Asian studies is currently working with the Department of Language and Literacy Education (Faculty of Education) to explore avenues for future collaboration in the creation of “K-16 pipelines” for Asian languages with strong heritage populations in BC: Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Punjabi.

The Department of Asian Studies has produced well over 1200 undergraduate majors since its inception in 1961, the vast majority of whom live in the BC lower mainland. The Department is eager to be in contact with its alumni, many of whom have gone on to exciting careers involving Asia in one way or another, and who have much to offer the UBC community – especially our many current undergraduate and graduate students – with their expertise and life experience. Alumni are encouraged to visit the alumni page on this site, and to keep in mind the upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Department in April 2011.