Meet our new faculty members in Asian Studies and learn more about their background and passions! In this Faculty Spotlight, we introduce to you Dr. Helena Wu, Assistant Professor in Hong Kong Studies in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests revolve around Hong Kong cinema, literature and culture. Prior to UBC, Dr. Wu was a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the University of Zurich.
Could you tell us a little about your academic background prior to joining UBC Department of Asian Studies? What brought you to Asian Studies?
I received my formative training in Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong. I have always had great interests in world cinema and literature even when I was a science student in secondary school. During my undergraduate years, I had the pleasure to meet my mentors whose passion for teaching and research greatly inspired me. It was because of them that I was motivated to pursue my postgraduate studies by conducting a research project that explored a Chinese-language concept called “jianghu” — literally meaning “rivers and lakes” — in literature, cinema and popular culture across pre-modern and modern times.
I am always eager to explore new things out of my comfort zone. So, after completing my M.Phil. studies in Hong Kong, I joined the highly interdisciplinary University Research Priority Program with a focus on Asia and Europe in Switzerland. I was awarded a fellowship to conduct my doctoral project which probed Hong Kong cultural identity through postcolonial studies and thing theory. Before coming to Canada, I had been teaching and researching primarily on Hong Kong-related topics and occasionally on Taiwan at the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies at the University of Zurich.
I am attracted to the diversity of UBC Department of Asian Studies where so many pioneering programs are housed, including but not limited to the Hong Kong Studies Initiative and the Cantonese Language Program. I am really excited about coming to Canada and joining UBC after the years I’ve spent in Hong Kong and Europe!
Could you explain to a non-expert what you are researching and what inspired you to research this area?
My primary area of research is Hong Kong cinema, literature and culture. With my background in comparative literature, cultural studies and sinology, I am also interested in exploring transborder cultural flows, identity fabrication and creative industry practices, and contributing to cross-disciplinary dialogues.
In one of my previous projects, I examined the identity politics in colonial and post-handover Hong Kong by probing the formation and the circulation of cultural icons such as Lion Rock, King of Kowloon and Sung Wong Toi. In doing so, I teased out the changing discourses on the concept of the local and introduced what I called local relations to understand the affinity between places, things and people sharing the territory. The study has resulted in the publication of my monograph The Hangover After the Handover: Places, Things and Cultural Icons in Hong Kong with Liverpool University Press last year.
Currently, I am exploring how creative expression and audience activities affect cultural (industry) practices, the construction of identity and the relationship between content producers, distributors, and spectators — and vice versa — in postmillennial Hong Kong.
Can you tell us what you will be teaching in the UBC Department of Asian Studies? What do you want students to gain out of your course?
I believe that teaching and learning complement each other. I enjoy discovering new perspectives and different ways of reading with my students. I hope my course can equip students with the awareness to all sorts of diversity and useful tools to conduct their own critical analysis.
In the coming term, I will be offering an exciting course on Hong Kong Cinema! Altogether, we will explore films of different genres that range over a wide variety of subject matter. Through the lens of cinema, we will look at Hong Kong’s transforming socio-cultural landscape over time. I hope my students will enjoy the classroom dynamics as much as I do!
In response to the growing interest in understanding Hong Kong culture and society, I look forward to offering a steady stream of courses at various levels and developing training schemes for undergraduate and graduate students in the long run.
What are some other interests you enjoy pursuing outside of your work?
Outside of work, I (still) like reading and watching films. I enjoy hiking too, even when it gets challenging; being in nature helps me slow down. What’s more, I am a foodie! I enjoy experiencing the food culture of different places and learning about culinary tradition and innovation. I also like traveling and exploring new things. I am always fascinated by the intersections of people, places, and their past and present.