Oxford has traditionally been strong in pre-modern East Asian studies, particularly Chinese and Classical Chinese language, since the appointment of James Legge, the first Professor of Chinese, in 1876. It remains one of the leading institutions in the Western world for the study of Classical Chinese language and texts. Close links between regional specialists in the Oriental Institute have been a particular asset (the Japan intellectual historian James McMullen is a world authority on Japanese Confucianism, which he studied in large part through texts in kanbun, the Japanese form of Classical Chinese). The two-year MPhil degree in Traditional East Asia in the Oriental Studies Faculty is run by the same people as are involved in the new Centre, and has attracted strong cohorts of students. However, in 1994 Chinese moved out of the core Oriental Studies building, the Oriental Institute, due to the growth of Oriental Studies subjects and space constraints, followed more recently by Japanese. While this growth is a welcome sign of the vitality of the subject, it has also meant that scholars who once interacted regularly are physically separated. In this context, the new Research Centre for East Asian Cultures has provided a focus for the integrated study of pre-modern East Asia, and promises to attract funding to revitalize and expand Oxford’s traditional strengths in this area, and link to related research around the world.
The Research Centre has run nine annual seminars since 2013, with presentations by senior academics, early career scholars, and advanced doctoral students in the University and from Japan, Ireland, and Denmark. These have been hosted in St Anne’s College, under the auspices of the Centre. A more frequent series of events is being planned, including seminars for junior scholars and DPhil students. A larger international conference was held in August 2021, with participants from 13 countries. Another important area of activity is joint research agreements with institutions in East Asia. A formal agreement has been concluded between the Centre and the Chinese Research Institute at Peking University, and similar links are under negotiation with other top universities and research institutes in China, Japan, and Korea.
The Chair and Director of the Centre is Professor Robert Chard. You can read more about it here.