The Asia Center Director's Welcome Message

Dear colleagues, friends, students, and, visitors,

Welcome to the Harvard University Asia Center!

As we begin the new academic year, I wanted to write with some updates about the recent activities and plans of the Harvard Asia Center. The exceptional challenges we faced in 2020 and 2021 are not entirely behind us, but we have begun to look ahead optimistically to the 2022-2023 academic year, which promises to be an exciting and active year for the Asia Center since it will mark the 25th Anniversary of its founding. This occasion has led us to reflect on the initial mission of the center and the vision that was laid out by the late Professor Ezra Vogel (1930-2020) upon its inception in 1997-1998. From the outset, the Asia Center has been committed to facilitating the cross-cultural study of Asia by fostering research and bringing together faculty members, students, scholars, and other professionals to explore the interconnected histories of the region and the significant issues facing Asia today.

The past two years presented many challenges, but we were fortunate to have an excellent and dedicated staff that remained committed to carrying out the mission of the Asia Center. In addition to our ongoing programming—which first pivoted to a virtual format and most recently to a hybrid format—and the support we provided to faculty and students; we have introduced several new initiatives. One of our primary areas of focus, which was part of the original mission of the Asia Center, has been to foster and support the development of Southeast Asian Studies at Harvard. We have made noticeable progress through the establishment of a Southeast Asia Initiative. That initiative highlights the research of scholars (from across different departments and schools) who work on Southeast Asia and supports expanding courses (including language instruction), programming, and research with a Southeast Asia focus. We have an active Southeast Asia Lecture Series, have supported a rich array of programming concerning the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, and inaugurated a Philippines Studies Lecture Series. On May 20th, the 2022 Tsai lecture was given by the recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa. We were also pleased to showcase the entrancing work of the Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso, which included an opening symposium and reception. We are currently in the process of providing support for the appointment of a Preceptor to formalize the teaching of Indonesian.

Additionally, the Asia Center has committed itself to support Asian Diaspora Studies (including Asian American Studies) at Harvard, which includes but is not limited to collaborative outreach with both the Harvard and Boston communities, including collaborations with the Boston Children’s Museum and many Harvard Asia-related undergraduate and graduate student organizations. Given the troubling persistence of anti-Asian racism, we have dedicated our support to work on education and outreach related to combating this problem. As part of our efforts to reach younger students and cultivate an interest in and understanding of Asia, we inaugurated an Asia Center High School Internship program and have welcomed our first intern who is assisting us with an assessment of the current state of Asian Studies in Boston area high schools and the ways the Asia Center might help support the further integration of Asian Studies into their curriculum. We are excited about the ways such an initiative might help to foster the next generation's interest in Asia. Finally, we have initiated an Asia Center Artist in Residence program, which will welcome its first writer, the poet Alexandra Huynh (a former Youth Poet Laureate and currently a student at Stanford University), in the Spring of 2023.

Sadly, 2020 began with the passing of Professor Ezra Vogel. Nearly two years after his passing, we were able to host a successful event titled “Navigating Asia: Interdisciplinary Conversations in Honor of Ezra Vogel” on October 14th and 15th of this year by bringing together scholars and practitioners from the U.S. and Asia. More information and video recordings of the event are available hereWe are committed to honoring Professor Vogel’s legacy by fostering new initiatives at the Asia Center that will allow us to bring to fruition the larger ambitions that he had for the center. Part of that commitment is making the Asia Center an important place for the exchange of ideas and a fulcrum for contacts between scholars at Harvard and those in Asia by inviting key scholars and thought leaders to Harvard, while at the same time supporting Harvard faculty and students who wish to undertake research in Asia. Now more than ever, these types of interactions are essential for maintaining collaborative relationships, building trust, and addressing the most important issues in the region. In short, we aim to expand our direct engagement with Asia and harness the convening power of the Harvard Asia Center to facilitate dialogue and collaboration on key issues currently impacting Asia (including social, political, economic, and environmental issues, among others).

I was recently reappointed as the Director of the Asia Center for another three-year term. I am honored and excited to continue in this role. Indeed, many of the priorities and goals we had set for ourselves when I assumed the directorship in 2019 had to be put on hold to adjust to the COVID challenges that impacted every aspect of the Asia Center. It is time to think big again and move forward. 

The Asia Center continues to have close collaborative relationships with other Harvard Asia-related centers and institutes, including the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies; the Korea Institute; the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute; the Weatherhead Center’s Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, and the Harvard-Yenching Institute.

To better understand the mission and accomplishments of the Asia Center, please visit the Asia Center website, where you will find links to all our programming and other resources for staying informed of the Asia Center’s activities and opportunities. You can subscribe to the weekly Asia Bulletin and the Asia Center This Week newsletter via the homepage or here and the weekly Southeast Asia Spotlight here

We hope we will see you at one of our upcoming events and wish everyone a productive 2022-2023.

With all best wishes,

James Robson
James C. Kralik, and Yunli Lou Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations Harvard College Professor
Victor and William Fung Director, Asia Center, Harvard University



Harvard University's Asia-Related Resources