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Connecting Germany and Asia: A History

The relationship between the people of Germany and Asia strengthened in the second half of the twentieth century, resulting in the burgeoning of the academic field of Asian German studies in recent years. Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia is a collection of this scholarship. Following, editors Qinna Shen and Martin Rosenstock discuss their love of subject, the collection and how the field will grow in the future.

 

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What drew you to study the relationship between Germany and Asia? What inspired your love of your subject? When?

 

Qinna Shen: I’m a Chinese Germanist. I started to learn German in Beijing, then attended Heidelberg University before coming to the States for my doctoral degree.

One of my professors, Karl-Heinz Schoeps, always encouraged me to do something unique. I learned to embrace my Asian identity and to turn it into a strength for my research. When the term “Asian German Studies” appeared in a call for papers in 2009, my heart leaped for joy.

 

Martin Rosenstock: I suppose I was influenced to some degree by the amount of coverage East Asia, China and Japan in particular, receive in the German and US press these days. This led me to reflect on the history of contact between the German-speaking countries and East Asia. I’m a modernist by training, so lines of continuity as regards mutual perception and contact between the two regions from the nineteenth century onward were compelling material to me.

 

 

Did any perceptions on the subject change from the time you started your research/compiled the contributions to the time you completed the volume?

 

QS: We started this project in 2010. It took four years to complete. Over these years, we saw the momentum of Asian German Studies increase significantly, as is evident from conference panels and publications.

 

MR: My perceptions did not so much change; rather, they expanded, dramatically, as I became aware of the richness of the history of contact between the two regions. The authors in the volume have very diverse research interests, and I learned enormously through reading their essays and working together with them over the years.

 

 

What aspect of compiling an edited collection did you find most challenging? Most rewarding?

 

QS: Commitment of the contributors can be an issue with an edited volume, but we were lucky to have a group of very dedicated authors. As is true with most edited volumes, the organization of the chapters was a challenge. The volume was not pre-structured. Rather, we selected the best papers that came our way. We initially considered papers on the Jewish exile in Shanghai and on German military advisors to China. However, these papers, among others, did not make it through the review process. What is most rewarding is the experience itself, of seeing a book through from inception to publication. I view everything I did as part of my professional training.

 

MR: I enjoy working on texts. Seeing how the individual contributions improved through the multiple rounds of revision and how the volume eventually came together was very rewarding for me. By the same token, editing a volume presents the challenge of coordinating the workflow of around a dozen individuals, all with their own busy schedules. This can be a little difficult at times.

 

 

To what extent do you think the book will contribute to debates among current and future academics within the field?

 

QS: This volume is one of the pioneering projects in Asian German Studies, which is part of the transnational turn in German Studies. With the increasingly important roles East Asian countries play in world affairs, the book contributes to the lively discussions that are going on around themes such as orientalism, globalization, travel, and transnational identity.

 

MR: Asian German Studies is a very young field. I hope that this publication will contribute to the establishment of the field and help to develop a platform for future research.

 

 

Do you think there are aspects of this work that will be controversial to other scholars working in the field?

 

MR: Controversial is a strong word, and I doubt that the book will provoke controversy, though I would not mind if it did. I do, however, hope that the volume will prove stimulating to other scholars, that it will give them new ideas, and perhaps provide a framework in which to consider certain questions.

 

 

What is one particular area of interest or question, that hasn’t necessarily been the focus of much attention, which you feel is especially pertinent to your field today and in the future?

 

QS: Academic research usually turns to issues and cultural products that have stood the test of time, and rightly so. But I think extraordinary changes are taking place right now, especially in China and India, and it is important for Asian German Studies to capture the zeitgeist, and in turn to stimulate cultural production. So the field, in my opinion, should also engage with and contribute to contemporary culture.

 

MR: I believe the field needs to expand so as to include what you might call its complementary half, namely Chinese and Japanese perceptions of the German-speaking countries. Our volume touches on such issues in two of the essays, but obviously there is an enormous amount of material awaiting critical analysis. To pursue these lines of inquiry, close collaboration with Chinese and Japanese scholars will be necessary.

 

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Qinna Shen is Visiting Assistant Professor of German at Miami University in Ohio. She received her Ph.D. in German Literature from Yale in 2008 and then went on to teach at Miami University from 2008 to 2011. Between 2011 and 2014, she held a visiting position at Loyola University Maryland. Her research focuses on twentieth- and twenty-first-century German film and literature, folklore, and the recently established field of Asian German Studies. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. Her book, entitled The Politics of Magic: DEFA Fairy-Tale Films, is forthcoming with Wayne State University Press.

 

Martin Rosenstock is Assistant Professor of German at Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara and has held visiting positions at Iowa State University and the University of Connecticut. He has published on the depiction of crime and detection in literature and film as well as on German colonial literature in Monatshefte and Colloquia Germanica.

 

Series: Volume 7, Spektrum: Publications of the German Studies Association