British Association for Chinese Studies
Old Members Trust Travel Grant Report – Thomas Dongsob Ahn, D.Phil Oriental Studies
Let me begin this report with my deep sense of gratitude to The Old Members’ Trust Travel Grant for allowing me to participate in two significant conferences held this September. It would have been very difficult without the Grant as I was on such a tight budget.
The one happened at the University of Glasgow was ‘2017 British Association for Chinese Studies Annual Conference.’ I presented a chapter from my DPhil dissertation draft at the Early China panel, where mighty figures like Professor Joachim Gents gave me some valuable comments. Attending other panels, especially one where Professor Henrietta Harrison delivered her talk was also an unforgettable experience.
However, I should admit that it was not as impressive a conference as I expected it would be. Despite the massive turnout of 200 participants, they mostly were those who study modern China. As my research topic focuses on the Song dynasty that existed from 10th to 13th century, I found it difficult to meet many who have shared interest with me.
The other held at the University of Leiden was aptly titled as the ‘Second Conference on Middle Period Chinese Humanities.’ As the much more focused title suggests, there I could find virtually all active researchers in the western hemisphere who could understand my argument without difficulty. Among many leading scholars, I was exceptionally fortunate to befriend Professor Alain Arrault and Chu Ping-tzu. The two well-established figures did not only give me wonderful comments and much-needed encouragement, but also simply ‘hang out’ with me whenever they had leisure to do so. A pack of Korean scholars in this field, Professor Song Jaeyoon, Lee Sukhee, Kim Youngmin also warmly welcomed me and willingly discussed the topic my paper was dealing with. All their comments, which were thankfully predominantly positive, somewhat eased my anxiety about the future career and job prospect.
Meeting those whom I only knew by their books were also amusing. Towering figures like Professor Sarah Schneewind and Charles Hartman were jovial and friendly, Peter Bol was very determined and assertive. They strengthened my belief that the author’s personality, more often than not, determines the tone, contents, perspective, and methodology of the book. Authors are not ghosts who stays aloof. They are much more real and ‘involved’ than some modern French philosophers would have believed.
The most impressive one was, to my surprise, was Leiden itself. As a man who has spent most of his life in the Far East, I was not fully aware of the huge difference in character and personality between Britons and Dutch. Seeing, meeting, and talking with the natives greatly helped me understanding my Dutch supervisor’s character. If knowing how to maintain a good relationship with your supervisor is a key to success for postgraduate students, I believe I found that one from my trip to Leiden.