Chancellor Robert Birgeneau (center) and his wife Mary Catherine (left) meet with Ma Ying-jeou (right), the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau (center) and his wife Mary Catherine (left) meet with Ma Ying-jeou (right), the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Last October Berkeley sealed an unprecedented partnership with Taiwan, setting the stage for an influx of cross-cultural resources in the humanities and social sciences. With this partnership, Berkeley becomes the first member of Taiwan’s Top University Strategic Alliance, a program created by the country’s Ministry of Education to increase the international exposure of top Taiwanese scholars and researchers.

“For the humanities and social sciences, it doesn’t happen very often that we receive external funding to support activities on this scale,” says Professor Wen-Hsin Yeh,  director of Cal’s Institute of East Asian Studies. “This partnership involves an international component and helps the campus strengthen its connections with major institutions in East Asia; it is really something to be welcomed.”

The research funding provided through the partnership will promote international academic cooperation in the humanities and social sciences. The project, titled “New Approaches to East Asian Studies: Building Intellectual Networks across the Pacific,” will facilitate organized research among Berkeley faculty and scholars from Taiwan and elsewhere on the themes of sustainable urban living; nature, society and the humanities; media, public and governance; borders, boundaries, and networks; and knowledge, professions, and the economy. With this agenda, the Institute of East Asian Studies seeks to advance its research internationally, highlighting its importance both inside and outside of academia.

The program will grant Berkeley $5 million over the course of five years to fund graduate fellowships, visiting scholars, and collaborative research projects. The fellowships will go to top-performing Taiwanese graduate students in the social sciences and humanities, drawn from 15 major Taiwanese universities. The program also funds five visiting scholars and five postdoctoral researchers each year for three years.

“The benefit for us is that this is essentially about supporting the best or most competitive students from Taiwan,” says Yeh. “It really brings a lot to Berkeley. Any time we welcome international students, we welcome the perspectives and connections, training and background that they represent,” says Yeh. “Such diversity helps enrich our intellectual community.”

As a graduate student at Berkeley during the late 1970s and early 1980s, renowned Taiwan-based playwright and theater director Stan Lai completed his Ph.D. in Dramatic Art. At the Berkeley Taipei Forum that recently took place, Lai spoke of what his experience at Berkeley brought to his art. Lai said that the influences from his time at Berkeley are forever imprinted upon him and his work. Lai is now one of the most prominent and influential voices in the Chinese language theatre.

— Keri Hayes Troutman  (Originally published in The Graduate, Spring 2011)