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College of Arts and Sciences

Asian studies professor honored by ACLS

By: Kathy Hovis
A&S Communications
April 20, 2020

Ding Xiang Warner, professor of Chinese literature in the Department of Asian Studies, was honored April 10 with a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.

The fellowships were awarded to 81 scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who have the potential to make significant contributions to knowledge in their fields. The awards range from $40,000 to $75,000 and support six to 12 months of full-time research and writing. Nearly 1,200 scholars applied for this year’s awards.

Warner will use the grant for a project entitled “Lost Narratives of the Great War: Trench Art of the Chinese Labour Corps.”

The project is a study of trench art—3D objects crafted from war-waste materials—produced by members of the Chinese Labour Corps assisting allied forces during and after World War I.

It aims to understand the symbolic and tangible cultural, social, and economic value with which these objects were invested and that accumulated to them through the processes of their production, exchange, and consumption over time. It also brings to light how cultural forces, Chinese and Western, shaped the making and meaning of these objects—how for example investments in social, vocational and ideological identities, or in the “collective memory” of those who produced and procured them, influenced their design and subsequently transformed their functions within material culture, East and West.

“These World War I artifacts, fashioned out of spent shell casings and decorated with traditional Chinese motifs and occasionally classical poems, are not just “uniquely Chinese” but uniquely the productions of the Chinese who were there then, in West Flanders and France during the Great War,” Warner said. “Each one that is extant today has a story to tell, a ‘cultural biography’ that awaits to be recovered.”

Warner’s research focuses on classical and medieval Chinese literature and literary thought from the Han dynasty through the early Song, early and medieval Chinese intellectual history and the study of textual production and text culture in pre-modern China. This year, she has also been awarded a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society in support of her research on the British employment of the Chinese Labour Corps in the Great War.