In the fall of her senior year at Princeton University, a course on China sparked Kate Kaup’s interest in the country. She made plans to teach English in Beijing after graduating and looked forward to the summer of 1989.
But two days before graduation, a massive protest in Beijing ended in violence as government troops fired on crowds that filled Tiananmen Square. Kaup’s plans were halted, but not her passion.
Now teaching at Furman University, Kaup holds the school’s first James B. Duke Chair of Asian Studies and Political Science. The newly created position stems from a $3 million grant from The Duke Endowment to support Furman’s Asian Studies program with endowed professorships.
Kate Kaup is the James B. Duke Chair of Asian Studies and Political Science at Furman University.
Kaup arrived at Furman in 1997 after earning her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. She wrote her master’s thesis on “Democratic Factors in Chinese Communism” and her dissertation on “Creating the Zhuang: Ethnic Politics in the People’s Republic of China.”
In the spring of 2010, she was chosen with 19 “of the best and brightest from among the younger generation of American China scholars,” for the Public Intellectuals Program by the National Committee on United States-China Relations. The multi-year program includes two trips to Washington, D.C., to meet policymakers involved in China, and a group trip to China to meet political leaders there.
“I’ve always been interested in developing countries and how far governments can go in altering society,” she says. “To me, China is sort of the perfect petri dish to examine that issue.”
The Importance of Asian Studies
Kaup has traveled nearly 30 times to China – including one year after the violence in Tiananmen Square – and has taken students with her on several of those trips.
In May 2011, she’ll return to study how economic development has had an uneven impact on the country. Her travels will start in Shanghai, the richest city in China, and then take her to Guizhou, one of the poorest provinces.
To Kaup, it’s clearly important for students to have opportunities to learn more about Asia, both on campus and abroad. Her department also runs the South Carolina Consortium for Teaching About Asia, which helps middle school and high school teachers incorporate Asian material in their curricula.
“If you are not becoming an Asian Studies major and you really only have one experience to get out of the United States, I think trying to understand Asia is a fabulous place to start,” she says. “You encounter so much that is different and yet so much that is the same. I have found that one of the biggest benefits of studying away is actually self-reflection, which forces you to better articulate your own values when you are confronted with somebody who doesn’t necessarily share them.
“At a more in-depth level, I think it is very easy to get Asia wrong. There are lots of misconceptions. And even if you vehemently disagree with the Chinese government, you need to understand the context in which they are operating. If we are going to look at human rights promotion in China and if we are going to look at the trade policy or if we are going to look at promoting the environment, we have to have a well-rounded understanding of exactly with whom we’re engaging and what issues they are facing.”
A Growing Department
At Furman, Kaup says the Asian Studies program is thriving. The number of majors has tripled to nearly 60. Two new faculty members have been hired. The department now offers four full years of Chinese and Japanese language classes. And each year, the school runs as many as eight exchange programs in China, two in Japan, and one in India.
The Place of Peace, a former Buddhist temple, stands in a wooded area on campus. Formerly owned by the Tsuzuki family of Greenville, the structure was disassembled into 2,400 pieces in Nagoya, Japan, and then reassembled by Japanese artisans at Furman in 2008.
It stands as a unique visual centerpiece for Asian Studies at the school.
“Doors have been opened for us to expand our programming,” Kaup says. “And the momentum just continues to build.”