2006 Comparative Literature PhD alumna Jing Jiang is now Associate Professor of Chinese and Humanities and the chair of the Chinese department at Reed College. This interview highlights her interdisciplinary explorations as an international student, and how she finds her passion in engaged and collaborative pedagogy at a teaching-oriented institution.
Following her undergraduate degree in English Literature at Nanjing University, Jing Jiang’s interest in comparative literature was sparked by her encounter with the Michigan University comparative literature professor David Porter during her M.A. at Peking University. Mentioning Porter as “just the best teacher!”, Jing continued to stay in contact with him after her entry to the Ph.D. Program in Chinese history at Penn State. As she wasn’t sure that the program was a good match for her, Jing’s communications with Porter encouraged her to bring her Chinese and English backgrounds together to follow her passion for literature, as well as her growing interest in cross-cultural communication. Along with Porter’s continuing mentorship in her Ph.D. study at the University of Michigan, Jing credits both Frieda Ekotto and Yopie Prins in their responsiveness and support.
Her active participation in both Comparative Literature and Asian Languages and Cultures allowed her to explore the Global Ethnic Literature Seminar, then organized by the late Disability Studies advocate, Prof. Tobin Siebers. As a fellowship recipient, Jing describes this “valuable and memorable” experience as rigorous, interdisciplinary, and intellectually stimulating. The interactions of graduate students and faculty across disciplines such as literature, anthropology, musicology, guided by Tobin Siebers’ organization of the seminar’s vision and agenda, alongside Frieda’s support all enabled Jing to find her voice in developing the initial ideas for her dissertation. Her own concept “racial mimesis” offers us a lens through to understand the conception of the Chinese woman as racially informed. Her comparative study on Chinese literary space shows how texts travel in periodicals, popular discourse, and literature through translation and intertextuality. Jing’s dissertation work was supported by Rackham Predoctoral and One Term Fellowship, as well as the Center of Chinese Studies Endowment.
Jing worked as a visiting assistant professor before her tenure-track job in Chinese and Humanities at Reed College. She was then hired a year later, following the expansion of the Chinese Studies department. Jing’s comparative background was a great fit for the Reed style of teaching with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and collaborative team-teaching: for example, she frequently teaches in a first-year course as part of the Chinese Humanities Course team, which includes three literature professors, one historian, one art historian, and one religious studies scholar. At Reed, Jing can put her comparative framework and training in action not only through this team-teaching model but also through the language, literature, and film courses she is teaching. She serves in Comparative Literature committees, supervises comparative literature and Chinese theses, and advises international students from China and Taiwan.
In her interview, Jing mentioned the joys and challenges of the participatory pedagogical style at Reed, where all the courses are run in seminar format. It was a teaching moment for her and a pleasure to find how much students can thrive in such an integrative learning environment. This is something that Jing particularly enjoys in her work, namely, that it always promises room for further growth: “The Chinese have a saying that goes like this: learning is like pushing against the currents. If you don’t move forward, you are moving backward.” Her teaching at Reed keeps her engaged in thinking and writing about new topics. And teaching is never just a one-way process—“you take as much as you give.”
This interview was conducted by Shira Schwartz during her term as Graduate Student Diversity Ally for Comparative Literature in the Summer of 2019. Shira’s text was edited by Duygu Ergun and Luiza Duarte Caetano as part of their work as Diversity Allies in the Summer of 2021.