Students tour East Asian gardens

Audrey Hull

A recent spring break excursion to China and Japan left student Christine Beaderstadt, ’07, feeling both exhilarated and exhausted. The two week long whirlwind tour of classical Chinese and Japanese gardens was “mind-blowing. Incredible!”Professor of East Asian studies Franklin Doeringer, who oversaw the trip, was equally enthused about this year’s focus on ancient traditional garden art, “which represent a tradition of high art in East Asia that reflects not only general aesthetics, but many important religious and philosophical beliefs. Gardens thus served as a concrete approach to key aspects of traditional East Asian thought.” This year, Lawrence concentrated on Kyoto in Japan and Suzhou in China, due to their excellent surviving examples of exemplary garden art.

The expedition was but one in a series of related trips funded by a Freeman Foundation grant acquired by Lawrence three years ago to augment its East Asian Language and Culture department. Past themes of focus include such diverse subjects as environmental issues, economic development, theatre arts, and music pedagogy, and were designed to accommodate the students and faculty of similarly varied departments and divisions within the university.

The application process was open to any student who had demonstrated prior interest by taking courses related to traditional East Asia. This year, 17 students were selected to partake in the trip. Prof. Doeringer feels that regular excursions are crucial to improving relations between the U.S. and East Asia, as well as essential to exposing American students to other non-Western cultures.

Other students concur, adding that the trip allowed the participating students to develop a richer and more thorough understanding of traditional East Asian culture that they would not have accrued had they remained in the U.S.

Other such excursions focusing on East Asia this year include a trip to Vietnam for string musicians and a trip to China for economics and government majors. Three tours are planned for next year: one will concentrate on two ancient capitals, Xi’an in China and Nara in Japan, another will focus on the contemporary reforms made to Japan’s government, and a third will explore the modern Japanese school system. More information regarding these trips will be available next fall, when student applications will again be requested.