A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Research Takes Graduate Student Across World

November 19, 2014

Graduate student Kaiqi Hua's research into pre-modern China has taken him to the canals of Hangzhou, the rocket-battered streets of Jerusalem and the East-West Center in Hawaii.

Hua, a seventh-year graduate student in Interdisciplinary Humanities, is studying a Buddhist movement called the White Cloud sect in China's pre-modern metropolitan Hangzhou and its hinterlands. The movement lasted from the 12th to 14th centuries, particularly flourishing during the Mongol Yuan dynasty.

“Most scholars focus on the markets and the urban culture of Hangzhou and don't highlight its religious importance. They consider it a merchant city but don't consider it a holy site,” Hua said. “Buddhism has been the dominating culture in that period and this sect hasn't been studied.”

Advised by Chinese history Professor Ruth Mostern, Hua is immersed in innovative research within the humanities, some of which has been supported by two fellowships. With Mostern, he helped build a historical database about China's Yellow River, which has had a profound effect on the country's history and society.

“Kaiqi's dissertation is breaking new ground in understanding Chinese religious geography during the first great age of globalization, and it's particularly exciting to see in light of the global character of his own research, which has taken him to three continents,” Mostern said.

For his dissertation, Hua is conducting the first comprehensive study of the sect, work that contributes to the understanding of Chinese history, particularly the transition through the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties.

Hua argues the rise and fall of the White Cloud sect in the Yuan was not necessarily related to official support from the Mongol government. Other factors such as the changing patterns of local economy, spatial distribution of water resources and the dynamics of regional social networks all contributed to the unique life of the sectarian movement, he said.

He's also exploring the Puning Buddhist Canon, produced by the sect and one of the biggest private Buddhist canon printing projects in imperial China. The research provides comprehensive and detailed information on surviving manuscripts and the projects’ background.

In addition to working with Mostern and UC Merced Persian history Professor Sholeh A. Quinn, Hua studied Buddhism as an exchange student at UC Berkeley.

As a UC Merced graduate student, Hua has traveled extensively. He presented his research at European universities in late 2013 and spent the following summer traveling the globe.

From late May through June, Hua was at the 2014 National Endowment for the Humanities' Summer Institute on the History of the Mongols in Eurasia at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

The only graduate student in attendance, he learned more about teaching methods and different forms of college curriculum design.

After the institute concluded, he returned to Israel as a visiting research fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, contributing to a database project, “Mobility, Empire and Cross Cultural Contacts in Mongol Eurasia.” He also worked with the Chinese and Tibetan Tantric Buddhism research group at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies.

He lived in French Hill, an east Jerusalem neighborhood with Arab and Jewish residents. The 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict prevented him from traveling in and out of Israel. He barely left his dorm, which was also a shared bomb shelter with his roommates when the rocket-attack-alert siren went off. The upside to the restrictions was that he had two months of focused dissertation writing and research.

Most recently, Hua was appointed to serve a one-year term on the UC Academic Senate's University Committee on International Education as the graduate student representative.

“I hope to be more involved in the UC system-wide strategies on international education and outreach for the sake of UC’s international influence,” he said.

After Hua defends his dissertation, he wants to secure a post-doctoral appointment or a tenure-track faculty position.

“Because of UC Merced,” he said, “I've really experienced world cultures, having lived and traveled in East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the Pacific islands and America.”