Classics and the Far East

29th June 2015

VENUE: The Exeter and Devon Institute Library, 7 Cathedral Close, Exeter EX1 1EZ

This international and interdisciplinary colloquium will bring together leading scholars and graduate students from the UK, China, and Singapore, to examine in depth the dynamic interactions between the discipline of Classics and scholarly culture in the Far East.

Our colloquium combines contemporary perspectives pertinent to the (now) global dimension of the (formerly) Euro-centric discipline of Classics with broader cultural-historical questions about ‘classicism’ as a global cultural phenomenon. On the contemporary side, we seek to critically reflect on the rise of (Greek and Roman, that is, Western) Classics as an academic discipline in the universities of the Far East by asking: what motivates this development? What do Asian cultures seek to gain from offering to their students an education in Western Classics? And what can we as a discipline gain from this widening of cultural perspectives?

In terms of broader cultural-historical issues, our interest lies in the cultural paradigm of ‘classicism’ which occurs in many world civilisations and thereby appears to accrue a certain transhistorical quality. In a globalised world that contains multiple, co-existing and competing classicisms, the process of negotiating different paradigms of classicism emerges as a crucial site of contests of cultural authority and identity formation.

The Programme is available to view.


There is no registration fee, but book your place by email 
We welcome a small donation on the day towards the cost of refreshments.

We gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Dean and the International Office of the College of Humanities at the University of Exeter.

For further information feel free to contact the organisers: 
Bobby Xinyue 
Sebastian Matzner


Poetic Knowledge and the Reception of Homer in modern China

Zhang Wei (Fudan University, Shanghai, China)

Does poetry impart a special knowledge to its audience? While in ancient Greece Plato and Aristotle based their discussion of “poetic knowledge” on Homer and tragedy, culminating in Aristotle’s Poetics with the knowledge of characters represented in the fictional world of men in action, in early China the Ruist tradition from Confucius to the Major Preface used the Classic of Songs to develop a special way of knowing the authors, their paradigmatic moral dispositions in attending historical circumstances. When put into a comparative perspective, what essentially distinguishes the two modes of “poetic knowledge” can shed light on the reception of Homer in modern China.

Chinese Philhellenism in the Republican Period of China

Liu Jinyu (Shanghai Normal University, China/DePauw University, U.S.)

“There are many Marxist-Leninist scholars who cannot open their mouths without citing ancient Greece; but as for their own ancestors — sorry, they have been forgotten, ” said Mao Zedong in a critical tone in the speech Reform Our Study addressed to the Chinese Communist Party in 1941. Rhetorical exaggeration apart, this statement was not groundless. It is precisely the origin(s), manifestation(s), and impact of Chinese philhellenism in the first half of the twentieth century that I explore in this paper. One of the central issues to address is the relationship or interactions, if any, between European philhellenism and its Chinese version.

Classics at Home and Abroad: the Impact of China’s Reception of Graeco-Roman Classics

Jenny Jingyi Zhao (University of Cambridge, U.K.)

My paper explores the phenomenon of China’s burgeoning interest in the Graeco-Roman classics by discussing its implications for future classical studies. As I shall argue, Chinese students and scholars’ engagement with western classics is either explicitly or implicitly comparative with the Chinese heritage, which leads to a unique and invaluable transcultural perspective. The comparison of classical traditions is an area that is fast gaining recognition, and it has important contributions to make to future classical studies, both in China and in the ‘West’. The last section of the paper shifts its focus to the UK by reviewing how the recent trends might impact the academic scene, and how China’s reception of the Graeco-Roman classics might open up new areas for investigation.

The Classical World for a Contemporary Singapore

Steven Green (YALE-NUS, Singapore)

This year (marking the 50th since independence) provides a fitting opportunity to reflect upon Singapore’s incredible achievement in education and to assess the growing role of the classical world in addressing the intellectual needs of the modern Republic. This paper will provide, for contextual purposes, a brief history of Singapore before exploring current higher education curricular initiatives involving the classical world. It will centre on the newly-established Yale-NUS College, which currently embeds classical literature and culture in its core curriculum and offers, for the first time in Singapore, ancient Greek and Latin as elective modules.