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An Asian Frame of Reference

One thing is clear: we have frequent opportunities to better understand Asia from our perch in Provo. Consider this sampling of a few recent and notable Kennedy Center events that illustrates the intellectual, historical, visual, and programmatic offerings available to curious students, alumni, and scholars to explore and learn about Asia.

The China Dream
Frederick W. Crook

While working in China with the country’s Charity Federation of the Ministry of Civil Affairs to implement charity projects, Frederick W. Crook noticed posters appearing in public places—on the sides of buses, on TV monitors, in government buildings—and residential neighborhoods. They ranged in size from 1 1/2 feet square to 30 by 40 feet. Crook began photographing them.

These posters were part of the efforts of Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China, to propagate the Chinese dream. Crook visited BYU on September 9, 2015, to talk about the posters, as well as his photographs of them, and how they speak to the aspirational goals of Chinese leadership for the people.

Crook’s collection—with 40,000-plus photos and 45,000 reports spanning sixty years of recent Chinese history (1955–2015)—will soon be housed in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections in the BYU Harold B. Lee Library.

About the Speaker
Crook is president of the China Group, a company that provides quality assessments of China’s rural economy. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have worked and served in both the private and public sectors with expertise in Asia. He served as president over the Taiwan Taipei Mission from 1977 to 1979. Crook received a BA magna cum laude in political science and Asian studies from Brigham Young University in 1964 and a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1970.

Memorable Quotes
“America is not the only country with a dream. Understanding China starts with understanding the ‘China Dream.’”

“The [dream] is not threatening but calling for a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

The Rise of Modern India
Edward Luce

In his book In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India, Edward Luce provides an insightful view of the economic changes that are taking place in the world’s second most-populated country while two-thirds of its populace continue to live in dire poverty. A noted journalist, Luce traveled through India gathering interviews, data, and observations in an investigation of India’s struggle for balance between its rising modernity and its cultural traditions.

Intriguing and accessible, Luce’s book was selected as the Kennedy Center’s Book of the Semester for fall 2015. He lectured to BYU students in the Harold B. Lee Library on November 11, 2015, focusing his remarks on three areas in which India is rising: economically, geopolitically, and politically. Luce also met with students from Orem, Timpview, Mountain View, and Provo High Schools.


About the Speaker
dLuce is the Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times. He was the paper’s South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi, between 2001 and 2006. From 1999 to 2000 he worked under the Clinton administration as the speechwriter for Treasury secretary Larry Summers. Educated at Oxford, Luce now lives in Washington, DC, where he is a regular commentator on U.S. politics.

Memorable Quotes
“Let’s talk about the rise of modern India as something other than a headache.”

“India’s test of its nuclear weapons was done to counterbalance China rather than to make a statement to Pakistan.”

Choosing to Be Confucian
Eirik Lang Harris

How can a student correctly choose a sage to follow? Eirik Lang Harris expressed that the worry is not that students are unable to pick out a mentor but that they might not be able to differentiate between a real sage like Xunzi and a fanatic like Osama bin Laden. Grounded in Confucianism and Chinese philosophy, Harris’s lecture on April 5, 2016, had broad implications and was widely accessible, leading students to consider the most important qualities of a sound leader.

About the Speaker
Harris is an assistant professor of philosophy at City University of Hong Kong and a member of the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy. He works on political philosophy and ethics in the Chinese tradition as well as on how Chinese philosophy can inform issues of contemporary importance to Western political philosophers and ethicists. Harris has published more than a dozen journal articles, book chapters, and translations, and his recent book the Shenzi Fragments: A Philosophical Analysis and Translation, examines the extant writings of Shen Dao, an early Chinese political thinker in the legalist tradition.

Memorable Quotes
“When choosing moral leaders, consider not only the way they go about achieving goals but the very goals themselves.”

“A good sage invites argumentation and questions and allows for opposition.”

A Comrade in North Korea

On November 9, 2015, BYU students settled in to watch Comrade Kim Goes Flying, a North Korean rom-com made inside the Stalinist state. At the Kennedy Center screening, Nick Bonner,the film’s director and producer, answered questions on shooting in Pyongyang and editing the film outside the country, told the movie’s backstory, and discussed the film’s premise—girl power and following your dreams. (2012, 81 min., Korean with English subtitles)

Discovering Walden in Persia
Alireza Taghdarreh

As early as Iranian Alireza Taghdarreh can remember, one of his grandfathers, a tailor, would recite to him the lines of the Persian poet Rumi. Taghdarreh’s maternal grandfather recited for him the words of the Persian poet Saadi. By the time Taghdarreh was ready for higher education, the government of Iran had changed, universities were closed, and music schools were no more. In 1982—with the aid of a $1 pocket radio, Voice of America, and the BBC—Taghdarreh taught himself English, recording the broadcasts and listening to the quotations many times to memorize them.

About 150 years after Thoreau praised the great Persian poet Saadi in his masterpiece Walden, Taghdarreh read the book and developed a love for Thoreau and his writings. Walden became one of the most important books in his life.

Taghdarreh undertook the labor of translating Walden into his native Persian—a task others more educated had begun and given up on. Using the Internet, including a Walden “list” on Yahoo!, he sought help with English nuances and puns from the most prominent Thoreau scholars. With Walden translated into Persian and ready for publication in July 2015, the Thoreau Society and the Thoreau Institute brought Taghdarreh to the United States—his first trip outside of Iran—where he visited Concord, Massachusetts, and Walden Pond, the places where Thoreau and Emerson had read and admired the Persian poets who had always been part of Taghdarreh’s life.

Taghdarreh came to BYU on February 10, 2016, and delivered a moving presentation on his experience with Walden that left an indelible impression on listeners.

Memorable Quotes
“Poets help encourage us to search for universal truths that can be found across cultures.”

“His time in Walden Pond represents Thoreau’s thirst for a fulfilled life.”

Walden is a difficult text to decipher. I could not have accomplished my studies without the help of other scholars.”

Looking Back to 1965
Robert R. King

What is the direct line between the current Special Envoy for North Korea for Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State and a study abroad? It turns out that Ambassador Robert R. King, a graduate of BYU who has spent a career working on foreign policy and human rights issues, got his start on a study abroad to Austria more than fifty years ago. The film short Origins: BYU Study Abroad 1965 was featured at the fall 2016 President’s Leadership Council meetings and reveals one path to Asia that, for King, actually went through Europe.

Memorable Thought
“The experience in Salzburg probably changed my attitudes and ideas—and certainly the career path that I took—more than anything else that I have done.

“In 1965, thanks to my parents’ support (and sacrifice), I was able to participate on the Salzburg Program, the first-ever study abroad offered at Brigham Young University. In looking back over my professional journey, I can see how this experience was an important springboard for later opportunities by shaping my decisions and providing me understanding that I never could have received by studying only in Provo.

“I worry that many students are missing out on these kinds of opportunities because they may not be able to afford them. As a result they may sell themselves short—and limit their opportunities to contribute academically, professionally, and even in their church and community service.”

Watch the Film and Give Back
To hear more from Ambassador King and see the original hand-lettered photo album from BYU’s first study abroad in Salzburg, Austria, visit Please also consider giving to the Kennedy Center’s new Global Opportunity Scholarship program to help more students study abroad in Asia and elsewhere.

The Word on Street Food
Jeffrey M. Pilcher

Although the field of food history is now well established, cultural analysis has tended to focus on the well-documented foods of the elite, such as court cuisines and fine dining. By contrast, the foods of the lower classes have more often been treated as mere calories, divorced from all consideration of taste or choice. Yet there is ample historical evidence that street foods were a focus of plebeian sociability and pleasure in cities such as Imperial Rome; Kaifeng, China; Tenochtitlan, Mexico; and Edo (Tokyo), Japan.

On February 25, 2016, BYU students got a sneak peak of Jeffrey Pilcher’s research project that seeks to recover these popular cuisines of the past.


About the Speaker
A professor of food history at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Pilcher has been a leading figure in the emerging scholarly field of food history. From an early research focus on Mexico and Latin America, he has expanded his scope to food in world history. He is the author of many articles and several books, including Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (2012), The Sausage Rebellion: Public Health, Private Enterprise, and Meat in Mexico City (2006), Food in World History (2006), and ¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity (1998).

Memorable Quotes
“China’s Song Dynasty saw the publication of the world’s first urban dining guide.”

“Studying food can help us see how people make use of resources and bring pleasure to their lives in difficult times.”

A Teacher in China
For more than twenty-five years the BYU Kennedy Center has prepared and sent more than 1,500 volunteers to live and teach English in China through the nonprofit outreach China Teachers Program. Firsthand reports from former China teachers reveal the disparate reactions individuals can have to a similar situation at universities from Beijing to Guangzhou. As a result, volunteers embark with an open mind, readiness to learn, and flexibility to deal with this vast, rapidly changing country.

“Our teachers have made meaningful engagements since we started in the 1980s.” —Jeff Ringer, director

“The Chinese students really want to learn—very engaged.” —Kim Malan, program facilitator

Retired educators and professionals under the age of sixty-five with college degrees may be eligible to participate. Contact Kim and Alan Malan, deputy directors, at or 801-422-5321 for more details.