The East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California leads and supports education, research, and community research concerning East Asia.

Nov 19 2012
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Postdoc Feature: Gaoheng Zhang

Trained as an Italianist at Beijing Foreign Studies University (B.A.) and New York University (Ph.D.), Gaoheng Zhang conducts interdisciplinary and comparative research on Italy’s international networks of travel and migration in 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, with a specialization in Italy-China relations. He joins USC this year as a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the Humanities under the department of French and Italian.

Born and raised in Hangzhou, China, Zhang lived in Beijing during his undergraduate years before moving to New York for graduate school. He has lived and traveled extensively in China, Italy, and the rest of Europe, including a four-month stint in Florence and memorable trips to Yunnan, Sichuan, India, and all of the major Western and Central European capitals.

At USC, Zhang is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled Chinese Immigration to Italy (1998-2012): Cultural Identities, Media, Entrepreneurship, and Diplomacy. His research focuses on how identities of Chinese immigrants in Italy were constructed and contested in the media, cinema, and literature by Italians and the immigrants themselves between 1998 and 2012. He analyzes the impact that Chinese entrepreneurship and international diplomacy has had on these immigrants’ racial and gendered identity negotiations. His research incorporates discourse analysis (of journalism, television, cinema, internet content, literature, etc.) informed by cultural theory with the analysis of data collected from targeted empirical research in Italy (Milan, Prato, and Rome), including archives, interviews, participatory observations, and surveys.

Although there are many reasons why Zhang chose to study Chinese immigration to Italy, he states that there are two primary reasons.  “First, Italy has one of the largest Chinese migrant communities in Europe, most likely second only to France. However, there are no English-language monographs on this subject. Italian-language studies largely sidestep the cultural aspects of this migration. I elucidate the dynamics between migration and culture during Chinese immigration to Italy in legal, economic, and diplomatic contexts. My study will provide a base for future comparative studies on migration to Italy.

Second, the representations of Chinese immigration in certain Italian media focus obsessively on the illegality of the immigrants’ enterprises. The most common interpretive framework of Chinese immigrants’ migratory practices in Italy is based on ethnocultural grounds. My research elucidates the complexity of these representational conceptualizations, practices, and expressions in relevant media, cinema, and literature, as well as their social effects. Thus my study joins a growing body of mostly Italian sociological studies in order to promote the immigrants’ greater integration.”

Zhang enjoys being a Provost’s Scholar in the Humanities at USC because “it gives me a huge amount of time to think, research, and write,” he said. “I love the intellectual conversations I have had and continue to have with USC faculty from disciplines such as Italian and French, cinema and media studies, sociology, anthropology, history, comparative literature, journalism, and of course East Asian studies.”

Zhang aims to bring a truly interdisciplinary, intercultural, and comparative perspective to Italian Studies and to the humanistic disciplines for academics, students, and the wider audience. He will be giving a lecture entitled “Chinese Immigration to Italy and Cultural Identities: The Protest in Milan’s Chinatown in the Media, Cinema, and Literature” on Thursday, November 29 from 5:00pm to 6:30pm at Doheny Memorial Library (DML) 233. Please click here for more details.

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