Malaysian Literature, Phenomenon of Hikikomori and 'Ddakji' Game: Highlights of the Third Conference on Asian and African Studies
On March 17-18, HSE University-St Petersburg hosted the third scientific conference of students and PhD students 'Current Research Problems in Asian and African Countries'. The conference welcomed 96 research fellows and students from more than 20 universities in Russia and other countries. Find out how the conference went and what impressions of it the participants have in the article.
The third scientific conference of students and PhD students 'Current Research Problems in Asian and African Countries' lasted for two days—March 17 and 18. The event was organised by the Institute of Asian and African Studies and the Student Research Society of the Institute of Asian and African Studies (SRS). The conference welcomed research fellows and students from more than 20 universities, including Lomonosov Moscow State University, Novosibirsk State University, St Petersburg University, Tomsk State University and others. Besides, some researches were presented by speakers from Uzbekistan and Belarus.
The conference was aimed at discussing current problems of Asian and African countries and allowing experts in Asian and African Studies from different cities to exchange their experience and present the results of their research. All the reports fell into one of four research directions: history and anthropology, culture and art, literature and languages, politics and economics.
The first day of the conference started with the welcoming speech of Larisa Tsvetkova, Deputy Director for Science and Research at HSE University-St Petersburg.
Larisa Tsvetkova, Deputy Director for Science and Research at HSE University-St Petersburg, Professor, Doctor of Psychology
We are very happy that our students are so active in terms of the research work, and we are ready to support them. In my opinion, the best way to science is when while studying, people take an interest in research and understand that in fact, it is not boring, but very useful and sought-after. Besides, a student conference is a space where new scientific contacts are formed, and they can last for your whole professional career. That is why I hope that thanks to the held discussions, there will appear new research teams, which will promote their own ideas, our campus and Asian and African Studies research.
After that, the listeners had a chance to attend the first plenary session, where Nikita Vul , Associate Professor at the Department for Chinese, South and Southeast Asian Studies of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Candidate of Historical Sciences, explained how to choose a research topic and select the scientific literature. Besides, there was a lecture delivered by Oksana Kakin, a visiting professor at the Department of Japanese studies, the Institute of Asian and African Studies. The speaker highlighted that a research topic can be inspired by anything, even a hobby, the main thing is to select a relevant academic lens. For instance, the phenomenon of K-рор culture popularity can be studied in terms of economics, sociology, political science and other sciences.
After the general plenary session, the sections started their work. One of the first sections was 'History and anthropology', where the participants had a chance to get to know the researches on identities, subcultures, gender equality, education and others.
Arseniy Zyat`kov, a student of HSE University, told about his research devoted to the influence of the Jesuits on the development of China. He underscored that the Jesuit mission in China lasted from 1552 to 1773. The exchange of knowledge with European countries influenced the rejuvenation of Chinese science in the XVII–XVIII centuries. Chinese students (Wang Xishan, Mei Wen-Ding, Xue Fengjio) adopted the Jesuits’ knowledge and scientific approaches, which they used further in their observations in the fields of mathematics, astronomy and mapping. Besides, the Jesuit mission marked the beginning of Chinese Studies in Europe.
Alina Kravtsova from the Novosibirsk State University studies the problems of school education in Yanbian, Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China. She said that Korean people began settling in China in the late XIX century. Approximately at the same time, in Korean villages, Confucian primary educational facilities started to appear, based on which the modern primary schools were open at the beginning of the XX century. Due to the socio-economic changes at the end of the XX century and the conservative lifestyle, national schools had to face various difficulties. One of them is the perception of the Chinese language as a foreign one and the neglect of studying it. As a result, graduates of the Korean national schools could not enrol in universities and work outside Yanbian, Korean Autonomous Prefecture. So recently, the Chinese government has been attempting to create a balanced school curriculum for Korean national schools. Among the possible ways to solve this problem are the creation of mixed Korean-Chinese schools, and the introduction of ethno cultural subjects and the Chinese language to the curriculum.
One of the sessions also featured the speech of Andrey Vovk, Head of SRS. He presented the results of his research on the military aspect of Muhammad Ali's reforms in Egypt and the period of Tanzimat in the Ottoman Empire.
Andrey Vovk, 3rd-year student of the Bachelor's programme 'Asian and African Studies', Head of SRS
It wasn't my first report, so I knew how to structure my speech and what to expect. The reaction of listeners and the chairman of the session, Milana Iliushina, professor of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, to my work appealed to me. It means that I have conducted a decent research. But I should not stop at what has been achieved. That is why I plan to continue my scientific activities and participate in new conferences.
To my mind, the conference went great—largely due to the offline format. Back in the last year, we planned to go beyond the screens of computers and smartphones, but, unfortunately, it didn't happen. But this year, we have managed to accomplish this goal, which helped us to fulfil the most important purpose of any conference—to acquaint people. I talked to many young researchers from different cities and countries, and it allowed me to look at several questions from another perspective.
I didn't manage to attend all the sessions I was interested in: organisational activities did not let me. But lots of people, who I communicated with, mentioned that the participants' reports met the scientific requirements, covered current topics and were very interesting for attendees. I personally remember very clearly the report on the bio politics of Mao Zedong and another one on the concept of 'shahid' in the works of Ibn al-Nahass.
The section 'Culture and art' featured reports on Korean mythology, Japanese avant-garde, the phenomenon of Chinese chic and the role of computer games in spreading Chinese culture. One of the most popular with the audience reports was the research on the Japanese phenomenon 'hikikomori' conducted by Liliya Manukyan, a student of HSE University-St Petersburg. Hikikomori is a state of avoiding social contact for six months and more, in other words, it is an adjustment disorder of teenagers and young people. However, Liliya highlighted that it can also affect older people. At the same time, the student underscored that hikikomori is a state, not a disease. It is caused by high requirements for school students and bullying, corporate thinking and stigma towards people with mental illnesses. In 2019 in Japan, hikikomori was observed in 1,15 million people aged from 15 to 64, which makes it a mass socio-cultural phenomenon influencing the country's economy: health care costs increase, and production capacity decreases. Liliya mentioned that at the moment, we can observe the spread of hikikomori in other countries—South Korea, China and India.
Another current problem of Asian countries is the phenomenon of 'cancel culture'. This issue was studied by Sofya Khachaturyan, a student of HSE University-St Petersburg. She told about the origins of this phenomenon, its stages of distribution and its consequences. Besides, the student analysed how this phenomenon affects the experience industry in three Asian countries: South Korea, China and Vietnam. For instance, South Korea creates strict behaviour boundaries for public figures, and China forms legal regulations of the 'cancel culture' involving the state, but in Vietnam, the phenomenon has not yet become a widespread practice.
Sofya Khachaturyan, student of HSE University-St Petersburg
This is the third time that I have participated in this conference because I am interested in communicating with other researchers. There are not many places where you can find such open and free discussions, here the atmosphere feels very home-like.
My impressions of the conference are wonderful—I especially liked the section 'Culture and art'. I did not expect that there would be so many reports that I would really like to listen to. Perhaps, the most memorable research for me was the one about hikikomori. The report was quite detailed, so I had a chance to learn more about this phenomenon. Another interesting report was devoted to the role of Genshin Impact in spreading the Chinese culture—I had not thought that there could have been such research topics. Besides, I liked the reports on the Japanese avant-garde and performance—I did not work with this topic a lot, so I learnt plenty of useful things and made some notes. I am sure that this information will come in handy as my Master's concentration is related to art and exhibition activities.
In general, I think that participation in such events is extremely useful. First, you can communicate with other young researchers, exchange ideas and get constructive criticism. Second, scientific activities count when you apply for the next stage of training. Thus, the conferences, at which I spoke during the last three years, gave me extra points while enrolling in Master's degree. In particular, thanks to it, I managed to get a state-funded place.
On the second day of the conference, there were sessions on literature and the languages of peoples of Africa and Asia. Pavel Kosukhin from HSE University analysed how the state of emergency in Malaysia was covered in the short stories by Usman Awang and Li Guo-Liang. The state of emergency was declared on June 18, 1948, which implied the imposition of martial law. This event was reflected in both journalistic literature and fiction—for example, in the short story by Li Guo-Liang 'All of this is a dream'. The main character of the text is an activist of the Chinese Radical Party, who had to adjust to the new living conditions. The symbol of this change is a distorted reflection of the character in a train mirror. The story becomes a sign of the epoch when a person finds themselves in the centre of tragic events and turmoil.
The closing of the conference was held in an informal setting. The representative of Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese clubs of HSE University-St Petersburg introduced the audience to traditional games of Asian peoples and offered to play 'Ddakji'—a game, where you have to turn a paper figure of your opponent which lies on the floor.