Ryang named director of Chao Center for Asian Studies

Noted social anthropologist Sonia Ryang has been appointed the new director of the T.T. and W.F. Chao Center for Asian Studies in the School of Humanities. Hired after an international search, Ryang will also serve as the T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor of Asian Studies. The appointments are effective July 1.


A leading scholar whose research encompasses diverse topics, including diaspora, identity, cultural logic of nation-states, ideology and romantic love, Ryang comes to Rice from the University of Iowa, where she was professor of anthropology and international studies and the C. Maxwell and Elizabeth M. Stanley Family and Korea Foundation Chair of Korean Studies. In addition, she served as the director of Iowa’s Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, director of academic programs for Iowa’s International Programs and director of graduate studies for the Department of Anthropology.

Ryang assumes the director position from interim director Steven Lewis, the C.V. Starr Transnational China Fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and professor in the practice.

“I was attracted to Rice’s fine academic reputation, quality of education and standard of research,” Ryang said. “The cultural and ethnic diversity of Houston also was a tremendous attraction for me and my family.”

Ryang is ethnic Korean and grew up in Japan. She is fluent in Korean and Japanese.

“We are very enthusiastic about Sonia,” said Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway. “She is a prolific publisher and she writes on very interesting topics. She’s also very interested in Asian-American identities, so she’s really ideal for the center.”

Ryang’s research focus expands the School of Humanities’ strong representation in Chinese studies, led by Tani Barlow, the Chao Center’s previous director and the T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor of Asian History; Richard Smith, the George and Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities and professor of history, who chaired the search committee for the new director; and Shih-shan Susan Huang, an associate professor of art history.

“By bringing in Sonia, we’re able to spread the focus to other places in Asia, and Korea and Japan are, of course, extremely important,” Shumway said. He noted the History Department has also hired Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu, a professor of American history at Michigan State University who specializes in the United States’ relations with East Asia, particularly Japan, since the late 19th century, to join the department in July.

As the director of the Chao Center, Ryang will spearhead the center’s efforts to distinguish itself with a transnational focus, which emphasizes how people, ideas, products and technologies travel across national and other boundaries.

“I would like to make the Chao Center globally relevant, finding its indispensable role amongst comparable centers in the world,” Ryang said. “I believe there are things that only the Chao Center and Rice can do in promoting Asian studies research and teaching. I will work to identify that role, strengthen it and deliver a concrete outcome. But, above all, I would like to make the Chao Center the venue where Rice faculty members that are interested in Asia and Asia-related research and teaching can congregate, brainstorm and develop a genuine, collegial working relationship.”

Ryang is the author of five books in English and one in Japanese, editor of two volumes and co-editor of one. These titles include “North Koreans in Japan: Language, Ideology and Identity” (1997), “Japan and National Anthropology: A Critique” (2004), “Love in Modern Japan: Its Estrangement from Self, Sex and Society” (2006), “Writing Selves in Diaspora: Ethnography of Autobiographics of Korean Women in Japan and the United States” (2008) and, most recently, “Reading North Korea: An Ethnological Inquiry” (2011).Her next book, “Eating Korean: Gastronomic Ethnography of Authenticity,” will be published this year by the University of Hawaii Press.

Ryang received a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge. Before joining the anthropology faculty at the University of Iowa in 2006, she taught at Johns Hopkins University.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.