Featured Researchers and Project


By Low Yanling and Kwa Kai Xiang


The Qiaopi Trade in China and Overseas Conference was held from 9 to 10 October 2015 at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). A total of 12 papers were presented and discussed during the event, which was attended by more than two dozen academics from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, China, Malaysia and Singapore. The Conference is one of the very few conferences on the topic of qiaopi to be held in English and was organised by the Centre for Chinese Language and Culture at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

In his opening address, Professor Liu Hong, Chair, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, highlighted the importance of disseminating research and facilitating discussions on the qiaopi trade to a broader international audience, including non-Chinese scholars and experts on migrant letters and remittances.

The Keynote Lecture cum the Fourth Chuan Han-Sheng Lecture* was delivered by Professor Takeshi Hamashita of Sun Yat-sen University, who spoke on migration and home remittances in the financial

market between Southeast Asia and South China. Professor Hamashita, who is also Professor Emeritus of Tokyo and Kyoto Universities, is a critically acclaimed scholar of history and is well-known for his research on the network of trade, migration, and financial remittances in Asia.

There were five panel sessions that were held over two days. During the first session, Professor Gregor Benton (Cardiff University) presented a paper on the relationship between qiaopi and politics in terms of its impact on local power relations, regional politics, Chinatown politics and China’s national politics. This paper was co-authored with Professor Liu Hong and Dr. Zhang Huimei of NTU.

Some of the other topics covered during the Conference include an analysis of British policies pertaining to qiaopi; the role of Chinese post offices (qiaopiju); the evolution of the qiaopi industry; and the practices of Overseas Chinese diaspora to maintain familial, material, emotional and cultural ties with the communities left behind in China.

In the Closing Speech, Professor Gregor Benton expressed that the Conference was a great success as the complex topic of qiaopi was covered from various angles, both thematic (including methodological) and geographic, in the impressive papers that were presented and further enriched by the insightful discussions in the Question and Answer sessions conducted at the end of each panel session. Revised papers will be submitted to a leading journal in the field of Asian and migration studies for publication as a special issue.

* The First Chuan Han-sheng Lecture was hosted by the University of Queensland in 2011 to commemorate Professor Chuan Han-sheng’s hundredth birthday and recognise his academic accomplishments and contributions. The Lecture Series is co-sponsored by Nanyang Technological University, the New Asia Research Institute, The University of Queensland, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shandong University, Tsinghua University and Wuyi University. 

By Assistant Professor Kei Koga


In the context of the rapidly globalising world and the rise of Asia, the need to cultivate interdisciplinary research collaboration to meet new challenges in a more complex world has grown in importance. To this end, the Global Asia Research Cluster at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) and the University of Tokyo (UTokyo) jointly-organised a workshop entitled "Understanding Globalising Asia: Methods and Issues" at the University of Tokyo on 28 Novemember 2015. UTokyo was represented by delegates from its Department of Pioneering Asian Studies, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), International Master's/Doctoral Degree Programme: Information, Technology and Society in Asia (ITASIA), Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies (GSII), and the Integrated Human Sciences Programme for Cultural Diversity (IHS).
Besides fostering collaboration between various disciplines, the event also sought to provide a platform for networking between scholars from the two universities, as well as nurturing institutional linkages between NTU and UTokyo. 
In their welcome remarks, Professor Shigeto Sonoda, the Department Head of GSII and the Head of IASA, UTokyo, and Professor Liu Hong, Chair of HSS, emphasised the importance of international intellectual and educational collaboration in order to deepen our understanding of Asia and beyond. Professor Sonoda also discussed the cognitive map of “Asia”, whereby the concept and geographical scope of “Asia” has been differently created, developed, and understood in each country, including Singapore and Japan. However, since the evolution of such different cognitive maps can be more deeply understood and investigated in the future due to the advancement of technology and globalisation, international collaboration has become critically important.

Featuring five panel sessions and ten presentations, the Workshop fostered cross-disciplinary interaction and lively discussions. Presentation topics pertained to disciplines such as sociology, history and international relations, and are as follows​:

  • ​Making Genomic Medicine in Asia (Associate Professor Shirley Sun, NTU)
  • Ceramics, Nodes, and Networks in an Asian World-System, 9th - 15th Centuries (Assistant Professor Goh Geok Yian, NTU)
  • Diasporic Chinese Factors in China-Malaysia Transnational Relations (Assistant Professor Yow Chuen-Hoe, NTU)
  • The Ethics of Religious Giving in Global Perspective (Associate Professor Francis Lim, NTU)
  • ASEAN Effect: Regional Community Building and Implication for Global Asia (Assistant Professor Kei Koga, NTU)
  • Transnational Communicative Networks in Asia: Focusing on the Japan-Korea Solidarity Movement in the 1970s and 1980s (Dr. Lee Misook, UTokyo)
  • The Paradox of the Modern Individual: Citizenship and the Nation in 19th Century Europe and Japan (Dr. Zhong Yijiang, UTokyo)
  • How does Social Welfare Programme Work in Ethnic Mobilisation?: Examining the Welfare State Channeling Theory with the Korean Community Case in Japan (Dr. Lee Hyun Son, UTokyo)
  • Post-development and the Politics of Association: Social Roles of Religious Leaders in Rural South India (Dr. Ikegami Aya, UTokyo)
  • Cambodian Election Reform as Explained and Explaining Variables (Dr. Harada Shiro, UTokyo)

The event concluded with a reception where participants were able to network and further discuss future opportunities for collaboration. The second workshop has been scheduled to be held in Singapore in 2016. 

By Abigail Chua

In deciding what discipline to pursue as an undergraduate in the University of Osnabrück, Germany, Nanyang Assistant Professor Gerrit Maus was torn between varying fields of study, and struggled in restricting himself to choose just one. Eventually he settled for a unique major that was interdisciplinary in nature – Cognitive Science. Even now, under the Psychology Division at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, he still identifies himself as an interdisciplinary scientist at heart. 

 “After finishing high school, I was interested in so many things – Physics, Computer Science, Psychology, Languages, Literature, etc. I really had a hard time deciding. Finally, I came across this intriguing ‘interdisciplinary’ study programme called Cognitive Science. It was the first degree of its kind in Germany, so we always had to explain it to others. Basically, it’s a big mixed bag of disciplines; from neurobiology, psychology to artificial intelligence, mathematics, and philosophy, it is all about studying how the human mind works. For me, it was a perfect match, because I could study and explore a wide area range of interests while focusing on really interesting questions.”

For Assistant Professor Maus, who grew up in Fulda, Germany, the most interesting question would be: how exactly does the brain work? He elaborates, “Everything in the brain takes time. The signals from the eyes can take up to a tenth of a second until they arrive in the visual processing centres in the brain. This means, all input that we receive is always out of date, yet we are very good at, for example, hitting a tennis ball flying at us at 100 km/h, or pouring a cup of tea or kopi without the cup over-spilling.”

Apart from understanding how the brain functions, visual illusions and phenomena are also fascinating topics of study for him. He said, “For instance, a visual illusion in popular culture that many would be familiar with would be the picture of a lace dress that went viral on social media. Netizens were split into two camps – those that visually perceived the dress to be gold and white versus blue and black. Such an incident not only makes for great social media fodder, but also tells us a little more about how the brain works in perceiving information, in this case colour.”

Assistant Professor Maus’ interest in the field of visual perception and cognitive neuroscience was first piqued during his exchange in England, where he attended a talk about visual illusions. He then approached the speaker, requesting for a chance to contribute to the latter’s research. The subsequent project he undertook turned into his bachelor’s thesis. After graduation he returned to England, and worked on follow-up projects, which in turn became his PhD thesis. As such, his journey into academia was organic, and he enjoys the flexibility of combining science and teaching.

To him, NTU has a lot to offer with the new Experimental Medicine Building which houses a state-of-the-art cognitive neuroscience laboratory. Presently, his lab’s research focuses on extrapolation and interpolation in sensory systems or “how the brain fills in gaps when there is missing information in the input from the senses.” His research sheds light into “why the world does not disappear each time we blink”, and how the brain controls eye movements so that the environment around us is perceived as a stable image.

Still getting used to the tropical climate in Singapore, Assistant Professor Maus loves local food like Ayam Buah Keluak. Weekends are spent exploring nature enclaves such as Sungei Buloh and Pulau Ubin together with his wife.

“I love Singapore. Sometimes it feels like living in a science fiction movie. When walking around the Fusionopolis area, I’m reminded of the Star Trek scenes playing on 24th century earth!”