YCAR receives $500,000 to support engagement in Hakka research

The York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) recently received a $500,000 donation from the Honourable Dr Vivienne Poy to create an endowment to support student engagement in Hakka research and scholarship. This generous gift plants a seed for the growth of a Hakka Scholars Network to develop Hakka research and scholarship at York University and promote this scholarship in Canada and internationally. 

“This is the first Hakka Studies initiative outside of Asia and stimulates further the study of Asia and Asian Diaspora that is at once cross-regional and local in its engagement with Asian Canadian communities,” said Abidin Kusno, YCAR Director. 

An accomplished entrepreneur, fashion designer, historian and author, Dr Poy was the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Senate of Canada (1998–2012). She has been supportive of YCAR’s initiatives with the establishment of the Vivienne Poy Asian Research Award, and donated the proceeds of her book—Profit, Victory and Sharpness: The Lees of Hong Kong—to the Centre, in support of graduate student research on Asia and the Asian Diaspora.

According to Dr Poy, “Hakka 客家 is a subgroup of the Han Chinese with a distinct culture. Their historic villages were circular fortresses built with very thick walls for defence. Hakka women are known for their unbound feet, strength and resilience. The Hakkas have contributed globally over centuries, and many have risen to prominence at home and in their countries of adoption, a fact that is not widely known. As a Hakka descendant on my mother’s side, it is of great interest to me to support scholarly research on this group.” 

Dr Poy kicked off the initiative with the aspiration that it will soon develop into a multifaceted program. As students represent the future, she decided to establish the Vivienne Poy Hakka Graduate Research Award as part of her donation.

“The annual award will encourage York’s graduate students to conduct research on topic(s) related to Hakka cultures, histories and geographies anywhere in the world,” said Dr Kusno. The inaugural award will be given out in Fall 2020. 

Together with the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, YCAR will launch the Hakka Scholars Network with a Fall 2020 event. It will include an ambitious plan for eight research and teaching initiatives that YCAR and its York-based and external partners. It hopes to develop incrementally over the next 10 years.

“The Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies is delighted to support the establishment of Hakka Scholars Network Fund at YCAR,” said Lily Cho, Associate Dean, Global & Community Engagement for the Faculty. “We know how important to prepare our students for the global economy by offering them a chance to experience the world. This fund will be crucial to opening up our undergraduate student experience to complexities and richness of Hakka culture, identity, and history. The Hakka Scholars Network Fund illuminates a world of diasporic culture and connection that builds on York’s long-standing commitment to Hakka communities.”

In the next two years, a committee comprising York and external members will develop a summer “Study Abroad” course, which is envisioned to bring York undergraduate-level students to a part of the world where they will learn and experience aspects of Hakka cultures, histories and geographies. In this course, which they plan will first be held in Summer 2022, includes field study to explore specific locales where students will develop community-based research projects and present them in a conference or an exhibit. The inaugural Hakka symposium will be held in 2022 to bring together researchers focusing on Hakka studies to share the latest knowledge and research and grow the academic field. In the longer term, the Hakka Scholars Network Committee will be seeking support to establish a Chair in Hakka studies as well as a funded visiting scholar opportunity, a language and cultural training program, an undergraduate scholarship for students interested in Hakka studies as well as a virtual archive of Hakka diaspora.

Although Hakka studies at York may be in a nascent phase, there is a long association between the university and Hakka scholars and community members. The first Toronto Hakka Conference was held at York University in 2000 and YCAR will co-host the sixth edition, which will take place on Keele campus in July 2021 (rescheduled from 2020 due to COVID-19). 

“The donation from Dr Poy,” according to Dr Keith Lowe, co-founder of the Toronto Hakka Conference and member of YCAR’s External Advisory Council, “marks a new growth of the Toronto Hakka Conference, especially in its engagement with the university since the first conference in 2000.” 

We thank Dr Poy for her generosity and wish to attract other donations to make possible the development of Hakka Studies into a full-fledged research and education program at York.

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For information on the Hakka Scholars Network please visit: https://ycar.apps01.yorku.ca/hakka-scholars-network/