New Faculty Profile: Michael Hill, Chinese Studies

New Faculty Profile: Michael Hill, Chinese Studies

Nicole Cook (International Relations and Chinese, 18’)


michael hillWelcome to William and Mary! Now that you’ve been in Williamsburg for a few months, how has your time been so far?

I’ve been having a great time! I have two really excellent classes this semester, a senior seminar and a course on Chinese pop culture. One of the reasons why William & Mary is so attractive is the great students. For example, in my senior seminar, I have 13 students who are able to work with pretty difficult materials in Chinese language. Their ability to work with the material is really exciting to me. It makes it really fun to teach.

Do you mind telling me a little about your career before coming here? What inspired you to begin studying Chinese?

I started Chinese in my sophomore year of college. At that time, I decided I was either going to study Chinese or Russian, and decided I would try Chinese. I had a great first teacher and was hooked! I took some time off between undergraduate and graduate school to not only work, but also to go to China. I made my first trip in 1997 a couple years after college. After that, I started undergraduate school at Rutgers University and finished at Columbia University. In between, I also spent time working at a translation company. The job involved translating things between Chinese and English that were not very exciting, like contracts, financial documents, and pharmaceutical packaging. This was an especially valuable experience as part of what I study is the history of translation between China and the West. I then worked at the University of South Carolina for 9 years before coming here.

You mentioned your research in the history of translation. Is that your primary focus of research? Do you have other projects you’re working on now?

Both my PhD dissertation and the first book I wrote were about Lin Shu, the first major translator of Western fiction into Chinese. He didn’t know any foreign languages but still managed to work with speakers of English and French to translate works into Classical Chinese. That was a really fun project because many of his translations changed quite a bit from the original to the Chinese translation.

More recently, I began leaning Arabic for my current research, which is on the history of cultural relations between China and the Middle East (late 19th century through the 1950s). Last academic year, I had a fellowship with the American Council of Learned Societies that allowed me to work at the Kluge Center in the Library of Congress. This gave me a unique opportunity to work on collecting sources for my project.

What classes will you be teaching next semester?

In the spring, I’ll be teaching a survey class on 20th century Chinese literature in English and a COLL150 class called “What is China?” The freshman seminar is based on the title of a book I’ve translated by a scholar named Ge Zhaoguang, which is scheduled for publication in January 2018. The book is interesting in the way it talks about different perspectives on Chinese history and major questions in Chinese history. So, for example, what is territory in China? The answer changes depending on if we study the past 1,000 years, 2,000 years or 5,000 years.  He does a really great job of talking about a wide variety of materials so it should be fun to discuss with students.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for students who are currently studying Chinese?

Stick with the language – it’s a long road, but it really pays off. I also encourage students to spend an extended amount of time in the language environment, whether that’s a summer, semester, or even, if possible, a year after graduation. If you go to China within a couple years of graduation and spend time there, you can really get your language skills up to a high level. Then, you have this tool that you can take with you anywhere in your career.

Thank you very much for your time!


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