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Spring 1999

Young Guns
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David Schaberg
Assistant Professor of Chinese Language
College of Letters and Science

These days, the Big Concerns for most people are topics like the millennium bug or the Asian financial flu. Not in David Schaberg's world.

"From the perspective of the stuff I work on," says the 34-year-old assistant professor of Chinese thought, "the whole last millennium is current events."

The "stuff" Schaberg refers to is the historical writings of pre-Han and Han Period China, 206 B.C. to 220 A.D., which he has burrowed into for the last 13 years. Schaberg's work is distinguished by his mastery of Chinese, Greek and Latin, his knowledge of the primary historical texts from each culture and his ability to examine those works through the prism of the latest literary and critical theories.

Schaberg's current research examines history as narrative, looking at the connections between Chinese historical writings and fictional storytelling. He describes the foundations of Chinese historical writing and how the works' compilers wrote their histories in order to justify the world views of certain philosophical schools, especially that of Confucius. Schaberg then compares those methods with those of their contemporaries in Greece, who also were dealing with questions of history as storytelling and history as science.

While finishing his current work, which includes translations of three early Confucian histories, Schaberg continues to work on cross-cultural influences. In May, he delivered a Chinese-Greek cross-cultural paper, "Travel, Geography and the Imperial Imagination in Fifth-Century Athens and Han China," at a University of Oregon humanities conference. It will appear this year in the journal Comparative Literature. The paper examines how both Chinese and Greek writers saw differences and similarities in their encounters with "the Other" -- the "so-called barbaric world," Schaberg says.

He also is looking forward to his next project: a comparison of histories written under the early Chinese and Roman empires. To find such connections, Schaberg, who earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard in 1996, has to dig deep into difficult, ancient languages. If Schaberg's work sounds a little esoteric for the new millennium, consider the role China is playing in the modern world. "These works are important as windows into what was going on in early China," notes the professor. "Understanding how the early histories worked in forming the Confucian tradition helps us understand what's true about Chinese ideas today. And as China becomes more and more important, a greater knowledge of how its past was envisioned will be important, too."

-- Carroll Lachnit

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