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SINCE ITS FOUNDING IN 1978, the Institute of Asian Research has been undergoing a process of definition and renewal. It has evolved from being a focal point of Asia-related activities on campus in the 1970s, into a research organization with an impressive array of functions in the 1990s. These functions are reflected in a rich variety of programs. The importance of Asia to British Columbia and Canada is evident in patterns of trade, cultural and educational exchanges and in the human face of our society. Interdependence with the region for the foreseeable future will continue to be a fact of Canadian life, particularly in British Columbia. The Institute of Asian Research at UBC is the foremost research centre in Canada for the study of Asia. With a broad geographic reach extending to China, India and South Asia, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia, the Institute conducts research and teaching in policy-relevant issues informed by language and area studies. The Institute has played a central role in building UBC's excellence in research, teaching and community liaison in matters pertaining to Asia. The Institute has pursued a rich and productive research agenda on many aspects of the human experience in Asia. The Institute's Master of Arts [Asia Pacific Policy Studies] (MAPPS) Program offers excellent graduate students advanced training in research and analysis on policy issues relevant to the Asia and Pacific regions. The Institute also serves as a catalyst for inter-faculty and inter-departmental programs and projects on Asia, and has been an effective vehicle for building connections between Asia-specialist faculty at UBC and non-specialists who are working on Asia-related matters. The Institute has also contributed significantly to UBC's cooperative relationships with local community interests in Asia-related matters.

Asian studies at UBC is rooted in global controversies. In 1932, with North Americans jittery over an impending war, Japan sent Dr. Inazo Nitobe, a Japanese internationalist, to convince the West of its peaceful intentions. Dr. Nitobe lectured at UBC and other institutions on peace and understanding between East and West. After WWII, the communist uprising in Asia and the anti-Communist witch-hunts in the US brought Bill Holland of the Institute of Pacific Relations to UBC. When the IPR was closed during the McCarthy era, he was recruited by UBC President Mackenzie in 1961 to head the new Department of Asian Studies. Holland developed Asian Studies into a major academic focus on campus. The number of Asian courses at UBC more than doubled and enrollment increased fivefold in the next 10 years.

In "a typical academic compromise" in 1970, UBC established the Institute of Asian and Slavonic Research to accommodate the growing number of faculty studying Asia and the Far East. For a number of years the Institute struggled as there was uncertainty about its existence (read funding), the nature of its activities, and its constituency. In 1977 the Chapman Committee under the Dean of Graduate Studies and the Winter Committee under the Dean of Arts determined that Asianists preferred the Institute to be exclusively concerned with Asia and to remain with Graduate Studies. Thus the Institute of Asian Research, sired by two consenting committees, was born.

Founding members of the Institute recall their first home, the five small offices on the second floor of the Mechanical Engineering Annex on West Mall. The Annex was a nondescript two-story building behind the Little Red Fire Hall, next to the Power House, and across the street from the Ponderosa Cafeteria. Aside from offices for the Director, a secretary, and visitors, the IAR had a small but excellent library on Asia enhanced by Bill Holland's donation of books accumulated while with IPR in New York. The Interim Council appointed by Dean Larkin to oversee IAR affairs was composed of J.D. Chapman, P. Harnetty, P.A. Larkin, W.H. New, R.J. Pearson, E. Wickberg (Chair, now Professor Emeritus and Honorary Professor at the IAR.), R. M. Will, and A.B. Woodside. It also served as the Search Committee for a Director.

The Asian Factor in Graduate Studies

John R. Grace, (Former) Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies

The Asian Factor in Graduate StudiesTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES at the University of British Columbia encompasses two major missions-the coordination of graduate education for all master's and doctoral postgraduate programs, and the fostering of interdisciplinary research and graduate teaching activity across the entire University. Asia and research on Asia play major roles in both of these missions.

More than 20% of UBC's graduate students are visa students coming from outside Canada. Asia is a major source of these students. In 1995-96, 510 of our graduate students were from Asia (256 from China, 59 from India, 56 from Japan, 37 from Hong Kong, 17 each from South Korea and Singapore, and 15 each from Indonesia and Taiwan, with the balance from 10 other countries). At the same time, the Faculty of Graduate Studies handled 1800 applications from Asia in the latest admission year, with 1020 of these being from China, 189 from India, 144 from Hong Kong, 96 from Taiwan, 92 from South Korea, 82 from Japan and the rest from 14 other countries. This influx and the interest in UBC among Asian students require that the Faculty of Graduate Studies be able to handle applications from many countries, and especially from students with Mandarin and other Asian languages as their first language. The students themselves study in every conceivable field, with greatest interest in applied sciences, science and commerce.

Asia has become a special field of study for UBC graduate students. This is especially the case for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences. Graduate students in Asian Studies are engaged in research on Asian history and culture; Asian legal systems are the subject of investigations in Law; Commerce graduate students are studying trade and management issues with respect to the Asia-Pacific region; graduate projects in History cover a wide range of Asia and many different time periods; students in such departments as Economics, Political Science and Anthropology/Sociology write theses on a variety of social science issues; graduate education in the School of Community and Regional Planning looks at housing, service needs, sustainability and transportation; agricultural and forest practice issues are covered in Agricultural Economics and Forestry, respectively; comparative study of educational systems is carried out by graduate students in Education. The above examples give some idea of the diversity of graduate education at UBC and of the degree of interest being shown in Asia. In total, about 10% of UBC's approximately 1800 faculty members are engaged in study of Asia, and the proportion of graduate students with similar interests is probably comparable.

The study of Asia is only one part of the picture. Research in virtually every field is becoming an international endeavour. Graduate students and their supervisors are now engaged in e-mail networks which include scholars from around the world. There are international conferences being held continuously. Our graduate students make short and long visits to gather research materials, learn techniques and take individual courses. UBC is also the recipient of such visits, as well as an active participant in net working activities worldwide and in a broad array of disciplines. Frequently the visits are to or from Asia, and the vast majority of networks include Asian participants. The 3 by 3 agreement, involving UBC, together with McGill, the University of Montreal and the University of Toronto on the Canadian side and three major Chinese universities (Peking, Nankai and Tsinghua), is only one example of close and developing cooperation and friendship with counterpart institutions in Asia. The Faculty of Graduate Studies welcomes such initiatives and exchanges. They help our students and faculty to be at the leading edge of their research fields, and they ensure that our research is truly international in scope.

In its role of encouraging interdisciplinary research and graduate study, the Faculty of Graduate Studies recognizes that it is commonly necessary to combine perspectives from various disciplines to be able to solve real problems. Inputs from several traditional fields often produce new insights and fresh ways of approaching research questions. Asian research plays a major role in the agenda of many of the interdisciplinary units. First and foremost of course, the Institute of Asian Research has focused directly on Asia since its formation in 1978. Its role and accomplishments are covered in detail in this volume, so I will only note in passing that the Institute relates to both parts of this Faculty's mission covered above, i.e. it brings together scholars from many fields and it promotes graduate education. I sincerely hope that the Institute will soon be able to realize its long-standing hopes of introducing an interdisciplinary Master's level graduate program, with input from many fields, on Asia. As the major university in Western Canada and given its situation on the Pacific, it is natural that UBC should have the strongest and most comprehensive graduate and research efforts with respect to Asia.

Among the other interdisciplinary units within the Faculty of Graduate Studies, a number have specific Asian connections. The scholarly journal, Pacific Affairs, makes a major contribution to the study of Asia by publishing articles and book reviews in English on many aspects of Asian affairs. The Institute of International Relations includes Asia within the scope of its studies on security issues, policies, international diplomacy, etc. The Fisheries Centre has a special exchange relationship with the Philippines. The Institute for Resources and the Environment has made major contributions to Geographic Information Systems through its work in Nepal. The Centre for Human Settlements is successfully completing major cooperative projects involving researchers in China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and it is currently engaged in new efforts to provide new leadership in the process of planning within Vietnam. Meanwhile, the School of Community and Regional Planning is addressing planning issues in such areas as transportation and land usage which have a particular focus on Asia. The Sustainable Development Research Institute is developing special linkages with China and India. The Centre for Research in Women's Studies and Gender Relations has had visitors from Asia and is actively promoting a network of women scholars involving Asia.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies is also engaged in two new projects which we expect to further enhance the ties which UBC has with respect to Asia. St. John's College is a graduate residential college currently under construction. The College is being built in memory of St. John's University, a university which operated very successfully in Shanghai until 1952 and which graduated many distinguished leaders in such fields as business, architecture, and medicine. When completed, St. John's College UBC will provide accommodation for 170 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, at least half of whom are expected to be international students, many originating in Asia. The theme of the College will be Internationalism. In recognition of this theme, the College will be expected to develop a vigorous program of seminars, workshops and other activities which focus on international relations, international trade, international legal and education issues, comparative literature, languages, global warming, etc. Given the Asian roots of the College, its location on the western edge of the campus looking out towards the Pacific and Asia and the strong connections which this campus already has with Asia, we expect that St. John's College will have a special catalytic effect on this university's future efforts in Asia.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies has also been active in the planning of the Liu Centre. This is described in greater detail elsewhere in this volume. Here it suffices to note that the Liu Centre gives UBC a further opportunity to interact with Asia in particular through a range of short courses, conferences and other internationally based activities. Some of these are bound to involve graduate students as participants. The entire campus will benefit if greater integration develops between academic teaching and research on the one hand and the need for practical training with respect to Canada's role abroad.

Asia has come to play a vital role at the University of British Columbia. The Faculty of Graduate Studies is proud to have played a major part in bringing the Choi Building into existence. In a major way, the building brings together our missions of graduate education and interdisciplinary, while enhancing our special involvement with Asia and the Faculty's interest in promoting sustainability.

First Steps, Lasting Imprints

The first IAR "Newsletter" issued by the Interim Council in June 1977 was a memo to the Members informing them about IAR-related activities. "Members" included all those with substantial research interests relating to Asia. The generic newsletter was renamed Asia Pacific Report in January 1984 (Vol. 8, No. 1), and is now on its 20th volume.

The Institute became fully operational on 1 September 1978 with the appointment of a Director. Terry McGee, a senior fellow in the Department of Human Geography, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, was selected among 20 applicants. His principal fields of research have been concerned with urbanization in Asia. He has taught at the Universities of Malaya and Hong Kong and conducted fieldwork in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Initially, McGee envisioned two major functions for the Institute:

  1. To serve as the coordinating-centre for UBC researchers working on Asia; and promote exchange of information among them through seminars, lectures and publications.
  2. To play a central role in promoting research on Asia in UBC by actively developing projects and providing an administrative umbrella for these activities.


For the academic year 1978-79, the IAR hosted a number of visiting scholars and sponsored seminars and workshops. It also organized graduate students so they could meet regularly at the IAR to discuss problems of Asian research and exchange scholarship information. It published an Institute brochure and used the newsletter to provide information on Asian research, and other Asia-related activities on and off-campus.

Coming of Age

In June 1981 the Institute moved to six offices in the Asian Centre, the Sanyo Corporation pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka which was donated to UBC. It was opened on 5 June by Prince Norihito of Japan and B.C. Premier William Bennett. The IAR shared the facility with the Asian Library and the Department of Asian Studies.

The Institute now had seven functions; it

  • coordinated and sponsored interdisciplinary research on Asia at UBC,
  • presented lectures and seminars,
  • organized international conferences,
  • hosted Asian visitors,
  • administered Pacific Affairs,
  • published its newsletter Asia Pacific Report and other publications,
  • managed the Asian Centre and
  • encouraged the wider community to use its facilities for cultural events.

Five Centres and an Institute

Ten years after its founding, a faculty committee recommended the IAR's expansion through the creation of centres within the Institute to deepen understanding of the main cultural realms of Asia. In 1991 the Institute was restructured to include the Centres for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, India and South Asia, and Southeast Asia Research.

Funding for the expansion was raised by the University's World of Opportunity Campaign launched in 1989. The campaign received more than $20 million in endowments and grants for the Institute. Donations were doubled through the Government of British Columbia and the University Matching Funds Program. The expansion enabled the Institute to appoint endowed chairs, provide graduate fellowships, sponsor faculty and student exchanges, acquire library materials and to have its own building.

After 14 years at the helm, McGee stepped down as Director of the Institute in July 1992 to devote more time to research. At a dinner honoring him, UBC President Strangway, Vice President Birch and many colleagues lauded his contribution to the development of the Institute from vision to realization. He received a fax machine from his students so he could send comments on their theses while researching his SSHRC-funded book on mega-urban regions in ASEAN. In a week, he was off to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

In Pursuit of a Policy Thrust

With the Senate's approval of the expanded Institute, a wide net was cast to find a Director. In July 1992, W. Mark Fruin was appointed to the Hongkong Bank Chair as the new Director. Fruin came to UBC from INSEAD, the European Institute of Business Administration and was a visiting professor in policy and organization at UCLA in California when recruited by UBC. His research specialization included corporate strategy and structure, corporate policy and environmental management, technology management and sustainability, and knowledge-intensive development. His countries of research were Japan, Taiwan, China, Korea, Canada and the United States.

Fruin's interest in contemporary, issue-oriented policy research was evident in four research themes that constituted the Institute's Public Policy Program:

  1. Political Economy and Organizational Innovation;
  2. Globalism, Regionalism and Localism;
  3. Science, Technology and Environment; and
  4. Policy Futures and the Asia Pacific Region.


In late 1992 the Institute's advertisements for endowed chairs on China, Japan and Korea attracted 120 applications. Kyung-Ae Park was appointed to the Korea Foundation Chair in Korean Research in July 1993. The other positions were subsequently re-advertised. In 1994 Masao Nakamura, one of Canada's leading applied econometricians, was appointed to the Konwakai Chair in Japanese Research. In 1995, Nina Halpern from Stanford University was appointed to the Prof. Louis Cha Chair in Chinese Research.

Standing Tall, Reaching High

In October 1993, Chairs and Executive Committees of the five Centres were elected. Soon each Centre had its own flourishing cultural, publication, seminar, workshop, and conference programs. By 1995, three years into restructuring, the strengths of the Institute and its constituent Centres were evident. The Institute had 285 affiliates from on and off-campus including more than 150 UBC faculty members. It had $5 million in endowments for programs and activities. It boasted a roster of 30 visiting scholars and research associates. It had launched an impressive number of weekly seminars, lectures and workshops as well as international conferences, art exhibits and cultural performances. A dozen special papers and monographs had been published and strong organizational ties had been forged with other institutions in North America, Europe and Asia. In the area of research, several initiatives and projects have resulted in more than $680,000 in research grants, contracts and awards.

Because of its affinity with the Asian community, the Institute organized an annual festival for the University and the wider community to appreciate Asian cultures. In December 1992, Christmas at the Asian Centre was celebrated with a Southeast Asian Night Market; in February 1994, the Institute joined more than 1 billion Chinese all over the world in greeting the Chinese New Year of the Dog that brought hundreds of campus and community members together at the Asian Centre; and in January 1995, jointly with Tokyu Association of Canada, the Institute welcomed the Japanese New Year with an oshogatsu festival flowing with enough sake and ozoni soup to guarantee a long and healthy life for all.

Like all major institutions in transition, there were initial difficulties in setting up the expanded Institute. But by 1995, the gracefully curving roofs of the C. K. Choi Building were reaching for the sky and the Institute was standing on solid ground. When Fruin resigned as Director in July 1995, McGee was pressed back into duty as Director and agreed to serve for one year. But with the move to the new building in February 1996 and the need to fine-tune the restructured Institute, McGee relented at the end of the first year and is now into his second.

A Building of Many Countries

The C. K. Choi Building is not a Chinese building. It was designed with an Asian feel to it but without identifying it with a particular Asian country. Many donors generously contributed to make this unique structure happen with matching funds from the Government of British Columbia. At $4.5 million for 32,000 sq. ft., its unit cost comes to $140 per sq. ft.-not a premium price to pay for a model of environmental sustainability. In the daringly innovative architecture, one sees a responsible answer to the challenges of the '90s and the possibility that others can do it, too. The C. K. Choi Building, however, is more than innovative architecture. It is a symbol of a sharing of responsibility between humans and nature and of spanning the ocean that separates the East from the West. It also reflects a new approach to research on Asia and a kinder, gentler way to impact our environment. 

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The above text is an excerpt from Design for the Next Millennium: The C.K. Choi Building for the Institute of Asian Research, edited by Eleanor R. Laquian, 1996.


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