John C. Young (JCY) Scholar Genda Zhao ’17 dug deep into his own culture during his yearlong project titled “Ethnographic Investigation on the Manchu Ethnic Minority in the Age of Growing Urbanization in China.”
This topic is something Zhao has been interested in since he was a teenager, as he comes from a line of Manchu’s on his father’s side of the family.
“I’ve been noticing the phenomena that the Manchu culture is getting less visible throughout the years, so that’s what sparked my interest in this research,” Zhao said.
His goal was to discover why that is and what it means to be a Manchu in today’s world.
Zhao started his project in 2015 when he presented it as a proposal at the Kentucky Annual Sociology Conference, and ever since, he has worked with Assistant Professor of Sociology Kaelyn Wiles on research for the project.
“I have enjoyed working with Genda, particularly because I have learned a lot from him about the ways that race and ethnicity function differently in China and the U.S.,” Wiles said. “Genda is a skilled researcher and has done a wonderful job of revealing the ways that ethnicity functions for the Manchu in China.”
Zhao expressed how, throughout the course of his research, he has learned a variety of things about his own culture.
“I think in terms of research findings, I’ve learned that the Manchu culture is facing a really unique situation at this point, and this phenomenon is the result of many different factors—historical, economic and political,” he said.
Besides gaining a greater knowledge of his cultural background, he’s personally learned a great deal about the research process.
“In terms of personal growth, I think I learned a lot about the research method and how to conduct interviews, how to collect data and how to analyze data, and now I think I’m more comfortable with sociological research in general,” he continued.
Zhao explained that his biggest takeaway from this project is how an individual has two different identities: virtual and nominal.
“A lot of times when we are claiming we are someone and actually our virtual identity says something else,” Zhao explained.
“There’s a discrepancy between these two identities, and that’s what I think is causing the problem with the Manchu identity right now.”
Zhao continued by saying there may be similar findings in other minority cultures, and how there could be more for sociologists to dig into in the future.
A challenge Zhao faced during his project was the limitation of time. He didn’t expect it to be as intense and time consuming as it was.
“Two semesters is not enough time to conduct research as big as this, so in the future, I would like to continue this work if I have the opportunity,” he said.
“This project was a great opportunity for me to learn about myself and my own culture identity. I find it helpful to find out who I am and what my culture is supposed to be versus what it is now,” he concluded.
As a Centre graduate, Zhao plans to gain a year of work experience before attending graduate school.
by Kerry Steinhofer
May 23, 2017