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Explore History: Objects from Asia

Discover history and culture through objects from Asia! This a corner exhibition curated by faculty members, students, and community members to share their unique culture and heritage.

Display your own cultural heritage or personal experience in this collaborative crowd-sourced exhibition! With contributions from students, faculty, and community members, we explore Asian histories, cultures, and experiences through everyday objects. A piece of crockery might teach us about a region's culinary culture or about a family's (im)migration; a cherished doll or figurine might teach us about international styles of dress or about childhood experience; a mass-produced souvenir might teach us about a shifting economy or a life-changing holiday. * Explore History: Objects from Asia is made possible thanks to the support of the Presidential Mini-Grant for Diversity Initiatives. 

Selected objects are on view both at the Charles B. Wang Center and website.
Please visit the Charles B. Wang Center to see the actual objects!

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Do you have an object that should be a part of this exhibition? Please see the Explore History Call for Proposals and Preliminary Submission Form for details about how to make your contribution!

 

Object for the Month of May 2016 
Shaoxing: Daughter's Wine

May Photo

 

Around 1000 years ago, during the Song Dynasty, there lived in Shaoxing a hardworking and talented tailor. Following his marriage he eagerly anticipated being blessed with the birth of a son. It happened that just around the time of the fall harvest when he was working in his shop in town, the tailor received the news that his wife was pregnant. The excited tailer hurried back to his home village and asked the village winemaker to make several big jars of wine for him to be served at the one month old celebration of the birth of the son that he expected.

The following spring, contrary to the tailor's expectation, his wife gave birth to a girl. The tailor, who like most people back then believed that sons were essential to the family and that daughters were of little value, was extremely upset. In his anger he decided not to hold a party for his daughter, and instead he took the jars of new wine and buried them all in his backyard under a sweet-scented osmanthus tree and he forgot about them.

Time flew by, and before the tailor knew it, his daughter was a teenager. Clever and quick-witted by nature, she was not only beautiful but also very talented—she learned all the sewing techniques from her father as well as embroidery techniques, which caused the tailor's business to boom. The tailor came to realize that having a daughter wasn't so bad after all. He cleverly arranged to keep the business in the family. Instead of marrying off his daughter to another family, he planned to marry his daughter to his best apprentice on the condition that his apprentice would take the tailor's family name.

Because the coming wedding was going to be an especially joyous occasion for the family, the tailor decided to hold a big wedding banquet. At the banquet, while everyone was celebrating, the tailor discovered that he had run out of wine. In desperation, the tailor remembered the wine that he had buried under the osmanthus tree. Although he wasn't sure if the one would be any good after nearly twenty years, he feared that his guests would judge him to be a poor host if he ran out of wine, and so he hurriedly dug up the jars.

When he opened the first jar, a sweet fragrance immediately filled the banquet hall. After tasting the wine, all the tailor's guests concluded that this was the best Shaoxing wine they had ever tasted. Once this story got out, people from all over Shaoxing adopted the custom of using aged wine, believing that nearly twenty year old wine was much better tasting than new wine. Thus, "daughter's wine" was born. Since then Shaoxing wine has long been a source of both national fame and of local pride in the Shaoxing region of Zhejiang Province in eastern China.

Retold by Yuanzi Liu to Professor Peggy Christoff, Asian and Asian American Studies at SBU

Object for the Month of April 2016 
Dorothy Yasuoka's Experience: WWII Japanese Internment Camp, 1944

April Photo

 

This letter from the Long Island Museum’s collection, dated March 22, 1944, was written to Sarah Fisher Mount (1887-1945) by Japanese American neighbor and family friend, Dorothy Yasuoka (1917-2000). Dorothy sent it after being relocated from San Francisco to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Delta, Utah, during World War II.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 forced the United States to enter World War II. An immediate increase in anti-Japanese discrimination culminated in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, calling for the exclusion and relocation of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Dorothy was one of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment, and was sent with her mother to the Topaz Center in the Utah Desert.

Despite the hardships she endured, Dorothy’s letters convey a sense of normalcy in a very difficult situation. Maintaining a positive outlook, Dorothy wrote about the weather, the clothes she made, and work. Day-to-day living motivated her to keep going. She was always thankful for Sarah’s letters which contained news from home, and occasionally, candy.

Dorothy describes one poignant event in this letter. She witnessed two of her friends, the Kumagi sisters, reuniting with their father who had been interned at another camp, in New Mexico. No words were spoken. The father and his daughters ran to one another and embraced, weeping.

Dorothy and Sarah maintained their friendship throughout Dorothy’s internment, keeping up a steady correspondence. Unfortunately, they never saw one another in person again. Sarah passed away January 22nd, 1945, in San Francisco, several months before Dorothy’s release from Topaz on September 15th, 1945. After her release, Dorothy resided in Japan for several years. She returned to San Francisco in 1952, remaining there until her death in 2000.

Andrea Abrahamsen, Curatorial Assistant, The Long Island Museum

Object for the Month of March 2016 
Three Birth Spirits from Korea

mar photo

 

The three deities in the painting represent a conflation of Buddhist belief and popular secular belief in Korea. Portrayed in Buddhist dress, they are known as sambul (the three Buddhas), but they are also known to be samshin halmŏni (Birth Spirits) to whom women pray for the conception of a son, a safe delivery and a healthy infant. The Birth Spirits, also known as the Granny Samshin, are venerated in the inner room of the home. In traditional Korean practice, the Granny Samshin received special offerings for 21 days after the birth of a child.

The three figures in the painting wear costumes used in Buddhist liturgical dancing: white robes, peak hoods and red capes. Shamans wear these same robes and hoods when they manifest the Granny Samshin and other spirits associated with Buddhism during shamanistic rituals. These three goddesses descend from the heavens onto high mountains, and like monks who live pure lives in mountain monasteries, they receive only vegetarian offerings. The top figure holds a lotus, the one on the left a gong, and the one on the right a bowl of rice - all objects that figure prominently in a shaman's shrine.

The lotus is is an important Buddhist symbol because its beautiful flower grows out of pond muck. It signifies the possibility of salvation despite its existence amid the surrounding muck of the world, and it prefigures rebirth on a lotus in Buddhist paradise. The gong is used both in Buddhist and in shamanistic rituals. In some evocations of Buddhist inspired spirits, the shaman strikes a gong just as a monk does during certain Buddhist observances. The gong accompanies the drum during the shamanic ritual in order to inspire the lively dancing that draws down the spirits. In their traditional practice of wet rice agriculture Koreans have valued rice grains as symbols of fertility and abundance—the womb, the fields and more generally, wealth. Rice grains are an important element in shamanic rituals. A jar or a gourd filled with rice grains is a traditional offering for the Granny Samshin, serving as a symbol of a fertile womb and a prosperous household.

Jinyoung Jin, Director of Cultural Programs, The Charles B. Wang Center

Object for the Month of February 2016 | Long-Term Installation
Mitsuko's Garden: A Bit of Kyoto in Stony Brook

feb photo

 

In 1971, Sociology Professor O. Andrew Collver began building a Japanese garden for his wife Mitsuko in their back yard near the SBU campus. By that time, besides the new custom-built house, she had two talented daughters, an MA degree from the University of Michigan, a professional position in the SBU Library and even Japanese groceries from Flushing. It was the American dream come true, but all this was not enough to end her yearning for Japan and the Watanabe family in Kyoto.

Kyoto was where Andy had discovered her working in an antique store in 1953. He offered to write to her from Korea, where he was stationed with the U.S. Army. Thus began a penpals romance that eventually brought the two together at the University of Oregon in 1955. There she became known as Mitsi and began adjusting to life in America.

As the garden gradually took shape over the years, her homesickness subsided. A little bit of home had come to her. Andy still tends the garden although Mitsi’s life ended in April 2013. It is there that he feels closest to her.

Andrew Collver, Emeritus Associate Professor of Sociology

 

Past Explore History: Objects from Asia Exhibitions

Please visit here to view the past programs.

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Charles B. Wang Center

Stony Brook University
100 Nicolls Road
Stony Brook, NY 11794-4040

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