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Charles Center summer grant recipient studies Chinese Tang Dynasty

In the summer of 2021, the Charles Center provided Collin Absher (‘24) with an opportunity for intellectual growth as well as a home at William & Mary for the summer. Absher was awarded a Charles Center summer research grant which he allocated toward his study of Chinese poetry from the Tang dynastic period in China.

He used content analysis – noting which Chinese characters appeared most a often in the Quan Tangshi poetry collection – to study the themes of alcohol and tea in general, and their relative importance to each other. Religious context was also key to his analysis: threads of Daoism, Chan Buddhism, and Confucianism are woven throughout the collection.
Collin Absher '24
“The Tang Dynasty,” which lasted from 618 to 907, “is widely known as the Golden Age of Classical Chinese poetry,”Absher explained.

Alcohol was the most popular drink at the time, but it was looked down on by Chan Buddhists. This is likely the reason for Absher’s findings. Originally, tea was spoken about more often than alcohol. Over the course of the period, however, alcohol began to dominate. Absher found it was mentioned on average ten times more than tea.

Despite alcohol’s greater relative importance and bad reputation among Chan Buddhists, Absher’s analysis revealed that poets looked to tea for connection and relationship-building. In addition, tea was closely associated with the environment.

Absher’s reasoning for the research project was two-fold. “I plan on going to China this summer and I think having knowledge of ancient Chinese poetry will make it easier to converse with native Chinese speakers. Poetry is such a deep facet of Chinese dramas and even Korean dramas.” Absher noticed Squid Game, the popular Korean TV series, quoted a Chinese poem in one of its episodes.

Absher chose to do this research for more practical reasons, too. “I’m low income, so I needed funding to stay on campus.The Charles Center grant really helped me financially,” he explained. 

Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies Paul Vierthaler mentored Absher as he conducted his research. While Absher found the work interesting and enjoyed the process of choosing poems, time-management could be challenging.

“At the time I was also for some reason in four [summer school] classes, so time management was definitely difficult. I had a deadline for the end of August, and my classes ended maybe the week before I started writing the paper. It was just kinda like a sprint to the finish.”

Absher wrote the draft of his final research paper in just one week. He and Vierthaler are now in the process of revising it for publication.

Absher describes his summer research with the Charles Center Summer Research Grant as a win-win situation. His more than 300 hours of research went smoothly, despite simultaneously juggling coursework needed to graduate. Most importantly, he was able to further explore Chinese literature and to stay on campus over the summer break when traveling home was not ideal.