Wena Teng

Student, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

About Wena Teng

Wena Teng is a rising sophomore at Columbia University studying History and Computer Science. This summer, she is working with Professor Dorothy Ko on a comparative study of US and China's public dissent: particularly its contingency on historical movements, public policy, and art. Her independent research project focuses on how late-Qing women writers in China utilized literature and performance as interventions and how that influences contemporary dissent.

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Computer Science Diversity and Inclusion Law Politics

Research Topic

History Law Politics

Laidlaw Cohort Year

2022

University

Columbia University

I am from:

United States of America

I speak:

English Mandarin

My hobbies/interests are:

Dance Ice skating Nature & environment Reading Video/filmmaking

I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes

Yes

Influencer Of

Topics

Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jun 24, 2022
  • What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

Pedagogy -  Researching Imperial China has forced me to remove my Eurocentric and Western approaches and methodology; for example, an argument I hope to push is that despite a Confucian family-state paradigm, the "victimized Chinese women" trope is one that masks the heterogeneity presented in  As Dorothy Ko writes, "although women [of Imperial China] could not rewrite the rules that structured their lives, they were extremely creative in crafting a space from within the prevailing gender system that gave them meaning, solace, and dignity." These spaces stemmed from their inner chambers, where with the emphasis on somatic individualism, they used their bodies and minds as instruments of intervention; I hope to connect this, hidden yet powerful, history of Qing women poets/writers to contemporary activists who also use their bodies as instruments of protest, given China's specific public policy. Being able to understand that "Late Qing reforms were far more than a simple and straightforward cultural conflict between Chinese 'tradition' and western-style 'modernity," has also allowed me to dismantle distorting binary lenses. Viewing history from a revisionist perspective redefines contemporary activism and public dissent.

Accessibility - Navigating databases on Chinese public policy and legislation has been very difficult, especially when the original sources are not very accessible. In addition, I intended to analyze and organize my data using data science, but I am not sure how feasible it would be considering the short time of the program and the scope of my research that attempted Chinese legislation is characterized by legal jargon, as the poetry of Qing-Ch'ing and Late Qing women is characterized by "Old Chinese" and specific references to classical Chinese literature. Nevertheless, it was been an exciting process. 

  • What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

Resources like JSTOR, the bibilography of publications, and WorldCat. Yet, while the archives, published work, and databases have been helpful for providing me with preliminary knowledge, the most substantial resources have been the networks I was able to surround myself with to improve my research. Professor Ko recommended countless papers, books, and journals, and answers all of my questions. She provided follow-ups with every connection I made, every contradiction that confused me, and every audacious claim I wanted to make. Her warmth, care, and expertise gifted me a space to be a critical historian, simultaneously reminding me to remove my Eurocentric views of Imperial China while guiding me to create my own conclusions and great conversations of joy/laughter. My graduate mentor Miguel has also been great with engaging in conversation with us on the ethics of research, translation, language, and media. With the guidance of Miguel, my research cohort and I also explored intersections of all of our interests, allowing me to realize how seemingly niche projects are so interdisciplinary; for example, recently, we had a stunning conversation about the ethics of translation, in relation to the Chinese room/natural language processing. Beyond activist literati, through trips to helpful resources like the Interference Archive, my research cohort and I are able to converse about research beyond the bounds of academia. 

Jun 24, 2022
Replying to Fatima Ahmad
  • What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

The biggest challenge I faced was that of specificity. Manto's literature is endless and what can be sought from his Partition stories is immeasurable. To narrow this down became difficult because along the journey of initially looking at what we can learn about the Partition from his literature, I began to criticize his works and writing, comparing the story of "Noor Jehan" in particular and the representation of women to his stories of Partition and how women were described differently then. As I approached my fourth week of research, I took a step back to analyze my methodology and what I had learned thus far. Shortly after, I came to the realization that in these past few weeks, I was engaging in an internal dialogue of sorts, a seminar that kept going and going with each new piece I read. My initial purpose for studying Manto was to showcase the importance of literature, and as I sat thinking about the past few weeks, I understood this point myself: the engaging of various texts, connecting ideas, criticizing whilst also appreciating, all of this his literature allowed me to do, and what the history of Partition could not- the humanizing of experiences. As such, my research took a drastic turn in these last 2 weeks. I began to look at my research on Manto as a case study of sorts in the larger question of how Pakistan's education system can be reformed, particularly in the way literature is taught and the types of literature schools choose to engage in. I have taken a look at the Single National Curriculum, still being developed by the government. It is my hope to continue doing research on education reform and its implications on Pakistani students to highlight my own research done on Manto and propose the benefits of engaging with, not only Manto's texts, but with a diverse array of literature which could allow students to have meaningful discussions, question specific ideas they hold, and progress as future leaders of a nation. I will also have the chance in the following week to interview the Minister of Federal Education, Shafqat Mahmood. I am skewing this research to moreso result in a newspaper/magazine article rather than a journal article. 

  • What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

When first researching Manto, the stacks and Butler library were very helpful. As I began to narrow my topic, my graduate peer mentor was insanely helpful in making me think about what I am researching and how I can be more specific. She was also extremely encouraging and went above and beyond with also providing me with resources when my librarian was out for the summer. As I transitioned to the educational end of my research, CLIO and any other online database access has been great to read up on what reforms need to take place and what has already been done. 

Fatima! Seeing how your project has shifted as you dived more into the world of Manto reminds me how applicable so much of our research can be. You narrowed your project from a broad interest and goal of proving the importance of literature but are now using that preliminary research to engage with the Single National Curriculum and literature in classroom settings. Being able to turn an abstract research question into something more concrete and attainable is very exciting -- best of luck with your interview!

Jun 18, 2022
  • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

- Curating an online exhibit that would include a few interviews for oral history, photographs of contemporary Chinese feminists' protest performances, Xue Shao Hui's (and other Ming-Qing writers') work, and possibly my own writing. I am not sure whether to contact an archive to house the exhibition or create my own website. If I decide on the latter, I would also be able to intersect my interests in Computer Science to present my work. Hopefully, next summer or during the school year, I can focus on the comparative aspect of my research by focusing on American public opinion/dissent.

  • Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

   Researching how the US and China's public dissent differs -- based on historical movements and public policy -- from a unique position as a Chinese American allows me to contribute to the discourse on the US-China relationship. Much of current scholarship views the relationship through a binary, without considering the nuances of both countries' politics and history. I hope to use my positionality to add new insights to the discourse, starting with the knowledge that women during Imperial China (like Xue Shao Hui) built intellectual and emotional communities of intervention through their own specific perceptions of the arts. Then, seeing how these historical movements reflect much of contemporary China’s activism would provide foundational resources to engage the global community: allowing a redefinition of public dissent, especially through using art, performance, and bodies as instruments of protest. 

Jun 18, 2022
Replying to Asher Baron
  • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

I think that I will be writing some sort of comparative study between the two organizations that my professor has had me research. This will likely take the form of a short paper or article that I'll (hopefully) submit to be published somewhere. This will allow me to fully engage with each of the pieces of writing for the organizations individually, and then see how they sit more broadly when placed in conversation with one another. I was assigned to organizations randomly, and it ended up that both of them are based in Baltimore. By writing a comparative study, I hope to see what has been most and least effective among harm reduction organizing in Baltimore.

Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

My faculty mentor's project is set up such that I am on a team of five researchers who are each assigned to write entries that will all eventually be posted on an Omeka website. This website will have an intended audience of people already working in the harm reduction field, who so far have no singular place to see the gathered work of all harm reduction organizations. So my research will contribute to educating those already in the field, so they can have a better historical context for their work and ideally serve their populations more effectively. I am interested in this project because harm reduction touches so many interesting topics -- the carceral state, prison abolition, drug policy, sex work, gender and criminalization, HIV/AIDS, and more. By writing these entries for the eventual website, I am learning more about each of these connections within harm reduction. 

Asher, it's great to hear that you will be contributing to an existing database that would be used to continue the work in the field of harm reduction. One of the main challenges I have right now is deciding how novel or substantial my research would be in my field -- especially since it is a very niche research question. Your response made me realize that even if I don't reach a trailblazing conclusion, it will still provide some insightful historical context and ligation knowledge. 

Jun 10, 2022
  • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

      Although most of my family members are from China, as a Chinese American, I can still embody specific practices and beliefs a non-Chinese identifying researcher holds. When doing research and navigating "old Chinese" or legal jargon in Chinese, I find myself reconciling tensions by filling in gaps with previous knowledge or beliefs: one cultivated by years of American pedagogy. In regards to positionality, how much space do I, a Chinese American, possess when researching a place I have only known and experienced from a distance? I have only experienced living in China as a toddler, but have never experienced Chinese schooling or lived there during my formative years. So, when reading about policy in China, I remind myself to be critical of not only the language presented but also the response of the American and Chinese media, and how/why they may differ. I hope to continue encouraging myself, and others, on the importance of speaking and listening to Chinese citizens first before villainizing China: often seen through American media and academia. This notion, of being an analytic listener, also applies to understanding American public dissent.  In the next two weeks, I hope to do this by interviewing groups like the Feminist Five. 

  • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

        Both my faculty advisor and graduate student mentor offer insightful resources and alternatives to researching China, reminding me to understand all of the complexities of its government and people. For example, one of Professor Dorthy Ko's research is about foot binding during the Qing Dynasty. Rather than exploring foot binding through the conventional perceptions of the west, she argues that foot binding is a conversation with nuance: it can be seen as a reminder of patriarchy but was also a symbol of class status. My graduate mentor advised me to do this I hope to use the same methodology to unlearn certain conceptions about China from my US education while being critical of it. My graduate student mentor advised me to do this by deviating away from academic papers but to continue exploring newspapers, blogs, and journals as primary sources, but also being wary of state-ran or endorsed media. 

Jun 10, 2022
Replying to Peter McMaster
  • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

The only real ethical issue I've had to handle thus far has been remaining committed to honesty and scientific integrity. It can be challenging to avoid cherry-picking data that agrees with your point-of-view or refrain from glossing over any inconsistencies that might pose complications. Realistically, I haven't had any real trouble with this, but it's important to keep in mind. 

  • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

Looking at things from a new perspective can be useful; this week I found that there is an alternative data set that may be more fruitful to explore, so a decision must be made about whether to continue mining a familiar source that is unlikely to have a major discovery within it, or to transition to an entirely new set of data that may or may not be useful. 

Similarly, there is a tension in humanities research of spotlighting information and theories that reinforce pre-existing notions. Being able to look at several databases and archives is important to exploring the same hypothesis, idea, event, policy, but in different ways.

Jun 02, 2022
Replying to Dave Banerjee
  • Last week the trainings and discussions we had cut across the disciplines. How does the interdisciplinary nature of this program, the fact that students are focusing on such a diverse range of projects, help you think about your project and/or your academic interests more broadly?

In today's world, there is no longer a such thing as a single discipline. All fields are deeply interconnected, adn thus, it is necessary that we approach academic work from an interdisciplinary lens. The interdisciplinary nature of this program is great because it can sometimes be easy to get laser focused on what you're researching and forget that there are other opportunities out there. Also, we can learn a lot from other people working in different fields. For example, the way a mathematician may approach a problem might be very different from how a physicist or a poet may approach that same problem. But these different approaches can all be useful. This is why collaboration between fields is so key. As of right now, my interests lie in physics, philosophy, and art history. I think the Laidlaw program has helped me gain insight into what researchers in non-physics field actually do. The Laidlaw experience has definitely broadened my perspective on different fields, and I can't wait to learn even more from my peers!

  • As you begin your individual research projects this week, do you anticipate any challenges in getting started? If so, what are they?

A big challenge I've faced has been the incomprehensibility of scientific papers. Some papers are just so confusing that it sometimes feels like a waste of time trying to parse through the information. The experience is frustrating, but I'm hopeful that in the future, as I continue to conduct research, the process of reading scientific papers will get easier and easier with more and more practice.

Dave! Like you, I am very excited to explore the intersections of my interests. For example, poetry has always fascinated me, and I read some pieces in the past about the relations between poetry and physics: two fields perceived to be very different. Similarly, I am sure there are many ways in which physics, philosophy, and art history are interconnected. Reading through papers densely populated with scientific jargon is definitely difficult and draining; I would recommend for you look into tools/chrome add-ons that highlight specific information or are helpful for note-taking. 

Jun 02, 2022
  • Last week the trainings and discussions we had cut across the disciplines. How does the interdisciplinary nature of this program, the fact that students are focusing on such a diverse range of projects, help you think about your project and/or your academic interests more broadly?

      For my specific research project, I am focusing on the humanities/social science: history, the law, and politics. In academia, the forms of humanities research are traditionally going through documents, living in the archives, and, ultimately, synthesizing the information into a paper.

However, being in conversation with our multiplicity cohort, characterized by several disciplines, has allowed me to understand how interconnected our research and passions are. It has also provided new insights into the potential of intersecting different aspects of my interests and navigating my research through a multimodal approach. 

For example, through conversation with my cohort, I'm inclined to see how my research can intersect with another field I am interested in such as Computer Science. Discussing research projects such as using computer models to interpret, analyze, and organize legal cases has inspired me to look into similar ways of intersecting STEM and the humanities.

  • As you begin your individual research projects this week, do you anticipate any challenges in getting started? If so, what are they?

I have started to read papers, explore historical documents, and skim through public policy, but I am having trouble navigating between Chinese and English. Although I am well-versed in Chinese (debatable), it is harder to navigate "old Chinese." So, I am only trying to read and take notes on papers that would substantially contribute to my research. My amazing graduate mentor, Miguel, recommended I locate vectors of analysis in my project, so focusing on keywords like "gender," "performance," "bodies," and "the law" has been helping. 

I'm excited to dive more into the archives next week, especially locating a copy of Xue Shaohui’s Daiyunlou Wenji!