I Gave my Dreams to Liangshan The Yi People in the Chinese Literary Imagination

Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research

2019 Upper Division Winner: James Kennerly

James Kennerly began with the ultimate challenge: conduct ethnographic research involving no human interaction. Instead, Kennerly made the Library his field site. His paper explores the concept of othering through language and art — focusing on how the ruling Han Chinese depicted the Yi minority of Liangshan as second-class citizens lacking Confucian ideals. For the project, titled “I Gave my Dreams to Liangshan:” The Yi People in the Chinese Literary Imagination, Kennerly dove into the C. V. Starr East Asian Library’s collections, reviewing 16th-century Chinese woodcuts, propaganda comic books and more, reflecting that “the project taught me how to build a personal connection to the archive.”

James's field notes were a kaleidoscopic text in multiple ink colors (with a key to decode the meaning of each), in which direct quotes from Chinese texts ranging from the 5th century to Chinese social scientific writings from the 1950s, up to the present were flanked by his own comments, questions for further study, and reflections added at different times, throughout the term. Not only did his fieldnotes show that he read widely in the scholarly archive, and in the class syllabus, but they also showed that he thoughtfully returned over and over again to those works, as his knowledge on the subject matter grew, making lateral connections among earlier readings and newer material, all along deepening his understanding of the texts used in his research.

– Mariane Ferme, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

From James Kennerly's Reflection Paper

I am interested in the process of constructing an Other through words and pictures...Where does the power of stories about the Other come from, and what need do they fulfill for those telling them? How are ideologies of time and history employed in this effort? And what role does the Other play in debates on ethics and morality? I focused on depictions of one area in the Southwest of China—around present-day Liangshan Prefecture in Sichuan Province. The people who live there are now referred to as the Yi but have been known by many other names throughout history.


Thank you to James Kennerly for sharing his work and photographs, faculty advisor Mariane Ferme, Jianye He for sourcing exhibit materials, Aisha Hamilton for exhibit curation and guidance, Matt Faytak for translation work, Gisèle Tanasse and Nicole Brown from the Library Prize Committee for their feedback and support.

-Natalia Estrada and Kiyoko Shiosaki, Library Prize Committee

About the Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research

The Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize attracts the very best undergraduate papers from courses taught in departments across the campus. It recognizes excellence in undergraduate research projects that show evidence of significant inquiry using the library, its resources, and collections; learning about the research and information-gathering process itself.

The 2020 Library Prize winners video