Maram Epstein, associate professor of Chinese in the University of Oregon Department of East Asian Languages, has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend. The award will support her work on her monograph, “Orthodox Passions: Filial Piety in Eighteenth Century China.”
NEH Summer Stipends support individuals pursuing advanced research that is deemed of value to humanities scholars, general audiences, or both. Each year, the UO Office for Research & Innovation may nominate up to two tenure/tenure-related faculty members and provides a comparable summer stipend to nominees who do not receive the NEH award. Since 1980, a total of 43 University of Oregon faculty members have received NEH Summer Stipends. Epstein’s NEH Summer Stipend is the only UO award in the current cycle.
Epstein’s project, an interdisciplinary book, is among the first examinations of the changing practices and representations of filial piety in Chinese society at the verge of modernization. Filial piety was the foundation of Confucian ethics — it refers to the lifelong bond between children and their parents and includes the intimate caretaking, loyalty, and elaborate mourning rites that defined family ethics, Epstein says.
The recent resurgence of filial practices in the People’s Republic of China — including conspicuous mourning and the passing of a law mandating that adult children must visit their parents — convinced Epstein that extending her project into the modern period was worthwhile. In the past, she says, many modern scholars have taken a cynical approach to narratives of filial piety and the extraordinary sacrifices children made to benefit their parents. Some acts of filial piety seem shocking to modern readers — such as suicides to substitute a child’s life for that of a parent — but they can be understood more positively when contextualized within a discourse of love, Epstein explains. Just as contemporary U.S. culture affirms sacrifices made in the name of love (think, Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic” or organ transplants made by a parent for a sick child), Epstein’s book argues that China’s filial children were similarly motivated by powerful feelings of love.
NEH Summer Stipends support articles, monographs, books, digital materials, archaeological site reports, translations, editions, or other continuous full-time work by individual scholars on humanities projects at any stage of development for a period of two consecutive months. The UO averages more than one award per year. Since 1980, the UO has received more than $174,000 in NEH Summer Stipend awards, primarily from the Departments of history, English and Romance Languages.