Mission and History


The Department of Transnational Asian Studies focuses on transnational, transhistorical, and global movements or flows of peoples, ideas, practices, and cultures of Asia, including the Asian and Asian American populations of Houston and beyond. It re-imagines Asian Studies not as a collection of bordered nation-states, but as a series of global flows, influences, migrations, trade, and political formations over history, from the ancient world to the contemporary period. The Department is interdisciplinary and employs the full range of methods and tools of the humanities and social sciences. It is the home for a B.A. in Asian Studies and offers a full curriculum of courses dedicated to Asian topics. The Department also houses the Rice Asian Studies Organization, which is an undergraduate organization for Asian Studies majors with a robust activity range, including the publication of an undergraduate journal, Rice Asian Studies Review.

The Department works in close collaboration with the Chao Center for Asian Studies, which functions as the premier research hub for Rice faculty and postdoctoral fellows and publishes a twice-yearly online journal, Transnational Asia. The Chao Center was founded with a generous gift from the T. T. and W. F. Chao Family Foundation in 2008 and has been awarded grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Academy of Korean Studies.


To support the Department, please see our giving page.


In 1988, Richard Smith, now George and Nancy Rupp Professor Emeritus of Humanities, established Rice University's Asian Studies program and Asian Studies major. During its thirty-year history as an undergraduate major, the Asian Studies program was supported by the enthusiastic participation of Rice faculty and also by grants from various foundations such as the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation. In the mid-2000s working closely with Steven Lewis, C.V. Starr Transnational China Fellow and Professor in the Practice in Asian Studies, Smith proposed the establishment of a transnationally oriented Center for Asian Studies. The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation generously endowed the Center in 2008, enabling the establishment of the Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University, which took over management of the Asian Studies major. Due to the success of the Asian Studies degree program, the Department of Transnational Asian Studies was established in 2020.