Congratulating the Winners of the WEAI 75th Anniversary Student Award for Excellence

Congratulations to the talented students who were selected for the Weatherhead East Asian Institute 75th Anniversary Student Award for Excellence! Winners of the Award receive $5,000 for their outstanding research and academic performance in fields related to the regions of East, Southeast and Inner Asia. The awardees are as follows:


CAIXIA MAO is a PhD student in Urban Planning at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Mao’s research explores the techno-politics of how the Indonesian state uses foreign capital from China and Japan to support its large-scale infrastructure ambitions. Her focus on the intersection of domestic Indonesian politics and donor-recipient relations between China-Indonesia and Japan-Indonesia provides policymakers with critical analysis to understand the stakes of different actors in infrastructure development.

Prior to starting her PhD, Mao worked in environmental policymaking. At the Institute for Global Environmental Strategy in Japan, she managed an EU-funded SWITCH-Asia project that assisted Southeast Asian countries in developing policies related to sustainable consumption and production. In Vietnam, she led a team of experts to develop the Vietnam National Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production. She also worked at the United Nations Centre for Regional Development with the governments of Australia, Lao PDR, Maldives, and Nepal to facilitate political dialogues on circular economy and sustainable transportation in Regional 3R Forum in Asia and the Pacific, and Intergovernmental Regional Environmental Sustainable Transport Forum in Asia.


KAITLIN HAO is an MA student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Her current research concerns transnational, translingual and grassroots media practices of the huaqiao or overseas Chinese communities in the US from the 1960s to the early 1990s, including how these media cultures are related to vibrant Sinophone media networks that spanned the Asia Pacific. 

For her Master’s thesis, Hao is studying the media cultures of female workers in the Chinese immigrant-run garment industry in the US, in particular the exploitation of Chinese immigrant labor in the US garment industry in the 1980s. This project traces the “voices” of subaltern huaqiao subjects by studying their mass media consumption as a unique form of grassroots ingenuity.

In summer 2023, with fellowship support from the WEAI, Hao traveled to Taiwan to study how Chinese spirituality and Taiwanese religious traditions have shaped the Cold War-era singer Teresa Teng’s legacy. Hao has shared her research in short-film format on social media platforms, where she has amassed over 16 million views.


TENZIN (TENDOR) DORJEE is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science, a Charlotte Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow with the Institute for Citizens and Scholars (2023-2024), and the Inaugural Stephanie G. Neuman Fellow with the Saltzman Institute (2021-2022). Born and raised as a Tibetan refugee in India, he immigrated to the United States as a college student and has since worked as a transnational campaigner and grassroots organizer for human rights. 

Dorjee’s current research focuses on the dynamics of tactical variation in civil resistance and the ambiguous role of religion in driving and de-escalating ethnic conflict. His dissertation, titled “Religious Routes to Conflict Mitigation: Buddhism, Nationalism and Radicalization in the Sino-Tibetan Conflict,” studies driving factors behind the wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests between 2009 and 2018. 

Dorjee has testified before the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament on issues ranging from transnational repression to China’s education policies for ethnic minorities, and has published extensively, in academic as well as policy journals, on China’s state-run boarding schools in Tibet. 


XUEXIN CAI is a PhD student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures whose research interests lie at the intersection of environmental humanities, borderlands studies, and the history of science and technology. Cai’s dissertation, “Between Wasteland and Wilderness: Rubber, Nature, and the Making of Tropical China, 1945-1998,” traces two intertwined historical processes: one, the making of southern Yunnan into China’s archetypal tropical region and two, China’s transformation into a state with serious commitment to environmentally sustainable development. 

With an interdisciplinary approach informed by archival research, ethnographic fieldwork, and critical use of scientific studies and digital geospatial mapping, Cai’s project focuses on China’s coterminous establishment of rubber farms and nature reserves in southern Yunnan, one of the world’s most biologically and culturally diverse regions. By studying the biophysical, socioeconomic, and discursive transformation of southern Yunnan from a remote borderland into the center of China’s tropical sciences and agriculture, the project brings together key concerns in interdisciplinary fields and is an effort to imagine a more socially just and environmentally sustainable future for communities in Yunnan and beyond.


SAM ANGELL is a student in the Master of Arts in Regional Studies: East Asia (MARSEA) program and a graduate of Columbia College in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. His Master’s thesis, “Paper Tigers and Brotherly Comrades: Chinese Media and the Vietnam War,” argues for the mobilizing ability of Chinese propaganda during the Vietnam War and highlights how Chinese state-sponsored media helped shape the notion of the “global Cold War.” The project analyzes Chinese poster propaganda from the 1960s and early 1970s to highlight its ideological messaging and underscore its motivational effect on the Chinese population.

Angell has worked as a research assistant for Professor Lien-Hang T. Nguyen’s upcoming book on the Tet Offensive and its aftermath, focusing on illegal communications between Richard Nixon and the South Vietnamese government during the 1968 presidential election. He has also worked for WEAI Artist in Residence 

Tony Bui on his upcoming film about the history of napalm and its employment in Japan and Vietnam. Following graduation, Angell plans to work as a foreign military analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency.


ISABELLA MAGANDA GARCIA BERNSTEIN is a Filipino-American undergraduate student at Barnard College studying historical and literary representations of the Philippine landscape as an exoticized Asian tropical fantasy and anthropomorphized racial commodity. With a focus on late 19th to the mid-20th centuries, their research analyzes works by Philippine and Spanish politicians, journalists, and authors in the contexts of the Spanish-American War (1898), the Tagalog Insurgency (1899-1902), and the American colonial period (1898-1946). 

Garcia Bernstein’s research interests developed through fellowships with the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Program and Barnard College’s Director’s Cohort. They founded a digital humanities project titled The Paglaban Pilipino Literature Project, a website containing open-access literature curricula in English, Spanish, Tagalog, and other Filipino languages that explore various facets of Philippine identity in the face of empire. 

Garcia Bernstein currently works as an editorial assistant for Professors Ana Paulina Lee and Anupama Rao on a collection of papers exploring the ongoing impact of the Luso-Hispanic “moment” in shaping identities, social distinction, commercial capitalism, as well as aesthetic production and performance during Spanish and Portuguese colonial expansion.


KANAKO TAJIMA is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. Her working dissertation, “Between Tokyo, California, and New York: Feminist Transnational Art Practice by Women Artists from Japan in the 1970s-1980s,” reveals the dialogue between Japanese women’s art practice and the history of feminist activism within the framework of transnational artistic exchange. 

The project aims to intervene in the narrative of the 1970s Japanese art that has largely dismissed the intercultural feminist current, including Ūman Ribu, the 1970s Japanese Women’s Liberation Movement, and the Feminist Art Movement in the US. Her subjects include avant-garde artists from Japan, such as Mako Idemitsu, Shigeko Kubota, and Kazuko Miyamoto, who worked in the US during the 1970s. 

Tajima’s goal as a scholar of Japanese art history is to develop an expansive and nuanced understanding of the underexplored aspects of the artistic relationship between Japanese and American modern art.


February 07, 2024