The Tao of Being a Department Chair
Dominic Cheung brings an international understanding to his role as chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.

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WHEN YOU ASK most new chairs about their dreams for their department, they talk of goals they want to achieve.
But ask Dominic Cheung about his dreams for the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and he gives you a quick lesson in Taoist philosophy.
“Dreams are about the unreality rather than the reality,” says Cheung, who has a joint appointment in Chinese and comparative literature and became EALC chair this fall. “When I talk of the dream, it is as if the dream is the goal itself. But, really, going through the dream is the meaning of life, more than the realization of the dream.”

A POET, SCHOLAR, TEACHER and now administrator, Cheung is a self-described Renaissance man who has written or translated 32 books, mostly of Chinese poetry and literary criticism. One of the best-known poets in his native China, Cheung considers himself a “literature person and not that much of an administrative person.” But, he says, in accepting the new position he has a mission to accomplish. With USC’s Strategic Plan emphasizing globalization, particularly links to the Pacific Rim, Cheung sees a lot of potential for developing the strengths of East Asian Languages and Cultures as the university heads toward the 21st century.

CHEUNG UNDERSTANDS ALL too well USC’s strategic emphasis on internationalism. Born in Macau, a Portuguese colonial peninsula in China, and educated in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the U.S., he grew up speaking Cantonese, English and Mandarin.
He earned his B.A. in English literature from National Chengchi University in Taiwan, his M.A. in English from Brigham Young University and his Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Washington. He also held a post-doctoral research associate position in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
Besides writing poetry, Cheung has produced many books of literary criticism and scholarship, as well as translating American works, such as William Carlos Williams’ five-volume Paterson, for Chinese readers. As a student of English literature, he was fascinated by the San Francisco renaissance and wrote a book about the Beat poets, Contemporary American Poetry: A New Visage, which includes essays on Charles Olson, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg and other poets.
Another of his favorite works is The Golden Tears: Chinese Miners in the Mother Lode Country of California, a scholarly book that traces the route of Chinese miners through various camps in Northern California. “These are nameless heroes. I simply just don’t want them to vanish in oblivion,” he says.
“I have my Western side but I’m still clinging to my heritage.”

-Carol Tucker

A Final, Total Silence

DOMINIC CHEUNG, known in China as Chang Ts’o (Zhang Cuo), writes poems that have been described as reflecting “a tragic sense of life in which time obliterates personal experience and undermines its significance, leaving a final, total silence.” One of his best known poems is “Love Poems of Tea,” in which tea becomes a metaphor for a dramatic monologue by a lover. Like a relationship that grows between two lovers, the plain water and the tea depend upon each other to become flavorful, transforming both into something stronger:

I have to be hot, even boiled
Before we consume each other;
We have to hide, see and hold
each other in water
to decide
a tea color.

Another, “Autumn Meditation,” compares the poet’s life as he ages to the changing seasons. Suffering from heartbreak and facing old age, the poet takes comfort in reading the classical poetry of Du Fu during a lonely autumn night.
Dominic Cheung’s poetry appears in translation in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature, and in The Isle Full of Noises: Modern Chinese Poetry from Taiwan, both from Columbia University Press.

Top Illustration by Steve Jones

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