Exploring Chinese Culture through Audiovisuals

Associate professor Guo-Juin Hong teaches Chinese culture through film, literature and photographs

Duke associate professor Guo-Juin Hong is the co-creator of an exhibit that was on display at Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, in which he helped sift through more than 5,000 archival photographs taken in China in the early 20th centur
Duke associate professor Guo-Juin Hong is the co-creator of an exhibit that was on display at Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, in which he helped sift through more than 5,000 archival photographs taken in China in the early 20th century. Photo by April Dudash

Name: Guo-Juin Hong Position: Associate professor of Chinese literature and culture, Duke Asian & Middle Eastern Studies; director of Arts of the Moving ImageYears at Duke: 12

What I do at Duke: I teach classes on Chinese cinema, melodrama and documentary. I am the director of Arts of the Moving Image, a certificate program for undergrads to learn about the practice, the study, the history and theory of the moving image. Through that program, I work with faculty really closely to try to strengthen our curriculum because it is our firm belief and shared vision that audiovisual literacy is one of the most important things. It has become like literacy in terms of language. We are living in an age where we are constantly engaging with all kinds of audiovisual elements.

If I had $5 million, I would: put a chunk of it aside so I don’t need to worry about monthly income. With that security in place, I would travel. I would love to see old Europe and I would like to see more of Asia.

The best advice I ever received: I left my family to go to school when I was 15. I grew up in Taiwan in a small town on the east side. I was a scared little country boy going to Taipei, the capital of millions of people. I remember my mom said, ‘You don’t have your parents to take care of you all the time now. You need to have good friends and be a good friend to others.’

My first ever job: I was 9 or 10 and I worked at the pineapple cannery. My hometown in Taiwan was famous for tropical fruits, like pineapple and bananas. Every summer, the older kids would go and make a quarter an hour. I said I wanted to do it, too, and my mom said, ‘Are you sure? It’s very tough.’ I remember I went and worked one and a half days.

My dream job: I have my dream job. What I’ve always wanted to do, even when I was younger, is be a college professor teaching classes and engaging with smart and fun students, and then have the financial security and the research resources to do the intellectual, artistic things I want to do.  

What I love about Duke: Duke really values and encourages innovative teaching and research and encourages faculty to do things differently.

When I’m not at work, I like to: eat, and I love to cook. The older I get, the more Asian I become.  I always go for Asian options. My favorite places are China Palace on Garrett Road (in Durham), and Dashi, of course. I could eat ramen every day.

Something most people don’t know about me: When I was a Ph.D. student at University of California, Berkeley, I volunteered and taught at the San Quentin State Prison college program. I taught there for four years. I taught film courses, which was hard because they want to censor everything. The class was big, like 30 students. San Quentin is very famous, so a lot of my students were lifers or there for 25 years, 30 years.