Chinese language professor takes education beyond the classroom with documentaries

Prof. Hsiu-Ling Robertson teaches a Chinese language class. Robertson directed the documentary “Jiu-Fen-Er Mountain: The Lives of Taiwanese Foreign Brides.”

Source: Hsiu-Ling Robertson

Prof. Hsiu-Ling Robertson teaches a Chinese language class. Robertson directed the documentary “Jiu-Fen-Er Mountain: The Lives of Taiwanese Foreign Brides.”

Yaqoob Qaseem, Assistant A&E Editor


Despite making a documentary on women’s issues in Taiwan, Chinese Prof. Hsiu-Ling Robertson said she does not consider herself a feminist.

Robertson, who hails from Taiwan, said she hopes to educate a wider audience on societal issues in her home country and that the documentary changes negative attitudes about women.

She said American feminist theory could not be directly applied to Taiwan, but she was able to rethink the ideas to apply them to improving her own culture. Robertson said she does not identify as a feminist partly due to the negative image of feminism in Taiwan. She believes in using her knowledge to help others accept women’s issues in an easygoing way rather than working as an activist.

“I just spread the seed and hope in the future the garden can be more colorful and women’s (voices) can be heard,” Robertson said.

Robertson’s first documentary, “Jiu-Fen-Er Mountain: The Lives of Taiwanese Foreign Brides,” is about single women who migrate from other Southeast Asian countries to become the wives of rural Taiwanese workers with the assistance of matchmaking agents. These foreign brides fill the deficit of rural women that has resulted from Taiwanese women moving to cities to find jobs rather than marrying, Robertson said.

Many people in Taiwan believe that the women only immigrate for money, and media reports call the women mercenaries and social troublemakers, Robertson said.

“We need to give those foreign brides a positive image,” Robertson said. “I need to do something to educate people through the film. It’s not right to think they are secondary citizens in our society.”

Robertson said she has had many contacts with foreign brides and has found them to be kind and hardworking individuals making significant contributions to society. The namesake of the film, Jiu-Fen-Er Mountain, is a location in Taiwan where foreign brides helped rebuild a community in the aftermath of an earthquake.

“Hsiu-ling felt she wanted to tell the story of these brides because they didn’t have an outlet,” said Daniel Zox, who edited the documentary with Robertson. “Their stories weren’t being heard. Mainstream media was presenting them or seeing them as almost prostitutes.”

Robertson said she wanted to make the documentary successful because of the death of one of her close friends, with whom she organized international conferences together on gender issues.

The documentary got into the Athens International Film and Video Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Videotheque in 2014.

Robertson said she uses the documentary in one of her courses to introduce societal issues in Taiwan, as Chinese language courses often focus more exclusively on China. She shows the film to encourage conversation and critical thinking on these issues, she said, as she believes these aspects of education are more important than memorization.

Victoria Wee, a Weinberg sophomore and one of Robertson’s students, said Robertson is kind, maternal and understanding, and is one of her favorite professors due to her unique attitude toward teaching.

“You can tell that she has a passion for it, and that she really wants us to take away something from what she’s teaching us,” Wee said.

Robertson said her life story is simple, as she has not left school or university since age six. After studying Chinese literature at Tunghai University in Taiwan, she lectured for several years at Tunghai then completed a doctoral education degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She joined NU as a lecturer in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures in 2004.

“I was born in teaching,” she said. “It’s my personality and my interest.”

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