MGR Student Prize


The New York Conference on Asian Studies (NYCAS) encourages the development of the skills of scholarly writing by awarding annual prizes for excellent student papers dealing with Asia. Two such prizes are awarded each year, one to an undergraduate student and one to a graduate student. Runners-up are named in each category.

The prizes honor the outstanding service of Dr. Marleigh Grayer Ryan, former Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Professor of Japanese Literature, and Coordinator of Asian Studies at SUNY New Paltz; and longtime Executive Secretary of NYCAS.

2022 Competition Information

Eligibility: Undergraduate and graduate students at a college or university in New York State.

Field: East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Asia in diaspora, and Asian American studies.

Awards: The First Prize winners in the Undergraduate and Graduate categories each will receive a $100 prize; up to $200 reimbursement for travel and expenses to attend the NYCAS 2022 Annual Meeting; and a waiver of the NYCAS 2022 registration fee, including conference meals at the NYCAS meeting.

The Graduate Paper Prize winner will receive a complimentary one-year membership to the Association for Asian Studies and will be eligible to participate on a panel sponsored by the AAS Council on Conferences at the AAS annual meeting.

The Runner-up/Honorable Mention winners each will receive a waiver of the NYCAS 2022 registration fee, including conference meals at the NYCAS meeting.

The winning papers will be published on the NYCAS website and considered for presentation in a panel at the NYCAS meeting.

Format of papers: Papers should include a cover page giving the title of the paper, the student’s name, category, institution, and contact information (including current email and permanent mailing address).

Submission of papers: A student may submit only one entry. Papers may be submitted by the student author or by a faculty member acting on behalf of a student. A faculty member may not provide any evaluative comments at the time of nomination.

Papers should be submitted by email attachment only. Include an abstract of up to 150 words. Undergraduate papers are limited to 40 pages. Graduate papers are limited to 60 pages.

A submitted paper should stand alone and not be a segment of a larger work, such as a Senior Thesis, Masters’ Thesis, or Doctoral Dissertation.

Please include a completed cover sheet with your application. Attach the pdf cover sheet along with your paper in your submission email.

Entry deadline: June 1, 2022

Notification of awards by July 15, 2022

Submit papers by email attachment to:

Professor Tiantian Zheng, Chair

NYCAS Marleigh Grayer Ryan Prize Committee

NYCAS Congratulates the Winners of the 2021 Writing Prize Competition!

Graduate Prize Winner

Sara Ann Swenson

Syracuse University

“‘Three Trees Make a Mountain’: Women and Contramodern Buddhist Volunteerism in Vietnam”

Abstract. This article examines how women adapt devotional Buddhist worldviews within popular charity movements in Vietnam. Buddhist volunteerism is on the rise across Asia. In Vietnam, government officials encourage religious philanthropy among policy shifts toward increasing economic privatization and decreasing state welfare. Promoting philanthropy is one way officials prompt citizens to assume new responsibilities toward the state and one another by sharing private resources. Researchers have examined how popular charity trends in Asia compel volunteers to navigate changing understandings of moral personhood by internalizing modernist concepts of “rational good.” I complicate these studies by using Casey Collins’ theory of “Buddhist contramodernism” to show how women in Vietnam adapt devotional Pure Land Buddhism in addressing modern social concerns without adopting modernist Buddhist values. This article also expands Collins’ theory by demonstrating how grassroots charity groups suggest the need for a broader definition of contramodernism

Graduate Honorable Mention Winner

Terese Gagnon

Syracuse University

“‘There are No Seeds Here’: Severing Seed Sovereignty in Mae La Camp”

Abstract. This paper illustrates the ways in which the process of becoming refugees in Mae La refugee camp severs Indigenous seed sovereignty and inter-generational agricultural memory for Karen refugees. This severing occurs in the camp in large part through agricultural forgetting: the process by which linkages between people and plants are broken generationally. Along with dispossession and exile, such enforced forgetting is facilitated by the enclosure of the commons and commercialization. This paper argues that agricultural forgetting emerges in especially forceful ways in the camp, where the ruptures caused by displacement clear the slate for new more-than-human social arrangements. Such an account of agriculture in the camp is a necessary corrective to the upbeat discourses of livelihoods programs promoting refugee ‘self-reliance’, which obscure the enforced epistemological and bodily forgetting taking place across generations of both people and plants in this exceptional space.

Undergraduate Prize Winner

Andreanna L. Downing Zheng

Wells College

"‘Flowers of the rear garden’: The People’s Republic of China’s Male Homosexological Lexicon”


This paper summarizes the historical evolution of the Chinese male homosexological lexicon (terms used to refer to male homosexuality) in the People’s Republic of China from the late Imperial period through the Republican, Maoist, and Reform periods to the present-day by synthesizing and discussing a number of works primarily published within the past two decades on the subject. Key terms from each era are translated, defined, and discussed alongside their English equivalents, with particular emphasis placed on the lasting relationships between the male homosexological lexicon and the historical Chinese legal, public, and scientific discourses around male homosexuality. There are several recurring themes in these discourses which negatively affect same-sex-attracted men, including state enforcement of gendered ideology, pathologization and/or criminalization of male homosexuality, and social stigmatization from the taboo of anal sex. The homosexological lexicon is primarily made up of euphemisms in order to avoid these aforementioned forms of stigma. Adaptability is the number one trait of the Chinese male homosexological lexicon. As the discourses around the subject evolved, so did the lexicon, expanding and contracting as the People’s Republic’s ideas about male homosexuality progressed and then regressed, respectively.

Undergraduate Honorable Mention Winner

Zejian Zhou

St. Lawrence University

“Confucian Freedom: Practice, Morality, and Responsibility”


Is freedom exclusively a western privilege? Is freedom present in Confucianism? This paper attempts to elaborate on freedom in Confucianism and argues that unlike Western freedom that stresses an individual’s natural rights, Confucian freedom requires one to gain freedom through gradual efforts in one’s entire life. Moreover, Confucian freedom is a layered process, which includes practice, morality, and responsibility. Practice and morality help a person achieve individual freedom, while responsibility brings communal freedom. Only when collective freedom is achieved in a Confucian society can Confucian freedom get fulfilled. Understanding Confucian freedom will help us better comprehend alternatives to western understandings of freedom.