Professor Spotlight: Dr. YanBing Tan

Professor YanBing Tan. Photo courtesy of Dr. Tan.

Yousra Hussain
Contributing Writer

Professor YanBing Tan jokingly refers to her choice of profession as a “lack of imagination,” yet she believes in her heart that there is no greater job than that of sharing knowledge, assimilating ideas, and stimulating the growth of human beings through learning.

From elementary school to her PhD program, Tan experienced many teachers who shaped the person she is today. These educators fueled her lifelong dream of becoming a professor who strives to be intellectually curious, hardworking, and humble.

Graduating from Austin College and completing her PhD at Washington University, Tan learned how to teach both Chinese language and culture.

“My main research field is Chinese drama and fiction from the 17th century to the 19th century. Chinese fiction and drama from this period exhibit diverse intellectual interests and subvert traditional beliefs in the solemnity of literary production,” Tan said.

Her interest is in exploring the subtle shades of humor manifested in these writings and simultaneously portraying the intricacies of Chinese culture and literature to her students through the language.

“Getting to know my students and witnessing their progress is exciting. Moreover, teaching pushes me to learn new things,” she explained. For Tan, the classroom is a collaborative way for both students and professor to push each other to become the best version of themselves, not necessarily in terms of grades but in terms of the knowledge gained and the enriching experience.

Tan believes that learning Chinese displays courage and self-discipline, and she admires her students for the effort they put into learning this seemingly difficult language.

She came to Sewanee in search of small classrooms to connect with her students and to ensure her students can succeed in her subject. Sewanee is also a nostalgic environment for her, as she herself had transferred from a big research university in China to a small, liberal arts college in the U.S. when she was a sophomore.

“At Sewanee, I teach all levels of Chinese language courses, one survey course of modern Chinese literature and film, and one topic class about gender and sexuality in modern China,” Tan said. For her, sharing her culture with the students of Sewanee brings her immense joy and pushes her to meet the curiosity of her conscientious students.

Aside from teaching, she enjoys visiting antique shops, museums, and historical sites. The sophistication of each culture intrigues her and she particularly loves pondering about the diversity of humans in the past and present, along with the possibilities of diversity for the future.