Professor Angela Ki Che Leung, together with an international team, has been granted a total of HKD 6,626,216 by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong under the Collaborative Research Fund Scheme (2016-17 Exercise) in support of a multi-disciplinary research project “Making Modernity in East Asia – Technologies of Everyday Life, 19th – 21st Centuries (C7011-16G)” for 3 years from June 2017.

The main objective of this collaborative project is to establish a new, interdisciplinary way of understanding East Asian modernity through the lens of everyday technology. We ask: Why do East Asian societies engage with modern technology the way they do today? The project is about a history of East Asia that emphasizes the region’s technological dynamism in the last 200 years. It is a history of planning, engagement, maintenance, resilience and innovation. This project will place technology at the center of 21st-century debates on the rise of a new East Asian world order.

East Asia here is defined as a historically connected cultural region shaped both by Chinese cultural influence and western and Japanese colonialism in its more recent history. East Asia is also a field of interactions transcending simple political boundaries.

The project’s basic assumption is “socio-technical systems”, meaning that technologies are not external to a society or culture but are the concrete embodiment of that society’s values and experiences. Our focus on everyday technologies – the ordinary, unglamorous and widespread technologies used in our everyday life – shifts the emphasis from old, exhausted questions on “who invented what first”, or “technological failure, imitation or catching up”, to how technology was and is put to use in East Asia.

The overarching notion of infrastructure as physical, organizational or regulatory networks finally allows us to understand how technological processes have been creating large and small networks transcending national boundaries in the building of modern East Asia since the 19th century.

The research team’s ambition is to build a sustainable platform to synergize research on this topic that has never been treated systematically, and to create in four years an Area of Excellence which will make Hong Kong the world research center for the study of technology and East Asian society.