Professor Spotlight: Nan Ma

Professor Nan Ma. Photo courtesy of Nan Ma.


Saurya Tuladhar '24, Guest Writer

Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, Nan Ma is originally from Yinchuan, China. She did her undergraduate studies in Chinese literature and language at Peking University and received her master’s degree in art theory and aesthetics from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. She then received her PhD in East Asian studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Before coming to Carlisle, Ma was a visiting instructor at Swarthmore College. There she taught Chinese language of all levels along with courses including “Politics of Space in Contemporary Chinese Documentary Films” and “Transnational and Transmedia Studies of Modern Chinese Dance and Performances.” This is when she got familiar with the concept of a liberal arts education and enjoyed the close collaboration with her students. She then joined Dickinson College in 2015 as a tenure-track assistant professor in the East Asian studies department. “I also met my best students here,” she said.

Young Ma attributes her adventurous nature to her unique childhood days. Born in the mountainous regions of the northwestern part of China, the local culture there was historically nomadic. People used to ride horses, raise domestic animals, and explore the nearby desert. Her grandfather also used to raise horses, so she knows her way around them. She also helped out at her father’s apple orchard, reared sheep and cows on the farm. “That’s the culture there, you are not treated delicately” she said. Even for school field trips, she recalls going to the nearby desert to plant trees and going on boat rides along the Yellow River. 

When asked about if she always aspired to be a professor, she said, “I always wanted to be a writer or a scholar. I was really good at writing when I was little, especially in Chinese. It’s like I could be more creative because I developed my own style”. With her desire to fulfil her dream still burning, she has been working on a book for the past ten years titled When Words are Inadequate: Modern Dance and Transnationalism in China. The book depicts the journeys of three cosmopolitan dancers, and how their big decisions in life were influenced by their transcultural and transnational experiences. 

Outside of class, Ma likes visiting art museums, dance performances, listening to Chinese pop music and going on walks with her eleven-year-old daughter. She also relishes traditional Chinese breakfast items like Chinese buns, Youtiao (soy milk and deep-fried dough sticks) and dumplings.