The Modern East Asia Research Centre (MEARC) represents the institutionalisation of a cluster of disciplinary research trajectories in the various regional fields of Modern East Asian Studies.
Its explicit purpose is to support, showcase and stimulate genuinely disciplinary research (MEARC focuses on Politics, International Relations, Philosophy Economy, Development and History) on East Asia - meaning Greater China, Japan and Korea- in the so-called modern period (from the nineteenth century until the present day). It will achieve this purpose through support of lectures, workshops, conferences, and by the provision of research grants.
Building on the Netherlands' uniquely long and intimate relations with East Asia, Leiden University is one of the oldest and most established centres of East Asian Studies in the Western world. In 1855, Leiden University was the first and only university to appoint a professor in Chinese and Japanese language. In 1947, Professor Vos added Korean language and culture to the academic curriculum. Until the present day, Leiden university remains the international nucleus of classical, literary and linguistic East Asian Studies, and it prides itself on having the largest and most comprehensive research library in East Asian Studies in Europe.

During the last two decades, Leiden University has invested heavily in creating a strong profile in modern East Asian Studies that rests on this solid and renowned foundation. One of the results of these efforts is the establishment of the Modern East Asia Research Centre (MEARC) in 2006, following the award of the Netherlands' Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in 2003. MEARC is part of the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).
Many universities have a scholar in one of their social science or humanities departments who concentrate on East Asia, just as many universities have East Asia Studies departments with scholars who specialise in humanities or one of the social sciences. Often these two groups of academics are institutionally isolated from each other and they do not get a chance to work together. Their knowledge and approach are defined by the core expertise of their faculty or department, rather than a focussed mission to understand Modern East Asia. Valuable information remains scattered, collaborations remain elusive, and therefore the resulting research is not as useful or powerful as it could and should be for fellow scholars, for policy-makers, and for business.

Making use of its long tradition and outstanding reputation in the world of East Asia Studies, Leiden University launched the Modern East Asia Research Centre in September 2006, bringing together its own experts into a single institution and providing a hub for expertise from throughout Europe. With the establishment of MEARC, Leiden University is able to consolidate and enhance its reputation and position as the centre for research on Modern East Asia in Europe.

MEARC's mission is to be an international centre of excellence for research on social sciences and humanities in East Asia, where experts from all over the world come together to meet, conduct research, discuss and disseminate the outcomes of their research, and communicate these outcomes to a broad audience.
"One of the great strengths of Leiden University is its growing vision of multidisciplinarity. In particular, I wish to congratulate MEARC on being at the forefront of this intellectual bridge-building between conventional disciplines such as Law, Politics, History and Philosophy, and Area Studies, especially Chinese and Japanese Studies. This is exactly the kind of initiative that the university's governing board seeks to support, and it is precisely the kind of multidisciplinary vision that Leiden should be aiming to achieve, building on its tradition as a classical, comprehensive university with wide-reaching resources across many fields".

Professor Douwe D. Breimer, MEARC Foundation Board member, former Rector Magnificus and President of Leiden University

MEARC envisions its audience in terms of four interrelated zones:
1. the audience of scholars and academics who are already interested in East Asia and who look to MEARC for innovative and field-leading research;

2. scholars and think-tanks who are primarily interested in the conventional disciplines of the humanities and social sciences who look to MEARC for cutting-edge research products that 'cross-over' disciplinary boundaries and force even those scholars who are uninterested in East Asia to reconsider their world views;

3. policy-makers and business-leaders, who look to MEARC for historically and culturally sophisticated analyses of contemporary issues in East Asian societies that go beyond the 'quick fix' solutions of think-tanks;

4. the educated general public in the Netherlands and in the EU, who look to MEARC for accessible, state-of-the-art information on one of the most exciting and high-profile regions of the world today.
MEARC's approach towards research is different from anything that already exists on (East) Asian research in the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe. The distinctive elements of this approach are:

  • a clear and crisp regional, temporal and disciplinary focus
Rather than being a generalist research centre with an interest in 'Asia,' MEARC's research attention is on East Asia only, meaning China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

The word 'modern' in Modern East Asia Research Centre refers to a distinct research focus from the nineteenth century until the present day, a duration that we maintain is essential for a proper understanding of contemporary issues. Hence, unlike ' contemporary', 'modern' is also a concept that emphasizes the need to understand the pre-modern roots of what is going on in East Asia. The past plays an important role in shaping the modern period. this holds true anywhere in the world, but it is especially relevant in East Asia, where cultural, political and socio-economic elites have a very strong awareness of their cultural and historical particularity. This awareness is rooted in long continuous traditions and has recently (past 50 years) been reinforced by rapid economic development and concomitant increase in political power and self-confidence. All four of our audience groups benefit from this approach.

The research of MEARC is currently centered around the disciplines of history, politics, international relations, law, economics, development and philosophy. By utilizing this multi-disciplinary range, MEARC aims to understand the interactions between the ideas of social and political elites in East Asia and the socio-political action that takes place in (and between) the societies of that region;

  • a comparative nature
MEARC believes that the East Asian region is interlinked and that comparative research is essential; an understanding of intra-regional dynamics as well as relations between East Asia and other regions (such as Europe) is essential to our approach. MEARC does not believe that the societies of East Asia can be understood in isolation (nor the societies outside that region can be properly understood without reference to it);

  • a product oriented outcome
Research done under the auspices of MEARC will always result in a tangible, public product (lecture, workshop, article, book). By making our research outcomes visible to various audiences MEARC demonstrates its value to its four key audience groups (scholars, policy-makers, business-leaders, and the educated public).


"...Rather than being a generalist research centre with an interest in 'Asia' MEARC's attention is on East Asia only..."