The Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Malaya was established in 1996. Its history began with the establishment of the Japan Studies Program that was inaugurated in 1993. It was further developed as a result of the restructuring of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the early 1990s. The suggestion for its inception originated during workshops entitled Civilization Dialogues I and II which were organized by the University of Malaya in 1995 and 1996 respectively. The DEAS offers programs leading to the Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in East Asian Studies, Master of Arts (MA), and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) degrees. In the undergraduate programs, students can choose to major in China Studies, Japan Studies or Korea Studies, the degree awarded in all cases is Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies.
Government orientation and policies equally contributed to the formation of the DEAS. In the early 1980s, Japan and Korea became models of transformation that could be emulated by Malaysians. To this end, Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, initiated the Look East Policy in 1982. The objective of the policy was to encourage Malaysian private and public sectors to emulate and adapt positive elements and cultural traits derived from Japanese and Korean work ethics into the local working environment. The need for experts on East Asia generated a wider space for higher learning institutions to discuss and research East Asia. This dynamic development paved the way for the establishment of East Asian Studies in Malaysia. Not surprisingly, the DEAS became dedicated to the study of contemporary issues of China, Japan and Korea.
On an international level, China, Japan and South Korea are global players which are important economic and strategic partners to Malaysia. The rapid growth of bilateral trade between Malaysia-China, Malaysia-Japan and Malaysia-South Korea as well as growing East Asian investments in Malaysia, spurred demand for individuals who were experts on East Asian affairs, language and culture. Thus, the expansion of China Studies, Japan Studies and Korea Studies was essential for two reasons: in order to fulfill the demand in the local job market for East Asian experts and to further strengthen bilateral relations. Thirteen years of the DEAS enabled the production of East Asian experts in academia as well as professionals in various fields. To this day, the DEAS continues to contribute towards the pool of East Asian experts locally.
With the importance of East Asia in global affairs, as well as its economic and strategic significance to Malaysian-East Asian relations, the knowledge of and on East Asia benefits not only those who will eventually become East Asian experts in the intellectual context, but also those in other professional fields. As such, the establishment of the East Asian Studies in the University of Malaya is indeed very significant. At present, the University of Malaya is the only university in Malaysia that offers an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies. The program offers a well-rounded study of East Asia as well as more specialized training in particular areas of interest. Majoring in East Asian Studies provides students with a strong foundation for a variety of careers in the private and public sectors.