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QUESTIONING COLLAPSE: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. Edited by Patricia A. McAnany and Norman Yoffee. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xvi, 374 pp. (Tables, figures, maps, graphs, B&W photos.) US$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-521-51572-6.
It is refreshing to come across a work that articulates in a clear and accessible manner the critiques and concepts that I use regularly in the classroom and in talking to public audiences about the role that archaeological and historical anthropological perspectives can play for understanding human-environment relationships. Questioning Collapse is a collection of essays that were written initially as part of an American Anthropological Association symposium and a subsequent advanced seminar responding to two of Jared Diamond’s far-reaching and remarkably popular works, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Collapse (2-3). The book focuses on three main questions: Why are ancient societies often portrayed as “successes” or “failures” in the popular media? How are people living in the aftermath of empire characterized? How can current environmental issues be linked to what we know about past societies? (5).
The book is organized as a series of case studies in three parts flanked by an introductory chapter explaining the impetus for writing the book (McAnany and Yoffee), and a final chapter interrogating the question of what sustainability might actually be (McNeill). Part 1, “Human Resilience and Ecological Vulnerability,” critically examines the reality of past environmental challenges and adaptations in chapters on Rapa Nui (Easter Island; Hunt and Lipo), the Greenland Norse (Berglund), and nineteenth- and twentieth-century China (Pomeranz). Part 2, “Surviving Collapse: Studies of Societal Regeneration,” looks at the resilience of indigenous societies undergoing processes of social and environmental change in the American Southwest (Wilcox), the Lowland Maya Area (McAnany and Negrón), and Mesopotamia (Yoffee). Part 3, “Societies in the Aftermath of Empire,” looks at the ways current environmental narratives have been shaped by European colonialism and imperialism among the Inca (Cahill), in Rwanda (Taylor), on Hispaniola (Woodson), in Australia (Murray) and in New Guinea (Errington and Gewertz).
What is perhaps most laudable about these essays is that they do not simply critique Diamond’s wide-reaching works for overlooking minor details that only specialists would recognize. After all, any work produced in broad strokes is going to oversimplify specific information relating to a particular region or time period. While acknowledging that local narratives matter, and pointing out some of Diamond’s more severe errors in factual and conceptual details, the authors repeatedly note the bigger problem with the just-so stories in Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse. Diamond has provided two parallel myths that are convenient for people living in the contemporary neoliberal West. First, Guns, Germs, and Steel nominally eschews the racist perspective of white superiority by explaining the success of European expansion in terms of geographic accidents, excusing colonial and imperial powers, “the haves,” from any kind of cultural culpability. Next, Collapse focuses on cases of indigenous environmental mismanagement, suggesting that the world’s “have nots” often wound up that way because they “chose” to overshoot their environmental limitations and their societies fell apart as a result.
Another notable aspect of this work is the prominent place that living indigenous people take in the book. Sidebars mention living Rapa Nui (40), Maya (166-167), Assyrians and Chaldeans (194-199), and Australian Aboriginals (308-309), reminders that people from all of these societies that apparently “collapsed” still play an active role in the contemporary world. The excellent chapter by Micheal Wilcox is written from the perspective of a living Native American (Yuman/Choctaw) trying to put the apparent disintegration of Pueblo society (and Native American society in general) as outlined by Diamond into perspective. Comparing indigenous management of the landscape that sustained large populations across the region for many generations through sophisticated water management infrastructure with nineteenth- and twentieth-century American mismanagement that resulted in the disappearance of the Gila and Colorado rivers miles from their former outlets, Wilcox notes that, “Failure, apparently, is in the eyes of the beholder” (127).
Any of the chapters from Questioning Collapse offer similar useful insights that help provide a critical understanding of how ingrained Western notions of progress, civilization and social complexity frame narratives of the so-called success or failure of societies in light of their relationship to the environment. Ultimately, these case studies, which have a broad temporal and geographical coverage, serve as an absolutely crucial reminder that transformation is likely the one inevitable factor in history. Rather than simply tying social and environmental change to tragic catastrophe and destruction, Questioning Collapse provides a set of reminders that these processes, while sometimes accompanied by violent upheaval, usually reflect more of the resilience and adaptability of dynamic human cultures. This perspective is worth remembering as contemporary global society deals with its own environmental challenges.
James L. Flexner, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, USA
China and Inner Asia
This book is an important addition to the existing writings in English on Mao Zedong, Mao’s thought, the Chinese Revolution, and the various debates about them. As a collection of essays by 14 scholars, more than half of whom are historians, this book distinguishes itself in terms of scope, approach and inclusion of varied views and positions. Its purpose, as Timothy Cheek, the editor, states, is to “provide the general reader an opportunity to make sense of Mao and his role in modern Chinese history and the ‘socialist moment’ in twentieth-century world history, as well as his continuing significance both in China and beyond,” and its theme being that “there are multiple Maos, and to settle on one dominant image is to distort the whole” (4).
Structurally, the book is divided into two parts, part 1, “Mao’s World” and part 2 , “Mao’s Legacy.” Part 1 has nine chapters, with chapter 1 serving as the introduction to the entire book. Chapters 2 to 4 are organized chronologically from Mao’s early life to the mid 1950s. The other five chapters are issue oriented, focusing on “fragments of Mao Zedong” (chapter 5), “Mao and his followers” (chapter 6), “Mao and communist intellectuals” (chapter 7), “gendered Mao” (chapter 8), and “Mao the man and Mao the icon” (chapter 9). Part 2 includes chapters 10 to 14 that explore Mao’s legacy, ranging from contemporary China since the start of the economic reform in the late 1970s, to the spread of Maoism in the “Third World,” and its reception in the West. With each author working on different aspects of Mao-related history and debates, this volume not only offers a collection of varied focuses, perspectives and arguments, it also provides a rich source of bibliographic materials.
As the editor emphasizes, the book is intended for a general readership (in English). To that end, Cheek’s introduction is perhaps deliberately eclectic, allowing individual chapters to debate with one another, even if only indirectly. It is to the editor’s credit that against climate he includes the chapters in which the authors recognize the historical complexity of “Mao’s world” and examine his role as a modern revolutionary in conjunction with the historical significance of the Chinese Revolution. Along this line, some chapters are worth highlighting.
Chapter 2, appropriately titled “Making Revolution in Twentieth-Century China,” offers a rather sound account of the historical condition of late Qing to the 1920s in which Mao was born and grew into a Marxist revolutionary. Even though Joseph Esherick relies mainly on the existing scholarship in English, his analysis of Mao’s journey into a Chinese Marxist revolutionary recognizes “the central premise of China’s twentieth-century revolutionary movement: The national revolution for liberation from foreign imperialism should be combined with a radical reorganization of Chinese society” (60). In a similar move, Brantly Womack, in the next chapter on Mao from the 1920s to 1937, traces Mao’s path from an “urban radical” to a “rural revolutionary” with an emphasis on Mao’s “intellectual development” and the “learning process of the first half of his life [that] provided the foundation for his successful leadership of the Chinese Revolution” (86). While chapter 5, “consuming fragments of Mao Zedong,” in its postmodern playfulness leaves behind a strong impression of a caricatured political discourse, Hung-Yok Ip, in chapter 7, echoing the historical sentiments found in the two aforementioned chapters, offers a relatively rare look into the question as to why many modern intellectuals devoted their lives to a cause the way they did, arguing that “despite his conflicts with many communist intellectuals, Mao shared with them similar concerns and ideals” (169). While the key term “anti-elitist elitism” deployed throughout the chapter can at times feel somewhat overused, Ip nevertheless grounds her discussion within the historical context of the Chinese Revolution, which attracted generations of “communist intellectuals” and fellow travellers.
When it comes to debating Mao’s legacy, the prevailing tendency since the post-Mao era has been ad hominem attacks that essentially delink Mao from the historical significance of the Chinese Revolution. Most essays in part 2 argue for moving beyond that. Questioning the essentializing of Mao in an “Orientalist fashion” in many existing views of Mao as “emperor,” Geremie Barmé, in chapter 10, argues that “by laying too much emphasis on the weight of tradition and presumed cultural inertia, the revolutionary character of much that Mao and his cohort pursued is too easily overlooked and discounted” (247). Echoing this sentiment, chapter 13 offers a concise but fairly comprehensive look at the ways in which Mao and Maoism have been received in the West. Framing the different tellings of the Mao stories within the ideological clash between Western liberal tradition (represented by Woodrow Wilson) and proletarian revolution (represented by Lenin), Charles Hayford is able to highlight the changes and contradictions within the West in response to Mao and the Chinese Revolution. Chapter 12 expands the relationship between Mao and revolution into the “Third World” by focusing on the “three Maoist worlds”—Khmer Rouge, Shining Path and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)—and exploring why the first two have failed while the third appears not to have. “Maoism,” according to Alexander Cook, is interpreted differently when it is transmitted to different social and historical contexts. In the last chapter, two authors, Jiang Yihua and Roderick MacFarquhar writing separately, return to the relationship between Mao and the Chinese Revolution and both argue that without Mao and the Chinese Revolution, China would not have developed into a modern nation-state, which would eventually develop into an economic “miracle.” They differ slightly in that MacFarquhar insists that Mao failed in his ideology of continuous revolution without which “the Chinese miracle might have begun 30 years earlier” (352). Scholars, of course, will continue to debate on the validity of this argument as they continue to make sense of Mao’s legacy in relation to the historical importance and significance of the Chinese Revolution.
To understand Mao within the larger context of the Chinese Revolution, readers of this book can be further helped by reading recent publications on Mao and the Chinese Revolution including Was Mao a Monster?, Rethinking Mao, Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World, The Transformation of Chinese Socialism, and The End of Revolution.
Xueping Zhong, Tufts University, Medford, USA
QUEST FOR HARMONY: The Moso Traditions of Sexual Union and Family Life. By Chuan-Kang Shih. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010. xiv, 329 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$65.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8047-6199-4.
This is a most remarkable ethnography of a most remarkable people. The Yongning Moso, who inhabit the flat and fertile shores of Lake Lugu at 2600 metres above sea level on the Yunnan-Sichuan border, have hit the headlines due to anthropological, journalistic and touristic sensationalism. Characterized as “matrilineal,” which, following the nineteenth-century speculations of Johann Bachofen on the Mutterrrecht, would be more archaic than being patrilineal, Chinese anthropologists spoke of a “living fossil” (Yan, “A living fossil of the family,” Social Sciences in China 4 (1992): 60-81) and journalists referred to “vestiges of matriarchy.” As a culture without marriage institution, and no social recognition of “husband” or “genitor” (Cai, Une société ni père ni mari, Presses universitaires de France, Paris, 1997), they tickled leading Western anthropologists’ curiosity. As a people who practice so-called tisese (walking back and forth) instead, they sadly have also attracted sex tourism.
Tisese is what Chuan-kang Shih identifies as the culturally approved form of “institutionalized sexual union,” which is “non-contractual, non-obligatory, and non-exclusive,” and also “status-blind.” In a cross-cultural perspective, it is a most unusual pattern of “institutionalized sexual union,” and it is practiced alongside marriage. The Moso in the basin practice tisese primarily, while those in the surrounding hills usually prefer marriage; marriage has also been promoted, in waves of more or less coercion, by the Han Chinese government.
Shih’s aim to write a “comprehensive, thoroughly researched, meticulously recorded and carefully analyzed ethnography” (18) certainly has been achieved. The ethnography is very remarkable, not least for the sincerity and seriousness with which it records a truly complex, multi-layered and ambiguous set of kinship practices. In style it is unusual in that it combines an authoritative voice of normative ethnographic writing with personable vignettes from the field. These vignettes have the effect not only of making one feel compassion for the humble anthropologist’s hard work in difficult circumstances; they are also analytically crucial as they delineate the researcher’s theoretical positionality. Shih started out as a graduate in history from Yunnan University before enrolling in an anthropology doctorate at Stanford University (1983-1993, with 15 months fieldwork in 1987-88), under the supervision of Arthur P. Wolf and G. William Skinner. In the following twenty years, he substantiated his doctoral work with additional data from field trips in 1996 and 1997, and annually from 2002-2007. At the core of his ethnography is a twice undertaken survey of all households of the same four villages in the plains of Yongning: 147 in 1988 and 167 in 2006. Clearly, this is a life’s work (or, for reasons given at the very end, half of a life’s work), resulting in a detailed and fascinating ethnography. It is relevant for every student of kinship, even if it may not solve the conundrum of the Moso kinship system entirely.
Shih defends the position that the Moso kinship system is unique: “We have a very special case on our hands … this case is bound not only to expand the limits of our knowledge but also to force us to rewrite many basic concepts in our textbooks” (1). He pursues this line of argument single-mindedly, taking issue with many more or less wild ideas put forth by other authors writing on the Moso. He clarifies many misconceptions, among them those regarding their ethnonym and the ethnic identity of the chief’s clan, and he also provides sufficiently rich ethnographic data to hint at a partly un-interpreted complexity of the current situation.
The picture Shih draws of Moso matrilineality stands out for its clarity. However, it also stands a bit on its own as he shows little interest in viewing them as part of the entire fabric of cultural dynamics in Southwest China. Shih’s chapter on kinship terminology, which is more detailed and comprehensive than anything published so far on this theme, demonstrates perhaps with more clarity than others that his insistence on making the Moso case unique comes at a price.
For instance, in order to maintain the claim that the terminology applies only to the maternal kin, Shih has to admit that “fictive usage” of kinship terms is widespread. Moreover, Shih renders apa as maternal “grand-uncle” when it surely must refer to “grand-father” too, as in ritual chanting on “grand-mothers and grand-fathers” (149); all the more so, as the apa often takes on child care (237-40). Nor does Shih draw attention to ewu (the mother’s brother), who has a very special position in the household. In a similar vein, it is certainly valuable to learn from Shih about the ritual of child recognition, although this ritual is rather rarely performed; however, it is surprising that he does not even mention that there is an abundant literature which emphasizes it was not good social practice, if not taboo, to ask after the genitor of a child (nor to make any allusion to the existence of genitors). When Shih insists on including, in his list of general kinship terms, the two terms by which a genitor can be named in the rare case of a child recognition ritual (180-83), it would appear that the ingenuity of the kinship system among tisese practicing Moso has been missed: in the yidu, which means house or household, it is the mother’s brothers (ewu) and mother’s mother’s brothers (apa) who are the social “fathers” and “grand-fathers.” As symbolized by the two pillars supporting the house in the main hall (yimi), sisters and brothers are social fathers and mothers for the offspring living in it.
The wealth of ethnographic detail, which Shih uses to insist on Moso matrilineality as an entirely unique kinship system that has been in place for over a millenium, paradoxically makes the reader curious to learn more on how it relates to the many different ethnic groups in the region. The overlooked recent ethnographies by Koen Wellens (2006, The Premi House, PhD thesis, Oslo University) and Christine Mathieu (2003, A History and Anthropological Study of the Ancient Kingdoms of the Sino-Tibetan Borderland – Naxi and Mosuo, Lewiston) would have been vital to Shih’s discussion of the patrilineal Moso in the hilly periphery, and are relevant to the entirety of his monograph. As an intrinsically comparative enterprise, anthropology searches for commonalities between peoples for explaining apparent difference. Shih himself seems to be aware of the rather static and normative picture conveyed in this ethnography, when he announces that the next book will focus on change—a most welcome prospect.
Elisabeth Hsu, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
THE FAILURE OF CIVIL SOCIETY?: The Third Sector and the State in Contemporary Japan. By Akihiro Ogawa. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2009. xiii, 271 pp. (Figures, tables, B&W photos.) US$80.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-7914-9395-3.
Sadly, as with the 1995 earthquake in the Kobe region, the Higashi Nihon Daishinsai of March 11, 2011 that hit Northeastern Japan with a 9.0 quake, devastating tsunami, and far-reaching nuclear aftermath, reminds us that Japanese civil society will undoubtedly become the focus of expanded scholarship from many disciplinary perspectives.
As is well known, following the vast destruction of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 (the Hanshin Awaji Daishinsai) the Japanese government initially stood paralyzed. Into the void stepped volunteers, eventually numbering up to 1.3 million strong. Those volunteers simultaneously highlighted the ossifications of Japan’s central government agencies and demonstrated the potential for harnessing voluntary action. Popular accounts of volunteerism and the rebirth of civil society appeared almost phoenix-like from the rubble of the earthquake. To help the many ordinary Japanese confused by the then-burgeoning new vocabulary of the civil sector, Japan’s publishing industry quickly packed bookshops with paperbacks answering questions for the many citizens confused by the jargon.
The 1995 Kobe earthquake prompted extensive examination of the role of civil society in Japan, both in the popular media and in scholarly discourse. Political scientists of Japan were the earliest to study the phenomenon broadly, to analyze how the Japanese state mobilized civic organizations to take on increasing demands for social services, and to understand the unprecedented ways legislation was swiftly put in place to empower nonprofit organizations. The perspectives of political scientists have contributed greatly to our understanding of how the Japanese state, in an age of economic decline and the rapid aging of its population, has employed the rhetoric of civil society to mobilize citizens to shoulder new responsibilities for social services previously deemed the responsibility of the state.
Akihiro Ogawa’s The Failure of Civil Society? The Third Sector and the State in Contemporary Japan, 2010 winner of the Japan NPO Association Book Award, is a welcome addition to the still scant ethnographic literature on Japan’s civil sector, providing an in-depth and multi-dimensional look at the ways civil society organizations have been reimagined, mobilized and constrained by the Japanese state and by its citizens. In addition to interviews with officials and documentary research, Ogawa’s study makes use of participant observation to provide a well-textured ethnographic case study of the changing landscape of Japanese nonprofit organizations in the post-bubble era.
As Ogawa notes in The Failure of Civil Society? The Third Sector and the State in Contemporary Japan, much of the early scholarship has taken a top-down look at the role of the state in encouraging NPOs (nonprofit organizations) and volunteers, and in expediting legislation that expanded a legally recognized and mobilized nonprofit sector. However, examining civic action from such a high-altitude, macro perspective seldom reaches into the neighbourhoods and networks “traditionally” seen as the bounds of expected Japanese social reciprocity, which has often been the terrain of anthropologists and other qualitative social scientists.
The life-long learning centre that Ogawa studies is part old and part new, an organization that harnesses expected communities of citizens including local merchants, housewives and the growing cohorts of the retired, and marshals them into a “voluntary” organization that takes on social welfare responsibilities which extend and greatly expand upon the level of social participation expected of traditional Japanese social networks based on kinship, neighbourhood and corporate network.
Ogawa’s ethnography is particularly effective when he is portraying the ways in which lower-level government agencies coerce residents into undertaking new responsibilities and in “volunteering” to provide locally needed services. Especially, his chapters “Invited by the State and Power” and “Contested Rationalities” include rich ethnographic passages that bring forth the voices of the bureaucrats, the local leaders who are being pressed into service, and the various members of the communities who are both participants in (willingly or reluctantly) and observers (self-interested and bemused) of the process.
Major anthropological studies of Japan have closely examined community, school groups, neighborhoods, voluntary groups (PTAs, citizens’ groups, merchants’ organizations), belief networks, companies and other communities of voluntary common interest. Akihiro Ogawa’s book is an important contribution to the anthropological literature on civil society, with the goal not to argue about what civil society is but to discover what civil society does. In this compact volume Akihiro Ogawa has done much to suggest further productive avenues for much broader anthropological inquiry. Ogawa has done an admirable job of interrogating the domain between the top-down perspectives of the bureaucrats and the state and the grassroots gaze of the resident “volunteers.”
Welcome additions to the anthropological literature on civil society in Japan would be more research that examines how notions of civil society have changed people’s perspectives on the traditional domains of kinship, community and company. Especially it would be valuable to see the analysis of linguistic anthropologists concerning the changing rhetoric of social welfare and citizen responsibility, and perhaps even more into the politics and prospects for cross-cultural misinterpretation of apparently similar terms such as “the third sector,” and in fact of the term “civil society” itself.
Mr. Ogawa’s book contributes to the social science literature on Japan and will be of interest to anthropologists and other qualitative social scientists, to political scientists and other scholars who study civil society from a cross-cultural perspective. This book is especially valuable to the growing number of practitioners in the fields of nonprofit management, voluntary action and social entrepreneurship.
It is hoped that Mr. Ogawa’s book, and the 2010 Japan NPO Research Association Book Award, will encourage much broader ethnographic study of the civic sphere in which anthropologists will bring the considerable tools of their discipline to study Japan’s newly invigorated civil society.
Victoria Lyon Bestor, NCC, Cambridge, USA
Black-and-white photographs at maritime and whaling museums in Bedford, Nantucket, Cold Spring Harbor and Honolulu tell stories of tough men living hard and dangerous lives hunting these giant sea creatures in rough seas. Visitors would see huge boiling pots that were used to render oil from the blubber. Whale oil lighted homes and lubricated machines; spermaceti was used in fine wax candles that were said to burn bright and smokeless. Baleen, too, were in corsets and umbrellas for it is strong yet flexible. Indeed, whaling provided many products that society needed at one time. Whale meat, however, was by and large useless to commercial whalers—at least in the West—because there was no market for it. With the discovery and widespread use of oil as the fuel of choice and synthetic lubricants and other products that are far cheaper, one by one the major whaling nations, like the United States and Britain, gave up whaling. Japan, by contrast, is a latecomer to large-scale industrial whaling and pursued whales for meat rather than other products. And the Japanese government’s emphasis on the notion that whales are a resource by and large resonates with the people because it aligns with conventional wisdom that nature sustains life rather than serves as an adornment.
This book by Jun Morikawa is another attempt to make sense of this mystery of why the Japanese government has been so focused on lifting the temporary ban on commercial whaling imposed in 1982, a position that has little commercial value and much negative publicity. For this, the author has done an admirable job overall. Morikawa draws on a broad set of English- and Japanese-language media and government reports and other works by pro- and anti-whaling proponents, as well as interviews with academics and conservation advocates to provide considerable details for events through 2008.
However, explaining the Japanese government’s whaling position is not the only objective of this book. As Morikawa puts it, “This critical analysis aims … [to] present a meaningful outline of the vision and alternative policies necessary for reform of the present situation” (4). For this, Morikawa offers four scenarios: (1) maintain the status quo in Japan’s policy on whaling; (2) withdraw from the International Whaling Commission(IWC)—which regulates the international regime on whaling—and unilaterally resume deep-sea commercial whaling; (3) shift to a “realistic transition” by understanding non-lethal scientific research, disassociating the government from the Institute of Cetacean Research (a quasi-governmental research organization) and “actively supporting whale and dolphin watching as a local revitalization strategy for whaling industry workers with municipalities with a historical involvement with whaling, as well as areas where whale and dolphin watching industries are now being developed”; and (4) terminating all whaling activities, both lethal research whaling and large-scale coastal whaling.
Morikawa thinks scenario one is a no-go, offering only more of the same, while scenario two can cause more damage to Japan and scenario four requires a massive domestic effort that neither the government nor the public will easily swallow and execute. His counsel for a “realistic transition” in scenario three appears to have some merit for a compromise between interests in Japan and whaling opponents. Yet, it is difficult to see how Japan could pursue small-scale commercial catches in Japan’s coastal waters when opponents demand the IWC abandon its charter to make protection its end rather than adhere to its charter to regulate use of whales as a resource. Defending this regime goes beyond whaling for the Japanese government: it is central to the Japanese government’s perspective on access to resources across the globe. Also, Morikawa castigates the Japanese government for using economic aid to buy influence in the IWC, but opponents of whaling do the same. Another flaw is the assumption held by many whaling opponents: use whale watching to replace whaling. The reality is that not all types of whales are easy to view. Humpbacks in Hawaiian waters, for example, breach near coastlines to afford a dramatic view, and this is not true of most types of whales. Neither should we assume that whaling towns want to or could play hosts to tourists. Additional infrastructure like roads, ports and lodgings may be needed. More importantly, local folks may not welcome outsiders—from whale-watching operators to tourists—disturbing age-old routines and tranquility in these frequently remote coastal areas. Whalers, too, value work and traditions they take pride in. Thus, while this book offers another good look at complexities in this Japanese foreign policy matter, it falls a bit short in achieving its objective and interested readers should complement it with other works that offer a broader view of the history of the IWC and whaling, as well as Japan’s engagement with it.
Anny Wong, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, USA
A CONCISE HISTORY OF MODERN KOREA: From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present. By Michael Seth. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010. 295 pp. US$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-0=7425-6713-9.
Though somewhat misnamed as A Concise History of Modern Korea, this nearly 300-page book by Michael Seth offers an appealing option for scholars seeking a general history of modern Korea for either reference or teaching. It is divided into eight chapters, in addition to an introduction and conclusion: the first three chapters cover the 1876-1910 period, the colonial period of 1910 to 1945 and the period of “Division and War, 1945-1953,” respectively, while the remainder of the book contains two chapters on North Korea and three on South Korea.
The book’s primary themes appear to be Korea’s survival as a nation amidst the turbulence of the modern era, Korea as a crucible for modernity, and perhaps most pronounced of all, the process by which the remarkable divergence between North and South (“the most fundamental question,” 7) took place. There is likewise an unmistakably developmentalist arc in the narrative, as well as a strong tug toward “modernization.” The South Korea chapters, for example, are concerned almost wholly with how the country turned into an economic power and a political democracy.
These thematic priorities, though, do not overwhelm the book. Indeed the content in the chapters are more or less standard chronological descriptions of what happened, book-ended by analysis on the relative significance of certain trends. One wishes that the author could have made it easier for students and the lay reader to grasp a central argument in the chapters, and in turn, of how each chapter fits into a larger message in the book, all of which is somewhat obscured by the extensive detail of the information. But the book is also notable for what it leaves out. Only half a paragraph, for example, is devoted to the “The Kwangju Incident” of 1980, in a 30-page chapter on the South Korean political road to democratization. The strengths in the coverage include education, understandable given that the author has written a book on this topic; situating Korea’s historical experience in a global context, with each chapter concluding with a section on “Korea in World History”; and ample explanations for South Korea’s economic development, which gets an entire chapter. Furthermore, the chapters are divided into many sections of varying length, each with its own helpful heading.
This book also could have provided a greater sense of historical debates and controversies, or at least an indication of what new perspectives the author forwards. There is very little new here for the Korea specialist, and in some areas the book is clearly behind the historiography. Despite the frequent allusions to how “historians” have tended to view certain moments and trends, there remains only a sketchy sense of recent American historiography, much less Korean historiography. The pronouncement of “very few reform efforts” (21) during the period of Chinese domination (1885-94), for example, is outdated and is even contradicted by the author’s own accounting of many important developments. More glaring is the coverage of the Taehan Cheguk period (1897-1910), which is reduced to a few sentences despite gaining tremendous attention in Korea over the past two decades and increasingly even in the US. In this book, the focus rather conventionally is on the American-influenced Independence Club of 1896-99. Indeed, some readers, though likely not American students, will find the narrative’s strong consciousness of foreign and especially Western impact—even as a major force in South Korean democratization—excessive. Most noteworthy in this regard is chapter 3, which attributes predominant influence to the superpowers in the nation’s division following liberation from Japanese rule in 1945, despite the book’s emphasis on ideological divisions in the colonial period (1910-45) laying the groundwork for subsequent history. The book’s heavy attention to nationalism, in general, and especially in the colonial period (almost 10 pages of coverage in chapter 2), also comes across as somewhat old-fashioned. Even Korean scholarship has moved beyond this preoccupation, which in the past stood for a historiographical valuation of the independence movement over the actual conditions in the colony.
Finally, this chapter’s section on “Wartime Colonialism: 1931-1945” conflates political and military changes in Japan to what occurred in Korea. The book’s labeling of the last 15 years of colonial rule as “wartime” amounts to viewing the colonial period as having had only about a dozen years of “peace” or semblance of normalcy, given the “harsh political repression” (45) that characterized the first decade of colonial rule from 1910 to 1919.
Even with such grounds for criticism, the book is lucid and accessible, and often quite appealingly presented. There are of course some typos, writing errors, and minor factual errors, with the only major problem coming in the quirkily chronic mistakes in the usage (and lack thereof) of commas. But mostly this represents a polished work that can be recommended.
Kyung Moon Hwang, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
NUCLEUS AND NATION: Scientists, International Networks and Power in India. By Robert S. Anderson. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2010. xxvi, 683 pp. (Tables, maps, B&W photos.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-226-01975-8.
In 1956, the first Indian nuclear reactor, Apsara, went critical. The following year, speaking to the lower house of the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha), Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru bluntly asserted, “The putting up of the swimming pool reactor … was done entirely by Indian scientists and Indian engineers.” In reality, however, the detailed engineering drawings, technical data and enriched uranium fuel rods for the reactor had come from the United Kingdom. The UK was not alone: several countries, including Canada, the United States and France, contributed technical knowledge and artifacts to India’s nuclear program, until the 1974 nuclear weapon test made them rethink such cooperation.
What accounts for such extensive inputs into the growth of a technology that one might expect to be kept closely guarded? Of the multiple factors responsible for this technological exchange, an important one was the emergence of an international class of scientists and technologists in the first half of the twentieth century, who went well beyond their traditional confines of the classroom and the laboratory and established themselves as important players in determining state policies on science, technology, development and defense. Robert Anderson’s book, Nucleus and Nation, is an exhaustive history of the Indian contingent of this international class that was deeply involved in determining India’s nuclear trajectory. It focuses on the period between the 1930s and the 1970s, the crucial decades when the contours of science and technology in India were laid down.
The story that emerges in Nucleus and Nation is of Indian science, technology and defense policy being shaped primarily by a small coterie of scientists: “the nucleus of people who made [the first Indian bomb] possible…and on their relation to the nation and its political leadership” (6). They came from a variety of backgrounds and had vastly different personal biographies. Many of them had been trained in the United Kingdom and had remained in close contact with the scientists that they got to know there, some of whom had gone on to shape policies in various countries. Such contacts were very helpful when some of these key scientists negotiated agreements with their counterparts in countries like the UK, Canada and France. One British scientist, Patrick Blackett, was to play a key role in setting up the defense research network (205-226).
However, these scientists in India were part of a larger community that included “not just mathematicians and astronomers but also doctors, engineers, lab technicians, industrial and medical researchers, and technologists” (9), who together provide the “texture” (8) of the subject of Anderson’s book. To most students of India’s nuclear history, Anderson is best known as the author of Building Scientific Institutions in India (McGill University, 1975), and this book takes that early effort and moves it much further along, offering wonderfully nuanced and detailed pictures of the same institutions, but adding the vast network of laboratories that are part of the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR). The titles of a few sections of the book, representing subjects that some of these institutions grappled with, might help whet the appetite: Graduate MSc Studies in Physics; The Installation of a Computer in Science College; and the Scientific Workers Movement and CSIR. Anderson’s approach is guided by actor network theory, and offers ample examples of how “actors mobilize their resources and allies through their networks” (6).
Nucleus and Nation follows in the tradition of Itty Abraham’s The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb: Science, Secrecy and the Postcolonial State (Zed Books, 1998) and George Perkovich’s India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (University of California Press, 1999) in offering us a critical and detailed—and extremely readable—history of India’s nuclear program. Where it distinguishes itself from those works is in its treatment of institutional culture and in its nuanced portraits of key players. The book also carries some excellent photos, including one of the nose cone of a rocket that is being taken to the Thumba test on a bicycle and one of Meghnad Saha addressing an election rally on behalf of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.
Over a decade ago, George Perkovich pointed out that the “absence of an adequately detailed narrative of the Indian nuclear program’s evolution … has impaired the Indian polity’s capacity to debate with adequate knowledge what has been done in the nuclear field, by whom, for what reasons, and at what costs.” Nucleus and Nation offers us just such a narrative, not just to inform debate on nuclear power, but also discussions of science and technology, institutions and policy making, history and politics in modern India.
M.V. Ramana, Princeton University, Princeton, USA
ATTRACTING THE HEART: Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion in Sri Lankan Monastic Culture. By Jeffrey Samuels. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2010. xxx, 167 pp. US$36.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3385-5.
This exemplary work of ethnography is the fruit of more than ten years of repeated fieldwork visits to Sri Lanka, as well as of the considered use of a highly appropriate set of methods. The result is an account which reveals with a fresh clarity and subtlety the institutions and culture of what might be called everyday mainline Sinhalese Buddhism. Samuels throws light on a wide variety of issues which have been treated by others—Richard Gombrich on canonical Buddhism and contemporary doctrine and practice, H.L. Seneviratne on political Buddhism, myself on the forest movement—and he does so in two ways: first, he describes in depth the development of a particular set of monks from the Rämañña Nikäya who have a place in society adjacent to, but subtly different from, those treated by those three scholars. And second, he supplements those other works with a rich account of the emotional language, and aesthetics of everyday action, which make for the flourishing—or the failing—of relations between monks and laity, and between monks and their pupils.
It may seem a minor point, but in fact the care and consistency with which Samuels transcribes, quotes and translates from his corpus of Sinhala materials is a good measure of the care he devotes to the faithful understanding of Sinhalese Buddhist sensibilities. Samuels’ account begins with the warm, energetic and highly intelligent monk, the Venerable Narada Thera, who first ordained at the age of about sixteen in 1974 at a temple near Kandy. Narada then went on to become the chief monk of a line of pupillary succession which includes about 175 monks and novices, and it is among these that Samuels did the majority of his fieldwork. Samuels devotes his first substantive chapter to Narada’s biography and to the issues of emotion, aesthetic feeling and social relations which are typified in Narada’s life and which Samuels explores in the rest of the book.
The particular characteristics of this group of monks make them of special interest to those concerned with understanding the dynamics of the reproduction (or failure to reproduce) of village Buddhism. For, in the first place, these monks follow the established practice in the Rämañña Nikäya of serving lower-caste communities and ordaining lower-caste pupils. Samuels does a good job of using honorifics (or dishonorifics) in people’s retellings of encounters with traditional Kandyan Siyam Nikäya monks to draw a distinction between Narada’s group and others. Samuels also gives us a good view of the fact that Sinhalese Buddhist society has an edge, so to speak: those who have been too low caste, or too poor, or too far from main settlements, to enjoy the company and services of a village temple. And finally, he gives us an excellent account of what “social service” might reasonably mean to monks seeking to serve in such settings.
Samuels’ case is roughly this: although we have good and accurate accounts of the doctrinal and sociological character of the monkhood and the monk-laypeople relationship, we have not yet considered closely the nature of actual relations between pupils and teachers and between monks and laity. The key sociocultural term is “attracting the heart,” a well-reasoned translation of a Sinhala phrase which serves to capture the dynamic emotional and social-aesthetic process by which pupils adhere, so to speak, to teachers and laity to monks. Samuels does a particularly good job of sorting out the various sense in which “hearts” may be “attracted” (or repelled). One very important and fresh finding is the extent to which there exists an aesthetic among many Sinhala Buddhists (and not just in texts) which sees a well-disciplined monk, performing his duties in a concentrated and highly cultivated way, as being inherently beautiful … and, for boys who might be taken by this beauty, inherently attractive. Samuels touches on many dimensions of the everyday performance of monks that work this magic, among them a sense of style which prefers the Rämañña Nikäya monks, who cover both shoulders with their robes and prefer darker rather than more garish colours, and who tend to be (at least in Narada’s group) more carefully trained. Similarly he captures the aesthetic of cleanliness and economy, which make a well-run Buddhist temple such a contrast with the vivid sensual assault of a Hindu temple.
Samuels uses, and further develops, two lines in anthropological theorizing to aid his characterization of this style of village Buddhism. First, he shows how an analysis of emotional language can show how feelings play a key role in social relations, especially those between laity and monks. Thus the laity of a village may invite and welcome a monk, and support him, or else reject him. Second, he shows how a social aesthetic, loosely governing both self-presentation and judgment of others, can be successfully reproduced. Above all, he contributes to Buddhist studies an account of aesthetics, style and emotion which is clearly related to the Buddhism of texts, but which demonstrates a rich local sensibility and language of emotion which makes Buddhism work in the constant making and remaking of Sinhalese rural society.
Michael Carrithers, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom
BETWEEN FRONTIERS: Nation and Identity in a Southeast Asian Borderland. Research in International Studies. Southeast Asia Series, no. 122. By Noburo Ishikawa. Athens: Ohio University Press; Singapore: NUS Press, 2010. xvi, 268 pp. (Tables, figures, maps, B&W Photos.) US$28.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-89680-273-5.
This is a book about the transformation of a border locality between two nation-states located in insular Southeast Asia. Undertaking a deep ethnography of a border community where the boundary of the village coincides with the national boundary between Malaysia and Indonesia on the island of Borneo, Ishikawa is concerned with the question of how people of a border community strategically situate themselves as citizens of a nation and how the state subjectifies and disciplines its citizens while integrating the locality both into the orbits of national control and the larger capitalist economy. Doing so, Ishikawa has both completed long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the community as well as archival research on the colonial transformation and valorization of a national periphery. Arguing on different levels, micro- and macro-history, the author succeeds nicely in bringing a structural analysis of capitalism and the state into a reading of history and ethnography. The monograph thus achieves in giving a comprehensive picture of the integration of a community into the nation and the global economy.
Ishikawa is not interested in sweeping generalizations, but in a deep ethnography of the people in a concrete physical space, their oral histories, and above all, in the transformation of their lives. It is fascinating to observe how their lives have been changed while they became both subjects of colonial and post-colonial capitalist aspirations and political claims of the emerging nation-states. The differential inclusion and development of the communities on both sides of the border results in labour migration from Indonesia to Malaysia, facilitates smuggling and trading across the border and results in an increasing entrenchment of social inequality and growing stratification into the everyday life of the border community. Hence, the work is divided into two parts. In the first part, the author describes how state and markets expand and appropriate the physical space and natural resources of Borneo and how colonial and post-colonial policies result in inscribing a national boundary between Sawarak and Kalimantan. In the second part, Ishikawa is interested in what he calls the location and positioning of villagers into the emerging nation-states. The reviewer especially appreciates the second part for the ethnography of the making and unmaking of a border community from the pioneer settlers until contemporary times.
This book thus does a wonderful job in depicting the subjectification and disciplination of people into citizens without losing the focus on the concrete experiences, agency and practices of the villagers. In writing a case study of a community divided by a border, Ishikawa notes that there are myriad cases that could be fruitfully compared with his community study. Yet the author does not seem to be interested in the growing field of borderland studies and does little to point out the value that his study contributes to the study of borderlands elsewhere.
While it is not possible to cite anybody working on borders, the reviewer feels that more could have been done to integrate salient work on borderlands in anthropology and geography in order to direct the rich material that the author collected and to put it more firmly into a comparative perspective. Further, the author could have done more to use the work of, for example, Heyman and Kearney to theorize his material for an innovative perspective on borderlands. We need to theorize borderland studies beyond a mere referral to the location and cultural work of the villagers. While the author collected sufficient material to demonstrate his case, he largely leaves out this opportunity to make a theoretical contribution to the study of borderlands. Despite this small deficit, this book can be widely recommended not only for readers interested in Southeast Asian Studies, but also in border studies and for readers interested in the transformation of community and nation in the capitalist periphery more generally.
Alexander Horstmann, Max Planck Institute, Göttingen, Germany
ASEAN’S MYANMAR CRISIS: Challenges to the Pursuit of a Security Community. By Christopher Roberts. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010. xxii, 268 pp. (Tables, figures, B&W photos.) US$49.90, paper. ISBN 978-981-4279-37-6.
In this welcome addition to the literature on ASEAN’s relations with Myanmar, Christopher Roberts discusses in considerable detail the challenges that he argues Myanmar poses for the establishment of a security community in Southeast Asia. According to Roberts, these challenges, which are primarily linked to the longstanding political conflict and instability in Myanmar, undermine the association’s security environment and impede the formation of an ASEAN-wide collective identity.
Roberts devotes two chapters to the security community concept and his framework for analysis. Taking issue with the existing literature, he defines security community as a “transnational community of two or more states whose sovereignty is increasingly amalgamated and whose people maintain dependable expectations of peaceful change.” Roberts adopts a broad understanding of security, as he believes the concept should accommodate both traditional and non-traditional security issues.
For Roberts, Myanmar’s internal consolidation is essential for the construction of an ASEAN security community. In chapter 3, he briefly explores manifestations of the country’s domestic instability, such as child soldiers, forced labour, internal displacement, mass rape and extrajudicial killings. As Roberts notes, however, “[m]ore than anything else, a history of ethnic tension and insurgency continues to contribute to the domestic instability in Myanmar today” (69). Chapter 4 presents Myanmar as a source of various non-traditional security challenges: human trafficking, refugees and illegal migrants, HIV/AIDS and, particularly, illicit narcotics smuggling. Roberts argues that the SPDC’s “involvement with narcotics production within the country, and its indifference to the transnational consequences of this, renders it difficult to consider the actions of Myanmar as reflecting an appropriate sense of an ASEAN wide community—now, or in the foreseeable future” (87). He also examines how Myanmar-Thailand and Myanmar-China relations challenge the formation of an ASEAN security community. Regarding the former, he maintains that the border conflict has prevented “a situation of actual and anticipated peace” (91). Concerning Myanmar-China ties, Roberts holds that “their mutual identification with each other has been at the expense of Myanmar’s capacity to identify with ASEAN collectively” (97).
The implications for the formation of an ASEAN security community in mind, the remaining chapters examine the evolving relations between Myanmar and the other ASEAN states. Here, Roberts stresses that dealing with the question of Myanmar’s chairmanship became “the biggest challenge to elite-level solidarity and collective identity formation since the Asian economic crisis in 1997” (122). He also argues that by late 2006 the relationship between Myanmar and the other members “had deteriorated to a point most accurately defined as ‘mutual disengagement’”(152). Roberts claims that Myanmar’s disregard for ASEAN’s interests was most clearly demonstrated by its response to the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007.
Roberts offers a broadly positive assessment of ASEAN’s response to Cyclone Nargis and hopes that the approach adopted towards Myanmar on that occasion might also be applied to other areas (for example, poverty, health, education). Interestingly, he does not dismiss the 2008 Constitution out of hand. To him, it may provide sufficient space for future legislative acts that can improve the quality of governance in Myanmar. In his conclusion, Roberts calls for a policy of critical engagement towards Myanmar.
The strong points of the book include the attempt to advance the conceptual literature on security communities as well as the fine level of detail in some of the empirical chapters. There are, however, two points I would raise. First, Roberts suggests that Myanmar represents the single most significant obstacle to the formation of an ASEAN security community. However, this is ultimately more asserted than proven, as the book lacks broader comparisons. Instability or ethnic conflict in Southeast Asia is evidently not limited to Myanmar; and it is quite clear that ASEAN’s problems in developing a collective identity extend beyond the specific dynamics and issues that have shaped Myanmar’s ties with other ASEAN countries. Second, Roberts attributes the festering of the crisis in Myanmar in part to “the operative norms of ASEAN.” While political and ethnic conflict within members has indeed normally not been collectively addressed by the grouping, it seems to me that the ASEAN states have with reference to Myanmar opted for so-called “enhanced interactions” that have not previously been pursued vis-à-vis other members, and Roberts perhaps makes too little of this in relation to the argument in question. To be sure, ASEAN has wielded little if any influence with Myanmar’s leadership, but as Roberts recognizes himself, the more hard-edged policies of Western powers towards Naypyidaw have failed to yield superior results. Notwithstanding these points, Roberts offers a well-developed and important argument about how Myanmar matters in relation to ASEAN’s efforts to build a security community.
Jurgen Haacke, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK
Australasia and the Pacific Region
DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES OF A WHITE AUSTRALIA: Representing Aboriginal Assimilation in the Mid-twentieth Century. Studies in Asia-Pacific “Mixed Race,” v. 3. By Catriona Elder. Bern: Peter Lang, 2009. 257 pp. (Illus.) US$68.95, paper. ISBN 978-3-03911-722-2.
Dreams and Nightmares of a White Australia: Representing Aboriginal Assimilation in the Mid-twentieth Century is an analysis of the production of assimilation discourse, in terms of Aboriginal people’s and white people’s social relations through a small number of popular fiction texts from the 1950s and 1960s. Together these texts produce the white Australian story of assimilation. Elder’s work illuminates sites of anxiety in assimilation discourses: inter-racial sexual relationships, the white family, people of “mixed” heritage, stolen children, violence and land ownership. Fictional stories of assimilation were a key site of Aboriginal representation. They produced discourses of “assimilation coloniser.”
Caroll Smith-Rosenberg writes: “Novels … have certain advantages that political speeches, legal documents and court decisions lack. They can play with the forbidden and momentarily indulge in the fantastic” (30). Elder’s work explores the schism between such fantasies and Australia’s perception of itself through the 1950s and 1960s as a white nation and the place of Aboriginal Australians in this discourse.
By the mid-twentieth century the various Australian states began changing their approaches to Aboriginal peoples from exclusion to assimilation. The policy change meant that Aboriginal peoples, particularly those identified as being of “mixed heritage,” were to be encouraged to become part of the dominant non-Aboriginal community. Elder explores texts that reflect the way assimilation was imagined in literary fiction. Drawing on a range of genres—Gothic, historical romance, the frontier and family saga—Elder skillfully and perceptively analyzes how these texts tell their assimilation stories.
Elder draws on the post-colonial theories of Homi Bhabha (1994) to probe notions of ambivalence, colonial fetishes and fantasies and mimicry. Ambivalence is a psychoanalytic term, suggesting both a longing for and a hostility towards an “other.” Elder uses this definition as a useful framework for analyzing Australian colonial relations, where the notion of “other” always takes on a very specific race-based meaning. Many of the ambivalences that structure assimilation discourses in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s are organized in terms of sameness and difference. Colonizers are both attracted to and repulsed by the colonial subject, the Aborigine. Through this lens, Elder probes the ambivalence of the “half-caste” figure in assimilation fiction.
The female Aboriginal body is identified in the works Elder analyzes as a site of assimilation and ambivalence. She writes: “Assimilation can be read as a project about ‘imagining the nation’s bodies and the national body’” (38). Assimilation narratives produce a vision of the new white nation, where the preferred national body is the white body, but they also produce anxieties about a stubborn Aboriginality, often represented by the trope of the “return to colour” or the “throw back.” White people both desire this stubborn trace and wish it away. Assimilation in Australia was a gendered and asymmetrical project where the white man’s desire for Aboriginal women is represented as having created the “half-caste” problem.
Paradoxically, the “half-caste” is also represented as a “solution” to this problem. Most of the narratives analyzed have their protagonist as a “half-caste” Aboriginal woman. Such characters are constructed as a site in which to map white masculine desire for sex with Aboriginal women. In this way the female Aboriginal body also comes to signify the erasure of Aboriginality. Elder observes a poignant absence in the literary landscape, in that neither Aboriginal men’s bodies nor white women’s bodies are coded in assimilation discourse as sites that produce inter-racial sexual desire.
Elder’s work analyzes the assimilation discourse through an array of novels that in their own time and context were iconic Australian fiction. E. Timm’s Scarlet Frontier (1953) is a eugenic romance, constructing Australianness as marked by a set of values which can accommodate certain differences, such as convict origins or gendered “otherness,” but only within the domains of whiteness; Gwen Meredith’s Beyond Blue Hills: the Terna-Boolla Story (1953), a classic assimilation story that traces through generational sagas the “making of white families”; Helen Henry’s The Leaping Blaze (1962), a tragic portrayal of children and dispossession, where Aboriginal people of mixed racial heritage are the focus of violent punishment for past miscegenation; Leonard Mann’s Venus Half- Caste (1963), which, of all the novels analyzed, best encapsulates colonial ambivalence towards Aboriginal women and has white men punished for their miscegenist desires; and Olaf Ruhen’s Naked Under Capricornia (1957), which reconstructs raw frontier relations between white and black and posits an alternate vision of separate communities. Together, such works are an excellent snapshot of white Australian attitudes to and anxieties about Aboriginal Australians during the 1950s and 1960s.
Dreams and Nightmares traces the “shape” of white Australian reactions to the inclusion of Aboriginal people, particularly the “half-caste,” into white Australia. This inclusion was an ambivalent project, as the literature reveals, both pleasurable and unsettling: pleasurable because it worked from a socio-economic perspective to legitimate white colonization, and unsettling because it challenged the concept of a “pure white Australia.”
Jeanine Leane, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, Australia
NOT A POOR MAN’S FIELD: The New Guinea Goldfields to 1942; An Australian Colonial History. By Michael Waterhouse. Ultimo, NSW; Braddon, ACT: Halstead Press, 2010. 272 pp. (Maps, B&W photos, illus.) US$42.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-920831-83-7.
In his opening chapter Michael Waterhouse quotes a report that the German governor of New Guinea in 1907 considered Australian gold prospectors “the best men for opening up new country.” The colonial view that the country required “opening up” for resource extraction by white men has in some respects persisted for over a century, as major mining interests continue to be owned by foreign companies. On a much grander scale, white men still lead the exploration and development of mineral resources in Papua New Guinea. The reasons for the persistence of these arrangements for more than a century are set out early in this book: it is a hard place to work, few Papua New Guineans have the knowledge or qualifications to take up managerial or senior technical positions (although this is changing slowly), and transport and communications are difficult and costly. Malaria, which took the lives of local workers at least as often as it did those of the white miners in the last century, remains a major health risk in the country. However, today large mining companies are likely to have better health facilities for employees than exist in many of the towns and treatment is more guaranteed.
The coffee-table format of the book and its sponsorship by contemporary mining companies initially made me wary of its content. But this is a work of serious scholarship. Waterhouse has consulted an extraordinary range of primary materials—letters, memoirs, private papers, reports, government documents—and has managed to encompass an impressive range of perspectives on the history of the Morobe goldfields. The technical and engineering feats; the physical hardships; the harshness of the terrain and the difficulties that the first miners had to overcome, trekking the mountainous region to mine alluvial gold and bring it out, are graphically described. There are numerous contemporary photographs illustrating conditions and events.
This book is much more than a history of a colonial industry. Waterhouse elaborates the ways that policies of the PNG administration and the Australian government combined both to facilitate and to hinder the development of a mining industry. The era of the Morobe goldfields coincided with Australia’s most xenophobic political period, when the White Australia Policy held sway. Then as now, the problems of governance had a major effect on the way that mining projects operated. In the early period much of the region was “uncontrolled” and conflicts with tribes were common. If the “natives” were uncontrolled, so too were the prospectors, and the records of armed conflicts involving numerous deaths make for alarming reading. Miners went armed and seemed never to question their right to walk through villagers’ land and respond violently when opposed. The labour recruitment system was oppressive and often inefficient; the wages paid and the working conditions of New Guineans were poor. Recruits absconded; many died of contagious disease in the overcrowded and insanitary living conditions. Mining was dangerous and safety regulations minimal, so black and white men alike sustained injuries and death from landslides, cave-ins and equipment failures.
The lack of transport facilities hampered smooth operations and demanded considerable capital investment from companies. While numerous historians have observed the significance of air transportation for economic development in PNG, Waterhouse’s careful analysis of the mining industry’s dependence on it brings the point home very specifically. He also provides interesting insights into the policies of the Australian Government of the Mandated Territory and in particular, its financial arrangements.
The strength of the book is the scope of its social history. Gold miners, gold rushes and frontier towns make good subjects. The first prospectors seem always to include tough men who combine traits of roguishness, physical courage, tenacity and ingenuity, working in conditions that are inhospitable and unpredictable. The history of gold mining in Papua New Guinea is populated by many such men (and a few women). But Waterhouse goes beyond the evocative stories of everyday life and critically explores the social milieu, the town that emerged as the industry flourished and the attitudes that shaped social relations. He examines the prevailing racism that characterized interactions and regulated daily life, especially for the labour recruits and the Chinese tradesmen.
Waterhouse’s attention to the social world extends to the New Guinean labourers and the people of Morobe themselves, the people who lived in the villages and were in many respects those most affected by mining in the long term. Drawing on contemporary accounts, anthropological research into the people of the region, reports and interviews, he gives well-grounded insights into their experience of the introduction of mining and the encounter with colonialism.
Martha Macintyre, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia