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Wang Hui is now established as one of the foremost thinkers in the humanities from China following upon the publication of his four-volume The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought and other translations. In this latest collection of his translated essays, there is a certain poignancy that a casual reader might miss. These writings embed a pervasive struggle between a commitment to the modern nation-state that is a rising China and the idealism of socialist anti-imperialism with a wider commitment to regional and global justice.
The first essay, “The Politics of Imagining Asia,” lays out the framework to think of the relationship between these two commitments, which, to be sure, Wang himself does not perceive as one of struggle or tension. The modes by which imperial China was linked and managed relationships with its neighbours to the south, east, north and west through the tribute system, networks, trade, etc., is contrasted here and in a later chapter with the nation-state system which Asian societies had to willy-nilly participate in to survive in the modern world. Thus the imagination of Asia will have to draw upon these historical resources to form a non-imperialist relationship that in turn must transform the global order established over the last few centuries. At the same time, however, Wang Hui is clear that “the nation-state is still emphatically the main force behind advancing regional relations within Asia” (59).
Most of the remaining essays are centrally concerned with modern China, and in particular with the process of nation-formation. There is an insightful essay on the creation of modern Chinese as a national language that develops very differently from our conventional view of “vernacularization” drawn from the European model. It was not a case of the oral replacing the written, but rather of an older form of literati writing that was replaced by a modern, urban written language that was initially as foreign to the masses as the old, until its “massification” by the communist revolutionaries.
Even more centrally, the essays are concerned with the territorial sovereignty of modern China. On the one hand he shows that the imperial order was not intrinsically concerned with national or ethnic formation, but Wang is also eager to show that non-Han imperial dynasties in China such as the Jurchen, Mongols and Manchus affiliated themselves with the earlier Chinese and Confucian imperial traditions, thus establishing a historical continuity of state legitimacy. The particular significance of this older historiographical statement of state continuity becomes very vivid in Wang’s long chapter on the “Tibetan Question.”
This essay adopts a polemical tone. In Wang’s view, the question of Tibetan independence is largely a product of Western realpolitik and Orientalism as it continues to be sustained by a romanticized vision of Tibetan spirituality. There has been a long-term collaboration between Western powers and Tibetan elites that has opposed the legitimate incorporation of Tibet into the PRC. Moreover, the PRC’s views on Tibet as a part of China is not simply a statist perspective but one supported by patriotic citizens of China all over the world, as demonstrated by their opposition to supporters of Tibetan independence during the Olympic torch relays in 2008. More crucially, Wang seeks the legitimacy of Tibetan incorporation in the history of Chinese state rule and hence sovereignty over Tibet. This leads him to take the rather nationalist position that translates tribute and other premodern political relationships into claims of modern sovereignty. The problem is that these are incommensurable positions and we cannot retreat into history to make sovereignty claims. Claims of sovereignty in modern polities are justified by popular will.
The last part of Wang’s essay on Tibet deals with questions of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation state. He reveals how many of the problems in contemporary Tibet are in fact the extension of problems in the rest of China, relating to the commodification of social and cultural relationships, growing inequality and the rapid expansion of numbers of outsiders into a relatively stable society. Tibetan protests in recent years index these processes but are complicated by the additional ethnic factor. This is a reasonable position and he indicates that the majority within a multi-national state must treat minorities with dignity and equality. Yet I believe that this chapter could be much better balanced by an investigation and evaluation of proposals to build the institutional foundations of dignity and equality.
In other essays, Wang is more intent on exploring the emancipatory potential of anti-imperial nationalisms. Discussing the Cold War order in East Asia through the optic of the Okinawa he shows how Chiang Kai-shek definitively declined the proposal by Roosevelt for the ROC to take control of Okinawa in the postwar period. Thus one can see here an exemplification of anti-imperialism and how “tribute” relations did not translate into sovereignty claims. In concluding the essay, Wang determines that the goal of national liberation movements can only be achieved by combining three aspects: the liberation of peoples, their achievement of an independent state, and the fulfilment of revolution or reform of existing inequalities. These continue to be noble ideals. But there are two problems. Wang himself struggles, particularly in the last chapter on Weber and China, with the imposition of categories developed from the Western historical experience on China. Since each of the terms from the goals of national liberation movements—people, state and inequality—represents an external imposition, it will take considerable creative investigation and thought to respond adequately to them. More critically, at a time when domestic problems are becoming inseparable from planetary sustainability and the globalization of resources, can nationalism be an adequate or sufficient response?
Prasenjit Duara, National University of Singapore, Singapore
RACIAL REPRESENTATIONS IN ASIA. Edited by Yasuko Takezawa. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Balwyn North, Vic.: Trans Pacific Press; Portland, OR: distributed by International Specialized Book Services, 2011. xx, 252 pp. (Tables, figures, map, B&W and coloured photos.) US$89.95, cloth. ISBN 978-1-920901-58-5.
If “Persistence of Memory” is arguably the most famous of Salvador Dali’s works, the persistence of race in everyday discourse, representation and practice is likewise probably one of the most frequently dissected issues in contemporary life. Discussions of underrepresentation, stereotyping, whitewashing, tokenism, fetishization and discrimination via race are even more prominent and ubiquitous in the twenty-first century than the melting clocks in Dali’s 1931 painting. The nearly inescapable four-letter word has received plenty of academic attention in English based on examples drawn from the US and Europe and, to a lesser extent, from other continents. Racial Representations in Asia, despite its title, focuses largely on constructions and representations of race in Japan.
The book is composed of an introduction and ten additional chapters. After a brief overview of the main themes and the structure in her introduction, Yasuko Takezawa argues the case for looking at non-visual approaches to racial representation and non-Western cases to racism in the first chapter, titled “Towards a New Approach to race and Racial Representations: Perspectives from Asia.” Her discussion of the significance of non-visual markers of racial differences is particularly interesting and her typology of the three dimensions of race—as self-identification, scientific constructions and as resistance—cogently highlights the multivalence of race. Takezawa’s assertion that non-European or American examples need to be incorporated to challenge assumptions that race and racism are universal and/or modern Western constructs is perfectly sensible, but seems closer to a familiar refrain than some of her other points given the large volume of work that has already been published about race and ethnicity in Asia in English.
Ella Shohat then explores the complex spaces between two approaches: realism that sees media representations as verisimilitude and poststructuralism that emphasizes the problematic linkages between media images and the “real.” Although this discussion is familiar to readers versed in media theory, film studies or reception studies, and the non-visual elements of the construction of race do not receive much consideration, the chapter provides a foundation of sorts for the subsequent chapters that are mainly devoted to visual and textual analysis.
Midori Kurokawa looks at the representations of burakumin (“untouchables”) in Japan in the 1969 and 1992 filmic versions of the same serial novel Hashi no nai kawa (River without a bridge). While essentially an exercise in textual analysis, there is some attention paid to the ways in which non-visual markers were used by characters in the film to maintain distinctions between buraku and others. In chapter 4, Sun Yup Lee uses a range of sources, including official publications, public discourse, academic research and popular literature to highlight the various contradictions and complications of the concept of race that writhed within the Japanese colonial project in Korea. There were, Lee shows, notable changes in depictions of Koreans by Japanese writers over time, but also multiple conflicting streams of thought among Japanese and Korean writers. As with Kurokawa, he follows up on the introduction’s call to analyze race beyond phenotype by explaining how affect and secondary visual markers such as clothing and hairstyles were mobilized and debated in the attempts to distinguish between Koreans and Japanese.
Chapters 5 and 6 are largely textual or visual in their approach. Caroline S. Hau analyzes the politics of belonging in Jose Angliongto’s 1969 work, The Sultante, the first novel to have dealt with the plight of the Philippine Chinese. The contextual analysis here is limited to brief references to the overlaps between the novel and contemporary context in the conclusion. Next, Takezawa guides readers through “post-race” resistance in art works in various media by Asian-American artists, based on readings of the artworks and interviews with artists and curators.
John Russell and Marvin Sterling look at blackness in Japan in the next two chapters. Russell overviews the history of blackface in the US and racial representation of blackness in contemporary Japan, then analyzes various Japanese media such as literature, popular music, fashion and cosmetics styles and pornography to conclude that the increasing prevalence of blackness in Japan ultimately reinforces caricatures and perceived racial hierarchies. Sterling focuses more closely on the representations of blackness and Jamaican culture in Japan, with an emphasis on reggae. Three interlinked discourses of colonial modernity, postcolonialism and global postmodernity have shaped representations of blackness in Japan, he concludes.
The last two chapters take a turn towards the realm of molecular biology, genomes and wider comparative scope. In chapter 9, Hiroki Ookta and Mark Stoneking summarize the effects of migration on genome diversity in East Asia, while in the last chapter, Troy Duster examines the role of molecular genetics in the various discourses and practices of constructing and maintaining human taxonomies. The chapters combine to highlight the uses and the limits of using science to define populations and race.
There are inevitably some areas that could have been fortified. Explaining the selection criteria for types of media (why novels, documentaries and pornography, but not commercial films or TV dramas), geographic spaces within Asia (why the focus on Japan), and specific groups within Japan (why burakimin but not Zainichi Koreans) would have helped strengthen the argument. Further, there is less than full contextualization within the wide range of existing approaches to race across disciplines. In particular, engagement with critical race theory or the recent spate of research published in Japanese that deconstructs the “one race-one nation” discourse, and explaining how Takezawa’s three-type approach to race intersects with other existing approaches such as the four-type categorization of race—primordial, situationalist, resurgent and emergent—would have been helpful. Also, the call for attention to non-visual forms of differentiation could have been taken up more consistently in some of the chapters.
On the other hand, as Dali noted, perfection should not be feared, as it is unattainable. The above points do not alter the fact that this volume is a source of stimulating perspectives and rich empirical research that will be useful reading for all those interested in analyzing all that is covered under that persistent word, race.
Hyung-Gu Lynn, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
China and Inner Asia
PHOENIX: The Life of Norman Bethune By Roderick Stewart and Sharon Stewart. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011. xiii, 479 pp. (Maps, B&W photos, illus.) US$39.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-773-53819-1.
Since the 1952 publication of Ted Allen and Sidney Gordon’s The Scalpel, the Sword, biographies of Norman Bethune have been almost a cottage industry in Canada. Roderick Stewart, who published two previous books on Bethune, has spent more than 30 years researching the life of Norman Bethune. With Phoenix he and Sharon Stewart have produced the magnum opus, a definitive, detailed and thoroughly researched study. They tell the well-known story of Bethune’s rise to prominence as a brilliant Montreal surgeon, punctuated by his sudden conversion to and membership in the Canadian Communist Party in 1935. Impetuous and eager to win revolutionary fame, he went to Spain in 1937 to serve as a partisan doctor in the Spanish Civil War. But the fame he sought came in China as a revolutionary martyr. Bethune’s heroic exploits between 1938-39 as a surgeon with the guerilla forces of the 8th Route Army during the early years of the Anti-Japanese War are today legendary and well remembered, especially in China. Bethune died tragically, contracting gangrene from a wound while performing operations under incredibly primitive conditions in the mountains near Shijiazhuang in 1939.
In Phoenix the Bethune story is told with more depth, context and subtlety than in previous works. The Stewarts’ pursuit of primary sources in the form of personal correspondence, oral interviews and institutional records is exhaustive. They take great pains to develop Bethune as a flesh and blood personality. Given his impetuousness, impatience and ego, he was not an easy man to like. The authors are relentless in digging up the facts of his private life—including a broken marriage and string of affairs—before he set off for Spain and China. Bethune had a serious drinking problem and was something of a misogynist. He was not a pleasant man. At the same time, he radiated charisma that drew people to him. He could attract support by overwhelming colleagues and acquaintances with the intensity and sincerity of his dedication to medical service for the poor and downtrodden. Bethune usually got his way, despite the prickly personality and an incredible lack of tact.
It was his dedication as a doctor and communist that impressed Mao Zedong when they met in February 1938 in Yan’an. Bethune did not want to sit around Yan’an managing a clinic. He insisted on being in the field ministering to soldiers. Mao gave him unusual authority to be manager of a team of doctors to serve in the Jin-Chi-Ji guerrilla base area. At first Bethune tried to establish a model hospital and school at Songyuankou (Shanxi). This failed for logistical and financial reasons. Bethune quickly adjusted, lowering expectations, and throwing himself into the development of a mobile surgical unit, which was a success. Bethune led it into many of the most dangerous areas in southwestern Hebei province, often behind enemy lines. Bethune wanted to be as close to the action and the floating frontline as possible.
As usual, Bethune was often irate over lives lost because of the crude and poorly trained methods of Chinese medical personnel he encountered. But his rage reached a boil over the inadequacy of basic medical supplies. He expected that his pleas for international support would be fully met and that the newly purchased medical supplies would be delivered promptly to his surgical group. Needless to say neither was forthcoming. Bethune was not willing to take no or delays for an answer. In mid-1938 the onus for marshaling the international medical aid he required landed on Agnes Smedley, Dr. Robert K. Lim (Lin Kesheng) and others in the wartime capital of Wuhan. Smedley and Bethune were a lot alike and although the two served the same cause they clashed badly and loudly. And Bethune never received significant supplies through Wuhan.
The China sections of the book are heavily based on the considerable personal correspondence that the authors dug up from a great variety of sources. On the Chinese side, the Stewarts collected available English-language memoir accounts as well as conducted interviews to develop an oral history of his last days in China. For the most part the latter sources follow and support the enshrining of the Bethune legend.
At the personal level, Bethune felt increasingly isolated and miserable in China. He seemed to never even try to master minimal spoken Chinese. As he and his team got deeper into enemy territory, the translating became worse, leading to outbursts of anger on Bethune’s part that were difficult for Chinese colleagues to understand. He slept fitfully and little. So physically, by 1939 he was deteriorating rapidly as the fine set of photos in the book well illustrate. In October the end came rather suddenly, he died after refusing treatment until he collapsed from a scalpel wound to his finger that developed septicemia.
In short, Bethune’s is a wild story and it is well told by the Stewarts. The China section of the book provides a detailed chronological narrative that in accumulative fashion punctures the myth of Bethune. He emerges more as a sad, tragic figure than a revolutionary hero. At the same time, he was selfless. The lives saved and the methods Bethune taught his comrades in the field did play an important part in sustaining the 8th Route Army militarily on the Jin-Cha-Ji frontline through 1939.
Stephen MacKinnon, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
COLONIAL PROJECT, NATIONAL GAME: A History of Baseball in Taiwan. Asia Pacific Modern. By Andrew D. Morris. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2011. xi, 271 pp., [14 pp. of plates]. (Illus., map.) US$49.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-520-26279-9.
Baseball has long been integral to Taiwanese national identity, evident in the 2000 decision to replace the image of former President Chiang Kai-shek on the NT$500 bill with that of an indigenous youth baseball team. With a history going back to Japanese colonial administration (1895-1945), baseball provides a narrative thread spanning Japanese colonialism, the transfer of Taiwan to the Republic of China (ROC), decades of Cold War, democratization and the rise of Taiwanese identity in official discourse. As Morris writes, “a history of Taiwanese baseball is an appropriate and crucial window for understanding the complicated histories and cultures of modern Taiwan” (149). The use of the plural is absolutely correct, as Taiwan presents to researchers a tangled web of conflicting histories, cultures and ethnicities.
Morris organizes the book in chronological order, with two chapters on the Japanese period, three chapters on ROC rule during the Cold War, and one chapter on the professionalism of baseball after democratization. In captivating prose, Morris covers a wide variety of baseball, from colonial sportsmanship through Little League tournaments to professional leagues with corporate sponsors. The historical detail of the book, based on a thorough reading of primary sources in Japanese and Chinese, is remarkable. The chronological divisions are logical and reveal important historical dynamics. In the Japanese period, for example, baseball began as the sport of the colonizers, but was transformed into an arena for transforming members of all ethnic groups into loyal subjects of the Emperor. After the ROC arrived on Taiwan, bringing with it a large cohort of Mainlanders from China, baseball marked a social divide between native Taiwanese and politically dominant newcomers.
Readers interested in local interpretations of cross-straits geopolitics will not be disappointed. The history of Taiwan’s victorious Little League tournaments in the US in the 1970s is particularly interesting, as it provides a creative prism for reviewing the period when the ROC lost its United Nations seat and most countries switched diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The conclusion also takes on contemporary subjects, such as the Olympics and PRC insistence that Taiwanese teams call themselves “Chinese Taipei” and refrain from displaying their own national flag.
The book is most noteworthy as an ethnic history of Taiwan. The Japanese used the sport to promote ethnic harmony between the Japanese, Han “Native” Taiwanese and some indigenous communities. After the war, ethnicity continued to mark the game, as the Taiwanese imbued the game with colonial nostalgia, Mainlanders tried half-heartedly but unsuccessfully to transform it into an arena for Chinese nationalism, and the indigenous players translated their athletic success into ethnic pride. This ethnic divide, in which Native Taiwanese celebrate baseball but Mainlanders prefer basketball, endures and explains why Mainlander politicians seem insincere when they use baseball to reach out to Taiwanese voters. By teasing out these ethnic differences, as well as related national imaginations, Morris writes a captivating narrative of Taiwan’s nationalist yearnings.
As a history of indigenous Taiwan, there remains the question of difference between indigenous groups, i.e., which indigenous groups were selected for integration via baseball during the Japanese period. A cross-reading of the book suggests that the Japanese promoted baseball among the more peaceful southern tribes (nanban, 南番, e.g., Amis, Puyuma, Bunun) rather than among the “fierce tribes” of the north (kyōban, 凶番, e.g., Atayal, Saisiat, Seediq, Truku), who were better known for their armed resistance against Japan; and that this contributed to subsequent domination of the sport by members of the southern tribes. Morris’s book will serve as a foundation for future research on the local sports history of different indigenous areas.
The book is lightly spiced with contemporary social theory, with passing references to such post-colonial gurus as Edward Said, Stuart Hall and Homa Bhabha. The main theoretical contribution is a reflection on Michael Herzfeld’s notion of “cultural intimacy,” demonstrating that Taiwan is also a case of “yesterday’s embarrassments [as] today’s proud boast” (157). This explains why even the flawed history of Taiwanese baseball, with scandals ranging from cheating in the selection of players in Little League tournaments to mafia fixing of professional baseball games, can become a source of national pride. The complex shifts in Taiwanese baseball history show that assumptions of globalized homogeneity, or “Cocacolonization” of the world’s cultures, are deeply flawed. Instead, baseball, “an intensely local aspect of Taiwanese culture, has succeeded most as an avenue of engagement with Japan, the United States, the PRC, and the World” (162). In the final analysis, history, even of a global sport, is always intimately local.
This book will appeal to different readerships. Historians of sport may find in it an interesting alternative to more American-centred narratives of baseball, but only if they can wade through the specificities of Taiwanese history and what may be unfamiliar debates on national identity. Those who will appreciate the book most are readers in the emerging field of Taiwan Studies. In an academic world usually drawn more to the grand civilizations of China and Japan, Morris provides a much-needed view from the margins. A Taiwan-centric history is an appropriate way to understand the tensions and conflicts between these greater nationalist narratives as they encounter one another on the local playing field.
Scott Simon, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
JAPAN TRANSFORMED: Political Change and Economic Restructuring. By Frances McCall Rosenbluth and Michael F. Thies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. xvi, 243 pp. (Tables, figures, illus.) US$27.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-691-13592-2.
POLITICAL ECONOMY OF JAPAN: Growth, Challenges and Prospects for a Well-Being Nation. Hōsō Daigaku Kyōzai. By Toshihiko Hayashi. Tokyo: Society for the Promotion of the Open University of Japan, 2010. 310 pp. (Maps, illus.) ¥3,990, cloth. ISBN 978-4-595-31207-6.
Every now and then major events transform the underlying research agenda for a region or country’s political economy. This has happened at least twice during the past twenty years for Japan. After the economic bubble burst in 1991, the inquiry into aspects of Japan’s miraculous growth shifted to understanding how it experienced such slow growth for so long. And in 2009, the question of why the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) retained power since 1955 morphed into why it decisively lost power in 2009.
Japan Transformed, by political scientists Frances Rosenbluth and Michael Thies, and Japan’s Political Economy, by economist Toshihiko Hayashi, appeared shortly after the 2009 shift. Positioned as introductions to Japan’s political economy accessible to the non-specialist, they provide broad overviews as well as specific, pointed arguments in highly readable prose. Their contrasting approaches make them excellent complements; Rosenbluth and Thies, to overstate slightly, attribute most of Japan’s modern political economic development to incentives created by the electoral system, while Hayashi, rich in empirical detail, provides economics-centred explanations for a variety of observed phenomena, making hardly any mention of political institutions as causal factors.
Rosenbluth and Thies place Japan in a comparative perspective, framing it as a place from which to study broader political themes: “The story takes place in the exotic setting of an enigmatic country, but the lessons about the causes and consequences of institutional rules are universal to politics” (185). After a historical overview that covers shifts in Japan’s political institutions from the hunter-gatherer period onward, they present an unusually clear and bold argument. In essence, Japan’s postwar political economy was shaped by incentives created by the electoral system from 1925, which, in the postwar era, pitted LDP members against one another in the same district. The LDP responded by building a coalition of “steel and rice” who “bought” protective regulation through campaign contributions. Globalization empowered exporters who wanted to be “cut loose” from domestic-oriented groups such as farmers and small businesses, leading to an electoral rule change in 1994. The electoral rule change restructured political incentives, leading to politicians’ greater focus on majoritarian pressure, less beholden to business interests.
The beauty of Rosenbluth and Thies’ argument lies in its simplicity, which gives extreme prominence to electoral rules: “the hidden ballast undergirding the ‘Japanese variety of capitalism’” (125). The clarity with which they lay out their causal claims provides an excellent opportunity to open classroom discussions to contrasting arguments, since many scholars of Japan would disagree with their claims. For example, some challenge the electoral incentives explanation, pointing to extensive organizational and functional changes within the LDP under the same single non-transferable vote (SNTV) rules (see Krauss and Pekkanen, The rise and fall of Japan’s LDP: political party organizations as historical institutions, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2011).
Others would take issue with the lack of a “state,” since resource allocations from the Ministry of Finance, Bank of Japan and Ministry of Trade and Industry did not simply go to protected sectors that “purchased” legislation. The postwar rescue of the automobile industry, technological transfers to the semiconductor industry and for consumer electronics firms to commercialize US technologies, are prime examples of government decisions that were not simply “bought” or the result of lobbying. Those in search of alternate explanations than electoral rule changes for a majoritarian pressure on politics may point to the role of media and television transforming the relationship of politicians to the general public, particularly after Prime Minister Koizumi’s savvy media strategy (see Kabashima and Steel, Changing politics in Japan, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2011). The notion that diverging interests between exporters and domestic protected sectors manifested themselves in policy preferences has also been challenged by scholars such as Steven Vogel, who note the myriad of ties binding the two groups. Rosenbluth and Thies do not convincingly support the claim that divergent sectoral interests resulted in lower funding for the LDP. They also present the financial “Big Bang” reforms and failure of several small-medium financial firms in the late 1990s as evidence that the 1994 electoral rule change weakened the ability of businesses to buy favourable regulation, moving policy towards the interests of average consumers, but the government-orchestrated mergers of weak banks to create three mega-banks occurred through the early 2000s.
Hayashi’s volume best complements Rosenbluth and Thies in the areas of economy and economic policy, which the latter oversimplify in readable but debatable prose such as a “house of cards,” contending that “the dirty secret behind Japan’s rapid economic growth was the unsustainable means by which it was produced…” (97). As Hayashi shows, the rising income levels with low inequality following the wartime devastation provided Japanese with great prosperity, which certainly did not evaporate after the bubble burst in 1990—hardly a house of cards—and it is not at all obvious that truly sustainable long-term growth is possible anywhere.
Hayashi’s volume has predictable and data-rich chapters that cover Japan’s growth, bubble and aftermath, fiscal reconstruction, savings and lifetime employment. Some were contributed by economists such as Takeo Hoshi. It also contains some interesting sections that explore topics on information-based economy, energy and sustainability, and a somewhat philosophical chapter raising the question of whether GDP is what countries should maximize (chapter title: “Isn’t it happiness that counts?”). The book ends with a quote from Keynes in a radio interview, that mankind is now confronting his real problem of “how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure… to live wisely and agreeably and well” (297), a fresh new departure from the common pessimistic, or “Japan at crossroads” conclusions.
The volume lacks the coherence and focused narrative of a single integrated book, and it shies away from simple explanations for Japan’s rapid postwar economic growth. Hayashi humorously characterizes the variety of factors for which he provides data with a race car analogy: external conditions such as the road and weather (a favourable international trade regime, record-low natural resource prices, a low fixed exchange-rate yen), internal mechanics such as the engine (a young, well-educated labour force, high savings rates, bank-centred finance, etc.) and finally, why the driver wants to go so fast (a nationwide focus on growth, partly likely driven by disillusionment following the war). Hoshi’s chapter investigates the causes of Japan’s economic bubble, attributing it to partial financial deregulation that allowed firms to depart from the bank-centred system to raise capital, but limiting household savings mainly to banks, leading banks to pursue ever riskier borrowers, since their best customers left for capital market. He also points to a series of policy blunders by the government that worsened the effects of the bubble, such as the interest rate policy, avoiding cleanup of nonperforming loans, the ill-timed introduction of a consumption tax in 1997, and doing too little too late in the late 1990s stimulus.
With their contrasting approaches and very different analyses, particularly of Japan’s postwar political economy, these two books provide effective entry points into interesting classroom and graduate seminar discussions.
Kenji E. Kushida, Stanford University, Palo Alto, USA
John Zysman, University of California, Berkeley, USA
LANGUAGE LIFE IN JAPAN: Transformations and Prospects. Routledge Contemporary Japan Series; 34. Edited by Patrick Heinrich and Christian Galan. London and New York: Routledge, 2011. xviii, 252 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$140.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-58722-8.
This 13-chapter volume illustrates, from a variety of perspectives, a multifarious and complex language life in Japan undergoing further transformations. As Heinrich and Galan state, “Japan is, and always has been, multilingual, and the image of a monolingual society it presents both to its own people and the rest of the world is purely a modernist fabrication.” (2) They maintain that modernity attempted to bring order to the “chaotic” language life in Japan by imposing “standard Japanese” and the idea of imagined linguistic homogeneity for the purpose of security (but at the expense of freedom). Under the influence of modernist ideologies, Japan is experiencing a loss of diversity, as the minority, autochthonous languages of Japan are now critically endangered or virtually extinct (for example, Ainu). At the same time, mobility and globalization have brought new diversifications.
Significant transformations are being observed in societal recognition of diversity, largely due to estheticism and entertainment, and in attitudes towards security and freedom. Many of the studies suggest an ongoing shift towards more freedom of language choice albeit persistent modernist ideologies. A new way of balancing security against freedom in language policy seems to lie in the reframing of the nation: civic nationalism, “a redefinition of the Japanese nation on civic, not ethnic, grounds” (Heinrich, 48), and what Takao Katsuragi calls “cultural nationalism” (212) which values national cultural diversity and promotes solidarity and mutual learning rather than tolerance or mutual indifference.
This volume undoubtedly elucidates the reality of language and society in present-day Japan and the historical and socio-political background behind it. Authors provide eye-opening accounts of how the grand narrative of modernity (i.e., a homogenous nation-state) was constructed and how reality was concealed by the promotion of a literacy myth (Hitoshi Yamashita), the creation of public broadcasting language as the “correct” standard language (Takehiro Shioda), and coercive uniformity in reading and writing instruction in the Japanese schools (Christian Galan).
The volume also illuminates ongoing transformations of language life. Some involve changes in language itself (e.g., changes in writing systems due to technological advancements such as cell phones discussed by Nanette Gottlieb, and regional dialects affecting the “standard language” explicated by Fumio Inoue). Others are more societal or political, revolving around various issues such as language rights (most notably concerning the use of Japanese Sign Language among the Deaf) (Goro Christoph Kimura), changes in the school system (Galan), in official manuals for public signs leading to plurality in Tokyo’s linguistic landscape with explicit promotion of Chinese and Korean in addition to English (Peter Backhaus), and in the preferred use of the Japanese language with Asian business counterparts, alongside the increased use of English in business discourse (Hiromasa Tanaka and Aya Sugiyama), and the spread of Japanese words (Tessa Carroll) due to internationalization.
Despite the shift toward greater interest in diversity, challenges remain. Kimura cautions that the discourse for advancing support for language rights is ironically “deeply rooted in modern conceptualizations on language, ethnicity, identity and the way that these concepts are interlinked” (31) in that it assumes individuals’ “allegiance to a single language” (27) as their “mother tongue” when in fact individuals have multilingual and multicultural identities. Similarly, Heinrich argues that increasing interest and efforts to revitalize endangered autochthonous languages such as Uchinaaguchi, a language of Uchinaa (Okinawa), is obstructed by the ideas that “being Japanese is a fixed and monolithic state” (48) and that membership in the Japanese nation-state requires allegiance to the Japanese “standard language” as an individuals’ mother tongue. Furthermore, Yuko Sugita discusses the problem of the target of language revitalization having often been “‘pure,’ ‘authentic,’ ‘traditional’ language” (55) which diverges from reality. She suggests that the recognition of actual language practices among bilinguals and semi-speakers, which reflect hybridity and plurality within individuals, would help promote language revitalization.
Some chapters fall somewhat short of the expectations set forth in chapter 1. While Inoue’s chapter illuminates the processes surrounding changes in spoken Japanese, notably de-standardization by incorporating expressions from other dialects (“new dialect forms”), I was misled to believe that the chapter would also discuss diversification due to emerging new dialects. Though Tanaka and Sugiyama’s chapter on language and power in business meetings discusses marginalization of non-native speakers in business discourse, it does not present original analysis of such intercultural business discourse. Rather it reports an analysis of intra-organizational Japanese business discourse practice, which is speculated as causing problems if transferred to intercultural business interactions. Whether Japanese businesspeople bring in the same practices in intercultural business discourse is an empirical question that would require further analysis.
All in all, the volume is a welcome and timely contribution, shedding light on the dynamics of present-day transformations of language life in Japan. Many chapters provide the valuable suggestion that the key to overcoming the legacy of modernity and essentialism lies in re-conceptualizations of nation and language.
Noriko Iwasaki, University of London, London, United Kingdom Noriko Iwasaki
WIDOWS OF JAPAN: An Anthropological Perspective. Japanese Society Series. By Deborah McDowell Aoki. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press; Portland, OR: Exclusively distributed by International Specialized Book Services, 2010. xiii, 178 pp. (Tables, B&W photos.) US$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-92090-128-8.
A friend told me about her grandmother who was widowed in her late twenties in rural Shimane prefecture. The oldest child of a “good” family, her parents made her return to her natal home and remarry. It was understood that she would leave her two young children behind in her husband’s family. She never saw them again.
Deborah McDowell Aoki’s comprehensive study of Japanese widows brings into focus the complex, ambiguous, often tragic history of the impact of spousal death on Japanese women. Her eight years of research from 1996 included 58 interviews with women from urban and rural areas. She states the themes in the introduction: “the fetishism of female bodies to protect and embody family honor, the historical role of state formation in creating family and kinship systems, and the integrative functions provided by women” (1).
After a survey of the anthropological literature on women and widowhood in world history, including the Confucian ideology in which patriarchal families became the model of how societies should be organized, Aoki turns to the history of widows in Japan. Japanese women in the Heian period had considerable freedom in choosing a partner, even after widowhood, primarily due to the prevalence of matrilocal marriage residences. The Meiji period, the low point in women’s legal status and family role, saw the institutionalization of the patriarchal family system (ie seido). Aoki traces these changes through the various words used to describe widows historically: kafu, yamome, goke and from late Meiji, mibojin, which connotes “one who should have died with her husband, but has not yet died” (34).
The next three chapters draw on the author’s ethnographic interviews. Chapter 4 describes the situation of war widows, their poverty, activism and identity. One interviewee says, “People have forgotten now, but in those days, widows were called the ‘white lilies,’ the ‘beautiful reeds’ or the ‘blue orchids,’ we were the wives of the spirits of dead soldiers” (53). However, at the end of the war the full extent of widows’ poverty and suffering became clear. The author blames the government’s weak safety net but also the failure of many families to provide support, sometimes because of discrimination against widows, but primarily because their families were also poor and had little to offer in concrete help. In 1948, the proportion of single mothers receiving public assistance reached 60 percent (60). Widows began to organize themselves; by 1949 there were more than 2000 widows’ groups. Aoki’s interviewees eloquently express the pathos of their situation. A widow from a family that made charcoal: “Sometimes the wood doesn’t become charcoal; it just rots. I was like that too. I couldn’t become charcoal but I became like rotten wood and then dirt. That’s how I feel about my life” (70).
Chapter 5 is an ethnographic account of an upper-class widow organizing the memorial ceremony on the second anniversary after death. Through participant observation the author conveys the crucial role of widows in mediating between the real world of living people and the spirit world of the ancestors. Women provide the structure of the rituals, the care and nourishment of the dead, and the maintenance of family continuity.
The final two chapters highlight the feminization of poverty, which has belatedly received more attention in Japan. Women held only 15 percent of full-time jobs in 2006 and continue to fill the temporary, part-time ranks. The daily life of the widow is also described, especially the phenomenon of widow watching. “Even now I get tired of being watched all the time,” one woman complains. “We are suspected of trying to take the man in their life even though we have no interest.”
The author emphasizes there is no archetypal widow. The strength of her study lies in the narrative of widows’ roles in the family and society, past and present, with stigmatization and a lack of support. The apt quotations from her interviews vividly evoke the women’s voices, enriching the book and enhancing our pleasure in reading it.
My main concern is the discussion of caregiving. Aoki writes that woman should not be considered the sole caregivers and there should be a national program similar to national health care that would relieve women caring for both children and the elderly. But caregiving is changing; men, particularly husbands, are increasing as caregivers and the national long-term care program which Aoki briefly describes, is a significant attempt by the government to share the burden of care for the elderly. I also wonder, didn’t any of her interviewees remark on the satisfactions of caring for a spouse? Other researchers report that quite a few caregivers find this a positive experience.
Her conclusion that the legacy of single female-headed households in poverty is still a fact of life for widows is accurate. Aoki is optimistic that women are taking the lead in pushing society to redefine marriage. Her book should provide powerful ammunition for doing that.
Ruth Campbell, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
INDIAN NUCLEAR DETERRENCE: Its Evolution, Development and Implications for South Asian Security. By Zafar Iqbal Cheema. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010. xxiv, 609 pp. (Tables, maps, figures, graphs.) US$40.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-19-597903-9.
Cheema’s purpose is to understand the “inspirational base” for India’s nuclear weapons strategy: he doubts that it was the conflict with China in September 1962, followed by the first Chinese atomic bomb test in October 1964, which led to decisions in late 1964 to prepare a bomb for testing in India. He offers evidence that Indian ideas about a bomb option were formed in the mid-1950s, he says, between the “realist” Jawaharlal Nehru and physicist-institution-builder Homi Bhabha. He then shows that India’s clarity contrasts strongly with Pakistan’s bomb program, which was suggested in 1965 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (and surely discussed within Pakistan’s smaller nuclear community), but not given powerful or sufficient impetus until after the military defeat in the 1971 war with India. More pointedly, a Pakistani plan was only fully and secretly accelerated after the surprising May 1974 Indian test in the Rajasthan desert, carried out not by military officers, but by scientists. Moreover, India’s continuous refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968-70 was always explained as being due to its being discriminatory (which it was and is) but, says Cheema, through this principled refusal to sign India was keeping its nuclear bomb test option open, right through to the end of the century. This Indian refusal was probably an inspirational basis for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, too.
Cheema worked with this premise: “Since independence, both countries have tried their best to maintain military forces beyond what their levels of economic development would permit, by inducting most modern conventional weapon systems supplemented by the acquisition of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles” (531). He charts the lengthy stages of acceleration and pausing of the nuclear programs, from about 1950 to 2008. The original research for this book, including interviews in India in 1989, was presented in his doctoral dissertation at the University of London in 1991. He then revisited and refreshed that research following the 1998 nuclear tests in South Asia, working for ten years in Pakistan, the UK and the US prior to its publication, this length of time accounting for its thoroughness. Many dissertations become books; some (including mine) await this moment for many years. Cheema is to be congratulated for persevering with what was, prior to 1998, thought to be a rather obscure subject. He is now, in 2011, the head of the department of strategic and nuclear studies at the National Defence University in Islamabad. Consequently he has been in regular contact with strategic concepts and thinkers in Pakistan, and irregularly in India, for two decades.
Stressing his desire for balance and dispassion, Cheema says that most post-1998 literature on Indian nuclear policy is “overwritten” from political or proliferation perspectives, so he decided to stress and test the concepts and strategies of deterrence, and their effects in South Asia, including the now-famous stability-instability paradox. His treatment of the 1999, and 2001-02 military confrontations between the two countries, with small nuclear arsenals and missiles ready in the background, is most astute and, like the rest of the book, should interest all international readers. He is writing for a special audience in Pakistan too, closing the manuscript just before the end of the Pervez Musharraf military government, reasoning with them to adopt a more balanced and informed view of India’s conventional force superiority and to understand that although Pakistan’s nuclear capability does provide considerable deterrence against India, it is not sufficient on its own, and there are still risks and dangers (even from accidents and mistakes) on both sides. He cites a senior general saying that Pakistan could but should not become complacent just because it has a nuclear arsenal. Cheema refers to a “deterrent optimists’ lobby” (8), but we must imagine their disagreement with the “deterrent pessimists” in the “anti-nuclear lobbies” (382-88); much more could be said from his vantage point about that disagreement. In the end I conclude that Cheema is probably a “deterrence optimist with caution,” though he seems balanced enough not to overly commit himself to either or any of the lobbies.
As always, when the writing ends the manuscript disappears into the jaws of time. Thus Cheema did not see the book edited by Scott Sagan on the stability-instability paradox (Inside Nuclear South Asia, Stanford University Press, 2010, for a review see Pacific Affairs 84, no. 2 : 380-382) in time to include it here. And there are some omissions; neither Haider Nizamani’s The Roots of Rhetoric: politics of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan (2000) nor Itty Abraham’s The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb (1998) are mentioned, though both give excellent historical grounding in the reasoning and practices which were essential to the “inspirational base” of India’s (and Pakistan’s) nuclear programs. Cheema’s important work is all-embracing, and so packed with useful details, lists, footnotes, texts of treaties and policies for researchers that it is difficult to summarize; not only are the targets and weapons listed but also all types of missiles, jet fighters and bombers, which provide the delivery of the weapons, plus the command and control systems.
Historic irony spares no author (including this reviewer), so while Cheema’s analysis of nuclear deterrence doctrines was coming out from the press, a surprise flood, not a surprise military attack, washed away 40 percent of Pakistan’s GDP in 2010, and citizen-enemies of the state within Pakistan skillfully and successfully attacked its key institutions, “undeterred” by formidable police and military surveillance. Just to safeguard its own nuclear installations had already become, within a few years of Pakistan’s first nuclear tests, that state’s most costly, continuous and demanding challenge.
Robert Anderson, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
In Mumbai Fables, Gyan Prakash has written a lyrical yet incisive account of the city that has beckoned to him over the course of his life. The call of the city is not incidental to the arguments and organization of the book. Indeed, Prakash seeks to understand how and why the city has emerged as an object of desire and yearning. Invoking Jonathan Raban’s idea of the “soft city” and thus accepting the historiographical proposition that the city of myth and fable and aspiration is as real as the city of facts and statistics, Prakash does not try to “strip fact from fiction” but seeks instead to write histories of “what permitted the telling of certain stories and not others” (23). In doing so, he challenges the conventional narrative of the city, one that paints a downward arc in the city’s fortunes in the course of its passage from prosperous and cosmopolitan Bombay to slum-ridden and communally polarized Mumbai. If the proliferation of slums and the outbreak of communal violence in the 1990s shattered the city’s image as a “shining, cosmopolitan city,” then Prakash’s quest “took [him] to the shards of Bombay’s shattered image” (346).
Understanding such shards on their own terms is the method used by Prakash. Eschewing a conventional monographic narrative structure, the book reconstructs the shards themselves and thus shows how the city’s fables were produced. Not only does this approach tell us about those whose experiences were silenced to create the city’s fables, but it also offers readers the opportunity to rearrange the shards in different ways and thus gain new and interesting perspectives on the city’s past. Mumbai Fables offers an extraordinary panoramic perspective of the city over the last 150 years, spanning the divide between the colonial and the postcolonial periods and offering insight into the continuities and disjunctures between the two. Read differently, the book makes possible different histories. Prakash notes in his brilliant study of antiques in Chor Bazaar that the ephemera on sale there “offer us a heretical archive of Mumbai’s commodity life” (344). Similarly, the deconstruction and reassembly of Mumbai’s fables makes possible heretical histories of the city’s past and present.
Of the book’s nine chapters, the first and last chapters are of introductory and concluding nature respectively while also reflecting on the city of myth and dream. The seven chapters in between move from examining the emergence of the “colonial Gothic” city in the second half of the nineteenth century, marked by an unequal modernity, to investigating the mythic present-day city of gangsters, real estate and movies. In between are chapters on the land reclamation scandal of the 1920s, two chapters on the city’s cosmopolitan middle class of the 1930s and 1940s, a chapter on the Shiv Sena’s takeover of the city’s streets from the Communists by the late 1960s, and a chapter on the (mis)planning of the twin city of New Bombay/Navi Mumbai in the 1960s and 1970s.
The changing nature of popular mobilization in Bombay is one heretical history made possible by Mumbai Fables. Who are “the people” of Mumbai? While critiques of the colonial state’s controversial Backbay Reclamation in the 1920s involved a newly enfranchised middle class claiming to speak for the public at large, the radicalized middle class intellectuals of the Progressive Writers’ Association and the Indian People’s Theatre Association of the 1930s and 1940s sought to mobilize the city’s underclasses. Meanwhile, as Prakash shows in a chapter on the famous Nanavati case of the late 1950s, the newspaper Blitz under founder-editor Russi Karanajia unleashed a powerful new form of populist rhetoric with skillful use of media imagery. Yet if Karanjia’s invocation of “the people” heralded the arrival of the cosmopolitan urban middle class into its own, then the form of populist politics pioneered by Karanjia challenged the dominance of that very class. Prakash shows how the passage of the city “From Red to Saffron” implied a profound shift in the nature of non-elite mobilization. While Communist activity from the 1920s onward was confined to the city’s working-class districts, the party’s tussles with the Shiv Sena from the 1960s onwards and the interconnection of city politics with regional and national affairs meant that Communist-Shiv Sena battles for the hearts and minds of the city’s underclasses spilled over into the city at large. Deploying images of Shivaji and Maharashtra lent vigour to the mobilizing efforts of Comrade Dange and other Communist leaders over the course of the 1950s, but also unwittingly provided the vocabulary for the Shiv Sena, which wrested control of the city’s streets by the early 1970s in the name of the Marathi manoos.
Yet this is no simple account of a passage from elite to middle class to plebian agency in the city’s politics. All along, Prakash presents a variety of competing and overlapping agendas that complicate attempts to impose a singular narrative on the city’s past, including anticolonial nationalism, the class struggle, the battle for Samyukta Maharashtra, and the nativist agenda of the Sena. Indeed, rearrange the shards differently and another story comes into focus: the politics of urban lands, an important yet hitherto understudied aspect of the city’s fabled existence. A city whose land was literally wrested from the sea through reclamation, Mumbai is a place where, unsurprisingly, land has been a source of contention. Yet, as Mumbai Fables argues in upending a still-regnant fantasy among the city’s elites, there was never any golden period of efficient and uncorrupt colonial urban administration, now sadly replaced by inefficient and corrupt rule by the city’s empowered plebian classes. The city’s modernity was two-faced from the beginning: efficient and well-functioning in the Gothic colonial precincts that emerged from about the 1860s onward, but increasingly dystopian in the emerging industrial districts and slums that were part of the very same modernity. If the Backbay Reclamation scheme of the 1920s was the effort of a rapacious colonial state seeking to exploit land values, then the well-meaning efforts of Indian planners to create the satellite city of New Bombay in the 1960s were thwarted by the machinations of the city’s distinctively indigenous variant of buccaneer, the Bombay Builder. The latter, in conjunction with corrupt politicians and figures from the underworld, have taken advantage of the demise of the city’s textile industry to unlock the potential of urban land as real estate, selling a new dream of luxury housing. Prakash assesses some responses of those left out of such fantasies of property through a skillful reading of a Hindi comic strip featuring a masked vigilante avenger, appealing presumably to migrants from north India who increasingly make up the city’s underclasses.
Accounts of the city’s people and its lands are but two of the heretical histories that Mumbai Fables makes possible. Ultimately, the book’s contribution lies in the way in which it shows how the city came to be constituted as an object for its people, while at the same time constituting those people. While a valuable and lasting contribution to the study of Mumbai, Mumbai Fables advances our appreciation of the lives of cities more generally.
Nikhil Rao, Wellesley College, Wellesley, USA
Joel Brinkley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times correspondent now teaching at Stanford University, has taken a fresh look at Cambodia, the first of its kind for the general reader in a decade. But this is a disturbing book, both in its content and in its bleak portrayal of the current situation and rather hopeless outlook for the future. Brinkley’s previous engagement with Cambodia was in 1979, when he reported on conditions in refugee camps in Thailand after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime. He returned in 2008 and spent two years travelling and engaging in a wide range of interviews: with current and former US ambassadors, government and opposition figures, international organizations, civil society advocates and ordinary Cambodians, among them the most marginalized rural and urban poor. He has evidently concluded that Cambodians fall into two classes: a passive, exploited underclass, denied adequate nutrition, education, health care, political freedom and property rights, and a privileged kleptocracy that subsists on corruption and impunity, enriching family and friends through land grabs, human trafficking and the exploitation of natural resources. While much of his criticism of the current regime is certainly justified, Brinkley has somehow chosen to place Cambodia’s “curse” in the questionable context of a historical submission to autocratic rule going back to the ancient Khmer Empire.
Several careless errors intrude on what is otherwise a well-researched work. For example, Brinkley groups Deputy Prime Minister Sok An with Cambodian People’s Party President Chea Sim and Prime Minister Hun Sen in the ruling triumvirate portrayed on the CPP’s ubiquitous billboards (the “third man” is, in fact, former Head of State Heng Samrin, now president of the National Assembly). The author also characterizes the intervention of the UN Transitional Authority (UNTAC) in 1991-93 as an “occupation” when it was not even much of an “authority.” Most seriously, he has attributed the rise of the deadly Khmer Rouge regime in the early 1970s almost entirely to internal factors, putting aside the effects of a Vietnamese military occupation (and its initial support for the Khmer Rouge) and US cross-border bombing raids on Vietnamese sanctuaries that eventually killed tens of thousands of Cambodian civilians. He dismisses the conclusions of William Shawcross in 1979 (Sideshow) and ignores more recent research by Ben Kiernan and Taylor Owen demonstrating the influence of the US bombing on the success of the insurgency. Brinkley acknowledges David Chandler, the pre-eminent historian of Cambodia, as a valuable source, but one need only refer to some of Chandler’s recent writings to find a far more persuasive analysis attributing the coup against Prince Sihanouk and the subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge very largely to Cold War geopolitics.
Fortunately, Brinkley has not succumbed to prevailing myths, still embraced by conservative US politicians, about the origins of the July 1997 “bloody coup” that consolidated Hun Sen’s power. The royalist FUNCINPEC party was admittedly the main perpetrator of that 48-hour civil conflict. That said, the royalist “First Prime Minister,” Prince Norodom Ranariddh, did play into the hands of Hun Sen, who obviously controlled larger and more effective military forces. Nor does Brinkley waste much sympathy on the articulate current leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, an erstwhile royalist who broke with FUNCINPEC in 1995 and rapidly became the darling of influential US lawmakers and the liberal Western media.
Brinkley repeatedly cites research pointing to an alarming incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among survivors of the Khmer Rouge, although it seems a stretch to attribute Cambodia’s current ills to this phenomenon in any major way. He goes on to criticize the work of the courageous Documentary Centre in bringing Khmer Rouge victims to witness the long-delayed prosecution of its senior leaders, because it might exacerbate their PTSD. The Documentary Centre’s core doctrine is that “… a society cannot know itself if it does not have an accurate memory of its own history.”
As to the role of the international community in post-conflict Cambodia, Brinkley highlights the less-than-effective efforts of major donor countries and the UN to encourage effective anti-corruption measures. Western donors, in spite of generous annual pledges of aid, have been less than persuasive in recent years mainly because the biggest providers of development assistance are now China and South Korea, which have little interest in institutional reform. Measures of the kind heretofore championed by Australia, the UK and the US are thus less likely to be pursued with vigour. Brinkley justifiably criticizes numerous members of the international aid community in Cambodia for being less than interested in working themselves out of lucrative jobs. As more qualified Cambodians step up to replace foreign “technical advisers,” however, one expects that this phenomenon may be on the wane.
The most serious weakness of this book is that it barely acknowledges, and then only in its concluding paragraphs, the role of a growing, literate middle class in Cambodia that is deeply involved in a growing economy, albeit one in which wealth is unevenly distributed. There is no acknowledgment at all of the many expatriate Cambodians who have returned to invest in the country and create jobs. Cambodia has one of the most vibrant and effective networks of indigenous civil society organizations in Southeast Asia, a fairly feisty print media (although television and radio are almost entirely sympathetic to Hun Sen), and a political opposition that continues, naturally at some risk, to dog the government on a variety of issues, including corruption. The title of the book is a clear indication of where Brinkley is taking us on this harrowing journey, but to compare Cambodia, as the author does, to Haiti, and to characterize its people as facing “… a toxic mix of abuse unmatched anywhere in the world,” is somewhat wide of the mark.
D. Gordon Longmuir, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Australia and the Pacific Region
STAYING FIJIAN: Vatulele Island Barkcloth and Social Identity. By Rod Ewins. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009. xxvi, 402 pp. (Tables, figures, maps, B&W and coloured photos.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3112-7.
Despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, the notion persists that indigenous Pacific Islands arts survive mainly through the “kindness of strangers,” whether tourists purchasing small decorated bark cloths at a kiosk at Nadi airport or government grants sponsoring innovative Maori compositions at Te Papa Tongerewa (the National Museum of New Zealand). This viewpoint is a corollary to the equally persistent “fatal impact” narrative: the story of Oceanic cultures destined to be crushed beneath the juggernaut of the global economic system, their signature aesthetic forms degraded into cheap curios or mined by individual artists nostalgic for a past largely lost to them. Rod Ewins’ comprehensive and richly illustrated study of the changing significance of masi (barkcloth) produced in a Fijian community effectively counters the common narrative of post-contact artistic decline.
Lying 30 kilometres south of Viti Levu, Vatulele Island is one of the two major masi producing communities in Fiji (the other is Moce Island, in the eastern Lau group). Over the course of several visits to the island between 1980 and 1995, Ewins was impressed by the importance the small population of around 1,000 places upon masi production. Much of the garden land was given over to paper mulberry plantations and most women devoted six days of the week to pounding and printing barkcloth. While jokingly referring to themselves as “factory workers,” the women expressed great pride in the quality of their product, a pride shared with the men and young people. This contrasted with Ewins’ experiences elsewhere in the country, where the producers of indigenous art forms “seem to have a pessimistic view of themselves as a dying breed” (3).
The growth of a tourist market for Fijian handicrafts accounts for some of the surge in masi production on Vatulele. Yet islanders insisted that they sold most of their bark cloth to other Fijians—an observation confirmed by Ewins’ research. The evolution of an internal market for masi and other forms of traditional wealth in modern times has much to do with the changing ways Vatulele islanders and other Fijians perceive their collective identity. Ewins’ claim in brief is that the secret of masi’s success lies in the desire to “stay Fijian.” That desire is based less on nostalgia for a receding past than the social pressures of the present: such things as governmental interference with local life, dependence upon jobs and money, the inappropriate behaviour of tourists, or the indifference of young people to customary protocol. “Identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis,” Ewin observes (20)—although in Fiji’s case, the crisis has arguably been building for a century and a half. Over time, Fijians have become more conscious, selective and assertive of practices that mark their distinctive cultural identity. The emergent identity is deeply syncretic, mixing indigenous with introduced elements (notably Christianity). More specifically, being Fijian in the present requires participation in a wide assortment of local rituals, many of which, in turn, require exchanges of signature cultural valuables. Vatulele women thus find themselves fully occupied meeting the insatiable demands of their own kin for masi as well as the greater Fijian market.
After a brief overview of the main themes, the book launches into a detailed chapter reviewing historical transformations in Vatulele and Fiji more generally since European contact. This is followed by a relatively brief and focused discussion of the role played by tourism in the decline and/or reinforcement of indigenous culture, including the arts. The central three chapters, making up nearly half of the text overall, deal with the more symbolic associations of masi. Following a mainly theoretical discussion of academic treatments of indigenous art, Ewins launches into a comprehensive review of ascribed and inscribed meanings. Among other things, he discusses masi in relation to other iconic ritual objects, such as yaqona (kava), tabua (whale teeth) and mats; as a marker of spirituality and rank; and in terms of aesthetics and design. Chapter 6 presents a detailed overview of rituals performed in Vatulele, including descriptions of particular rituals, the role of gift-giving, and the play of politics, among other topics. The final three chapters, including the conclusion, deal broadly with the economic dimensions of Vatulele masi. Chapter 7 presents an analysis of the cultural aspects of masi production and distribution as a “sanctioned good” (i-yau) entailing gendered associations and moral obligations with exchange partners. This is followed by a straightforward description of the place of masi in the local economy, including an important discussion of women’s labour and cash income. The conclusion briefly reviews key themes of the monograph, but also introduces an important (and frustratingly sketchy) consideration of the threats to the sustainability of the masi industry.
Within the broad compass of the theme of “staying Fijian,” Ewins presents a remarkably comprehensive treatment of Vatulele barkcloth. This turns out to be both a weakness and a strength. The early chapters move between a wide range of topics, including extended discussions of classification and theory. The discussions are interesting—one cannot help but be impressed by the range of Ewins’ knowledge of Fiji and academic debates—but the sheer scope of his interests sometimes eclipses rather than illuminates the reader’s understanding of Vatulele or masi. There is also a matter of balance. Much of the ethnographic detail of life on Vatulele is scattered or relegated to the final chapter, making it hard to get a feel for the island. Most oddly, only the briefest information is provided on the practicalities of making masi. On the positive side, Ewins has written by far the most thorough and sophisticated work yet to appear on Oceanic barkcloth. Staying Fijian demonstrates better than anything I’ve read the vitality of “traditional” arts in contemporary Oceanic society, opening many promising avenues for further thought and investigation. It is both a tribute to the Vatulele people and required reading for any serious student in this emerging field of study.
John Barker, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
MEDIATING ACROSS DIFFERENCE: Oceanic and Asian Approaches to Conflict Resolution. Writing Past Colonialism Series. Edited by Morgan Brigg and Roland Bleiker. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011. vii, 284 pp. (Figures.) US$28.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-3519-4.
Mediating across Difference is an edited volume based on a workshop held at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, in 2007. This meeting facilitated the initial exchange between the 19 contributors, including representatives from indigenous Australia, the Pacific and East Asia. The volume’s central theme is that in order to deal adequately with conflict, openness towards different cultural practices and ways of knowing and being is required. Instead of understanding cultural difference as an inevitable source of conflict, difference can also be a valuable source for managing conflict and producing stable socio-political orders (2). By offering insight into the often overlooked local traditions of conflict resolution in Oceania and Asia, the volume aims to challenge mainstream Western conflict resolution and provide new perspectives on conflict and its mitigation.
The book is divided into four parts. The first part problematizes Western approaches to conflict resolution. In chapter 1, the editors argue that a prevailing focus on Western approaches to conflict resolution has neglected local knowledge and traditions of conflict resolution. The legacy of European colonialism resulted in a “weak and failing states” discourse that justifies neoliberal interventions and the imposition of “Western approaches over indigenous forms of knowing and managing conflict” (22). In addition, the widespread tendency to identify difference as a problem continues to guide foreign policy making and their approaches to conflict resolution (25). To further frame the chapters, the editors identify seven key themes that are instructive of how different cultures approach conflict and its resolution. These are: 1. Reason and Emotion, 2.Communication beyond Speech, 3. Universal and Contextual Procedures, 4. Time, 5. Violence, 6. Individuals and Relationships, and 7. Myth and Magic. The volume’s participants were asked to reflect and elaborate on these themes.
In chapter 2 it is argued that Western models of conflict resolution tend to privilege speech over non-verbal means of communication (38), perceiving silence as passivity and lack of agency. However, silence is a form of non-verbal communication, and has an existential importance in many cultures (47). In the context of conflict and peacebuilding, “silence is part of the collective stock of knowledge through resistance, rituals, and performances, and it can create imaginative and nonconformist forms of conflict resolution and community building after conflict” (52-53). Chapter 3 deals with how prevalent neo-liberal approaches to conflict resolution fail to draw upon local culture. It seems that local knowledges are only accepted if they are presented in Western terms (10). If we want to provide culturally sensitive frameworks “through which war-torn societies can heal and rebuild successfully,” conflict resolution and peacebuilding need to be reclaimed from Western neo-liberal agendas (59). The author then offers suggestions about how this can be done, amongst others by opening “a process of genuine communication between internationals and the recipients of peacebuilding”(70).
The subsequent three parts deal with indigenous traditions of managing conflict in respectively, Australia and Aotearoa/ New Zealand (part 2), Solomon Islands and Bougainville (part 3), and Indonesia, Japan, China and Korea (part 4). In the final chapter, some of the recurring themes in the volume are summed up. Instead of the “fly-in, settle conflict, and fly-out” conflict mediation practices, which ignore local particularities, the author stresses the necessity of engaging normative values in conflict resolution (271).
The most interesting parts of this volume are the case-studies in chapters 4 to 12, which often reflect fruitful collaborations between indigenous scholars and/or practitioners and Western academics. These multi-authored dialogues show the importance of relationships, time, place, emotions, rituals, ceremonies, religion and the inclusion of ancestral and non-human others in conflict mitigation, which are in many respects incompatible with Western institutions and practices of peacebuilding. For example, while professional mediators tend to focus on spoken and written words in reconciliation practices, the case studies show that symbolic activities, such as ceremonial gift exchanges, dances, prayers and customary reconciliation rituals can be more important and powerful, as they express commitment and trust, and create harmony and enduring relationships. The chapters on Oceania and Indonesia underline the importance of collaboration between local and Anglo-European conflict resolution approaches, and how this “blending” (136, 180) may become exemplary for mediating across difference elsewhere. It is stressed that local people are in the best position to restore good relations. Outsiders may be helpful in “recognizing, strengthen and consolidate what is already done on a local level” (159).
Although most authors acknowledge that customary conflict resolution does not have all the answers, overall, Mediating Across Difference emphasizes its strength and success. This is especially salient in chapter 9 with regard to one of Indonesia’s traditional conflict resolution methods: the pela gandong of Ambon. The authors argue that these peace norms and rituals of reconciliation provided villagers with mechanisms to limit and control the extent of violent clashes between Muslims and Christians. However, they omit the fact that pela gandong was criticized by mainly Muslims for being exclusive, despite its inclusive ideology, and for being part of adat (tradition) instead of the modern Indonesian state. As a result, it could not provide the means to limit violence for all those concerned. The authors argue that processes of nation building and the influences of the state on local cultures eroded the pela gandong (202). Instead, I think the problem is the implementation of a too idealized form, which did not take into account new forms of knowledge and being within the Indonesian nation. Reconciliation methods have to be flexible and adaptive to new circumstances. The volume’s case studies reveal that it is this ability to transform and adapt, and to work across differences that makes indigenous conflict resolution successful. For Western approaches the challenge is to be as equally adaptive, sensitive and aware of local detail. As argued in the final chapter, only by respecting cultural differences and mediating across those differences, can these insights be achieved (273).
Anna-Karina Hermkens, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands and Australian National University, Canberra, Australia