header image

Book Reviews – Vol 85, No 4

December 2012

Please note that this represents a sample of reviews published in this issue, to see all 40+ reviews a subscription is required


Page: 791 795 813 817 823 830 836 844 846 862 869

Asia General

STRONG SOCIETY, SMART STATE: The Rise of Public Opinion in China’s Japan Policy. Contemporary Asia in the World. By James Reilly. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011, c2012. xv, 331 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-15806-0.

When Sino-Japanese relations hit a rocky patch at the turn of the century, a wave of publications appeared on the somewhat under-researched topic of China’s Japan policy. Discussion tended to centre on the question of whether the state is losing its control over foreign policy due to the rise of nationalistic public opinion in an increasingly open and pluralistic society. James Reilly’s book takes the level of scholarship in this debate to a new level. It is outstanding for its painstaking and comprehensive analysis of large amounts of various types of Chinese texts—from journal articles to television productions and Internet discourse—to interviews with policy makers and activists and observations drawn from the time that the author has spent living in China.

This book also deserves praise for locating the debate on the relationship between nationalism and Chinese foreign policy in an extensive discussion of theories of social movements. Much light is also shed on the general pattern of how popular surges in anti-Japanese sentiments upset state policy, only for the state to then hit back and suppress dissent and return to the status quo ante. The author does this by analyzing factors such as social pluralization, state propaganda and education policy, elite politics, and external factors.

Although this fills in a lot of details, the broad outlines of this story are already well known. Reilly’s conclusion is also rather frustrating because it lacks focus, and seems to just repeat the somewhat obvious argument that policy outcomes are the result of tensions between society, the state and external events, when a more parsimonious model of the particular conditions under which either the society or the state becomes dominant is what is needed. In this respect, the books is tantalizingly frustrating, because it tends to draw back from exploring in sufficient depth the valuable insights that are scattered through the text.

This can be seen in Reilly’s reluctance to fully explore the importance of elite politics, a focus that he dismisses as a kind of “unfalsifiable” Pekingology, despite stressing in his conclusion that populist movements tend to have more impact on policy outcomes when there are divisions at the top of the CCP. Moreover, his argument draws heavily on the work of Alan Whiting when looking at how anti-Japanese protests played a role in the downfall of Hu Yaobang in the elite struggles of the mid-1980s. Because he does not consider how wearing the badge of nationalism can be used to pursue a wide range of political strategies against the ruling elite, he also overlooks some important phenomena, such as the alignment of the Hong Kong Democrats with the patriotic “Defend the Diaoyu Island’s Movement” or the way in which pork barrel military politics might be tied up with nationalistic projects like the building of aircraft carriers.

Given the tendency for China’s leaders and establishment academics to claim that policy options are limited by the pressure of nationalistic public opinion, the book could also have made much more of Puttnam’s “two level game” theory of international negotiations, which Reilly uses to draw attention to the possibility that decision makers have an interest in presenting nationalism as a constraint on their actions when bargaining with other states. This opportunity is lost in the bigger focus on the question of how the “smart” state is able to maintain a “delicate balance” between CCP rule and “passive tolerance.” Yet by presenting the state as being able to effectively moderate but not control social protest and political dissent, Reilly could be falling foul of Beijing’s two-level game strategy himself.

This can be seen in the way that using the smart state model allows Reilly to arrive at a fairly sanguine view of Beijing’s ability to avoid any spill-over of nationalism into an aggressive foreign policy, while also using the spectre of popular nationalism to absolve China’s leaders of any blame for assertiveness. CCP initiatives to manufacture nationalism, like the patriotic-education campaign, are thus given relatively light treatment. The state is also presented as a victim of anti-Japanese public opinion when Koizumi was prime minister of Japan, having to leave positive initiatives to academics and experts until he left office, despite the fact that top policy makers knew exactly when the Japanese premier’s fixed term was due to finish, and only had to put the genie of populist nationalism firmly back in the bottle and bide their time while preparing the ground for the “new starting point” in relations.

The fact that Reilly roots the “responsive authoritarianism” of the “smart” authoritarian state in literature on the stability of regimes in the Middle East must also raise interesting questions over just how useful this model is for deciding how much control the Chinese regime has over popular nationalism. The fall of Arab dictatorships since this book was written may indeed shed light on the viability of the Chinese political system as the CCP goes through its leadership transition, but the conclusions may now be somewhat different than Reilly’s proposition that authoritarianism can prosper while societies become stronger and more diverse under the forces of globalization. At one point he even goes so far as to claim that the only difference between authoritarian states and democracies is the extent of government influence because there is “a broad consensus that governments deeply influence public opinion” in both types of state (210). While such a piece of solid scholarship is essential reading for anybody interested in Chinese nationalism and foreign policy, recent events in the Arab world should also allow its central thesis to open up some fascinating debates about the relationship between public opinion, foreign policy and the stability of the Chinese state.

Christopher R. Hughes, London School of Economics, London, United Kingdom


Back to top

COLLATERAL DAMAGE: Sino-Soviet Rivalry and the Termination of the Sino-Vietnamese Alliance. By Nicholas Khoo. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. x, 267 pp. (Tables.) US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-15078-1.

Nicholas Khoo’s book on the termination of the Sino-Vietnamese alliance is compact and clearly written, so that those of us who are not specialists in International Relations theory can absorb his arguments without too much strain. His argumentation is low-key and convincingly documented, at least until he reaches the post-1975 period. There is little to disagree with in his basic point, that “Vietnam, by aligning itself with China’s principal enemy, the Soviet Union, became China’s secondary enemy” (4).

The author’s aim is to disentangle what he views as secondary causes of the breakdown in Sino-Vietnamese relations from a main cause. He takes issue with post-Cold War scholarship that de-emphasizes the centrality of the Soviet factor in China’s policy towards Vietnam. Specifically, he believes that bilateral issues “such as disputes over ideology; land and maritime borders; the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam; and Vietnam’s bid to establish a sphere of influence over Cambodia and Laos” (3) do not constitute the primary cause of the break. He reasons that the Soviet factor was “of paramount importance in influencing the course of Vietnamese policy toward Cambodia” in 1978-79 (140).

My reservations about this study stem from a lack of appreciation for IR’s search for mono-causal and theoretical explanations, when the historical facts are still only partially clear and, as in this case, a large amount of documentation from the communist parties in question remains off-limits. Khoo’s discussion of events during the beginning of the Vietnam War, when Khrushchev’s fall and American involvement opened the way to Soviet-Vietnamese cooperation, is more compelling than his treatment of the evolution of the 1978 Soviet-Vietnamese Treaty of Friendship precisely because the sources become thinner for the latter period. To take one example, the much-cited Seventy-Seven Conversations Between Chinese Leaders and Foreign Leaders on the Wars in Indochina, 1964-1977 (Westad et al.) does not extend that far. But there are other sources in his bibliography that should raise questions on Khoo’s treatment of the Vietnam-Cambodia-China triangle and the deterioration of Chinese-Vietnamese relations post-1975. These include Nayan Chanda’s Brother Enemy and Ben Kiernan’s The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. Chanda’s work, based on extensive interviews with a wide variety of participants in Southeast Asian events, documents Vietnam’s efforts to maintain a relationship with China from 1975 to 1978. The Chinese demand that they replace the Soviet Union as Vietnam’s chief aid donor was a price that the Vietnamese leadership deemed too high, however. Kiernan’s work on the Pol Pot regime, based on interviews with survivors and refugees, as well as Khmer Rouge publications, now largely corroborated by the work of Cambodian researchers, depicts the aggressive, irredentist attitude of Pol Pot’s inner circle towards Vietnam. Khoo barely mentions this aspect of the downward spiral towards the signing of the Soviet-Vietnamese Friendship Treaty, which in his view was the main cause of the breakdown in Chinese-Vietnamese relations. Yet the proximate cause of Vietnam’s decision to remove Pol Pot, and their need for a closer alliance with the USSR, was the brutal incursions of the Khmer Rouge into Vietnamese territory in 1977.

What is at issue here is Khoo’s failure to distinguish between an outwardly normal relationship between Vietnam and China and the reality of deep distrust that existed between the two states as early as 1968. To talk about an alliance being terminated in 1978 is for this reason misleading. The relationship that Vietnam maintained with China had by then been hollowed out at its core, by a series of disagreements and events that neither side could cover up. The violent promotion of the Cultural Revolution by Chinese troops in North Vietnam, the efforts to dissuade the Vietnamese from opening negotiations with the US, the Vietnamese decision to support the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia—all of these signs of alliance breakdown occurred in 1968. In order to appreciate the complexity of these events, one needs to combine a study of the communist bloc’s internal politics and foreign policy disagreements.

Interestingly, the Vietnamese support for the Soviet action in Czechoslovakia came at a moment when the Vietnamese CP had completed a purge of members considered to be too pro-Soviet and too ready to negotiate a peace settlement. What the Soviet invasion represented for the orthodox wing of the Workers’ Party was the end of “revisionist” influences in the Soviet Union, as Brezhnev consolidated his power. This was a position that the Chinese leadership would have supported, as they had the invasion of Hungary in 1956, before the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations to the point of armed confrontation. The year 1968 could be seen as the turning point when the two parties’ national interests diverged to such an extent that there could be no return to the “lips and teeth” relationship of the early 1960s. The Soviet factor was paramount at this moment, and if Khoo had focused more attention on this period, when clear realist motives began to dominate the triangular relationship, he could have constructed a stronger argument.

From 1968 on, through the 1972 breakthrough in US-Chinese relations until the return to violent clashes in Indochina in 1977-8, the appearance of friendly relations between China and Vietnam continued. But the 1974 Chinese takeover of islands in the Paracel chain held by the South Vietnamese was a sign of what was to come. Clearly, geopolitical shifts in Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War cannot all be attributed to the Soviet factor. The US role in the deterioration of Sino-Vietnamese relations from 1972 onwards should not be ignored. A State Department memo released in 2004, of a November 1975 conversation between Henry Kissinger and the Thai Foreign Minister Chatchai Chunhawan, reveals the extent to which the US was encouraging Chinese policy. Kissinger tells Chatchai that “Our strategy is to get the Chinese into Laos and Cambodia as a barrier to the Vietnamese.” He continues: “You should also tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in our way” (National Security Archive, Department of State Memorandum of Conversation, Nov 26 1975, “Secretary’s Meeting with Foreign Minister Chatchai of Thailand,” p. 8). One might rephrase Khoo’s argument and state that the outbreak of hostilities between Vietnam and China was the result of new alliances, already in place by mid-1978.

Sophie Quinn-Judge, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA


Back to top


China and Inner Asia

PURSUING CHINA: Memoir of a Beaver Liaison Officer. By Brian L. Evans. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 2012. x, 295 pp. (Illus., B&W photos.) C$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-88864-600-2.

Writers sometimes have to ignore the advice of their publisher’s editorial boards. Brian Evans, a gregarious, erudite professor of Chinese history at the University of Alberta, was advised by his publishers to edit a memoir, written while he recovered from cancer, to say less about his tough childhood in Taber, Alberta, and more about his adult career, much of it involved with Canada-China relations. He resisted the suggestion—and has produced a moving and insightful memoir. It starts with his hard-scrabble life in rural Alberta in the 1930s, goes on to his years as a graduate student in London and, later, to Canada-China relations. There are connections between the two stories. When he visited Mao Zedong’s birthplace in Hunan, Evans was struck by the fact that Mao had been born in to much more prosperous circumstances than he himself had. And the story of his move out of poverty and in to the professorial ranks is one which chimes well with one of China’s most cherished beliefs, that education is the route to success, through which poor young men can rise to the heights.

Evans’ descriptions of his life in the academic world are nostalgic, looking back to a time not long past, when university administrations were quite lean, when administrators and faculty members lived in the same world, and when private fundraising was less dominant. There is another regret, the cancellation of a program that took Evans and many other Canadian academics to Beijing, to be the resident sinologist in the Canadian Embassy there. Those of us fortunate enough to have held this position have deeply regretted its demise.

As a memoirist, Evans has two great strengths. The first is his sense of humour, which brings us several wonderful anecdotes. One is the story of one of the most bizarre episodes in Canada-China relations, the gift by Prime Minister Trudeau of four beavers to a startled Chinese government. Evans was the liaison officer in charge of cultural exchanges at the time. He was serving then as the resident sinologist in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. He also tells, with great good humour, the story of his misadventure with a Chinese airplane seat, which had been doused with cleaning fluid. Evans’ discomfort grew as he flew north to Beijing and led to him lying on his front in a Beijing hospital for three weeks. The hilarious account of the painful experience ends with his efforts to sue the Civil Aviation Administration of China, which tells us more about the status of the law in China than many learned treatises do.

Evans’ second strength is his unflinching honesty. On a personal level he tells the story of his marriage with a candour and affection so clear that the improbable elements disappear. Margo Burwash was fifteen years older than him, and his high school teacher. They fell in love and eventually married, a marriage that lasted until her death thirty-five years later. On the political side he does not prevaricate about his feelings of intense loyalty and love for China, which have led him at times to take unpopular positions. In 1989, he voiced his criticism of the students occupying Tiananmen Square in Beijing in a letter to the Globe and Mail, published by awful coincidence on June 4th, just after the killing of students started. Many writers would have been tempted to leave this out of a memoir, but Evans has left it in. Many of his colleagues did not share his view, but we did respect him.

The main title of this book is Pursuing China. It is a fitting title. It sums up for so many of us who have had the good fortune to be in this field how fascinating and endlessly tantalizing the study of China is. China is immensely important to Canada, and for a while Canada was very important to China (see Evans’ acute observations on the “many uses of Bethune”). Even though those days have passed, the great importance of China to all Canadians has only grown.

Diana Lary, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada


Back to top

DANCING FOR THE DEAD: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan: (an ethnographic film). By Marc L. Moskowitz, director, producer, editor, and cinematographer. Columbia, SC: Daunting Hat Productions, 2011. 1 videodisc (38 min., sd., col., 4 ¾ in.) US$19.95, DVD-R.

Grandpa has just died so we have to prepare for the funeral. Coffin? Check. Mourners’ sackcloth? Check. Tent? Flowers? Check and check. Chairs? Check. Caterer? Check. Electric flower car and strippers? Check. What? Welcome to Taiwan, where a really big sendoff to the afterlife, a temple fair or maybe even a political rally is likely to include scantily clad (at least for starters) singer-stripper-pole dancers gyrating on the stage of a truck decked out with gaudy backdrops (who’s looking at the scenery?) and flashing lights.

Wearing the hats of director, producer, editor and cinematographer, Marc Moskowitz, one of our best chroniclers of the anthropology of daily life at the grassroots of Taiwan’s society, has delivered a film that manages to titillate while providing an astute examination of what he calls in his narration “religious innovation” on the island. Can we call it “soft” power?

The film intersperses lurid scenes of the title ladies performing with interviews with a second generation performer, Electric Flower Car (dianzi huache) (EFC) managers, a government official and the requisite academic talking heads, most of whom have trouble keeping a straight face as they provide analysis and personal reminiscence of watching strippers at these outdoor festivals as well as in theatres in their youth. From behind the camera, Moskowitz himself becomes the subject of vulgar taunting by the female hostess, inviting him to try “Taiwan chicken.”

Religious processions have a long history in Chinese society, and Moskowitz shows scenes not only from a rare 1930 black and white parade in Taiwan, but also from a wide range of operas, parades, festivals and fairs from around Taiwan. In the 1930 film, costumed children are posed on platforms which are carried on shoulder poles. Later, ox carts were used. Then in the 1980s, EFCs emerged becoming increasingly large (hydraulic lifts make it possible for them to enlarge to three times their original size) and piaoliang (“beautiful,” but that’s a matter of taste!). Taiwan’s public religious activities include self-flagellating entranced dangi, modestly attired dancing women and, surely the funniest, techno-dancing traditionally costumed warriors, some of whom draw women from the audience to accompany them.

According to interviews, “gods, ghosts and ancestors” all want entertainment, and Taiwan’s “mix and match” religious life can meet the demand. One EFC manager tells how a man promised his father that if he lived till 100, the son would hire strippers for his funeral. The father lived till 100 and the filial son fulfilled his promise, with the stripper dancing on the coffin. A scholar cautions that the gods who enjoy this kind of stuff tend to be low-status deities.

One manager acknowledges that strippers initially performed at funerals for gangsters, but the routine soon spread among the masses. Putting on a big show is a sign of wealth. Stripping at religious functions is seen as a kind of safety valve, a way to do things people can’t do in regular life. Moskowitz makes the important point that funerals, as well as temple fairs and religious festivals such as Ghost Month, are social events, as much for community recognition and solidarity as a show of piety. Funerals are held on the street with a lot of noise and a procession. A latent function of temple fairs is to attract worshippers who will also fill the temple’s coffers with donations. Key to all of this is the concept of renao: hot and noisy. The film brings this out very clearly.

The second-generation entertainer complains that many people look down on this occupation, and do not realize the stiff training regimen the girls undergo. Not surprisingly, audiences only notice that the girls aren’t wearing clothes and not their high skill. But the performers and managers themselves comprise a tight-knit community, and offer each other support and protection.

Moskowitz makes some important points about gender. There is a display of violent machismo by male performers in some of the events for one thing. For another, while people might complain about the nudity and sexuality of the funeral strippers, Taiwan’s advertisements and media are full of images which objectify women as sexual objects yet don’t elicit the same disapproval. Children attend the performances but also gaze upon the female body on billboards and television shows wherever they go. He attributes the ubiquity of scantily clad female images to the influence of global capitalism. A government official says they have tried to restrict these performances and “point it in the right direction,” then admits that nobody listens. Cut to a scene of children on the stage watching a performance.

Moskowitz has a very good feel for the sometimes bewildering chaos that is Taiwan, and demonstrates that for all of its modernization and globalization, there remains a thriving, vibrant and constantly evolving local culture there, and that this is an indication of religious freedom on the island. He has produced a dense and very insightful, eminently watchable film of just the right length that should have a place on the shelf of anyone interested in Taiwan society, but also in popular religion and its interaction with globalization everywhere.

Thomas B. Gold, University of California, Berkeley, USA


Back to top


Northeast Asia

ASIA’S FLYING GEESE: How Regionalization Shapes Japan. Cornell Studies in Political Economy. By Walter F. Hatch. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2010. xi, 292 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8014-7647-1.

Walter Hatch’s long-awaited book makes the provocative argument that Japan was able to sustain an increasingly uncompetitive model of political economy in the 1990s because of the success of its multinational companies in extending their production networks throughout Asia. Hatch suggests that three common explanations for Japan’s resistance to change in the face of economic stagnation—that the crisis was insufficient to provide the incentives for actors to change their behaviour; that the “dysfunctional” political system privileged actors opposed to change; and that political actors were unable to detach themselves from institutions that they perceived to be culturally unique—are incomplete in failing to consider the external context. For Hatch, the key here was not globalization but regionalization—a process that Japan, as Asia’s leading economy, was able to shape (a “flying geese” formation, in a corruption of Akamatsu Kaname’s analogy). Regionalization was not just a clear alternative to US-led processes of globalization but also a “shield” that protected domestic actors from the latter.

A puzzle for students of Japan is why its network capitalism that had performed so well in the first three postwar decades delivered such poor outcomes at the end of the century. Japan’s “thickly relational” capitalism rested on cooperation on three key dimensions: between bureaucrats and business leaders; between firms; and between management and labour. While these relations were effective, Hatch argues, in reducing the transactions costs associated with implicit or explicit contracts, they imposed costs in the form of limiting the information that insiders gain from outside their networks, while simultaneously denying outsiders access to resources secured within the networks. The 1990s crisis in Japan’s financial industry illustrated the problems of poor information flow in a sector characterized by opaque and exclusionary networks.

Globalization, Hatch argues, threatened these relationships when increasing pressure—from within because of poor economic performance, and from outside from leading trading partners and international institutions—was placed on the Japanese state to liberalize various dimensions of the country’s trade and investment regimes. Although governments responded with partial liberalization, the pace of regulatory reform was slow—and, in some areas, the state actually extended its regulatory reach. Throughout the 1990s, exceptionally close ties continued to bind regulators and the regulated.

Rather than addressing the increasing problems in the domestic economy by an aggressive policy of liberalization, the principal government response, Hatch asserts, was to become the cheerleader for a process of economic regionalization. Japan would embrace Asia but use its technological leadership to perpetuate a vertical division of labour. Foreign direct investment from Japan’s multinationals was backed up by extensive government support through the provision of overseas development assistance to the region, and by the dispatch of substantial numbers of advisers who played an important role in persuading governments in the region to adopt Japanese industrial standards. Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Hatch suggests, was able to coordinate competing economic interests in the region by organizing new industrial federations that served as the regional equivalents of trade associations, and provided the finance for the ASEAN Economic Ministers-MITI Economic and Industrial Cooperation Committee.

Four developments, Hatch argues, combined to end Japan’s dominant role in Asia. The first was the region’s financial crises of 1997-98, which forced Japanese multinationals to curtail production and led to the bankruptcy of many of their suppliers. A second was an “innovation crisis” in Japan’s leading sectors in the 1990s, which caused Japanese companies to restrict the flow of technology to non-Japanese partners, leading to protests from firms and governments around the region. Third was the rise of China, whose supplies of cheap labour enabled it to leverage access to finance and technology from multiple sources and to emerge as a rival to Japan. The fourth development was a steady erosion in the volume of Japanese ODA (Official Development Assistance) to the region. The relationship between the Japanese and other Asian economies changed dramatically: Japanese companies increasingly engaged in “reverse exports,” importing finished products from their regional subsidiaries into Japan. Other economies in the region were now technological challengers to Japan. The consequence, Hatch argues, was that the foundations of the longstanding patterns of relational capitalism were shaken. The role of the state in the economy, and the seniority principle in employment, were both increasingly challenged. Companies increasingly relied on arms-length contracting rather than on network relations. Genuine change was under way.

This is a scholarly work that is rich with information on changes within the Japanese economy and on the relations between Japan and the Asian region. It repays careful reading and provides an excellent introduction to major debates on the Japanese political economy. Ultimately, however, the book is likely to be judged on its central argument, namely that regionalization enabled Japanese elites to stave off changes to network capitalism in the 1990s. Here, it is less than fully persuasive (in part for reasons, which to his credit, Hatch acknowledges). The first is that the period of Japanese dominance of the region was remarkably short—but a few years after the Plaza Accord of 1985. And even during these years, Hatch’s argument probably overstates the extent of Japanese dominance. Companies from other countries were also building production networks in other parts of the region, and in some sectors doing it more successfully than their Japanese counterparts. The work of Michael Borrus, for instance, argues that subsidiaries of US electronics companies in Southeast Asia took greater advantage of local conditions because their networks were relatively open, a point that Hatch admits. Hatch has remarkably little to say about the growth of technological capacity in Korea and Taiwan during this period; according to the index, Korea receives only six mentions in the entire book. Finally, the question remains of how important Asia was to Japan. Hatch notes that in the immediate post-Plaza period of the second half of the 1980s, fully 60 percent of Japanese foreign direct investment in manufacturing went not to Asia but to the United States. In only a brief period in the mid-1990s did Asia’s share rise above 35 percent.

John Ravenhill, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia


Back to top

AESTHETIC CONSTRUCTIONS OF KOREAN NATIONALISM: Spectacle, Politics and History. Asia’s Transformations, 34. By Hong Kal. London; New York: Routledge, 2011. xix, 164 pp. (Figures.) US$133.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-60256-3.

The Construction of Korean nationalism has recently attracted academic inquiries from several perspectives but the main emphasis has been on “textual analysis.” One of the important contributions of this book, Aesthetic Construction of Korean Nationalism, is that it incorporates the influence of visual imagination of the nation as reflected in sites of expositions, museums and urban spatial structures in the process of formulation of national consciousness in colonial and post-colonial periods. The book is divided into six chapters and the first three chapters mainly cover the role of a colonial legacy in Korean identity formation: 1915 and 1929 expositions and modernization of urban space of Seoul are analyzed. The remaining chapters show how construction of national museums, statues and urban redevelopment projects in the post-colonial period shaped the collective national identity.

The central theme of this book is that modern Korean national identity has been formulated through “imaginary” interactive exchange and a comparison of modernity and progress under Japan’s colonial rule. In the first three chapters the book explores how the legacy of Japanese colonialism influenced the redefining of “Korea” during Japan’s rule and focuses on the “dual” process of national identity formation among Koreans. By comparing the image of new Japan and old Chŏsun through the array of industrial products from a hierarchical perspective, the 1915 exposition held in front of Korea’s central palace provided an “imaginable” form by imprinting the superiority and modernity of Japan in Koreans’ minds (chapter 1). Visual effects of the 1929 exhibition highlighting Seoul’s transformed urban space, night scene and mobility were also intended to show the fantasy of a modernized Korea under colonial rule (chapters 2 and 3). However, the book argues that while the Japanese government intended to generate an illusion of “co-prosperity” or “harmonious development” it actually generated a different meaning of collective identity for Koreans. The expositions triggered a new vision of Korea’s modernization and generated a sense of national desire for self-determination. The exposition generated, among many intellectuals, the popular image of a new Korean nation in the global order.

The other notable aspect of the monograph is that post-colonial regimes in Korea have continued to utilize exhibitions, national monuments, national heroes and urban spatial development as crucial inputs for the production of national subjectivity. For overcoming the Japanese colonial legacy and postwar economic difficulties, the Rhee administration used anti-Japanism and anti-communism in the nation-building process by constructing national heroes or building national monuments. Under the Park Chung Hee regime, “self-reliant” national economic development became a crucial framework for social engineering and his regime used memories of the colonial rule as a tool. Linking memories of the past and the present development has continuously helped in the construction of a sense of contemporary national citizenship and national direction in the age of globalization and economic liberalization. The projection of a new prosperous Korea as a collective identity through reimagined stories of national heroes and spatial coordination of the War Memorial of Korea (WMK), the Independence Hall and National Museum of Contemporary Art was a new framework for both military and civilian governments that sought to project a new departure from colonial and post-colonial military memories. The author has tried to explicate the intention of the City of Seoul behind city transformation projects such as Cheonggye Stream Redevelopment that address a new discourse on industrial development with balanced and sustainable growth. As such, memories of colonial and post-colonial periods have continuously been regenerated in visual forms to maintain ethnic unity and collective identity for the survival of Korea in today’s competitive environment.

This book contributes to the study of Korea’s nation-building process and formation of a collective identity in modern Korea through analysis of visual effects of urban space and physical sites that symbolize Korean national consciousness. Despite this important contribution, this book could have presented concrete influence of the visualized forms of space, vision and power in a more convincing manner. Unlike previous studies on nationalism that highlighted the role of printed materials like newspapers in a formulation of “collective national subjectivity” (15), this book extends the scope of research to the area of popular imagination and visualization of nationalism by providing new interpretations of the hidden meaning of museums, statues and public squares in new urban space. However, this top-down interpretation does not provide adequate explanation of how general citizens actually formulated shared values and nationalist ideas. In the end, the author has also depended on Korean intellectuals’ understanding recorded in written texts. Methodologically, interviews with officials, curators and general citizens could have strengthened this research. Except for some stakeholders directly involved in the Cheonggye Redevelopment Project, many citizens of Seoul might think the project is nothing more than a public space for citizens or political fallout of the former Mayor Lee’s ambition for re-election. Linkage of past memories and present politics of nationalism cannot be configured convincingly without substantial field research.

Despite such grounds for criticism, the book clearly contributes to an understanding of the “aesthetic meaning” of museums, statues and structures of urban space which has been largely ignored by social scientists.

Yooil Bae, Singapore Management University, Singapore


Back to top

South Asia

HIP HOP DESIS: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness. By Nitasha Tamar Sharma. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010. xiv, 351 pp. (Illus.) US$23.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-4760-6.

This book is an important contribution towards understanding the landscape of diasporic cultural politics. Nitasha Tamar Sharma provides a rich and textured introduction to the world of South Asian artists in hip hop culture. Integrating quick-paced descriptive writing with insightful theoretical engagements, Sharma’s fieldwork provides a window into a much broader discussion about transnational identifications, racial politics and cultural citizenship. Sharma captures the lives and aspirations of young desi performers in vivid detail and in the process, manages to leverage the descriptions towards some very productive intellectual and political interventions.

Sharma has responded to the challenge of documenting the complex narratives of racial identity and the contested paths of minoritization. The study of groups as self-contained units is no longer tenable in the contemporary transnational context of flows. The contested terrain of race and ethnicity has to be situated within the structures of the neoliberal consumerist economy and the powerful reach of the culture industries. The culture of hip hop and its presence in the lives of young South Asian Americans is a challenging site to study. Both deep contextualization and multi-sited methodological moves are necessary in order to capture the racial politics, contested ethnicities and transnational imaginaries that frame the creativity of desi hip hop artists. This is a vast and dynamic terrain that deserves nuanced attention. Sharma has succeeded admirably in unraveling the layers of a complex narrative in this compelling book.

The book stands out for the way it complicates the binary logics of understanding race. Sharma introduces us to characters who through their performative and social networks express a global race consciousness. Through the stories of the rappers and DJs, Sharma shows how race becomes “a matter of critical understanding—of ways of thinking about and being in the world” (2). The youth, Sharma portrays, negotiate their own racial identity through immersion in Black popular culture which, in turn, enables a reimagination of their connections to South Asian ethnicity or desiness. Sharma’s ethnography manages to take the reader into the creative and complicated worlds of these young artists. While their individual aspirations are outlined in detail, the ethnography deftly establishes how artistic identities and creative pursuits are deeply implicated within the structures of transnational histories, the music industry and the global economy.

Sharma tracks how the artists experience race and disrupt conventional understandings of cultural belonging and ethnic identity. She asks how and why do South Asian hip hop artists negotiate their identity and model minority status through forging alliances with Blacks and Black popular culture. The various stories of Vivek, D’Lo and Che Malabar and others together reveal the complexity and challenge of understanding race beyond the black/white binary. What makes this book distinctive is Sharma’s ability to zoom in and out between scales of analysis and speak to the limits and insularity of received categories. With the ethnographic details about the lives and the artistic creations of these performers, Sharma makes a strong case for how the artists define their identity modeled on Blackness and at the same infuse “traditionally United States-bound and Black-centered themes in hip hop with a diasporic sensibility and a global lens” (4).

An understanding of blackness is incorporated in the racial outlook of young hyphenated Americans for whom hip hop serves as a site that encourages the building of cross-racial alliances. Sharma argues that through hip hop, South Asian artists reinstate a racial awareness that was elided by the earlier generation of south Asian immigrants who remained deeply entrenched in the myth of the model minority. One of the rappers tells Sharma that when it came to race and associating with Black friends, “there was always tension. Always, always” (97). The older generation and their anti-Black sentiment repeatedly surface as the chief factor that drives these artists to adopt and work within new racial paradigms. This leaves the reader wanting to hear more about these tensions. Filling in this looming spectral presence and discourse between the generations would have been a bonus in this ethnography.

Overall, Sharma’s lucid exploration of the politics of sampling is particularly impressive for its ability to contextualize with both historical and ethnographic detail. Sharma calls her project “an ode to the music and culture that became the poetics and politics of the desi hip hop artists and shaped my own craft and worldview” (36). This is indeed a well-crafted book and its engagement with a diasporic sonic landscape will be read and valued across disciplines.

Radha S. Hegde, New York University, New York, USA


Back to top

REVELRY, RIVALRY, AND LONGING FOR THE GODDESSES OF BENGAL: The Fortunes of Hindu Festivals. By Rachel Fell McDermott. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. xviii, 372 pp. (Figures.) US$34.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-231-12919-0.

This is a book about the annual festivals or pujas of the Hindu goddesses Durga, Jagaddhatri and Kali, which are the most important events in the Bengalis’ religious calendar. Rachel Fell McDermott, who previously studied the goddesses’ devotional poetry, started research on the pujas in 1995. Between then and 2001, she visited Calcutta and West Bengal several times to see the pujas, interview participants and work on archival materials; she also observed the pujas among Bengalis in the United States between 2002 and 2008. In addition, she examined huge quantities of newspaper reports and other published material. The outcome of all this research, combined with McDermott’s knowledge of the sacred texts, is both an excellent monograph on a subject that has long lacked a full-length study and a major, multi-disciplinary contribution to scholarship that deserves a wide readership beyond specialists in Bengal and Hinduism. Despite its sometimes esoteric content, the main text of 250 pages is written in a lively style and is easy to read.

Chapter 1 examines the Durga and Jagaddhatri pujas’ origins in the homes of the old landowning zamindars, for whom the goddess’s worship was integral to their claim to status and power. Some once lordly families have survived to the present day and still try to celebrate the festivals in traditional style, but usually without enough money to do so. Chapter 2 investigates the pujas’ history throughout the colonial and post-colonial period, looking at the effect of changing British attitudes and policy, and of Bengali reformism and the rise of nationalism. It also discusses the development of sarbajanin, “universal” pujas organized by local associations and open to all, unlike those inside elite homes.

Durga is the premier goddess for most Bengalis, although Jagaddhatri is popular in Chandannagar, north of Calcutta. Durga is most famously represented as slayer of the demon Mahisha but, for most Bengalis, it is Durga the daughter, the goddess in her form as Uma, Shiva’s gentle wife who comes home to visit her parents during the festival, who matters most. The “primary meaning” of the pujas appears to be about martial strength and the destruction of obstacles, but “it is arguable that the real underlying feeling, or rasa, of the festival is one of tenderness for the returning beloved” (95); for this reviewer, who has no first-hand knowledge of the Bengali festivals, the argument in chapter 3 was both surprising and convincing.

Chapter 4 explores the changing iconography of Durga and Jagaddhatri. Initially, the goddess’s image itself was unimportant, but it was later anthropomorphized, first in the “traditional” static style that gives the goddess an unearthly face and then in the modern style in which she acquires a more lifelike appearance. The modern style, developed since the 1920s, is standard for images placed in pandals, shelters erected as temporary temples for sarbajanin tableaux. Durga and Jagaddhatri, too, have become steadily more sensual and beautiful, and the pandals, as chapter 5 shows, have become increasingly eclectic, as puja associations compete to be fashionably innovative in a carnival of consumerist display.

Chapters 6 and 7 turn to Kali. Kali’s changing iconography has also made her more lifelike over time, but McDermott convincingly argues that the implied meaning of her portrayal has also changed. Today’s Kali is rarely horrifying or sexually charged; “Sweetness and humanization are now preferred to the [traditional] static icon of awe” (180). To be sure, Kali, whose pujas are less popular than Durga’s, is still a more frightening goddess with Tantric origins and she is still associated with frightening people, from criminals to rapacious temple guides. Nonetheless, the homogenizing effects of latter-day devotion and urban religion have made Kali’s and Durga’s festivals look increasingly similar.

Chapter 8 is about controversies, particularly over animal sacrifice, which is still widespread in Bengal, mainly for Kali. McDermott writes frankly about her own distress when witnessing blood sacrifice, before discussing its ritual logic, the social and economic factors helping to sustain it, and above all the common belief that it must continue because the goddess demands blood, whatever the anti-sacrifice campaigners say.

The thriving pujas in New York and New Jersey, whose celebration is shaped by ties of Bengali ethnicity and shared culture, are the topic of chapter 9, which is a useful contribution to the ethnography of South Asian Americans. A short conclusion reflects on why Durga is the most popular deity for Bengalis and why her festival outshines all others.

As McDermott acknowledges, her book does not cover every aspect of the pujas. In various places, too, space constraints perhaps forced her to omit material, and in others her arguments seem rather weak. One example pertains to the pujas’ modern history. It is important that control over the festivals was once confined to elite families, but after sarbajanin pujas developed it expanded “to the shared, more democratic, and more politicised patronage of the middle class” (149), and today’s “modern forms of competition … stand squarely upon those derived from the eighteenth-century zamindars” (150). But very little is said about who makes up local puja committees and who is excluded, and about how their membership has altered over time, particularly when (presumably) local fundraising increasingly gave way to business sponsorship, following economic liberalization. Nor does McDermott define what she means by “middle class,” either before or after liberalization. Hence the social characteristics of the rival puja committees and the middle-class communities they purportedly represent remain unclear. A second example concerns the discussion of sacrifice. Plainly, Bengali sacrifice has distinctive features. In theorizing the ritual within its comparative context, however, McDermott is curiously hesitant about insisting that animals are surrogates for the ideal human victim throughout Hinduism, if not universally; that the opposition between blood sacrifice and non-violent, vegetarian worship is also pan-Hindu, as is the buffalo’s special status as a victim, notably in royal Durga pujas; and, crucially, that devotion can indeed go together with sacrifice, whatever its vegetarian opponents may assert.

But the weaknesses in this book are vastly outweighed by its strengths. McDermott’s pioneering study is a scholarly achievement that is impressive, enlightening and enjoyable to read.

Chris J. Fuller, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK


Back to top


Southeast Asia

ECONOMIC DIPLOMACY: Essays and Reflections by Singapore’s Negotiators. Edited by C.L. Lim, Margaret Liang. Singapore; Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2011. xxvi, 316 pp. (Tables.) US$88.00, cloth. ISBN 978-981-4324-63-2.

Free markets do not arise spontaneously and when it comes to international trade, moves towards free trade—or trade liberalization—have come only as a result of complex and long-running processes of negotiation. Economic Diplomacy offers a great deal of information about these processes as they have unfolded both bilaterally and at the multilateral level, and offers particular insight into the role played by trade-dependent Singapore in the evolution of the international rules and institutions governing trade and international commerce. The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with the mainstay of the international trading system, the multilateral trade regime brought into being and maintained through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The second part covers what it calls “free trade agreements,” bilateral and minilateral preferential trade agreements, which have proliferated over the last decade.

No doubt because of the critical importance of international trade to Singapore, the country has invested heavily in economic diplomacy in both multilateral and bilateral arenas. The Singaporean contributors to this book, most of whom have had direct experience of trade negotiations or economic diplomacy more generally, are well-placed to offer both personal and scholarly accounts of how the rules governing international trade have been constructed and how they have changed over time. As noted in the preface, the book is the product of collaboration among “Singapore’s practitioners, practitioner-scholars and scholar-practitioners.” A great deal of the book’s value comes from this particular positioning of its contributing authors, whose expertise allows them to convey a wealth of detail to those interested in the international trade system in general and Singapore’s economic diplomacy in particular. Different chapters strike a different balance between these two subject areas. Chak Mun’s chapter on the WTO institutional reforms, for example, provides a detailed account of institutional change in the multilateral trade regime but it does not provide any particular country perspective, at least not in any obvious way. Similarly, Peter Govindasamy discusses the multilateral regime’s rules on the domestic regulation of services with great expertise but does not bring an explicitly Singaporean perspective to this discussion, despite his own involvement in services negotiations.

The chapters take on particular thematic issues or subjects, such as informal negotiating or ginger groups in the WTO (by seasoned trade diplomat-turned-scholar, Barry Desker), intellectual property, dispute settlement, the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and the progress of trade liberalization among the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. Given that the scholarly output on the WTO and the international trade agreements is already vast, it is the chapters that give insight into Singapore’s role or perspectives that make the most original contributions. Former negotiator and legal scholar Margaret Liang gives a highly informative account of anti-dumping negotiations in the Uruguay Round, offering both first-hand anecdotes on the dynamics of the negotiations and an abundance of documentary evidence describing the evolution of negotiating texts and positions. Although the role played by Singapore and particular Singaporean diplomats surfaces in some of the chapters on the WTO, the second half of the book is necessarily more Singapore-specific, as it deals primarily with the preferential trade agreements that Singapore has entered into since 2002, a period when WTO members failed to reach agreement on the long-running Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations.

Given the professional training and experience of the contributing authors, it is not surprising that the predominant perspective that emerges from the book is legalistic. This also reflects the nature of the international trade regime, with its heavy emphasis on detailed rules and legalized dispute-resolution procedures. While the regulator’s perspective surfaces, particularly in chapters on services regulation and the US-Singapore trade agreement, political and economic debates are for the most part submerged. The highly contentious nature of many of the issues dealt with under both multilateral and bilateral trade agreements is of course noted by many contributors, as they describe sometimes protracted disputes, but the substance of these disputes and their underlying political and economic drivers mostly recede into background. Occasionally, tantalizing personal reflections or assessments are offered, apparently as asides, but more often the authors maintain a distance from the actual controversies associated with the agreements and institutions they describe. Even the personalized “reflections” by senior Singaporean diplomats such as Tommy Koh and K. Kesavapany maintain a great deal of reserve in this respect. This may be the way that Singapore’s trade negotiators look at the world, or it may reflect the high degree of discretion instilled into them through their professional lives. Either way, the chapters that do offer more explicit consideration of underlying political and distributional conflicts, such as Geoffrey Yu’s nuanced account of trade-related intellectual property rules, are particularly valuable for those seeking a Singaporean view on these conflicts.

While occasionally frustrating due to the discretion of some contributors, the book nonetheless is well worthwhile for readers with an interest in Singapore’s trade diplomacy. It provides a valuable set of accounts that shed light on both the multilateral processes that govern the WTO and the dynamics of bilateral bargaining in preferential trade agreements.

Natasha Hamilton-Hart, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand


Back to top

Australasia and the Pacific Region

MAKING OUR PLACE: Exploring Land-use Tensions in Aotearoa New Zealand. Co-edited by Jacinta Ruru, Janet Stephenson, Mick Abbott. Dunedin, NZ: Otago University Press; Portland, OR: Distributed by International Specialized Book Services, 2011. 243 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$45.00, paper. ISBN 978-1-877372-88-94.

Place-making is a concept that has been added to the toolbox of social scientists in recent years. The double-barreled nature of the term indicates that places are not to be thought of as static, self-enclosed entities, but rather as changing products of historical praxis. Thus, place-making draws attention to the need to think of places as dynamic configurations crafted by history in a unique melding of practices, linkages and power relationships. Moreover, people relate to places proactively, developing embodied relationships with them, as when they favour certain locations, while also investing them with cultural meanings. For these reasons, interest is emerging in the study of those historical processes, political projects and social practices that contribute to the ongoing constitution of place, locality, homeland and community in the context of local, regional and global entwinements.

This volume builds on these new insights into the “making of places” by exploring the narratives of conflict to be found along New Zealand’s coastlines and rivers, in the country’s forests and tussock uplands, and amongst other sacred, historic, rural and urban landscapes. The tension that is at the focus of the 12 essays collected here is almost without exception caused by land-use changes such as coastal development, energy infrastructure and dairy farming in specific areas where the local population feels passionate about the landscape and the wider environment. The central question addressed in all these essays is whether there are better ways to reconcile the tensions emerging from the interplay of peoples and places. How can a balance be struck between beauty and industry, for example, which are both vital to the economic wealth of New Zealand. In Aotearoa New Zealand this global question is locally compounded by claims of the country’s indigenous population, the Maori, for the return of their proprietary rights over lands and other natural resources of which they were largely dispossessed in the nineteenth century. Maori people often also express responsibility for sustaining an ecological balance and, as a consequence, they increasingly seek a share in governance over natural resources that have become icons of the nation’s image, such as the promotion of tourism. Furthermore, the transformation of the landscape has become more contentious over the years since the country as a whole is grappling with the challenges of contemporary technologies, such as the erection of large-scale wind farms on landscapes that are historically sacred and ecologically fragile.

Since the chapters focus on different aspects of the various tensions between peoples and places as well as between peoples in a place, the editors have clustered the essays into three sections representing three dominant themes: challenges, transformations and negotiations. The first section opens with a lucid essay by Jacinta Ruru about the very complex legislative history and political responses to the customary ownership by Maori of the foreshore and seabed, which led to one of the most dividing disputes in New Zealand in recent years. The symbolic value of place names in New Zealand culture is explored in a chapter by Lyn Carter on the background of the debate about the spelling of a place name as either Wanganui or Whanganui. The ongoing tension between coastal development and landscape protection, which is an issue that is shared across New Zealand, is analyzed in a case-study of the Tutukaakaa coast.

The second series of essays discusses the legacies of major landscape transformations that have occurred since European colonization. Three chapters discuss the impact of colonial and post-colonial settlement.

One discusses how early European surveyors trampled on the values, needs and expectations of Maori landowners, while a second explores the background of English, Scottish and Irish farmers who settled on the land that had been prepared by surveyors. A third traces the ecological transformations of Taranaki’s original landscape from a unique reservoir of indigenous biodiversity to the devastating impacts of human settlement, to recent efforts to re-establish a linked network of the area’s diverse ecological heritage. A final chapter in this section describes the architectural history of the country’s largest city of Auckland and the historical symbolism of the landscape sprawling out of the isthmus.

The final set of chapters illustrates that contentious changes can be negotiated in order to develop creative and inclusive resolutions of place-centred conflicts. Linda Te Aho outlines the historic and symbolic importance of the Waikato River to the Tainui Maori people, which have successfully negotiated a co-governance arrangement for the purpose of restoring the river’s ecosystem for future generations. Other essayists explore the potential impact of the dairying expansion planned for the iconic landscapes of the Mackenzie Basin, and the various strategies possible to mitigate the implications for tourism. Robert Joseph discusses the debate about the protection of Maori sacred sites in the context of development, in which Maori values and traditions are increasingly recognized. A final chapter analyzes resistance to wind farms and other renewable energy projects, suggesting that communities should be engaged before development processes begin in order to reduce local strife.

The concluding chapter compares and contrasts the diverging strands of analysis that are pursued in the various chapters, arguing that all land-use changes should be locally appropriate by recognizing multiple interests that emerge from various interactions between peoples and places. The book as a whole is nicely produced, with many black-and-white photographs in a format that might attract a wide audience. The potential implications of the essays are also far-reaching and may be of comparative interest for a global readership, although I suspect that since all case-studies are based on controversies in New Zealand it will primarily appeal to local readers.

Toon van Meijl, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands


Back to top

ISLANDERS: The Pacific in the Age of Empire. By Nicholas Thomas. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2010. x, 366 pp. (Maps, B&W photos., illus.) US$35.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-300-12438-5.

As this work well shows, cross-cultural interactions in the Pacific were complex, imbricated and generally understood differently by the parties involved. In time sequence they varied greatly. To attempt to address this broad scope of imperial interactions and geography, Islanders is organized into two broad periods: part 1, “The Bible and the Gun,” addresses events from the late eighteenth century to about 1850; part 2, “The Tribe and the Army,” considers the rest of the nineteenth century, roughly the cusp of territorial acquisition of islands by the European and American powers. Each part consists of five chapters.

While unashamedly a contact history, Islanders also gives due emphasis to how the islanders used new means to connect to other islanders, often ancient kin from the time of Polynesian settlement. Many also embraced opportunities to travel to and work well beyond the Pacific in places as far apart as Sydney and London. Some made it home and, like many European travellers, some died on distant shores.

Thomas is concerned with what empire, no matter how nascent, meant in the everyday lives of the islanders and what these intrusions of foreign material objects and new ideas provoked in their imaginations. No less significant is what the newcomers made of these Pacific peoples. The great challenge however, is that few Islanders of this time left records of what they thought. Even so, Thomas, while occasionally pushing the speculation envelope a little far, is persuasive in his use of ethnographic insights to reveal the possible, if not probable motivations of the islanders concerned. Events are considered via a series of well-documented cross-cultural vignettes that provide considerable analysis of layered and varied encounters. Several of these are drawn from his earlier published works. Thomas’ prose is clear, readable and often elegant. He is adroit in linking often-disparate places via a traveller or a ship, so transitions are generally well handled.

Similar to several other Pacific contact histories, such as Kerry Howe’s Where the Waves Fall (Allen and Unwin, 1984) Thomas begins with Matavai Bay, Tahiti, a late eighteenth-century site of intense London Missionary Society (LMS) and British exploratory interest (Wallis and Cook) and thus well documented. With a few forays into Fiji and mentions of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the account moves across Polynesia in part 1. Parts of western Melanesia and Fiji come into focus later in part 2, with consideration of the nineteenth century slave/labour trade and the beginnings of a settler colonial presence in New Caledonia and Fiji. Developments in parts of Polynesia also are considered—some intriguing in their modernity, yet leave the reader wondering. What did Kalakaua of Hawaii envision in his greater Polynesia—simply a federation or an empire?

The book’s epilogue points to the ambiguity attendant on weighing this engagement of the West with the islanders. Much undoubtedly was lost but a new range of possibilities came too. The human cultural ecology (and indeed the wider ecology) was greatly perturbed but a new, if rearranged one emerged during this period of empire. That re-arrangement is still being played out.

While Thomas gives us rich fare, his seems a Eurocentric Pacific in terms of some basic themes of the work. Other than the exceptional Spanish

Guam in the north Pacific in the sixteenth century with its Catholic mission, another proselytizing world religion, Islam, was at work among those considered islanders, as early as the sixteenth century, at least two hundred years before the LMS stepped ashore in Tahiti. As Clive Moore has well shown in New Guinea; Crossing boundaries and history (University of Hawaii Press, 2003), many west New Guineans became Muslims; many also were imperial subjects to Asiatic sultan suzerains; many were taken as slaves; many also were involved in trade, supplying commodity chains into Asia. Cosmopolitan intrusions of artefacts and ideas from South Asia occurred here too, including Chinese (Donsong) metal work; indeed some of the coastal New Guineans were the first islanders to learn to work metal. This may be a “fuzzy border” (130) zone with Southeast Asia but was, say, Dore Bay anymore “fuzzy” than Matavai Bay with its successive waves of Europeans? Considering that New Guinea (and the rest of Melanesia), as Thomas states, was “densely populated on almost a continental scale” (110) one wonders why such early contacts here are not given due attention, perhaps because much of their documentation is not available in English? Another gap in Thomas’ Pacific, on his own admission (25), is Micronesia but it is this region where, unlike greater Polynesia, indigenous vessels and voyaging across vast distances kept these Islanders in contact with each other well into the nineteenth century. Paul D’arcy’s The people of the sea: environment, identity and history in Oceania (University of Hawaii, 2003) on this and the prominence of the maritime in the Pacific world puts substance to the interconnectedness of the “Sea of Islands” envisioned by Epeli Hau’ofa. Yet Thomas seems not to have cited D’arcy’s seminal work. A few more maps also would have been helpful.

As with most books of this scope a few errors are inevitable. Even Homer nods, it seems. Bishop Epalle died on Santa Isabel, not San Cristobal in the Solomon Islands (161); Noumea is in the southwest of La Grande Terre, not the southeast (179). Which islanders were smoking tobacco “prior to European contact” (179)? Nabutautau and Navatusila in Fiji seem confused (246).

Overall, Islanders is a significant work, especially for those new to Pacific history and Pacific studies, but it would have been more accurate to call it a study of the central and eastern Pacific in the age of empire. In fairness though, this Oceanic world may be just too great and too fluid for any historian to contain and capture in one volume.

Judith A. Bennett, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand


Back to top



a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

Faculty of Arts
Buchanan A20
1866 Main Mall,
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1, Canada
Tel: 604-822-3828
Pacific Affairs
#376-1855 West Mall,
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2, Canada
Tel: 604-822-6508
Fax: 604-822-9452

Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC  | © Copyright The University of British Columbia