Book Reviews – Vol 90, No 1

Asia General

Transnational Migration and Asia: The Question of Return. Edited by Michiel Baas. Reviewed by Josephine Smart

Party System Institutionalization in Asia: Democracies, Autocracies, and the Shadows of the Past. Edited by Allen Hicken, Erik Martinez Kuhonta. Reviewed by Nathan Allen

The Global Coal Market: Supplying the Major Fuel for Emerging Economies. Edited by Mark C. Thurber and Richard K. Morse. Reviewed by Ian Cronshaw

Think Tanks and Non-Traditional Security: Governance Entrepreneurs in Asia. By Erin Zimmerman. Reviewed by Stéphanie Martel

The San Francisco System and its Legacies: Continuation, Transformation and Historical Reconciliation in the Asia-Pacific. Edited by Kimie Hara. Reviewed by Ivo Plšek

Pacific Strife: The Great Powers and their Political and Economic Rivalries in Asia and the Western Pacific 1870-1914. By Kees van Dijk.   Reviewed by Hao-Li Lin

Bilateral Legacies in East and Southeast Asia. Edited by N. Ganesan. Reviewed by Robert L. Curry

China and Inner Asia

Assessing China’s Power. Edited by Jae Ho Chung. Reviewed by Peter Worthing

The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World. By Ho-fung Hung. Reviewed by Robert J. Hanlon

Unknotting the Heart: Unemployment and Therapeutic Governance in China. By Jie Yang. Reviewed by Hsuan-ying Huang

Maoism at the Grassroots: Everyday Life in China’s Era of High Socialism. Edited by Jeremy Brown and Matthew D. Johnson. Reviewed by Lynn T. White, III

Urbanizing China in War and Peace: The Case of Wuxi County. By Toby Lincoln. Reviewed by Micah S. Muscolino

The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China. By Sébastien Billioud and Joël Thoraval. Reviewed by Julia K. Murray

Tongzhi Living: Men Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China. By Tiantian Zheng. Reviewed by Bret Hinsch

China’s Literary Cosmopolitans: Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang, and the World of Letters. Edited by Christopher Rea. Reviewed by Richard King

Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema. By Jean Ma. Reviewed by Shiyu Louisa Wei

The Rise of Cantonese Opera. By Wing Chung Ng. Reviewed by Joseph S. C. Lam

DV-Made China: Digital Subjects and Social Transformations after Independent Film. Edited by Zhang Zhen and Angela Zito. Reviewed by Weihong Bao

Northeast Asia

Identity Change and Foreign Policy: Japan and its ‘others’. Edited by Linus Hagström. Reviewed by Kyoko Hatakeyama

Japanese and Russian Politics: Polar Opposites or Something in Common? Edited by Takashi Inoguchi. Reviewed by Alexander Bukh

Disasters and Social Crisis in Contemporary Japan: Political, Religious, and Sociocultural Responses. Edited by Mark R. Mullins, Koichi Nakano. Reviewed by Pablo Figueroa

The Long Defeat: Cultural Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Japan. By Akiko Hashimoto. Reviewed by Philip Seaton

High-Stakes Schooling: What We Can Learn from Japan’s Experiences with Testing, Accountability, and Education Reform. By Christopher Bjork. Reviewed by Julian Dierkes

Nature in Translation: Japanese Tourism Encounters the Canadian Rockies. By Shiho Satsuka. Reviewed by David W. Edgington

Casualties of History: Wounded Japanese Servicemen and the Second World War. By Lee K. Pennington. Reviewed by Aiko Otsuka

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States. By Brad Glosserman and Scott A. Snyder. Reviewed by Kijeong Nam

Anti-Americanism in Democratizing South Korea. By David Straub. Reviewed by Kisuk Cho

The Failure of Socialism in South Korea: 1945–2007. By Yunjong Kim. Reviewed by Avram Agov

South Asia and the Himalayas

Democracy and Transparency in the Indian State: The Making of the Right to Information Act. By Prashant Sharma. Reviewed by Martin Webb

Globalisation, Democracy and Corruption: An Indian Perspective. By Pranab Bardhan. Reviewed by John Harriss

Divided We Govern: Coalition Politics in Modern India. By Sanjay Ruparelia. Reviewed by James Manor

“Nation-State” and Minority Rights in India: Comparative Perspectives on Muslim and Sikh Identities. By Tanweer Fazal. Reviewed by Rajesh Dev

India’s 2014 Elections: A Modi-led BJP Sweep. Edited by Paul Wallace. Reviewed by Ronojoy Sen

India’s Military Modernization: Strategic Technologies and Weapons Systems. Edited by Rajesh Basrur, Bharath Gopalaswamy. Reviewed by Sumit Ganguly

Indian Foreign Policy in Transition: Relations with South Asia. By Arijit Mazumdar. Reviewed by Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy

Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora: Secularism, Religion, Representations. Edited by Claire Chambers and Caroline Herbert. Reviewed by Nukhbah Langah

Unsettling India: Affect, Temporality, Transnationality. By Purnima Mankekar. Reviewed by John C. Hawley

Revolutionary Lives in South Asia: Acts and Afterlives of Anticolonial Political Action. Edited by Kama Maclean and J. Daniel Elam. Reviewed by Sinderpal Singh

Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor. By Kalindi Vora. Reviewed by Carol Upadhya

Frontiers, Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies in South Asia, 1820–2013. By Kaushik Roy. Reviewed by Pahi Saikia

Conflicting Visions: Canada and India in the Cold War World, 1946–76. By Ryan Touhey. Reviewed by Robert S. Anderson

Southeast Asia

Frontier Livelihoods: Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands. By Sarah Turner, Christine Bonnin, Jean Michaud. Reviewed by Shaun Kingsley Malarney

Embodied Nation: Sport, Masculinity, and the Making of Modern Laos. By Simon Creak. Reviewed by Carol Ireson-Doolittle

The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation. By Shane Strate. Reviewed by Søren Ivarsson

Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma. By Alicia Turner. Reviewed by Nicola B. Tannenbaum

“Getting By”: Class and State Formation among Chinese in Malaysia. By Donald M. Nonini. Reviewed by Jianli Huang

Forgotten People: Poverty, Risk and Social Security in Indonesia: The Case of the Madurese. By Gerben Nooteboom. Reviewed by Asep Suryahadi

Australasia and the Pacific Islands

The Pearl Frontier: Indonesian Labor and Indigenous Encounters in Australia’s Northern Trading Network. By Julia Martínez and Adrian Vickers. Reviewed by A. Ross Gordon

The Pacific Festivals of Aotearoa New Zealand: Negotiating Place and Identity in a New Homeland. By Jared Mackley-Crump. Reviewed by Charmaine ‘Ilaiū Talei

Being Political: Leadership and Democracy in the Pacific Islands. By Jack Corbett. Reviewed by Steffen Dalsgaard

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art. By Carl Hoffman. Reviewed by Shirley Campbell

From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill: Agricultural Technology and the Making of Hawai‘i’s Premier Crop. By C. Allan Jones, & Robert V. Osgood. Reviewed by Kara Hisatake

Thinking Like an Island: Navigating a Sustainable Future in Hawai‘i. Edite by Jennifer Chirico and Gregory S. Farley. Reviewed by Donald H. Rubinstein

 

DOCUMENTARY FILM REVIEWS

The Mosuo Sisters = Mosuo Zi Mei. A film by Marlo Poras. Reviewed by Stevan Harrell

The Look of Silence. A film directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. Reviewed by John Roosa

 

TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION AND ASIA: The Question of Return. Global Asia, 4. Edited by Michiel Baas. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, in close collaboration with the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS); Chicago: University of Chicago Press [distributor], 2015. 201 pp. US$99.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-8964-658-3.

Putting together an edited volume has many challenges, the biggest of which is the issue of thematic and substantive coherence. This edited volume by Baas meets this challenge very effectively as all the chapters are well crafted essays that provide a rich body of ethnographic and historical data to show the diversity and dynamics of the “irrational, illogical, or even bipolar” meanings (19) attributed to the decisions, intentions, and actions of “returning home.” It is particularly exciting and refreshing to see several authors address the issue of non-return or resistance to return—the Japanese-Americans in the early twentieth century (Kaibara), the overseas Vietnamese students in France during the Franco-colonial period (Nguyen), and the Filipina dependent students in Ireland (Nititham). The decision to move is no less important than the decisions to stay, but policy emphasis has disproportionately focused on people on the move, thus creating, in my opinion, a biased academic focus on mobility and an unspoken dismissal or neglect of immobility. In a similar vein but for different reasons, studies of entrepreneurship and business focus almost singularly on success rather than failure, yet there is much to learn from business failure.

Using a “migrant-centred approach,” this volume addresses the question of “what does ‘return’ mean to migrants?” (9). While the notion of “home” is not problematized explicitly as an objective of this project, the data contained in this volume speak loudly of the migrants’ expressed contested understanding of what constitutes “home” and the rejection of the idea that home always refers to a primordial cultural and territorial destination. The younger Nikkei-Brazilian’s idea of “onward migration” mentioned by von Baeyer (37) is a prime example of this discourse and understanding. In all, this edited volume is built on the social analysis of transmigration practices and/or discourses in eight studies involving anthropologists (Baas, Koh, von Baeyer), sociologists/urban studies/feminist studies (Anwar, Bhatt, Nititham), and historians (Kaibara, Nguyen). The disciplinary diversity nicely complements the regional diversity covered by these studies: Japanese-Brazilians in Japan and Brazil (von Baeyer), Indian students in Australia (Baas), Indian IT returnees and their family from Seattle (Bhatt), Filipina dependent students in Ireland (Nititham), Japanese-Americans in the U.S. in early twentieth century (Kaibara), second generation overseas Vietnamese returnees in Ho Chi Minh city (Koh), Vietnamese students in France in the early twentieth century (Nguyen), and Burmese-Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi illegal migrants in Pakistan (Anwar). With the exception of the three historical chapters by Kaibara, Koh and Nguyen, all the other chapters deal with contemporary situations and conditions.

A strength of this volume is the uniformly excellent job by each author in providing a full context of the many structural/historical legacies and conditions, social-cultural specificities, and other legacies that affect and are affected by the meanings and imaginings about mobility that is the subject focus. This holistic approach is indeed an important contribution of this book, because as Baas rightly points out, the notion of “return is imbued with meaning that goes well beyond what statistical models, structural approaches, or even a focus on the complexity of network can lay bare” (18). Human actions are always rooted in meanings and logics embedded in social and cultural contexts; our behaviour is an outcome of social construction that cannot be fully understood outside the personal and subjective. Yet it is imperative to avoid reducing our research focus and observation down to a single individual or a few individuals, thus removing our capability to answer broader questions about the human experience and the conditions of our existence. It is thus with a great deal of discomfort to note that several authors in this edited book referred to an extremely small sample of case studies for the evidence in their analysis: one Indian student out of a total of 120,490 in Australia (Baas, 42, 54), two young Filipina dependent students out of 20,000 in Ireland (Nitiham, 76), and four Indian female returnees from the United States in Bangalore among the many thousands of returnees in the IT sector in India (Bhatt, 60–61). While Bhatt and Nitiham mention that they spoke with many more people than the few case studies they included in their chapter, and I assume that Baas also had a larger number of case studies to draw from, it is still a concern that they chose to include only a very small number of case studies in their contribution to this volume. I thus recommend this book to any reader interested in the broader issue of transmigration with an emphasis on Asians and Asia, but readers are cautioned that some of the analyses presented in this volume should be considered exploratory in nature due to their limited body of evidence, and thus any conclusive statements or observations made in these chapters should best be viewed as tentative and preliminary.

Josephine Smart, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada               

101-102

Back to top


PARTY SYSTEM INSTITUTIONALIZATION IN ASIA: Democracies, Autocracies, and the Shadows of the Past. Edited by Allen Hicken, Erik Martinez Kuhonta. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. xviii, 354 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$34.99, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-61423-9.

In Party System Institutionalization in Asia, Allen Hicken and Erik Kuhonta assemble an impressive series of chapters with a quality and analytical coherence that is difficult to achieve in an edited volume. Drawing on Samuel Huntington’s concept of institutionalization, along with Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully’s later work on party system institutionalization, the authors set out to explain the existence—and non-existence—of institutionalized party systems in Asia.

Political parties, often maligned institutions, are viewed by the authors as central to the health of a democratic system. Party systems with a high degree of institutionalization provide citizens with coherent electoral options capable of channeling interests. They act as a bridge between society and government, facilitating accountability. Party systems with a low degree of institutionalization, on the other hand, contain ever-changing partisan options, are often dominated by a leader’s personality, and contain vague platforms. Because they are disciplined and cohesive, institutionalized systems are in a better position to deliver public goods. They can also improve the quality of democracy. As one prominent contributor puts it, institutionalized party systems do not ensure good democratic outcomes, “but in the medium and long terms, it is difficult to have good outcomes under democracy without a reasonably institutionalized system” (344).

In a neatly written introductory chapter, the editors make several key empirical and theoretical contributions. Most obviously, they extend the analysis of party system institutionalization to Asian cases using a comparative approach. Theoretically, they underline the important relationship between authoritarian legacies and party system institutionalization. Those party systems with the highest degree of institutionalization—Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan—all at some point relied on authoritarian rules to constrain competition. Only Taiwan ever made a transition to democracy. Hicken and Kuhonta note, “A highly institutionalized party system…may emerge from the shell of undemocratic politics” (16).

The twelve-country case study chapters are of an impressive quality. Meredith Weiss’s chapter on Malaysia compellingly argues that democratic change seems most plausible during periods of party system deinstitutionalization. The other chapters, focusing on semi-democratic and non-democratic parties, all tend to bring the issue of leadership succession to the fore. Netina Tan argues that routinized leadership recruitment mechanisms in Singapore’s People’s Action Party have entrenched the power of the hegemonic party and contributed to the stability of the regime. Tuong Vu examines temporal periods of institutionalization and deinstitutionalization of the Vietnamese Communist Party through an examination of leadership turnover and the shifting social bases of the party’s elite. Likewise, Yongnian Zheng’s chapter on the Chinese communist party examines intra-party processes and the party’s relationship with society and the state, finding that the party is capable of the adaptation necessary to prevent the rise of an organized opposition. In all these cases, party system institutionalization aids authoritarian survival.

There is little agreement on what, if any, effect electoral systems have on institutionalization. Tun-jen Cheng and Yung-ming Hsu’s chapter on Taiwan suggests single non-transferable voting rules aided party system institutionalization by forcing the nascent opposition to coordinate its electoral activities. Kenneth Mori McElwain thinks those same rules produced a clientelism and weak party identification in Japan, albeit in a stable, predictable pattern of interactions. Hicken’s chapter outlines all the institutional variables that keep the Philippines party system weakly institutionalized, while Csaba Nikolenyi finds that legislative rules against party defection have, to some degree, contributed to party system institutionalization. Institutions matter, but the particular institution and the direction of the effect appear to vary across contexts.

Several chapters present evidence to challenge the theoretical linkage between institutionalized, programmatic parties and desirable outcomes like democratization and the provision of public goods. On the one hand, Kuhonta finds that Thailand’s non-ideological, feckless party system has contributed to regime instability. Yet Paige Johnson Tan argues that the recent success of less-rooted parties in Indonesia may actually reduce potentially dangerous political polarization. Likewise, Joseph Wong’s examination of South Korea demonstrates the possibility of expanding public goods provision in the absence of a strongly institutionalized party system.

While Hicken and Kuhonta extend Mainwaring’s party system institutionalization concept to Asia, Mainwaring himself shows up at the end of the volume to provide his analysis and voice some concerns. Party system institutionalization should be sorted by regime type, insists Mainwaring, as the measures used to study institutionalization in competitive systems are inappropriately applied to hegemonic systems like Malaysia and Singapore. For example, does the Cambodian People’s Party steady collection of around 40 to 50 percent of the electoral vote indicate party system stability or simply the successful manipulation of polls and harassment of opposition? Sorpong Peou’s Cambodian chapter suggests the latter, finding electoral stability is likely “based more on coercion than consent” (232). Mainwaring raises methodological and empirical issues, and notes his skepticism that authoritarianism itself does much to bolster later party system institutionalization. The dialogue between the editors and Mainwaring helps situate the book’s contribution beyond Asia.

The book does not end up providing a clear path forward, both in terms of research agenda and practice. The authors find that existing theories provide minimal insight: democratic experience has not lead directly to party system institutionalization, and electoral engineering is likely to have unpredictable effects. Party system institutionalization may be the legacy of authoritarian policies, but most autocratic regimes in Asia have not arrived at this destination. In terms of democratic longevity, several non-institutionalized systems survive just fine, while Thailand’s recent experience with increasingly programmatic, rooted parties ended poorly. The emergence of institutionalized, programmatic party competition is certainly a worthwhile subject, but the Asian experience offers few lessons as to how a democracy transitions from a non-institutionalized to an institutionalized party system without triggering destabilizing polarization.

Although the empirical findings often challenge existing theories of party system institutionalization—and the editors’ key arguments—the shared analytical focus anchors the book and creates a productive dialogue among contributors. This is a worthwhile volume, containing chapters that can be assigned in class as standalone pieces while reaching a level of rigour that will inform future research.

Nathan Allen, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Vancouver, Canada       

103-105

Back to top


THE GLOBAL COAL MARKET: Supplying the Major Fuel for Emerging Economies. Edited by Mark C. Thurber and Richard K. Morse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. xx, 702 pp. (Boxes, figures, tables.) US$155.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-09242-6.

This book assembles a dozen authors from around the globe, under the editorial hands of Mark Thurber and Richard Morse from Stanford University’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development. It largely succeeds in its ambitious goal of providing a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the global coal industry and global coal trade, summarising the evolution of coal demand and supply in recent decades. It also highlights the essential contradiction inherent in coal use: coal will continue to be needed to meet the energy needs of rapidly expanding developing economies, chiefly in Asia. But such use seems incompatible with achieving climate goals, at least in the absence of large-scale deployment of mitigation technologies, whose prospects for commercialisation continue to recede.

The book focusses on steam or thermal coal, and unlike many previous publications on coal markets, has a very strong Asian focus, as the clear centre of emerging demand, given Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) coal demand is only just over one quarter of global coal use and declining. The two editors provide a concise overview of the recent evolution of coal markets, the rapid rise in Asian coal use, notably in China but also India, and the sharp increase in global coal trade. Informative and readable chapters chronicle the rise of coal production, export and use in China, India, South Africa, Australia, and Indonesia, now the world’s largest thermal coal exporter by a very large margin. These chapters highlight the challenges that each country has faced in expanding coal output, with emphasis on policy issues and how different countries have dealt with them (in some cases, work still in progress). The chapter on India, analysing the causes and implications of the (until recently) sharply slowing growth in coal production, provides a strong contrast with the chapters on China, which demonstrate how that country has successfully expanded output over the last three decades. The factors underpinning the acceleration of Indonesian exports are succinctly explained, with clear pointers to future production and export profiles, as Indonesia’s economy expands, and its own energy needs inevitably rise.

These country chapters set the scene for an informed discussion of key factors in world coal trade, with the dramatic and apparently paradoxical rise of China’s coal imports placed in a clear perspective, and the difficulties of expanding American coal exports neatly explained. This section concludes with an impressive effort to model world coal trade, with a strong summary of key results that, despite the turmoil in energy markets in 2014 and 2015, highlights important future directions. Further efforts in this area will need to be informed by updated data on capital and operating costs.

The final section overviews new coal technologies, including the fast emerging Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansions based on coal bed methane, the much less mature and more complex underground coal gasification technologies, and the group of mitigation technologies, collectively known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). The latter discussion does not shy away from the problems of high cost, efficiency penalties, and generally slow progress, contrasting hope with reality. The potential role of China in CCS deployment is discussed separately, with key issues, such as additional strains on the coal supply chain and the difficulties of obtaining finance, either domestic or international, treated realistically.

A fine, succinct concluding chapter by the editors highlights the central dilemma of coal: the need for expanded coal use in some major developing countries because of its availability and price, but the obvious point that unmitigated coal use is incompatible with climate change goals, as reiterated and intensified at COP 21 in Paris at the end of 2015.

Any book on coal markets, written as this one was largely by the start of 2015, is likely to suffer from the changes wrought by dynamic energy markets, from which coal has not been immune. The slowdown and structural changes in the Chinese economy seen from mid-2014 have sharply changed coal use and trade patterns globally, and rapid diversification of that country’s power sector will further impact coal demand. As of the end of 2015, it appears that India has rapidly emerged as the largest thermal coal importer, but its efforts to boost its own coal production and diversify its power sources make it the wild card in global coal trade, as the authors clearly point out. Environmental policies, including those promised at COP 21, will inevitably slow coal use from the rapid growth rates seen since 2000. But given the recent and ongoing investments in coal-fired power plants, coal seems likely to remain the backbone of power production in those countries and others in Asia for some time.

The Global Coal Market offers a comprehensive, balanced and accessible treatment of these important developments, of use to anyone interested in the economic and environmental issues around coal.

Ian Cronshaw, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

105-107

Back to top


THINK TANKS AND NON-TRADITIONAL SECURITY: Governance Entrepreneurs in Asia. Critical Studies of the Asia-Pacific Series. By Erin Zimmerman. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 214 pp. (Illustrations.) CA$105.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-48824-4.

Regional security governance in Asia has become much more complex in recent years, since it involves both a growing variety of actors—state and non-state—and an increasing number of non-military and transnational threats to be managed. Zimmerman’s book covers both of these very salient themes in a singular effort.

The book explains how think tanks and their networks in Asia mobilize discourse to increase their influence despite being positioned at the margins of political power. The author focuses on the promotion of a “non-traditional security” (NTS) agenda by four networks: the ASEAN-Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN-ISIS), the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), the IISS-sponsored Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), and the MacArthur Foundation Asia Security Initiative (ASI). Zimmerman argues that by controlling both how NTS is framed and the space in which this discourse is performed, these networks have been able to position themselves as “governance entrepreneurs.” The “NTS agenda” that they promote, detailed in chapter 3, not only calls for the securitization of a growing number of non-military and transnational issues, but also privileges solutions that amount to institutional change in regional security governance. These solutions include giving up strongly held norms that have structured regional security governance in Asia, strengthening the regional security architecture, and further developing inter-state cooperation on transboundary issues. The author claims that since formal regional institutions, in failing to cope with NTS issues, are increasingly perceived as ineffective, think tanks have become a credible alternative.

Zimmerman sets out to make three contributions. First, she claims to update and go beyond the existing literature on think tanks and their networks in Asia. Second, she adds discursive institutionalism (DI) to the repertoire of theoretical approaches used to study the influence of non-state actors on security governance (see chapter 2). Third, she undertakes a comparative evaluation of think tanks influence on policy in Asia, throughout chapters 4 to 7.

The author convincingly demonstrates that think tanks in Asia have promoted the NTS agenda, and the problem/solution pairing it entails more specifically, as a way to gain enough political influence to push for institutional change. The complex portrayal of NTS as referring simultaneously to a set of objective issues, a series of ideas about how regional security governance is managed, and a particular agenda promoted through discourse for strategic motives, is as rare as it is valuable. The book also provides a much-needed appraisal of the current level of political influence exerted by the well-established ASEAN-ISIS and CSCAP. It also introduces newer initiatives such as the SLD and the ASI, which have been increasingly influential and yet remain understudied. Overall, this serves as a noteworthy empirical contribution and allows for a better understanding of the complex web of interactions that characterizes the relationship between actors involved in the official regional process and members of epistemic networks in Asia. At the theoretical level, the author contributes to the diversification of theoretical approaches in Asia Pacific international relations (IR), adding to a still modest but promising branch of recent scholarly work that sheds light on the role of discourse in the social construction of reality. While the core of the argument is convincing and the contributions significant, the book may still encounter a few objections, as a number of caveats prevent it from realizing its ambitions fully.

The argument would have benefited from better clarifying the meaning of NTS. Its meaning fluctuates throughout the book, at times including initiatives pushed by think tanks that have very little to do with the management of non-military and transnational issues. Moreover, a number of methodological limitations may have resulted in overstating the actual level of success of think tanks in bringing about institutional change. The comparative evaluation suffers from permeability between case studies, thus causing redundancy. The same individuals are typically involved simultaneously in multiple networks, which makes it difficult to isolate each network’s contribution. Also, the implication that the NTS agenda runs counter to state sovereignty and must lead to the relinquishment of traditionally upheld diplomatic norms, such as non-interference and soft institutionalism, has not materialized in practice, despite the successful mainstreaming of NTS in the agenda of regional organizations. The development of NTS cooperation among states even serves as a way for them to collectively extend their control over their national borders. The state remains the main—if no longer the sole—provider of, and referent to, security in the region.

Finally, since the role of discourse as a vehicle for ideas is widely implicit in constructivist scholarship, there is undoubtedly worth in the author’s effort to make it explicit. However, limiting its added value to the role of conduit for other factors amounts to underestimating its own productive power, which is situated in its ability to shape actors’ understanding of the world, and the benefits that come from using discourse-based approaches in IR. Portraying DI as a mere bridge-building enterprise between constructivism and institutionalism is not only reductive, but makes it hard to understand what it brings to the table in comparison to the rich scholarship on norm entrepreneurship, diffusion, and localization in the context of international institutions, to which the author only refers partially.

These quibbles notwithstanding, this book provides a very useful portrayal of the space where regional security governance is defined, and of the discursive strategies used by think tanks to increase their influence. The critical distance shown by the author when addressing the way NTS is being framed and its effects on regional security governance is commendable. This book certainly contributes to highlighting the inherent potential of discourse-based work on security regionalism in Asia. Therefore, it should be read by anyone interested in the evolution of regional security governance in Asia and in the role of non-state actors in this process.

Stéphanie Martel, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada

107-109

Back to top


THE SAN FRANCISCO SYSTEM AND ITS LEGACIES: Continuation, Transformation and Historical Reconciliation in the Asia-Pacific. Asia’s Transformations, no. 45. Edited by Kimie Hara. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. xviii, 290 pp. US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-13-879478-8.

It has become trendy to publish edited volumes on important anniversaries. This one—reflecting on the 60 years since the signing of the San Francisco Peace—explores the legacies that this treaty and associated agreements have bestowed upon East Asia. Probably the most problematic legacy—as emphasized throughout this book—are the lingering territorial disputes that plague the region. Indeed, more than half the essays are dedicated to this problem, including chapters on Takeshima/Dokdo, Senkaku/Diaoyu, the Kuriles, and the Spratly and Paracel Islands as well as on Okinawa and Taiwan. Other chapters look at “history issues” (such as ‘comfort women’) or evaluate the negative effects of the San Francisco Treaty system in a broader perspective. All these topics have been debated extensively in the past. Therefore, one will inevitably want to ask what new contributions this book brings to the debate. Despite the quality of the scholarly line-up, the answer is not too positive.

First, a seasoned reader of this literature will be familiar with many of the sources and arguments in this collection of essays. The editor’s own contributions are the most telling example. In her introduction, Hara posits that the San Francisco Peace Treaty structured the Cold War conflict in Asia, that this conflict has not yet ended, and that the current territorial disputes are a product of ambiguities that the United States deliberately left in the treaty. All these points are well taken. But the scholar has been making identical arguments in many of her previous publications. Similarly, in her conclusion she proposes a multilateral solution akin to the Åland Islands settlement as a way forward. This would be interesting if Hara had not already edited an entirely different volume that explored this idea (Kimie Hara and Geoffrey Jukes, Northern territories, Asia-Pacific regional conflicts and the Åland experience: untying the Kurillian knot, Routledge, 2009).

Those who do not necessarily seek original but rather a timely update on East Asian politics and the San Francisco System will not walk away satisfied either. Although published in 2015, the book is a product of a conference that took place in 2012. The content reflects this, as the governments of Koizumi (2001–2006) and Hatoyama (2009–2010) are the primary subjects of attention. The significant developments that have taken place since Xi Jinping’s accession to power and Abe’s return to it in late 2012 are not covered here. For these reasons this volume already appears a bit dated.

Readers might also at times be confused about the real target of this study. There are essays that keep their focus on the San Francisco Peace Treaty and its implications, or examine the US-Japan Security Treaty or the Taipei Treaty that together with the San Francisco Peace Treaty form the basis of the so-called San Francisco System. Other articles, however, refer to these agreements only very superficially. Given their content, they could have as easily been part of a different volume. This applies, for example, to Nong Hong’s discussion of the South China Sea disputes with regard to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) framework. Or to Konstantin Sarkisov’s essay that offers an overview of the last sixty years of Russia-Japan relations from the perspective of the Northern Territories problem. Lee Seokwoo’s essay then reads more like a treatise in defense of South Korea’s claims to Dokdo than a sober analysis of the Treaty’s effects on this issue. And Scott Harrison’s contribution rather laboriously injects the San Francisco Treaty as a casual variable into the debate when in fact the scholar has in mind the larger processes of the Cold War. Not differentiating between these categories, and using terms such as Cold War, the San Francisco Treaty, and the San Francisco System almost interchangeably presents serious problems for the proposed arguments. But this conceptual slippage also affects other chapters in the volume

To be sure, the book contains interesting pieces that are worthy of our attention. This is particularly true for chapters by John Dower, John Price, Unryu Suganuma, and Man-Houng Lin. But as is often the case with conference volumes, some of the other contributions that seem to require more fine-tuning before they can be recommended. For instance, in his chapter, Haruki Wada also suggests that multilateralism—in this case the Six-Party Talks—could be the key to solving territorial disputes in Asia. Notwithstanding the fact that the meetings have been discontinued since 2009, one wonders how realistic is this proposal? After all, the Six-Party Talks were not able to resolve even the one issue on which all its participants agreed. A multilateral approach that must include the US is also a proposed solution at the end of Dong-Choon Kim’s chapter. This comes, however, after a degree of US/Japan bashing, since Kim appears to hold both states responsible for the problems that befell the Korean Peninsula and its relations with Japan. In many ways this chapter is symbolic of today’s discourse in Northeast Asia: here, too, calls for multilateralism are often accompanied by uncritical insistence on one’s own national positions.

The authors in this volume do not always agree with each other. They do, however, share a similar view on the overall effects of the San Francisco System. For them the alliance structure based on the treaties signed in 1950–1951 was designed to primarily serve US interests with terrible consequences for East Asia (whether this includes problems of unresolved historical conflicts or national sovereignty/territorial issues). However, this is not the only way to assess the system’s long-term consequences. One could also, for example, consider the substantial economic and security advantages that this structure brought to various Asian countries. The authors–mostly progressive academics–downplay or avoid mentioning these benefits. Eventually, the reader will have to reach out to other works to obtain a fuller picture.

Ivo Plšek, University of California, Berkeley, USA                

109-111

Back to top


PACIFIC STRIFE: The Great Powers and their Political and Economic Rivalries in Asia and the Western Pacific 1870–1914. Global Asia, 5; IIAS Publications Series. By Kees van Dijk. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press; Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press [distributor], 2015. 523 pp. (Illustrations.) US$149.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-8964-420-6.

This book by the Dutch historian Kees van Dijk is an historical review of global power struggles and negotiations in the Asia-Pacific region, boiling from the latter half of the nineteenth century until the onset of WWI. The global powers analyzed in this volume are Great Britain, France, Russia, as well as relatively recent ones such as the United States, Germany, and Japan. The Dutch mercantile empire, while also having a strong presence in Southeast Asia at this time, is only sporadically referenced (it was, however, the main subject of van Dijk’s earlier work The Netherlands Indies and the Great War 1914–1918 (KITLV Press, 2007). In fact, as he states in the foreword, writing on the Netherlands Indies made him “realize how much international developments in the Pacific in the previous decades had shaped Dutch anxieties about the Netherlands being able to hold on to its colonies in the East” (9) and the data collected to sketch these anxieties forms the basis of this present work.

While the main title suggests that the primary focus is on the Pacific, including its islands (e.g., Fiji, Samoa, New Guinea, and Hawaii) and the Pacific Rim region (e.g., Taiwan, China, Indochina, and Thailand), the geographical areas examined in the book also involve Central Asia, Burma, and Tibet. The main point of van Dijk is that starting from the early 1870s, the Pacific Ocean gradually surpassed the Atlantic as the new traffic centre of world commerce. This was enabled by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which drastically shortened the journey from Europe to India, the Far East, and the Pacific. Ports on the Persian Gulf, in India, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand began to serve as important commercial entry points, relay stations, or naval bases, which further affected the politics of these regions and adjacent territories. When one adds to this the advancement of various technologies at the time such as the replacement of sail with steam, construction of transcontinental railroads (e.g., the completion of America’s transcontinental railroad in 1869), and installations of submarine telegraph cables, the strategic position of the Pacific Islands became extremely important. For one thing, steamships needed coaling stations in the middle of their long ocean voyages (17). Cash cropping opportunities such as cotton and copra (54), as well as abundant land and sources of labour (52) to develop plantations, also attracted numerous settlers whose products could now be efficiently moved by these newly developed means of transportation. These settlers and their organizations had long been mingling in indigenous politics and swaying homeland colonial policies in favour of military backing or even total annexation (25). There were even cases where overseas colonies took the initiative to annex territories (e.g., Australia and British New Guinea, 132), or discussed the possibilities of forming an island federation themselves (New Zealand and Fiji, 412). Missionaries from different denominations also played influential roles in intervening in indigenous politics and extending the struggle of the global powers (49). As van Dijk concludes, “The South Pacific, which in the past had not attracted much attention, suddenly became a region of great expectations and dreams of unlimited economic prospects” (47).

While most of the historical events mentioned in this book have already been treated in various scholarly studies, this work’s greatest contribution is to put these events in the context of “rivalry” and to bring out the complex interactions involved. For example, in chapter 4, van Dijk analyzes the Anglo-German rivalry behind the annexation of Fiji. This is an interesting angle because previous studies have focused on either the Anglo-French rivalry reflected in the competition between the Roman Catholic Church and London Missionary Society (see Neil Gunson’s “Missionary Interest in British Expansion in the South Pacific in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Religious History 3, no. 4 [Dec. 1965]), or the Anglo-American rivalry in the Pacific (see William David McIntyre’s “Anglo-American Rivalry in the Pacific: The British Annexation of the Fiji Islands in 1874,” Pacific Historical Review 29, no. 4 [1960]). As van Dijk demonstrates, after the British annexation of Fiji in 1874 and the deployment of its subsequent land and labour policies, the interests of German settlers in Fiji were greatly affected, a situation he terms the “Fiji Crisis.” This made Germany aware that its settlers needed greater protection, which deeply influenced the development of future power struggles in the Pacific (74). In chapters 18 and 19, when discussing the involvement of the United States in the Pacific in the late nineteenth century, particularly the annexation of Hawaii, the author also brings in the ambitions of Japan (383) and that country’s early fears for its forces and emigrants in the face of American moves (471), issues that are generally neglected by studies of American activities in the Pacific in this period.

Given the grand scheme of van Dijk’s approach in this book, there are a few minor aspects regarding which I feel more details could have been provided. For example, on page 97 he mentions that in the late nineteenth century Germany would have acquired Taiwan (Formosa) from China. I find this very interesting, which is a lesser known fact in the history of Taiwan. I am nevertheless disappointed to find no reference attached to this statement, which could actually be found in Otto Pflanze’s work Bismarck and the Development of Germany, Volume III: The Period of Fortification, 1880–1898 (Princeton University Press 2014, 115). I also think that the British Admiral Lord George Paulet’s brief occupation of Hawaii in 1843 should have been mentioned in the chapter on the annexation of Hawaii, for it had great significance for Hawaiian sovereignty and Anglo-American rivalry in the Pacific. These points, however, do not diminish the value of this volume as an excellent historical review of the diplomatic, military, and economic activities in the pre-WWI Asia-Pacific region.

Hao-Li Lin, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, USA              

111-113

Back to top


BILATERAL LEGACIES IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA. Edited by N. Ganesan. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2015. x, 208 pp. US$29.90, paper. ISBN 978-981-4620-41-3.

This book demonstrates clearly that memories of past events as well as the people who participated in creating them can impede current discussions aimed at improving contemporary relationships at the bilateral level. In order to do so the volume’s editor and contributors collectively develop the concepts of legacy and overhang and proceed to use them as tools of analysis as they explain their importance as impediments to successful bilateral interactions between sets of Asian nations. They begin their analysis by noting that interactions among and between nations take place at three levels: the global (or system), the regional (or subsystem) and the bilateral (or nation to nation). They concentrate on the latter, which involves past relationships within historical settings. After reviewing the methodological approaches to analyzing these interactions, they concentrate on bilateralism and the impediments raised by overhangs and legacies and proceed to account for them in five separate but integrated chapters. Each chapter is a case study of a set of interactions involving China-Japan, Japan-Korea, China-Vietnam, Myanmar-Thailand, and Thailand-Cambodia. The chapters “…discuss these bilateral relationships and narrate their importance both in history and the presence, paying special attention to…how these issues became embedded in bilateral discourse, what are the constituencies that invoke them and under what circumstances, and finally, what are the possibilities of such issues eventually fading into the back-ground” (19).

Bilateral legacies are enduring products of past financial and economic conflicts, territorial disputes, tensions, political posturing, security and military threats, armed conflicts, as well as ideological differences that previously arose between two nations. When these legacies fail to fade from memories, the results are hangovers that impede the maturation of amity between nations and over time can lead to enmity. As a result, “one thing is certain—it is incumbent upon political elites to muster sufficient political will and resources to overcome overhangs or legacies…[and] since such overhangs and legacies obtain within the context of a bilateral relationship, such efforts must be pursued by both countries in the relationship simultaneously to achieve progress” (19).

The volume emphasizes emphatically the point that history matters because legacies and overhangs leave a “negative perception that derives from historical interactions and subsequently becomes embedded in the psyche of the state, both at the level of the elites and the citizen body” (22). The primary emphases of the volume are to describe in detail how these perceptions came about and to explore ways for decision-makers (mainly political elites) to resolve them in order for effective and mutually beneficial bilateral interactions to take place.

The emphases are core to the chapters and in his concluding segment the editor summarizes their contents and highlights their implications while reaching this caution: “…negative images of neighboring states should not be played up by a state as part of responsible international behavior. It is certainly no way to accrue good will and soft power in the international arena. Consequently the state and its agencies should refrain from utilizing overhangs or legacies in their foreign policy output” (179). Ganesan goes on to add, “…such efforts among its own citizens and fringe groups trying to gain political mileage should be opposed…In order to preserve cordial ties with proximate neighbours” (170). It’s important to note that over time cordial ties are important because environments change, as in the case of China and Vietnam, which “…share a long history of relations marked by extended periods of collaboration and shorter periods of military conflict” (95). Depending upon when in the course of historical ebbs and flows discussions take place, hangovers might or might not arise and this makes enduring ties essential.

In addition to the rigor exhibited throughout the volume, important attention is paid to key factors such as the importance of civility and mutual respect among leaders and decision-makers as they conduct foreign affairs. Not only is comity likely to bind neighboring personnel (thereby enhancing the likelihood of reaching mutually advantageous bilateral relationships) but it also could have important spillover effects when it comes to discussions about forming broader regional and subregional arrangements. Mutual cordiality among leaders could help to overcome remnants of hangovers involving the nations that they represent during formative deliberations about the future.

The book’s chapters are organized in a logical and linear fashion, are uniformly well-written, and exhibit an impressive level of scholarship, and while reading through the volume readers are likely to think about other bilateral and regional interactions where legacies and overhangs come to mind. The concepts are not simply academic abstractions. They influence outcomes in terms of how well Southeast Asian national leaders are able to form symbiotic interactions: for example, between Thailand and Malaysia in their cross-border development effort; or among four ASEAN members and Yunnan Province of the People’s Republic of China in their effort to take advantage of the natural economic territory contained in the Greater Mekong Subregion; or among the ten-nation participants in a joint effort to create an ASEAN Economic Community that would enable producers to take advantage of horizontal and vertical market linkages that result in long run efficiencies due to the creation of a larger and more integrated region.

The volume is both interesting and useful, and in the judgement of this reviewer it would provide excellent reading material in either advanced upper division courses or graduate level seminars in fields ranging from international economics to international relations. The chapters can serve as case studies in which an individual student or a student-group could either present analyses of specific chapters to fellow classmates or could discover and analyze bilateral relationships among other nations. In effect, the book’s contents accomplish two tasks: they contribute to the state of knowledge about what scholars and decision-makers know about bilateral relationships and they provide students and teachers with ideas worth pursuing within classroom settings.

Robert L. Curry, Jr., California State University (Emeritus), Sacramento, USA           

113-115

Back to top


ASSESSING CHINA’S POWER. Asan-Palgrave Macmillan Series. Edited by Jae Ho Chung. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. xiv, 299 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$38.00, paper. ISBN 978-1-137-53707-2.

In recent decades there has been a great deal of debate about China’s growing power, as scholars attempt to understand the implications of China’s “rise” for East Asia, the United States, and the larger international community. This book addresses important questions about China’s emergence as a regional and global power through an analysis of the topic from a variety of perspectives. Bringing together thirteen prominent China scholars from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea, this volume offers a comprehensive assessment of China’s national power that is notable for both its breadth and depth. Each chapter follows a similar pattern in identifying specific criteria for evaluating Chinese power, reviewing recent developments, comparing China’s power to that of the United States, and projecting future directions.

In his introductory chapter, editor Jae Ho Chung identifies three schools of thought with regard to China’s rise to global power: the “Confident School,” the “Pessimist School,” and the “Uncertain School.” The contributors to this volume tend to fall into the latter camp, which recognizes that China has the potential to become a great power or even a hegemon, but acknowledges that there is a great deal of uncertainty in this process and that China faces numerous challenges and problems along the way. As a result, Chung advocates “careful empirical investigations from multiple angles and perspectives” (3). That is exactly what Assessing China’s Power delivers to its readers.

The initial chapters examine domestic aspects of China’s rising power, such as economic growth and governance. Tony Saich, for example, explores how economic development has changed Chinese society, creating a large middle class that is both connected to the global economy and active on social media. Despite these changes, the Chinese Communist Party has maintained its “authoritarian resilience” and Saich finds that Chinese citizens have increasing confidence in the central government. Local officials, on the other hand, face significant criticism and protests, which remains a daunting challenge as Chinese leaders grapple with corruption and the changing expectations of the Chinese people.

Andrew Erickson, Michael S. Chase, and Kevin Pollpeter analyze recent PRC military developments in air, naval, nuclear, space, and cyber war capabilities. All argue that the Chinese military has made significant progress in recent decades, but China’s overall weapons systems and capabilities remain far behind those of the United States. Chinese officials have concentrated on quality, rather than quantity, seeking to develop a military force sufficient to deter foreign intervention along China’s periphery and coastal areas. Thus, rather than challenge the United States in numbers of ships, missiles, or nuclear warheads, the Chinese military hopes to maintain a zone of influence in the region using a strategy of “deterrence by denial” (86). Cyber warfare, as a way to offset the advantage of any high-tech opponent, plays a central role in this strategy and the People’s Liberation Army has devoted significant resources to this area.

Evaluating China’s normative or “soft” power poses special problems, but some of the volume’s contributors offer detailed analyses of China’s ability to influence other states. Hankwon Kim argues that while China has made great strides in developing its economic and military power, it lags behind in terms of “soft power.” Chinese leaders have attempted to present China as an appropriate model for developing states, but with minimal results. Ann Kent points out that China’s global influence has increased with its greater involvement in the international community, but China retains a deep-seated determination to uphold its traditional notions of national sovereignty. This limits China’s willingness to participate in collective interventions in other areas of the world and leads Chinese leaders to view with skepticism Western suggestions that China should be a “good citizen” and take on greater international responsibilities.

David Kang and Evelyn Goh see China’s relations with its neighbors as an important window on China’s role in the larger global community. While acknowledging that the South China Seas dispute is the most likely flashpoint for regional conflict, both see signs of stability despite China’s new military capabilities and growing assertiveness in regional affairs. Kang points to static or declining military budgets among Northeast Asian states, including Taiwan, as an indication that China’s neighbors do not feel the need to match China’s military spending. He finds little difference between those that have military ties to the United States and those that do not. Goh argues that while China has had a profound economic impact on Southeast Asia, most of these states desire a strong American presence in the region, which they hope will serve as a balance to growing Chinese power.

In the final section, Suisheng Zhao and Zhimin Chen explore Chinese perspectives on China’s rise as a global power, particularly in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. They conclude that Chinese elites now see themselves as global leaders and have adopted a more assertive and proactive foreign policy. As Chen puts it, there is a new sense of national strength among Chinese leaders who no longer see China as a “weaker member among the second-tier great powers of the world” (286). These leaders also have a keen interest in assessing China’s global influence and researchers in Chinese think tanks are hard at work seeking empirical data with which to better measure China’s normative power.

All of the authors contributing to this volume offer intelligent analysis of recent developments, ongoing challenges, and likely future directions as China continues its rise within the global community. The essays are remarkably coherent and complimentary, collectively providing a comprehensive assessment of China’s economic, military, normative, regional, and global power. As such, this is an important and useful book for anyone interested in contemporary Chinese affairs.

Peter Worthing, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, USA        

116-118

Back to top


THE CHINA BOOM: Why China Will Not Rule the World. Contemporary Asia in the World. By Ho-fung Hung. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015, c2016. xxiv, 232 pp. (Illustrations, map.) US$35.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-16418-4.

In The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World, John Hopkins-based sociologist Ho-fung Hung sets out to challenge the conventional view that China’s development path is unique and can offer an alternative growth model for emerging nations. Not only is Hung able to convincingly demonstrate that mainstream conceptions of so-called “Chinese capitalism” are wrong; rather, such views are creating intellectual blinders that fail to see the risk of China’s looming economic downfall. Drawing on socio-economic theorists such as Marx and Weber, the study offers a strong historical account of China’s turbulent development path towards an authoritarian capitalist state.

Hung’s thought-provoking analysis centres on what he sees as two dominant myths within the political economy literature. First, he rejects the notion that China has seen an ideological split from its Maoist beginnings that has brought about a radically unique pro-capitalist state. Rather, China’s development path has been continuous and the result of institutional foundations established under Maoist policy. Indeed, Hung argues that capitalism in China has developed through historical state-institution building, geo-political interests, and volatile state-society social relations.

Second, Hung contends that China’s ascent does not pose a subversive risk to the current Bretton Woods-centric economic system. Citing American economic and militaristic hegemony, he points to China’s dependency on the US consumer market with Beijing readily serving as a principle financier through US Treasury bonds to ensure its stability. As Hung writes, “the China boom relies on the global free-market instituted and warranted by the United States. It is thus far from China’s interest to undermine the global neoliberal status quo and U.S. leadership in it” (174). This leads to a convincing argument that China is not driving a radical restructuring of global power.

The book is divided into two parts, the first focusing on the emergence of the capitalist system in China, while the second discusses China’s impact on the global economic system. It is here that Hung lays out his argument for what he sees as the inevitable collapse of China’s growth success. Not only does Hung’s study present a rigorous yet concise account of China’s political economy, it does so within the important context of East Asia’s historical growth model.

The book begins with an account of imperial China’s development patterns within the constraints of the centralized paternalistic state. Hung notes how capitalism was constrained by the government, which saw wealth accumulation as a threat to social stability, and the “elites failure to build a coherent, strong state machinery necessary for surplus centralization and state-led industrialization in the nineteenth and early twentieth century” (33). The following two chapters discuss China’s mid-nineteenth century failed attempt to follow Europe’s industrialization path. It would not be until the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power that a successful model of primitive accumulation was introduced in an effort to re-direct wealth from the countryside to the cities. According to Hung, the result led to state-owned industrial capital and infrastructure that was then leveraged through post-Maoist market reform. This allowed Beijing to develop an export-oriented modernization program that benefited from the Cold War economic policies of the United States and the strengthening of East Asian capitalist markets.

It is not until chapter 4 where the book shifts attention towards Hung’s premise on the possible risk and rewards associated with China’s unsustainable growth. Although Hung sees China’s impact on global inequality as significant, he is skeptical if such a trend will continue, especially as China’s per-capita income rises higher than global averages. He also challenges the belief that the developing world will benefit from China’s growth. In chapters 5 and 6, Hung then rejects the view that China is challenging American hegemony. In building his case, he draws on the dominance of the US dollar and military power. He rightly argues that this “twin dominance” will continue shaping the world with China at best emerging as a “new power in an old order.” Indeed, Beijing is dependent on US market strength to support its export-oriented economy since its domestic market is weak. As evidence, Hung points to Beijing’s overinvestment through deficit spending, consumer under-consumption, and China’s general internal wealth imbalance.

While Hung’s assessment is convincing, it offers little in terms of solutions other than a vague commentary on the urgent need for social and political reform. While questioning if China’s authoritarian state can sustain itself without reform, he leaves the reader guessing what such a massive undertaking would look like in a country dominated by an entrenched communist party with over 80 million members. Furthermore, Hung’s position can present itself as overly alarmist. For example, Hung writes, “The imminent and inevitable readjustment of the Chinese economy is poised to create significant repercussions throughout the world” (176). The reader is again left grasping for more direction on what to expect if China is indeed leading the world towards global economic imbalance.

Despite these limitations, Hung’s work is important and will be of interest to those looking for an alternative account for understanding China’s capitalist rise. What’s more, the book should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned with transnational economic policy planning. The China boom is not to be underestimated.

Robert J. Hanlon, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, Canada   

118-120

Back to top


UNKNOTTING THE HEART: Unemployment and Therapeutic Governance in China. By Jie Yang. Ithaca: ILR Press [an imprint of Cornell University Press], 2015. xxv, 255 pp. (Illustrations.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8014-5660-2.

Jie Yang’s first book explores the long-term consequences of the massive layoffs in the late 1990s and early 2000s that affected tens of millions of workers in Chinese state-owned enterprises. The book is based on a decade-long ethnographic research in a community in Changping, a suburb of Beijing. Many of its residents are former employees of the now-privatized watch factory Beibiao. Through this case study, Yang reveals the suffering that laid-off workers and the unemployed experience today and examines the solutions that the state has employed to alleviate it.

Yang’s ethnography focuses on state interventions that are intended to tackle the “heart” through Western-style psychotherapy. In both the introduction and the conclusion, Yang presents an overarching argument that places these developments in the broader trend of “psychologization”—the rendering of socio-economic problems into psychological ones. Unemployment thus becomes part of the mental health crisis that is plaguing the rapidly developing society. Yang contends that the state’s promotion of psychotherapy signals a shift from coercive control to a more benevolent mode of governing. To characterize this shift, Yang coins the terms of “therapeutic governance” and “kindly power.” Yang further argues that, in doing this, the state aims to harness the positive potential (qianli) of the targeted populations and to contain the hidden threats or “negative potential” (yinhuan) they entail.

This ambitious thesis is supported by six ethnographic chapters. The first two bring readers to the centre of the said interventions: the residents’ committee that embodies the state/party’s presence at the grassroots level. Reemployment training, which frequently involves counselling, is offered by its staff who have recently received some training in psychotherapy. In chapter 1 Yang describes how these psychosocial workers endorse “self-reflexivity,” or more precisely reconsidering one’s situations and coming up with a positive mindset, as a crucial means to achieve “happiness.” This has become an index of “economic growth and governing efficiency” (36) in the official discourse. Chapter 2 turns to more closely examine the practitioners who, defining their mission as helping others to help themselves, must prompt their clients to relinquish their dependency on the state. Here Yang compares the Maoist ideology of self-reliance, which stresses the independence of the country, and the new emphasis on the individual self. In the end Yang also shows that the counselling is poorly received; local people often perceive it as “hoodwinking” (huyou).

Chapter 3 looks into the poverty-relief program known as “sending warmth” (song wennuan). At first glance this might seem like a digression as the program primarily involves giving material support to the poor and the unemployed. However, Yang discovers that local party staff who carry out these operations see the expression of compassion or “shared human feelings” (renqing) as an essential element. A broadly conceived notion of therapy, therefore, underpins these relief efforts. In chapter 4 Yang discusses the hybrid condition of the psychotherapeutic practices in the local community. The practitioners borrow bits and pieces from various schools or traditions, including rational emotive therapy, Carl Rogers’s client-centred approach, and narrative therapy. Since most of them are former or current party staff, they also tend to draw on thought work, the method of ideological education that was widely used during the socialist period.

In the second part of the book, chapters 5 and 6 investigate the role of gender in the experiences of the laid-off workers. While previous chapters discuss psychotherapy as a remedy, here psychotherapy training would become a strategy of reemployment. Chapter 5 introduces the new occupation of “housemaid counselors” (peiliao) —domestic workers who are equipped with basic counselling skills and could serve as companions to chat with. These jobs are mostly taken by women because of the link between the female gender and caregiving. Chapter 6 turns to taxi drivers, the most popular job for unemployed men. In a similar vein, it is not uncommon that taxi drivers receive basic psychotherapy training so that they become “counselors on wheels” (181). They counsel their customers during the trips and are capable of identifying those with suicidal intentions. Yang further describes the emotional distress prevalent among taxi drivers and attributes it to suppressed anger toward the state, whose abandoning of workers results in their current plight.

Despite the richness and depth of this study, a few questions remain. To begin with, what is the position of these psychotherapeutic interventions in the overall policy regarding the unemployed? Yang seems to ascribe a rather central role to them, but little is said about other social services and the relationships between them. Moreover, Yang repeatedly suggests that the training these local party staff receive is very limited, and that their counselling rarely achieves satisfactory outcomes: the attempt to instill a positive outlook in the unemployed is not only futile but often suspected of being a trick by recipients. These facts seem to undermine the claim that the state is taking a therapeutic shift; if that were true, why wouldn’t it invest more resources into training counsellors and monitoring the efficacy of these programs more cautiously? In fact, Changping should be an ideal place for such an experiment given its proximity to central Beijing, which is home to numerous leading psychology institutions and a flourishing “psycho-boom” among the middle class.

Unknotting the Heart offers invaluable information and insights into the lived experiences of laid-off workers and the state’s responses in China. Being the first book-length ethnography on the recent rise of Western psychotherapy in China, it will be of great interest to scholars in China studies, medical anthropology, and psychology.

Hsuan-Ying Huang, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, SAR, China

120-122

Back to top


MAOISM AT THE GRASSROOTS: Everyday Life in China’s Era of High Socialism. Edited by Jeremy Brown and Matthew D. Johnson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015. vi, 468 pp. (Illustrations.) US$49.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-674-28720-4.

This humane book exposes “undercurrents” in China. The editors’ introduction identifies three main themes (2). First, it asserts a need for more “grassroots” and “subaltern” studies about everyday life among diverse populations within Chinese society, including youths, peasants, woman workers, gays, religious believers, ethnic minorities, and others. Second, it shows that “routine violence” affected many but not all Chinese people during “high socialism” “from the mid-1950s until 1980” (6). A third finding is that most social scientists’ emphasis on “campaign time” oversimplifies the varied experiences of the Chinese people. These authors are historians, interested in contingencies and complexities, not grand causations.

But not all the chapters confirm these three ideas monotonically. Campaigns were times for “making” “bad elements” (Yang Kuisong, 19), “creating rightists” (Cao Shuji, 77), and “revising political verdicts” (Daniel Leese, 102). Jeremy Brown writes about label revisions in rural Hebei, offering evidence that national movements were occasions for reinterpreting local “distant history and recent misdeeds” (57). Yet as Vivienne Shue suggests in her interpretive “epilogue” chapter, Maoist campaigns did not affect all urbanites, even in hyperpolitical Beijing (366–369).

Many chapters compile anecdotes of particular people and contexts. These complex stories are often based on interviewees who were wronged and want to be heard, or on archival documents whose writers judged cases of goodness or badness, bravery or timidity, luck or misfortune. Cao’s chapter about the “overt conspiracy” of the Hundred Flowers clarifies the mixed intentions among local cadres and critics in 1957 rural Henan. Many were determined to “keep their mouths shut,” even as officials urged them to express loyalty by finding faults in socialist consolidation. “Most people chose silence or evasion,” but “China … did indeed have ‘rightists’ who opposed the Party.” For most “who were labeled ‘rightists,’ speaking out against injustice and unfairness was second nature” (100–101). They knew they would be punished, but they were honest.

The Great Leap Forward exploited labour. It substituted women for men in arduous outdoor work growing cotton, as Jacob Eyferth shows in a chapter called “Liberation from the Loom?” Production rose, as did the independence of wives, but this liberation involved heavy costs (143). Work was more important to labourers than politics. For rural women in Shaanxi, “1966 was not a date of great significance.” None of Eyferth’s interviewees “mentioned the Cultural Revolution.” When asked, one woman said, “we simply did not take part” (151). Maoists exploited hopes that sent-down youths could use science to modernize agronomy (Sigrid Schmalzer, 152–178). Chaos and struggle meetings decimated offices that had earlier monitored rural leaders, who could then choose to ignore central orders in favour of their own local policies.

“What happened after the Leap is not simply that the state retreated … but also that state institutions followed a path of involution and corruption” (Matthew Johnson, 201). Even in Xinjiang, the Leap “had been a disaster politically as well as economically” (Wang Haiguang, 337). The Cultural Revolution then “crippled” police who had tried to monitor apocalyptic Buddhist societies (S.A. Smith, 348). Later campaigns failed to reverse Party decline. The historians in this book nowhere refer explicitly to dynastic cycles, but their findings are consistent with that Chinese trope.

Many chapters underline the importance of “class” labels in the lives of politically active Chinese. Some victims were driven insane when assigned bad labels. Depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts are quoted by Sha Qingqing and Jeremy Brown from a youth’s personal diary (190). Mental illness, fistfights, hunger, rock throwing, struggle meetings, bossy cadres, and anger at unfair labelling were frequent. This context of chaos was arguably intensified because of socialist consolidation policies in the 1950s and 1960s, but coercion was not all coordinated by the state.

One of the best-known chapter writers, Michael Schoenhals, boldly asserts that writers who “focus on violence and chaos” pay excessive attention to Mao, although “the Chairman himself is not the least to blame” (230). This proposition is in tension with Roderick MacFarquhar and Schoenhals’ Mao’s Last Revolution (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2006). Mao could not monitor everything, but to reduce his role to zero is as misleading as to ignore his love of fighting and controlling and labelling people, all evident throughout his six-decade political career. His methods legitimated millions of others to use the same methods in their own interests.

Power was usually local. Cadres’ political difficulties with Guizhou and Xinjiang minorities are chronicled respectively by Wang Haiguang and Zhe Wu, who present newly detailed political histories of these provinces. Steve A. Smith writes similarly about redemptive sects such as the Yiguandao. The Party must admit that cultists, like ethnic minorities in their areas, have “mass” characteristics (343). Coercion alone is ineffective for monitoring them. Xiaoxuan Wang finds that ambiguous Party policy “lacks the support of local cadres” who are mandated to control religion near Wenzhou (261).

The main arguments of the book are not entirely new. It is refreshing for this reviewer to read a book that finds truth in detailed historical narratives (not just statistical regressions). China is so complex that many findings here are in tension with the book’s main themes. That is a virtue, not a fault. Other English-language authors have, in diverse ways, shown that everyday normal chaos, grassroots political economies, and personal attempts to avoid campaigns are long-term facts of life in China. This reviewer easily compiled a list of twenty prominent political and social scientists to whom none of these historians refer, but who have made such points in major publications. History is a social science. Social scientists neglect their topic when they are not humanists. Writers of either sort who ignore these links should reconsider. These chapters provide fine-grained evidence and reinvigorate scholarship on China in the first quarter-century of the People’s Republic. Everyone who is interested in socialist China must read this book.

Lynn T. White III, Princeton University, New Jersey, USA

122-124

Back to top


URBANIZING CHINA IN WAR AND PEACE: The Case of Wuxi County. By Toby Lincoln. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. ix, 268 pp. (Illustrations.) US$55.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-4100-3.

Jiangsu Province’s Wuxi County is about eighty miles northwest of Shanghai in the Lower Yangzi Delta, a region that since late imperial times has been among China’s most advanced in terms of commercial and urban development. This monograph details the even more remarkable urbanization witnessed in Wuxi during the first half of the twentieth century, when it became thoroughly integrated into networks of international trade. By the early 1930s, the city of Wuxi lagged behind only Shanghai and Guangzhou in industrial output, and the size of its industrial labour force ranked second to Shanghai’s, making Wuxi China’s largest manufacturing centre outside the treaty ports. Industrial development, agricultural commercialization, and urban expansion did as much to transform Wuxi county as any other part of China, leading to what Lincoln calls an “urbanization of the countryside” (2) that made it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the urban and the rural.

This book makes a major contribution by taking modern Chinese urban history beyond the city limits, exploring how the same historical processes affected urban as well as rural spaces. Eschewing the “urban-rural gap thesis” that has informed much of the existing historiography, Lincoln argues that a decisive shift in the “urban-rural continuum” took place in Wuxi county throughout the Republican period, reorienting society as a whole towards the city. By employing this framework, Lincoln avoids the analytical pitfalls that come with a simplistic binary opposition between the “modern” city and the “traditional” countryside. Instead, his history draws attention to the far-reaching economic, physical, political, and administrative changes that occurred as urbanization reshaped cities, towns, and villages, as well as the new relationships that it forged among them.

In the early twentieth century, Wuxi’s commercial and industrial elites took the lead in establishing factories and investing in infrastructure that remade the city and the countryside. Wuxi grew in population and size as increasing numbers of people migrated to the city to find employment in silk mills and other industrial enterprises, giving rise to tighter connections between the urban core and its rural hinterland. Communities of Wuxi sojourners in Shanghai, Nanjing, and other cities linked their native place to the Lower Yangzi’s increasingly interconnected urban system, helping it weather crises caused by warfare and natural disasters. Lincoln maintains that Wuxi elites, in tandem with local officials, secured a degree of “municipal autonomy” in the 1920s that gave them greater leeway in shaping urban expansion, but acknowledges that this urban autonomy proved fleeting. Under the Guomindang’s Nanjing government in the early 1930s, the state’s bureaucratic and regulatory apparatus assumed a greater role in guiding and managing the process of urbanization to reflect its developmental priorities.

In addition to assessing the role of the state and local elites, fully comprehending urbanization and its effects requires examining “how the rapidly changing physical landscape formed the spaces that constituted the horizons of daily lived experience for farmers and workers” (3). Lincoln presents rich information on the experiences of the women and men who worked in Wuxi’s factories (32–34), the character of urban street life (34–37), and the transformation of daily life in rural villages (50–54). Inclusion of additional material on these topics throughout the book might have further enlivened its presentation. The multifaceted impact of urbanization on the natural environment, touched upon in a section on the emergence of Lake Tai as a tourist destination (44–45), also merits more comprehensive investigation.

In the book’s most fascinating chapters, Lincoln demonstrates that even during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 to 1945, industrial development continued to drive the process of urbanization that he sees as an “unstoppable force” (145), albeit within the context of Japanese occupation. The initial trauma of Japanese invasion tore the “threads of silk that for decades had connected farming households to the international economy,” but “they were rapidly woven anew in the first few months of 1938 and once more linked Wuxi to Shanghai” (128) In the first few years under Japanese occupation, the revival of Wuxi’s silk industry enabled it to regain its status as one of China’s most important economic centres.

Lincoln’s nuanced account of Wuxi’s wartime travails clearly demonstrates the brutality of the Japanese presence as well as its limits. It was Chinese authorities who took responsibility for reviving silk production, thwarting Japanese efforts to establish a complete monopoly over the industry. Chinese officials oversaw wartime reconstruction, development, and management of urban and rural infrastructure, which gave them opportunities to implement prewar plans for expansion with little impediment from the Japanese. Lincoln asserts that “the speed with which the city recovered supports the argument that the Chinese collaborationist state was effective and legitimate” (148). Yet the assassination of Wuxi’s collaborationist county magistrate in 1940—and Japanese “village-clearance” campaigns that followed—underline the tenuousness of this wartime accommodation.

Lincoln has grounded his analysis firmly in exhaustive research conducted in the Wuxi Municipal Archives, the Shanghai Municipal Archives, the Jiangsu Provincial Archives, and at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, along with a wide array of local newspapers, guidebooks, official publications, and Japanese survey reports. His mastery of these sources establishes his credentials as a top-notch historian of modern China. Future research should reveal the extent to which shifts in the urban-rural continuum that occurred in other regions of China during the early twentieth century resembled the history of urbanization in Wuxi, and Lincoln has provided a model for that line of inquiry.

This pioneering study is an absolute must-read for students of Chinese urban history, and will appeal to anyone interested in the historical roots of the massive urbanization that has taken place in tandem with contemporary China’s rapid economic development. The book would make a useful addition to reading lists for graduate seminars and advanced undergraduate courses on modern Chinese social and economic history, as well as classes on the history of World War II in East Asia.

Micah Muscolino, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

124-126

Back to top


THE SAGE AND THE PEOPLE: The Confucian Revival in China. By Sébastien Billioud and Joël Thoraval. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. viii, 332 pp. (Figures.) US$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-19-025814-6.

Originally published in French in 2014 and based on eight years of fieldwork, this impressive book analyzes a variety of Confucianism-inspired rituals, practices, and activities that emerged during the 2000s in the People’s Republic of China. Focusing particularly on the upsurge of interest in Confucius and his teachings among non-elite ordinary people (minjian rujia), it joins a growing body of recent Western scholarship on mainland post-Mao Confucianism. Billioud and Thoraval consistently situate individual cases within larger social contexts and longer historical perspectives, as well as making comparisons with religious movements in Taiwan. Their multi-pronged approach offers the reader a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of rituals and other practices that otherwise have mainly drawn journalistic attention or narrower scholarly treatment.

The introduction stresses the novelty of contemporary popular Confucianism, which the authors distinguish from recent academic revivals or official reappropriations of Confucius for philosophical or ideological purposes. Moreover, unlike traditional institutions and practices revived or reconstructed after Maoist suppression, such as lineage organizations and ancestor worship, grassroots Confucian initiatives are new forms of association meant to engage ordinary people with the ancient sages and foster communitarian values, as an antidote to the post-Deng Xiaoping era’s amoral individualism. Operating outside the party-state apparatus, popular activists must maintain the acquiescence (or at least indifference) of local authorities, some of whom may privately become supporters. The government’s promotion of its own form of Confucian values has also created a space for popular initiatives perceived as compatible.

Billioud and Thoraval divide their main text into three sections organized around and titled by what they identify as three major “orientations” of popular Confucianism: its educative mission (jiaohua), religious functions (anshen liming), and ritual dimension (lijiao). Each section begins with a chapter that reviews relevant developments in the Republican period (1912–1949), which sometimes offers direct precedents for contemporary manifestations. Specific Confucian-related enterprises are examined in subsequent chapters, portions of which previously appeared in journal articles by one or both authors. The discussions draw upon recent scholarship in Chinese, English, and French to supplement field observations and interviews. More detailed background information about individual activists, groups, and schools sometimes appears in a sidebar, enabling the main text to focus on major themes. Methodological issues typically are treated in footnotes.

Part 1 surveys various forms of Confucian revival in education, ranging from state-run schools incorporating the study of classic texts to independent private academies, study halls, and extracurricular groups emphasizing Song-Ming Neo-Confucian modes of self-cultivation and master-disciple relationships. Within these otherwise diverse settings, the authors discern a common concern with promoting the attainment of wisdom (zhihui) and improving social morality, to counter standard education’s over-emphasis on mere accumulation of knowledge (zhishi) and exam preparation. In emphasizing “moral and behavioral rectitude” (93), contemporary Confucian education is paradoxically anti-intellectual, favouring embodied practices and eschewing scholarly theorizing. Elite academics accordingly have criticized the “vulgarization” of Confucianism, famously attacking Yu Dan’s popular 2006 lectures and subsequent book applying teachings from the Analects (Lunyu) to everyday life.

In part 2, the authors discuss religious elements within the popular Confucian revival, emphasizing that Western conceptions of “religion” (zongjiao) have created much confusion but also unique possibilities in the Chinese context. With considerable sophistication, they analyze attempts from the early 1900s onward to gain official institutional status for Confucianism, whether as the state religion, as an addition to the five recognized religions, as a kind of civil religion; or alternatively, to incorporate it within other syncretistic traditions. Reconstructing “the different phases of the confrontation between Confucian heritage and the new category of ‘religion’” (126), they trace the evolution of Confucian jiao (teaching) from an all-inclusive ritual, moral, and politico-cosmic system into a tradition of Chinese values, then its bifurcation into a “religion” imitating Protestantism and a “philosophy” of abstract ideas “disconnected from practices” (132). Observing that these attempts to modernize Confucianism were forgotten after 1949, the authors suggest that some of the same formulations and debates have reappeared in recent years. The socialist equation of “religion” with “superstition” leads some grassroots Confucian activists to deny that their rituals and practices are “religious.” Others support openly religious efforts, such as the Hong Kong Confucian Academy’s promotion of the Kongshengtang in Shenzhen as a Confucian “church.” Syncretic redemptive movements such as the (still underground) Way of Pervading Unity (Yiguan dao) blend Confucian self-cultivation with millennarian eschatology. A recurrent theme in the case studies is that Confucianism shares spiritual roots with Buddhism but differs in emphasizing the social here-and-now, rather than an individual’s future liberation.

Part 3 examines ritual, considering the political implications of the revived ceremonies and newly invented Confucian-inflected rites. Focusing on Qufu, the sage’s hometown, the authors review the evolution of his cult, traditionally the “theologico-political foundation of state power” (173). Originally a ceremony performed by officials, celebrating both “a vision of the universe permeating imperial ideology” and Confucius himself as representing “the mediating role of jiaohua” in its implementation, the ritual changed in the twentieth century into a school-based communal observance expressing “the cultural unity of the nation” (178). Variously called “sacrifice” (si) or “commemoration” (jinian), the ritual bolstered political authority but also stoked debates over religion. Abandoned under Mao, rites revived in the 2000s celebrate the state, but also the ancestral land (zuguo) and sacred realm (shenzhou), the latter to attract Taiwanese and overseas Chinese. The authors contrast official ceremonies “devoid of ritual spirit” (223) with rites that originate from ordinary peoples’ desires to experience Confucianism as a “living reality” (225). However, relations between party/state and unofficial groups can also be mutually supportive, given the shared cosmology of Confucianism. A chapter on state cults in Taiwan identifies alternative ways of connecting the religious and the political that are impossible in mainland China.

In view of ongoing developments and rapid changes, the authors end with an epilogue rather than a conclusion, reflecting on trends they observed over a decade and comparing conditions in the mainland and Taiwan. Their insightful book is an important contribution.

Julia K. Murray, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA                 

126-129

Back to top


TONGZHI LIVING: Men Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China. By Tiantian Zheng. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 244 pp. US$27.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8166-9200-2.

The anthropologist Tiantian Zheng has combined exhaustive fieldwork with a sophisticated theoretical framework to produce an informative ethnography of homosexual men in the city of Dalian in northeast China. Her incisive analysis lends this book significance far beyond the ostensible subject matter. By describing a despised minority subculture in such detail, the author provides a unique perspective on issues central to contemporary Chinese society and politics, including the construction and maintenance of hierarchy, mechanisms of social control, and the allocation of status.

The author avoids using the term gay, which implies the public affirmation of sexual orientation, political action, and a globalized sexuality based on Western norms. Instead she employs the terminology that her subjects use and calls them tongzhi (comrades). This appellation began as a mocking appropriation of communist jargon, which an oppressed group ironically redefined to stake out a nonconformist identity.

Unlike Western gay identity, tongzhi divide themselves into two discrete categories. They call men who take the insertive role in intercourse by the number 1, while sexually passive men are known as 0s. Identifying one another by sexual position replicates the heterosexual division between male and female roles. As with men and women in the straight world, tongzhi have different expectations for 1s and 0s. They assume that the 1 in a relationship will be the breadwinner and provide financial support for the 0.

Tongzhi have to cope with fierce prejudice from government functionaries, coworkers, and family members. Faced with intense hostility from key institutions, tongzhi rarely dare to come out of the closet or engage in activism. To the contrary, they actively collaborate with the state and strive to be accepted by the dominant culture, thus weakening their collective solidarity. Foreign mass media depict the globalized gay lifestyle in positive terms, making tongzhi acutely aware of their predicament. As a result, they find themselves trapped between their desires and circumstances. While tongzhi long to embrace a Westernized gay identity, they have no choice but to remain hidden. To deal with this contradiction, they outwardly pretend to conform to social norms. An estimated 90 percent enter into sham heterosexual marriages. But behind this protective façade, they construct a parallel secret life.

Unlike the West, where religious beliefs drive homophobia, in China this prejudice originates in secular society. Zheng accounts for the disdain toward tongzhi as an outgrowth of the national strengthening ideology that developed in the late Qing dynasty and early twentieth century. Ever since the May Fourth movement, Chinese have consciously manipulated gender roles to try to increase national strength. Because they associate homosexuality with decadence and effeminacy, they consider it a threat to the nation. Most Chinese regard tongzhi with contempt, seeing them as akin to traitors.

The title of this book emphasizes the importance of the postsocialist nature of Chinese society to understanding this minority. Extreme inequality permeates contemporary China, making class consciousness a major factor in the personal identity of individual tongzhi. Because they come from every stratum, their community is riven by inequalities of income, power, and status. Tongzhi tend to follow the example of mainstream society and define themselves through consumption. So despite the persecution they face, tongzhi end up adhering to the state’s official line by eschewing activism and devoting themselves to work and shopping.

Zheng explores relationships between men of different economic backgrounds, which often involve the exchange of gifts or money. Although tongzhi of various social stations interact to some degree in person and online, they exclude one group from their community. Tongzhi of all backgrounds are extremely hostile toward internal migrants. Lacking education, connections, and resources, migrant tongzhi often end up working as low-end male prostitutes. Because of their debased status, other tongzhi regard migrants as polluted and dangerous and treat them with disdain.

The author has previously done extensive fieldwork on HIV/AIDS in China, and this book includes a chapter describing tongzhi involvement in these organizations. Because almost all of the staff at Chinese HIV organizations are tongzhi, becoming involved in the cause is one of the only ways for them to interact directly with mainstream society and the state. HIV organizations serve as de facto tongzhi clubs, and men use them to socialize and find sex partners. Surprisingly, Zheng documents embezzlement at one of these organizations, where senior staff siphon off funds donated by the government and charities. But by succumbing to the dishonesty that pervades postsocialist society, tongzhi end up undermining the organizations that provide them refuge.

Although Tiantian Zheng’s professed subject matter is the ethnography of homosexual men in a single city, this book opens up unique perspectives on the current state of Chinese society as a whole. The oppression suffered by tongzhi provides a detailed case study of the mechanics of social and political control in contemporary China. Although tongzhi have been marginalized and forced underground, they nevertheless embrace the dominant values that underpin the postsocialist order. They avoid activism, and instead devote themselves to work and consumption. They replicate the general class hierarchy within their own community. And they present themselves to outsiders as complying with the norms that oppress them. The surprising conformity of this persecuted group goes a long way toward explaining how the Chinese Communist Party maintains power in the face of so many challenges.

Bret Hinsch, Fo Guang University, Jiaoxi, Taiwan 

129-131

Back to top


CHINA’S LITERARY COSMOPOLITANS: Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang, and the World of Letters. Sinica Leidensia, v.125. Edited by Christopher Rea. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015. x, 263 pp. US$142.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-04-29996-2.

Qian Zhongshu, fiction writer, literary critic, and antiquarian, and his wife Yang Jiang, playwright, translator, memoirist and fiction writer, were the power couple of late republican Chinese intelligentsia. Both were born in the last months of the empire; they married in their early twenties after meeting as students at Qinghua University in Beijing. They were grounded in Chinese scholarly traditions before leaving for Europe, studying in Oxford and Paris, and they became literary celebrities after their return to China in 1938, Yang first as a dramatist writing comedies in wartime Shanghai, and Qian with the success of his novel Weicheng (Fortress Besieged) in 1947. Declining opportunities to teach overseas, they remained in China following communist victory in 1949, suffering the strictures common to the established intellectuals in the Mao era, working in relative obscurity as translators, while Qian conducted his research on Chinese literature and philosophy. They returned to something like their former prominence after the Cultural Revolution, with Yang publishing a celebrated memoir of their “cadre school” incarceration in 1981 and her only novel, Xizao (Taking a Bath), in 1988. Following Qian Zhongshu’s death in 1998, Yang Jiang wrote extensively about their lives together and with their daughter, continuing her creative work well into her eleventh decade.

This collection of essays by a distinguished group of scholars has its origins in a 2010 symposium hosted by Christopher Rea to celebrate the lives of Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang. The book presents Qin and Yang as Chinese cosmopolitans, who wrote in China on Chinese subjects with a perspective informed by their sensitivity to the culture of Western Europe, particularly, as Judith Amory observes, that of the eighteenth-century novel. They were, like all intellectuals in the Mao-era People’s Republic, employed by the state, Qian working on the English version of Mao’s Selected Works and Yang translating European picaresque novels from English, French, and Spanish, but they managed to keep their distance from the turmoil of their times. Wendy Larson suggests that Yang Jiang’s later writings “present the ideal of a detached, cosmopolitan, and universal creative intellectual who imagines himself or herself not so much part of political society as floating in … the ‘autonomy of the aesthetic sphere.’” (135) References to the moment in their Mao-era works are private and oblique: Yugen Wang, in his chapter on Qian Zhongshu’s poetry, written in classical Chinese, quotes a poem written in 1957, on the eve of the Anti-rightist campaign and the Great Leap, which ends with elegantly haunting lines anticipating the trouble to come: “From distant skies comes the muffled roll of thunder./ Falling leaves tumble about in the air; the winds gusting every which way;/ Cooing mountain doves suddenly fall silent; the storm approaches” (47). Through much of the Cultural Revolution, Qian was as aloof as could be managed from the upheaval around him, writing critical essays on premodern Chinese literature and philosophy, the Guanshi bian (literally “Tube and Awl Collection,” also translated as “Limited Views”), analyzed here by Ronald Egan.

Their determined detachment from politics, even while they were undergoing (entirely unsuccessful) socialist re-education in their cadre-school, is recorded by Yang Jiang in her celebrated 1981 work Six Chapters of Life in a Cadre School (Ganxiao liu ji). The memoir is modelled on the Qing dynasty memoir Six Chapters of a Floating Life, whose author Shen Fu recorded his love for his wife in vignettes of their time together. Like Shen Fu’s, Yang’s memoir takes delight in small things—clandestine meetings with her husband, a relationship with a dog—and its restraint is remarkable, given that it was written at a time when other memoirists from the intellectual class, also returning from a decade and more of ostracism, were bitterly cataloguing the abuses they had suffered at the hands of red guards and opportunistic colleagues.

For all the variety of their literary output, Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang will likely be remembered most fondly for their single novels, Qian’s Fortress Besieged and Yang’s Taking a Bath, written forty years apart. Qian’s novel is set in the chaos of late republican China and Yang’s in the decade that followed it, the early years of the People’s Republic. Both concern the misadventures of intellectual classes in their natural habitats, the college and the research institute. In Qian’s novel, a returned student with a fraudulent degree finds a position in a dubious college in the interior, and in Yang’s, colleagues at a research institute connive and betray to maintain their status and employment. The influence of the European novel of manners is noted here, though surprisingly not that of the eighteenth-century Chinese comic masterwork Rulin waishsi (Unofficial history of the scholars), which covers much of the same terrain for the late imperial period. In his chapter on Qian Zhongshu, T.D. Huters finds possible inspiration for Fortress Besieged closer to hand, for its author at least, in the satirical novels of Evelyn Waugh, popular while Qian and Yang were at Oxford; Huters further notes a similarity to Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, written a decade after Fortress Besieged, and similarly set amongst the lecturing fraternity. Qian and Yang’s novels share the territory of the contemporary Anglo-American university novel, of which Lucky Jim is an early example and the novels of David Lodge the best-known examples from the late twentieth century: Chinese and Western authors alike offer tales of inadequacy and pretention, shabby romance and petty jealousy, in a genre that veers from farce to black humour and always has time to expose the vaingloriousness of scholars.

Fortress Besieged and Taking a Bath are available in English; those wishing to read more of Yang Jiang in translation can refer to a special edition of Renditions (no. 76, 2011) released to coincide with the author’s hundredth birthday.

There is more to appreciate in this collection, including chapters on Yang Jiang’s plays and translations, and another on her family memoir We Three (Women sa). China’s Literary Cosmopolitans offers both a valuable introduction to two outstanding cultural figures, and innovative scholarship on aspects of their work which have previously received less scholarly attention.

Richard King, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada              131-133

Back to top


SOUNDING THE MODERN WOMAN: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema. By Jean Ma. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2015. ix, 282 pp. (Figures.) US$25.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5876-3.

Relatively few works in film studies devote attention to sound and music because a huge part of the movie-watching experience is about visual pleasure. Most viewers do not realize the emotional effects of sound and music, which play important roles in creating atmosphere and tension in the cinematic space. Film songs—especially the pop songs we have grown up with—whether they are adopted by films or popularized as original scores written for films, often dominate visuals by their strong emotional impact. They function differently since they also exist outside the cinema and are aired repeatedly in public and private spaces, thereby establishing a direct association with viewers apart from the discourse of a film. In her book, Jean Ma gives the example of Wong Kar-wai’s short music film The Blooming Years (2000), which is edited to Zhou Xuan’s song of the same title with clips from old films (3). This song is played on the soundtrack of Wong’s feature film In the Mood of Love (2000), which bears the same Chinese title as the song. Jean Ma’s book is more than a scholarly exploration of sound and music in Chinese cinema. Referring to existing studies on sound, music, and voice in cinematic traditions, while paying special attention to the configuration of the role of the songstress in Chinese cinema, her analysis also relates to theories in feminist film studies, effects of sound technology in filmmaking, complexity in the visual and/or vocal performance, and actual practices in Shanghai cinema before 1949 and Hong Kong’s Mandarin cinema after 1949.

Reading Ma’s book Sounding the Modern Woman, I found fascinating insights on films featuring Grace Chang: Mambo Girls (1957) and The Wild, Wild Rose (1960) in particular. Jean Ma states that she began research “with a vague notion of starting a book project about the films and songs of the postwar star Grace Chang” (3), and Grace Chang remains the most interesting subject of the book and occupies nearly two chapters of her discussions. Although at more than one point, Ma groups Zhou Xuan, Grace Chang, Chung Ching, Yao Lee, Linda Lin Dai, and Julie Yeh Feng as the major postwar singing actresses, her book does not include any case studies for Linda Lin Dai and Julie Yeh Feng. I can clearly see why Grace Chang’s The Wild, Wild Rose, which incorporates plots from both Bizet’s Carmen and Dumas filsCamellia in constructing a femme fatale figure and was written with the consideration of Grace Chang’s ability to sing with different voices corresponding to her multicultural personae, generates a very vigorous reading. Ma successfully makes a case that Grace Chang, who possessed an amazing star power yet was not studied more seriously as the cinema she belonged to—the Mandarin cinema of postwar Hong Kong—“has been largely sidelined by Chinese film historiography” (26).

Jean Ma sets off by taking “the songstress as a starting point for a remapping of Chinese film history against an international horizon” (23), which I do consider a very bold and creative attempt that, if fulfilled, may lead to a very interesting historiography. The book continues to highlight a number of films that are not often studied in detail in other works on Chinese cinema, including Songstress Red Peony (1931), Two Stars in the Milky Way (1931), An All-consuming Love (1947), Song of a Songstress (1948), Songs of the Peach Blossom River (1956), Mambo Girls, and The Wild, Wild Rose, which form a genealogy in their own right. Since, as Ma rightly points out, the image of the “singing women” was wiped out by the “fighting men” after 1970, when kungfu films were on the rise and wenyi (art and literature) films were in decline, the book needs to call on the songstress’s image and voice now only lingering in more recent films like The Rouge (1988), The Hole (1998), In the Mood for Love (2000), Lust, Caution (2007), and, not mentioned by Ma, Shanghai Triad (1999). After a wide survey, Ma decides to focus “on song performance in Mandarin films from the early sound era to postwar Hong Kong and on the performers who worked exclusively in this linguistic realm” (25); this choice marks a significant contribution to the study of Chinese cinema, but also needs further justification. Her chosen repertoire excludes songstresses in Cantonese language films paralleling Shanghai films from 1931 to 1948 and postwar Mandarin films from the 1950s to the 1960s made in Hong Kong, as well as all films adapting the forms of regional operas (including the most well-known Peking Opera, Cantonese Opera, and Huangmei Opera) and chanted storytelling forms (including Tianjin Drum Song and Suzhou Pingtan). Cantonese singer-actress Siu Yin Fei, for instance, plays songstress roles in films like The Blood-Soaked Tomb (沂횡斷腸괼, 1949), South Sea Songstress (莖錡멱큽, 1950), Songstress Red Rose (멱큽紅천밧, 1952) and A Melancholy Melody (멱聲淚緞, 1952), which all refer back or are in line with Shanghai musical films of the 1930s and 1940s. On the one hand, such exclusions keep Ma from remapping Chinese film history. On the other hand, the narrow focus results in a paradox in her study: as Andrew Stuckey summarizes in his review of this book, even though she does stress the differences between Chinese singing (and not always dancing) pictures and Hollywood musicals, her own “historical research consistently points to the ways the Shanghai or Hong Kong industries are responding to, adapting from, and negotiating between Hollywood films (including American music and dance styles) and local cultural and social concerns.” The representation of modernity in Chinese films has always involved the appropriation of Western enlightenment and traditional Chinese values and narratives; and these two traditions do share a conspiracy against women, as is evident in Ma’s analyses.

A major strength of this book is Jean Ma’s attempt to bridge the gap between the songstress persona and the urge to be a modern woman—free, independent, with her own agency and talent revealed. Throughout the book, I found several new contributions to feminist film studies. First, the roles of songstresses are not paralleled by male singer actors in postwar Mandarin films made in Hong Kong, which means that women’s film was not only just one of many genres but the dominant genre at the time. Second, in opera films (like Huangmei, Shaoxing Yue Opera, and Cantonese Opera), as noted by Ma and others, the omniscient narrator is often voiced by a female chorus and both male and female protagonists are played by actresses, and this form of feminine voices is unique in Chinese cinema. Third, with attention to the timbre, expression, and on-and-off screen collaboration of female voices, this book breaks through the practice of textual analysis and spectatorship studies. In this respect, I regard Ma’s book as a significant feminist historical intervention.

S. Louisa Wei, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, SAR, China

133-135

Back to top


THE RISE OF CANTONESE OPERA. By Wing Chung Ng. Urbana; Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015. xv, 266 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-252-03911-9.

This social history of Cantonese opera in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century China, Southeast Asia, and North America presents a wealth of data culled from archived documents that have recently become available for scholarly examination. Many details presented in the volume, such as the strategically delayed opening of the legendary Lee Theater in Hong Kong in early 1927 (59), are historical gems that Cantonese opera connoisseurs will savor. Academic readers will identify many suggestions for further studies, which range from technical analyses of Cantonese opera as artistic-commercial enterprises in the urbanized cities of Guangzhou and Hong Kong to specialized examinations of uniquely meaningful events, such as a disastrous engagement in Honolulu in 1923 (165 to 168), or the impact Ouyang Yuqian (1889­–1862), a noted performer of Peking opera and kunqu, asserted through his directing of the Guangdong Theater Research Institute (96–99) from 1929 through 1931.

Flanked by an introduction and a conclusion, the eight chapters of the volume are divided into three parts: chapters 1–3; chapters 4–5; and chapters 6–8. Chapter 1 tells not only the genre’s humble beginning as local and marginalized theatre, which had to compete with Peking opera and other “nationalized” genres from the north, but also its distinctive institution of itinerant actors, who performed on rural stages, but lived in, and travelled with, “red boats” floating along South China waterways. The chapter tells many fascinating details, such as living quarter arrangements and social hierarchy on the vessels (29). Chapter 2 traces the rise of commercialized Cantonese opera in the cities of Guangzhou and Hong Kong, showcasing the ways urbanization shaped the development of the genre’s theater houses and artistic-financial operations. This chapter features some insightful but not fully explained observations: the ways indoor and commercialized shows stimulated more singing with natural voices (36); the need to draw a fee-paying audience generated demands for performance novelties (37); contracts (shiyue) between mentors and disciples and “acceptance of engagement” (banling) reflected business attempts to secure “cheap” and “stable” labour (40­–41); that rural and regional disorder in early twentieth-century China prompted professional troupes to settle in Guangzhou and Hong Kong (43­–48), where stars and dramatists, such as Bai Jurong (1892–1974), Ma Shizeng (1900­–1964), Xue Juexian (1904­–1956), and Mai Xiaoxia (1904–1941) (48–55), rose to fame. Chapter 3 constitutes a detailed account of the rise and decline of Cantonese opera as a form of public entertainment in the decades of the 1920s and 1930s. Convincingly, this chapter tells how “brotherhood troupes” (xiongdi ban) emerged as a way for owners to control expenses and insure against losses (63), underscoring their efforts to creatively deal with the vicissitudes of their operations.

Part 2 begins with chapter 4, which provides a revealing account of the ways political plays and women performers challenged early Cantonese opera dominated by male and professional performers, demonstrating how the genre interacted with external forces. Chapter 5 nuances conventional Cantonese opera history with sociological perspectives: urban theater as a site of chaos, lawlessness, and violence (109–113); struggles between antagonistic and hierarchical groups of participants, ranging from owners, managing elders, senior performers to struggling instrumentalists (113–118); and state control through taxation and censorship (121–127).

Part 3, comprising chapters 6 through 8, examines early Cantonese opera in transnational contexts. Chapter 6 contrasts the successes of energetic and known entrepreneurs, such as E Tong Sen (1877–1941) (142–145) of colonial Singapore, with the failures of nameless and struggling producer-performers in North American Chinatowns (145–151). Chapter 7 documents Cantonese opera development as a transnational phenomenon based in Vancouver, Canada. Chapter 8 describes Cantonese opera communities of patrons, entrepreneurs, performers, and audiences who artistically and socially interacted as immigrants in racialized North America. To conclude, the volume briefly reiterates major arguments made in the chapters, and analytically reports on Gui Mingyang’s (1909–1958) career as a case study of Cantonese opera developments in early twentieth-century China and North America.

The report makes a fitting ending to a scholarly volume that provides a wealth of data but also raises many unanswered questions. Like a prism, it reflects what the author has admirably achieved and what he has to do to produce a more comprehensive history of Cantonese opera in the future. The author is to be commended for having patiently combed through many archived documents to strategically identify a diversity of detailed facts, and for having weaved them into a broad narrative about early Cantonese opera, which transformed from a regional opera to a transnational performance of Chinese identities and urban realities in the early decades of the twentieth century. The author is to be thanked for raising many fundamental but unanswered questions on the ways acting, dancing, singing, speaking and other creative and performance practices of the multi-media genre might have transformed. A full discussion of the issues clearly demands not only a more lengthy volume but also a more interdisciplinary approach to the available data, which might not tell much about the genre’s early performance practices and/or expressive features.

As the author noted, much of early Cantonese opera was performed with merely synoptic scripts (tigang; 136–137), kind of short-hand notes for the performers, which hardly describe what was actually performed and which are quite opaque to non-performers. Whether and what the scripts and other related resources tell, however, cannot be ascertained until they are meticulously catalogued and thoroughly studied. Hopefully, the author would produce, in the near future, an annotated catalogue of the documents he has examined or has yet to examine. Such a catalogue would not only complement this substantive volume, but also prompt the writing, by the author or his associates, of a comprehensive history of Cantonese opera as a multi-media theatre of expressive bodily movements, colorful costumes and face-make-up, operatic sounds, and dramatic words. Only such a history would answer the fundamental questions raised but not answered in this substantive but still exploratory history on early Cantonese opera.

Joseph S.C. Lam, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA              

136-138

Back to top


DV-MADE CHINA: Digital Subjects and Social Transformations after Independent Film. Critical Interventions. Edited by Zhang Zhen and Angela Zito. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. ix, 397 pp. (Figures.) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-4682-4.

Independent cinema in China constitutes one of the most exciting cultural scenes in the world today; the diversity of aesthetics and critical voices has generated immense social energy and attracted increasing attention at film festivals and in film scholarship. DV-Made China provides a rigorous and up-to-date treatment of the subject, making a unique contribution by its parallel inquiry of technological change and social transformation.

DV-Made China’s transnational and comparative perspective gives the book a unique edge: highly conversant with methodological innovations in film studies and new media studies, the book draws its attention more specifically to the implications of digital technology on film production and exhibition as well as on articulations of plural subjectivities and modes of social interaction, thus linking alternative film practice afforded by digital technology with social change. This sensitive reading of technological change, aesthetic experimentation, and social transformation is carried out by an interdisciplinary field of innovative and rigorous scholars from film studies, anthropology, comparative literature, and cultural studies, engaging their own experiences in filmmaking, curating, and exhibiting.

The book is divided into two main parts, each constituted by six essays. The first part, focusing on ethical and political stakes, sets the stage with a penetrating analysis by Abé Mark Nornes, who critiques the dominance of observational cinema in China as suppressing concerns of ethical responsibilities for filmmaking. The “visible hidden camera,” for Nornes, registers the tension between the filmmaker’s claimed objectivity and the lack of contractual consent between the documentary filmmaker and the filmed subject. This lack of reflection and consent, Nornes argues, perpetuates the exploitation of film subjects’ marginality. Filmmaker and anthropologist J. P. Sniadecki, however, offers an opposite view. Zeroing in on Chinese filmmakers’ aesthetic commitment to xianchang, or “on the scene” realism, Sniadecki takes a phenomenological approach by highlighting the embodied nature of the documentary camera. The corporality of the camera and the rich heterogeneity of the profilmic scene, Sniadecki argues, register an intersubjective and interobjective encounter, enabling a reflexive dimension of observational cinema by its openness to contingency. Li Jie joins this debate by introducing the politics of seeing. Using Zhao Liang’s film Petition as a case study, she draws attention to a wide range of gazes involved in documentary filmmaking and viewing with different ethical implications. The film, in effect, provides “seeing lessons” for the audience to recognize the marginalized subject, to see through the official media’s deception, and to experience and reflect on the triangulated power dynamic between the filmmaker, the state, and the film’s spectators.

Other essays in this section address a variety of ethical and political concerns. Shen Shuang situates her inquiry in the history of “crowd” studies in the West in conversation with the configuration of the crowd in modern Chinese political and visual history. She asks how independent DV generates and empowers the crowd, thus giving her readers glimpses of emergent mass publics and imagined social action. In a richly nuanced study, Robert Barnett provides a rare look at the emergence of a regional cinema in Tibet through five different types of digital cinema and broaches the problem of representation and self-representation. The first part concludes with Gao Dan’s sensitive treatment of the ethics of DV distribution and exhibition, ranging from domestic online consumption to international film festivals and distribution. Gao considers these venues not as neutral sites but as regulating and delimiting, raising much needed attention to different agents involved in exhibition and distribution.

The second part of the book approaches aesthetic experimentation and activism from a variety of angles. Bérénice Reynaud draws on her extensive curatorial and exhibition experience to consider how DV in China has replaced celluloid in registering the tension between the documentary and the artistic impulse of cinema as manifested in a range of hybrid film aesthetics. Wang Qi draws insight from performance studies to provide a fascinating analysis of the tension between performance and documentary, as demonstrated differently in Li Ning’s highly avant-garde and self-reflexive documentary Tape in contrast to Jia Zhangke’s celebrated 24 Cities. Whereas Jia tries to smooth out the difference between nonfiction and fiction, Li’s varied aesthetic strategies open up the performance space for reality with all its contingency and in effect disrupts the power hierarchy between the filmmaker and the film subject by allowing the latter’s performance to range from collaboration to violent address.

Other essays in the section, including those by Luke Robinson and Angela Zito, examine alternative media and aesthetics in relation to the building of alternative communities. Robinson highlights the challenge and promise of “small media” in a new generation of queer cinema that mobilizes networking and incorporation beyond the performative paradigm in building LGBT communities. Zito turns to filmmaker Gan Xiao’er’s negotiation with a local Christian community between representation and self-representation. Whereas Gan prefers modernist aesthetics in creating an artistic object for global circulation, the Christian community pushes towards narrative affect, treating film as a community-building process rather than an object, ironically driving at a more avant-garde conception of film than Gao’s by integrating art in everyday praxis.

Paola Voci introduces an unusual subject in alternative cinema, “animateur” films—amateur animation shorts distributed online or through mobile media. Voci extends her discussion of “light” media from her own fascinating book on independent cinema and considers how the amateur mode of animation production and distribution embraces a liminal space of playfulness and participatory spectatorship. Voci connects animateur films to the exhibitionist film tradition in early cinema and invites a broader dialogue with film and digital media studies. The section culminates with Zhang Zhen’s powerful analysis of aesthetic affect in political activist DV. Zhang canvases a broad range of politically engaging documentary to consider the critical purchase of what she calls the “digital political mimesis,” (317) which fashions the indexical possibility of digital media with melodrama, thus creating an updated “pathos of fact” in postsocialist media. Zhang concludes by noting the shift in documentary activism from pathos to everyday playfulness, leaving open creative possibilities for aesthetic and social engagement with independent digital video.

Rich, sober, innovative, and provocative, DV-Made China is a highly desirable addition to the literature of contemporary Chinese society, culture, and media.

Weihong Bao, University of California, Berkeley, USA                

138-140

Back to top


IDENTITY CHANGE AND FOREIGN POLICY: Japan and its ‘others’. Edited by Linus Hagström. London; New York: Routledge, 2016. xi, 166 pp. (Graphs.) US$160.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-138-93160-2.

Since the end of WWII, Japan’s “abnormal” foreign policy has been a matter of continuing academic analysis and debate. Norm constructivists attempt to explain Japan’s international relations by employing the concept of identity. They claim that “pacifist” and “antimilitarist” standards, culture, and traditions have served to construct the country’s identity. However, this seemingly entrenched security policy has begun to evolve since the end of the Cold War despite norm constructivists maintaining that an established national identity is inherently stable. Given this observed policy change, one may begin to question the continuing validity of their claim. Linus Hagström’s edited volume, Identity Change and Foreign Policy: Japan and its ‘Others’, contributes to this debate by re-examining the claims made by norm constructivists. The volume aims to explain Japan’s changing policy in the post-Cold War period by employing an interpretation heavily dependent on a concept of “relational” identity.

As defined by the editor, this analytical framework employs a “process of differentiation vis-à-vis ‘Others’” (1). While norm constructivists perceive the change of Japan’s “pacifist” identity as deriving from an “external shock,” “relational” constructivists argue that the role played by material factors is indeterminate. It is because, they contend, “the meaning ascribed to material conditions does not necessarily follow from the ‘brute facts’” (16). Playing down the role and impact of material factors on policy change, the chapters of the book argue that identity entrepreneurs exploiting emotions such as anger, threat, and insult, create drivers precipitating identity change. This altered identity then produces the ensuing condition that promotes a policy change—in this case, strengthening Japan’s military. Hagström uses the volume’s introductory chapter to lay out a theoretical framework of identity. Ensuing chapters examine Japan’s relations with “other” Asian states to validate the employed theoretical framework by means of detailed case studies.

These empirical chapters explain the process of identity change by describing the distinction between a rational and democratic “self” versus competing emotional and unreasonable ‘others’. For instance, South Korea is conceived as an “other” that is inevitably “inferior” to Japan. However, South Korea’s economic development in the 2000s disturbed the existing balance of bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea. This disruption threatened Japan’s ontological security. China is similarly depicted as a “negative Other” that is persistently “bullying” Japan thus portrayed as a peaceful, innocent victim. This action gives rise to negative emotions such as feelings of shame and insult, which in turn contributes to identity change. North Korea in turn is described as a treacherous “other” that conducted acts of abduction. This betrayal provided the Japanese with the justification for shifting its identity from “aggressor” to “victim.” Forced to face such “difficult neighbors,” Japan’s post-war identity as a peaceful state is “more easily portrayed as mistaken and ‘abnormal’ and it might therefore have to be abandoned or at least altered” to deal with the difficulties (17). The alternation of identity then provided the grounds for a policy modification.

The book partly succeeds in illustrating the process of policy change in a manner that norm constructivists fail to achieve. The contributors accept the claim that Japan was “abnormal” and “pacifist.” They exclude, however, the impact of material factors, instead utilizing the role that emotions play in driving any requisite identity change. In turn, this alternation functions to precipitate Japan’s policy shifts. Based on their analysis, they contend that relational constructivism is “theoretically more sound than the identity concept espoused by the norm constructivists” (16). Ultimately, however, the argument is not fully convincing. The book does succeed in providing a detailed description allowing for an incisive interpretation of “others” in a variety of cases. Unfortunately, the volume fails to take into account any other factors. Therefore, readers may fail to be convinced that identity transformation is a crucial factor driving transformations in policy. An argument claiming that identity tends to be stable seems reasonable. However, in such a case, policy change would not happen frequently. Such an assertion though is contrary to any reliable observations. Japan’s security policy did change considerably in the 1990s.

The volume also fails to detail exactly how identity change yields policy change. For example, chapter 4 claims that abduction issues transformed Japan’s identity from a personal consciousness defined by an “aggressor” to that of a “peaceful victim.” The identity change then made physical “sanctions towards ‘dissenters’ seem both reasonable and justified” (87). However, there is no substantial evidence supplied linking identity change with the transformation in Japan’s policy. Rather, considering North Korea’s policy brinkmanship exemplified by its missile launch and continuing nuclear development program, the Japanese government’s tougher attitude towards North Korea appears to be a rational reaction seeking to bolster its national security. The rise of nationalist journalists and politicians may be merely a response to the changing environment and predicaments rather than a product of identity change. It may facilitate such a shift without being its origin. Likewise, while it is plausible to conclude that China’s “bullying” role was a trigger for Japan’s identity change, which precipitated a subsequent policy alteration, the transformation might be more simply described as a reasonable response to material factors such as China’s economic and military rise and its corresponding aggressiveness. The contributors employed a carefully culled set of statements to describe Japan’s interpretations of “others.” However, they tend to focus on a narrow selection by nationalists or right wing politicians and journalists. By employing what can be characterized as a biased sample, they consequently weaken the persuasiveness of their own argument.

Nevertheless, elucidating the role that charged emotions may play in modifying existing policy is a welcome addition to the literature. Hitherto, existing analysis has largely ignored any emotional factors. This study marks an advance in the ongoing identity debates. It succeeds in giving us a new perspective with which to analyze policy change in terms of identity.

Kyoko Hatakeyama, Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka, Japan             

140-142

Back to top


JAPANESE AND RUSSIAN POLITICS: Polar Opposites or Something in Common? Asia Today. Edited by Takashi Inoguchi. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. x, 224 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$100.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-48844-2.

This edited volume seeks to compare the domestic and foreign policies of the two countries. The volume is comprised of ten chapters written by Japanese and Russian scholars and is divided into five sections with two chapters in each.

The section titled Japanese Politics is concerned mostly with the processes that led to the defeat of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2009, the various domestic and international issues that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) faced during their three years’ rule and the return of the LDP to power in 2012. The section titled Russian Politics is devoted to examining the obstacles to President Medvedev’s project of modernizing Russia and analyzing the nature of Putin and Medvedev’s “tandemocracy” in 2008–2012.

The next section is titled Japan and Russia Economics. The first chapter in this section examines the causes of Japan’s economic recession in the 1990s and 2000s, and analyzes the so-called Abenomics: Prime Minister Abe’s plan to revitalize Japan’s economy. The second chapter revisits the question of Russia’s modernization and examines the various proposals and plans to modernize Russia’s economy during Medvedev’s presidency and the structural challenges these plans face.

Sections 5 and 6 focus on the foreign policies of Russia and Japan today. The first chapter in the Japan section mostly critiques DPJ’s foreign policy towards the US and China, while the second chapter offers an overview of the Russian perceptions of Japan’s foreign policy in general and the US-Japan alliance in particular. Both of the chapters in the Russia section portray its foreign policy as reactive and, while offering a broad survey of post-Soviet Russian international relations, devote a special section to Russia’s relations with Japan.

As is often the case with edited volumes, the quality of the chapters varies greatly. Some, like Dmitry Streltsov’s chapter on political parties in Japan or Nobuo Shimotomai’s take on Putin and Medvedev’s “tandemocracy,” provide original and thought-provoking interpretations of the two countries’ domestic politics. Some of the other chapters are more polemic and prescriptive rather than analytical. The biggest problem of this edited volume however is that it is not driven by any coherent comparative framework, and thus lacks cohesion. Furthermore, each of the chapters focuses on one of the countries in question and none of the chapters attempt to engage in a comparative analysis between Japan and Russia. Thus the reader is left to wonder regarding the purpose of collecting scholarship on Japan and Russia in one volume, or, alternatively, to draw one’s own conclusions about the similarities and differences between the two.

No doubt, from a historical perspective the two countries share more commonalities than is usually assumed. Both were latecomers to modernity and started not only their political and economic reforms but also the process of nation building in the second half of the nineteenth century. Well into the twentieth century, both Japan and Russia were seen as outsiders by the Western powers and regardless of occasional alliances were not construed as equal members of the international society. In both cases national identity constructs were shaped to a large extent by the peripheral position attributed to their respective nations in the Western worldview. In the twentieth century, both Japan and Soviet Russia revolted against the West and, while the end of the Cold War can hardly be compared to the way Japan’s quest for the Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere has ended, both were defeated.

Some of these historical similarities are noted by the editor on pages 3 to 5. The focus of the volume however is on contemporary politics and economics and none of the chapters make any reference to the historical similarities mentioned above. It is probably possible to see certain ideological similarities between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin and the one-party rule of the LDP and United Russia. It is also possible to argue that both countries are facing serious economic challenges, as the chapters in section 4 suggest. It is also possible to argue that the foreign policies of both Japan and Russia are more reactive than proactive. The question, however, is whether these similarities offer a deeper understanding of the issues faced by both countries or are they merely superficial. In my view, the academic merit of exploring the similarities that can be discerned from this volume is negligible. After all, can we really compare the LDP to the United Russia: the former arguably created Abe while the latter was Putin’s creation? Can we draw parallels between the advanced economy of Japan, and Russia, which relies heavily on income from exporting oil and gas? Is there any meaningful semblance between Japan’s US-centred foreign policy and Russia’s attempts to position itself as a contender to US global hegemony? To the best of my understanding, the answer to all of these questions is negative. Thus while some chapters in this volume do offer certain valuable insights into Japan and Russia in the early 2010s, the question posed in the subtitle of the book is all but superfluous. Today’s Japan and Russia are not polar opposites but they also do not share any deep commonalities. They are simply too different to compare.

Alexander Bukh, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand    

143-144

Back to top


DISASTERS AND SOCIAL CRISIS IN CONTEMPORARY JAPAN: Political, Religious, and Sociocultural Responses. Edited by Mark R. Mullins, Koichi Nakano. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. xii, 318 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$105.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-52131-6.

The essays that form this book analyze the responses to the natural and man-made disasters of 1995—the Kobe earthquake and the Tokyo sarin gas attacks—and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. The book’s overarching question is: What insights can be learned from considering the various responses to these two critical historical junctures? The result is an original contribution featuring engaged, authoritative voices from authors with hands-on experience with post-disaster issues.

The book starts with an introduction and is divided into political, religious, social, and cultural responses. In the opening chapter, Koichi Nakano critically discusses the recent sharp shift to the right in Japanese politics. The argument is that rather than reflect citizens’ views, this shift has been unilaterally driven by the political elites. Nakano observes that each time the country has tilted to the right, the shift has been preceded by a crisis that gave the ruling elites a chance to push forward their own controversial agendas.

Rikki Kersten’s second chapter assesses whether there actually was a strengthening of the Japan-US alliance in 2011 following the participation of Self Defense Forces and American military troops in disaster relief missions, the so-called “Operation Tomodachi”. The author also ponders whether the results of these joint missions are likely to modify the pacifism that has characterized contemporary Japan.

Chapter 3 by Jeff Kingston presents a powerful analysis of the issues affecting the outcome of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. He explains why 3.11 was not a game changer, and sheds light on how the “nuclear village” has been resilient in the face of never ending scandals surrounding Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and its ineptitude when dealing with the crippled nuclear reactors.

In chapter 4, Ria Shibata discusses the resurgence of nationalist discourse in Japan in connection with the country’s identity crisis and deteriorating relations with China. As Japan’s collective self-esteem was damaged due to economic stagnation and natural disasters, Japan’s ruling elite has committed itself to revamping national identity with a sense of purpose that links the present to a glorified (wartime) past.

Chapter 5 by Mark Mullins skillfully articulates the connections between organized religions and neonationalism in post-disaster Japan. His detailed analysis of the activities of neonationalist movements sheds light on the controversial transformations that have been taking place within Japanese society and the clash between global values and those championed by neonationalist leaders.

In chapter 6, Barbara Ambros investigates the response of a religious group called Tenrikyo to the Great East Japan Earthquake. She traces the group’s shifting reasons for its sustained participation in volunteer work to the history of Tenrikyo and its involvement in relief efforts during the 1995 earthquake.

Richly ethnographic, Tim Graf’s chapter 7 deals with the Buddhist responses to the 3.11 disasters and discusses processes of clinicization and psychologization of religion.

Simon Avenell’ s essay on volunteering (chapter 8) and the 1995 Kobe earthquake discusses how volunteer groups supported vulnerable communities of non-Japanese and ethnic minorities. He argues that although conceptions of citizenship broadened after this crisis, leaders in the volunteer efforts later joined national disaster relief structures, ironically becoming part of those very organizations that failed badly in 1995.

Chapter 9 by David Slater, Love Kindstrand, and Keiko Nishimura offers a compelling argument backed by extensive anthropological fieldwork that explains the importance of constitutive and instrumental functions of the spread of social media in a context of disaster. Their essay discusses strengths and weaknesses of this type of political mobilization, and the novel ways in which citizens become loosely associated in movements that respond to and challenge the inefficacy of the state.

In chapter 10, Phoebe Holdgrün and Barbara Holthus analyze the importance of gender roles when mothers become active participants in movements that seek to protect children from radiation. The authors posit that, to effectively negotiate with local authorities, concerned mothers pursue a strategy of “small steps” but in a long-term approach.

Chapter 11 by Rumi Sakamoto examines the neonationalist responses to the 1995 and 2011 disasters expressed in the works of manga artist Kobayashi Yoshinori. Sakamoto unpacks how Yoshinori maintains antinuclear views that might appear inconsistent with the discourse of the right, thus challenging traditional stereotypes of both the right and the left.

Chapter 12 by Rebecca Suter sheds light on Haruki Murakami’s literary responses to the 1995 and 2011 disasters. She explains how, despite being portrayed as apolitical in his native country, Murakami has in fact shifted towards more outspokenly critical views of the Japanese government and nuclear power.

This book offers a strong collection of essays that will help readers understand more deeply Japan’s contemporary attitudes towards disaster. Perhaps a note of caution, however, should be made. The 1995 and 2011 disasters differ considerably in nature and scope. The Kobe earthquake resulted in some 5,000 deaths; in 2011 about 18,000 people lost their lives as a consequence of the tsunami—not the earthquake.

Moreover, “man-made” means very different things in the contexts of the sarin gas attacks and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In the first event, a group of fanatics carried out gas attacks on the Tokyo metro system. In the case of the Fukushima disaster, blatant connivance among the nuclear regulators and the electric company, institutional complacency, and systematic cover-ups of nuclear mishaps were responsible for incubating a compound catastrophe that affects not only people in Fukushima but Japanese society at large: as of 2016, there are still more than 100,000 nuclear evacuees. Furthermore, the widespread health and environmental consequences of radioactive contamination confronts Japanese society with ethical, medical, and technological questions that differ ostensibly from the ones raised by the events of 1995. These qualitative differences should be kept in mind along with the common patterns and linkages.

That being said, these timely essays succeed in contextualizing and making sense of the recent political, religious, and sociocultural responses to catastrophe, and the collection is an important contribution to the multidisciplinary understanding of social struggle, crisis, and disaster in contemporary Japan.

Pablo Figueroa, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan      

145-147

Back to top


THE LONG DEFEAT: Cultural Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Japan. By Akiko Hashimoto. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xii, 192 pp. US$24.50, paper. ISBN 978-0-19-023916-9.

In 2015 the world marked the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. This timely volume examines the complexity of Japanese war memories being handed down within contemporary Japan. The discussion comes completely up to date, even addressing early stages of the debates regarding collective self-defense that dominated domestic news in the summer of 2015. Japanese war memories are a topic that simply will not go away—academically, politically and personally—and Akiko Hashimoto’s book is an important addition to the burgeoning literature.

Hashimoto’s work is rooted in a sociological approach and revolves around a number of key concepts. The idea of cultural trauma permeates the work. Hashimoto argues (citing Jeffrey Alexander), that for the Japanese the war was “a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness” (4). Within this context, divided narratives have emerged that focus on fallen national heroes, tragic victims of defeat and perpetrators (8). At the root of the fissures are two key questions: Why did we fight an unwinnable war? Why did they kill and die for a lost cause? (2) Employing a method of shadow comparisons (drawing on literature and concepts from other case studies of cultural trauma; 20), Hashimoto’s analysis works toward a final chapter in which she considers Japan’s three choices: nationalism, pacifism and reconciliationism (124). These are all key themes and concepts, and consciously placing Japan’s war experiences within an international comparative context on theoretical and empirical levels is an important contribution of the book.

These themes are explored in three case study chapters. Chapter 2 discusses personal narratives and family memories. Chapter 3 looks at representations of heroes, victims and perpetrators in the popular media. Chapter 4 considers school education, textbooks and educational manga.

I found the analysis to be quite uneven throughout these central chapters. In general, Hashimoto’s analysis was strongest in her nuanced textual analysis of particular works: the insights into testimonies of war experiences in chapter 2; the critical analysis in chapter 3 of debates among Japanese scholars on issues of war responsibility, particularly over “perpetrator-cum-victim” consciousness (79); and discussion of war education not simply as a matter of history education but within the broader curriculum, including civics education (98). These discussions contained many important insights discussed in the framework of culture trauma and broader international contexts.

The problems of unevenness in these chapters largely stem from methodological issues. The testimonies in chapter 2 were taken from letters to the Asahi newspaper and magazine Bungei Shunju (deemed to represent grassroots testimonies and elite testimonies, respectively; 28). Given the mass of testimony collected by many actors, focusing exclusively on testimonies published by two media sources with clear ideological stances seems limited, even though the individual testimonies, once selected, were sensitively analyzed thereafter. A similar problem exists in chapter 3. Various documentaries and two films (Last Operation Under the Orion and Eternal Zero) were presented, but why these particular works were selected was unclear.

However, my biggest concern relates to the analysis of newspapers. The problem seems to be encapsulated in an error relating to Yasukuni Shrine worship by Prime Minister Koizumi. Hashimoto writes:

On August 15, 2005, at the 60th anniversary of the end of the war when Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine, all national newspaper editorials except the Sankei newspaper focused directly on the question of war responsibility (63).

Koizumi’s war-end anniversary visit to Yasukuni Shrine was in 2006, not 2005. The mistake in the date is not crucial in itself, but it raises questions about the rigor of the analysis of newspaper content. Scrutiny of the endnotes revealed a survey of war reporting that lacked any kind of systematic or comprehensive approach.

If chapter 3 was the weak link, then chapter 4 was the highlight. The survey of textbooks was on much more solid methodological ground. A large sample of textbooks was surveyed and the data was pulled together well. The analysis extended to museums, civics textbooks and educational manga, giving a holistic view of the types of materials Japanese children are exposed to during their education.

In the final chapter, Hashimoto assesses three approaches for “Japan to move forward”—nationalism, pacifism and reconciliationism—and situates them as “direct logical extensions of the three memory narratives” (123–124), namely, Japanese as heroes, victims, and perpetrators. Tracing the implications of Japan’s war experiences into its contemporary relations in Asia and beyond is vital for understanding the politics of the region. But, the framing left me asking myself, “So if these are the approaches, which option is ‘Japan’ pursuing now?” The answer seems to be either “none,” or “a little bit of all of them.” Missing, therefore, is a coherent explanation of how the complex interactions between competing individual and collective narratives in society shape the official narrative, which ultimately is the single greatest factor determining how the world views Japan, and thereby the external pressures Japan faces on history issues that in turn contribute to the perpetuation of the cultural trauma.

In sum, this is an uneven book. Its greatest strengths are at the micro level in the sensitive readings of key texts and their situation within international discourses on cultural trauma. Its greatest weaknesses are its media analysis methodology and under-theorization of the big political picture. The result is a text that oscillates between moments of deep insight and vagueness or incompleteness. Part of me, however, felt that on occasions this juxtaposition was highly evocative of the nature of Japanese debates on the war, so that in atmosphere, if not always in argument, this book had captured the essence of its subject.

Philip Seaton, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan

147-149

Back to top


HIGH-STAKES SCHOOLING: What We Can Learn from Japan’s Experiences with Testing, Accountability, and Education Reform. By Christopher Bjork. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016. 251 pp. (Tables.) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-226-30941-5.

Christopher Bjork has written an important book that reflects his long experience with fieldwork and Japanese education, as well as reporting on his most recent research. It is at once steeped in expertise and innovative. While I have read the book through the lens of someone who has long shared Bjork’s focus on Japanese education, the insights he draws from his research, as well as the broader implications he points to, make this a book that scholars who focus on the transformation of education systems more broadly will find very interesting. Bjork’s study also provides telling conclusions about the (in)ability of seemingly unitary and powerful states to effect change across a vast and varied number of organizations.

One of the bases for the contribution that Bjork makes here is his methodological choice to conduct research across stages of education, across school types. Scholarship on Japanese education has long noted, but not explained, the differences between the free-flowing, inquiry-based pedagogy of elementary schools, and the rigid, somewhat numbing teaching style that becomes the norm in middle schools and through high school (and university). Bjork deliberately selected both, elementary as well as middle schools to be able to examine these in the context of their location and social setting. This makes his research somewhat unique in the academic literature and thus a good candidate for assignment in courses where a discussion of school types might be compressed.

The introductory chapters discuss the ebb and flow of Japanese educational policy, particularly the arrival of yutori education in the early 2000s, and the reaction against these reforms in the 2010s, and thus provide essential context. The core of the book is the empirical chapters, and it is here that Bjork shines. Chapter 3 thus describes the synonymous Nishiyama City where he conducted his research in six schools. Chapters 4–8 examine different aspects of the implementation of education reforms in schools, from the involvement of teachers in reforms (chapter 4), a focus on teachers in elementary schools (chapter 5) and middle schools (chapter 6), to the impact that policy implementation has had on students’ learning (chapter 7) and a discussion of a transformation of the relationship between students and teachers (chapter 8). The final three chapters zoom out from Japan and discuss comparisons across Asia (chapter 9), US teachers’ reactions to Japanese reform efforts and teaching (chapter 10), and a summary of and reflections on the findings (chapter 11) of Bjork’s research.

One of the puzzles that arises from Bjork’s descriptions of schools is that his interviews with teachers suggest that yutori education changed relatively little in elementary schools. In many ways, they were teaching in the “more relaxed” fashion encouraged by yutori education reforms already before these reforms. So, the introduction of the general study period (intended for project-based, more holistic instruction with greater connections to students’ surroundings and experience), in some ways forces a more rigid structure on teachers than what they had been accustomed to. This structure did not come with much support or resources for teachers to adapt to it, so it has been a source of tension among teachers.

By contrast, yutori education was designed to change teaching practices quite a bit in middle schools, but Bjork observed only limited implementation. The lack of training for implementation is one factor, but another important factor is teachers’ professional ethos and obligations. Ultimately, teachers face students in the classroom and feel some accountability to students and their parents. These in situ challenges point to tensions between the overall desire by policy-makers to move away from some of the rigidity of education, and the lack of movement in other aspects of the education system (like the high-stakes tests that still determine students’ futures in significant ways) that teachers find themselves faced with. There is also a pronounced sense that some of the changes are undermining teachers’ professional autonomy at a time when broader social changes are also reducing the authority inherent in the sensei position.

The broader insight we gain from Bjork’s research is that even in a seemingly top-down, unitary education system like that of Japan, where the national bureaucracy seems to hold a lot of power, all implementation of educational policy is local. The extent to which teachers buy into reform efforts thus not only determines the implementation of a policy, but also the significant variability in implementation from school to school or even classroom to classroom.

However, a book about “high stakes schooling,” as the title suggests, this is not. While Bjork conducted his research in the context of Japanese educational reforms that have long embodied an emphasis on testing, but have also shifted along with global policy-making that marches to the drum of the accountability beat, the schools he researches seem primarily to be resisting national policy-making and caught between much more local fronts of parents, neighbourhoods, and professional concerns.

But despite my misgivings about the title of this book, it is a terrific update on teaching practice and its relationship to national policy in contemporary Japan presented by a skilled researcher and thoughtful scholar.

Julian Dierkes, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada         

149-151

Back to top


NATURE IN TRANSLATION: Japanese Tourism Encounters the Canadian Rockies. By Shiho Satsuka. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. xii, 263 pp. (Maps.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5880-0.

Should we expect different cultures to appreciate and understand nature in the same way? Anthropologist Shiho Satsuka suggests—well, no! In a fascinating account of Japanese tour guides in the Canadian Rockies (this book is not really about Japanese tourism or Japanese tourists) she explores how Canadians think about and “do” nature, and how Japanese think about and “do” nature amid the same landscapes. She finds there are many differences.

The geographical setting of this study is certainly “big nature”—specifically, Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Based upon her ethnographic research in the early years of the last decade (2000–2001), she recounts how, as a student fresh from Japan, she and a handful of Japanese young people that she met in the Park’s Banff township navigated not only their own appreciation of the Canadian Rockies, but made sense of the logic (and sometimes illogic) of heritage management of Banff National Park by Parks Canada.

The background to this research is, of course, the “boom” in Japanese mass tourism that took place in the 1980s and 1990s, and the popularity (at that time) of spectacular nature tours taken mainly in cross-country coaches of iconic Canadian sites such as Niagara Falls, the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia Ice Fields. This rapid growth in tourists, together with their lack of English language comprehension, and the special young people holiday working visa that Japanese could take advantage of in Canada, led to a relatively large number of young Japanese in Banff working as tour guides. Who were these guides and how did they find their way to Banff? Satsuka introduces them to us in her book. Essentially, they were “odd-balls” who did not fit into Japanese corporate culture—but they all loved to ski!

In effect, the skill of these “step-on” tour guides added value to the coach tour companies by making the Japanese tourists understand what they were seeing. Through their information and their stories, they helped to ensure that Japanese tourists, whether retirees who wanted an outstanding overseas experience or newlyweds who saw Canada as a “cool” honeymoon tour destination, took back to Japan the fondest memories. Basically, they interpreted the Rockies and its natural setting. But, as can be guessed by the book’s title, there was often something lost in translation, just as in the renowned film of that name, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson (2003).

Before we get to the main act, however, Satsuka makes us aware of two important characters that also played a role in “translating” Canadian nature to the Japanese in previous eras. In the 1920s a certain Maki Yuko was a Japanese mountain climber who is feted in Banff as the first to climb Mount Alberta, in 1925. A generation or so later, Ohashi Kyosen (the Johnny Carson of Japanese late-night television) opened his first OK Gift Store in Banff in 1973. Satsuka calls him a “populist cosmopolitan” (67) and notes that he was responsible for popularizing the Rockies to Japanese audiences through his TV program. Beyond this, she argues that he also encouraged Japanese to live a middle-class life, and reassured them that going overseas on packaged holidays was also “OK.”

Chapters 5 and 6 provide the climactic twist of Satsuka’s story. In 2001, Parks Canada made it clear that a special guide’s certification would become a condition of any business licensing. Consequently, any Japanese tour or hiking guide working within the Banff Mountain Parks had to be certified. And, a special organization, the Mountain Parks Heritage Interpretation Association (known as MPHIA—or “mafia” to most of the guides) would be responsible for ensuring that guides working in the Rockies actually knew their stuff! So, beyond coping with their status as precariat seasonal workers in a transnational setting, and their rigorous training by a Japanese head guide—almost similar to that of a young Buddhist priest in a temple and with a similar amount of discipline—they also had to study the lessons of ecology and heritage planning promoted by the Park’s scientists. Central to Satsuka’s argument is that the environmental interpretation demanded by the MPHIA was “confusing” and “challenging,” especially the Western (Judeo-Christian) concept of environmental stewardship. In one telling passage (166) she notes that a high-ranking Japanese guide (Takagi-san), after taking the prescribed MPHIA courses, presented for his oral exam a narrative that was “filled with facts highlighting the immense scale of the glacier,” but contained nothing to indicate his position as an environmental steward (as mandated by the MPHIA and Parks Canada). In other words, his “translation” of nature left the “meaning of nature” to the Japanese tourists that he was addressing, rather than impose the desired ecological and environmental stewardship message of Parks Canada.

Satsuko is a good academic and so she then proceeds to reveal how the scientific approaches to “ecological integrity” are not merely neutral scientific concepts, as assumed by Parks Canada, but have “developed within specific philosophical and aesthetic traditions” in North American culture (194). Satsuko ends the book by suggesting that nature is an elusive concept whose interpretation is always changing, and that a more inclusive paradigm is required that “invites people who do not necessarily share the same epistemological traditions to participate in knowing nature” (220).

My final observation on this anthropological study is that since the early 2000s there has emerged a new type of Japanese tourist, the FIT or “free independent traveller,” who comes to Banff either alone or with a small number of friends carrying the Japanese equivalent of Lonely Planet and interpreting Canadian “big nature” in their own way. These new Japanese tourists are more English language-savvy, and more willing to strike out by themselves to various destinations; and so they are less comfortable in joining the limiting mass-tourist coach tours. The present book would provide an excellent start to expanding the theme of how nature is translated as Japanese society evolves.

David W. Edgington, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada         

151-153

Back to top


CASUALTIES OF HISTORY: Wounded Japanese Servicemen and the Second World War. Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. By Lee K. Pennington. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015. xviii, 282 pp., [8] pp. of colored plates (Figures, tables.) US$39.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8014-5257-4.

Studies focused on wounded soldiers and physically disabled veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) have been largely absent from both Japanese mainstream narratives and English scholarship. Pennington’s work breaks through this silence. Placing these men in the historical shift of Japanese institutions and welfare services from the 1890s to 1952, the author illustrates how they became casualties of war and later “doubly casualties of history” (16). In particular, this project reveals two distinct dimensions of Japan’s war history: the institutions that existed to treat and rehabilitate these men, and the status of the men themselves, seen by the Japanese state as an integral component of the mobilization effort during the war. This research is a vital addition to studies of war and battlefield experiences from the perspective of the defeated.

The use of a rich set of materials widens the scope of the study, including first-hand accounts, medical-related materials, institutional resources, war memoirs, and popular media. For instance, Pennington integrates IJA Physician-Captain Kawahara Kaiichirō’s memoir The Fighting Artificial Arm (1941), which enables readers to perceive how soldiers came to be wounded, how they were treated on the battlefield and at the home front, and how they interacted on a day-to-day basis with other veterans and people in wider society.

The book is divided into three major periods: prewar (1890s–1937), total war (1937–1945), and the Allied Occupation (1945–1952). Although the main focus of this study is the period of total war, Pennington begins with an exploration of military support in the prewar period, arguing that significant progress was achieved during this time. The Japanese state had previously preferred private assistance, and relied on financial contributions and support from civic associations. Following the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–1905, military assistance became a state-driven concern, initiating the establishment of military pensions, the Crippled Soldiers Institute, and the Military Assistance Law. These foundations became an important part of the rise in extensive care for veterans during war.

Another vital element in this period is the state’s shifting perception of wounded and disabled veterans. Particularly, soldiers who fought during the Russo-Japanese War were called “crippled soldiers” and were considered passive recipients of welfare services, incapable of acting for the nation. However, the Japanese state officially re-labelled them as “disabled veterans” in the 1930s, thereby removing negative connotations. Such a change was derived from the state’s need to enlarge mobilization for the imminent total war.

The volume’s major contribution is found in the following two chapters: the first is concerned with the sophisticated medical system at overseas battlefronts and the second with the comprehensive care at home between 1937 and 1941. Pennington demonstrates how the military medical system, and its echelon IJA medical care facilities, were well established at the war front in China, enabling the wounded to be evacuated from the battle lines and receive treatment from field surgeons and medics. Integrating logistics and military medicine, his investigation overturns what Ruth Benedict represents in her well-known work, Chrysanthemum and the Sword—that the standard of the IJA’s medical treatment was wretched.

Similarly, Pennington examines the care services administered for amputees at Tokyo Number Three, a provisional army hospital described as similar to a military barrack. The amputees who were sent back from the theatre of war received physical, vocational, and spiritual rehabilitation at the hospital. The disabled men practiced a variety of exercise therapies from daily calisthenics to sports in order to strengthen their bodies. Functional artificial arms were developed and granted to these men, and vocational training using prostheses was also offered. Spiritual training involved creative activities such as ikebana and tanka, and entertainment from external performers. Such programs were intended to reframe these men as imperial subjects rather than relegating them to the periphery of society.

Focusing on the period between 1937 and 1945, the next two chapters elucidate the favourable treatment given to disabled men who sacrificed their limbs for the sake of the nation. Not only were fully fledged welfare services available to the wounded and disabled veterans, they were also presented as physically capable actors and heroic figures. Pennington employs the term “extraordinary treatment” (174) to characterize the response of the state and wider society. Depictions of these men were positive, affirming, and respectful.

The lives of the defeated soldiers after 1945 are the subject of the final chapter. War casualties, which until this point had been particular to military servicemen, became pervasive among Japanese civilians toward the end of the war. Against this backdrop, Pennington describes how the preferential wartime system for the wounded and disabled men was shattered by the Allied occupation’s introduction of equal welfare services for the needy under its demilitarization and democratization efforts. Additionally, the war-bereaved families became major political actors, as they were depicted as “acceptable icons of sacrifice” (198) after the defeat. These circumstances resulted in a decline in the special status granted to disabled veterans during wartime.

Pennington’s achievement fills a lacuna in studies on Japanese wounded soldiers and disabled veterans of World War II by examining the history of soldiers conscripted by the wartime state. With his fascinating insight into war history, he extensively examines the lives, experiences, and representation of these men in mass culture, and their institutional surroundings. His observations on wartime Japan fit within a broad study that illuminates contrasting aspects of the war in the dark valley. Furthermore, this book benefits Japanese scholarship as, to date, attention to this subject has been anything but voluminous and has been inclined to focus on rather short periods and restricted topics. With these reasons, Casualties of History should attract a large audience with an interest in war history and the history of casualties.

Aiko Otsuka, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom            

153-155

Back to top


THE JAPAN-SOUTH KOREA IDENTITY CLASH: East Asian Security and the United States. Contemporary Asia in the World. By Brad Glosserman and Scott A. Snyder. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. xi, 218 pp. US$35.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-17170-0.

For the US, the South Korea-Japan relationship is a difficult puzzle since it has been constructed outside the classical framework of international relations. Despite South Korea and Japan’s similar national interests, well-developed trade networks, shared fundamental values, and cultural affinities, their bilateral relations have often degenerated into a downward spiral of uncontrollable conflict. Meanwhile, the US has had to efficiently utilize its alliance structure with South Korea and Japan, which has functioned as a cornerstone of US interests in East Asia, in order to overcome both internal and external threats, posed by its own budgetary crisis and the rise of China, respectively. This volume aims to address these challenges.

The coexistence of conflict and cooperation is one of the most significant and enduring characteristics in the history of South Korea-Japan relations. Thus, their bilateral relationship has often been regarded as an exceptional case, sitting outside of mainstream international relations theories. Notwithstanding the two countries’ common interest in responding to the threats posed by North Korea and an ascendant China, their relationship experienced an unprecedented stalemate in 2015, the year that marked the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic normalization between the two states. Thus, even the institutionalization of economic networks and the convergence of values and culture between the two countries could not prevent their relationship from deteriorating.

In light of this difficult history, the authors present a novel approach to policy prescription by focusing on the respective national identities of Korea and Japan. This book is their attempt to go beyond the explanations provided by conventional international relations theories, such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism; arguably, they attempt to establish national identity as an international relations theory with a concrete scientific methodology, supported by their abundance of data made possible by improvements in the research environment.

Glosserman and Snyder first investigate the two countries’ national identities and trace observable movements in the process of identity construction through opinion poll data and in-depth interviews with political elites. The authors argue that changes in the two countries’ national identities can be traced to their domestic politics, which have adapted to new realities since the end of the Cold War. The authors point out that such identity reconstruction has become a critical challenge to US efforts at alliance policy coordination. According to the authors, by treating a change to the national identity of each country as an independent variable, the US can choose its policy options from the following six scenarios: regionalization of alliances, de facto trilateral alliance, status quo or “passive delinking,” a focus on one alliance at the expense of the other, alliance commitments without troop presence, and dismantling of the US-led alliance structure. The authors then suggest that the best option for the US is a shift from the third option of “passive delinking”—the status quo—to the second scenario of a de facto trilateral alliance aimed at reinvigoration ROK-Japan-US trilateralism. They conclude that the most important task is to normalize and further develop South Korea-Japan relations, “the weakest link” in the trilateral framework, and thus the US should actively engage in solving the issues related to the identity clash between the two.

The ultimate goal of this volume is to offer a recommendation for US policy towards East Asia. Whereas the early chapters focus on an analysis of South Korea-Japan bilateral ties based on theories of national identity, the later chapters address ways to share and promote the national interests of South Korea, Japan, and the US given the realities influenced by South Korea and Japan’s respective national identities.

On December 28, 2015, in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the diplomatic normalization between South Korea and Japan, the two countries dramatically settled the “sex slave” issue, which had been the biggest impediment to harmonious bilateral ties. The role of the US in facilitating the settlement process was crucial. It seems like the authors’ academically inspired recommendations had been borne out by US policy. Several days later, on January 6, 2016, North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test, and then on February 7 that state announced the successful launch of a rocket carrying an “earth observation satellite.” South Korea regarded this action as the launch of a virtual ballistic missile. This behaviour led to enhanced security cooperation between South Korea, Japan, and the US, creating pressure on China to affect a solution to North Korea’s behavior. This cooperation can be considered as the realization of a “minilateral solution,” one of the scenarios suggested by the authors. However, reality suggests a different possibility than the six scenarios offered in this book. It appears that signs of a shift from the initial stage of a South Korea-Japan-US trilateral alliance pressing China to a new “grand bargain” platform between the US and China to control North Korea’s nuclear pursuits has emerged. Hence, the authors’ efforts are only half successful—they unfold a new reality yet leave uncertainty in their predictive ability.

The authors’ personal backgrounds possibly influence their predictive capacity. Their research has focused on current issues in East Asia, with their interests rooted mainly in the real world rather than in the academic sphere. Glosserman and Snyder are well-known specialists of US relations with East Asian countries—concentrating respectively on Japan and Korea—and have published extensive work aimed at advising US policy in East Asia. This book is a condensed version of the work and knowledge that they have accumulated through their careers as analysts in think tanks rather than as theorists in academic circles, providing identifiable empirical data and material to support their arguments. Despite such strength in practicality, readers may feel frustration at the book’s weaker theoretical grounding, as the authors attempt to establish a new theory of international relations rooted in the notion of national identity. Therefore, I think the reader will get more information and insight from this volume by treating it as a policy recommendation regarding US policy toward East Asia rather than as a monograph for theoretical discussions of South Korea-Japan relations. The incorrect romanization of some Korean and Japanese terms, such as kakkashugi (15, kokkashugi), kimeraru seiji (57, kimerareru seiji), and N-sidae (75, N-sedae), is a minor shortcoming in this outstanding work.

Kijeong Nam, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea      

156-158

Back to top


ANTI-AMERICANISM IN DEMOCRATIZING SOUTH KOREA. By David Straub. Stanford, CA: Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, 2015. xv, 246 pp. US$18.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-931368-38-4.

Many were astonished by the massive anti-American candlelight vigils that occurred in front of Seoul City Hall in the winter of 2002. This phenomenon triggered policy and scholarly research on anti-Americanism in Korea, and predictions of a perpetually strained ROK-US alliance. Although Korea soon returned to being among the world’s most pro-American countries, few researchers examined why their predictions turned out to be inaccurate.

In the midst of the current “better than ever” alliance, David Straub, a career diplomat who spent the tumultuous years of 1999 to 2002 as political section director at the American Embassy in Seoul, has revisited this question after fifteen years. His book offers a rich overview of the historical background of Korea-US relations, followed by vivid, specific, and well-documented narration of several cases, including the Nogun-ri killings; American use of Agent Orange and formaldehyde; Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) revision; policy fissures on North Korea; the Korean short-track speed skater’s disqualification for interfering with his American rival at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; and the Highway 56 tragedy, where two Korean school girls were accidentally run over and killed by a US military armored vehicle culminating in mass anti-American street protests.

The author expresses his enormous frustration as an American embassy official at seeing little room for his government to ease public unrest at the time. Straub identifies four major sources of this unrest: Korean nationalism coupled with feelings of victimization at the hands of major powers; fierce media competition leading to sensationalist reporting that galvanized such nationalism; criticism of the US by so-called “386 Generation” reporters and editors, due to their conviction of American complicity in the 1980 Gwangju incident; and the empowerment of progressives and the 386 Generation to express anti-American sentiments, something that had been censored during the pre-democratization period in Korea (the term 386 Generation refers to those who were in their 30s at the time the term was coined, were university students in the 1980s, and were born in the 1960s).

The book concludes with a discussion of three salient policy issues: North Korea’s nuclear program, the Korea-Japan conflict, and the rise of China. The author also suggests that “the risk to the alliance would be greater if progressives were in power in Seoul” (218), while not completely precluding such a risk under a conservative government.

Anyone interested in anti-Americanism in Korea and elsewhere will appreciate Straub’s tremendous efforts to produce a relatively objective documentation of events, worthwhile not only as a record but also as a basis for further research regardless of ideological perspective. Although valuable in itself, subjective narration is much enhanced when communicated alongside other interpretations to ensure inter-subjectivity. This book review grants a privileged opportunity for dialogue between observers using two different lenses.

As a former Blue House staff member under Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, I could not agree more with Straub on two things: the sensational media distortion carried out by both conservative and progressive camps, and the potential for a resurgence of anti-American sentiment under a progressive Korean government—although chances of this are quite limited. However, while our conclusions are similar, Straub and I employ different logic to reach them (Kisuk Cho, “The Rise and Decline of South Korean anti-American Sentiment,” Korea Observer vol. 46, no. 2 [2015]).

I personally believe that the US government could have better mitigated anti-American sentiment had it been aware of the rising public voice and consequent importance of public relations, even in new democracies. Nonetheless, the US government cannot be blamed as it was not ready to conduct successful public diplomacy until after the redirection of foreign policy following the 9-11 attacks.

We are witnessing a paradigm shift from professional to public diplomacy due to the widespread democratization of communications technology. However, the Bush Administration was unpopular around the world during the period covered by this book, when American diplomats and military personnel were unequipped to deal with angry publics, particularly in a low-trust society like Korea. Further, diplomats had never previously needed such skills because Korea had been predominantly pro-American regardless of American policy directions.

It was US Ambassador Christopher Hill who first started using social media to communicate directly with the Korean public, with subsequent ambassadors following suit. After the 2002 protests, Koreans felt heard by Washington even in appointments of American ambassadors to Korea, and polls showed an ever-increasing favourability toward the US among Koreans.

Straub aptly identifies potential issues in the rise of anti-American sentiment in Korea, but an issue with even more detrimental potential could be THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense), even under the current conservative Korean government and in the context of the North Korean sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan. If a progressive Korean government were to take power, people would likely demand an investigation into the real cause behind the sinking of the Cheonan and the role of the US government, as they do not trust the South Korean government’s claim of North Korean culpability. This does not mean a progressive Korean government would provoke anti-American sentiment among Koreans, as the author implies. Rather, the progressive party would find it difficult to defy its principles of democracy and transparency in dealing with such issues.

It is regrettable that the author views former president Roh through the lens of the partisan Korean media, even after criticizing its vicious sensationalism, and makes two mistaken assertions regarding Roh. First, the claim that “the anti-American mood was a decisive factor in Roh’s narrow victory,” has been refuted by Byong-Kuen Jhee (“Anti-Americanism and Electoral Politics in Korea,” Political Science Quarterly vol. 123, no. 2 [2008]).

Second, his ascription of “the end of the anti-American eruption” to “President Roh’s weaknesses as a leader” (207) ignores the fact that protests abruptly died down after President Bush’s informal apology. He also states that “Roh was a ‘progressive,’ famous for being highly critical of the United States,” who “seemed to consider it a badge of honor that he had never set foot in the country” (4), but the truth is more nuanced. Critics insisted that candidate Roh was unqualified to be president because he was inexperienced in foreign relations as he had never set foot in the US, and thus Roh rebutted: “I will not visit the US to take a picture with high-ranking officials,” a statement meant to ridicule the critics, not the US. He stated that pro-Americanism and anti-Americanism were different sides of the same coin, stemming from a lack of self-confidence and toadyism.

As the author admits, “[i]ronically, however, Korean attitudes began to improve dramatically even as Presidents Bush and Roh were still in office” (5). President Roh always claimed the alliance should be based on mutual interests, in line with Straub’s position. This book triggers genuine dialogue between different viewpoints on the Korea-US alliance, which I am certain will foster better understanding and mutual cooperation.

Kisuk Cho, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, South Korea      

158-160

Back to top


THE FAILURE OF SOCIALISM IN SOUTH KOREA: 1945–2007. Routledge Advances in Korean Studies, 30. By Yunjong Kim. London; New York: Routledge, 2016. xvi, 190 pp. (Tables.) US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-138-91405-6.

“Socialism” and “South Korea” seem incompatible categories from the perspective of conventional perceptions of the Cold War divide on the Korean Peninsula. But Yunjong Kim connects them in his book by examining the reasons for the failure of socialism in South Korea. For this purpose, the author offers a comprehensive historical review of the political processes in South Korea, from the liberation and then division of Korea to recent times, with a focus on the parties of the Left, ranging from radical revolutionary parties (communist, socialist) to moderate or social democratic ones. Kim divides the factors contributing to the failure of socialism in Korea to structural ones, such as the Cold War divide and the military regimes in the South, and agency—leadership and strategies of the parties (2). The author combines the two groups of factors in studying the evolution of socialism in South Korea. While Kim agrees with the traditional view that in the pre-democracy period (1945–1987), structural factors played a crucial role in stifling socialism, he also pays attention to agency factors (6, 161). The author concludes that the failure of Marxism to convert to socialism, and radical socialism to reformism, in the era of democratization since 1987 is mostly due to outdated ideologies, problems of strategy, and “poor leadership in legal politics” (161).

Starting his narrative with national liberation, the author supports traditional interpretations of the division of Korea. For example, he points to Soviet expansionism and the establishment of a state in the North by Kim Il Sung in December 1945; the American occupational authority’s rejection of the Korean (Chosun) People’s Republic because it was “overwhelmingly communist”; the Korean War was started by communist attack, etc. (51, 56). Kim acknowledges the importance of structural factors like American support for a right-wing government in the South, but also maintains that the communists made mistakes that cost them dearly, such as their “overly optimistic view of the revolutionary consciousness of the working class and the peasant class” (48­–49). The question remains, though, even if the leftist forces in the South had more realistic views and strategies, they could hardly have forced a different outcome.

The author outlines key structural barriers for socialism in the 1950s, such as the Korean War, during and after which the Left was thoroughly suppressed in the South; “conservative party cartel”; the lack of democracy; and the low-level of industrialization, which translated into insufficient working-class support (57, 59, 84). Despite the rise of the Progressive Party and electoral successes under the leadership of Cho Bongam, who was executed in 1958, “there was almost nothing the Left could do” within the Cold War setting (56). Similarly, the Left faced insurmountable obstacles during the period of military regimes (1962–1987), but it re-emerged in the form of the minjung undong (people’s movement), led by undonggwŏn—pro-democracy activist groups, or the “new Left,” and based on an alliance between students and labour organizations (87, 107).

In the 1980s, democratization allowed the reestablishment of the trade union movement. Hence the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) was established with the support of the major trade union—the Federation of Democratic Trade Unions (109). Nevertheless, Kim identifies “the new Left’s strategy based on a revolutionary underground party” and “revolutionary socialism” as the key reasons for its failure to develop into a moderate Left or social democratic force, despite the favorable conditions, such as democratization, a civil society, and prosperous economy (113, 137). Further, the DLP also failed to develop a social democratic strategy suitable to the electoral politics of the early 2000s due to its radical socialist agenda and factionalism. Two radical rival factions controlling the DLP—the nationalist pro-North Korea group called National Liberation and the radical socialist one called People’s Democracy—eventually led to a party split in 2008 (139, 143, 159).

The study of South Korean democratization since the 1980s is focused exclusively on the traditional left and its more radical forms. It is somewhat surprising that the author does not consider political forces like the parties led by Kim Dae-jung as social democratic phenomena, rather than sticking to the conventional definition of the dissident-turned-president as a “centrist.” Liberal and progressive parties in South Korea, including those of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, have much in common with European social democratic parties. For instance, they all support small and medium businesses and have anti-monopoly economic agendas; promote social welfare; supported rapprochement and cooperation with socialist countries during the Cold War era (in South Korea this meant the “Sunshine Policy” toward the North), etc. Yunjong Kim’s analysis confines itself to orthodox terminology and misses important political trends of the democratization era in South Korea. Any reference to terms like “Left,” “social democratic,” and “socialist,” let alone “communist,” in the South Korean context are inevitably drawn into the gravitational pull of the Cold War paradigm and the North-South ideological and political divide. With a few exceptions, North Korea’s impact on South Korean politics is another omission in the book. It is difficult to examine thoroughly the socialist trend in South Korea without taking into account the dichotomy on the Korean Peninsula. The South Korean Constitutional Court’s ban of the Unified Progressive Party in 2014 for being pro-North Korean is a fresh example of this interconnectivity.

Yunjong Kim’s book provides a discussion of major communist and socialist trends in South Korea, engaging various interpretations in secondary sources. Yet the study offers little new evidence for scholarship, as its use of primary sources is limited. The author undertakes a comparative analysis of socialism in Western Europe and Latin America, which helps to elucidate the evolution of socialism in South Korea. Kim mentions the collapse of communist parties in Eastern Europe (15), but the democratization of the socialist countries could be a productive venue for comparative study, particularly the transformation of former communist parties into social democratic ones (similar to West European socialist parties in the post-war period), parties which managed to become political forces to be reckoned with and even won elections and formed governments in the post-communist era. Overall, the book presents a valuable review of the political processes in South Korea and contributes to the broader discussion of the evolution of socialism on the Korean Peninsula as an important part of that country’s modern history.

Avram Agov, Langara College, Vancouver, Canada                 

161-163

Back to top


DEMOCRACY AND TRANSPARENCY IN THE INDIAN STATE: The Making of the Right to Information Act. Routledge/Edinburgh South Asian Studies Series. By Prashant Sharma. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. xx, 238 pp. (Tables.) US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-13-880217-9.

The movements which supported the emergence and implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in India under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments of 2004–2015 have perhaps been overshadowed in public memory by more recent popular movements against corruption, and by the 2014 landslide election of the Bharatiya Janata Party. However, the existence of the law, only ten years old in 2015, has been hailed as a significant moment in the development of the relationship between Indian citizens and the state.

Prashant Sharma’s book provides the reader with a fresh perspective on the emergence of the RTI Act and on the different actors and locations involved in the process of drafting and enactment. Across six chapters, each with the useful addition of a bibliography and extensive endnotes, he reveals some of the history and social networks involved in the conception and enactment of the Right to Information. The main thrust of the book is to question what Sharma calls the “dominant narrative” concerning the emergence of the Right to Information in India, and in doing so reflect upon the relationship between the RTI Act and discourses of democratic deepening in India.

For Sharma the dominant narrative of the RTI in India holds that the demand for transparency and accountability, for a fundamental change in the relationship between the citizens and the state, emanated from a grassroots struggle which blossomed into a national campaign and gained sufficient traction to pressure political parties to include the Right to Information in their agendas; that the RTI Act was a response to local, and therefore particularly Indian, social and political circumstances; and, that bureaucratic and political resistance from those who felt their position threatened by increased transparency and accountability was overcome because of the strength, persistence, and simple justice of the demand from below. Locating the dominant narrative within a selection of academic, activist, policy, and media sources that he argues both celebrate and overemphasise the role of grassroots political action, Sharma proposes that if the narrative is correct then we would have evidence of a significant process of democratic deepening taking place in India.

However, Sharma problematizes the dominant narrative by identifying three significant “silences.” When these gaps in the narrative are filled in, Sharma argues, the emergence of the Right to Information in India might be understood to be more a product of elite interests and changes in the social and political character of the state under neo-liberalism than as an example of deepening democracy.

These silences are addressed one by one through the three central chapters of the book. In the first of these, titled “Digging up the Grassroots,” Sharma traces the social histories of prominent movement activists. For Sharma, a “small, intimate, dense network” (84) of urban, upper caste, upper middle-class activists possessed the social and cultural capital necessary to gain access to, and be comfortable operating within, high level political policy, and media forums. The political access of this “elite fraction” of the middle class was crucial in promoting the idea of the RTI, and thus it could be argued that the RTI Act was not a response to pressure from below. Building on this theme, he goes on to argue that the RTI was acceptable to those in government precisely because it did not threaten the hegemony of the ruling elite, and thus was not as radical a law as the dominant narrative suggests.

The second silence is addressed in a chapter entitled “Opening up the Government.” Sharma argues that the account of bureaucratic resistance to the RTI in the dominant narrative is not borne out by his interviews with senior officials involved in the legislative process. He identifies the antecedents of the 2005 RTI in post-independence policymaking, legal precedent, and judicial activism and locates the law within wider processes of neo-liberal state reform. Sharma’s bureaucrat informants assert that rather than responding to demands from below for an information law the impetus came from within government itself. Ultimately it appears that the law emerged from a number of factors, both civil society activism and top down governance reform, which combined to produce a moment of possibility for the Right to Information.

The third silence is addressed in chapter 5, “The Foreign Hand.” Here, Sharma outlines the ways in which the Indian RTI Act emerged within the context of the global good governance zeitgeist of the 1990s and early 2000s and partly in response to pressure from international institutions such as the World Bank and the WTO. This period saw a huge growth in freedom of information (FOI) laws, of which India’s was just one example. In turn, the drafting process of the Indian RTI Act itself drew upon existing clauses in the FOI laws of a range of countries. Thus, Sharma argues, the Indian RTI Act was not as much of a response to a specifically Indian set of circumstances as the dominant narrative would suggest.

Overall, Sharma sets out the argument of the book very clearly. There is a lot of detail, particularly in the chapters on the role of the state and the international context, which adds to our understanding of the emergence of the RTI in India. It is important that we understand the social and political processes through which legislation such as the RTI is produced and the role of class and power as key factors. However, in the construction of an elegant argument designed to refute the dominant narrative Sharma swings too far in the other direction. Sharma’s dominant narrative is a straw man. The narrative’s privileging of the grassroots and change from below is replaced by an account of elite interest and foreign influence that effectively erases subaltern voices and agency from the story of the RTI in India. Inevitably the result of research such as this will be a partial truth and thus this is a book that should be read against existing and forthcoming accounts of the RTI process in India. As such it contributes to an ongoing debate, particularly in light of the implications of its critique of the potential of grassroots movement politics, rather than acting as the last word.

Martin Webb, Goldsmiths, University of London, London, United Kingdom    

163-165

Back to top


GLOBALISATION, DEMOCRACY AND CORRUPTION: An Indian Perspective. Critical Debates in History & Politics. By Pranab Bardhan. London; Kolkata: Frontpage, 2015. x, 250 pp. US$21.95, paper. ISBN 978-93-81043-17-2.

Pranab Bardhan is a highly regarded and prolific economist. He was the long-time chief editor of the Journal of Development Economics, the leading journal in its field, and much of his work is technically sophisticated, but he is also an outstanding public intellectual, who argues cogently for social justice. He states his credo in a recent interview with the Kolkata newspaper, The Telegraph, reproduced in Globalisation, Democracy and Corruption: “I do not really believe that Left and Right labels mean much. I think one has to be clear about one’s objectives. I would consider myself Left if by Left people mean a commitment to social justice. But if the meaning of Left implies necessarily favouring the state over markets, I am not Left” (208). He is impatient with dogma, regardless of its source, though his particular concern has been with what he sees as “the amazing capacity of the Left parties [in India] for self-deception … avoidance of the hard realities and resort to clichés and solace from sacred texts” (183). He is impatient, too, with the sort of lazy radicalism that makes market capitalism and its attendant globalization responsible for all the ills of developing countries. He is surely right that globalization (meaning for him the expansion of foreign trade and investment) is neither the main cause nor the solution to a developing country’s problems, and that its impact will depend upon local factors, notably the state of the country’s physical infrastructure and mass education. Though he is understandably chary of using the term social democracy, given the suspicion with which it is regarded by both Right and Left, not least in India, his writing is inspired by a social democratic sensibility. In only one of the essays, a piece from YaleGlobal in 2006, does he refer to the experience of social democracy in the Nordic countries, pursued in the context of integration into international markets. But it is clear that the way in which the Scandinavians succeeded in enhancing social equity without giving up on competitive efficiency commands his respect. The challenge of combining equity and efficiency, which is what the pursuit of social democracy must confront, is rarely far from his thinking.

Drawing extensively on his professional work as an economist, especially in regard to poverty and inequality, Bardhan’s Globalisation, Democracy and Corruption (an unfortunately nondescript title) brings together 38 articles published between 2006 and 2014, some in newspapers, including the Financial Times and the New York Times as well as top English-language newspapers and magazines published in India, several published in the Economic and Political Weekly, and others in such on-line publications as YaleGlobal and Ideas for India. They engage with a wide range of topics, including globalization, inequality and poverty, corruption, democracy, and comparisons of India and China, as well as with key questions concerning current policy debates in India. One article, published before the outcome of the 2014 Indian general election was known, contains an assessment of Narendra Modi, now the prime minister, which has proven prescient in regard to the rise of the banal Hindu nationalism that has become increasingly evident in the course of 2015. The final piece is “A Conversation with Amartya Sen,” from 2006, about Sen’s books The Argumentative Indian and Identity and Violence, and which in its emphasis on the importance of deliberative public argument stands as a testament to what Indian society seems now to be losing.

The subjects covered in the various articles are diverse; yet they come together around a core theme of the damage that is done to societies in general, and to Indian society in particular, by social and economic inequality. Bardhan especially emphasizes the extent of educational inequality in India, though he sees it as a serious problem in the United States as well. In this respect India is one of the worst cases in the world. An admittedly crude measure (a gini coefficient based on years of schooling in the adult population) shows that India (with a coefficient of 56) lags far behind both China (37) and Brazil (39), and most of the rest of Latin America. Were we to take into account the quality of education, which with the exception of a few private schools is truly lamentable in India, the problem of educational inequality would be recognized as being even more serious. Bardhan says much less in these essays about the state of health care in India, but he consistently emphasizes the importance of improving the quality of health services, as well as education and physical infrastructure, for the mass of the people in the interests both of equity and of efficiency. India suffers too—it is one of the reasons why economic growth has delivered much less poverty reduction in India than it has in China—from its historic failure to address the problem of inequity in the distribution of land, as well as from deep inequalities in social status. Greater equity would, Bardhan argues, make it less difficult than it has been to build consensus and organize collective action, and so to establish a virtuous dynamic of growth and social justice: “attempts to reduce the extreme inequities may increase trust in government and make it easier to persuade most people to make short-run sacrifices for the long-run benefits of all” (80).

As it is, however, trust in government is seriously wanting. Bardhan puzzles over why it is that in a vibrant electoral democracy Indian voters do not hold governments to account, much more than they do, for the failure of the state to address the poor quality of public services from which most suffer. Part of the problem is that the rich can afford to secede. Another is that in the context of deep inequality, widespread poverty, and extensive social fragmentation, short-term populist solutions have a strong electoral appeal, even if they do not serve the interests of the poor over the longer run. At the same time, for want of electoral reform, the sheer costs of fighting elections in India—as in the United States—encourage corruption. A further factor fostering corruption—rather ironically, given the precepts of economic liberalism that the state has supposedly embraced—is that the government exercises great discretion over access to key resources. But these structural causes are ignored, as “public rage is somehow directed away from the rich bribe givers and onto venal politicians” (74), thanks to the influence of figures such as Anna Hazare in India, who project authoritarian populism: they know best what is in the people’s interest. There is a syndrome of dysfunctional government that encourages distrust of democratic politics—a distrust that is fanned by the discourse and the actions of what may be in some ways progressive civil society organizations. Civil society activism can never finally replace the functions of political parties in negotiating and reconciling the inevitably conflicting priorities of different groups and interests. But this vitally important process is vitiated by the failings of democratic politics in India, and in the many other parts of the world in which representative electoral democracy has come into question. Bardhan argues that middle classes, never reliable friends of democracy, increasingly turn away to the “ultra-nationalism” that is becoming increasingly evident across Asia, and look to authoritarian leaders.

Pranab Bardhan is an unfailingly engaging commentator. These diverse writings offer valuable insights into all the topics with which they deal, and the book as a whole offers a strong case for social democracy. It is not really a criticism of it to say that where it falls down is that Bardhan has so little to say about the politics that would make such an approach a practical possibility, and reverse the vicious spiral in which democratic government is locked. His role as a public intellectual is to contest the hegemony of the Right in the realm of ideas, and his book makes a significant contribution to this task.

John Harriss, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada         

165-168

Back to top


DIVIDED WE GOVERN: Coalition Politics in Modern India. By Sanjay Ruparelia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xxiv, 480 pp., [16] pp. of plates (B&W illustrations.) US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-19-026491-8.

A succession of coalition governments held power in India between 1977 and 1979, 1989 and 1991, and 1996 and 2014. A coalition can be said to have governed since mid-2014 as well, although the Bharatiya Janata Party has a parliamentary majority that gives it a pre-eminence that no party in those earlier periods possessed. There is a very real chance that when that government’s term ends in 2019, yet another coalition will succeed it.

So to understand India’s recent political history—and the foreseeable future—we need a meticulous, nuanced analysis of power dynamics within those quite varied coalitions, and an objective assessment of their achievements and limitations. Sanjay Ruparelia has provided just that.

Crucially, he brings to his task a realistic understanding of how such episodes must be analysed. He makes it clear from the outset that these coalition governments faced tight constraints, but that despite this, opportunities existed to achieve certain important changes. Leaders within the coalitions grappled with impediments imposed by objective conditions. They undertook “gambles” in the knowledge that there is some limited “room for alternatives in history”—in the words (which Ruparelia quotes) of Fernando Henrique Cardoso who, after writing them, demonstrated the point during his eight years as Brazil’s president. The leaders of those coalitions sometimes miscalculated or bungled, or were thwarted by constraints and opponents. But they accomplished enough to leave their mark—on occasion for ill, but often for good. Rising regional parties were necessarily drawn into the coalitions, as were new social forces, and India’s democracy was deepened.

Politics and state-society relations in India are fiendishly complex topics at the best of times. But given the internal tensions that exist within any coalition, and the precarious hold on power of some of them, the complications that confront Ruparelia as he charts the tactical machinations of important actors are especially daunting. And yet he has managed to make these intelligible. His ability to avoid and correct misinterpretations, which are legion in the Indian media and some academic analyses, is impressive.

The stories that he tells are so byzantine that this text cannot be an easy read. Ruparelia tackles each episode with a fine-tooth comb, but he also provides accounts of considerable clarity—despite the often mind-boggling complexity of his material. His assessments are consistently judicious, so that this book will surely stand as the locus classicus, the essential source, for studies of coalition politics between 1977 and 2014. And if, as seems likely, coalitions re-emerge in the future, this volume will be essential for studies comparing the new with the old, even for those who challenge its arguments.

In one further respect, this book will never be surpassed. Ruparelia conducted an enormous number of interviews with key actors engaged with the coalition processes, and many of those witnesses will not survive for much longer. Indeed, a number have since passed away. So no successor study will have his rich array of sources available.

We often hear complaints that the long period of hung parliaments, and of either minority or coalition governments between 1989 and 2014, left India adrift without the decisive leadership that it needs. But those who hanker after the smack of firm government fail to recognise that this era produced two fundamentally important benefits for India’s democracy, which emerge from Ruparelia’s analysis.

First, it brought to an end the era under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi (for all but three of the years between 1971 and 1989) when abuses of prime ministerial power were rife. The subsequent period between 1989 and 2014 witnessed only a tiny number of such abuses, far fewer than India had suffered before 1989 or the United Kingdom suffered under either Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.

Second, and as a consequence, after 1989, institutions which had been gravely damaged by assaults in that earlier era, especially under Indira Gandhi, acquired considerable power, autonomy, and independence. They included (inter alia) the courts, the presidency, parliament and its committees, the Election Commission, regulatory agencies, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General, all at the national level—plus state governments, centre-state relations, the federal system, and elected local councils. Checks and balances acquired substance, hence the decline in abuses. Politics became more open and pluralistic, and more attentive and responsive to a wider and deeper array of interests. The political process became less tidy, but key institutions and Indian democracy underwent regeneration.

Ruparelia makes it vividly apparent that, as is so often the case with important political processes, his material does not lend itself to rigorous “proofs” to which some aspire. Instead, he offers arguments of high plausibility. He also argues that the episodes he examines are so complicated that “singular theoretical paradigms” fall short, and that “temporal contingencies and complex causal chains make theoretical generalization difficult” (329). Social scientists who crave such generalizations will bemoan this, and those who cling to such paradigms will attack his analysis, but he is surely right. He makes the most of various paradigms, and his engagement with coalition theory is especially valuable. But in demonstrating their limitations, he offers us a refreshingly realistic assessment of India’s baffling, ambiguous political reality.

James Manor, University of London, London, United Kingdom

168-170

Back to top


“NATION-STATE” AND MINORITY RIGHTS IN INDIA: Comparative Perspectives on Muslim and Sikh Identities. Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series, 83. By Tanweer Fazal. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. xii, 222 pp. (Illustrations, map.) US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-74775-2.

While the advent of the idea of majority/minority in Europe was essentially an outcome of the Peace of Westphalia and the French Revolution, in South Asia it is principally traced to the late nineteenth-century conjuncture of colonial modernity and the projects and practices of rule. Conventionally it is understood that the enumerative and classificatory exercises undertaken by a colonial state imposed new uniformity to community identities, amended conceptions about their collective self-image, and reconfigured representational tropes. According to this view, majorities and minorities as constructed entities were outcomes of these processes. An awareness of the intellectual history of nationalism in South Asia reveals how self-representations derived through identification with these categories shaped fraught national identities and ambivalent political subjectivities in the region.

Tanweer Fazal’s book historicizes this complex sociology of nationalism and the nation-state from the vantage point of minorities and the discourse of minority rights. It focuses on the Muslim and Sikh minorities in India, where, according to him, “the issue of minority rights … has far-reaching implications” and is not merely a “ceaseless academic exercise” (15). Given the acrimony over the “minority problematique” in contemporary India, this seems a reasonable justification for such a study.

Given its methodological inflection, the book juxtaposes historical moments, state practices, and discourses to expose, in the Foucaultian frame, the epistemic alteration of community identities. Fazal in the opening chapter advances the thesis that in addition to the disciplinary regimes of the colonial state, a significant rupture in the self-consciousness of communities was the inauguration of the idea of the “nation-state” and its organizing principles. By implication he considers the idea of the “nation” as the central “discontinuity” in the traditional self-perception and identity of communities and illustrates how the transit from being communities to becoming nations in due course shaped the framework for competitive “national” mobilizations. Following Lord Acton’s assessment (1), Fazal avers that as the nation-state necessitates a single “national” community, in poly-ethnic contexts “national minorities” became an inevitable consequence. He fittingly problematizes the “givenness” of the “nation” idea in India and goes on to critique the homogenization and exclusions that flow from an apparent unitary construction of “national” identities; exclusions both between and within national groups. His broad inference is that the project of nation building in India implied submergence of the distinctiveness of minority groups (29).

In order to argue his case, Fazal maps three projected “constructs of Indian nationhood” (9) that he describes as essentialist, nationalist, and modernist. He claims that though “seemingly in opposition” (9) to one another these constructions instinctively rendered majoritarian symbols and impulses a default primacy. The cultural metaphors, the political symbols, and later even the constitutional clauses, were all reflective of a “deep-seated majoritarianism” (10). He attributes this predisposition to their existence “in a shared discursive sphere” (9) where the logic of “power differentials” (29) between communities perceptibly foregrounded majoritarian interests to the “exclusion of peripheral voices” (29).

Fazal’s engagement with the discursive/public sphere (28) makes chapter 2 analytically pivotal to his understanding and account of the definitive trajectory and nature of minority rights in postcolonial India. The need of the “national” state to defend its privileged relationship with a “skewed public domain” (189), he claims, obliges it to adopt a blinkered conception of minorities and their rights. Tracking the nuances of its development and the governing discourses that shaped this “shared space,” Fazal suggests that the constitutive features of the national “public” were expressively coded and dominated by majoritarian sentiments and standpoints. It resulted in a “deep-seated nationalist prejudice against the concept of minority per se” (48). Such an ethnically circumscribed “public” gave definitive shape to the public discourse on minorities and the later constitutional conception and legal interpretations regarding the rights of minorities. Fazal argues that the shared collective understanding, or “national commonsense,” being morally majoritarian, treats minority rights merely as a compensation for the subjugated (162).

In conclusion, Fazal critiques the language of minority rights in India for legally institutionalizing an essentialist conception of community identities. This, he claims, instrumentalizes community identities and triggers a politics of “minorityism” (195) that places immoderate power in the hands of minority elites. Against a picture of essentialist cohesion Fazal emphasizes the internal plurality of minority subjectivities and suggests the need for privileging the politics of redistribution to redress issues of minority group disadvantage.

As a historically conscious and comparative account of minority rights in India, this book is a remarkably valuable intervention in the field. But it has crucial limitations. Fazal is right in tracing the modernity of the minority condition and explaining the invention of majorities/minorities to the introduction of the nation-form. Yet a historical survey of the “trajectory of the discourse” is too reductionist a perspective. It fails to capture the contingent role and effect of electoral politics, political parties, and democratic institutions in shaping the nature of majority-minority relations, especially in post-independence India. Fazal refers to the “elective principle” but does not fully unpack the dynamics of this principle or their implications for the discourse of minority rights at different moments of India’s postcolonial political history.

As for insights into the idea of the public sphere, other than Habermas, Fazal could have examined works of Eisenstadt and Schluchter and the relevance of their conceptualization to his case study. More crucially, Fazal forsakes engagement with the work of scholars like Amir Ali on the nature and evolution of the public sphere in India. Amir Ali’s work not only antedates but is also analogous to that of Fazal. Regrettably, Ali finds no mention even in Fazal’s bibliography. These comments notwithstanding, Fazal’s book is an important analysis of the problematic discourse of minority rights in India. The book straddles a range of disciplines and methods and marks a notable interdisciplinary attempt to capture the dialectic between nation, nationalism, minority identities and rights in India.

Rajesh Dev, University of Delhi, Delhi, India       

170-172

Back to top


INDIA’S 2014 ELECTIONS: A Modi-led BJP Sweep. Edited by Paul Wallace. New Delhi: Sage Publications India, 2015. xxiv, 427 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$59.95, cloth. ISBN 978-93-515-0187-9.

The 2014 national election in India is seen as a seminal one. In fact, shortly after the results were announced a prominent journalist wrote a book called 2014: The Election That Changed India. One reason why many saw the election as a game changer was due to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) becoming the first non-Congress party to win a clear majority on its own. It was also the first time since 1984 that a party had a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament). Moreover, many felt that under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ran a presidential style campaign in 2014, the BJP, with its Hindu nationalist leanings, could redefine the idea of India.

The book under review is the fifth in a series—the first four were edited by Paul Wallace and Ramashray Roy—which analyses India’s national elections normally held every five years. The series has been of immense value for anyone interested in election data and its analysis. In recent times, the Election Commission of India’s website has been an invaluable storehouse of data on Indian elections, minimising the need for publications on electoral data. But the commission does not tell us about campaign strategies, how and why voters voted the way they did, and the impact of elections on national and state politics. This is where books like India’s 2014 Election, edited by Paul Wallace, are useful. The book is divided into two parts: the first treats broad themes, such as Modi’s role in the BJP victory, and the second is composed of state or provincial-level studies. Not all of India’s 29 states are covered, with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala being some of the notable exceptions.

Of the thematic chapters, Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Vernier’s essay gives a good overview of the elections and makes the argument that despite the clear majority won by the BJP, the “era of coalitions is far from over” (43). They note the “noticeable geographical concentration” (29) of the BJP’s vote, with the Party winning 190 of the 225 seats in the Hindi belt comprising Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, and Jharkhand. They also note that whereas the BJP won 31 percent of the national vote, in the Hindi belt (plus Gujarat) it won 45 percent of the vote. They make the important point that the regional parties have held their own, winning 46.6 percent of the vote share, which was roughly the same as in the 2009 national elections. There were, of course, variations in the performance of the regional parties with parties in the east and south—the Trinamul Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Orissa, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu—doing exceedingly well while the parties in the northern states underperformed. Another important essay is that of Jyotirindra Dasgupta and Anshu Chatterjee on how civic associations in the run up to the 2014 elections have enriched democratic politics.

Of the states, Uttar Pradesh (UP) contributed a whopping 71 seats to the BJP’s tally. Sudha Pai and Avinash Kumar’s analysis of the UP results suggests that it was not so much a Modi wave but a combination of Hindutva and development that paid off for the BJP. They argue that the BJP followed a strategy of creating a “broad Hindu vote bank encompassing the upper castes, the backwards, and also the Dalits” (120). This was apparent in the vote swing in favour of the BJP, according to the National Election Study by Lokniti-CSDS, cutting across castes. Thus, in addition to a majority of the upper castes, 53 percent of the Kurmis/Koeris and 45 percent of Dalits (leaving aside the Jatavs) voted for the BJP. Pai and Kumar also credit Modi’s close aide and current BJP president Amit Shah for the way he ran Modi’s “hi-tech, US presidential style, plebiscitary campaign” (135).

Bihar was another Hindi heartland state where the BJP did very well winning 22 of the 40 seats. According to Maneesha Roy and Ravi Ranjan, the BJP was successful in stitching together a “collation of extremes” despite chief minister Nitish Kumar contesting on his own. Because of the BJP’s alliance with parties like the Lok Janashakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, it won votes across castes. Conversely, Nitish Kumar, despite his considerable personal popularity, did not have the caste arithmetic on his side. However, the authors are prescient when they point out that an alliance between the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and Congress would be a “robust social combination,” as was proved by the 2015 state assembly elections.

There are insightful essays on several other states. Andrew Wyatt, for instance, argues that the appeal of national parties in Tamil Nadu is limited and that they can “only win elections when they are integrated into alliances with regional parties” (335). Interestingly, he also argues that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which suffered a heavy loss in the 2014 elections, was reasonably well placed for the state assembly elections in 2016. However, some chapters, including the one on West Bengal, disappoint.

Wallace in his introduction notes a transition in 2014 from coalition politics to one-party majority rule under a strong leader, namely Modi. At the time of writing, however, the latter model seems to have hit road bumps as testified to by the state election results in 2015 and the impasse in national parliament.

Ronojoy Sen, National University of Singapore, Singapore

172-174

Back to top


INDIA’S MILITARY MODERNIZATION: Strategic Technologies and Weapons Systems. Oxford International Relations in South Asia. Edited by Rajesh Basrur, Bharath Gopalaswamy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015. xi, 264 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$79.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-19-945162-3.

In the aftermath of the disastrous Sino-Indian border war of 1962, India’s policy makers embarked on a massive program of military modernization. It entailed the creation of ten new mountain divisions prepared for high altitude warfare, the expansion of the air force to forty-five squadrons equipped with supersonic aircraft and an enlargement of the army to a million men under arms. There was also a modest program of naval modernization.

Over the next six decades, several, though not all, of these goals have been realized. In 2014, a parliamentary panel revealed that the Indian Air Force, despite having a sanctioned strength of forty-five squadrons, could only field twenty-five operational squadrons. This abject shortfall can be attributed in considerable part to an extremely dilatory approach to weapons acquisition and one that has been marked with bureaucratic sloth, allegations of widespread corruption, and the failure of the indigenous weapons industry to meet stated targets.

The most egregious of these failures, of course, has been the attempt to build an indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The project was formally commissioned in 1983. Multiple attempts at building an engine resulted in failure. Eventually the designers acquired a General Electric engine to power the aircraft. In 2015, over three decades after the decision to build the aircraft, the Indian Air Force is scheduled to receive two squadrons in 2017.

Several chapters in Basrur and Gopalaswamy’s edited volume touch upon some of these endemic problems that have dogged India’s attempts to build a domestic defense industrial base and to modernize its armed forces. The overall quality of the book, however, is quite uneven. Most importantly, it does not deal with perhaps the two most compelling failures of India’s efforts toward defense indigenization: the efforts to manufacture a main battle tank and field a light combat aircraft.

One of the better chapters in this volume is that of Bibhu Prasad Routray, who shows that the behemoth public-sector firms, which have dominated India’s defense industry, have abjectly failed to meet deadlines, global standards, and production targets. He correctly argues that the technical personnel who have dominated these entities have been able to successfully defend their turf. In considerable part their ability to maintain such autonomy has stemmed from early political decisions which privileged technocrats over the uniformed military. Furthermore, he also underscores how defense research and development organizations’ putative success in the realm of missile technology has enabled it to ward off compelling criticism of its myriad failures.

Another chapter that also merits mention is Gaurav Kampani’s analysis of the dysfunctional features of India’s operational nuclear policy. Kampani, who has written extensively on this subject elsewhere, makes a deft argument that organizational pathologies, more than any other factor, have hobbled India from adopting a viable operational policy for its nuclear weapons. In this chapter he also carefully outlines some of the doctrinal tensions that have undermined the quest for a successful operational strategy.

Other chapters in this volume, such as that of one of the two editors, Bharat Gopalaswamy, on India’s space policy, demonstrate a firm grasp of technical issues and questions. However, the principal drawback of his contribution is that it is mostly descriptive. Furthermore, instead of tracing the evolution of India’s space policy and the acquisition of various assets, it focuses disproportionately on the role of space technologies of other states and the role they played in various recent conflicts.

Other chapters further underscore the unevenness of this volume. For example, Probal Ghosh’s discussion of India’s quest for ballistic missile defense makes some theoretical as well as practical claims that are questionable if not untenable. At a theoretical level he argues that India’s acquisition and deployment of a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system would strengthen deterrence against Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Under ideal circumstances an Indian BMD system could contribute to a strategy of deterrence by denial. However, from Pakistan’s standpoint, India’s pursuit of a BMD system, combined with some of the more expansive claims that a number of Indian technocrats have made in the public domain, it appears that India is seeking a strategy of escalation dominance. Not surprisingly, Pakistan is now seeking to dramatically expand its nuclear arsenal and is resorting to strategies of concealment to thwart any advantage that India might derive from the successful deployment of a BMD system.

Ghosh’s chapter alone is not the sole problematic contribution to this volume. Despite much apparent theoretical sound and fury, Kartik Bommakanti’s chapter on innovation in strategic technologies lacks empirical substance. It fails to home in on specific technologies and cases and instead proceeds to discuss various technological developments and choices in a scattershot fashion. As a consequence, it makes no significant contribution to either theoretical development or policy analysis.

Two final comments about this volume are in order. As with many edited books this one suffers from a familiar problem. There are individual chapters that are thoughtful, well argued, and cogently written. Others, obviously, are not. Additionally, another drawback of this volume is the lack of a clear organizing framework that would have made these contributions dovetail into one another. The absence thereof leaves the reader wondering about the analytical basis for the selection of the topics included and the exclusion of others.

Sumit Ganguly, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA                 

174-176

Back to top


INDIAN FOREIGN POLICY IN TRANSITION: Relations with South Asia. Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series, 86. By Arijit Mazumdar. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. xix, 224 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-13-801911-9.

India’s foreign policy has been characterized more by continuity than change. Nevertheless, we are living in an interconnected web of interdependence, and being one of the fastest-growing economic powers, India is reaching out, and in recent years we have witnessed a remarkable transformation of India’s foreign policy. Indeed, India needs a peaceful periphery for sustained economic growth and the current Indian government has clearly indicated it prioritizes building stronger ties with its neighbours.

Indian Foreign Policy in Transition explores the political evolution of South Asia to study the forces shaping India’s relations with its South Asian neighbours. The author asserts that “[t]his book is not simply a study of India’s past and present foreign policy but also analyses ongoing political changes and developments in India’s neighbourhood” (1). The book identifies three key drivers: India’s growing economic profile, recent democratic transitions in several South Asian countries, and greater US engagement in the region. The author then examines the three-fold research question: the nature of the relationship between India and other South Asian countries, patterns in the historical interactions, and the impact of key drivers. The author writes that “enhanced US presence has provided opportunities for states to carry out fundamental changes to their foreign policies” and “US presence in the region can be leveraged by smaller states to check India’s regional aspirations” (17). The book does not reflect ground realities and several points articulated by the author are based on flawed assumptions.

The book underlines Nehru’s instrumental role in defining India’s external relations and identifies “non-alignment” and “Panchsheel” as the twin pillars of Indian foreign policy. Further, it highlights that “Indira Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister did not see any major departure from Nehru’s policies towards South Asia” (29). It does, however, note that Indira Gandhi became the first prime minister to articulate India’s version of the Monroe Doctrine. The author has rightly pointed out the increasing influence of regional parties and state governments on foreign policy matters. While there were consultations with state governments in the past, centralized foreign policy making is facing resistance from various state governments. Hence, federalization of foreign policy could be very helpful in advancing India’s national interest.

Discussing India’s relations with Pakistan, the author notes that each country feels the other is an existential threat. While the author identifies the Kashmir issue as the most sensitive, he surprisingly overlooks issues of terrorism, infiltrations, and cross-border firing. Mazumdar finds India’s policy towards Pakistan reactive in nature and ad hoc. Moreover, the author claims that “the Pakistani establishment (civilian and military) was quite disturbed by the events of 1947–1948. The initial trauma of Partition and the subsequent conflict over Jammu and Kashmir, gave rise to suspicions regarding India’s intentions” (43). He goes on to suggest that India “should support US efforts to stabilize Pakistan and address its security concerns,” ignoring the crux of the matter.

Analyzing India and Afghanistan, the author underlines Pakistan’s rulers’ support of radical Islam and asserts that “the Taliban’s fall in November 2011 hurt Pakistan’s regional interests.” [66] He adds that “[m]ilitarily defeating the Taliban is not possible” (76) and argues that stability in Afghanistan and improvement of India-Afghanistan relations are linked to the success of India-Pakistan relations. He continues on to say that “the strong military presence of the US and other international actors in Afghanistan is somewhat of a concern for India. It does not want to see the US military footprint expanding across other countries of South Asia” (78). Then in the next paragraph he writes that “India is a major power and has a decisive role to play in regional security. The US presence in Afghanistan is considered crucial to stabilizing the country, while preventing both Pakistan and China from gaining influence there.” The author’s message is unclear here.

Explaining India and Bangladesh relations, the author provides a detailed historical overview and throws light on the complexity of domestic politics in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, he does not talk about the massacre by the Pakistani military. Deciphering the issue of transit between India and Bangladesh the author writes that historically Bangladesh has been unwilling to grant transit rights to India. Bangladesh “feared that the Indian military could use these rights to move personnel and equipment to its northeastern region during peace-time as well as in the event of conflict with China. It did not want to be seen as a military ally of India and damage relations with China. It was also concerned about the possibility of Indian security and intelligence agencies utilizing transit rights to spy on Bangladesh” (93). However, it is not clear if these are the author’s opinions or views from Bangladesh. Suitable references provide credibility to such interpretations.

In the chapter on India and Sri Lanka, the author draws causal links between economic and political relations. “The weakening economic links between the two countries during the 1980s contributed to the strain in political relations” (118) and therefore, economic linkages are a crucial element in determining the nature of India’s involvement. Surprisingly, the author writes that “the ‘Tamil Question’ is a law and order/economic issue not a political problem”(125). While he sees China’s “legitimate interests” in Sri Lanka and dismisses the apprehensions surrounding China’s growing power, he recommends that India and the US play the “good cop/bad cop” routine and take a “carrot-and-stick” approach towards Sri Lanka.

Analyzing Indian and Nepalese relations, the author writes that “increasing Chinese influence in recent times has raised fears within the Indian establishment”(159). Likewise, he adds that “strategic rivalry between India and China” is stimulating tensions between India and Nepal. “Nepal has been uncomfortable with India’s influence over it, while India has attempted to restrict Nepal’s ability to pursue an independent foreign policy”(160). The author considers that all is well with India’s relations with Bhutan and the Maldives, and so the focus on these two countries is inadequate.

The book concludes with eight policy prescriptions based on partial analysis of the political history and evolution of South Asian states. The author recommends that India be proactive in making “promotion of democracy” a core element of its foreign policy but ignores the likely implications. He also suggests appointing a “special envoy to the region” to supplement the role of India’s ambassadors to the South Asian countries and to advise “neighbouring governments on economic and security issues”(172).

Overall, the book lacks meaningful research and insights, and presents a prejudiced and inadequate analysis of India’s South Asia policy. More importantly, it neglects several key issues and regional/sub-regional initiatives and fails to add value to existing scholarship.

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, National University of Singapore, Singapore         

176-178

Back to top


IMAGINING MUSLIMS IN SOUTH ASIA AND THE DIASPORA: Secularism, Religion, Representations. Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series. Edited by Claire Chambers and Caroline Herbert. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. xvi, 222 pp. US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-65930-7.

Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora: Secularism, Religion, Representations is a collection of essays edited by Claire Chambers (Lecturer in Global Literature, University of York, UK) and Caroline Herbert (Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Studies, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK). Claire Chambers and Caroline Herbert have previously worked on Muslim Women Writers (2011) and Postcolonial Cities (2013), respectively. This book is their concentrated theoretical contribution towards South Asian and Postcolonial Studies. It offers an interesting collection of essays focusing on the image and representations of Islam and Muslim identity and the complications surrounding both. The four sections of the book integrate responses from international academics who collectively present a thought-provoking analysis of the subject by observing discourses, reviewing historical facts, challenging theoretical approaches, and analyzing contemporary South Asian literary genres.

The first section, “Surveying the field: comparative approaches,” is based on discussions by Tabish Khair, Anshuman A. Mondal, and Lindsey Moore. Khair narrates his personal dilemma of growing up as a Muslim in India (chapter 1). When the responses in India shift towards associating him with “mullah religion,” he chooses to move abroad. Based on his earlier work, Young Muslim Voices, Mondal (chapter 2) critiques Rushdie and Kureshi, who either create foreign characters or make Muslim characters voiceless (Shalimar the Clown and Satanic Verses), continue to debate secularism vs fundamentalism (The Black Album), or criticize the ways the second generation fights the moral and cultural values imposed upon them by their parents. Lindsey Moore argues that South Asian (Attiya Hussain, Uzma Aslam Khan) and Maghrebi (Fatima Merrinsi) female writers share similar themes, including the conflict between cultural and religious values, public vs. personal space for women, the female body as problematic, the struggle to make women visible, audibility through textual presence, autobiographical accounts, and tracing historiography (chapter 3).

In the second section of the book, “Syncretism, Muslim cosmopolitanism, and secularism,” Muneeza Shamsie argues that Islam has continued to be a threat to Europe starting from the eighth century to the present day (chapter 4). She suggests that this is one of the reasons why many South Asian Muslim writers (Agha Shahid Ali, Shadab Zest Hashmi, Shahid Suharwardi, Imtiaz Dhraker, and Rushdie) evoke Europe’s “suppressed narrative,” reminding their readers of a Euro-Arab culture that flourished in Spain as Al-Andalus. Rachel Farebrother and Peter Morey explore Kashmiri writers Agha Shahid Ali and Mirza Waheed’s poetry and fiction, respectively. Farebrother has reviewed Agha Shahid Ali from a perspective of being detached from the violence in Kashmir (The Country Without a Post Office) (chapter 6). She finds his writings paradoxical because while experimenting with western genres like turning pastoral poetry into political expressions, he also uses cultural and religious symbols from Kashmir. Morey suggests The Collaborator (2011) reflects a kind of procrastination, rejecting the positions of both Indian and Pakistani sides in the dispute over Kashmir (chapter 7). Unlike the other chapters in this section, which focus on fiction or poetry, Caroline Herbert bridges music and fiction in order to understand the minoritization of Muslims and the shared Hindu-Muslim history and offers a close analysis of Shahshi Deshpande’s Small Remedies (chapter 5).

In section 3 of the book, titled “Currents with South Asian Islam,” E. Rashid critiques Ed Husain’s The Islamist as a Bildungsroman creating confusion over Islamism and liberal Islam, which in his view problematizes the nature of British Islam (chapter 8). He contends that Muslim scholars have contributed towards these ambiguities by presenting plagiarized western political thought. Madeline Clements explores Rushdie’s idea of Islam and faith as expressed in Shalimar the Clown (2008) and The Enchantress of Florence (2009) (chapter 9). In her view, Rushdie’s anti-Islam responses to Muslim practices, liberalism, and private vs. public space for practicing religion reflect a kind of identity crisis since Rushdie emphasizes his Indian Muslim and Kashmiri identity and yet remains bewildered about his association with the broader Muslim community. Following the theme of the problematized nature of defining a Muslim, Claire Chambers explores the politically desirable possibilities of a good Muslim through Tahmima Anam’s The Good Muslim, a novel that complicates these binaries and unsettles the boundaries between the good and bad Muslims (chapter 10).

The final section of the book, “Representations, stereotypes and Islamophobia,” begins with Cara Cilano’s discussion of Benazir Bhutto’s dual personality as representing both “Larkana Benazir” (Benazir from Sindh) and “Radcliffe Benazir” (Benazir from Radcliffe College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts), who was pro-democracy and supported gender equality (chapter 11). Her leadership reflected the war on terror discourse because she identifies the difference between the intra-Islamic debate within Pakistan and the gap between Islam and the West on the international scale, which further divide Muslims into “good” and “bad” categories. Cilano’s stance that Benazir represents American ideologies instead of just representing Pakistan as a leader is vaguely concluded. Aroosa Kanwal discusses post 9/11 interpretations of “Islam,” “Muslims,” and “Terrorism” through the example of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows and Broken Verses. The author agrees with Shamsie that there is a pressure on the Muslim community to redefine Islam as a religion of peace. Like other authors in this book and Kamila Shamise, Kanwal agrees that there is a difference between being a “Muslim” and being an “Islamist” (chapter 13). On a different note, S.A. Meghani resists the stereotyping of Muslim identities and genders and discusses Straightening Ali, a work of fiction by Amjeed Kabil, and the film Touch of Pink by Ian Iqbal Rashid (chapter 12). The protagonists in both cases deal with their Muslim background and gayness as “incompatible identities” due to which they fear detachment from their families and community.

To conclude, this book deals primarily with the complications of defining the Muslim identity. It challenges the “hardening of definitions” and invisible “prejudices” between Hindu and Muslim identities, religions, personal spaces, and expectations (Tabish Khair and Mondal). The problems of identifying good vs. bad Muslims are an important concern (Cilano and Chambers). The question of differentiating between secular and extremist Islam remains problematic (Husain) but is addressed carefully by some authors. Despite all the pressures in the form of the “War on Terror” (Kanwal), works by Muslim and South Asian writers are observed as intentionally drawing Euro-Arab connections perhaps with the intention of drawing some positive conclusions and maintaining peace (Shamsie). Voicing female writers and queer South Asian Muslims significantly symbolizes dual oppression on the basis of religion and ethnicity (Moore and Meghani). In the process of interpreting Muslim identity, the stereotypes created by South Asian writers are challenged by some authors because in their view this means the misrepresentation of Muslim identity and Islam as ideology. This work emphasizes the responsible role of a creative writer as well as academics who can continue the dialogue and clarify the ambiguities surrounding the topic in focus. While some authors fairly believe that if literature or theory fails to deal with the complexities of issues, bridging discourses like art, fiction (Herbert), and film (Meghani) can address certain ambiguities.

Nukhbah Taj Langah, Forman Christian College, Lahore, Pakistan

179-181

Back to top


UNSETTLING INDIA: Affect, Temporality, Transnationality. By Purnima Mankekar. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. xiv, 301 pp. (Illustrations.) US$26.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5836-7.

Feminist anthropologist Purnima Mankekar’s primary objective in this terrific book is to “explore how our assumptions about India and about cultural change are stirred up—unsettled—in contexts of neoliberalism and the circulation of transnational public cultures” (190). Though the result is not solely a critique of Hindutva, her interviews in New Delhi and in the United States demonstrate her conviction that “intellectual work and political solidarity must always go hand-in-hand” (x). Her fascinating study focuses on the upwardly mobile beneficiaries of globalization in Delhi—as does Rana Dasgupta’s popular Capital: The Eruption of Delhi (Penguin, 2014), to which this volume compares quite favorably—and to upwardly mobile South Asians in Silicon Valley. But equal time is devoted to the less successful aspirants in Delhi and Silicon Valley who seem inescapably emplaced in situations of desperate stasis—individuals who “navigate and inhabit parallel, often discrepant, social worlds” (224). The volume pays a great deal of attention to class distinctions, race perceptions, and gender roles, and to how these play out in the creation and maintenance of nationalistic affect. Although the study is written in accessible prose, recounting conversations with particular individuals in their local contexts before concluding with broad complex abstractions, Mankekar (who conducted much of the investigation while teaching at Stanford, and who now serves in the Departments of Gender Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA) engages throughout with engrossing ongoing debates in social theory.

Earlier versions of large portions of the book’s chapters have appeared in journals over the years, going back as far as 1994, but they are effectively organized here to make a compelling and unified argument that builds on her earlier Screening Culture, Viewing Politics: An Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation (Duke UP, 1994). Mankekar does a close reading of several popular Bollywood classics and television programs, with particular attention given to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), Bunty aur Babli (2005), and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). Such media serve to reconceptualize “Indianness,” building on the shifts in nationalist affect of the 1990s to portray a “New India” that is not tethered to territorial location. This is in contrast to earlier films like Purab aur Paschim (1970) that warned against the dangers of losing one’s Indianness by living abroad. More recent films, intent on yoking non-resident Indians to a resurgent India, portray protagonists who may adopt western appearance and swagger, but who seek occasions to reaffirm their cultural purity. These films affirm a masculinity that is affluent, cosmopolitan, modern, and militantly heterosexual. Viewers abroad get the message that one does not once-and-for-all leave home: they carry India in their hearts—and therefore must be true to what is “most” Indian and homogeneously Hindu. Her Sikh and Muslim informants protest that such exclusion reinscribes the marginalization that they have felt all their lives in India, a marginalization that many of them also find in the diasporic communities of Silicon Valley.

Mankekar’s chapter on the Indian grocery stores in Sunnyvale portrays them as sensoria of homely smells and sounds that reaffirm ties to India for some shoppers, but that underscore for some others the clean break they prefer to embrace. These are locations that remind some working-class immigrants that they are not, in fact, part of the wonderful success story of the middle- or upper-middle class entrepreneur and computer executive narrativized by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Mankekar is intent on reading these local stores as disrupters of the notion of the “real” India, demonstrating a complex range of affects that are held in productive tension: variously “spaces of surveillance, solidarity, ambivalence, and/or hostility” (105).

A chapter on transnational Hindi television, and especially on soap operas of the 1980s and 1990s, focuses on working-class informants in Delhi to discuss the effects generated by the commodities portrayed and the erotics intertwined in that portrayal, with some worried that earlier representations of “Indianness” prompted self-sacrifice, and newer ones seem to valorize helping oneself to these goods. As has been observed in many other regions of the world—see, for example, Carmela Garritano’s African Video Movies and Global Desires (Ohio UP, 2013)—such television and film productions open the eyes of all classes to the lifestyles of the wealthy, their mobility and acquisitions. This is seen as particularly unsettling by those who worry about overt expressions of women’s erotic desires in Indian society, especially with an increasing focus on self-expression rather than group identity.

These familiar observations lead to the book’s highly suggestive final chapters on global India and the production of moral subjects, and on the role of impersonation, mobility, emplacement, and aspiration in call centres in India. Mankekar analyzes the BJP’s appropriation of swadeshi (Gandhian self-rule) in its campaign for self-reliance, recording her informants’ protest against being “oppressed” in “their own lands” by the non-Hindus. Such individuals (in Delhi, but also in Silicon Valley) recommend a detoxification of India (the rejection as cultural contamination of celebrations in India of Valentine’s Day, and the valorization of the “new Hindu woman” who should be morally self-disciplined). By these lights, “tradition indexes futurity rather than the past” (172) by providing a blueprint for “how to live in the future as moral subjects of Global India” (172). This requires “the containment of erotic desire, deference to parental authority, and the reinscription of conventional gender roles” (180): goals, Mankekar shows, even for those who had never been to India itself.

Mankekar concludes this India-centred study with an analysis of the reaction in the United States to 9/11, suggesting that “regimes of affect and temporality enabled the creation of a national community. . . predicated on the marginalization and demonization of racial and cultural Others” (230), and thereby foregrounding the allegorical significance of her study for the “unsettling” of other patriotisms. The book is highly recommended.

John C. Hawley, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, USA           

181-183

Back to top


REVOLUTIONARY LIVES IN SOUTH ASIA: Acts and Afterlives of Anticolonial Political Action. Edited by Kama Maclean and J. Daniel Elam. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. x, 125 pp. US$150.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-13-879497-9.

The chapters in this book were originally published in Postcolonial Studies (16, no. 2 [June 2013]). The main objective of this edited volume, outlined by the editors in the first chapter, is to interrogate the moniker “revolutionary” within the specific academic, political, and cultural contexts of South Asia’s past and present. The editors outline the book’s loosely biographical approach to this question, hoping to reiterate the humanness of revolutionary politics. The time frame for this exercise is the overlapping global interwar and late colonial periods. Three chapters of the book are devoted to three Indian activists and their effects within and beyond the British Empire. These three are M.N. Roy, V.D. Savarkar and J.P. Narayan. The remaining four chapters of the book focus on the members of the Hindustan Socialist Revolutionary Army (HSRA). One glaring omission from this list is M.K. Gandhi. The reason for this omission, the editors point out, is the recent proliferation of works on him. Gandhi however does not disappear from this volume totally as as “he continually hovers in the imagination of many of the figures under analyses” (5).

A key issue related to interrogating the term “revolutionary” is the relationship of this term to violent action. As the editors perceptively point out, there has been much recent academic discussion around forms of violence and legitimate resistance. They are right to point out that the historiography of Indian nationalism continues to be wedded to the binary between “violence” and “nonviolence” with little systematic and rigorous scrutiny of the disarray of such terms in anticolonial texts. Such a binary, in effect, reproduces British colonial representations of revolutionary activity, “where ‘revolutionary’ and ‘terrorist’ were frequently interchangeable descriptions of anticolonial agitations” (6). The truth, as is usually the case, is more complex and the various chapters chart this complexity in relation to both specific individuals as well as to the HSRA.

The legacy and symbolism of Bhagat Singh has been aggressively appropriated in contemporary India and Pakistan across the political spectrum for various ends. Chris Moffat’s chapter on Bhagat Singh and the HSRA aims to move beyond a debate about what Bhagat Singh symbolises in the contemporary period and instead looks at Bhagat Singh in the context of his present, to understand better the politics of action and the contexts of action. A central point of this chapter is the need to understand Bhagat Singh as a key member of the HSRA, especially in the context of the HSRA’s slogan, Inqilab Zindabad (“Long Live Revolution”). Tracing the various influences on Bhagat Singh, from Lenin to the French anarchist Auguste Vaillant to the Ghadar Party and Kartar Singh Sarabha, this chapter points to understanding Bhagat Singh’s notion of the immediacy of his present as a key driver of his politics of action. Moffat’s chapter is a key contribution to the literature on both Bhagat Singh and the HSRA as it subverts the cliché associated with him—what he would have been if he had not been hanged at the gallows. Moffat’s chapter is definitely required reading for anyone interested in the intricacies of the anticolonial movement in India.

The other interesting chapter in this book is by Aparna Vaidik on Hans Raj Vohra, a member of the HSRA who testified against Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in the Lahore Conspiracy Case trial, 1929–1930. The author poses a key question: “is it possible to write a non-celebratory history of nationalism, which is sensitive to the instances when nationalist solidarity is fractured and betrayed?” (105). This is definitely a refreshing starting point especially in relation to understanding the specific contexts and motivations of revolutionaries who became informants against their revolutionary comrades. The key point Vaidik makes is that Hans Raj Vohra decided to testify against the HSRA trio not because of some pecuniary benefit to himself, nor due to torture or threat thereof from colonial authorities (both of which are usually cited as reasons for revolutionaries to become “approvers” against their previous comrades). Instead, Vohra decided to testify because he believed that Sukhdev, to whom he was related and through whom he came to be associated with the HSRA, had confessed to vital information about the HSRA’s activities once the latter was arrested by the colonial authorities. Despite its interesting starting point, however, the reader is left wondering if this explanation and Vohra’s documented guilt until his death in the 1980s could possibly be the self-serving justification of a young Vohra who wanted to escape the fate of rigorous colonial imprisonment or even the gallows. Vohra’s pardon from charges related to his involvement with the activities of the HSRA in return for his testimony could possibly be cited as proof of this motivation.

Overall, this is an important work for anyone interested in the history of the anticolonial movement in South Asia. It is also an important contribution to present-day discussions of “terrorism” and what constitutes contemporary legitimate resistance against various structures of imperialism and colonialism in our collective present.

Sinderpal Singh, National University of Singapore, Singapore

183-185

Back to top


LIFE SUPPORT: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor. By Kalindi Vora. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 184 pp. US$22.50, paper. ISBN 978-0-8166-9396-2.

Life Support is an innovative attempt to grapple with the new forms and geographies of labour, production, and service provision that have emerged in the global economy. Drawing on insights from three sites in India’s outsourced economy—call centres, the IT industry, and surrogacy clinics—Kalindi Vora develops a theory of labour as “vital energy.” Building on the concept of biocapital, she argues that reproductive labour plays a central role in this new mode of transnational accumulation. Be it the affective labour of a call centre worker in Gurgaon dealing with an irate customer in New Jersey, or the work of gestation and mothering performed by a paid surrogate in Gujarat who creates a baby for a wealthy foreign couple, Vora argues that the production, circulation, and appropriation of vital energy stands at the centre of the production of value and processes of accumulation in these businesses.

Building on feminist and postcolonial theories, the author develops her conceptual approach in chapter 1. She argues that in order to understand these forms of work and how they generate value, we need to go beyond Marxist theories of labour and even the notion of biocapital, and instead centre attention on the “production and circulation of vital energy represented in the categories of affective and biological labor” (41). Her strategy is to juxtapose seemingly very different kinds of work in order to draw out their connections: “What call center work and commercial surrogacy have in common is the labour of producing and transferring human vital energy directly to a consumer, through the work of affect and the intentional or dedicated use of bodily organs and subjective processes. The work of producing vital energy … is distributed unequally at the level of international exchange, as are opportunities for consumption” (39). Vora suggests that the appropriation of vital energy from workers in India to fulfil the requirements of customers in the West echoes and replicates older, colonial modes of accumulation: “In performing this labor with its transnational transfer of value, racialized and gendered bodies or subjects become the bearers of colonial legacies and neoliberal restructurings that create an opportunity to expand as well as think outside of current ways of conceptualizing labor” (39).

To develop her argument, Vora draws not only on ethnographic research with call centre employees, IT professionals, and gestational surrogates, but also on literary sources. The style of writing and mode of argumentation falls more within cultural studies than anthropology, and as a result the book seems over-theorized: the “data” presented is somewhat too thin to support the heavy theoretical load that it is expected to carry. While one can understand the eclectic choice of source material given the stated aim of the book—to develop a novel theoretical framework through which to address the question of labour in the globalized service economy—I did wish for a richer presentation of ethnographic material collected from surrogacy clinics and other sites. For instance, the discussion of call centre workers’ experiences in chapter 2, which draws mainly on a play and a second-hand ethnographic account, is inadequate in view of the substantial anthropological literature that we now have on Indian call centres, exploring diverse aspects of work and workers’ experiences in these transnational workspaces. Similarly, the interpretation of the narratives of IT professionals in chapter 3 provides a rather one-dimensional picture, homogenizing the highly varied and conflicted aspirations and experiences of Indian software engineers, which cannot be simply reduced to the themes of marginality and temporariness. The fourth chapter on transnational surrogates is much fuller and nuanced, and here Vora does an excellent job of bringing out the complexities of subjectification and the social relationships that are forged in the context of such intimate labour. For instance, she shows that surrogates are carefully coached to think and speak of surrogacy as a simple contract in which their “empty” wombs are utilized to grow a child for someone else, but “another theory of value and sociality inhabits their narratives of surrogacy” (106). Although surrogates temper this extremely alienating form of labour with their own cultural expectations and notions of giving, the text poignantly brings out their powerlessness to enact the kinds of social relationships that they imagine could emerge from this contract, with the commissioning parents and even with the child that is produced through their reproductive labour.

The effort to encompass these various forms of work within an overarching theoretical framework often leads the author to gloss over their specificities. For example, Vora frames all three kinds of labour as “gendered” and “racialised,” yet does not adequately develop her argument about the gendering of labour in call centres (where at least half the workforce is male), much less in IT companies. Similarly, by collapsing all these instances into the idea of a racialized workforce providing outsourced labour for clients in the West, she overlooks the complexities of identity within the global IT industry, where the circulation of Indian software labour takes multiple forms and produces diverse subjectivities.

Despite these drawbacks, Life Support is an engaging and provocative read that makes a significant contribution to current debates on globalization and labour.

Carol Upadhya, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India        

185-187

Back to top


FRONTIERS, INSURGENCIES AND COUNTER-INSURGENCIES IN SOUTH ASIA, 18202013. By Kaushik Roy. London; New York: Routledge, 2015. xix, 226 pp. (Illustrations, maps.). ISBN 978-1-138-89252-1.

A leading military historian, Kaushik Roy has produced a finely crafted work on the interrelationships between colonial making of frontiers, state formation, and small wars conducted by the British in South Asia. The book contributes substantially to writings on protracted armed conflicts in South Asia, drawing extensively on archival sources to analyze small wars and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in South Asia. Roy argues that the origins of insurgencies and counterinsurgency operations of contemporary states in South Asia can be traced back to British policies of managing the border regions in the North-East of India, in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and in Baluchistan, all of which have experienced long-standing insurgencies. Frontier management policies and COIN in South Asia are traced back to the politics of limited warfare “fought by the British with limited military assets for limited political aims” (159). The author writes, “the British Small Wars against the Nagas, Kukis, Lushais, and the Pathans were limited conflicts from imperial perspectives, but appeared as Total War for the stateless frontier societies” (161).

British policies in the NWFP (circa 1800–1913) and the North-East (1772–1913), as the author argues, were largely motivated by military-strategic interests, for example in the NWFP, where COIN operations were driven by the threat of possible attacks from Russia in Afghanistan. According to British ethnographic accounts, the NWFP was described as “the traditional highway of conquest of the sub-continent” (11). The tribesmen in this region, such as the Pathans, “existed in a state of ordered anarchy” (15). Further, he notes, “[t]he possession of firearms became a symbol of prestige and allowed individuals to engage in feuding” (15). British policy towards the NWFP was based on two different approaches, one that focused on economic concessions and diplomacy and the other mostly led by military officials, focused on “punitive actions against the recalcitrant tribes” (83). The latter approach prevailed. The British imposed fines and made inroads into Waziristan by constructing roads and stationing troops in the “troubled regions” as part of its Small War campaigns in the NWFP (87).

Small wars were also conducted to maintain peace in the North-East frontiers where the British encountered guerilla uprisings led by the Naga and Kuki tribes. Chapter 3 discusses how the British faced these encounters and how borders were managed during the two World Wars (1914–1945). In the North-East sector, four battalions of Assam Rifles, including a Gurkha regiment, were deployed to contain the Kuki rebellion in 1917. Similarly, in the NWFP, as the author notes, “[i]n 1915, the British GOI [Governor of India] deployed 22 infantry battalions, 21 cavalry squadrons, eight batteries of 48 guns and two sapper companies (equivalent to two divisions) in order to deter the North-West Frontier tribes and Afghanistan” (70).

What implications do these frontier management policies have for postcolonial state formation processes, and the integration and management of frontier lands into the “national mainstream?” Roy argues that frontier policies in postcolonial South Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan, were shaped by British policies of management and integration. Road building, used as an important COIN technique, allowed the postcolonial polities to “integrate the marginal borderlands within their national mainstream” (95). The author, however, rejects the views held by previous scholars that postcolonial states, particularly India, simply inherited the COIN of British India. Roy argues that unlike Pakistan, the Indian army adopted a “sophisticated COIN doctrine where military aspects are subordinate to political aspects. Minimum force remains the operative principle of post-1947 India’s COIN. Unlike Pakistan, India in its COIN operation never uses anti-personnel mines, artillery and airpower. This is partly due to democratic governance, vigorous public media and a strong middle class” (162).

Chapter 4 analyzes how the Indian army implemented its COIN operations during the India-Pakistan war in 1947–1948, and then how the continuation of conflict in the border region throughout the 1980s and 1990s, engaged the Indian army “along and across the LOC, involving exchanges of intense artillery, missile, mortar and automatic fire with the Pakistani army, along with almost daily clashes between border patrols and mujahideen attempting to infiltrate into the valley. The other war was the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism in the hinterland of the valley against Islamic tanzeems and their overground organizations” (108). The COIN operations in Kashmir were characterized not only by “small scattered actions” but also by nation-building exercises, where the army functioned as a facilitator for the civil state machinery, especially in the post-Kargil war in the late 1990s. Chapter 5 continues the discussion on COIN operations in the Naga Hills, and in this context, the author reveals that besides armed operations, co-option of surrendered rebels into the Indian army, Border Security Forces, and Nagaland state police was an important COIN technique used by India.

These COIN strategies are different from the methods of extreme repression used by the Pakistani army in Baluchistan and East Pakistan. Chapter 4 describes how armed bands like Hemayat Bahini carried out guerilla operations against the Pakistani army. The latter used “aerial artillery against the insurgents” but was unable to crush the insurgency (119). The author argues that the absence of “nation-building” or the absence of “winning the hearts and minds” approach of the Pakistani army was one of the major drawbacks of their COIN operations, and shows how the Awami League gained in the form of support for independence not only from the local Bengali population but also from the security forces across the border on the Indian side.

Archival evidence that the author presents in the book provides a wealth of original information to the reader. Historical analysis in the book sheds interesting insights on the roots of the organized violence of the stateless communities in the borders and the small wars conducted to pacify these communities in the frontier regions of South Asia. Barring these contributions, the book is limited in its analysis of the origins of the insurgencies—for instance, the insurgencies in Northeast India analyzed in chapter 5. The author also adopts a reductionist view while claiming that the “Assamese insurgency is the product of the Assamese Hindu middle class antipathy towards Muslim immigration,” whereas the insurgency has roots in profound socio-economic grievances discussed elsewhere by scholars like Udayan Mishra in The Periphery Strikes Back: Challenges to the nation-state in Assam and Nagaland (IIAS, 2000). The author claims that “India’s COIN includes both military and non-military elements” (156). However, it is not clear how this is applicable in the case of India’s Northeast and the frontiers in FATA region. Despite these lacunae, the book makes an important contribution to the existing literature on the disturbed “marginal” borderlands in South Asia.

Pahi Saikia, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, Guwahati, India     

187-190

Back to top


CONFLICTING VISIONS: Canada and India in the Cold War World, 1946-76. By Ryan Touhey. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2015. xi, 304 pp. (Illustrations, maps.) US$37.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-7748-2901-4.

Beginning with an imaginative riff comparing Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and Lucknow, Ontario, Ryan Touhey establishes that the Raj administration of India and the British settlement of Upper Canada were well connected in the mid-nineteenth century. But for state-to-state relations Touhey wisely opens with the 1946 appointment of Canada’s first ambassador (high commissioner) to India and the opening of Prime Minister King’s and future Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent’s relations with Prime Minister Nehru himself. Ambassadors exchanged between countries in the Commonwealth have always retained the title “high commissioner” (and for readers outside the limited circle to whom this makes sense, I shall use the terms ambassadors and embassies here for simplicity).

This is a much-needed book in the field of Canada’s (and India’s) bilateral relations, and is based on a painstaking search through the vast (and often nonlinear) RG25 file group at the National Archives in Ottawa. In that Canada had no consulates in India, this book focuses largely on the life of an embassy and more particularly on the thinking of a number of ambassadors, usually in contest with their counterparts and supervisors in Ottawa. Touhey keeps up with the life and times of Indian high commissioners (ambassadors) living in Ottawa and reporting to Delhi. However, India did have consulates, including important ones like Vancouver, so the two structures were never quite comparable. Touhey does, however, refer to files in Delhi about Canada in the National Archives of India. He tries to keep a balance between the official Indian views of these relations and the Canadian views, but the sheer volume of Canadian documents and richness tilts him inevitably towards seeing more through a Canadian lens. And there is an occasional reference to US and UK files, showing that the British and Americans weren’t entirely ignoring what was going on.

There is little treatment of business, intellectual, cultural, migration, or military relations. The purchase and/or donation of wheat, or light aircraft with dual use, are given weight insofar as they affect the overall tone of the relationship. Canadian investment in India occurred only well after 1974, except for the renowned Bata Shoe Company, incorporated and manufacturing just outside Kolkata since the late 1930s. The role of print media in framing and explaining the peculiar stresses and contradictions in the relationship is mentioned and sometimes quoted, but is not a major focus.

This is an excellent study of diplomatic access to the top, the role of ministers of external affairs (both countries used similar names for this activity), and the role of the powerful unelected officials who guarded the doors and crafted the language of policies. Up until 1964, when Chester Ronning was replaced as ambassador in Delhi and PM Nehru died, the relationship had rested in very few hands. Even after the May 1974 nuclear test in Rajasthan, Touhey shows how all the moving parts of the old relationships were intact and could soon go into negotiating action again, a short period after the Canadian denunciations of the test. Given the long Liberal Party hold on the PM’s office in Ottawa (from Pearson’s arrival in 1963 to Trudeau’s departure in 1979) an old boy’s network around foreign policy worked well in Ottawa.

Touhey has skillfully established the scope and depth of the number of ministry officials in Ottawa who had experience with Indian diplomats, largely after the Korean War and in the foundation and operation of the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Vietnam and Laos. Some of these officials, critical of India’s motives and irritated by Krishna Menon and some of his procedures and decisions (until his downfall and resignation in October 1962), rose steadily to high ranks in Ottawa “with sour memories,” right up to the 1974–1976 period.

In fact, an important exception to the “diplomacy first” thrust of the book is the nuclear relationship which ran through the entire thirty years, right to the May 1976 Cabinet decision to terminate Canada’s commitment to help build another nuclear reactor near Chennai. From those important positions, their skeptical criticism was applied to nuclear cooperation between India and Canada (cooperation that was confirmed profitably when the CANDU reactor contract was signed in 1963), continuing through to the unsuccessful renegotiations in 1974–1976.

Through a study of the stresses and contradictions in this Cold War relationship, Touhey illuminates the power and complexity of Canada’s American and British relationship, and the indirect influence of the Soviet relationship; France, one of Canada’s rivals in the nuclear business in India, is only mentioned. But the Commonwealth donor relationship vs. the Commonwealth voting relationship, the independent CIDA donor relationship vs. the Vietnam Commission relationship, the lack-of-a-Security Council seat relationship for both countries, Indian resentment of Pakistan and China—all these added to the complexity of how India perceived Canadian positions and decisions, and vice versa. For instance, when many other countries in 1971 took positions on supporting either Pakistan or Bangladesh (read India), Canada took no official position, hoping the question would go away. Prime Minister Gandhi, however, had “gone out on a limb” for Bangladesh between September and December, and had a list of countries that had agreed with and supported her; surely she noted Canada’s silence?

This is a good and important contribution to diplomatic history in Asia, weaving in China, Vietnam, and Pakistan. It provides insight into the complicated relations of foreign affairs ministries and their numerous embassies and ambassadors. It adds also to an aspect of state-to-state negotiations which can be compared with US-India or Britain-India relations, particularly in the excellent chapter 10 on the unsuccessful 1974–1976 nuclear bargaining. Those studies scarcely mention Canada, although Touhey’s book cannot avoid having their involvement. In that sense, too, it is very Canadian.

Robert Anderson, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada         

190-192

Back to top


FRONTIER LIVELIHOODS: Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands. By Sarah Turner, Christine Bonnin, Jean Michaud. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015. xii, 223 pp. (Illustrations, maps.) US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-295-99466-6.

Frontier Livelihoods: Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands, is a compelling, interdisciplinary examination of the livelihood decisions of the Hmong in the mountainous regions along the Sino-Vietnamese border. Methodologically, the study draws from geography, history, and anthropology, with a significant reliance on interviews and participant observation, in order to provide nuanced answers to its guiding question of how the Hmong “make and negotiate their livelihood decisions” (4).

The Hmong population is estimated to be approximately 4 million, yet is spread across at least five different Asian countries, with the largest populations found in southern China and northern Vietnam. The Hmong communities in both countries share several important characteristics, such as their marginality; their official status as a minority group; their residence in mountainous regions on the peripheries of the two nations; and their embrace of an economic system in which they “are mainly rural, semi-subsistence farmers practicing a mixture of permanent and temporary agriculture, with production centered on household needs” (22). The combination of these characteristics is vital because it has historically marked them as a group that national governments seek to “develop,” particularly through modernization and integration into the market economy.

The volume’s broader theoretical goal is to demonstrate that the successful study of livelihood choices requires attention to culturally informed local agency, especially as this applies to the choices that people make to accept, ignore, modify, or resist the policies or agendas being imposed upon them by others who are more powerful. In order to demonstrate their theoretical arguments, the authors provide four primary cases that illustrate the cautious and complex manner in which the Hmong engage with the development projects designed and implemented by the Vietnamese and Chinese governments and the recent push toward the market economy: buffalo (chapter 4), alcohol (chapter 5), cardamom (chapter 6), and textiles (chapter 7). All four of these cases involve items that were historically part of the Hmong economy. Buffalo were important farm animals as well as symbols of wealth; locally produced alcohol was central in various ceremonial and social contexts; cardamom grew naturally in the region and was used medicinally; and locally woven and embroidered textiles were markers of Hmong identity as well as funerary clothing. One strength of the authors’ approach in all of these chapters is that they treat these items with cultural and historical sensitivity, especially the fact that in recent decades, with the transition to market economies in Vietnam and China, all have become commodities that have created new possibilities for cash income, but that at the same time bring new risks.

It is on the issue of managing risk that the volume makes some of its most interesting contributions. The authors demonstrate that the Hmong are neither tradition-bound nor “inept at trading and lack[ing] economic entrepreneurship” as often depicted in China and Vietnam (147), but instead are ready to embark upon what the authors fittingly describe as “measured engagements” (169) with new opportunities. Two representative examples of this are the utilization of new, hybrid rice forms and the commodification of Hmong textiles. Both the Chinese and Vietnamese governments have aggressively advocated hybrid seeds because of their higher yields. Hmong farmers in Vietnam recognize that while the so-called “Chinese rice” (53) can have advantages, it can also bring with it a variety of problems related to the timing of seed availability, input costs, labour and draft animal supply, and an unappealing taste. Thus, instead of either fully embracing or rejecting hybrid seeds, many farmers have taken a more cautious approach in which traditional rice varieties, though particularly sticky rice, are grown for personal or ceremonial use (53), while hybrid rice is used in alcohol production (89). Regarding Hmong textiles, which are distinctively patterned and produced by women, a vibrant market has emerged, especially for tourists. Hmong women have become actively engaged in this trade, which as the authors point out has created a new source of cash for them (132), but have done so in a careful manner. They have cleverly used it as an opportunity to repurpose used clothing they no longer need, but have not abandoned agriculture completely (133), and in instances when dealing with non-Hmong strangers, have preferred to rely on either kin or other Hmong to receive a fair price (136–137). The Hmong do not, as the authors argue, unrestrainedly seek to maximize profits, but instead, “using culturally rooted judgments, they resist becoming involved in the market beyond what seems relevant to them” (169).

Another virtue of the analyses is their careful articulation of the commodity chains associated with these products, some of which extend not just to lowland Chinese or Vietnamese society, but to other Southeast Asian nations and even the Hmong diaspora, which provides a fascinating vision of the global market forces that now affect Hmong communities. Unfortunately in all of the cases examined the Hmong are “economically subordinate” (145) and receive the smallest profits of the various parties involved in these trades. Still, as the authors convincingly demonstrate, the Hmong are open to innovation in their livelihood choices and employ a “productive bricolage” (62) of the new and old in order to survive in challenging circumstances. Instead of being passive recipients of development policies or modernizing directives, the Hmong employ their culturally informed agency to carefully negotiate their relationship to market integration and construct their own combinatory “indigenized” modernity (9). This highly readable and empirically rich study will be of interest to scholars of highland Southeast Asia and China as well as to anthropologists, geographers, and those who seek to understand how societies in peripheral regions negotiate development, modernization, and existence on the margins of a powerful nation-state.

Shaun Kingsley Malarney, International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan  

192-194

Back to top


EMBODIED NATION: Sport, Masculinity, and the Making of Modern Laos. Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory. By Simon Creak. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. xiv, 327 pp. (Figures, map.) US$54.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3889-8.

Ferocious fighting erupted between Lao spectators and visiting Vietnamese team members at the end of a 1936 soccer match in Vientiane. No fighting marred the 2009 Southeast Asian Games held in Vientiane; instead Laos received an International Olympic Committee award for the nation’s “outstanding effort in the promotion of sport in Laos … [and] for fulfilling … Olympic ideals” (230). These two events respectively introduce and conclude Creak’s argument. However, the intervening pages are about much more than sporting progress in Laos.

Embodied Nation argues that sport and physical culture have been used by a series of Lao governments in attempts to inspire the populace to support and enact the political vision of its leaders. Or, as Creak writes: “Successive regimes have called on sport and physical culture as modes of subject formation with the ultimate objective of constituting, performing, and reinforcing state power” (240). The arguments of Embodied Nation are convincingly supported by an impressive array of archival and secondary sources in three languages: English, French, and Lao, and by data from the author’s field work in Laos.

Laos is a particularly good place to observe the relationship between physicality and the body politic. In little more than a century, Laotians experienced four different political systems with differing ideologies: colonialism, royalist /nationalism, socialist revolution, and post-socialism. Creak illustrates his thesis with carefully detailed examples from each. In each example, the sporting subjects are primarily male. It was the male body and a robust masculinity that these governments summoned to reinforce state unity and power.

Examples of the relationship between physicality and politics begin with tikhi, a pre-colonial Lao ritual game, and continue respectively with the Vichy French colonial emphasis on physical training, sport as political theater in the Kingdom of Laos, controversy over representation of a divided Laos at regional sports events, socialist culture of physicality to mobilize the revolution, and, finally, the 2009 Southeast Asian Games. Tikhi was interpreted by early French colonizers as the national sport of Laos as the French sought to develop a distinct cultural identity for this newly constituted unit of French Indochina. Western sport arrived in Laos during the Vichy French period of World War II (1941–1945) with ideas about the body derived from Nazi sources. These ideas are well summarized by the chapter title: “Renovating the body, restoring the nation/race” (52). The Lao Nhay cultural renovation movement and French officials implemented these ideas by establishing sporting clubs, leagues, and events and by promulgating a new cultural view of masculinity illustrated in published drawings and photographs of muscular and diligent young men. Building on these new physical culture ideas, Laos moved toward nationhood under French tutelage emphasizing militarization and military masculinity.

The 1961 and 1964 National Games in the Kingdom of Laos under the Royal Lao Government (RLG) illustrate the use of sport to showcase national unity in the stadium at a time when political power was highly contested. Creak notes that “ideas and practices linking the athletic body to national destiny were evidence of major changes in political culture” (139). The growing Cold War-related conflict in Laos was manifested in its attendance at the 1966 non-aligned nations Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO). The RLG team represented Laos in the 1963 GANEFO games (Laos was still officially neutral at that time), but refused the invitation to attend in 1966 (the RLG was closely allied with the U.S. by then), so a communist Neo Lao Hak Sat team represented Laos there, arousing the ire of royalist editors in Vientiane. Therefore, the Cold War played out in regional sporting events as well as in other venues (166).

The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) came to power in 1975 determined to create the “new socialist person.” A “mass sport and physical culture movement” could create these healthy, strong, resolute, and politically knowledgeable persons who could then build and strengthen the “national body politic” (167–168). Official reports on this project were mostly of the failure to build such a movement among the masses. The LPRP had better success in “mobilizing the revolution” through elite-level spectator sports (195). Spectator sporting events sponsored by the state reinforced the idea of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) unity under the Party. Friendship competitions with other socialist countries fostered a sense of membership in the socialist family of nations, and, with participation in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, of visibility on the world stage. The accomplishments of outstanding women athletes and teams were well publicized internally, promoting the official ideology of equality between the sexes. But the revolutionary period did not endure. The Party retained its political power, but, beginning in 1986, began planning for capitalist economic development. Leaping quickly over the early post-socialist period to the final chapter, Creak focuses on the 2009 Southeast Asian Games, the Lao PDR’s “latest and undoubtedly greatest performance of the link between physical contests, ideas, and practices, on the one hand, and politics and culture, on the other” (231). The unprecedented cheering, flag-waving, excitement, and joyful expression of national pride during and immediately after the Games were genuine, but the ultimate beneficiary was the secretive LPRP and the authoritarian state it remorselessly directs.

Creak’s work extends and specifies theory and scholarship about sport culture and politics with this detailed case study. Embodied Nation addresses aspects of Lao society (sport and physical culture, masculinity) that have not yet been explored, at least in English language scholarly work. Creak’s extensive referencing of official Lao and French language documents may guide other researchers to similar useful sources. Advanced students, scholars, and practitioners in the following fields will be interested in this well-written and scholarly work: history, culture, and politics of Laos and Southeast Asia; sport and culture; and gender studies, especially masculinity.

Carol Ireson-Doolittle, Willamette University, Salem, USA     

194-196

Back to top


THE LOST TERRITORIES: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation. Southeast Asia—Politics, Meaning, Memory. By Shane Strate. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. xi, 245 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$52.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3891-1.

Two central tropes dominate the official royal-nationalist historiography in Thailand. The first trope celebrates how Thailand has never been colonized by a foreign power. Following the official rendering of the country’s history it is the diplomatic skills of Thai kings and their success with modernizing the Thai state along the lines of a modern nation-state at the turn of the twentieth century that secured Thailand’s independence. The second trope laments the territorial losses inflicted on Thailand by foreign colonial powers. Here the Franco-Siamese crisis of 1893—when France sent gunboats towards Bangkok and subsequently established control over the territories later to become Laos—looms large as the embodiment of foreign colonial aggression. An ever-growing corpus of revisionist scholarship has challenged this official perception of Thailand’s history. While a foreign power never formally colonized Thailand, this revisionist reading of Thailand’s past shows how colonialism nonetheless conditioned Thailand’s path to modernity. Breaking with the binary conception of colony versus non-colony, revisionist readings characterize early twentieth-century Thailand as a crypto- or semi-colony. At the same time, scholars have also taken the idea of the lost territories to task, highlighting how it represents an ahistorical depiction of the modern boundaries of a nation-state back in a distant past.

In his book Strate brings the topic of lost territories on to a new ground as he examines how the Thai state over time has made use of what he calls a national humiliation discourse—or a discourse of victimization—to prop up an anti-Western nationalism. As the title of the book indicates, he links the idea of how Thailand lost territories to European colonial powers at the turn of the twentieth century with this humiliation discourse. Strate traces central elements in the genealogy of this discourse through an analysis of a series of well-chosen cases that organizes the book. First, he explores the roots of the humiliation discourse, outlining the historical events that later became a cornerstone of it: unequal treaties, extraterritoriality, and the Franco-Siamese crisis of 1893. The following four chapters deal with the period from the early 1930s to 1946. In these, Strate traces the emergence and proliferation of this discourse of national humiliation in which 1893 becomes what he calls a “chosen trauma.” Strate shows how border negotiations with the French in 1940 were pivotal in the creation of this discourse and how it underscores the military regime’s commitment to a pan-Asian rhetoric during the Second World War. Strate also turns his attention to an anti-Catholicism campaign of the early 1940s and argues that the state rationalized this extreme nationalism as an attempt to confront the country’s history of victimization. Finally, Strate also deals with the international court case concerning the temple Preah Vihear in the early 1960s. In Thai official discourse this temple is synonymous with the lost territories and an integral part of the national humiliation historiography.

With this analysis, Strate demonstrates how a militant anti-Western nationalism linked with the notion of lost territories existed in contrast and in a complex relationship with the well-known and well-researched royalist-nationalist ideology. While the latter stresses the heroism of past kings in securing Thailand’s independence, the former emphasizes the humiliation Thailand has suffered over time from foreign powers. The idea of the lost territories encapsulates the overall sense of the injustice, dishonour, and humiliation that resulted from Western intervention and thereby communicates the extent of past injuries sustained by the body of the nation. Hereby, the nation emerges as both hero and victim—independent but humiliated by Western powers—and the state has replaced the monarchy as guarantor for independence and the vindication of past injuries. With this analysis, Strate follows in the footsteps of, for example, Matthew Copeland (Contested Nationalism and the 1932 Overthrow of the Absolute Monarchy in Siam, PhD dissertation, Australian National University, 1993), in highlighting the existence of an alternative nationalism in Thailand, which the official historiography seeks to silence. Strate also documents the existence of a significant anti-Western discourse in Thailand and brings forward a more nuanced picture of the West’s role in Thailand’s history than is generally acknowledged. The book is well researched, empirically rich and based on an impressive amount of source material collected in Thailand, France, and the US. It sheds new light on questions that are central to the historiographical debate and contributes to the current revisionist historiography.

Søren Ivarsson, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark 

196-198

Back to top


SAVING BUDDHISM: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma. Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory. By Alicia Turner. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014. xi, 221 pp. US$54.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3937-6.

Alicia Turner examines the ways in which Burmese responded to colonial conditions and, in the process, developed new ways of envisioning themselves through their activities in newly created Buddhist associations. Turner seeks to locate the discourses on Buddhism during the British colonial period in their own terms, separate from issues of nationalism and modernism. Her interest is in how local Burmese understood what was happening to Buddhism in Burma and the ways in which these Burmese used their understandings to preserve Burmese Buddhism and in the process transformed both Buddhism and themselves.

The introduction begins this argument by describing discourses on sasana (often glossed as “Buddhist religion”), identity, and religion as they were understood in the West. Sasana is a broader term that encompasses Buddhist texts, practices, monks, and rituals as locally understood. When the British took control of Burma the king was sent into exile, and so laypeople began to step in and fulfill the kingly role of protecting and purifying the sasana, founding Buddhist associations to do so. These associations led to a sense of community among their members and a shift in their identities. The third discourse, that of religion, played British and Western ideas against and through the Burmese understandings creating an arena for Burmese Buddhists to contest and resist British colonial practices.

The second chapter focuses on sasana and the history of Buddhist reforms in Burma to argue that these reforms, while meant to preserve and purify Buddhism in practice, transformed it, recreating a Buddhism that fit current ideas and contexts. The Buddhist religion, like everything else, is impermanent and declines through time. The first aspect of Buddhism to disappear would be the Buddhist teachings. Earlier rulers sought to stem the decline by preserving the texts and rewarding monastic learning. Now laypeople sought to preserve Buddhism by forming organizations to raise money for the monks and monasteries and to preserve texts by encouraging their memorization. The Buddhist associations drew on Western technologies for organizing groups, complete with membership lists, journals, and membership fees. The post-colonial changes in Burmese Buddhism, then, are not a result of radically different processes but rather another series of changes that seek to preserve Buddhism, and Buddhist practices, but that in fact reshape it.

Education and the different ways in which the Burmese and the British understood it is the focus of the second chapter. Monastic education was a way for boys to make merit for their parents and to learn and preserve the Buddhist Pali texts, thus staying the decline of Buddhism. The British, seeing the monastery schools, imagined an education system they could use to train Burmese students in modern subjects. These two notions of education were antithetical and the British did not succeed in having secular subjects taught in monastic schools. Lay lead schools that provided an education in modern subjects that prepared the students for jobs in the colonial bureaucracy began replacing monastic education. People saw schoolboys becoming increasingly disrespectful to parents and other authorities and Burmese saw this as another sign of the decline of Buddhism. The solution was to teach Buddhism in these schools, often for no more than half an hour a day; this meant a radical change in what constituted a Buddhist education.

Besides joining associations to preserve Buddhism, Burmese began to consider what else they needed to do to prevent Buddhism’s further decline. Although generosity remained an important Burmese virtue, they started to emphasize personal morality as central to preserving Buddhism. Morality and asceticism became individualized as Burmese signed pledges not to drink alcohol or eat meat. As with the Buddhist associations, the temperance movement drew on Western notions for organization, including the signing of temperance pledges. Individuals’ behaviour becomes a means to preserve Buddhism as morality becomes internalized, a part of their self-identity. Individuals become agents whose actions can save Buddhism.

The ambiguity of the term “religion” opened up spaces for the Burmese to resist British modernist universalist understandings of religion and to assert the particularity of Burmese Buddhism. Turner explores this with her analysis of the “shoe question,” where Europeans removed their hats as a sign of respect at pagodas rather than removing their shoes as a Burmese would, and the issue of the Shikho, where Burmese would prostrate themselves before monks who were their teachers, something the British wanted school boys to do to their secular teachers. The Burmese argued that both of these were important particular aspects of their Buddhism and school boys should not have to bow down to secular teachers and that Europeans should remove their shoes. And the British, eventually, had to acquiesce to the Burmese demands.

The conclusion takes us back to how we should understand the processes involved in the saving of Buddhism. Turner argues that we should not simply see these processes as nascent forms of nationalist movements or the inevitable effects of modernization on traditional religions, but rather as specific adaptations in the particular Burmese place and time. This book is an important corrective to those views and ably demonstrates that the Burmese were the actors and agents of the changes in Buddhism, although the range of their actions and agency is limited to colonial context.

It is a rare treat to read a book that explores an old topic—the impact of colonialism on Buddhism in Burma—and find a new, intriguing approach to the issue. The book would be useful in courses where colonial and global processes are being examined as well as courses that focus on the complexity of analyzing lived religions. It is accessible to middle-level undergraduates and above.

Nicola Tannenbaum, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, USA

198-200

Back to top


“GETTING BY”: Class and State Formation among Chinese in Malaysia. By Donald M. Nonini. Ithaca (NY): Cornell University Press, 2015. x, 348 pp. (Illustrations.) US$27.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8014-7908-3.

This is a study of the Chinese community in the city of Bukit Mertajam in the Penang state of Malaysia over a thirty-year period from 1978 to 2007, undertaken by deploying the two different but complementary investigative optics of history and ethnography. At the most basic level, it is a triangulation of the three processes of class, ethnicity, and state formation. The attractive central argument is that the working-class ethnic Chinese in this township were put in a disadvantaged, subjugated position vis-à-vis the racially discriminative state policies and, while accepting state sovereignty and second-class citizenship, they developed in their daily survivalist practices the art of deception and disputation. Their unfavourable entanglement with state formation on the basis of everyday experiences has thus been framed between the larger nation-state rubric of “making of citizens” and the vague, deceptive community mantra of “getting by,” which thus serves as the monograph title.

The book begins with an introduction and historical background before plunging into six chapters under “Part I Development, 1969–85” and another three chapters under “Part II Globalization, 1985–97,” with an epilogue on the decade from 1997 to 2007. This bifurcated structure works reasonably well because of an appropriate insertion of additional prefaces to explain the two respective major partitions. One map is included about a temple management committee’s dialect groupings in China’s southeastern coast (191) and another on a religious procession route (257). But strangely and sorely lacking for the general readers is a locational map showing visually where Bukit Mertajam is situated vis-à-vis the entire length and breadth of Malaysia. In terms of content, there is a neat balance between discussing theoretical or conceptual issues and the presentation of empirical ethnographic materials. There is also general fluency and clarity throughout the volume.

Although there are forays of exploration into the angle of gender (for example, through family labour of male proprietors and female garment factory workers), the study remains anchored on class. The key class segment under scrutiny is the community of male truck drivers which the author had spent much time with during his fieldwork. But the study touches upon all three major Chinese social classes: the small cluster of prominent mercantile capitalists, the group of petty businessmen and professionals, as well as the majority working-class people. Instead of violent class struggles and ethnic conflicts under adverse state discriminative policies, the societal outcome was far from revolutionary—it had merely produced an ethnic Chinese survivalist mantra of “getting by.” This chanting was often followed by an elaboration of how hard business or life had been under predatory governing logics of the Malaysian state, especially about the corrupt exactions as embedded within the pervasive tributary relations between government functionaries and Chinese petty capitalists. Reflective of the generally placid social scene are nineteen plates of inserted photographs on everyday town lives, religious ceremonies, and city development (150-164). Only the first photograph on police headquarters and barracks hints at heightened social tension, but even this is marked clearly as a residue of past counterinsurgency years, from 1948 to 1960. This reinforces the book’s starting point that it is the early history of violence, fragmentation, disorder, and chaos in the pre-1969 period that had produced the silences about the history of class inequality in Malaysia and the forgetting among Chinese Malaysians.

In trying to claim originality and high contribution, the study has perhaps overstated its repeatedly harsh critique of the extant scholarly and journalistic literature on overseas Chinese communities as being Sino-centric and overly focused on the Chinese mercantile elite (2, 5–7, 9–10, 125–126, 166, 202, 210, 282, 284, 300–301). It is indeed inaccurate to portray extant overseas Chinese studies as almost exclusively focused upon the rich and famous with their self-governing segmentary hierarchical Chinese society, to the total neglect of the ordinary working class with their everyday lives. It has already been widely recognized that the waves of mass migration out of China in the post-Opium War era were overwhelmingly loaded with poor labourers and peasants, with a scattering of petty property owners. There are numerous extant writings about Chinese coolies, tin miners, rickshaw pullers, squatters, prostitutes, etc. Also, this field of study has for most recent years been vigorously engaged with interrogating the term “Chinese diaspora,” de-centering “Sino-centrism,” questioning “unchanging, essentialized Chinese culture,” examining “localized pluralism,” and exploring “re-migrations.” It is not viable for a 2015 book to ignore or dismiss this body of writings.

One other notable feature of this monograph is its confession that it has been “so long in the making,” with a “long and circuitous route to publication” (viii, x). The journey began with Professor G. William Skinner dispatching the author to northern West Malaysia in 1978 to explore its regional, hierarchical, central-place economic system and ethnic Chinese traders (ix, 57). When practical ethnographical difficulties in this line of inquiry proved too daunting, the author switched to a more general approach and eventually submitted a PhD thesis in 1983 on “the political economy” of the Chinese community of a West Malaysian market town (332). Although he regards it as a “failed project” and he points out that “the dissertation was never revised or published,” the author states that “my faltering efforts at a regional analysis” and the “positivist impulse” behind it nonetheless provided him with a grasp of the economic profile and everyday life in the township (57–58). Hence, he picked up the project again years later to rethink and reformulate it into this present volume, with brief follow-up fieldtrips in 1990–1993, 2002, 2004, and 2007. The additional research work is primarily presented in part 2 on globalization from 1985 to 1997 and in the epilogue addressing the years from 1997 to 2007, thus positioning the monograph as a longue durée thirty-year study. Therefore, this arduous journey on the one hand reflects the difficulties and limits in dusting off and reinvigorating old research projects. On the other hand, it demonstrates how important it is not to discard preciously collected ethnographic data. The relatively unknown township of Bukit Mertajam has this handsome volume to thank for capturing the history and ethnographical profile of its Chinese community for posterity.

Huang Jianli, National University of Singapore, Singapore

200-202

Back to top


FORGOTTEN PEOPLE: Poverty, Risk and Social Security in Indonesia: The Case of the Madurese. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, v. 296; Power and Place in Southeast Asia, v. 6. By Gerben Nooteboom. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015. x, 314 pp. (Illustrations.) US$163.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-04-28250-6.

In general, this book will be of interest to two groups of readers: those who are interested in issues related to poverty and those who seek to understand the Madurese, an ethnic group that originally resided on Madura Island in East Java Province in Indonesia but has now spread all over the country. The contents of the book are derived from decade-long ethnographic research on Madurese migrants residing in mainland East Java and in East Kalimantan Province.

The book is divided into two parts, with the first part covering various aspects of the livelihoods of descendants of Madurese migrants in a rural village in mainland East Java, while the second part focuses on an urban setting, studying more recently arrived Madurese migrants in the city of Samarinda in East Kalimantan. For those who are looking to understand the contents of the book quickly, the concluding chapter provides a succinct yet comprehensive summary of the main issues discussed in the book.

Meanwhile, the introductory chapter sets the stage and defines terms used throughout the book, some of which are specific and may be different from the definitions understood generally. First of all, why the Madurese? In Indonesia, the Madurese officially constitute the fourth-largest ethnic group, after the Javanese, Sundanese, and Malays (29). However, they are relatively neglected and marginalized in terms of both popular daily life discourse as well as academic works, hence the book title “Forgotten People.” Ironically, the Madurese were once the centre of attention when they suffered from violent ethnic conflicts in the West and Central Kalimantan provinces during the late 1990s and early 2000s, which further marginalized their position. Even then, hardly any study looked at the conflicts from the Madurese point of view.

Notwithstanding that the subject is exclusively the Madurese, the research findings included in the book provide a general understanding on the poor’s livelihood, various shocks that they have to face, and insufficient protection that they have.  There are three central ideas in the book. First, when faced with difficulties in their lives, people follow diverse trajectories guided by individual and cultural preferences that are shaped by their cultural boundaries. Second, reciprocal social security based on a patron-client relationship is alive and well in rural areas. However, it is important to note that these social security arrangements are often insufficient and unreliable as a means of protection when a shock occurs. Third, in an ethnically heterogeneous urban setting, such locally organized social security arrangements are largely absent, with kinship and ethnic-based protection filling in.

In addition, the book also dispels a few myths about rural life and the poor, which are prevalent in development circles. First, the book shows that there is no evidence of the much romanticized harmonious rural life. On the contrary, rural life is full of contestations among various groups, classes, and individuals. The author argues that the false view of harmonious rural life has contributed to incorrect targeting in government programs aimed at the poor, possibly because they ignore the local political economy. Second, the book also provides evidence that the view that the poor are inherently risk averse is unfounded. For various reasons, ranging from simply looking to add excitement to a dull life to taking a chance in order to open up a possibility of progress, the poor often take quite large risks, which sometimes endanger their livelihoods.

One strength of the book is that it is based on research spanning a long period of time. This makes it possible for the author to observe changes both at individual and community levels. Based on these observations, for example, the author concludes that poverty is not static but dynamic. Some households can fall from an affluent position to the bottom of the social strata, while some originally poor households are able to move up the ladder to become part of the rich group of villagers. This conclusion, while strong, is not new. Studies of poverty dynamics have long come to the same conclusion. Hence, it is surprising that the book does not make a reference to the relatively abundant literature on poverty dynamics, which is mostly based on quantitative analysis of panel data. The book complements this literature by providing qualitative evidence on the dynamics of poverty.

The book also makes some observations regarding the role of gender in household livelihood and its protection. For example, it concludes that women are much more concerned with food security and livelihood protection than are their husbands. In explaining why some poor people seem to take excessive risks that endanger their livelihood, it argues that gender structure in the household and social relations in society offer a minimal safety net. However, the treatment of gender in this book lacks rigour. In general, the views and perspectives offered in the book are those of an adult male.

To conclude, the book provides a fresh perspective on both the life of the Madurese and livelihood dynamics and protection among the poor. The many life stories told in the book make it an attractive and enjoyable read. Furthermore, by contrasting the first and second parts of the book, one can learn about the differences between rural and urban poverty. As poverty in Indonesia and the world is becoming more urbanized over time, understanding these differences will be very useful for both development academics and practitioners alike.

Asep Suryahadi, The SMERU Research Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia                

202-204

Back to top


THE PEARL FRONTIER: Indonesian Labor and Indigenous Encounters in Australia’s Northern Trading Network. By Julia Martínez and Adrian Vickers. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. ix, 227 pp. (Figures, maps.) US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-4002-0.

As a social history of the pearling trade in the Arafura and Timor Seas, The Pearl Frontier examines interactions among late colonial era racism, labour exploitation, and nation building. A peripheral frontier between nascent nations becomes a social and economic hub that forces and shapes Australian national policies on the categorization and civil rights of diverse ethnicities.

Blending life history narratives with detailed archival research, the authors chronicle the century of large-scale Australian-run pearling businesses arising after 1860 when slavery was abolished in the Dutch East Indies. Based in Broome, Darwin, and the Torres Strait Islands, white Australian pearling masters recruited Asian workers from Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. Systematic abuse of Asian workers by indenturing them at low wages occurred while European states passed laws against colonial slave-like labour practices. Ironically, “white Australia” national policy exceptions, made specifically for pearlers to exploit foreign labour, led to the establishment of multi-ethnic communities in Australia and eventually undermined the agenda of Australia as the Pacific’s white bastion. Personal histories of people who lived this painful process are a major strength of this book. Australian citizenship application records of former indentured servants from Indonesia provide substance to these accounts.

A key argument of the book is that pearling industry toil intensified cultural and social relations among the Timor and the Arafura Seas region’s diverse peoples through mobility and intermarriage, and created a contiguous social region. Intensification occurred despite the creation of legal obstacles to physical and social mobility. Indonesian pearling workers were needed by an exploitive industry, but not wanted as people, as exemplified by Australia’s 1901 white-only immigration law.

Chapter 1 introduces the region’s social history of ethnicities, mobility, and seasonal work. Chapter 2 examines the 1860­–1890 entry of Australian entrepreneurs into a long-established pearling trade amid British, Dutch, and Portuguese competition for control of East Indies commodities, territory, and labour. The Australians recruited male Asians on two- or three-year indentured contracts. Pearl shell and pearls were processed in Australia for export to world markets. Seasonal weather conditions kept workers on shore in northern Australia for three months each year. Segregation of whites and non-whites led to social relations between Indonesians and Australian Aboriginal peoples, despite legal impediments. Stories of an Alorese man’s unregistered marriage to an Aboriginal woman, whose descendants met the authors in Broome in 2010, adds an engaging narrative quality.

Chapter 3 explores eastern Indonesian understandings of their maritime world; land and sea blend into a contiguous series of places defined by cultural histories. Symbolic ship imagery pervades coastal villages. Livelihoods depend upon boat travel or walking in shallow seas. Chapter 4 chronicles business activities of Australian and Arab pearling entrepreneurs, who attempted to influence world pearl shell prices. Windfall profits and bankruptcies followed fluctuations in fashion and demand for pearl shell. Narratives of these entrepreneurs’ careers explain the motivations behind labour strategies shaping the lives and deaths of the workers. In 1911, in the Torres Strait area, 11 percent of the divers died in accidents; many other workers died from vitamin deficiencies. Despite risks, many workers vied for lucrative diving jobs.

Chapter 5 develops the book’s central argument regarding labour migration into northern Australia. Political lobbying by pearl industry titans resulted in Australian labour law exemptions for indentured foreign workers, classed as “outside civilized community.” The authors’ use of personal narratives provides Indonesian perspectives underlying changing patterns of marital relations, religious practices, and work. The pearling masters would jail and not pay indentured workers who refused to sign contracts or were disobedient. Such abuses raised dilemmas for Darwin’s growing trade unions, which lobbied for a white Australia and segregation of Asian workers staying on shore. However, flagrant abuses of Asian workers motivated intervention by some union leaders. Thus, Asian workers on Australian soil challenged white Australian policies. If unions stood for workers’ human rights, then Asian workers needed to be classed as nonhumans in order to maintain the fiction.

The book demonstrates the consequent challenges to Australian racist policies. Defiance of social segregation arose in Darwin and Broome where Asian and Aboriginal people outnumbered whites. Chapter 6 addresses intergroup dynamics among workers at sea and on shore. The racial hierarchy placing Japanese and Chinese below Europeans, but above diverse cultural groups of Indonesians and Aboriginals, led to conflicts escalated by poor living conditions and wages. For decades, tensions in a few northern Australian towns fueled debates over segregation and immigration policy in Australia.

When Japan entered World War II, the Australian pearling industry shut down. Chapter 7 describes internments of Japanese workers, and unprecedented relocations of Indonesians, stranded in Australia by the war, to southern Australia. Consequent settlement support from churches and anti-segregation advocates established connections which in postwar decades led to overturning the white Australia policy. Indonesians enlisted to fight the Japanese, often as special forces or espionage agents behind enemy lines. Capture meant execution. The book profiles Indonesian men who survived the war, but had minimal success gaining their promised Australian citizenship, which raised questions in Australia about race-based human rights.

The Australian pearling industry declined following Indonesian independence in 1949; decolonization made it difficult to contract indentured workers. By the early 1970s, Indonesian economic nationalism policies pushed out Australian pearling businesses, leaving behind social connections between Indonesians and Aboriginals across the Timor and Arafura Seas. The results support the authors’ central argument that histories of trade, labour, consumption, and social relationships are intertwined, but the strand of trade establishes the path.

This book makes a valuable contribution to scholarship on the history of commerce and labour in the Timor and Arafura Sea region. Pearling activities shaped the region’s modern society and inadvertently transformed race-based ideologies and labour movements throughout Australia. Blending scholarship with chronicles of the workers’ lives makes the book accessible and interesting to a wide readership. A minor critique of the book is a lack of detail regarding the perspectives of Japanese pearling workers. Otherwise, the book makes a significant contribution to consolidating rare knowledge of historic relations between peoples of Indonesia and Australia.

A. Ross Gordon, St. Stephen’s College, Edmonton, Canada             

204-207

Back to top


THE PACIFIC FESTIVALS OF AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND: Negotiating Place and Identity in a New Homeland. By Jared Mackley-Crump. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. x, 216 pp. (Tables.) US$58.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3871-3.

Jared Mackley-Crump draws on his academic background of ethnomusicology to investigate how Pacific festivals are used as sites where diasporic Pacific communities negotiate personal and communal identities, and further perpetuate cultural inclinations that are representative of wider cultural changes in Aotearoa New Zealand (AO, NZ). Beginning with a historical account of Pacific festivals, the book describes how these festivals have emerged and continue to develop alongside the “coming of age” (51) of Pacific peoples in AO, NZ. Mackley-Crump relates these socio-cultural and political processes to the concept of “festivalization.” The second half of the book discusses findings drawn from the author’s PhD fieldwork at two major festivals in AO, NZ: Pasifika Festival in West Auckland and the Positively Pasifika Festival in Wellington. The book portrays Mackley-Crump’s ability to weave together several narratives, including interviews with a range of participants, historical records, and theoretical ideas. The topics and perspectives, as a result, are relatively accessible and have a capacity to reach wider audiences beyond academia.

This book is located within established theoretical debates on authenticity, tradition, cultural change, place, and identity. Beyond these key themes, the book is also situated within Pacific Studies and is pertinent to the research of diasporic communities in Pacific Rim cities. I commend Mackley-Crump for his significant contribution to this field by linking together critical academic works by Pasifika researchers (dispersed in various fields like education, social sciences, and anthropology, to name a few) and to frame a discussion of diasporic Pacific peoples in AO, NZ. The author, for example, employs the notion of “edgewalking,” as discussed in Anne Marie Tupuola’s work, “Pacific Edgewalkers: Complicating the Achieved Identity Status in Youth Research” (Journal of Intercultural Studies, 25, no. 1 [2004]), to theorise cultural agency operating between cosmopolitan and Pacific identities in AO, NZ. He also applies ‘Epeli Hau‘ofa’s profound ideas from the eminent work “Our Sea of Islands” (The Contemporary Pacific, 6, no. 1 [1994]), to frame the fluidity of the diasporic situation. Moreover, Karlo Mila-Schaaf’s concept of “polycultural capital,” presented in “Polycultural Capital and the Pasifika Second Generation: Negotiating Identities in Diasporic Spaces” (PhD diss., Massey University, 2010) encapsulates the diverse resources Pacific people draw on to generate festivals. This book illustrates how Pacific theories can frame, as well as provide depth of meaning to, studies of Pacific communities.

Mackley-Crump does not try to define Pacific culture and identity, but presents the multivalent views of how participants perceive themselves. Mackley-Crump argues these definitions are neither static nor conclusive as binary forms of contemporary and traditional identities. He asserts that the idea of “mooring posts” better represents the fluid and “multilocal” references to island and new homeland identities (170). Through Mackley-Crump’s objective approach, we gain insight into the multifaceted Pacific diasporic identities manifested through festivalization in AO, NZ.

Mackley-Crump contributes to an important discussion about the relationship between Pacific and Māori communities in New Zealand. He reinforces the varied views held by his Pacific participants about their relationships to Tāngata whenua (the Indigenous people of the land), and moreover, how these relationships are acknowledged spatially and ceremonially in the festival space.

A key argument of this book is that festivals provide a space for Pacific communities to define themselves, and reciprocally festivals define these communities. This transactional quality of Pacific festivals and communities in AO, NZ underlines the relationship between place and identity—a complex theme that is alluded to throughout the book, but not fully discussed until the end.

Although it is hard to fault this book, I have some minor criticisms, which raises further queries. Firstly, the book’s structure is reminiscent of a PhD thesis. While this is an inevitable structure of a published thesis, it does tend to delay the critical synthesis of theory and data until later in the book. This can be theoretically disorientating for a reader in the first instance. To his credit however, Mackley-Crump’s syntheses in each chapter’s concluding paragraphs does help to propel and maintain common themes across each chapter.

For a discussion of festivalization, place, and identity, the book does miss images and maps to show readers who are not familiar with AO, NZ or the Pacific region, the cultural materiality and spatial qualities raised in this discussion. Such visualisation would only improve the accessibility of this book.

One other shortcoming I present as an issue for wider debate is the use of certain cultural ideas in a generic or Pan-Pacific way. For instance, Mackley-Crump uses “palagi” (125), which is a Sāmoan Polynesian word referring to a Caucasian, and more recently a foreigner, in the account of a Fijian participant, where the correct word in this context is “kaivalangi.” Furthermore, Mackley-Crump applies the Tongan idea of “tauhi vā” (as presented in the commonly referenced research of Tēvita O. Ka‘ili titled, “Tauhi Vā: Nurturing Tongan Sociospatial Ties in Maui and Beyond,” (The Contemporary Pacific, 17, no. 1 [2005]) to theorise kinship relations in the Pacific diaspora (166). Similar Pacific ideas are presented in wider literature, such as the notion of “teu le va” in the Sāmoan context. Although Mackley-Crump does carefully apply these ideas, what is implied is an assumption that any Pacific group’s concepts are relevant to other Pacific groups, and the tendency of existing scholarship to generalise certain Pacific groups’ notions of self, others, and kinship as universal for all Pacific peoples. This calls for comparative research to understand the appropriate extent to apply one cultural group’s ideas beyond its boundaries.

The book displays such comprehensive and well-crafted research that, regardless of the few shortcomings mentioned, I recommend this book as one of the first sources to read for all students of Pacific diasporic cultures. As a Tongan, born and raised in South Auckland by Tongan parents who migrated to New Zealand in the 1970s, I can trace my life and the lives of others through this book. Mackley-Crump has written a book that is rigorously academic, but as a personal reflection, he has respectfully acknowledged the challenges of my community and how far we have come along this journey of self-realisation in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Charmaine ‘Ilaiū Talei, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia     

207-209

Back to top


BEING POLITICAL: Leadership and Democracy in the Pacific Islands. Topics in the Contemporary Pacific. By Jack Corbett. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. xii, 243 pp. (Map, tables.) US$54.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-4102-7.

Are politicians really as self-serving and corrupt as they are often depicted to be by scholars and news media alike? Are they to blame for the cynicism and disillusionment that is often expressed when it comes to describing contemporary politics? Jack Corbett has interviewed 112 politicians from Pacific countries and draws upon biographic sources for many others to find out what these politicians themselves think of this characterization and of the work they do. His aim is to construct a “political-centered account of political life in the Pacific Islands” (22).

Not surprisingly, zooming in on the details of how political lives and careers are experienced offers Corbett a nuanced understanding of the ambiguities and dilemmas of leadership and politics more generally. Corbett has structured the book as a would-be career as he follows these politicians from their decision to go into politics to candidacy in an election, to political dealings in parliament or as a minister, to the day of retirement. The starting point has been to take the accounts of the interviewees seriously rather than being normative or trying to identify what makes good or bad politicians. Corbett does discuss the question of whether these politicians may be lying or polishing their images in the interview situation, but as he points out, even if they have done so, the interviews and the patterns that emerge from them are still a valuable account of political life from the point of view of those who practice it. This approach leads to an interesting discussion of structure versus agency in political life pursued through what Corbett refers to as “collective portraits”; an amalgam of individual voices to identify patterns and commonalities.

The book begins with a chapter that thoroughly delimits the study and its rationale (supplemented by an appendix on the methodology of life interviews, which seems aimed at those who prefer “objective” measures rather than those familiar with interpretive approaches).

The second chapter outlines the backgrounds of the politicians in question and what they claim motivated them to enter politics—family, upbringing, kinship, community relations, educational resources, or church membership, and how they have relied upon or built “profiles” and “reputation.”

Chapters 3 and 4 outline perspectives on the four core roles of politicians: candidate, representative, legislator, and minister. The main topics covered here include how profile, constituency dynamics, gender, geographic location, and much else affect trends of growing expectations, the influence of gatekeepers, and senses of uncertainty. These chapters are about what it means for these politicians to represent as well as their strategies in how to achieve it.

Chapter 5 returns to what is arguably the main theme of the book, namely the question of what motivations and interests politicians have. Corbett finds that most of his interviewees claim to be driven by strong views (although it is not clear to me as a reader what they consider a “view” to be, nor what is meant by “ideal” as a cultural category). The chapter continues by going through the ways such factors as money, ambition, calling, and challenge are seen as motivating to the interviewees.

Chapter 6 discusses the legacy that politicians make for themselves along with the contradictions and challenges of leadership (versus ideals of democracy). The first half of this chapter is my favorite, with fine coverage of various positions and arguments pertaining to the dynamics of politics and the corruption of politicians. The second half is about considerations of when (or if) to leave politics, either due to age, financial costs, family, and the chances of regaining a seat, among others.

The concluding chapter 7 returns to the overall issues outlined in the introductory chapter.

While the interview-based approach to the topic has undoubtedly presented the author with a wealth of material, the potential of the material for theoretical insights are, unfortunately, rarely explored in depth. Corbett chooses wisely to anonymize his interviewees, but the consequence is that many of the quotes stand as mere apt illustration of a point that has been made through a review of the literature. Most of the analytical points have been documented by others, and it is not clear to me how the interview excerpts do more than add empirical flavor to the discussions of the dynamics of “being political” in the Pacific that the author arrives at. The analysis would have been stronger if the interview material had figured more prominently.

While the theoretical discussions drawn upon are relevant, the book generally provides a good recapitulation of existing positions and arguments. Unfortunately, some of the discussions are engaged somewhat superficially. Most problematic is that the term “anti-politics” has more connotations than Corbett gets around to covering. To Corbett, it appears to refer to the disillusionment and cynicism by which political leaders across the board are classified as corrupt (which is the popular view Corbett wants to dispel), whereas James Ferguson, whom Corbett cites, discusses anti-politics as the masking of political decisions in a language of “experts” and “neutral technocratics.” This is a significant difference even if disillusionment and resentment of politicians as amoral stem from such ploys to disguise decisions as “necessary” rather than “choice.” That is, I am not convinced that the book adds much that is new to our theoretical understanding of discourses of leadership and “anti-politics.”

Nonetheless, the book is well written in a clear and unpretentious language, and the interesting and novel empirical perspective on Pacific political leadership is insightful. For that reason, I would recommend it as particularly relevant for those specializing in Pacific politics and their leaders, though there is much to be gained by those interested in political leadership more generally, as well as by novices keen to gain an introduction to the dilemmas faced by Pacific leaders.

Steffen Dalsgaard, IT University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark              

209-211

Back to top


SAVAGE HARVEST: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art. By Carl Hoffman. New York: William Morrow [an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers], 2014. 322 pp. (B&W photos, maps.) US$26.99, cloth. ISBN 978-0-06-211615-4.

A gripping blend of fiction and meticulous journalism, this book is the latest attempt to solve the “mystery” surrounding the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller. Hoffman weaves an intriguing tale of revenge, murder, cannibalism, and conspiracy, interspersed with some insightful observations about the colonial and historical contexts in which the young Rockefeller disappeared.

In November 1961, the son of one of the most powerful families in the United States vanished while attempting to swim ashore in remote western New Guinea after his disabled catamaran became waterlogged. Speculation concerning the young Rockefeller’s fate has given rise to several scenarios, despite the official declaration that he drowned while attempting to swim to shore. However, the possibility that he was met by Asmat “cannibals” and dispatched in a way that horrifies, yet intrigues, Western sensibilities remains the popular conclusion. There seems to be an unrelenting penchant for factoring cannibalism into Rockefeller’s demise and the opening chapters in this book leave no doubt as to the author’s position on this.

Savage Harvest begins with the scene unfolding on Michael’s last day. Full of youthful confidence, he strips to his underpants and slips into the warm, muddied waters of the Arafura Sea off the Casuarina Coast, and into Asmat country. With two emptied petrol cans attached for flotation, he swims towards a horizon that dimly marks the estuarine swamps inhabited by the Asmat, renowned headhunters. These opening chapters are purely fictional. There is no way we can know what Michael’s thoughts were during his long swim to shore, no way of knowing that he even made it to shore, let alone that he was speared, beheaded, ritually dismembered, and eaten by Asmat warriors. It is puzzling that a work of non-fiction should open with such a speculative dramatization, delivering a forgone conclusion to what has never been established in fact. Nevertheless, the author proceeds to unravel the circumstances that lead him to the inevitable conclusion that Michael Rockefeller was killed and eaten by “a pre-Stone Age culture just fifty years ago” (234; how they can be a “pre-stone age culture” is another issue!).

Despite the obvious sensationalism encountered throughout, what follows is a careful and seemingly meticulous disentangling of the available documents and interviews. Hoffman gives an interesting background account of what may have motivated the young Rockefeller’s journey to New Guinea, weaving together facts gleaned from examined documents and his own interpretations of the material. Reading between the lines, Hoffman constructs intentions and motivations from Rockefeller’s conversations with school friends, exposure to New York high society, the opening of the Museum of Primitive Art in 1957 and, what is assumed, Rockefeller’s desire to fulfil a destiny embedded in his DNA. The narrative takes its reader with Michael Rockefeller and his first encounters with the “primitive” peoples of Dutch New Guinea. The author sets up a compelling case for Asmat revenge on a white man by recalling a 1957 incident wherein Dutch military and local police kill several village men. Hoffman explores what is known about Asmat culture and their worldview, requiring human heads to avenge deceased ancestors. The political backdrop of an emerging new Indonesia, finally free from the yoke of Dutch colonialism, and their dual claims over the more remote western half of New Guinea provide a compelling argument as to the reasons for Asmat taking the life of Rockefeller and for Dutch secrecy surrounding rumours of Rockefeller’s more distasteful fate.

Throughout the unfolding narrative Hoffman moves back and forth between the events leading up to and immediately after Rockefeller’s disappearance and his own journey to the Asmat in search of the “truth.” Hoffman divulges his own need to connect in some strange way with his humanity and what he sees as a personal melding between himself and the assumed motivation of Rockefeller to “discover” himself in the “wilds” of New Guinea. It is a personal journey of discovery tied into reconstructing the ghost of Rockefeller.

Curiously, Hoffman develops the notion that he is predestined to set Rockefeller’s spirit free, that he alone has the tenacity to avenge the stricken Rockefeller and free his soul, enabling it to move to the Asmat afterworld of Safan: “The more I knew about Asmat, the more I couldn’t stop imagining Michael in the Asmat cosmos: that he was like one of those men whose spirits his people had not done enough to push on to Safan… . All the speculation continued because his family had failed to fully seek closure and no one else had managed to gather the essential information” (347).

While there is much to commend the author, particularly the investigative journalism he conducts with a research assistant in Holland, there is much to complain about. For example, to assume that one is able to achieve a “deeper understanding” (349) of a people and their culture by living with them for only a month is ludicrous. Furthermore, there is an underlying reification of “primitivism,” a romanticizing of the exotic, notwithstanding attempts to “understand” the Asmat in a contemporary world. Despite overtly distancing himself from the warping effects of ethnocentrism, Hoffman can’t help but reinforce the “otherness” of Asmat while simultaneously finding elements of our shared humanity, elevating the “wonder” that is Asmat culture while at the same time recoiling from the horrors of their cannibalistic practices. Although the book is about the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller and the author’s conviction that it was Asmat cannibals who were responsible, there is an uneasy obsession with this aspect of Asmat culture. Hoffman tries to put this into its cultural context, explaining its rationality from an Asmat perspective. However, the reader is relentlessly reminded of this part of Asmat life. The practice’s horrifying appeal to civilized, Western sentiments pervades the book so that one is left with the feeling that the Asmat continue to hunt for heads and consume their victims!

Depicting the Asmat as living in a “drowned Eden” (84) is juxtaposed with Hoffman’s search for the truth of what occurred in November 1961. There is a tension between the Asmat, as a primitive reflection of us, and a civilizing culture’s worldview that eschews that most heinous behaviour: head hunting and cannibalism. It is the remote Asmat who deliver a most unnatural death for the son of one of the world’s richest dynasties.

Shirley Campbell, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

211-213

Back to top


FROM KING CANE TO THE LAST SUGAR MILL: Agricultural Technology and the Making of Hawai‘i’s Premier Crop. By C. Allan Jones & Robert V. Osgood. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. xvi, 266 pp. (Illustrations, map.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-4000-6.

The authors of From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill, C. Allan Jones and Robert V. Osgood, are agricultural scientists who have worked for the Experiment Station of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association and have firsthand experience of Hawai‘i’s technological and scientific advances in the sugar industry. Tracing a direct genealogy from John Vandercook’s classic King Cane, the Story of Sugar in Hawaii (1939), From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill sets out to give a balanced view of Hawai‘i’s sugarcane industry through the complex intersections of scientific, technological, economic, environmental, and ethnic forces that have helped to shape it. Jones and Osgood discuss how world events and developments in agricultural technology shaped the sugar industry in Hawai‘i from its origins in the 1820s, with a focus on the sugar industry of Maui, the island that as of 2016 is home to the last sugar company still operating in Hawai‘i today: the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S).

To structure this history, the authors lay out the history of sugarcane chronologically, organized into five chapters. The first chapter (500 CE to 1875) spans from when Native Hawaiian voyagers brought (sugarcane) to the islands, to sugarcane’s development as an industry in the mid-1800s as Hawai‘i’s population, land, and industries were affected by the Great Māhele (land division), the California gold rush, and the American Civil War. Chapter 2 (1876 to 1897) explains the effects of the Reciprocity Treaty between the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and the United States that eliminated import duties, making sugar readily available to the US market. The need for imported labour and labour unrest affected the sugar economy, but agricultural developments in harvesting systems and cultivation kept the industry profitable.

The sugar industry was fundamental to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, resulting in the annexation of Hawai‘i by the United States in 1898. The third chapter (1898 to 1929) analyzes the effects of annexation on labour and water resources as the industry boomed under U.S. control. The authors highlight how Maui’s irrigation systems and solar radiation levels gave it a boost in sugar production. In chapter 4 (1930 to 1969), the authors describe how, “In the late 1930s—prior to the US involvement in World War II—the cash wages paid by the Hawaiian sugar industry (not counting benefits like housing and medical care) were the highest paid by any sugar industry in the world” (123), but this quickly changed with the Great Depression and World War II. The industry was pressured to reduce its labour force and mechanized tools replaced hand harvesting. The economy in the 1950s and 1960s boomed, which allowed for advances in overall factory operations and sugarcane breeding.

Finally, the chapter 5 (1970 to 2014) details the modern Hawaiian sugar industry into the twenty-first century. Since the 1970s, factory costs have not matched the price of raw sugar on domestic and international markets. However, technological advances to shed labour and production costs as well as the dissolution or consolidation of companies have kept the sugar economy alive. Drip irrigation allowed most of Hawai‘i’s irrigated plantations to survive until the 1990s. In the 2000s, more and more plantations and companies closed, leaving HC&S the last remaining sugar company in the state by 2011. HC&S faces environmental, political, and economic challenges.

From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill is clearly written and organized, and one of its greatest strengths is that through the eyes of agricultural scientists, we can understand the importance of the technological advances Hawai‘i made in the sugar industry to allowing that industry to thrive. From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill also analyzes the specific history of one company, HC&S, within the broader contexts of the international sugar trade and the forces of local and world history. As authors of one of the most recent texts on Hawai‘i’s sugar industry, Jones and Osgood are able to tell the story of HC&S as the last sugar mill, and why and how HC&S has survived beyond the nineteenth century when sugar was king.

Social science and humanities readers will find Jones and Osgood’s insights into labour, politics, and ecological factors most helpful, while the scientific specificity of the industry limits the audience to agricultural specialists. Furthermore, despite From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill’s clear organization, it does not focus equally on each factor that influences the industry in every chapter—for example, focusing on labour or water rights during in each time period would help trace their chronology. Instead, the chapters focus on different factors as they become important during each period, so labour might be highlighted in one chapter but not in the next.

Overall, however, From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill brings together Hawai‘i sugar’s environmental, political, and agricultural elements to form a pragmatic perspective. Other studies have recounted sugar’s history with a focus on plantation labour and life in Hawai‘i in the early twentieth century. Rather than separating technology and culture, Jones and Osgood bring the histories of agricultural technology and societal forces together to develop insights into Hawai‘i’s sugar industry, especially in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. As HC&S has recently announced that it will close at the end of 2016, meaning the end of sugar mills in Hawai‘i, From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill is a welcome addition to what has been missing in histories of the sugar industry and an important text for scholars of Hawaiiana and agriculture.

Kara Hisatake, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA            

214-215

Back to top


THINKING LIKE AN ISLAND: Navigating a Sustainable Future in Hawai‘i. Edited by Jennifer Chirico and Gregory S. Farley. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. ix, 274 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$45.00, cloth . ISBN 978-0-8248-4761-6.

What can islands—the Hawaiian Islands in particular—teach the world about sustainability? The eleven chapters in this book all provide answers to this question from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, which despite their eclecticism, share an attention to culture and an emphasis on collaborative, systems-based approaches.

Islands in general provide powerful models for theorizing and developing sustainable approaches to resource use, simply by the nature of their geographic boundedness, isolation, and finite resources. As the book’s editors point out in their introduction, the problems of sustainability of island communities can be imagined as a parable for the sustainability of the island earth. The Hawaiian Islands bear an especially important message for sustainability advocates; traditional Hawaiian ecological knowledge sustained an abundance of resources for a sizable, self-sufficient, and healthy native population prior to European contact; today the modern State of Hawai‘i imports over 90 percent of its food, and the island state’s requirements for imported food and energy raise the stakes for the sustainability movement. Responding to the challenge of its island geography, Hawai‘i “is becoming a sustainability showcase: a model for sustainable living that is also applicable to isolated communities worldwide” (1).

Three chapters pay particular attention to Hawaiian culture and to the preeminent role of water in Hawaiian cultural ecology and customary moral-legal understandings. The first chapter, written by Scott Fisher, director of conservation for the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, outlines the conceptual foundations of sustainability in Hawaiian culture: an island worldview, a religious connection to the natural world, and a sense of communal interdependence between social classes and between the people and the land that supported them. Fisher briefly chronicles some of the post-contact transformations that disrupted established patterns of resource use—the sandalwood trade, the demographic shifts through depopulation and the growth of harbour towns, and the introduction of a western religious paradigm of “human’s intrinsic right of domination over the natural world” (17). Fisher notes the Hawaiian renaissance and recent reassertion of Hawaiian culture: the Protect Koho‘olawe ‘Ohana direct action movement and the “attempt to retrieve traditional Hawaiian values” (19), including Hawaiian language immersion schools, the revival of hula, and the recovery of celestial navigation knowledge. Fisher describes one successful case study for sustainability: the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge in Maui, which restored more than 55 acres of coastal strand and wetlands habitat, including numerous historical and cultural sites.

Penny Levin, founder and project coordinator of E kūpaku ka ‘āina (The Hawai‘i Land Restoration Institute), contributed two admirable chapters, both focused on kalo (taro) farming, “the first, oldest, and culturally most significant food crop in the state” (46). She explains how the resurgence of kalo farming is redefining and restoring the concept of sustainable agriculture in Hawai‘i, and she lays out “lessons from the taro patch” (79) in terms of five axiomatic “foundations” and their constituent elements that form the Hawaiian traditions of growing kalo. Both Fisher and Levin discuss aspects of the Hawaiian ahupua‘a, an integrated system of habitats and watercourses from montane zones to reef flats, which emphasized whole systems thinking and management.

Political scientist George Kent, in a chapter on food security, faults the state government of Hawai‘i for giving inadequate attention to overall food supply and related disaster planning.

Discussion of sustainability-related issues throughout the book are grounded in recent case studies and provide practical insights and lessons. Two chapters focus on island water systems. Lauren C. Roth Venu, the founder and president of Roth Ecological Design, explains the Pilot Living Machine, an ecologically engineered wetland technology and one of the state’s first bioremediation projects for treatment of wastewater. Steve Parabicoli, the water recycling program coordinator for Maui County, reviews successes and challenges of the county’s Wastewater Reclamation Division. Luis Vega and Reza Ghorbani, both at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, discuss the potentials and impediments of wave energy converters and estimate they could provide up to 90 percent of energy needs of some Hawaiian communities. Green-building specialist John Bendon and architect Matthew Goyke write about the Kumuhao Development in Waimanalo, a case study in sustainable design of residential housing. Linda Cox and John Cusick, both at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, discuss sustainability efforts within Hawai‘i’s tourism sector, particularly the mixed success of attempts to develop a certification program for ecotourism. Educator-consultant Shanah Trevenna describes a case study of a student-led movement at the University of Hawai‘i to reduce campus energy use. And a case study of a Maui elementary school’s successful development of a school garden project was contributed by landscape designer Susan Wyche and the school garden project coordinator, Kirk Surry.

This book will be of interest to a wide range of students and practitioners of sustainable resource use, cultural ecology, Hawaiian Studies, and urban planning. The authors bring a great deal of knowledge and expertise, hands-on experience, and celebratory optimism to their contributions. L.C. Roth Venu captures this tone in the concluding lines of her chapter: “In the end, humanity has the ability to collectively decide as a society how to forge forward. Fortunately, a global renaissance is upon us, and fortunately all the solutions are abundant in nature—all we need to do is look around” (140).

Donald H. Rubinstein, University of Guam, Mangilao, Guam                 

216-218

Back to top


THE MOSUO SISTERS = MOSUO ZI MEI. A film by Marlo Poras; produced by Marlo Poras, Yu Ying Wu Chou; director, Marlo Poras; editor, Amy Foote; original music, Shawn James Seymour. New York: Women Make Movies, 2013. 1 DVD (80 min.) US$350.00, Universities, Colleges & Institutions; US$89.00, K-12, Public Libraries and Select Groups. In Mandarin, Mosuo, and Tibetan; subtitles in English. http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c850.shtml https://vimeo.com/64263112.

The Na or Mosuo people, who live in the Sichuan-Yunnan border region of southwest China, have the dubious distinction of being one of the most ethnographed and documentarized peoples in the world. Most films deal primarily or exclusively with their system of sexual relations, called “walking marriage” in Chinese, in which everyone lives with her or his mother and partners visit each other at night. This one doesn’t, which is one of the many reasons we should praise, publicize, and above all, watch it.

Juma and Latso are two 20-something sisters from a Mosuo village near fabled Lugu Lake, but when we meet them they are working as singers in a Mosuo-owned ethnic theme bar in Beijing. Younger sister Latso has saved enough money to begin a correspondence course in accounting, while older sister Juma, who never finished middle school, works extra hard to support her mother and their matrilineal household back home. Juma does most of the voiceover narration in perfect standard Mandarin; Latso is quieter but equally articulate, describing herself as shy, suitable for a bookkeeping career. It is always night in Beijing; endless strings of taillights creep slowly along the highways and bar patrons proffer tips to the sisters around dimly lit, beer-bottle strewn tables. But when the world financial crisis comes in 2009, the owner closes the bar, and the sisters are on their own again.

They return to Lugu Lake, where the sunshine never fails to dazzle and the language shifts to Naru, the Mosuo vernacular. The sisters join their mother and brother in physical labour; Latso complains that she gets tired and sore. Juma receives a call on her smartphone from a Tibetan man she has been seeing in Beijing; he tells her that there is a job singing in a bar in Chengdu. Their mother decides that Juma should go to Chengdu and make money to send back to the family, but Latso must stay at home to help with the farm work.

Unlike Beijing, where it is always night, in Chengdu it is daytime, but overcast and smoggy. Juma moves in with her Tibetan boyfriend, and starts singing in a Tibetan bar where she earns commissions determined by the number of khata ceremonial scarves she receives from patrons. In a terrified, talking-head sequence she tells the story of how one patron, probably a gangster of some sort, keeps offering her money (she is not naïve about why), and when she puts him off, he hangs around with his buddies after closing time, perhaps attempting to kidnap her, so she has to hide in the bathroom for 40 minutes until they finally give up.

Meanwhile, back at the lake, Latso has been seeing a local guy, and begins to complain more about how tired and sore she is. Mother tells her not to worry, the first months of pregnancy are the hardest. When Juma comes home for a sumptuous New Year feast set out in the ever-brilliant sunshine, she chews her sister out: I have worked so hard so that you can get ahead, she says, and now this. Latso replies that it is her life and this is what she wants to do with it.

Juma comes home again, this time with her boyfriend, to celebrate the one-month anniversary of Latso’s daughter’s birth. In the next heart-to-heart between the sisters, the interaction is tender and gentle; Latso glows with motherhood; Juma likes to play with the baby, and admits she is a bit envious of her younger sister. But she still returns to work, and shortly thereafter she and her boyfriend pay a rather awkward visit to his well-off parents in a Tibetan region of Gansu, where they tell her they expect her to learn Tibetan and move there when they marry. It is not long before he leaves Chengdu to return to Gansu, but Juma doesn’t go with him. She keeps on earning money. The film closes with alternate shots of Latso, secure with her baby in the bosom of the household, and Juma, valiantly trying to keep up the family cash flow while rapidly approaching the age where she will be considered an old maid.

In the final titles on a black screen, we are informed that “It is likely that Juma and Latso’s children will be the last generation to speak Mosuo and practice walking marriage.” We wonder why it is Juma and Latso’s children, not the sisters themselves or their grandchildren, who will be the last generation.

I was impressed by the realism of the story. The Mosuo sisters, who do all the voiceover narration themselves, come across as real-life people, rather than objects of the sort of voyeurism that Tami Blumenfield describes in Scenes from Yongning, her dissertation on filming the Na or Mosuo. They are alternately confident and terrified, affectionate and angry, sentimental and calculating, ambitious and despairing. I wondered, though, just how spontaneous some of the voiceover was. Are we hearing Juma “in her own words” when she describes her experiences, or is she reading something? And how do the sisters just happen to have their two heart-to-hearts as there is a camerawoman in the room? How scripted can a documentary be and still be a documentary?

I also have a quibble about the subtitles. I’m told by Dr. Blumenfield that the Naru translations are not bad. But the translators took great liberty with the English subtitles for the Chinese narration and dialogue. For example, Juma, interestingly using state ethnological categories to describe her own people, says, “Women Mosuo ren shi muxi shizu” 我쳬摩梭人角母系氏族: “we Mosuo people are matrilineal clans.” Yet the subtitle comes out, “Mosuo culture is matriarchal.” Even given the mix-up between matrilineal and matriarchal (which is a big mistake that almost always happens), still there is nothing in the original about culture, and nothing in the translation about clans. Twice yuanwang 愿望 (wish or ambition) gets translated as “dream.” There are many more examples of this, and it’s completely baffling to me why viewers who know no Chinese, or even viewers like me who know no Naru, don’t get to find out what the sisters are actually saying.

But this is still an outstanding film. The sisters’ appealing personalities and articulate narration, the universality of the story, and the striking visuals all combine to hold a viewer’s interest and offer a variety of possible lessons about gender, ethnicity, labour, family, and ambition in today’s China.

Stevan Harrell, University of Washington, Seattle, USA                 

218-220

Back to top


THE LOOK OF SILENCE. A film directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen; executive producers, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Andre Singer; editor, Niels Pagh Andersen. Copenhagen: Final Cut for Real; San Francisco, CA: Drafthouse Films [distributor], 2014. 1 online resource (102 mins.) In Indonesian and Javanese with subtitles. Url http://thelookofsilence.com

If Oppenheimer’s earlier, world-famous documentary, The Act of Killing (2012), was a nightmarish passage into the fantasy world of génocidaires, this companion piece is more like a bracing awakening into the tragic world of the terrorized survivors who have been forbidden, like Antigone, to even mourn the dead. The first film in this diptych, judging by the commentaries on it, left most viewers stunned and overwhelmed, struggling in the subsequent days to process what they had just seen. (What was that big fish sculpture? Why was that guy dressing in drag? How could they be so brazen?…) The Look of Silence, by contrast, presents viewers with the somber, quiet dignity of the victims. Both films are set in the same region of Indonesia, North Sumatra, and address the same event, the political genocide of 1965–66, but they have completely different emotional landscapes.

It is to some extent inaccurate to call the two films “Oppenheimer’s films.” The complexities of authorship lie not just in the extensive involvement of Indonesian filmmakers and film crews who have wished to remain anonymous. Both films are the brainchildren of the protagonists who appear in them; each man uses Oppenheimer to help him make the film that he wants to make. In The Act of Killing, the film moves forward by Anwar Congo’s relentless and futile quest to land upon an adequate representation of his murders. In the Look of Silence, the film moves forward by Adi Rukun’s relentless and futile quest to find a perpetrator who can honestly tell him how and why his elder brother was killed, and perhaps even apologize for it. In his relationship with Anwar Congo and Adi Rukun, Oppenheimer has drastically altered the customary role of the documentary filmmaker.

Adi Rukun is no less haunted than Anwar Congo, but he is haunted in a different way. He was born after 1965 to parents who viewed him as a kind of replacement for his elder brother who was murdered in 1965. His parents, Javanese workers in the plantation belt around Medan, hold tightly to the memory of his brother Ramli and secretly visit his anonymous grave in the middle of an oil palm plantation two miles away. Having been yoked to the history of his absent brother, treated within his family almost as a reincarnation of Ramli, his quest to understand what happened in 1965 is a quest to understand himself. Anwar Congo was drunkenly running away from himself, unable to squarely face the horror of his deeds; Adi Rukun is running towards himself and is serious and driven.

It is excruciatingly uncomfortable to watch Adi Rukun’s confrontations with the perpetrators of the plantation belt, the counterparts of Anwar Congo, whose dirty deeds were in downtown Medan. This film may be the first documentary in which a victim is filmed conversing with perpetrators who were not part of an ousted regime. He was putting himself in great danger, talking to men who are still powerful figures in the area—men who have been remarkably successful in preventing public discussions of the killings. While they have boasted about their murders in certain contexts, such as when meeting Oppenheimer (a presumed fellow anti-communist from America), they have understood that a curtain of silence was supposed to separate the general Indonesian public from the mass killing, as it did at the time. They look at Adi Rukun asking them questions, demanding the curtain be torn down, as a threat to national security. They begin asking questions of him—“where do you live?”—to insinuate threats to his security.

The film begins with shots of jumping beans—moth larvae that move about inside hard casings. They are plentiful amid the foliage of tropical Sumatra. They form a metaphor, one can assume, for the political situation in Indonesia, where people of a younger generation like Adi, refusing to rest content with the silence and the lies, push against the iron cages of the military and its assorted para-militaries. What seems as static as a stone may suddenly jump.

This film has certainly helped jumpstart discussions in Indonesia about the political genocide, despite it being banned and many of its showings raided. Given the current attempts to enforce silence, one can hardly imagine anything more subversive than the image of Adi, staring intently, refusing to be deferential, eschewing phatic communication—the smiling, the joking, the small talk—and demanding honest answers. Like its predecessor, this film is profound and profoundly moving.

John Roosa, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada         

220-222

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
Email:

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