At Home and in the Field: Ethnographic Encounters in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Edited by Suzanne S. Finney, Mary Mostafanezhad, Guido Carlo Pigliasco, Forrest Wade Young. Reviewed by Maggie Cummings
China and Inner Asia
South Asia and the Himalayas
Australasia and the Pacific Islands
THE CRISIS OF GLOBAL MODERNITY: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future. Asian Connections (Series). By Prasenjit Duara. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. x, 328 pp. (Illustrations.) US$32.99, paper. ISBN 978-1-107-44285-6.
Prasenjit Duara will not be contained. He thinks both through the interstices and beyond the confines of our academic disciplines and our self-balkanized area studies to challenge conventional methodologies with a new one of his own making: historical sociology. In many ways, this new book for me is a summary, capturing as it does Duara’s advocacy of the interdisciplinary, empirical, and cutting-edge research that has distinguished the Asia Research Institute he directed at the National University of Singapore that for many years has been one of our academy’s most exciting intellectual forums.
Duara’s argument is both simple and intricate. The three pieces of it are captured in the title of his book: the crisis of global modernity, sustainability, and the Asian traditions. His first task is to unravel and identify the intertwined matrix of economic, political, and importantly, cultural forces that, with their depleting conquest of nature, have in our time converged in crisis as an unsustainable modernity. In a world in which the modern universalisms of high culture available to plot our way have been reduced to a wholly disenchanted nationalism and consumerism that now threaten our very physical survival, there is real urgency in finding a new compass to correct our course: a revisionist, post-Western modernity. As this global crisis—this perfect storm—continues to billow forth and darken on the horizon, the existing Western, Eurocentric system of competing sovereign “nation-states” in their various forms no longer has the possibility of tacking through the squalls of solvable problems. Indeed, the crisis is diffused, circulatory, and global in scale, and not reducible to problems at all. We have come face-to-face with a full-blown predicament the resolution of which is fundamentally religious and cultural, requiring of us nothing less than a change in our values, our intentions, and perhaps most pressing, our practices.
Four identifiable characteristics of this predicament of modernity that we can draw from the pages of Duara’s book are that it is organic, interpenetrating, and zero-sum: we cannot address any one “problem” effectively without striving to resolve them all. Second, this predicament respects no national, ethnic, or cultural boundaries. Indeed, it challenges the very idea of boundaries with complexity theory and “big history”—“pulsating global networks of exchange . . . of capital, of political systems, and of culture” (13). Third, the coterminous and interdependent nature of the various elements of the predicament means that no single actors on the world stage can address the malaise alone. As a species we either win together, or we all lose big time. And finally with the good news, we probably have the depth of cultural resources available to us to reshape our present conditions to produce a sustainable emergent and processual post-Western modernity. But in order to transition to this alternative modernity, we need to abandon the current mentality of sovereign nation-states contending at all costs to win, and to embrace a new dialogical vision of our complex and interdependent “circulatory histories.” As Duara insists, our destiny is either planetary, or not at all.
Duara looks for a path to sustainability by expanding our relevant cultural assets to take full advantage of the Asian traditions. He opens up, surveys, and inventories the full cornucopia of humanistic resources that can be drawn upon for the resolution of the looming predicament, with particular emphasis on resourcing the values of the antique and largely ignored Asian traditions that to date have been denied their proper place at the table. With the rise of Asia, and particularly China, in one generation we have witnessed a seismic sea change in the economic and political order of the world, a reconfiguration of power that is relatively easy to track. But what about the reach and influence of Asia on a newly emerging world cultural order? While Charles Taylor would appeal to the language of “hypergoods” as his description of the fundamental, architechtonic religio-ethical goods that serve as the basis of our moral frameworks, Duara wants to play with “transcendent authorities” as his alternative term of art. By appealing to a contrast between notions such as “radical transcendence,” associated with the symbol of an absolute and hegemonic Abrahamic God, and the “dialogical transcendence” that grounds more pluralistic religious practices, Duara attempts in a nuanced way to address the question: “How do movements founded on transcendence seek to control, shape, and authorize circulatory forms even as they themselves may be shaped by circulations?” (13). In the emergence of our local and changing idealities, reverence and reason are intertwined with networks of hope to provide these transcendent imperatives with their sacrality and a moral force that can inspire us to aspire to our highest human standards as a universal commons.
This book is dense and demanding of its readers, reporting as it does on a messy world with all of its existing complexities. And a short review of it at best can only be an invitation to readers to take it on. But the reward is more than worth it. While Duara abjures some easy answer to our pressing problems, he does provide a new framework for registering how the global predicament has arisen, and how we might move beyond it most effectively. At the end of the day, perhaps most reassuring is our confidence in the hopeful Duara who has, on thinking through this crisis of global modernity, recommended a way forward for us.
Roger T. Ames, Peking University, Beijing, China
MIGRANT ENCOUNTERS: Intimate Labor, the State, and Mobility Across Asia. Edited by Sara L. Friedman and Pardis Mahdavi. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. viii, 245 pp. (Figures.) US$55.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8122-4754-1.
Sex, when engaged transnationally, is not simply fantastically creative; it can also be surprisingly transformative. Sara Friedman and Pardis Mahdavi explain that this transformative experience occurs at two levels: at the personal level when each partner brings her/his sexual norms and expectations into the relationship, and at the national level when international marriages (especially with foreign women) have forced recipient countries to amend their membership rules. They write, “migrant intimacies create new possibilities for interpersonal relationships, sexual desires, and gender domesticity” (2). Building on previous sociological and anthropological studies on transnational intimate labour, the book adds a nuanced and comparative perspective to the topic.
Rich in ethnographic research across Asia, and including the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, this edited volume brings established immigration scholars (primarily anthropologists) of Asia to explore creative strategies of intimate labourers and how migratory labour, especially by female workers, has transformed intimate relationships. It is divided into three parts. Part 1 (The Intimate Lives of Intimate Laborers) addresses the transformative experience of migrants’ intimate lives through their own morality and values. Hyun Mee Kim describes how remittances by Vietnamese wives in South Korea to their families back home can significantly improve a couple’s marital intimacy. Kim explains that Korean men are well aware of their foreign partners’ motivation for marriage, and therefore understand that “remittances are a form of economic compensation offered in exchange for their contribution to the family through reproduction [i.e. giving birth to a child]” (38). Filippo Osella looks at the personal transformations of South Indian migrants to the Gulf. He has documented some of the “social ills” that these migrants have brought back to modern Kerala. For instance, Osella mentions a situation of “divorce where wives sought separation from their migrant husbands because these men had asked them to perform ‘lewd sexual acts’ learned from watching pornographic DVDs in the Gulf” (53). Meanwhile, “migrants’ wives are suspected of taking lovers to make up for their husbands’ long-term absences, leading to intense policing and control of their sexuality” (53).
Part 2 (Migration and the National Family) discusses how immigration and nationality laws can shape the types of national families and legal regimes for reproductive migrants. Pardis Mahdavi evaluates Kuwaiti laws that stipulate “a child born to an unmarried, noncitizen mother will be … defined as stateless” (76). There are at least 100,000 stateless people in Kuwait. Because pregnant, unmarried migrants seeking prenatal assistance or to report their pregnancies (including sexual assaults) can be sent to prison, some migrant women have decided to hide their pregnancies and abandon their child in order to continue working in the country. Moreover, the law allows for an abandoned child to gain Kuwaiti citizenship. Similarly, Nicole Constable details migrants’ creative use of existing laws in Hong Kong to file torture claims (even in the absence of torture) after becoming pregnant in order to temporarily extend their legal stay. In Japan, Nobue Suzuki shows, Filipina mothers have brought legal challenges against Japan’s Nationality Law, demanding that their children born out of wedlock to a Japanese father be allowed to obtain Japanese nationality even in instances when the father acknowledges paternity after birth. Suzuki has found that despite their success, these children have grown up struggling to find a recognized existence for themselves in either/both side(s) of the family and parental society.
Part 3 (Negotiating the State) problematizes state actions and explores the creative responses of foreign migrants to their illegality and/or irregularity. Ironically, the state, which determines legality, sometimes produces the irregularity that it aims to prevent. For example, Mark Johnson and Christoph Wilcke discuss migrants’ decisions to become “freelancers” in the Middle East and the Gulf in order to circumvent gendered and restrictive laws on domestic worker employment. Hsiao-Chuan Hsia provocatively argues that the Taiwanese state promotes its competitiveness in the global economy by strategically using legality to lower the costs of production and reproduction. Similarly, Brenda Yeoh and Heng Leng Chee examine the Singapore government’s strict regulatory distinction between migrant wives and domestic workers, which has created a new form of illegality when foreign wives with a history of domestic work in the country seek employment. In the final chapter, Sara Friedman criticizes Taiwan’s strict and discriminatory laws on cross-Strait marriages, which have resulted in mainland Chinese wives pursuing legal strategies that are publicly deemed as “illegal” or “inauthentic” practices.
Overall, I found the book, in most parts, to be intellectually stimulating and plan to use it in my graduate seminar on “Transnationalism, Citizenship, and Migration in Asia.” I have only minor and, perhaps, unfair critiques. As a political scientist, I think the authors should have tried to engage intellectually with scholars beyond the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and the law when discussing the role of state and state actors. Ideally they would also have engaged with the publications by scientists on the subject. Even if they deliberately elided this body of work for some reason, at the very least, the authors could have complemented their fieldwork among foreign migrants with interviews with policy makers and other political elites. In addition, a concluding chapter to bring the arguments advanced by various authors together would also be helpful for readers.
Apichai W. Shipper, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA
GLOBALIZATION AND SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC: The Australian and Malaysian Experience. Critical Studies of the Asia Pacific Series. Edited by Claudia Tazreiter and Siew Yean Tham. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. xiii, 267 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-29837-9.
Globalization has spawned many “glocal” responses, as discussed for Australia and Malaysia by the contributors to this volume. Local experiences of transformations, whether technological, social, or pertaining to human rights have been variously addressed under alternative patterns of governance and interpretations. The micro-processes, whether in terms of capital, or “justice-oriented institutional reforms” move beyond market reforms to consider how governance, class structure, gender relations, multi-culturalism, migration, and education have been addressed in Malaysia and Australia. The papers in this volume reveal contrasting social dimensions of human rights policies in the past and the present. For Malaysia, the stress is on communities’ reactions to the global/glocal impact, while for Australia the stress is on individual reactions. Democracy is a latent theme.
The editors have strengthened the contrasting contributions by ensuring that different dimensions of local transformations of global policies and practices are balanced. The differential impacts of Australian and Malaysian human values provide clear indicators of how the “glocal” is emerging through reformulating global policies to suit local values. Each paper provides a succinct overview of social transformations for that particular nation in both past and present time, while also linking to the other papers.
The paradox of building distinct national identities on multi-ethnic bases within a globalizing ideology provides a base for interpreting local regulations and civic policies. These impact on social inclusiveness of immigrants in both nations; that both Malaysia and Australia are “nations of immigrants” is subtly marginalized here. Religious beliefs, education policies, multi-culturalism and international networks have all undergone compromises to emerge with local features, yet within worldwide trends.
The market is present, but sub-liminal to local concerns regarding social justice. The pursuit of economic advantages within Australian political policy (Thurbon, 85) is contrasted here with Malaysia’s assertion of Asian values based on communitarian ideals of harmony and consensus (Tazreiter, 3). Alternative means of keeping human rights, social justice, and gender equality on each political agenda are concerns that each government is addressing, albeit obliquely. The ideals behind democracy as variously interpreted lead to illustrations by contributors of ways in which processes of strengthening a “glocal” strategy is providing a preferred alternative to globalization, while also maintaining awareness of worldwide concerns. Local values, particularly national identities, are key to local development concerns.
Multi-culturalism is a key concern in several of the papers. For Australia, Levey argues that “liberal nationalism” absorbs diversity, leading to “more complex assimilation with selective immigration” (132). The contributions of Aborigines as first peoples in Australia, are barely mentioned, while the Bumiputera (“read Malay”) versus non-Bumiputera dichotomy has been marginalized in a policy of affirmative action for the majority, i.e., non-Bumiputera Malays (Ting, 123). Is multi-culturalism passé?
The impacts of transnational institutions, from the World Health Organisation to the Coca-Cola Company, have intruded with western, Christian values of development imposed on developing nations. But those nations are now reacting in their own ways. Global values established expectations for the growth of economic opportunities, including higher education, whether at home or abroad (Ragayah Haji Mat Zin, ch. 16). But competition for international students in both countries is highlighting the need for greater support for intercultural communication within the institutions and their surrounding communities (Pe-Pua and Tran, ch. 15).
There are concerns whether cultural preservation of religious identities as these emerge from both immigration and social awareness is being addressed within both nations’ multi-cultural policies, as Levey and Ting and others refer to in their papers. Ethnic diversity—long experienced in Malaysia as it emerged from Malaya, but more recently in Australia as it adjusts its White Australia policy—has contributed, the authors argue, to variations of democratic processes. Nation building inclusive of ethnic minorities has produced tensions between Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities, as well introduced Islamic religious influences (117). Use of the English language as adjunct to glocal experiences of cultural globalization merits further attention.
Borders feature prominently in these discussions of Australian and Malaysian modes of governance to incorporate local states within larger entities. In chapter 2, Benjamin Reilly shows how security to “keep each nation state safe” presents both threats and opportunities, as Malaysia exercises its need for political economic networks with its neighbours, e.g., ASEAN and other regional entities. Security for Australia means strict border controls, particularly to exclude asylum seekers arriving by boat on their western shores from Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in Asia. Linda Bartolomei and Eileen Pittaway argue how diverting them offshore to a “Malaysia Solution,” as an alternative to the “Pacific Solution,” has invoked strong civil society advocates for refugees’ human rights, a position rejected by Australian immigration authorities (159). Maintaining internal security while addressing the influx of both regular and “irregular” migrants in Malaysia (Ullah, ch. 12) necessitates prioritizing human rights to avoid exploitation, as well as protecting national resources, values, and identities (Tazreiter, ch. 11). Ironically, borders that serve to clarify distinct national and other identities have become significant for newly developing states at the same time as they are being drawn into globalized markets. Migrants as well as goods have become contentious aspects of democracy where local concerns of justice must be considered.
International networks, such as ASEAN (Levey, ch. 9; Nathan, ch. 3), are blurring borders for both Australia and Malaysia, as they draw newly independent nations into wider political-economic networks (Reilly, ch. 2). Australia’s geographical position as an island adds a new dimension to conceptualizing the political extent of Asia, while the region undergoes rescaling of modes of governance. Forms of democracy that allow for local variants, such as gendered family relations, Shari’ah law (199–201), and middle class aspirations (ch. 4, 5), are all integral to acceptance of glocal concerns, both internally and internationally.
This volume has been carefully edited to ensure authors address historical as well as contemporary issues, and consider the perspectives of other nations. It offers a welcome clarification of social transformations shared, but distinctive, between near neighbours on both international and local scales. Readers will find clear arguments for local considerations as the Asia region expands its influence and its interpretation of globalizing processes.
Nancy Pollock, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand (retired)
CHINESE MIGRANT ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN AUSTRALIA FROM THE 1990s: Case Studies of Success in Sino-Australian Relations. Elsevier Asian Studies Series. By Jia Gao. Waltham, MA: Chandos Publishing (imprint of Elsevier), 2015. xx, 179 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$141.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-84334-784-2.
I want to say right up front that Jia Gao has written a very interesting and insightful book. Gao provides clear and concise details about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs experienced by generations of Chinese migrants who originally arrived in the Land Down Under in the 1850s. He also addresses how present-day and future Chinese migrants will benefit greatly from the hard work and great sacrifices made by prior generations who left China for the shores of Australia in the mid-nineteenth century.
From the very beginning, Gao informs his readers that he is attempting to “address the major gaps in the existing literature and knowledge” relating to the great achievements and contributions that Chinese migrants have accomplished and made within Australian society. However, he also notes that the Chinese-Australian community’s economic and educational gains in Australia since the late 1980s were not achieved without undue pain and disappointment for many. The original expectations for many Chinese migrants that Australia was going to be the “New Gold Mountain” were met with a much different reality.
Gao writes that the bloody and violent crackdown on Chinese protestors at Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989 badly shook up thousands of overseas Chinese nationals. In 1993, then Australian prime minister Paul Keating decided to provide approximately 45,000 Chinese nationals in Australia with a new visa option. They could stay in Australia or return to China. Almost all decided to stay in Australia. Gao views Keating’s decision as being a critically important turning point for the Chinese-Australian community.
Gao, who moved to Australia in 1988, received his PhD in human geography at the University of Melbourne. In 1993, he decided to live and work permanently in Australia. Gao is an associate professor at the Asian Institute at the University of Melbourne. His PhD dissertation is believed to be the most comprehensive work on the largest acceptance of in-country Chinese asylum seekers in the history of Australian immigration.
Gao’s book briefly describes the historical stages that defined the Chinese presence in Australia. He points out that the first Chinese migration to Australia was due to the “gold rush era” in the 1850s. Shortly afterwards, an “establishing stage” ensued, followed by a period of “long consolidation” which evolved during the early decades of the “White Australia” policy (1901–1973).
However, Gao identifies the Colombo Plan, established in 1950, as a major initiative and as the first important turning point that eventually allowed tens of thousands of Asian students to attend Australian educational institutions. The Colombo Plan itself only allowed about 20,000 students to enter Australia from 1950 to the 1980s. But, the Plan also put forth a new idea of “privately funded Asian students” which was established during this period and its overall effect was huge in terms of the numbers (approximately 100,000) and the diversification of students at Australian schools.
Gao proudly identifies Dr. Victor Chang, a Chinese-Australian cardiac surgeon and a pioneer of modern heart transplantation, as one of those privately funded students. Chang came to Australia in 1953. By the time of his death in 1991, he had become an iconic figure in Australia. At the end of the twentieth century, Chang was named “the Australian of the Century” by the People’s Choice Awards. Chang’s brilliant contributions to Australian society, and the world, alone justified the eventual dismantling of the “White Australia” policy in 1973. Two years later, the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 would emphatically provide invaluable state support for multiculturalism as a new way of social existence for Australians.
Being an educator, the chapter I found most interesting had to do with the creation of the Xin Jinshan schools. These schools benefitted by getting quality teachers who had confronted the painful and uncomfortable realities that many educated and skilled Chinese migrants encountered upon their arrival to Australia. Quality jobs were very tough to obtain. These same individuals also discovered quickly that there was a cultural and language chasm between themselves and the older Chinese communities in Australia.
Gao provides great detail on the key role these schools played in the lives of many Chinese migrants, many of whom had to revise their “New Gold Mountain” expectations that they held for Australia. Originally, many Chinese sought to obtain an ideal job and/or a formal education. However, sooner than expected, many had to recalibrate their version of the Australian Dream by instead seeking to buy a house and/or find the best schools possible for their children. This personal and psychological shift within the Chinese migrant community in Australia was quite profound.
Finally, I believe readers will be very interested in a couple of other topics addressed in Gao’s book. First, he tells how Chinese entrepreneurs revived the Australian sheepskin industry with the creation of the Yellow Earth company. A brilliant chapter. The key factors were the expanding marketplace in China for such products, and the excellent marketing strategies implemented to revive this iconic Australian industry.
Second, I want to draw attention to Gao’s discussion of the role that education has played in the rise of the Chinese-Australian community throughout Australia. In essence, Chinese-Australian students, first and second generations, began to set the standard for academic excellence in Australian schools and universities. As a consequence, educated and talented Chinese-Australian students increasingly became seen as national assets, and not as economic threats to Australian workers.
Put simply, the growing successes within the Chinese-Australian community are beginning to help this vibrant and hardworking segment of Australian society find its rightful place under the Australian sun. Producing wealth and creating jobs are increasingly the hallmark characteristics of the Chinese-Australian community. I greatly look forward to Gao’s next work on the growing role of the Chinese-Australian community in the twenty-first century.
Randall Doyle, Northeastern University, Shenyang, China
RUSSIA’S FAR EAST: New Dynamics in Asia Pacific and Beyond. By Rensselaer Lee, Artyom Lukin. Boulder, CO; London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016. xi, 276 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$68.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-62637-389-1.
Russia’s Far East by Rensselaer Lee and Artyom Lukin is a welcome contribution to the growing literature on international relations in the Asia Pacific, especially to the studies of international cooperation in the development of the Russian Far East (RFE) and Siberia that started to grow in quantity after Russia’s high-profile “turn to the East” in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. The authors call their work “a collaboration between a US and a Russian scholar” (ix) and “a stellar example of Russian-US cooperation” (x), carried out in a period of serious tensions in the countries’ bilateral relations.
As such, the book is distinguishable in that it attempts to bring the United States and its interests back into the complex picture of international politics surrounding the development of the RFE. The authors try to reinvigorate the importance of Russia-US relations for the creation of a more balanced and secure Asia. They argue that Russia and the United States have more interests in common in Asia Pacific than they do in Europe and that “the RFE could be one of the building blocks of a revitalized relationship, if other areas of contention can be deescalated or at least managed” (1). Both countries, according to the authors, will benefit from such development, predominantly because both have long-term interests in balancing against a rapidly rising China. By gaining a greater stake in the RFE, the United States will be able to offset China’s geopolitical dominance in Asia. Russia, in turn, will benefit from a more balanced representation of foreign stakeholders in the development of the RFE that will help reduce dependence on China and solidify its sovereignty over these territories. In today’s context of mutual antagonism between Russia and the United States, an attempt to draw attention to the potential of Russia-US cooperation in the region is undoubtedly commendable.
While the argument looks straightforward and concise, the actual analysis, organized in twelve chapters including the introduction, sweeps across a vast range of different issues, such as the RFE’s identity and natural endowments (chapter 2); the history of the region from Russia’s early colonization of Siberia in the mid-sixteenth century up until Putin’s years (chapter 3); the troubled period of the RFE’s socio-economic degradation in the 1990s and its consequences (chapter 4); and Moscow’s plan for the development of the region in the context of Russia’s reorientation to Asia (chapter 5). The ensuing five chapters deal with various aspects of China-Russia relations. Chapter 6 presents Russia’s changing perception of China. Chapter 7 discusses the likelihood of a full-fledged Russia-China alliance. Chapter 8 speculates on Russia’s potential dependence on China, whereas chapters 9 and 10 explore the increasing convergence of Chinese and Russian interests and policies in the region. Given the stated argument, the reader would expect to see in these five chapters the role of the United States and how it fares vis-à-vis China. But ironically only two chapters (11 and 12) deal with Russia-US relations and emphasize the long-standing special relationship of the United States with the RFE. The discussion in these chapters at times becomes critical of the US’s strategic miscalculations in the form of complete neglect by the US administration of the importance of good ties with the RFE for American interests.
Such a broad scope is both an advantage and disadvantage of the book. On the one hand, one will learn a lot from the rich and fairly up-to-date discussion of the RFE and Moscow’s policies toward it. The discussion of the China-Russia strategic partnership is also informative and reflects the most recent nuances of the strengthening Beijing-Moscow axis. On the other hand, however, meandering through such a multitude of high-profile issues in international politics, each of which deserves a monograph-length treatment, undermines the analytical coherence of this book and results in a situation wherein the originally clear and valuable message is not carried through the entire analysis but appears only episodically and fails to be substantiated by the relevant empirical data. Why and how exactly would the United States substitute or complement China’s role in the development of the RFE given that its economic interests in the region are minimal, whereas China is willing to invest heavily into technically difficult northern resource extraction projects? How would the RFE and its people benefit from the US’s more active participation that is driven not by economic considerations but by the need to balance against China so that the RFE may become a springboard for protecting America’s global strategic interests? Supporting the argument of the book would require answering these questions.
Another issue that mars the analysis is episodic attempts to reconstruct the pernicious “China threat” thinking. The bogeyman of “creeping yellow peril,” popular in the 1990s but largely debunked thanks to research efforts by some Russian scholars, reappears at multiple turns of the narration, even when the authors’ own empirical data does not support it. Thus, while it is shown that the shares of Japan, China, and South Korea in the RFE’s foreign trade are relatively equal (11, 49, 221) and Japan is far ahead of China in terms of investments in the region (18, 50), it is, for some reason, China, not Japan with its unequivocal territorial claims, that is likely to exploit the RFE’s resources and Russia’s relative weakness in Asia (11). Similarly, while it is stated that the number of Chinese migrants to the RFE has declined considerably compared to those from Central Asia and marriages between Russians and Chinese in the RFE “are virtually absent” (58), it is, again, China that continues to pose a demographic challenge and may become a cause of significant demographic change in the region (249). Such analytical inconsistencies undermine the intellectual integrity of the book and create an impression that the authors’ arms were twisted to land their analysis at anti-China conclusions.
Overall, supplemented by 7 tables and 3 figures, the book provides an updated presentation of the RFE from a very broad perspective of great power competition, and will likely become a valuable source of information for a wide readership, ranging from scholars and students in courses on Russian politics to analysts and policymakers.
Alexander Korolev, National University of Singapore, Singapore
LEVERAGE OF THE WEAK: Labor and Environmental Movements in Taiwan and South Korea. Social Movements, Protest, and Contention, v. 42. By Hwa-Jen Liu. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. xv, 225 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$27.50, paper. ISBN 978-0-8166-8952-1.
Taiwan and South Korea, the two largest of the four East Asian Tigers, attracted global attention for the rapidity of their industrial development under authoritarian rule. The 1970s witnessed the beginning of popular protests calling attention to some of the negative consequences of this development, particularly as regarded labour exploitation and environmental degradation. The sequencing of labour and environmental movements in the two societies was reversed, with environmental protest coming first in Taiwan, and labour in Korea. The question of movement sequencing is at the core of this book, inspired largely by Karl Polanyi’s concept of the “double movement”: popular movements to protect aspects of society and nature that had been converted into fictitious commodities in the process of capitalist industrialization.
Taking movement power as her organizing concept and Mills’ “method of difference” as her approach, Hwa-Jen Liu analyzes the origins of the movement sequencing, the consequences of this sequencing for subsequent movements, and then the trajectory of the four central movements in the two societies.
She argues that movements derive power from different sources, such as the structural position of their main constituents (the labour case) or the power of ideas and ideology that are accepted by people who cut across class lines (the environment case). Of course, in practice, movements draw on both structural and ideological power. Turning to “movement emergence,” the author utilizes time series data to trace the escalation of protest activity. Key to this emergence is success at breaking out of institutional confines, which, in these two hard authoritarian states, were quite potent. But it is important to recognize the differences here, much of which can be traced to the different patterns of industrialization: Taiwan’s quasi-Leninist corporatist system, combined with large state-owned enterprises and small private firms, monitored and suppressed labour activism. On the other hand, the geographic dispersal of firms and their record of heavy pollution created the ground for popular awareness of the consequences of this development pattern, which then evolved into a protest movement. The political elites utilized the evolving electoral system to publicize environmental issues and bring them into public discourse. When the labour movement later emerged, it took the electoral route as well.
In Korea, by contrast, geographical concentration of large enterprises contributed to the formation of worker consciousness and labour’s ability to leverage this into a protest movement. Pollution was also more concentrated and its effects less dispersed among the population, stunting the rise of environmental consciousness. Politically, Korea had a series of often unstable military regimes without the kind of effective incorporationist party organization in Taiwan. This political structure created fertile ground for dramatic protest action for all causes.
Once these first movers had achieved some success, subsequent protesters were able to benefit from their experience, either utilizing the electoral system as labour did in Taiwan, or organizing aggressively as environmentalists did in Korea. The respective states took note, of course, changing their responses, resulting in a cat and mouse cycle where the movements also changed leadership and tactics.
While Polanyi’s ideas about the double movement served as initial inspiration, Antonio Gramsci hovers above and throughout the book—in particular, his thinking on the formation of collective actors. That involves the evolution from the economic-corporate level to that of class, and then to the hegemonic level of universal social interest. Liu’s two types of power are located at different levels in this schema: leverage at the economic-corporate and ideological at the hegemonic. Therefore, the labour and environmental movements had different points of departure, faced different challenges, and followed different trajectories. Basically, the leverage-based labour movement needed to develop ideological power as it attempted to move in the direction of hegemonic power, while the identity- and- ideologically-based environmental movement needed to garner leverage power at the economic-corporate level. This dynamic, interactive process, with learning, setbacks, and coalition making along the way, forms the basis of the book’s narrative.
Liu starts by exploring how to determine when a movement emerges. She argues that this involves the synchronization of escalating protest activities with the emergence of new consciousness: in other words, action and consciousness. It is not a matter of forming organizations. Utilizing interviews as well as documentary evidence, she traces the movements’ emergence in great and compelling detail. She demonstrates how the Korean state excluded and repressed the labour movement, resulting in a “desperate fighting spirit” (80), while Taiwan’s state incorporated the labour movement on the island.
Liu acknowledges the particular characteristics of labour and environmental protest movements as well as the special historical contexts of Taiwan and South Korea. But she succeeds in highlighting her contribution to social movement theory by drawing our attention to the importance of deconstructing the starting points and trajectories of all movements. She also strongly advocates movements speaking to each other, unabashedly wanting to see a labour-environmental alliance, where the strengths and experience of each can complement the other.
Stepping back from the particularities of the cases under examination here, readers and activists can certainly gain insights into the details of movement development. Although there are many quotes from interviews in the book, its approach is highly structural. I would have liked biographies of key figures and an attempt to understand their mindset as they analyzed challenges and developed strategies. I also think more attention should have been paid to the different roles Taiwan and Korea played in the Japanese imperial division of labour, which had consequences for the development of a large industrial working class and protest field more broadly in the latter than in the former. Finally, with undeniable evidence, the book lays much of the blame for labour repression and environmental degradation on capitalism, but we know that the actually existing socialist world committed probably worse atrocities in these and other realms, while repressing labour and environmental movements with more brutality and effectiveness than Taiwan, Korea, and other capitalist societies.
Thomas B. Gold, University of California, Berkeley, USA
AT HOME AND IN THE FIELD: Ethnographic Encounters in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Edited by Suzanne S. Finney, Mary Mostafanezhad, Guido Carlo Pigliasco, Forrest Wade Young. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. xiii, 331 pp. (B&W illustrations.) US$28.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-5379-2.
The editors of At Home and in the Field set themselves a daunting task with this anthology: to bring together nearly forty essays in order to coherently depict both the contemporary state of ethnographic research and of everyday life in a diverse and increasingly globalized Asia Pacific. They envision the collection as an introductory text for those interested in Asia and the Pacific Islands, cultural geography, anthropology, or ethnic studies. As one might imagine, the scope of the essays, both in terms of geography and subject matter, is vast and varied, ranging from mobile phones and marriage in Vanuatu (Vaughan) to noodle shop etiquette in Tokyo (Fukutomi) to volunteer ecotourism in Thailand (Mostafanezhad). The essays are, quite simply, “stories of the ethnographic endeavour” (2), and most chapters, written with clarity and reader engagement in mind, are no more than six pages long. The essays are organized into nine thematic sections, each of which is preceded by a brief introduction. These themes reflect topics and ideas commonly found in introductory syllabi:
- Real Encounters: Predicaments of Fieldwork
- Meaningful Encounters: Learning, Representing, Engaging the Field
- Language Encounters: Voices, Discourse, Digital Practice
- Identity Encounters: Gender, Ethnicity, Nationality
- Close Encounters: Marriage, Kinship, Social Networks
- Economic Encounters: Class, Development, Inequality
- Green Encounters: Environment, Sustainability, Restoration
- Political Encounters: Power, Conflict, Resistance
- Deep Encounters: Worldview, Religion, Spiritual Practices
Rounding out the collection are the preface and epilogue, by Christine R. Yano and Geoffrey White respectively, which situate the collection in terms of its contributions to two key areas of scholarship: understanding ethnography as methodology and thinking about the Asia Pacific as an object of analysis. Addressing either one of these topics on its own would be a significant achievement; addressing both, and doing so through the inclusion of so many perspectives, has the potential to be unwieldy. Fortunately, the editors and authors have achieved their goal with panache, creating a collection that is ambitious in scope and rich in detail, yet filled with clear, unassuming prose and compelling stories.
The book’s success results from the titular focus on the ethnographic encounter as its organizing principle. By focusing on encounter as the analytical starting point, rather than geographic or cultural location, the authors deftly avoid the question of what it is that defines the Asia Pacific as an area of study. Rather, a sense of Asia Pacific-ness emerges from the juxtaposition of different ethnographic perspectives, stories, contexts, and encounters.
Similarly, the editors and authors acknowledge that contemporary fieldwork and ethnography, so central a methodology for social scientists interested in everyday life and local practices, has changed greatly since its inception in the last century, without offering up a too-tidy explanation of how it might be defined today. Rather, they include recent (post-2000) ethnographic updates in order to “highlight new forms of writing and research prevalent in twenty-first-century ethnography” (1). Again, it is by foregrounding the methodological significance of the encounter that these essays contribute to our understanding of fieldwork and ethnography. Some encounters are digital, some are urban, others are rural, but all are ethnographic. Importantly, the focus on encounter in At Home and in the Field demonstrates that home and field are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and many of the authors conduct fieldwork at home, either geographically or in terms of political solidarity or belonging.
By far the most compelling result of the focus on ethnographic encounter, and perhaps the greatest strength of the anthology, is that so many of these essays capture how doing ethnographic fieldwork feels, and how much of what we know as ethnographers is born of affect and embodiment. In several chapters, this focus is explicit: for instance, there are chapters on Tongan bodyscapes (Cottino), on negotiating sentiment in Fiji (Pigliasco), and on making sense of trauma in Indonesia (Samudra). Yet even in chapters where this focus remains implicit, it is made clear that the experience of ethnographic research often involves discomfort and dislocation (regardless of whether one does one’s fieldwork at home or away), and that it is through these very visceral experiences that ethnographic knowledge is produced. As an anthropologist who often teaches ethnographic research methods to undergraduates, I find that this fact of ethnography is often the most difficult to convey. Yet the authors in this collection manage to convey the experience of ethnographic fieldwork with great aplomb. As such, while the editors have, indeed, created a wonderful introductory text, I would further recommend this volume as an excellent teaching tool for instructors of fieldwork methods classes. Indeed, anyone, be it a student, a lay person, or a seasoned fieldworker, who has ever asked, “What is ethnography and how do we do it in a globalizing world?” would no doubt be greatly enriched through their reading of this vibrant collection.
Maggie Cummings, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
CHINA’S FOREIGN AID AND INVESTMENT DIPLOMACY, VOLUME II: History and Practice in Asia, 1950-Present. By John F. Copper. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. xii, 273 pp. US$121.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-55182-5.
CHINA’S FOREIGN AID AND INVESTMENT DIPLOMACY, VOLUME III: Strategy Beyond Asia and Challenges to the United States and the International Order. By John F. Copper. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. xii, 317 pp. US$121.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-55183-2.
This three-volume work by John Copper provides a comprehensive and detailed examination of China’s foreign aid and investment diplomacy from the tribute trade to the present. As the title suggests, the lens through which foreign aid and investment are viewed is that of diplomacy, an examination of the aims and purposes of what Copper frequently terms “China’s generosity.” The result of this examination is the illumination of how this generosity has been an important part of China’s strategy to win friends and influence others over a long historical period as well as having a strong moral basis in terms of assisting others. This in itself provides a contrasting starting point from other works which emphasize China’s dealings with dictators and a self-interested quest for resources in return for aid and investment. These latter topics are included and discussed in Copper’s book too but his different starting point leads him to be more sympathetic than many.
Volume 1 provides an introduction to the definitions and measurement of foreign aid and investment, setting out distinctions which are used throughout the book in regional case studies. Also included in this volume are chapters on China’s worldview (which introduces the moral basis for foreign aid and investment going back to the tribute system, and the system of international relations which underpinned it, in which obligation played an important role), China’s economy and the role that foreign aid and investment diplomacy have played in it, and China’s foreign policy.
In volume 2, the four chapters focus on China’s foreign aid and investment diplomacy in Asia, the region that has received the majority of China’s aid and investment, from 1950 to the present. The chapters examine Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Northeast and Central Asia, with a fourth chapter analyzing the “special case” of Taiwan and the use of aid and investment diplomacy to isolate it.
The third volume, like the other two, also contains four chapters, with the first three expanding the regional theme to cover Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Oceania. Of these three chapters, Africa receives two to itself while the other regions share one chapter. The final chapter in the volume is a long concluding chapter which brings the various parts together.
Taken together, the volumes provide an invaluable source for scholars and students interested in the subject matter. The coverage is comprehensive and by providing a longer historical view they offer the reader a more nuanced understanding of contemporary “China’s rise” and “new colonialism” literature, which likes to draw upon some of the same examples and trends for its arguments, such as China’s massive projects building dams, pipelines, and economic zones around the world. Each chapter is detailed, well researched, and well referenced.
The comprehensiveness of the regional studies and the historical span are obvious strengths and result, in part, from the luxury of a three-volume set rather than the standard-length monograph. The downside, as one might expect, is the exorbitant cost of the set. For those working closely in the field, though, it will be a worthwhile source for at least two reasons. The first is somewhat technical but nevertheless important. That is the discussion of the definition and measurement of foreign aid and investment. Copper lays out the data and interpretation problems very clearly and doesn’t hide his view that much of the data is either unavailable or very problematic. He reviews the Chinese and Western/international differences in the concept of foreign aid and the difficulties in creating comparable, reliable data for China. Having made his best guess, he concludes that China’s aid has, in fact, been significantly higher than most estimates put it. Topics such as whether and under what conditions central bank currency swaps, for example, constitute “foreign aid” may seem rather arcane but it is this type of careful scholarship which is needed to get a firmer grasp of the dimensions of China’s foreign aid and the problematic nature of the data that might be reported by international institutions. The blurred lines in practice as to what constitutes foreign aid and what constitutes foreign investment is also a salutary lesson, even more so when we learn that the conceptual differences are blurred too for many Chinese officials.
The second major contribution of the set is in its setting out of the different factors in play in China’s diplomacy with the various regions analyzed. Part of the volumes’ narrative shows how China’s motives changed over time and how foreign aid and investment diplomacy has been subject to various phases in line with its political upheavals and cycles. This will not come as a surprise to readers although here it is still useful to note the various shifts in the composition of aid over time, such as the role of military aid and medical aid in previous phases compared to the dominance of infrastructure in the current period. Copper effectively lays out the transition from aid giver under Mao to the world’s largest aid recipient in 1989 to being now potentially (or actually, depending on source) the largest global foreign aid provider and investor. These phases are accompanied by detailed analysis of the shifts in country focus and policy that went with them. Beyond this, the variation in experiences across the various regions even within the same phases constitutes an interesting contribution. By describing the ways in which China has used aid and investment in the different regions of the world, the book provides a rich analysis and a useful antidote to accounts which tend to treat China as one large, homogenous actor. As examples, we learn that China became actively involved in peacekeeping and, in 2006, “became the largest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping operations among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council” (volume 1, 25) in part because the People’s Liberation Army had changed its position on peacekeeping. Of course, the economic ministries have also been heavily involved in the provision of financial aid packages to countries experiencing crises.
There is, therefore, much detail in the regional chapters which scholars will find useful. This is Copper’s strong suit. When he moves to the larger topics of assessing whether China’s aid and investment is “good” or “bad” or is challenging “the West,” the analysis becomes less convincing. At times, Copper comes across as too much of a champion for Beijing in his contextualizing of China’s motives and in his relativism in judging their impacts. At others, however, he seems too keen to provide a contrast between China and other countries. For example, China, we are told, has been “very aggressive in using foreign assistance to help its own economy” whereas, apparently, the United States “has not promoted American business abroad as in the past because its critics find it distasteful if not morally wrong to do this” (volume 3, 192). There is certainly much that could be argued with here. Taken together the volumes do, however, provide us with a sound empirical basis on which to enter such arguments.
Paul Bowles, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, Canada
MEETING CHINA HALFWAY: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry. By Lyle J. Goldstein. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015. vi, 389 pp. (Figures.) US$29.95, cloth. ISBN 978-1-62616-160-3.
Agreement is virtually unanimous in the United States, certainly within the foreign affairs establishment, that war with China must be avoided: that it would be disastrous for the United States, for China, and for the world. The issue for specialists, in and out of the government, is how best to serve US interests in the context of China’s rise. How can the “Thucydides’ trap”—of conflict triggered by the emergence of a new contender for world power—be avoided as tensions mount, especially in the South China Sea?
Early in his presidency, Barack Obama reached out to China in an attempt to improve relations. Beijing did not reciprocate. China became more assertive, most recently in its construction of military bases in the South China Sea. Then, in 2011, the Obama administration announced its “pivot” (later “rebalance”) to Asia, confirming Chinese suspicion of US intent to contain China, to hamper its rise.
The community of American policy makers and scholars concerned with US-China relations divides between those who would appease (not meant pejoratively) China and those who would confront China. The men and women who argue for appeasement insist that the Chinese threaten no vital American interest. Those demanding confrontation argue that the Chinese are hostile to the United States and all it stands for—that the enmity is indisputable—and it is essential to push back, to avoid being perceived as weak.
Lyle Goldstein is a superb analyst (albeit a less than superb historian), well read in the relevant Chinese literature. In this book he offers a carefully reasoned argument, reflected in the title. His argument is not to my taste. I confess to being more confrontational, less willing to put aside human rights issues (the Chinese government ceased perceiving me as a “friend of China” after my reaction to the Tiananmen massacres). I must acknowledge, however, that Goldstein offers a very well-conceived series of steps both sides can take to alleviate tension, and avoid conflict. He calls them “cooperation spirals” (confidence-building measures) that will allow the two states to cooperate in the twenty-first century. His proposals are comprehensive, with chapters on concerns over Taiwan, economic issues, the environment, activities in the developing world, the Middle East, Korea, Southeast Asia, and India.
My reservations begin with his contention that the United States should be more accommodating because of US participation in the multilateral imperialism in China during the “hundred years of humiliation.” His history of early Chinese-American relations is reasonably fair, but one-sided. He ignores the Chinese mistreatment of Westerners that led to American gunboats on the Yangtze. Whatever guilt Americans should have felt was surely mitigated by the aid (admittedly modest) to China in the 1930s and during World War II—and all that the United States has done since the 1980s to make China’s rise possible. And a student of Chinese history might wonder how much guilt the Chinese feel for what they’ve done to their neighbours in days gone by.
Similarly, his use of Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s willingness to abandon Taiwan in 1949–1950 neglects the context (see Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Patterns in the Dust, Columbia, 1983). Acheson despised Chiang Kai-shek and saw no reason to allow a nasty dictator, hated by the people of the island, to stand in the way of his efforts to reach accommodation with the People’s Republic. Today we are dealing with a democratic state whose people have no interest in reunification with the Mainland. Goldstein’s contention that Ma Ying-jeou succeeded in building a consensus for his policies of accommodation with Beijing has been proven false since Goldstein wrote the book.
Like most of us, Goldstein finds persuasive writers whose work fits his argument—and others less so. I was amused by his praise for Henry Kissinger’s pathetic On China (Penguin, 2011). On Taiwan, one of the more blatant examples of gamesmanship occurs when he finds Charles Glaser’s argument for eliminating the Taiwan issue persuasive and dismisses the reply by Nancy Bernkopf Tucker (my late wife) and Bonnie Glaser. At a panel at the Center for Strategic and Internal Studies (CSIS), Tucker and Bonnie Glaser easily shredded Charles Glaser’s argument—an outcome he, an exceptionally thoughtful scholar, would readily concede. Goldstein is far too ready to have the United States push Taiwan toward reunification, a decision for which the people of Taiwan are entitled to a say.
Among his cooperation spirals, several seem laughable. Getting any Japanese prime minister—let alone Shinzo Abe—to go to Nanjing to apologize for the Nanjing massacre is surely a non-starter, as is imagining the US forcing Israel to surrender its nuclear weapons. Expecting Beijing to agree to allow labour unions independent of the Communist Party or to agree to allow strict and intrusive verification of a climate change agreement are surely fantasies. But Goldstein would be the first to acknowledge that not all of his proposals are practical and he calls for other suggestions. His key point is that a spiral of cooperation is essential to avoid a senseless war—and it would be absurd to disagree.
Given existing mistrust, how can you get this started? How can one trust a Chinese government that first denies transgressions—proliferation, cybersecurity, militarization of South China Sea “islands”—and only under pressure agrees to stop doing what it earlier claimed it wasn’t doing? Can a repressive, authoritarian dictatorship and a liberal democracy ever trust each other? But there is a consensus among foreign affairs specialists that policy has failed. Surely a modified Goldstein approach is worth a try.
Warren I. Cohen, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, USA
CHINA’S SPATIAL (DIS)INTEGRATION: Political Economy of the Interethnic Unrest in Xinjiang. Elsevier Asian Studies Series. By Rongxing Guo. Waltham, MA: Chandos Publishing (an imprint of Elsevier), 2015. xxvii, 179 pp. (Illustrations, maps.) US$141.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-08-100387-9.
This study attempts to assess the causes and patterns of the surge in ethnic conflict between Uighur and Han in China over the past several years. The geographical backdrop is the far northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang. The author, Rongxing Guo, head of the Regional Economics Committee at Peking University, also takes pains to draw linkages with the experiences and actions of Uighurs living in the inner provinces. Guo puts forth what he portrays as an innovative approach to analyzing the uptick in ethnic violence, one that combines the more familiar historical and social narrative with a less frequently attempted statistical analysis. The result is an often disjointed but occasionally bold study of the unique position of Xinjiang and its titular (though barely) majority Uighur ethnic group within China today.
Most readers are likely to be disappointed by the first half of the book, in which Guo provides a disparate collection of seemingly random anecdotes, summaries of published government reports, and chronologies of ethnic violence in Xinjiang over the past thirty years. It is not clear what the point of many of the author’s personal anecdotes are, other than to underscore the fact that the perception of the likelihood of imminent violence is assuming an ever larger profile in the daily consciousness of Han and Uighur residents in Xinjiang. Guo’s account of how he once learned from a Han friend of his how best to defend himself from a Uighur attack—punch him hard enough in the nose so as to draw blood, since “many Uyghurs are blood-sick” (xxvi)—may help to support a legitimate point in an anthropological report of ethnic relations in Xinjiang. In a study that concludes with policy proposals for how Beijing can best solve ethnic conflict in Xinjiang, however, it is irrelevant at best and offensive at worst.
Throughout his book, Guo evinces an uneasy mix of official government discourse and bold departures from the official line of the Chinese Communist Party. He routinely refers to Uighur “terrorists” without the use of quotation marks or any sort of linguistic qualification, and is prone to uncritical reproductions of official policy statements, such as a reference at one point to the state’s “massive, benevolent, and patriotic policy” (128) of encouraging wealthier coastal provinces to invest in poorer interior regions such as Xinjiang. And yet for a scholar currently affiliated with a Beijing policy outfit, Guo also frequently goes against the grain in his blunt acknowledgements that the PRC has since 1949 consistently failed to solve the problem of ethnic conflict in Xinjiang, and in many ways has adopted policies that have clearly exacerbated the root causes of Uighur discontent. If nothing else, the narrative portions of Guo’s study do effectively confirm what many media reports have increasingly suspected: since the 2013 Uighur car bombing incident at Tiananmen Square, the state has cracked down increasingly hard on areas of suspected Uighur dissent in Xinjiang, raising the specter of an ugly escalation in reciprocal reprisals and suppression.
For anyone lacking advanced training in mathematics, Guo’s statistical analysis in the second half of the book will likely be difficult if not impossible to follow. And yet, assuming his calculations are correct—a judgment this reviewer is unqualified to make—the conclusions he derives from this statistical analysis are far more interesting than those put forth in the narrative portion of his study. In short, Guo finds that among China’s officially recognized fifty-six ethnic groups, the Uighurs represent a rare statistical anomaly as one of the few minority groups whose residence in the inner provinces of the Han heartland does not contribute to a rise in interprovincial trade, in this case with Xinjiang. Guo explains this unexpected finding by reference to the controversial theory that conflict is more common within culturally, linguistically, and ethnically heterogeneous societies than it is within comparatively homogenous ones. Regardless of the validity of this theory, Guo takes it in an interesting direction. First, he claims that the Uighurs, as a Turkic-speaking, Muslim people of “Caucasoid” descent, are the most dissimilar of all China’s fifty-five minority groups when compared to the majority Han. Guo explicitly contrasts this with the Tibetans, who, as a Sino-Tibetan-speaking, Buddhist people of “Mongoloid” descent are supposedly much more similar to the Han, and thus able to better encourage economic exchange between Tibet and those inner provinces where Tibetans reside in large numbers.
Ultimately, Guo concludes that ethnic integration and mixing is not necessarily a good thing for China, especially between two population groups evincing such dramatic linguistic, religious, and cultural differences. The chief reason for this, according to Guo, is that the dramatic disparity in income equality seen among Uighur and Han communities in Xinjiang—blamed here on post-1949 economic investment strategies weighted heavily toward official state enterprises and the Han workers they employed—are likely to be interpreted by the less economically privileged group through an explicitly ethnic lens, thus giving rise to ethnic conflict and mutual economic distrust. Guo concludes his study with several policy recommendations. First, the state should attempt to reduce income inequality among Uighur and Han in Xinjiang, something that Guo doubts the state will be able to do. Failing that, Guo recommends that Beijing consider dividing Xinjiang into two smaller jurisdictional units, with the goal of providing the Uighurs with a relatively homogenous political unit of their own that could better reflect the “autonomous” moniker currently appended to the increasingly Han-dominated provincial-level unit of Xinjiang itself. As a final step, he even suggests granting this new autonomous Uighur jurisdiction—i.e., southern Xinjiang, or Altishahr—a political status akin to that which Hong Kong abides by.
Though Guo’s recommendations are unlikely to be adopted by Beijing, it is interesting to note the striking parallels they share with Chinese administrative strategies in Xinjiang from an earlier era. Like Yang Zengxin, the first Han governor of Xinjiang during the Republican era (1912–1949), Guo is advocating a policy of deliberate ethnic segregation as a means of lessening the likelihood of ethnic conflict. And like the Nationalist government of the 1940s, he is proposing the carving up of China’s largest provincial-level unit into various smaller jurisdictional units as a means of meeting demands for ethnic self-government. It seems that Xinjiang is still beset by the same problems, the same ever-present spectre of ethnic conflict, and the same policy proposals. Unfortunately, there is no reason to suspect that the Chinese central government will be any more successful in this endeavour today than it was in the last century.
Justin M. Jacobs, American University, Washington, DC, USA
This nicely translated Chinese publication presents a series of interviews with Wu Jinglian, one of the most influential Chinese economists, by Ma Guochuan, the chief commentator of Caijing Magazine published in China. The book is full of insightful analyses of China’s economic reform and should help readers outside China gain a better understanding of the economic reform that has transformed China since the 1980s.
Ma’s main argument developed in this book, however, is that China needs to restart its economic reform and transform China’s semi-command and semi-market economy into a full-fledged market economy based on the rule of law (vii). Against the more popular notion of “Beijing Consensus” or “China Model,” which emphasizes the strong role of the state and strengthening of the state sector, Ma believes this approach is not the right prescription for China since it can only lead to state capitalism or so-called “crony capitalism” (viii). This opposing view presented by Wu and Ma is significant not only because of Wu’s personal influence in the national economic decision-making process, but also due to the fact that China is once again at a “new crossroads” (1). China’s economy is currently slowing down quite a bit. “Whether China can write another brilliant chapter in history,” according to Wu, “will depend on which path it takes” (15). In his mind, the danger of returning to a new-leftist path is of great concern.
The book is divided into twenty dialogues. In dialogue 1, an introduction, Wu offers an interesting summary of the various “stones” China touched in tapping into the uncharted waters of reforming the Stalinist economy. These “stones” include: “market socialism” (1982) based on former communist countries’ reform experiments; “socialist planned commodity economy” (1984) inspired by the success of a state-centred development of the “four little dragons”; and “socialist market economy” (1993). Although these experiments have led to sustained economic growth, they also resulted in widening income gaps and increasing popular resentment against corruption and the privileged group. This situation has in turn created some appeals to the neo-leftist ideology. Wu argues that China needs to fight against state capitalism by restraining the administrative power of the government and gradually phasing out administrative interventions in macroeconomic activities, and by transforming the government to a service-oriented model.
Topics 2 to 15 present a historical review of serious steps taken during the prolonged economic reforms in the last three decades. It ranges from the reform of state sectors, the establishment of a rural household responsibility system, the reform of financial institutions, to the reform of the social security system. This section reads more like a series of mini lectures on various topics on the history of China’s reform. It feels like some of the content may be taken from Wu’s lecture notes. Some dialogues even contain tables. Dialogue 2, for instance, is a summary of socialist history and Soviet Russia’s experiments with socialist ideas. Dialogue 3 talks about the establishment of a command economy in China in the 1950s. It discusses the emergence and implementation of the market socialist system in China. This long narrative and review of the history of economic reform serves as a basis for understanding the current debate and for making arguments for further reforms as advocated by the authors. The narrative does have some merits. It provides extensive details on decision-making processes, such as those dealing with the “Huangpu Ping incident” in 1990 (138) and the internal criticism of Xue Muqiao in 1979 (212), both of which were previously less known to readers or researchers outside China.
Topics 16 to 19 deal with issues and problems with China’s reform. In dialogue 16, Wu characterizes the current economic system as a “preliminary market economy.” Some of its “serious defects” include: the state sector still controls vital “economic lifelines,” government agencies still have a lot of power in resource allocations, and the market is not yet governed fully by the rule of law (235–236). Dialogue 17 is devoted to the discussion of a sensitive topic, that is, the need for political reform. Here, Wu echoes Milton Freeman’s viewpoints that economic freedom should go hand-in-hand with political freedom. “If there is no reform of the superstructure so that it is compatible with the economic base,” according to Wu, “tensions and conflicts will arise between the two” (244). However, the resistance to changes comes primarily from those people who hold the orthodox Marxist views and those who are part of the privileged groups. The combination of state capital and political power, in Wu’s view, has helped produce a semi-command and semi-market economy which in turn may lead China to state capitalism, a warning Wu is consistently making throughout the book.
The final dialogue contains many of the highlights of the book. Wu denounces the so-called “China model” and associates the model with the semi-command and semi-market system. He believes that “a market economy based on the rule of law” will bring China into democracy. This liberal view bears many resemblances to the so-called “Washington Consensus.” However, if this is viewed as a silver bullet to solving all of China’s problems, it then can become equally problematic since a pure free market economy never truly existed. Kenneth S. Freedman points out in his book Myths of the Free Market (Algora Publishing, 2003) that despite the important role of the market, “pure free market economics have consistently underperformed well-focused mixed economies.”
Overall, this book is a very useful reference to our understanding of neo-liberal economics in China. The irony is that China’s path towards modernity is full of contradictions, including many conflicting economic theories. The views presented in this book are nevertheless part of the intellectual forces that drive China forward. Only time will tell which approach serves as a better guide for China’s new round of reforms.
Baogang Guo, Dalton State College, Dalton, USA
CHINA’S STRATEGIC PRIORITIES. Routledge Contemporary China Series, 138. Edited by Jonathan H. Ping and Brett McCormick. London; New York: Routledge, 2016. xviii, 158 pp. US$140.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-70734-3.
Few areas of research in international policy studies pose more difficulties than China’s strategic thinking because of the political secrecy, irrational decision making, and unpredictable actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which remains in control of the government, military, and media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Jonathan Ping and Brett McCormick have edited a collection of essays and provide a new perspective to understanding Chinese strategy by moving their focus away from the usual policy analysis approach and instead examining the relatively neglected topics of Chinese strategic background, military culture, and international environment. Based at prestigious universities and governments in China, the United States, Australia, Mexico, and Europe, the contributors to this volume open up new debates by applying alternate frameworks to theories in strategic studies so that specific policies can be viewed as part of a general pattern that can be tested with greater interpretative power in order to determine the consistent inner logic behind CCP strategic thinking. Their new perspectives offer a better understanding of Chinese strategic issues and operational behaviours, and identify some general trends among Chinese leaders, who face varied international crises and make different choices according to their individual backgrounds and worldviews.
In the first chapter, Andrew Wilson revisits Chinese military classics and challenges “the conventional wisdom” on Chinese strategic culture, such as a defensive tradition and civilian control over the military. He points out that these myths, “reductionist and misleading,” give “dangerously simplistic explanations of Chinese strategic intent and strategic behavior” (8). Su Hao and Cui Yue employ a geopolitical approach in the second chapter and state that the Sanjiangyuan area in China’s west is “the center of gravity” and a strategic priority. Sanjiangyuan is “the origin of the three ‘Mother Rivers’ for the Chinese people: the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and the Lancang River” (26). In their co-authored chapter, Eric Hyer, Zhang Qingmin, and Jordan Hamzawi examine the influence and impact of domestic politics and public opinion on China’s foreign policy making. Their study indicates that “[m]ultiple international and diverse domestic factors are competing to shape China’s foreign policy acting to both create and prioritize” (57). Gaye Christoffersen exposes a crisis management system among China, Japan, and the United States in China’s regional seas. The chapter identifies “different configurations for [a] crisis management mechanism,” which could escalate tensions in the area (74). Ulises Granados continues the discussion on China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands in the fifth chapter. With an emphasis on the US factor, the essay states that “Washington has the responsibility and the power […] to help de-securitize the Diaoyu/Senkaku issues and lower tensions” (92), which neither Japan nor China is willing or able to do. The next chapter, by Jonathan H. Ping, explains China’s relations with India from a historical perspective, and identifies “the China-India border dispute as a strategic priority for China” (108). In the seventh chapter, Timothy D. Hoyt argues that “the current environment offers new strategic opportunities as well as challenges” for both China and Pakistan (114). After the death of Osama bin Laden, “China’s relationship with Pakistan has been much less volatile than U.S.-Pakistani ties” (116). In the last chapter, Alica Kizekova considers China’s regional leadership role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), including Russia and other countries in Central Asia. She concludes that the SCO serves Beijing’s goal “as a mechanism for enhancing regional security, in order to protect and advance China’s economic cooperation and investments in Central Asia” (142).
According to the book’s editors, the inter-disciplinary research represented in this volume reflects ten years of continuous collaborative endeavour and academic exchanges between the East Asia Security Center at Bond University, the University of New Haven, and the China Foreign Affairs University. Their endeavours move beyond existing scholarly boundaries, seek to spark new debates, and propose to find solutions while reflecting on China’s foreign relations. Crucial to this volume is its assessment of empirical data that places major events in the context of national security, the China-US relationship, and international politics. The book’s comprehensive coverage presents a broad spectrum of knowledge of the on-going debates surrounding Chinese strategic studies. While factors of insecurity and instability remain, China does not enjoy a favourable security environment, a reality it has faced since the founding of the PRC. This volume prepares us for any major and unexpected event for a fairly long period of time into the future. Furthermore, this work does not reject legitimate issues in China’s foreign policy implementation.
Like most other essay collections, however, the volume could not cover all of China’s strategic priorities, such as the issues of the South China Sea, Taiwan, Tibet, Vietnam, and the modernization of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It did not have the opportunity to look into the CCP’s political culture, which is not only important but also necessary for an understanding China’s most complex and enigmatic strategic priorities. For the PRC, there are more opportunities and challenges, and more hopes and difficulties, ahead. Xi Jinping and his government (2012–2022) are seeking a growing role for China on the global political stage while assuring the international community that China is not pursuing a policy of military and political hegemony in a conventional sense. However, while China is repositioning itself by creating a new centre of gravity in the Asia-Pacific region, its demands will create potential problems. Possible sources of crisis are the highly sensitive and increasingly dangerous issues of the sovereignty of these disputed islands. This collection deserves a close reading, particularly in view of the current tensions in the South China Sea between the PLA and the US Navy.
Xiaobing Li, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, USA
THE PRAGMATIC DRAGON: China’s Grand Strategy and Boundary Settlements. Contemporary Chinese Studies Series. By Eric Hyer. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2015. vii, 358 pp. (Maps.) US$95.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-7748-2635-8.
In July 2016, a controversial judgment by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague came down overwhelmingly in favor of the boundary claims advanced by the Philippines, and ruled that China’s claims have no legal or historical basis. As a result, China openly rejected the international tribunal’s ruling, and reaffirmed that China would take all necessary efforts to protect its sovereignty in the South China Sea. In such a case, is it still possible for both parties to conclude any boundary agreements peacefully? Several issues need to be clarified. For example, how is one to evaluate China’s behavior in dealing with its boundary disputes? How do we explain the rationale behind China’s boundary settlement in the past decades?
At this critical time, The Pragmatic Dragon by Eric Hyer (associate professor of political science and the coordinator for Asian Studies at Brigham Young University) succeeds in contextualizing how China’s interconnections with other great powers (e.g., India and Russia) and its larger strategic goals influenced its strategic concerns regarding its boundary settlements. The main argument of the book is straightforward: as Hyer highlights, China’s strategic behaviour is “driven by larger strategic considerations that required compromise to achieve a settlement” (266).
This book is divided into twelve chapters. Based on case studies of China’s boundary settlements over the past decades, Hyer stresses the influences of the great powers (e.g., India and Russia) on China’s boundary settlements. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the strategic and historical context of China’s boundary disputes and settlements on the basis of “equality and mutual benefit” (82). The following pages (chapters 2–10) analyze China’s reactions to the boundary disputes with its neighbours in the Sino-Indian and Sino-Soviet/Russian dimensions, in which China’s boundary settlement with India and Russia will continue to be a key element in any future boundary change in China’s boundaries with other neighbours. In Chapters 11–12, Hyer turns to the contemporary boundary settlements with China’s Eurasian neighbours (i.e., Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) and its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea. In his conclusion, Hyer addresses China’s historically sensitive territorial claims and boundary negotiations with several neighbours (e.g., India and Vietnam), which made little substantive progress, and involved resource-rich areas.
In the eyes of this reviewer, the most important contribution of the book lies in Hyer’s explanation of the three decisive factors promoting China’s strategic calculations in its boundary disputes and settlements. First, there is China’s reaction to the shift of the global balance of power. For example, the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union compelled China to negotiate a new boundary treaty with Russia—the inheritor of the Soviet Union. Second, China has been prioritizing its overall security concerns. For instance, it “valued a stable boundary more than the return of territory that it considered China’s historically” (83). Third, China has been seeking long-term strategic allies, rather than drawing more stakeholders into the boundary disputes. Therefore, China shows flexibility in resolving its boundary disputes, “in order to realize more fundamental strategic and economic interests” (235).
However, this book shows less concern on three issues that may make China’s boundary settlements more complex and more difficult to resolve in the foreseeable future. First, it’s evident that the governments of China’s neighbours are still struggling with child soldiering on their borderlands with China, such as Myanmar, and Afghanistan. Second, thousands of private military/security contractors have been involved in the conflict-affected areas of China’s neighbours, especially India. This does not exclude the possibility that private military/security contractors may become involved in any potential disputes along the India-Sino boundary in the future. Third, if a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves is discovered and explored along China’s borderlands, a boundary dispute similar with those in the South China Sea would probably occur.
To sum up, The Pragmatic Dragon significantly advances the reader’s knowledge of China’s reactions and counter-measures to its boundary disputes. Moreover, the case studies present an intriguing account of why and how China made compromises on its border disputes. It is a book worth reading for those with great curiosity and questions about China’s boundary settlements. This book may also interest political economists, historians, and general readers concerned with China’s response to the shift of the global balance of power.
Kai Chen, Xiamen University, Xiamen, China
CHINA’S URBAN CENTURY: Governance, Environment and Socio-Economic Imperatives. Edited by François Gipouloux. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015. xxii, 287 pp. (Tables, illustrations.) US$135.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-78471-508-3.
In the field of urban China studies, most scholarship to date is produced by single authors or a small number of collaborators, and it is rare to see large-scale collaborations involving multiple universities and dozens of researchers. China’s Urban Century is an example of such collaboration. It is a collection of articles resulting from a collaborative research project “UrbaChina: Sustainable Urbanization in China,” funded by the European Union from 2011 to 2015. The research team included scholars, practitioners, and policy makers based both in China and Europe, and representing diverse fields such as sociology, geography, planning, design, architecture, and law. The project is collaborative in the true sense, as most chapters are coauthored by Chinese scholars and their European counterparts.
Four cities are featured in the book to examine key issues concerning urban governance: Shanghai, Chongqing, Kunming, and Huangshan. However, it is never explained why these four cities are chosen, especially in the case of Huangshan, a relatively little-known municipality in Anhui Province. To a certain extent, these cities can represent China’s top-tier, second-tier, and small cities, and can offer excellent cases for comparison. But no comparative analyses are attempted, and the selection of the cities seems to be based on convenience, reflecting the home bases of the Chinese contributors to the book.
The theme and organization of the book are a bit puzzling too. The book does not focus on any single theme, but covers a wide range of disparate topics—perhaps out of a concession to the research interests and professional expertise of individual contributors. These various topics—central-local relations, hukou reform, social housing, eco-cities, etc.—are loosely grouped into four sections, and chapters examining similar topics are placed in separate sections.
The book is a commendable attempt to jointly investigate a wide range of issues on urban social change in China, but unfortunately this collaborative research effort does not go deep enough to generate new insights. Most chapters offer familiar accounts and confirm what we already know. For example, section 1, titled “institutional foundations,” examines the market reform in hukou, land, and housing sectors. Drawing upon secondary literature and policy documents, the discussion reveals that the dual-track land market has created problems for planning and property development (chapters 3 and 4), that the hukou reform lacks serious commitment to improve the social welfare of migrant workers (chapter 5), and that migrant workers have limited access to the formal housing market (chapter 6). Similarly, in section 2, titled “environmental and social infrastructure,” the contributors discuss the well-studied dilemmas faced by local governments in China, such as conflicts between environmental protection and economic growth, and between historical preservation and gentrification.
Chapter 10, on social housing programs, stands out in the book by offering a compelling story of how housing prices and the demographics of migration have shaped local policies on social housing in Shanghai and Chongqing. Elosua and Ni conducted fieldwork interviews and surveys in a number of social housing projects in the two cities. Chongqing has constructed more social housing units than any other Chinese city, and many of its social housing projects are well equipped with infrastructure and amenities, and have decent access to public transit. However, the interviews reveal that migrant tenants want to move out as soon as they can and purchase their own apartments. This is partly due to the relatively low housing prices in Chongqing—i.e., within reach for skilled migrant workers—but also, the authors tell us that migrant workers resent living with their neighbours, many of whom are resettled local farmers. Compared to Chongqing, Shanghai’s social housing program is minimal. It has only a small number of projects completed and these are mostly reserved for young professional migrants. The social housing projects in Shanghai studied by the authors have few amenities and poor access to public transit. But most tenants expressed a strong desire to stay, as they can take advantage of the cheap rent and also they enjoy living with their neighbours—i.e., other young urban professionals. The study thus reveals the little-known emerging class divisions in China’s new social housing projects.
Instead of trying to be comprehensive, the book could have benefitted from focusing on a smaller number of topics and delving deeper into each of them, perhaps with comparative analyses. For example, it would be a good contribution to the field if the book had illuminated how the various urban planning experiments and policy reforms discussed, such as eco-cities, redevelopment of inner cities, and hukou reforms, are carried out and lead to different outcomes in top-tier, second-tier, medium, and small cities.
Overall, this is an admirable group effort by Chinese and European scholars and institutions to jointly study Chinese urbanism. It offers useful narratives that map the macro trends of Chinese urbanization.
Xuefei Ren, Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA
The first edition of Shapiro’s textbook was published in 2012 and received very good reviews. This volume updates the text and expands information in several areas, such as climate change.
A brief introductory chapter sets the themes—globalization, governance, national identity, civil society and environmental justice. Chapter 2 spells out the causes of environmental problems: population growth, very rapid economic change (including positive aspects—the rise of a middle class, along with the negative—increased urbanization and land pressures). The chapter also introduces climate change as consequence and cause of environmental change and then concludes with a discussion of pollution and food safety cases.
Chapter 3 explores the top-down nature of environmental policy-making. Shapiro discusses very generally the structure of government (its overlapping of functions and contradictions), and the unclear demarcation of policy and law. Her assessment of implementation is that problems (e.g., food safety, heavy metal contamination, bullet trains, etc.) result from the “confusing policy-making landscape in which actors sometimes work at cross purposes” (73). While she believes China’s pathway to sustainable development is blocked by political difficulties, she uses the next chapter (chapter 4) to consider historical and cultural factors. Here, she argues that China has an identity crisis, displaying a “superiority-inferiority” complex. Then in discursive and tangential sections on philosophical traditions, biodiversity, animal welfare, and Mao’s legacy, she states that the Chinese are conducting a cultural debate, which has moved “between jingoism, or pugnacious nationalism, and insecurity” (110).
The fifth chapter takes a different tack from the third by looking from the bottom up; also, it focuses on public participation in civil society. The review of environmental NGOs—domestic (including GONGOs) and foreign—is positive. Most consideration is given to the role that NGOs play in transmitting information, networking, attempting to hold officials accountable, and engaging in symbolic politics. The chapter too briefly treats journalists and filmmakers, citizen and celebrity activists; and it explicates ways in which grassroots activists/NGO leaders attempt to change environmental outcomes through “naming and shaming,” including campaigns against polluting multinationals. The limited use of courts is also reviewed.
Chapter 6 considers environmental justice, emphasizing relations between urban and rural China and the dominant Han as compared to racial and ethnic minorities, most of whom live at the periphery of the nation-state. Shapiro discusses the new middle class of China and its vocal opposition to pollution in its backyards (the NIMBY-effect), while explaining that the effect of this activism is to displace pollution from urban to marginal and rural areas. She presents stories of horrible pollution effects, such as China’s many cancer villages. Most of the chapter compares the poorer environmental fortunes of rural people to city-dwellers (featuring Inner Mongolia and Tibet). She emphasizes that ethnic minorities in China’s periphery whose resources are exploited themselves suffer from environmental degradation. Also treated are China’s imports of polluted goods (such as computer waste) while it forages for resources globally and in the process contaminates foreign sites.
The final chapter is the most rhetorical, suggesting optimistically that China “is inching toward a greater alliance with the green movement, as part of an overall trend toward an expanded civil society and rule by law” (196) and that China has not “reached a point of no return in terms of environmental degradation” (200). Writers of other introductory texts on China’s environment, such as Joel Kassiola and Guo Sujian’s in China’s Environmental Crisis (Palgrave, 2010), are less sanguine.
This second edition remains a serviceable introduction to China’s environmental problems. Each chapter concludes with questions for research and discussion and a brief list of additional resources. Shapiro uses personal examples effectively; her exuberant language surely will engage students.
Two flaws mar the analysis. First, there are insufficient citations to sources, particularly when Shapiro is making global statements with which some readers may disagree (for example, “the Taiwanese mafia is also heavily involved” ; Chinese ENGOs have built in “spectacularly creative ways” [113–114], IPE staff work has “deeply empowered the Chinese people” , and China has “world class environmental regulations” ).
A second problem pertains to the treatment of implementation. Shapiro makes several references throughout the book to the implementation deficit, which she attributes variously to central-local tensions, conflicting objectives, and contradictions of policy. Many writers on the environmental problems of developing nations mention the implementation deficit, but it seems an incomplete explanation, especially in the case of a rising economic power like China. What is left out of Shapiro’s analysis is the incentive system for those who implement policy in China, as noted among others by Alex Wang’s study of the nomenklatura system and the evaluation of cadres for promotion (“The search for sustainable legitimacy: Environmental law and bureaucracy in China,” Harvard Environmental Law Review, vol. 37 ). The simple point is that an authoritarian state has superior opportunities for implementing policy as compared to democratic states. Notwithstanding these flaws, this revised edition has much to offer students of China’s environment.
Jerry McBeath, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, USA
FAKED IN CHINA: Nation Branding, Counterfeit Culture, and Globalization. Global Research Studies. By Fan Yang. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, c2016. xvi, 284 pp. (Figures.) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-253-01846-5.
Fan Yang has written a thoughtful and accessible study of the counterfeit culture of China, specifically probing intellectual property rights (IPR) in terms of regime, culture, and power. To explore the cultural impact of IPR on the nation-state in the context of the developing world, Yang situates the discourse of post-socialist development in the historical milieu of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. Influenced by a material culture perspective, Yang focuses on brands and counterfeits operating as performative objects in the “cultures of circulation,” providing a different angle to delve into the implications of creativity, heritage, and globalization.
The book presents a number of paradoxical practices in different areas (i.e., the mobile phone industry, cinema, and marketplace) to illustrate the ways through which China and its citizens participate in the creation and negotiation of identities and symbols of their Chineseness as well as the definition of authenticity in the multidimensional processes of globalization. This work expands the growing body of knowledge on the dilemma of piracy by providing a novel dimension: the nation-branding campaigns of China.
The first and second chapters trace the recent origin of China’s brand project, “From Made in China to Created in China.” In these two chapters, Yang discusses the double role of the state as an arbiter of international relations and a regulator of the “Made in China” brand. On one hand, shanzhai (“fake culture”) assumes a performative mode to manifest an “alternative national identity” in advertising campaigns. On the other hand, the state media rework the shanzhai brand into a developmental force suitable for building China’s own brand. In an attempt to resist the state propaganda, Yang argues that the discourse of “Made in China” is a brand campaign that comes with a crisis of authenticity in the global-national imagery that destabilizes “the state’s claim to the nation” (167). The state and the public create and consume different types of Chinese brand cultures, resulting in constant discordance and contestations.
In the third chapter, Yang uses literary criticism to examine a case study of the film Crazy Stone and its reception. By analyzing amateur comments and blogger responses, Yang juxtaposes the case study with the parallel development of the discourse of a national cinema brand. She argues that the making of the performative subject in the movie challenges state-sanctioned national imaginary by offering an alternative mode of being a nation.
The fourth chapter is a thorough documentation of the rise of Silk Street in Beijing, a once landmark-status bazaar then a plaza facing numerous IPR lawsuits from foreign companies, and the controversies surrounding its privatization. Most of the stories in this chapter focus on events during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to exemplify the ironies and contradictions of issues of justice, authenticity, and Chineseness in the multifaceted constructions of the image of Silk Street in media discourse vis-à-vis reality. Media introduce Silk Street as an urban heritage, an object of global tourist consumption, and a potential “incubator for China’s nation brands” (149). Yang suggests that Silk Street is an emblem of the cultural dilemma for post-socialist China, whose search for an alternative modernity remains subject to the unequal relations of power within contemporary globalization.
I appreciated Yang’s discussion of shanzhai as a discourse illustrating the interactive character of China’s new media landscape “mediated” across a multiplicity of digital media platforms. By returning the human agency to globalization studies, this study discusses the questions concerning national cultural formation in global contexts. In response to the cultural imperialism theory of John Tomlinson, Yang concludes that an alternative Chineseness, with regard to the colonization of the social imaginary by globalization, is shared by participants of shanzhai culture, the old vendors on Silk Street, and the rhetoric of the protagonist in the movie American Dreams in China. The book could be interesting for readers with a desire to think beyond the apparent conceptual framework of the IPR regime when looking at the contradictory representations of China (or some other country) in the news and in film.
Given that China has risen to be one of the leading economic powers in the world, the extent to which the Western-dominated cultural imperialism is a dominant force in cultural globalization deserves further scrutiny. The implications of the attempts of the Silk Street Market to build up local brands or other similar endeavors to “Created in China” also merit further attention by future studies. Since the concept of “intellectual property economy” has recently become a buzzword among content producers and media scholars of China’s burgeoning media and creative economies, the Chinese government has invested heavily in communications curriculum to foster an environment for talent that can contribute to the creation of original and creative media content for both local and global markets. Yang’s book is useful in media and cultural studies as well as Asian studies courses. This study also opens a dialogue between media and linguistic/cultural anthropology on the issue of counterfeit culture. In anthropology, ethnographies on counterfeit culture have burgeoned in recent years, discussing a range of topics from the translation team of pirated films in China to other creative attempts and their implications for youth culture/hack space across different regions.
Yi-Chieh Jessica Lin, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan
This is an impressive volume that covers much new ground in the study of Chinese cyberspace and successfully reaches out to a broad audience interested in keeping up to date with contemporary developments.
When I began to conduct research on the newly emerging phenomenon of the Internet in China more than fifteen years ago, I was struck by the optimism shared by the media, academics, and politicians in the West. Despite different approaches, all agreed that the Internet would change China because of a putatively democratizing function arising from its ability to transfer free information to a theoretically unlimited audience. This way of thinking influenced the agenda of early Chinese internet studies so that academic inquiry mainly focused on the political environment surrounding this new technology, such as its usage to promote online activism, governmental efforts of control and suppression, and the ways citizens devised to circumvent and resist regulations and limits imposed by the government.
Even though this volume still focuses on the contested aspects of China’s Internet, it presents a much broader and more complex picture, signaling a departure from the old simplistic, politicized framework that has dominated study of the Chinese Internet from its inception. As the editor states in his introduction: “along with the changing forms of Internet governance in China, especially the growing use of propagandistic and ideological (as opposed to coercive) methods, critical analysis of the Chinese Internet must also be increasingly attentive to these subtleties of state power and not be confined to the old dichotomies of resistance and control” (4–5).
In fact, a number of authors have demonstrated the obsolete nature of the “old dichotomy” by addressing new phenomena arising from the Internet in the past several years. As I have pointed out in earlier research, the Internet is merely a new technology, and different people can use it for different purposes in different times and contexts (see Zhou Yongming, Historicizing Online Politics: Telegraphy, the Internet and Political Participation in China, Stanford University Press, 2006). The Internet can be used to help democratize China, but it can equally be used to reinforce government rule. Jesper Schlæger and Min Jiang illustrate this paradox by choosing the very revealing case of official microblogging by local governments in China. Using the phrase “social management” instead of government control, the authors show “an extension of sophisticated e-government efforts for managing social tensions and conflicts,” and thus go beyond the “overarching ‘confrontational’ framework.” (193)
Using a similar approach, Steven J. Balla examines the practice of the government using the Internet to solicit feedback on particular policy issues. By addressing often-neglected proactive government initiatives, he concludes that, “although the Internet is not a monolithic entity, overarching narratives of censorship and revolution are often ascribed to Chinese digital spaces. Neither of these narratives holds much explanatory power in the context of online consultation, which operates as an incremental innovation in facilitating communications between citizens and government officials” (94).
Indeed, the term “incremental” is very useful to describe the “contested” state of the digital space in China today. Ning Zhang’s article focuses on online activism by web-based backpacking communities. Even though these communities seem to be mostly related to leisure, consumerism, and individual choice, she uses these newly emerging groups to illustrate “a new trend of online activism that does not aim to cause cyberwar or social unrest, but rather to raise public awareness and bring about social change through peer sharing, volunteer work and online and offline charity” (108). This can be viewed as an “incremental” case of social improvement through both online and offline activities.
Silvia Lindtner is also keenly aware that “simple binaries of resistance versus system, citizen versus netizen, users and producers do not hold” (65). Her article on Chinese hackers (makers) stands out in its presentation of people as not merely users, but also co-producers of the Internet. As she claims: “[p]eople do not only access and use the Internet; they also make – to various degrees – their own devices, tools and software applications” (47). Her decision to add “industries” or “capital” to the discussion is particularly helpful. According to her, Chinese makers are not in constant conflict with the state, but in practice sometimes forge alliances with established industries and the government under the umbrella of promoting a creative society. The flexible relationships between the various internet players, such as the market, capital, industries, government, producers, and users is extremely complicated, and indeed the volume might have usefully paid more attention to a full exploration of these relationships.
Since authors of this volume are from multiple disciplines, ranging from literary criticism through communications studies to political science, anthropology, and sociology, they deploy a variety of methods to explore the Chinese Internet, including both quantitative and qualitative approaches. As an anthropologist, I was especially interested to note that a number of authors adopted ethnographic methodology in their studies. Although the quality of ethnographic practice might initially appear uneven, with papers ranging from long-term in-depth fieldwork to interviews of only a few subjects, I do think this is a welcome trend. The ethnographic method is especially well suited to conducting nuanced case studies, both online and offline.
Finally, several articles in the volume cover issues such as ethnic identity, racial contestation, the digital divide, self-identification, and online spectatorship, collectively reflecting the multiplicity of the seemingly unbounded area that we call Chinese cyberspace. By delving into the Chinese Internet’s “structure of feeling,” these articles raise issues that are derived from the rapid development of cyber technologies. I was earlier concerned about the over-politicized agenda of Chinese Internet studies that was deeply rooted in Western thinking. After reading this volume, I am much happier that a consensus has been forged to examine, to quote Lindtner in the volume, “other ways of theorizing the sociality of the Chinese internet . . . beyond the binary of the netizen versus the state” (48). In this spirit, I very much support the editor’s advocacy of “deep Internet studies” (14) that would explore the breadth and depth of an exciting, vibrant, and complex Chinese digital space, including, but reaching much further than, its explicitly political areas.
Zhou Yongming, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA
MAO’S LOST CHILDREN: Stories of the Rusticated Youth of China’s Cultural Revolution. Edited by Ou Nianzhong and Liang Yongkang; translated by Laura Maynard. Portland, ME: MerwinAsia; Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press [distributor], 2015. xv, 364 pp. (Figures, maps.) US$28.00, paper. ISBN 978-1-937385-67-5.
Fifteen million young Chinese were sent to the countryside (or joined the military) between late 1968 and the end of the Cultural Revolution era in 1976. The experiences of these so-called sent-down youth or educated youth (zhiqing in the Chinese shorthand) shaped a generation. The recently published study by Guobin Yang (The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China, Columbia University Press, 2016) insightfully traces the political impact across the years since the death of Mao Zedong of this decade-long mass movement of young people. Yang and others who have explored this phenomenon have drawn on a considerable body of memoirs by former zhiqing. Published often with a regional or provincial focus, with an upsurge in 1998 around the thirtieth anniversary of the rural transfer’s beginnings, these memoirs offer a window into individual experiences. Put together, they amount to a group autobiography of a generation. The writing has not yet finished, even as these participants approach their seventies.
This present volume offers an English translation of the memories of about fifty Guangdong zhiqing who ended up on a state farm on Hainan Island, southwest of the province. The short recollections are organised around topics: leaving home, arriving, locals’ reactions, “Maoist propaganda stars,” hunger, visiting home, friendship and love, moving on and looking back, among others. The urban young people in this particular locality were organised in a semi-military way on the state farm which was separate from the established villages of the local population and on less developed land. A seven-page introduction (whether by the translator or the editors is unclear) starts the volume. This provides a sketch of essential historical background for a non-China readership in order to make the memoirs more comprehensible.
The 81 memoirs together construct a picture of zhiqing life that brings out several important themes seen also in other parts of China, particularly those regions that hosted the youth on state farms and in construction corps (bingtuan). Family background and connections continued to shape the experience of these young people, even when family was between 200 and 1000 kilometres away. Well connected zhiqing could receive more privileges or have access to resources beyond the reach of ordinary youth. Bad family backgrounds followed the zhiqing to their farms. The writing paints vivid pictures of relationships among the young people on the state farm and between them and local people, who included villagers from the Li ethnic minority. All over China sent-down youth expressed feelings about their treatment in quiet, collective, and individual acts of defiance or resistance. The youth on Hainan Island were no exception, as several of these memoirs show.
These memories are of course from one locality and from one kind of farming set-up. The question of typicality arises from reading this collection. How representative are the experiences described here? How do these stories differ from those of young people in construction corps in the Northeast, Inner Mongolia, or even next-door in Yunnan? One collection like this cannot of course answer these questions. Another issue is that this volume, like the vast majority of similar memoirs of the zhiqing phenomenon, is written by people who have generally been successful in their lives since the Cultural Revolution. These are the stories of people who can mostly be considered winners in the system that has developed in China since the Mao years. The brief biographies of the fifty or so writers at the end of the book indicate this nicely. Some memoirs mention youth who suffered in the sent-down years, but generally the tone of such recollections is positive. The zhiqing years made men and women of these writers. Brief statements at the end of most biographies typify this attitude: “After what we withstood on Hainan Island, there isn’t much we can’t overcome” (359). One of the most poignant parts of the collection is the final piece: a transcript written by a better educated classmate of the memories of a zhiqing who served as a caretaker for several decades on Hainan before finally being able to return to Guangzhou in 2010.
These recollections are an interesting, even entertaining read. They provide excellent material for undergraduate courses on modern China. The absence of any information on where they were first published in China can be overlooked.
Paul Clark, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
QUEST FOR POWER: European Imperialism and the Making of Chinese Statecraft. By Stephen R. Halsey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015. xi, 346 pp. (Illustrations, map.) US$49.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-674-42565-1.
The question of why China was not colonized by the Western powers during the second half of the nineteenth century has puzzled historians for some time. Stephen Halsey’s recent book, Quest for Power, is an attempt at providing the community of scholars specializing in late Qing and Republican China with new insights on the topic. After a brief preface, the book starts with an introduction, which sets the tone of the general argument made by the author throughout the book: the second half of the nineteenth century in China has been overwhelmingly observed by historians—on the mainland and elsewhere—through the lens of what can be termed as a “declinology” paradigm, strongly substantiated by the common understanding according to which that period, especially the late Qing, was marred by corruption and national humiliation. In line with an increasing number of other works which cast doubt on such an historical interpretation, Halsey contends that, as troubled and unstable as they might have been, the years leading to the demise of China’s imperial regime ought rather to be considered as the crucible in which were first cast the tools and institutions that were to serve as the foundations for the rise of contemporary China. This longue durée approach is certainly a most welcome methodological option. Unfortunately, the author does not live up to it, leaving it to the epilogue (a mere twenty pages) to describe the evolutions followed by the Chinese state during the Republican period and the second half of the twentieth century. The reader should thus be warned that even though Halsey’s aim is to consider China’s recent historical experience in a longue durée perspective, the core of the book, which is made up of seven chapters, mainly deals with the last decades of the Qing imperial regime.
Another interesting option adopted by Halsey in the book is to set the example of late Qing China in a global perspective, against the backdrop of the historical experiences of the regions of the world—more than 80 percent—which ended up effectively colonized by the European powers during the nineteenth century. Entitled “Europe’s global conquest,” chapter 1 is entirely devoted to a description of the advent of Europe’s global colonial enterprise, with the aim of highlighting some of its specificities in order to pinpoint how the case of China diverged from the general model. The author’s effort here is worthwhile, even though it is not anchored on any original research he might have undertaken. Rather, drawing on the ever larger body of secondary literature devoted to the European powers’ imperialist endeavour—in this case, first and foremost Great Britain—Halsey points to the West’s “invention” of the “military-fiscal state” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a turning point which gave it a decisive advantage over the “weak states and porous economies” it ended up colonizing during the nineteenth century. If China did not count among the outright victims of this process, and Japan even less so, for that matter, it is mainly, as the author defends, because the country’s polity and its social elites, whether bureaucratic and political or economic, were strong enough to adapt in time to the challenges posed by the new international order forged by the Western powers in the late nineteenth century, and to draft adequate institutional and societal responses, thus paving the way for the forging of China’s own model of a military-fiscal state. The six remaining chapters of the book are devised to provide illustrations of this central thesis.
In chapter 2, Halsey dwells on the question of foreign trade, stressing the albeit relatively limited impact of the commercial clauses of the unequal treaties on the late Qing empire’s economy: foreign firms did gain access to parts of the empire’s markets, but, for reasons which range from the obstacle posed by the linguistic barrier to the low standards of living of the ordinary Chinese population at the time, not to mention outright obstruction by local authorities, they never were in a position to dislodge the indigenous actors and networks of trade, and even less to monopolize the profits thereof. Chapter 3 is centred on taxation, a decisive dimension of the drafting of the modern military-fiscal state. In this case, the author highlights the important shift in the Chinese state’s main sources of funding, from its original agrarian base to the revenues drawn from commercial taxation, in the wake of foreign encroachment and internal rebellion starting from the middle of the nineteenth century. Chapter 4 shifts the reader’s attention towards the administration, providing insights on how the mid-nineteenth-century crisis was a decisive factor in spurring a trend in state expansion, at the local, provincial, and central level. Here, like in chapter 3, Halsey mainly draws on the examples of the Imperial Maritime Custom Service and the administration of the lijin.
Chapter 5 deals with the question of the military, yet another important dimension of the forging of modern state institutions in China. In this instance, the author underlines the role played by the regional armies set up during the troubled years of the Taiping Rebellion, before turning to some considerations on the modernization of the country’s weapons industry. Chapters 6 and 7 conclude the book, discussing transportation and communications. In each case, the author chooses to analyze the creation and development of one of Li Hongzhang (1823–1901) and Sheng Xuanhuai’s (1844–1916) major modernization endeavours of the late nineteenth century, the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company for one, and the Imperial Telegraph Administration for the other. For both of these examples, which proved instrumental in providing China with tools to modernize and to assert its sovereignty, Halsey describes the foundations upon which they were erected and the way they evolved in time, until the last decade of the imperial regime.
Apart from some typos and awkward bibliographical references, Halsey’s book is a worthy achievement. Still, one can probably surmise that it will not be of much interest to specialists of the late Qing, for it relies more on data found in secondary literature in English and Chinese (as well as some in Japanese) rather than providing new evidence drawn from original research using previously untapped sources. But students of China’s waning imperial regime will find in it a useful summary of the country’s early modernization drive and of some of its successes. Even though the author’s approach to the period is not as objective as he claims—the present reviewer regrets, for example, the univocal nature of the documentary evidence Halsey puts to use, which does no justice to the polyphony characteristic of late Qing sources—parting from the paradigm of decline in the analysis of China’s reformist efforts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the author does here, is certainly a welcome addition to the interpretative framework of the period.
Luca Gabbiani, École française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris, France
REVOLUTIONS AS ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE: The Communist Party and Peasant Communities in South China, 1926–1934. By Baohui Zhang. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2015. 182 pp. (Tables, map.) US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-988-8208-39-5.
This book originates from a doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Texas at Austin in 1994. Composed of eight chapters, the book evaluates the symbiotic relationship between communal organizations and agrarian revolution in South China. By conceptualizing peasant revolutions as grassroots efforts to subvert and change the sociopolitical structure of communal politics, Zhang argues that the ecological and sociopolitical settings of rural organizations determined the processes, patterns, and outcomes of peasant uprisings. In particular, the institutional setup of communal organizations shaped how peasants acted politically and how they assessed the potential gains and losses from joining the Communist movement (72).
Delving into the theories of Chinese Marxism, moral economy, rational choice, and structural transformation, Zhang highlights the spatial variations of the Communist uprisings in Jiangxi and Hunan provinces. While the Communist cadres had little presence in rural Hunan, tuan-lian (local militias) showed a remarkable ability to organize themselves. They took advantage of the political vacuum created by the advancing Communist-Nationalist troops to launch “spontaneous and radical” revolts against landlords and powerholders in 1926–1927 (22). By comparison, the Communists had great difficulty enlisting the support of lineages in Jiangxi’s revolutionary upheavals of 1929–1934. Because lineage leaders and members were skeptical of the Communists’ vision and remained ideologically “passive and conservative” (2–4; 119), the socialist land reform in Jiangxi was a failure (32).
Much has been written about the diverse patterns of the Chinese Communist mobilization. Zhang’s study substantiates many of the existing scholarly interpretations. First is the localization of the Communist revolution. Along the same reasoning of Elizabeth Perry, Odoric Wou, and Stephen Averill, Zhang reveals the variations of peasant uprisings in Hunan and Jiangxi, places where Mao Zedong and other regional Communist leaders acquired, improved, and mastered the strategy of rural mobilization. Consulting the newly released party documents, Zhang critiques the hagiographic depiction of Mao in the conventional party history. What Zhang presents is a complicated picture of policy adjustments, crisis resolutions, and constant negotiations between Communist outsiders and rural communities. Field operatives, peasant recruiters, and military officials seldom interacted with peasant communities in a vacuum. Their interactions were affected by a range of exogenous and endogenous factors, and a web of human relations that had predated the arrival of the Communist Party. For example, in the interior of Jiangxi, with powerful communal organizations like lineages and bandits, the Communists had to be flexible and accommodative, adapting their revolutionary agendas under different political, socioeconomic, and military circumstances.
The second scholarly interpretation substantiated by Zhang is the crucial role played by extra-local activists. Lacking adequate resources in the initial stage of the revolution, the Communists needed to partner with communal groups. The personalities of the communal strongmen, their predatory and protective operations, and their negotiations with the Party often influenced the recruitment and retention of peasant rebels. When the extra-local cadres’ objectives conflicted with local expectations, tensions and conflicts would escalate into violent confrontations. Consequently, the Communists had to eliminate these communal leaders due to their local allegiances.
Equally important is the persistence of intra-party rivalries between native and extra-local revolutionaries. The multilayered disputes among local Communists, regional party cadres, and top party leaders greatly impacted the process of peasant uprisings. Similar to the communal organizations that they set out to co-opt, these Communist tactical units embodied their unique political visions, vested interests, and policy expectations. Cadres of various levels debated about the management of the revolution, the construction of base areas, the advancement of struggle strategies and tactics, and the appropriation of student unions and peasant associations as revolution-building instruments.
Methodologically, Zhang is correct to emphasize the influences of communal contexts on the Communist mobilization. But the analysis remains largely a thematic study of revolutionary politics at the elite level. Though Zhang refers to some examples of co-opting lineages, bandits, and militias, he does not draw on the primary sources to elaborate these issues. Revolving around the Party’s revolutionary policies, his study would be more informative if he reconstructed the diverse patterns of peasant mobilization and consciousness-building efforts in Hunan and Jiangxi.
Furthermore, he has yet to problematize the term “peasant” in the investigation. Using “peasant” as an analytical category allows him to conceptualize an external-turned local agrarian movement. However, the official documents indicate that the peasant supporters came from both rural elites and commoners who often appropriated the Communist support to empower themselves in the local habitus of resource competition. The picture of party-and-community encounters exhibited different patterns and results, and it was filled with angst, violence, and confusion. At the end, the outcome of the revolution lay in the mutual negotiations and situational adaptations undertaken by individual cadres and communal leaders. This calls for a need to reassess the Chinese Communist activities in specific temporal and spatial settings.
Although the book breaks little new ground, non-specialist readers will still benefit from its tightly written summaries of the multiplicity of the Chinese Communist revolution.
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, Pace University, New York, USA
THE CHINESE POLITICAL NOVEL: Migration of a World Genre. Harvard East Asian Monographs, 380. By Catherine Vance Yeh. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Asia Center; Harvard University Press [distributor], 2015. xii, 429 pp. (Illustrations.) US$59.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-674-50435-6.
Perhaps because of its relatively short history, the political novel as a literary genre has rarely received attention from academia. Fortunately, Catherine Vance Yeh’s carefully crafted monograph, The Chinese Political Novel: Migration of a World Genre, sheds light on this long neglected yet unique literary form. Centred on its development in China in the waning Qing period (1890s–1911), Yeh’s meticulously detailed research explains why the political novel, despite its “foreign origins,” was able to thrive in the twilight years of the Chinese empire. Her thought-provoking analysis of the powerful impact of political novels on China’s “Reform of Governance” movement deepens our understanding of the close relationship between literature and its social, economic, and political environments, and the latter’s influence on literature within a transnational and transcultural context.
The book is thematically composed of two parts. The first part contains two chapters that cover the broad background of the political novel, especially its development as a “world genre.” It was works by Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), who twice served as the British prime minister, and writers in Europe and North America that first formed the “core” of the genre with its distinctively political imprint in the mid-19th century. The dramatic increase in the spread of goods, ideas, and institutions across national borders facilitated the rapid migration of the political novel as a new form of literature to East Asia—first to Japan and then to China.
Part II, consisting of five chapters and titled “Bringing the World Home: The Political Novel in China,” elaborates the crucial role played by this literary genre in promoting political and socio-cultural progress in China as well as its successful adaptation in Chinese literature. In chapter 3, Yeh explores the meaning of the “Japanese model” and its influence on writers of political novels in China. Clearly, translation functioned as the key player in promoting the transcultural flow of the literary genre from Japan to China and helped build a bridge connecting Chinese writers with their counterparts in other countries. It was from the Japanese translation that most Chinese writers learned about Western political novels. Inspired by the Japanese model, Chinese reform-minded scholar-writers such as Kang Youwei (1858–1927) and Liang Qichao (1873–1929) first translated Western political novels from Japanese and then started creating their own brand of these works in Chinese. Even the Chinese term zhengzhi xiaoshuo (“political novel”) was directly “borrowed” from the Japanese kanji “seiji shosetsu” (56).
Chapter 4 examines the institutional environment that brought about the prosperity of the political novel in East Asia. The genre first settled and prospered in Japan after the Meiji Restoration (1868) as Japanese reformers sought to use political novels to “enlighten” the general public and to further Japan’s emergence as a modernized country in East Asia. Similarly, the new genre reached China at a time when Chinese intellectuals were in search of a new and popular literary form to advance their political agenda. The social and linguistic environments in China in the 1890s provided the genre with a “new public sphere” for its rapid growth. It in turn served as a peculiarly effective “tool” for Chinese writers to mobilize society at this critical moment to accomplish their mission of the “Reform of Governance.” As Yeh points out, it was the desire of Chinese reform-minded intellectuals to use political novels to win public support that led to the rising popularity in Chinese society of this Western form of writing.
Chapter 5 discusses the specific contributions made by political novels in advocating a wide range of Western-style political and socio-cultural reforms in China. The effort to improve the fate of women is a case in point. Having been influenced by the concept of female equality preached in Western political novels, Chinese reformers maintained that the fate of women reflected that of the nation—it was “a key marker of the degree to which a country lived up to the ‘standard of civilization’” (265). It was no accident that the notorious Chinese practice of foot binding was gradually abolished in the 1910s.
Chapter 6 examines the practice of casting Western-style heroic figures in Chinese political novels. Writers in China looked to the new literary form to introduce to the public Western leaders, from George Washington to Napoleon Bonaparte, along with scientists and police detectives, as icons of modernity and progress. The powerful influence of political novels in China thus also lies in the dramatic and exotic casting of fictional heroes, based on remodeling or adaptations of their counterparts in Western fiction. In Yeh’s words, a fervor among Chinese readers for fictional Western-style heroic figures in political novels, who represented new values and ideas, “brought the world home” (312).
The final chapter discusses the function of the “wedge chapter,” which was a distinctively popular feature in political novels in China. It was a literary device to attract readers, employed by traditional Chinese novelists at the beginning of their stories. Liang Qichao used the practice in writing his first political novel in 1902. This trope was followed by other Chinese writers, a clear demonstration that transcultural interactions were essential for the growth of this Western literary genre in China.
The Chinese Political Novel is a brilliant transcultural study and contextual analysis of the relationship between literature and society in a transnational environment. It expands the knowledge base, not only of scholars of Chinese literature, but also that of students interested in transcultural studies of literature throughout the world. By placing the development of political novels in China in a global context and employing a transnational and multilingual approach, Yeh answers a critical question: why and how the political novel became immensely popular in China and acted as an agent of change, bringing reforms to Chinese society. As she concludes, the transnational movement of political novels and their flourishing moment in China is more than the cultural spreading of the literary genre itself, but “the migration of ideas and social thought” (160), reflecting the influence of Western culture on the Chinese modernity movement. In this sense, the development of Chinese political novels was part of a global trend, and its prosperity in Wan Qing China can be viewed as “the beginning of the beginning of the modern Chinese novel” (315).
Xiao-huang Yin, Occidental College, Los Angeles, USA
and Rui Xue, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF JAPANESE TRADE POLICY. Critical Studies of the Asia Pacific Series. Edited by Aurelia George Mulgan and Masayoshi Honma. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. xi, 227 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$100.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-41455-7.
While Japan has often displayed a defensive stance on free trade, it has also been a major player in the postwar global economy. In late 2015, the Japanese government announced its intention to partake in the negotiations for the comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A protracted, polarized public debate preceded this decision, and the debate is likely to remain heated for years to come. Aurelia George Mulgan and Masayoshi Honma have edited a volume that allows the reader to understand Japan’s participation in the TPP in the context of the country’s postwar trade policy.
In the introductory chapter, George Mulgan lays out a simple analytical framework for the political economy of postwar Japanese trade policy, which is followed by a series of contributions that pick up certain aspects in greater detail. George Mulgan argues that Japan’s postwar trade policy has been fundamentally shaped by the clash of interests between export-oriented industries and the internationally uncompetitive and highly defensive agricultural sector. This conflict is reflected in the nature, the scope, and not least the partners of Japan’s trade agreements, which have been “tailor-made for business” (10), but (mostly) excluding agriculture. “Sectoral interests” further interact with domestic and external “state interests” in George Mulgan’s framework, including economic development in general, resource security, or maintaining the crucial relations with the US. Recently, a more active stance toward trade agreements has emerged as a political tool for Japan to counterbalance the regional competitor China. In chapter 2, Urata provides a more detailed analysis of the historical arch of Japan’s postwar trade policy, from initial protectionism via bilateral economic partnerships excluding agriculture (for example, Japan’s first FTA with Singapore) to larger regional agreements.
Both initial chapters raise the question of how to explain the peculiar influence of agricultural interests on trade policy, which is tackled extensively in two consecutive (and to a certain extent overlapping) chapters. Yamashita (chapter 3) argues that a web of vested interests in a small-scale, subsidy-dependent production structure dominated by part-time rice farming has long prevented political commitment to free trade, even though more comprehensive trade liberalization would arguably have benefitted not only the Japanese economy as a whole, but also the crisis-ridden agricultural sector itself. For Yamashita and, to a slightly lesser degree, Honma (chapter 4), the spider in this web of vested interests is the organization of agricultural cooperatives (Japan Agriculture, JA). Once founded to help overcome postwar starvation, the cooperative organization has deployed its vast membership base of small-scale (rice) farm households to grow into a major economic player, and to build the political clout to defend support and protection measures for inefficient part-timers. Especially the longstanding party in power—the LDP—has been known to rely on rural votes organized by the cooperative organization, eventually preventing the transition to internationally competitive forms of agricultural production. Both authors share a surprisingly positive outlook for Japanese agriculture, a “sector with potential and flexibility” (119). For them, certain structural reforms—such as removing the policy measures for an artificially high rice price—could foster the development of an internationally competitive, export-oriented farm sector, and the TPP might serve as the catalyst for such reforms. Yet, this would constitute nothing less than an existential threat for JA. Thus, for Yamashita the “heart of the problem is not the TPP versus Japanese agriculture—it is the TPP versus JA” (89).
As George Mulgan shows in her detailed analysis of the interest group activities (chapter 5), the cooperative organization indeed spearheads the opposition against the TPP. More interestingly, however, the chapter also points to the character of the TPP as a “new generation” international agreement that goes far beyond trade issues and thus also transcends the traditional “farming versus business” cleavage in Japan. Instead, the TPP has generated “unprecedented levels of national consultation and discourse” (123), in which civil rights organizations and consumer groups find themselves—if somewhat involuntarily—side by side with conservative agricultural interests. The comprehensive nature of the TPP also corresponds with its role amidst a changing regional power constellation. As Kimura argues in chapter 7, the TPP marks the end of a phase during which the economic integration between Japan and the rest of Asia had grown regardless of political and ideological differences. Around 2010, rising tensions with China led Japanese manufacturers to lose confidence in what Kimura calls the “happy separation of politics and economics” (176), while the US displayed a renewed interest in the East Asian region, for which he sees the TPP as a major indicator. Japan’s decision to join the agreement thus reflects its commitment to a “new type” of economic integration, which not least aims at defining domestic political standards. For Yoshimatsu (chapter 8), Japan’s trade policy is both an independent and a dependent variable for regional integration. He argues that the current Abe administration’s proactive stance on the TPP has already shown “significant influence on South Korean and Chinese economic diplomacy” (214), eventually paving the way for a comprehensive Asian-Pacific free trade area.
Overall, the most valuable contribution of this edited volume is to demonstrate how Japan’s TPP participation is embedded in the country’s postwar pattern of trade policy, while at the same time pointing out how the agreement may well represent a turning point for Japan and the Asia Pacific as a whole. The collection of articles—albeit at times repetitive—feeds into this broader narrative nicely. Yet, although the TPP is identified as an issue that “politicized and polarized” the Japanese public (123), the contributions in the volume rarely reflect this contestation, which is probably most obvious in the depiction of the TPP (and free trade in general) as the panacea for Japan’s crisis-ridden farm sector.
Hanno Jentzsch, German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo, Japan
JAPAN: The Precarious Future. Possible Futures Series. Edited by Frank Baldwin and Anne Allison. New York: New York University Press; Brooklyn: Social Science Research Council, 2015. viii, 352 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$35.00, paper. ISBN 978-1-4798-5145-4.
Japan: The Precarious Future explores the gloomier sides of contemporary Japan. It is part of a recent boom on precarity in Japan, a result of the almost complete omission, previously, of the topics of inequality, poverty, and diversity in discussions on Japan. In thirteen chapters, sociologists, political scientists, and economists discuss the state of Japanese society after Fukushima. Each chapter ends with a future outlook. This constitutes a unique and welcome addition to the existing literature on post-Fukushima Japan. The chapters discuss issues seen to constitute problems and focus on the difficulties of solving them. From the outset the book takes a skeptical perspective on Japan based on the fact that Japan is experiencing a demographic crisis coupled with a long period of economic stagnation. Population decline, social ageing, economic stagnation, and institutional gridlock have become the norm for Heisei-period Japan. This may have been overlooked in some quarters due to talk of a “lost decade” or a widespread nostalgia for the Japan of the past, manifest in views such as “Japan is back” or “resurrect Japan.” This book addresses the need to move beyond such rhetoric and nostalgia.
The volume starts with a brief introduction which declares the objective of the book to be that of exploring “an array of systematic and structural issues that determine a country’s well-being” (2). The first chapter discusses the demographic crisis and its consequences on social attitudes, norms, behaviours, and public policies. An immigration policy would be important to mitigate the crisis, but many believe that Japanese society would not accept more immigration. The following chapter explores precarity and hope, discussing the many socio-economic consequences of the burst bubble of the 1990s. Supporting those who are part of the precariat requires not only incomes which allow for a sustainable life but also new norms on what counts as a normal life in Japan today. The third chapter discusses the consequences of deregulating the labour market in the second half of the 1990s. Reform of the labour market is widely seen to be the main trigger for the growth of social disparities in Japan. The chapter discusses the many consequences this move has had, with a welcome focus on women and youth. The following chapter focuses on gender policies and their effects. This chapter stands out from other contributions in that concrete proposals are made for future gender policy. It stresses that gender policies have to be accompanied by a more general shift of resources from the elderly to the young (100). The next chapter discusses Japanese nuclear policy and convincingly delineates how veto players have been stalling the emergence of a new energy policy in Japan, a situation which remained unchanged after the dramatic events in Fukushima. The following chapter reports positive developments, such as in crisis management, which has seen much improvement since the Kobe earthquake of 1995. A particularly gloomy chapter follows, which analyzes Japan’s fiscal situation and public debt. The author underlines that the fiscal problems will require thorough reforms in a not too distant future. Chapter 8 discusses manufacturing in Japan, in particular the opinion that manufacturing cannot survive in Japan, a view that the chapter authors do not share and see as unnecessarily weakening the Japanese economy. This is followed by a discussion on research and technology in Japan. Japan is in decline here, too. Neither outstanding Japanese nor foreign researchers consider Japan an attractive country for conducting research. The remainder of the book shifts to a political science perspective, discussing Japan’s security policy (chapter 10), strategic leadership in Asia (chapter 11), Japan’s political leadership (chapter 12), and an analysis of recent debates and proposals about constitutional reform (chapter 13).
The book has two major strengths. To start with, it discusses the future of Japan by including perspectives usually not prominently considered (such as manufacturing, research, and crisis management), and, second, all chapters have been written by leading scholars in these fields. The volume allows for studying contemporary Japan from a number of perspectives, and it does so with detailed knowledge and with much authority. The complex crisis of the Japanese state, civil society, and economy that the Fukushima crisis so unsparingly exposed requires substantial institutional reform. This is not happening, though. All authors project that Japan will continue to muddle through for some more years until real institutional reforms will become inevitable.
Reading through the entire book feels like reading through a newspaper from the first to the last page. It creates the idea of a nation living through a shared present. Stressing the simultaneity of “systematic and structural issues that determine a country’s well-being” (2) assumes that the people populating Japan are all equally affected. The first four chapters aside, it gives rise to a sense that these issues characterize all lives, attitudes, and behaviours, and determine what is typical and what is to be expected in Japan henceforth. This stance does not necessarily facilitate the imagination of a future Japan. Predictions could have been facilitated by taking the diversity of opinions, values, practices, and institutional change from the grassroots level purposefully into consideration. Urban and rural differences in perspective are absent, so is that of Okinawa, from new media, etc. The point of view presented is largely that of powerful political, economic, and cultural elites, who rather unsurprisingly are not major change agents.
Japan: The Precarious Future is a strong multi-perspective snapshot of Japan four years after Fukushima. It is the best book available on this topic for readers not specialized in the study of Japan. Specialists of Japanese studies will find individual chapters a very welcome and useful sources of information for extending their own knowledge and for taking a more comprehensive view on where Japan stands today, and how it will fare in the near future.
Patrick Heinrich, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, Italy
MAKING WE THE PEOPLE: Democratic Constitutional Founding in Postwar Japan and South Korea. Comparative Constitutional Law and Policy. By Chaihark Hahm and Sung Ho Kim. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. xii, 316 pp. US$110.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-01882-2.
To what extent do an identifiable and sovereign People “establish and ordain” democratic constitutions? In Making We the People, Hahm and Kim debunk three common assumptions about popular sovereignty through a comparison of constitutional founding in Japan and South Korea. They advocate jettisoning the ideal of “an all-powerful and ever-living people” (58) who craft a constitution without being influenced by external forces or the past. Instead, they argue that the very identity of “We the People” is formed by constitution making, which is always a process situated in a particular time and place.
Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are apt cases with which to develop this theory. Both countries’ constitutional founding in the 1940s involved external influences, fraught histories and institutions, and significant transformations of the people’s relationship to the state. Despite the well-known parallels and interconnections between these processes in Japan and Korea, they have not been subject to as systematic a comparison as this book offers. Herein lies the primary merit of this book. Things taken for granted in one context come into sharper relief through comparison. Although Making We the People recaps an article—which is not cited in the book—that Hahm and Kim published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law in 2010 (“To Make ‘We the People’: Constitutional Founding in Postwar Japan and South Korea,” 8, no. 4: 800–848), their extensive analysis is better suited to book-length treatment.
The book is logically structured and eloquent. In chapter 1, Hahm and Kim weave together prior scholars’ critiques of the ideal of popular sovereignty to elaborate a theory about the mutually constitutive relationship between a body politic and its constitution. Somewhat Western-centric, chapter 1 would have benefitted from the incorporation of Japanese and Korean scholarship on questions of popular sovereignty and self-determination. Although their theory is relevant outside East Asia, it also illuminates themes that reverberate through contemporary debates in Japan and Korea about constitutional revision, the separation of powers, freedom of expression, and the expansion of the electorate. The authors acknowledge this briefly (1–3, 280), but more explicit engagement with current debates would have widened the book’s appeal.
Making We the People joins landmark works like Richard Samuels’ Machiavelli’s Children (Cornell University Press, 2003) in using carefully paired comparisons to generate theoretical insights. More than just the institutional structures and rights enumerated in two constitutions, the processes of constitutional founding are Hahm and Kim’s focus as they scrutinize the origins and initial implementation of key provisions in the Japanese and Korean constitutions. Each empirical chapter highlights one of the three common assumptions about popular sovereignty, and the chapters build on each other.
Chapter 2 analyzes the extent to which external influences (i.e., US occupiers, nascent competition with the communists, international society) shaped the war-renouncing Article 9 in Japan’s constitution and the quasi-socialist economic provisions in the ROK constitution. It also shows how emerging Cold War exigencies twisted these portions of both constitutions. Yet their evidence for “Japanese people’s embrace of peace” (96) despite reinterpretation of Article 9 and Korean people’s embrace of socioeconomic equality as central to their constitutional identity is thin.
Chapter 3 examines how Japanese and Korean actors creatively used, embellished, or rejected aspects of the past to legitimate actions. It compares how Japan’s emperor was reinvented as a symbol and how the ROK invented a democratic republican pedigree while seeking to punish collaborators (Articles 1 and 101). In line with other scholars, they identify continuities across the 1945 line of defeat/liberation and agents’ bricolage with fragments of the past.
The third and final empirical chapter integrates their points about the importance of existing institutions, the recent past, and external forces in analyzing the mutual constitution of a body politic and its constitution. It traces multiple redefinitions of Japanese and Korean peoplehood through the lens of the household registries (a prewar institution that rendered people “legible” to the state) and election and nationality laws.
The empirical chapters are well researched and the narrative rich, but some weaknesses remain. First, the fascinating discussion of Japanese and US occupation authorities’ debates over jinmin vs. kokumin (232–239) suffers from the absence of an analogous analysis of Korean debates over what to call the people. In their 2010 article, Hahm and Kim proffer such an analysis (842–847), but not in the book. Condensing the book’s section on prewar household registries (199–223) would have given the authors space to unpack the implications of adopting the kokumin/kukmin term for the evolving boundaries of each country’s body politic and ongoing debates about, for example, multicultural families, foreigners’ voting rights, and (in Japan) married women’s surnames. Without such discussion, the authors risk leaving readers with the impression that each people’s identity was constituted in stone with these founding constitutions.
Moreover, Hahm and Kim don’t address the fact that the Korean constitution has been repeatedly amended or revised while Japan’s constitution is the oldest unamended one in the world. While this reality doesn’t invalidate the comparison, it certainly begs questions, especially since the authors warn against analyzing constitutions as frozen in time or apart from their context. The authors’ analysis of constitutional amendment in Korea and reinterpretation in Japan in the 1950s is strong, but they verge on equating amendment or revision with reinterpretation (57n122, or 285). Arguably, these processes’ differences signal distinctions in how each polity relates to its constitution that may help explain the phenomenon in Korean authoritarianism of “rule by law.” The authors could have effectively addressed these differences in the introduction rather than belatedly dismissing it as beyond the book’s scope (280–281). Considering current Japanese debates about revising Articles 9 and 96 and Korean debates about authoritarian creep, which are mentioned in opening anecdotes, this omission seems like a missed opportunity.
Nevertheless, Hahm and Kim persuasively argue that we can only discover who “We the People” named in a constitution are by adopting a broader spatial and temporal lens (61) that considers external influences, creative uses of the past, and shifting definitions of peoplehood. Making We the People thus contributes significantly to comparative constitutional studies, East Asian studies, and scholarship on nation building and democratic theory.
Celeste L. Arrington, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
THE EVOLUTION OF THE US-JAPAN ALLIANCE: The Eagle and the Chrysanthemum. Chandos Asian Studies Series. By Matteo Dian. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2014. xxviii, 247 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$141.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-84334-766-8.
At the core of Matteo Dian’s The Evolution of the US-Japan Alliance is a question central to the study of alliance management. How do alliances evolve over time, especially those where there is an asymmetry of power? Dian’s work traces the evolution of the US-Japan alliance, breaking the partnership into four stages. These might be described as a creation phase lasting from 1960 until 1969 (27–67), a détente phase from 1969 until 1978 (69–106), a renewal phase from 1997 until 2008 (107–149), and a pivot phase from 2009 until 2013 (151–197). The book is located within alliance management theory and focuses especially on which factors shape the “internal cohesion” (7) of alliances as they develop. By making use of such concepts as balance-of-threat, security dilemma, and second-image constructivism, the book draws out several key factors to explain different possible alliance outcomes: their origin, evolution, and “possible demise” (1). These factors include the level of external threat, shared threat perceptions, interests and commitments, and security identity limits.
The main chapters of The Evolution of the US-Japan Alliance, which cover these four stages of the US-Japan relationship, offer readers a broad study of the alliance’s progress from the 1960 revision of the original security treaty through to the current period of American “pivot” and Japanese security “normalization.” The book covers some of the key historical developments in the alliance’s management, such as Japan’s shifting approach to the alliance during the Vietnam War (51–54) and Japan’s strategic reorientation following the Nixon shocks and the subsequent deepening of the alliance during the late 1970s (80–89). More contemporaneously, it provides a detailed examination of vital current issues reshaping the alliance, including ballistic missile defense cooperation (133–137) and Japan’s attempts to normalize its security role since 2009 (171–183).
If the book’s aim was to fully trace the alliance’s evolution from its origin to today as a study of internal cohesion, some of the choices over which periods of evolution to exclude might seem contentious. Beginning the alliance story in 1960, rather than 1951, is justified on the basis that the “previous treaty did not represent an actual alliance treaty” (22), that the treaty was uneven, and that it did not oblige the US to defend Japan. Yet, in international relations theory, the concept of alliance is more contested, and arguably broader, than this approach would suggest. Similarly, excluding this period because the relationship was uneven appears at odds with the book’s focus on asymmetry. Further, the US-Japan alliance was not alone in terms of the ambiguities of the “obligation” involved: this was also characteristic of America’s alliance with Australia and New Zealand, signed at the same time.
Similar exclusions later in the book are also puzzling. By not covering the 1980s, the book misses some crucial alliance developments and important shifts in external threats, threat perceptions, and interests. Examples include the 1981 agreement for Japan to play a greater role in protecting sea lanes, as well as the two sides’ subsequent close diplomatic cooperation over the Soviet Union’s ballistic missile threat. Likewise, the choice of 1997 as the beginning of the fourth chapter would appear to exclude some major external changes to the alliance prior to this date, such as the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan Strait crises, although these are in fact discussed. Important intra-alliance controversies from the mid-1990s relating to the alliance’s changing commitments, interests, and identities, such as over America’s military presence in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, also receive little attention.
The use of a single case study to make an argument on the evolution and internal cohesion of alliances generally is ambitious. Identifying factors that could contribute to the demise of alliances, for instance, is impossible here, given that the US-Japan partnership is still strong after sixty-five years. The book also sets itself a difficult task of establishing causal relationships between multiple (perhaps too many) independent and dependent variables or “multi-dimensional intra-allied interactions” (208). Disentangling these becomes an almost overwhelming task for the conclusion. Norms “cannot be excluded” (201), while similar preferences produce different “behaviours” in different situations. Shared threat perceptions cannot explain the evolution of alliances—the book is highly critical of Stephen Walt’s balance-of-threat theory. Commitment plays a crucial role by creating in the junior ally a “freedom of irresponsibility” (204), but this seems less applicable to the post-Cold War period.
The book’s central conclusion focuses on a mixture of these variables under the heading of the “sharing/control dilemma and the paradox of self-reliance” (208). Put simply, the alliance has evolved as the US has pressured Japan to take up a greater burden, creating a dilemma for the US as it struggles to accept ceding influence. For Japan, this greater role has made it more susceptible to US demands but also more able to resist US pressure. If these pressures are in fact crucial, internal cohesion in the US-Japan partnership may become more difficult in the future as the alliance becomes less asymmetrical. Alternatively, both sides may simply adapt as the alliance becomes more equitable.
Overall, The Evolution of the US-Japan Alliance provides an in-depth examination of some of the most significant issues of the US-Japan alliance since the two nations revised their Mutual Security Treaty more than fifty years ago. The final text would have benefitted from greater copyediting scrutiny from the publisher, as occasional misspellings (e.g., “Yunichiro” Koizumi, xxviii) and inconsistencies can be distracting. Nonetheless, the book should be of interest to students and scholars working both on the important US-Japan alliance and on alliances in general.
H.D.P. Envall, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Arudou’s book is a timely and important contribution to social and scholarly debates about racial discrimination in Japan. It comes on the heels of both the Japanese government’s 2014 official claim that an anti-racial discrimination law is not necessary (third combined report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination [CERD]), and recent developments in Japan that have politicized the issues of dual nationality and hate speech, and even the Miss Universe Japan pageant.
Arudou draws on a quarter-century of research involving personal interviews, action research, and cataloguing, to highlight micro-level observations that illuminate the broader macro-level structural workings of the racialized dimensions of what it means to be “Japanese” in Japan. The contribution of this book is not only in its richness of information, but also in Arudou’s focus on a paradoxical blind spot in both the quotidian status quo understandings of and academic discourses on racialized social dynamics in Japan: the invisibility of visible minorities. Borrowing from Critical Race Theory (CRT), and applying its analytical paradigms present in Whiteness Studies to the case of Japan, Arudou argues that “the same dynamics can be seen in the Japanese example, by substituting ‘White’ with ‘Japanese’” (322–323). He introduces the concept of embedded racism to describe the deeply internalized understandings of “Japaneseness” that structurally permeate the psyche and sociolegal elements of Japanese society, resulting in systemic discriminatory treatments of individuals based on visible differences.
Instead of defining the Self/Other binary in oft-conceptualized terms of citizenship, he uses an original Wajin/non-Wajin heuristic. By original Wajin, he refers to visually identifiable “Japanese” who are members of Japan’s dominant and privileged majority, and for non-Wajin he refers to both invisible (e.g., ethnic minorities who can pass as “Japanese”) and visible (Gaijin, foreigners and naturalized Japanese citizens who do not “look Japanese”) minorities who are not members of Japan’s dominant and privileged majority. He uses this heuristic to parse out the nuanced sociolegal-structural logics that differentiate between not only citizens and non-citizens, but also non-citizens who can phenotypically pass as “Japanese” and citizens who cannot, in which the former is often given preferential sociolegal treatment, and the latter is often subject to overt racial discrimination.
More specifically, the book opens with a theoretical primer on race and the universal processes of racialization and nation-state formation. The author then critiques how studies on Japan often suffer from flawed conceptualizations of foreignness, viewing it as a function of either ethnic differences within the Asian-phenotype community or legal membership status, thereby overlooking overt discrimination against visible minorities that are racial in nature.
The first chapter contextualizes racial discrimination in Japan and explicates Arudou’s usage of the concept of visible minority and his theory of embedded racism in the context of Japan. The second chapter then addresses the historical roots of extant racialized understandings of “Japaneseness” by tracing national self-image narratives that Arudou argues undergird the dynamics of present-day treatments of foreigners in Japan. The next chapter surveys approximately 470 cases of establishments that have engaged in racialized refusals of entry and services and three civil court lawsuits, to demonstrate that “Japaneseness” is determined by racialized paradigms such as physical appearances (37–38).
In chapter 4, Arudou explains how Japanese nationality laws, family and resident registries, and policing regulations/practices constitute the legal underpinnings of the racialized “Japanese” identity, and asserts that Japan’s legal definition of a “Japanese citizen” is closely intertwined with “Japanese bloodlines” (11). The following chapter shifts the focus to how “Japaneseness” is enforced through exclusionary education laws, visa (residence status) regimes, and racial profiling in security policing. This chapter is supplemented with chapter 6, which highlights differential judicial treatments of those who are seen as “Japanese,” and those who are not. Chapter 7 details how media representations of “foreigners” and “Japanese” as well as the criminalization of “foreigners” popularize the racialized narratives of “Japaneseness” established by the processes discussed in chapters 4 to 6.
Chapter 8 shifts gears as Arudou turns his attention to domestic civil society and international criticisms of Japan’s embedded racism, and discusses the government’s passive reactions. Arudou traces the correspondence between the government and the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(CERD) before and during its first two CERD report reviews in 2001 and 2010 (but not the most recent CERD review in 2014). Chapter 9 then takes two binaries that can be used to understand how sociolegal distinctions of “Japaneseness” are often made—by nationality (citizen/non-citizen) and by visual identification (Wajin/Gaijin)—and superimposes them to form a heuristic matrix of eleven categories of “Japanese” and “foreigner.” The author thus drives his point across that social privilege and power in Japan are drawn along lines that straddle conceptual understandings of and assumptions about both legal and phenotypical memberships. The book concludes with a final chapter on the implications of embedded racism for Japan’s future as an ageing society, and argues that Japan’s demographic predicament could be mitigated if Japan can begin eliminating its racism to create a more inclusive society for all.
The book does not touch on the voices and local/community advocacy initiatives among and on behalf of visible minorities, and stops short of systematically testing how the proposed heuristic matrix and its combinations of characteristics empirically lead to differential treatment. However, it does cover a lot of ground, and would be of interest to a wide audience, from the casual reader interested in learning about the racial dynamics in Japan, to researchers with area studies interests in Japan and/or substantive field interests in international migration, ethnic and race studies, citizenship and human rights, and advocacy politics at both the domestic and international levels. Arudou argues that Japan’s passive stance to addressing racial discrimination is “the canary in the coal mine” regarding its openness to “outsiders” (xxiii), and by starting this conversation, he addresses “the elephant in the room” that needs to be reckoned with for Japan to navigate its way through its impending demographic challenges.
Ralph Ittonen Hosoki, University of California, Irvine, USA
ALLEGORIES OF TIME AND SPACE: Japanese Identity in Photography and Architecture. By Jonathan M. Reynolds. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. xxix, 316 pp.,  pp. of plates (Illustrations.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3924-6.
This volume occupies an unusual niche in academic publishing, somewhere between coffee-table book and scholarly monograph. Rather than choose a single artist or medium to analyze, sketching in the supporting details around it, Reynolds deftly weaves together strands of art history, intellectual history, and visual culture. Each chapter narrates a distinct “allegory” constructed in response to the unique anxieties of its particular historical moment. This rich mixture contributes to a deeper understanding of how photography and architecture participated in (rather than merely illustrated) the construction of Japanese identity. Over its five chapters, Reynolds’ narrative traces a chronological progression of Japanese identity discourse from just prior to WWII to approximately 1990. Although each chapter could easily stand alone as a self-contained analysis of how the artist embodies a particular moment of identity construction, the broader arc of the five pieces together makes a more ambitious comment on the process of interplay between self and other, center and periphery, tradition and modernity in the making of contemporary Japanese selves.
Reynolds lays out his plan in the introduction, where he limits his ambit to the five different “case studies” which form the focus of each of the chapters. He takes as the starting point the moment of “historical free-fall” following WWII, when Japan’s artists and intellectuals sought new bases for Japanese identity in the relationship between past and present, between tradition and modernity. This moment foregrounds the first chapter, “Hamaya Hiroshi’s ‘Return to Japan,’ Documenting the Folk in Snow Country.” Hamaya’s disillusionment with the wartime efforts of the Japanese military to utilize his photography as a mode of imperialist discourse drove him from urban Tokyo to the rural periphery of the “Snow Country.” There he combined his experience in journalistic photography with a newfound interest in ethnography to document one of Japan’s disappearing rural cultures, finding an “ur-Japan” untainted by the more recent modern-Western-imperialist past. His dramatic black-and-white images of Snow Country people worked to re-enchant a culture at Japan’s periphery, finding in it an indigenous source of authentic Japaneseness.
In chapter two, “Okamoto Taro and the Search for Prehistoric Modernism,” the search for authentic Japaneseness shifts from folk culture to ancient objects: Jomon and Yayoi ceramics. In contrast to Hamaya’s search for cultural authenticity at the periphery, Taro’s dissatisfaction with Japan’s modern present drove his search for a new aesthetic into Japan’s ancient, pre-imperial past. Informed by his art training and interactions with Primitivists in 1930s Europe, Taro contrasted the bold ceramic forms of the hunter-gatherer Jomon (5000 BCE) peoples with the “aristocratic” and refined ones of early wet-rice cultivators of the Yayoi period (800 BCE), finding in them an “uncanny hyper-Japaneseness.” The Jomon “prehistoric modernism” resisted the elite aesthetic he traced to the Yayoi, which was to him implicated in Japan’s imperialist pathway to war. To Taro, this dynamism—which aligned with the precocious modernism of Europe’s recently discovered Lascaux Cave paintings—represented an authentic way forward for modern Japanese artists.
The Jomon-Yayoi thread continues in chapter three, “Ise Shrine and a Modernist Construction of Japanese Identity,” provides the first explicit linkage in the book thus far between architecture and photography in its analysis of Ise’s postwar rehabilitation as a symbol of Japaneseness. In the 1950s and 1960s, a new generation of Japanese artists and historians re-characterized Ise’s architectural aesthetic as a fusion of “dynamic, plebian” Jomon and “passive, aristocratic” Yayoi elements, a “prototype” of Japan’s precociously modern style. In tandem with Watanabe Yoshio’s photographs, this narrative of rehabilitated “traditional” style addressed a new, global audience for Japanese art and design, including both western occupation forces within Japan as well as consumers of international art and exhibitions around the world.
Occupiers and the international audience form a critical element of chapter four, “Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained: Tomatsu Shomei’s Photographic Engagement with Okinawa.” At once “…a repository of tradition and…a site of decay and of foreign exploitation” (143), Okinawa—another geographically peripheral locale—became emblematic of America’s military presence in Japan in the 1950s-60s. Tomatsu’s “Chewing Gum and Chocolate” series (1960) and Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa (1969) in particular reflected the oppressive and exploitive aspects of occupation military bases, and their deleterious effects upon local communities. Tomatsu’s second Okinawan effort, Pencil of the Sun (1975), reveals a later softening of this view, utilizing saturated color and natural landscapes to depict Okinawa as a “paradise regained” where an authentically Japanese experience of time and landscape could be recovered.
The search for identity takes another geographic turn in chapter five, “Young Female Nomads of Tokyo,” which aligns less clearly with the trajectory traced by prior chapters. Here the search for contemporary urban identity in 1970s-80s Tokyo is effectively off-shored, as urban Japanese struggled to define identity in an era of global cosmopolitan consumption. During this era popular museum exhibitions and television miniseries romanticized the Silk Road as a conduit of free movement and productive cultural exchange, and designers, advertisers, and cultural critics tapped into Deleuze and Guattari’s views of the nomad as liberated by capitalism from the constraints of the state. Advertising utilized images of Berber and Masai tribal women to encourage female consumers to “find their roots” as they traversed the “urban desert” of Tokyo. With the bursting of Japan’s economic bubble in 1990, however, the fantasy of unlimited mobility came crashing down.
Photographic images play a major role here, providing a strong thread of visual narrative and underlining the visual expression of the discourses under examination in Reynolds’ text. While the text cannot be read as a comprehensive account of any one of the media or intellectual discourses it touches upon, it makes a unique argument about the interrelatedness of visual and spatial explorations of cultural identity in the decades following Japan’s devastating defeat in WWII. As such, this text provides readers with an ambitious examination of the interwoven threads of visual, architectural, photographic, and intellectual history. It makes a valuable contribution to the field, and a must for scholars and students of Japan’s visual culture and history.
Leslie A. Woodhouse, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, USA
ART, LITERATURE, AND THE JAPANESE AMERICAN INTERNMENT: On John Okada’s No-No Boy. American Culture (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), Bd. 12. By Thomas Girst. New York: Peter Lang, 2015. 261 pp. (Figures.) US$64.95, cloth. ISBN 978-3-631-65937-3.
Before approaching Thomas Girst’s erudite study of Art, Literature, and the Japanese American Internment, one should read John Okada’s No-No Boy (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2014 ed. [originally published in 1957]). No-No Boy is an eminently readable novel about the inner turmoil and self-doubt of a young, sensitive Japanese American war resister who returns home to Seattle after his release from prison following the Second World War (see book review of an earlier edition by Gordon Hirobayashi, Pacific Affairs 53, no. 1 [Spring 1980]: 176–177). Okada in No-No Boy uses fiction to reveal the diversity of opinion within the Japanese American community about the war, internment, military service, citizenship, and the United States. In his study, Thomas Girst analyzes the broad significance of Okada’s novel to the developing canon of Asian American literature as well as No-No Boy’s place within a wider world literature. Focusing on the cultural trajectory of Japanese American internment, both during and after the World War II, Girst also investigates how art, prose, and poetry emerged despite the restraints of manipulation, propaganda, and censorship.
Art, Literature and the Japanese American Internment begins with an introduction: “Japanese American Internment and the Holocaust.” One of the questions that Girst raises is “how scholarship on the arts and the Holocaust can be applied or be of use while examining artistic forms of expression revolving around the Japanese American internment camp experience” (14). He argues that artists caught in the unspeakable tragedy of the German concentration camps in the World War II were still able to demonstrate the incredible ability of people to retain their humanity. It was this basic approach, derived from the horrors of Nazi Germany, which provided guidance for Girst’s analysis of the Japanese American internment experience.
Chapter 1 is the longest, fifty-eight pages, dealing with “Artistic Expression and Internment,” and it is divided into four subsections, two of which deal with two specific artists, Isamu Noguchi and Miné Okubo, while the other two investigate “camp photography” and “prose and poetry.” Girst points out that “[a]rt in the camps was about creating harmony and aesthetic reprieve from the harsh camp environment” (36). He stresses that art “could also become a retainer for remembrance—constructed as private and individual or collective and cultural” (42). Ruth Ozeki, in her foreword to the 2014 edition of No-No Boy, quotes Okada as writing that “only in fiction can the hopes and fears and joys and sorrows of people be adequately recorded” (No-No Boy 2014 edition, Ozeki foreword, xvii).
Chapter 2 investigates “No–No Boys, Draft Resisters, and the Origins of Asian American Studies.” This provides helpful information concerning the history of No-No Boys and the resistance to the draft among Japanese American internees. It also looks at the postwar history of the struggle to establish Asian American studies at American universities. Girst contends that “it is only with this background in mind that the discovery, early reception and institutionalization of Okada’s No-No Boy can be fully comprehended” (113).
Chapter 3 looks at “John Okada, Writer and World War II Veteran.” Here, Girst provides biographical details of Okada’s life. While Okada was interned for a short time in 1942 in Minidoka camp in Idaho, he did (in sharp contrast to the protagonist in his novel) volunteer for the armed forces and saw service with the United States Air Force in the Pacific theatre and later as an interpreter for a few months with the US Occupation Forces in Japan. Returning to Seattle in 1946, he went to university, graduating in English and dramatic writing from University of Washington, receiving an MA in teaching English from Columbia University, and finally a second BA in library science from Washington University. Married with children, Okada made his living in the business world. Although he wrote a second book, it was never published and the manuscript was lost amidst the changes in family fortunes resulting from his sudden death in 1971 at the early age of forty-seven.
Chapter 4 analyzes “Reading No-No Boy as World Literature.” Girst’s close reading of No-No Boy reveals that Okada’s educational background allowed him to use a wide spectrum of European literary techniques in creating a complex multi-layered novel. Girst also draws heavily on the aesthetic values espoused by the Italian writer, Italo Calvino, and the views of Milan Kundera in regards to world literature to prove definitively that Okada’s book transcends the nationalistic and belongs to the realm of Weltliteratur.
Chapter 5 draws attention to the “Publication History, Reception and Teaching of John Okada’s No-No Boy.” Girst makes it clear that No-No Boy the book was well received when it first came out, but it just was not a commercial success. It took the emergence of Asian American studies in the years after Okada’s death before the book was widely read and appreciated. Girst follows the text with a useful selection of images that includes examples of official photographs, drawings, and cartoons that depict the Japanese American internment experience. Other photographs are related to John Okada’s life.
In his concluding chapter, Thomas Girst advocates the teaching of Asian American studies in Germany because he hopes “German thought and understanding of a future speedily headed toward a heterogeneous, globe-spanning and fragmented culture could greatly benefit and gradually begin to thrive” (210). In that respect, Art, Literature, and the Japanese American Internment provides a valuable teaching tool in a university course in Asian American studies. For the general reader, Girst has written a thoughtful and informative study which helps to illuminate the complexity of No-No Boy as a novel as well as the diversity of the Japanese American response to internment.
Hamish Ion, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Canada
Mia Consalvo’s Atari to Zelda: Japan’s Video Games in Global Contexts is a welcome examination of how Japanese games reach audiences in the United States, and the choices and challenges game developers and distributors face in seeking to make that translation a successful one. The strength of the book lies in the later chapters focusing on specific strategies game studios and localization companies in Japan and North America use to navigate the challenge of shaping Japanese games for American players.
Before delving further, a warning: the title of the book is misleading. The first paragraph opens with a vignette of the author playing Space Invaders on an Atari 2600 as a child, but quickly moves on to other topics and never returns to Atari. In a footnote Consalvo also admits both the book and her experience with video games largely skips over the platformer era, when the Zelda franchise was at its height. Instead, almost all of the text is dedicated to discussing games and studio activities of much more recent vintage. Similarly, the “global contexts” promised by the subtitle turn out to be almost entirely from the United States.
While the title was most likely a marketing decision, a similar tension between the core of the text and its outward packaging surfaces here and there throughout the book. Consalvo acknowledges her original research agenda was aimed more at figuring out what is “Japanese” about Japanese video games. Thankfully, the author seems to have noticed along the way how easily that approach can slip into forms of cultural essentialism, particularly as she is reliant on English-language sources to understand the Japanese gaming industry. The finished book makes a valiant effort to ward off this danger, engaging up front with the legacy of Japonisme and techno-orientalism and seeking to recognize the varying degrees of “corporate cosmopolitanism” found within any given studio. Nonetheless, shades of this original impulse to pin down cultural difference occasionally slip through, usually in asides about what makes a particular game “distinctly Japanese” (54). The text occasionally feels like two different books stitched together: an earlier one that simply wanted to explore the many ways Japanese games have been appealing for US audiences, and a later one repackaging this initial impulse with a theoretical framework more palatable to current academic discourse on globalization and transnational media. The book has much of interest to say on both of these fronts, but the tension between the two is never quite resolved.
In building her theoretical framework, Consalvo draws extensively from John Urry’s work on media cosmopolitanism and from anthropological studies by Ian Condry and others on the transnational circulation of anime and its North American fan cultures. She rightfully notes how digital gaming has been curiously marginal in the latter discussions, despite the centrality of video games to the Japanese “media mix” and the circulation of its products abroad.
Addressing a game studies readership, the book makes a strong case for expanding the field to fully embrace the many different types of game studios and gaming experiences now on offer, a move Consalvo glosses as going “from the game industry to many game industries” (2). She attends to the diverse scales at which the video game industries now operate, from high-profile triple-A releases produced by large teams at well-known studios to small independent games originally sold or given away only at the Tokyo Comic Market. On the American side, she similarly describes a wide range of participants working to bring Japanese games to English-speaking audiences, from well-established North American companies working to translate or even produce international versions of games for Japanese studios, to a two-person localization start-up focusing on independent JRPGs, to ROM hackers putting in long hours to produce downloadable English-language versions of Japanese console games.
Along the way Consalvo highlights some noteworthy historical transformations in the culture of game localization. While the earlier community of volunteer ROM hackers has subsided, new opportunities for such “culture brokers” have emerged in an age of online indie game markets and marketing. Chapter 5, for example, tells the story of a two-person US-based localization start-up, Carpe Fulgur, which unexpectedly sold over 300,000 copies of their first localization project thanks to strategic online exposure. This more freelance approach makes for a compelling contrast with the lumbering long-term corporate strategies deployed by Square Enix in trying to sustain a global market for long-running series like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, the focus of chapter 4.
Two chapters at the end of the book return to the question of why exactly certain Japanese games have found favour with international audiences. Sometimes the reasons appear simply fortuitous: the convergence of design and consumer electronics know-how with console gaming in the 1980s, for example, or how the more colourful, anime-engaged style of some Japanese games works to distinguish them from the dominant trend towards photorealism in North American studios. Sometimes the cultural appeal is more intentional, with Japanese studios hiring localization teams to reconfigure or even remake a title, or with game developers outside of Japan influenced by particular Japanese series in their work on a game’s aesthetics or characterization. In the end, the book makes a convincing case that both these complex lines of influence and the diversifying paths to participation in a cosmopolitan video game culture are what has given rise to the contemporary moment, where the pertinent question isn’t simply what country a game is from, or what language it was originally in, but what corner of an ever-expanding game universe it seeks to stake out.
Paul Roquet, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA
JAPANESE SOCIETY AND THE POLITICS OF THE NORTH KOREAN THREAT. Japan and Global Society. By Seung Hyok Lee. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016. x, 182 pp. US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-4426-3034-5.
On September 9, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea carried out its largest nuclear test to date. This marks the second test this year, and the fifth in total since the first detonation ten years ago. The test indicates the country is steadily moving toward building a functional warhead, while its neighbours and the United States are left unable to find any viable measures to stop it. Seung Hyok Lee’s Japanese Society and the Politics of the North Korean Threat sheds light on the unique role this extremely secluded and increasingly troublesome country has played in Japanese domestic politics since the late 1990s.
The book diligently chronicles a series of events that took place between the two countries, starting from North Korea’s first ballistic missile test in 1998 to Japan’s eventual decision to impose, unilaterally, major economic sanctions against Pyongyang in 2006. Through its fluid narrative, readers will learn some interesting episodes little known outside Japan, including the 2001 arrest (and immediate deportation) by Japanese authorities of Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who entered Japan with a forged Dominican Republic passport, to presumably visit Tokyo Disneyland. And more significantly, the book provides us with valuable details about decision-making processes, especially interactions between various political actors and the growing significance of public opinion in these processes, through which Japan’s new approaches and accompanied policy actions vis-à-vis North Korea were determined.
The book’s central focus is Tokyo’s decision in 2006 to impose the first-ever unilateral economic sanctions against North Korea, which is characterized in the book as a dramatic shift from its previously constrained attitude. It argues that this policy shift was “a direct consequence of a deeper shift in societal discourse in Japan” about its relations with North Korea; it was, therefore, not a strategic response (widely suggested by observers and commentators) to North Korea’s missile launch and nuclear tests that took place before Tokyo’s sanctions. The deeper shift in the security discourse was brought about primarily by the shocking revelation, in 2002, of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens, which led the Japanese public to consciously recognize the security vulnerability of their country and to reevaluate its historical relations with North Korea. It was, therefore, the increasingly hardened public opinion against North Korea, for which Japanese mass media, as well as some politicians and activists, functioned as a megaphone and echo chamber, that crucially shaped Japanese policy makers’ preference for unilateral economic sanctions in considering their policy options toward North Korea.
The above argument is, overall, well articulated and presented in a careful manner. The introductory discussion provides a useful definition of key concepts, such as public opinion and societal discourse, and specifies the study’s methodological approach to identify and observe these abstract, and often fuzzy, concepts in actual analysis. The detailed narrative on Japan-North Korea relations and Japanese domestic politics, between 1998 and 2006, which spreads over four chapters, consciously delineates the evolution of Japanese public opinion—and larger societal discourse—toward North Korea, as well as the factors behind that evolution. Although the theoretical discussion in support of its argument is rather limited (for those in the field of international relations, and its subfield of foreign policy analysis), the book nonetheless presents an original perspective about how, and under what conditions, public opinion and discourse shape a state foreign policy, which could be developed further in a full-fledged hypothesis and be tested comparatively by multiple cases.
To be sure, the book is by no means free from some common challenges associated with this type of interpretative historical analysis. When empirically discussing the presumed impact of public opinion on the thinking of a policy maker, for instance, the author’s interpretative inference often comes into play. This is especially the case with former Prime Minister Koizumi: Given that Koizumi is featured in the book as most consequential in terms of making the final call in the selected cases on decision making, the use of actual comments by Koizumi in interviews or his writings, which would have demonstrated the impact of public opinion on his decision making, would have crucially strengthened the book’s argument. Furthermore, the recent revelations by Tōru Hasuike, a brother of one of the former abductees, on the Japanese government’s surprise decision to refuse to repatriate the five abductees temporarily visiting Japan in the fall of 2002, is not consulted in the analysis. The publication timing of Hasuike’s book—December 2015—makes this omission inevitable, but this suggests that, with further new information likely becoming available in the future, the book’s argument and analysis are, by no means, conclusive.
This book is the first major study published in English that exclusively focuses on Japan’s foreign policy formulation toward North Korea between 1998 and 2006—the book’s important contribution to the field of Japanese studies. The author attributes the absence of prior works of this kind to a common tendency among Japan specialists to treat the issue of North Korea as “one” case among multiple cases to build a larger argument about an overall trend in post-Cold War Japan’s security or foreign policy. A little paradoxically, however, this book provides a set of valuable empirical data, on which those specialists can, indeed, build another larger argument on Japan’s political trend.
For instance, the author details early examples of the rightward, historical-revisionist trend in public discourse, which is worryingly visible in today’s Japanese society. It also delineates the first instance of Prime Minister Abe’s skillful use of public-inciting foreign policy issues for advancing his own political position, a novel (in the history of Japanese politics) tactic Abe has executed so successfully, to this day, that it may become standard practice for his successors. This may be seen as another important contribution that the author makes to the field of Japanese studies.
Kuniko Ashizawa, American University, Washington, DC, USA
MODERN KOREA AND ITS OTHERS: Perceptions of the Neighbouring Countries and Korean Modernity. Routledge Advances in Korean Studies, 33. By Vladimir Tikhonov. London; New York: Routledge, 2016. xiv, 228 pp. US$160.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-138-85552-6.
Vladimir Tikhonov, the Russian-Korean historian better known in South Korea as Bak No-ja, has published an engaging analysis of Korean perspectives on the country’s bordering countries in the roughly half-century before its 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule. This is ultimately a study of Korean nationalism, a topic endowed with plentiful scholarship, although not as much recently in English. Tikhonov’s work adds new insights by focusing on views on other nationalities and by drawing extensively from literary sources.
The book devotes two chapters each, in order, to Russia, China, and Japan, with the first chapter providing a general overview of often divergent perceptions that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, and the second chapter mining mostly novels for evidence of how such views developed in the colonial period. What results is a symmetrical argument: For each country, there emerged an initial “othering” process of establishing what Koreans, in developing their own sense of collective self, were not. This discursive formation was largely driven by concerns over imperialism, but was eventually joined by countervailing sentiments that regarded the neighbouring civilization in question as a model of (alternative) modernity, particularly as anti-colonial or anti-imperialist revolutionary movements came to prevail in Russia and China. Such fluid ambiguity, plurality, and variety, which the author characterizes as a mixture of “fears and desires” (182–183), are explained through plentiful historical contextualization, such as Koreans’ interaction with Russian emigres in Manchuria, or the disdain for Chinese migrants within Korea.
The second chapter then proceeds to examine certain themes in literary works, such as the problem of Korean-Japanese intermarriage during the wartime mobilization years of the late 1930s and early 1940s, or the sexualized demonization of Chinese merchants. In conjunction with the opening chapters in each couplet that draw considerably from non-fictional accounts like newspaper articles, these chapters present a rich tapestry of cultural and intellectual expression in this era and advance the book’s core argument that Korean nationalism, which reflected the striving for a “subaltern, peripheral modernity” (4) given the political circumstances, resulted not only from internal traditions, realities, and constructs, but also from the formulation of a collective identity in relation to external groups. This is certainly not new, but Tikhonov draws from novel sources and suggests that these ideological formations regarding Korea’s neighbours had a much more substantial and enduring impact than what is commonly acknowledged. Both of these strengths, however, can also present pitfalls, or at least further questioning and concerns.
First, this book’s ample analysis of literature does not constitute literary analysis. The stories are mined by a historian for historical purposes, so there is no interpretive deconstruction, and little coverage of characters, narrative devices, symbolic gestures, etc. within the works’ internal dynamics. To be sure, Tikhonov’s overriding goal is to demonstrate how fictionalized depictions reflected and helped to construct Korean perspectives on neighbouring peoples and societies. The challenge remains, though, of providing more than a survey of various expressions, but to demonstrate prevailing or common sentiments that reflected the historical circumstances of the time. It is uncertain how well the author follows his own caveats about literature’s limitations as historical sources (153), and it would take a specialist to provide a more definitive evaluation of the representativeness of the works that Tikhonov examines.
More manageable is to locate Tikhonov’s study in the historiography of Korea’s ideological and cultural history of this period. As noted above, Korean nationalism, in regard to the outside world, has enjoyed plentiful scholarly attention, but most of this has focused, understandably, on Japan, as well as on China, particularly the ideological and political interactions with the Chinese republican and communist movements. Tikhonov, however, emphasizes the impact of Chinese migrant communities on Koreans’ views. For Japan, this book does not add significantly to the proliferation of studies on colonial intellectual and cultural history, even on the theme of ethnic intermarriage. One can also suggest that, given the realities of colonial rule, it is nearly impossible to treat views on Japan as a comparable topic to those of China and Russia.
When it comes to Russia, however, this book’s contributions are on very solid ground, at least in the English-language scholarship. The author’s access to Russian sources, including influential literary works, provide a revelatory analysis of Russia’s wide-ranging cultural impact in Korea at the time—as a source and model for a semi-western, albeit alternative, path to modernity, and as a target of phobias for communism that gradually enveloped the state-dominated colonial cultural sphere, an ideological construct that very well could have fueled enmity, in some quarters, toward the Soviet Union in the post-liberation period.
Indeed a consciousness of the post-colonial developments looms over the book. The problem is that the accumulated Korean perspectives on the neighbouring “other,” given their variety, could just as well have worked against the particular manifestations of nationalism that came to prevail in the two Koreas—from Juche, the anti-Japanese backlash, and anti-Chinese chauvinism to pro-Russian and pro-Chinese revolutionism, racist opposition to intermarriage, or sexual subservience under imperialism. In other words, an inescapable but justifiable teleology pervades the author’s coverage, though this appears explicitly in only the final sentences of chapters and in the book’s Conclusion, when Tikhonov considers historical legacies all the way to the end of the twentieth century.
In any case, despite the proliferation of parenthetical notes (ostensibly a mixture of the social science and history styles, with minimal footnotes), which to some readers will be distracting, this book is highly readable, providing a thorough and textured intellectual history, with due consideration of historical context always at the forefront of the author’s concerns. It also offers an enlightening introduction to both well-known and more obscure authors and their works. These are some of the many qualities that make this book highly recommended.
Kyung Moon Hwang, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
MULTIETHNIC KOREA?: Multiculturalism, Migration, and Peoplehood Diversity in Contemporary South Korea. Transnational Korea, 1. Edited by John Lie. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2014. xiii, 344 pp. (Illustrations.) US$25.00, paper. ISBN 978-1-55729-110-3.
This book provides an in-depth analysis of a key number of conceptual and policy dilemmas, contradictions, and issues regarding multiethnic and multicultural debates in and of Korea. The book clearly sets out in the editor’s introductory chapter the above goals and expectations of the work. The book is organised into three parts. Part one consists of chapters focusing on whether Korea is an emergent multiethnic or multicultural society. Part two considers the myriad of issues faced and raised by migrants “and others,” whilst part three takes a more transformative approach, with chapters debating whether a diversifying Korea is a fact or merely a hope, and why this question is important both for Korea and wider regional cultural and geopolitical contexts. There is a Coda by Jack Jin Gary Lee and John D. Skrentny that ostensibly reflects upon and compares Korean multicultural issues with a wider geographical and geo-economic context. All the chapters are aware of two key interconnected issues. Firstly, that the academic debate is itself a part of multicultural dynamics and interpretations. Secondly, that the definitions and types of institutional “application” of multiculturalism are a product of cultural interpretations, boundaries, and contestations over what culture and ethnicity is or should be.
John Lie’s introduction is a logical chronology of the meanings and policies of multiculturalism and multiethnicity in Korea. As Nora Hui-Jung Kim crucially points out, it is “not enough to ask, therefore, whether Korea is becoming a multicultural and multiethnic society,” the more important issue is ascertaining “what kind of multicultural and multiethnic society is envisioned and proposed” (67). This is the issue of who has the legitimacy and political capital to do the envisioning, and as to how and why. Most chapters point to the 2006 “Grand Plan” as being a turning point in the debates and policies on multicultural Korea. The Grand Plan asked Koreans to overcome the “obsession with purity” (69), but whilst the obsession might certainly be dissipating, this does not necessarily mean that deep beliefs in ethnic homogeneity are also waning and, in fact, may even be reinforced by current multicultural policies.
In his chapter, Timothy Lim discusses in a concise and conceptual context the issues and tensions of (and relations between) diversity recognition, tolerance, assimilation, segregation, integration, and the setting of boundaries. One intriguing example Lim gives, which in my view sums up a lot of the difficulties with present multicultural policy, is of immigrant/foreign lecturers being called upon to teach “diversity.” Problematically, the government assumes, and demonstrating an extraordinary lack of imagination, that foreigners just by virtue of being foreign, know (or care) about multiculturalism and diversity. Nancy Abelmann et al. focus on the issue of education. Though I did wonder on occasions whether the authors were being fair in their judgements of particular individuals observed in their research, their methodology is sound, with results showing that educating the educators is fraught with tensions regarding resources, a constant emphasis by officials on “urgency” and of “being seen to be doing something.” Emphasis is placed on government terminologies and maybe a distinction could also be made between responses to the government sanctioned term damunhwa (multicultural family) which, for certain families, is viewed as derogatory, but for others is a form of identity allowing for state assistance. EuyRyung Jun’s chapter addressed the issue of tolerance, regarding which, it is argued, the “Korean discourse of tolerance is a narcissistic one” (83) to further the Korean sense of development and modernity. The chapter also importantly cites Wendy Brown’s work that tolerance de-politicises the reasons for cultural inequalities and problematically creates fake “level playing fields” of cultural diversity/relativism.
In part two, Hae Yeon Choo, Jin-Heon Jung, Eleana Kim, and Keiko Yamanaka address the migrant question, describing and evaluating current policies. What becomes very apparent in all the chapters is how diaspora identity itself is constantly being constructed by the diasporas themselves and as a response to government policies. This also brings in the issue of diaspora leadership and perhaps more could have been said regarding the power struggles within the diasporas and foreign communities. Eleana Kim’s chapter insightfully discusses multiculturalism and multiethnic Korea in the context of the experiences of overseas adoptees (174). The chapter also observes that a lot of policies and responses can be traced to underlying issues of the construction of a specific South Korean identity.
In part three, Sue-Je L. Gage discusses the issue of “Amerasians.” The chapter diagrammatically represents beliefs in Korean society that Amerasians are “missing a bit” of Korean-ness (261). On page 267 an interesting observation is made that English language is often used by Amerasians publicly when in the company of Koreans and seems to represent a “power” or resistance issue to real and perceived discrimination against Amerasians. Charles Taylor’s approach to the recognition question is rightly addressed, but perhaps a more critical assessment of Taylor might have been engaged with, and more said here about the issue of identifying who it is doing the recognising (and why). Indeed, might it not be the case that individuals or groups could conceivably refuse the “gaze” of state-led multicultural recognition as a power issue. The chapters by Minjeong Kim and Nadia Kim explicitly address the experiences of often-marginalised groups and the support networks available. The chapters take on a number of problematic assumptions that “foreigners” are, paradoxically, regarded as a “homogenous” group in themselves. Nadia Kim makes a crucial point that Korean multiculturalism often abstracts “Africa” and does not distinguish between Christian and Muslim Africans. The book rightly revels in the contradictions and inconsistencies in a lot of the current beliefs in, and policies of, multiculturalism. It is with this kind of well-researched and critical literature that barriers to a genuine multiethnicity and multiculturalism in Korea might be lifted.
Iain Watson, Ajou University, Suwon, South Korea
THE CAPITALIST UNCONSCIOUS: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea. By Hyun Ok Park. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. xvii, 349 pp. (Illustrations.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-17192-2.
Hyun Ok Park’s The Capitalist Unconscious commences with the provocative claim that “capital has already unified Korea in a transnational form” (1). The book proceeds to urge readers to depart from widely held perceptions that the border dividing North and South Korea is one of the most politicized, regulated, and rigid in the world. Instead, Park argues that the North Korean border has become increasingly permeable since the 1990s, heralding a new era whereby the Korean Peninsula has become unified through continuous flows of transnational labour and capital. The book relies, in particular, on ethnographic data and interviews, collected between 2001 and 2007, of Korean Chinese migrants and North Korean refugees. The empirical chapters primarily focus on how the lives and migratory patterns of these diasporic Koreans across the Manchurian border regions, North Korea, and South Korea demonstrate Park’s notion of a unified, transnational Korea.
Perhaps the main contribution of the book lies in its ability to provide a meta-theory for the study of Korean nationhood since its economic rise. By demonstrating how, in the aftermath of the Cold War, conflations of democracy and capitalism have in many ways perpetuated social malaise under the guise of social justice, Park challenges the notion that Korean unification necessitates a territorial union and the reconciliation of the opposing forces of socialism and capitalism. The book grapples with how the political is entangled in the economic, and in so doing, is one of the first of its kind to bridge two of the most important pools of scholarship on contemporary Korean society: the first, including labour politics and democratization from the postwar era to the late 1980s, and the second, trends of globalization and transnationalism in Korean society since the 1990s, following Kim Daejung’s segyehwa (globalization) campaign.
Park sets the stage for us to make these theoretical connections in chapter 2, “The Aesthetics of Democratic Politics: Labor, Violence, and Repetition,” where she links the minjung (the people’s) movements sparked by Chun Taeil’s self-immolation in the Seoul Peace Markets in the 1980s, with the activism of foreign migrant workers in more recent years. The empirical chapters that follow similarly carry out this theme, as Park analyzes how the experiences of North Korean refugees and Korean Chinese labour migrants can be understood within the context of South Korea’s rocky pathway to democratization and its tragic past under successive authoritarian regimes in the postwar era.
Ultimately, the book advocates for a “recognition of the capitalist unconscious” that departs from an illusory perception of South Koreans “as victors in the Cold War struggle and jettison their gazes toward North Koreans and Korean Chinese as objects of their humanitarianism and decolonization” (288). By divulging unexpected parallels in South Korea’s history of the oppressed, from the student activists fighting against the authoritarian regime to diasporic labour migrants in the country’s more recent past, Park allows scholars of Korea to reflect on how the seemingly tangentially related literatures of democratization and globalization are actually two sides of the same coin, and how historical events, even when suppressed, exhibit strong tendencies toward repetition.
For instance, philanthropic efforts to liberate North Korean refugees through human rights advocacy, or Korean Chinese migrants through reparation politics, Park argues, can ironically reify simplistic narratives of their oppression that help perpetuate their alienation—both physically and psychologically—from Korean society. The book thus shares with other scholars in the field of contemporary Korea a perspective of neoliberalism in which we are active participants in recreating the exploitation of our labour, such that even our own desires are coopted by the system to help legitimate structures of inequality. Along these lines, vivid descriptions from her interviews of Korean Chinese workers who willingly sacrificed their bodies in the name of this so-called market utopia in chapter 4, “Socialist Reparation: Living Labor,” were especially striking.
Although the book’s empirical and theoretical breadth are impressive, the ambitious scope of the volume often felt on the one hand overwhelming and disjointed, yet also, in other ways incomprehensive, particularly in its conspicuous exclusion of any mention of the Korean diaspora in Japan, otherwise known as the zainichi population. Given its zealous theoretical claims for conceptualizing a transnational Korean nationhood through an analysis of its diasporic populations, its neglect of the zainichi, the third-largest population of overseas Koreans, lead to questions of generalizability and selection bias.
The lack of mention of the Koreans in Japan is also conspicuous in light of Park’s interest in “the democratic politics of reparations, human rights advocacy and decolonization” (288) of diasporic Koreans, given the socio-political positionality of the zainichi relative to these issues. The Koreans in Japan are third- and fourth-generation postcolonial subjects who first migrated to Japan as labour migrants during colonization; descendants of victims who died as a result of the co-ethnic violence that erupted during the Jeju Uprising in 1948; and prisoners of conscience in the 1970s and 1980s due to the South Korean CIA’s suspicions over their roles as North Korean spies. Although increasing deregulation of the redistributive state in China, and to a lesser extent North Korea, has perhaps led to perceptions that Cold War politics are an issue of the past, the lives of the zainichi continue to be shaped by the political and ideological divisions between North and South in their everyday lives. Koreans in Japan continue to suffer the repercussions of sharp institutional divisions along North and South, critically affecting their ability to collectively mobilize political resources to overcome discrimination in Japan. Ethnic Koreans who have maintained their North Korean passports, which they were designated by default after World War II, continue to lack the proper legal documentation to visit their ancestral homeland in the South.
Has Korea become unified through transnational capital? While the liberalization of laws on migration and trade have indeed led to changing geopolitical notions of Korean nationhood in recent years, questions remain as to whether this shift from ideological politics to capitalist desires is one that by and large applies to Sino-Korean relations and the diasporic migrants that traverse these regions.
Sharon J. Yoon, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, South Korea
BERLIN KOREANS AND PICTURED KOREANS. Koreans and Central Europeans: Informal Contacts up to 1950, Vol. 1. By Frank Hoffmann. Vienna: Praesens, 2015. xi, 241 pp. (Illustrations.) €35.90, paper, ISBN 978-3-7069-0873-3; €24.90, ISBN 978-3-7069-3005-5, eBook.
This book represents the first publication in a three-volume series titled “Koreans and Central Europeans: Informal Contacts up to 1950.” Unlike the two subsequent publications in the series, which will focus on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this book examines the complexity of the experiences of the “Berlin Koreans,” as well as the portrayal of the image and culture of Korea as the “noble savage” in German advertisements and artistic works in the first half of the twentieth century.
Research for this book is based on thorough examinations of an impressive range of materials, such as photos, letters, sound recordings, journal articles, newspapers, pamphlets, college documents, various certificates, and even US Army intelligence reports. Also, every section of the book contains a useful overview of Germany’s cultural, social, and political context as well as the changing international environment. The result is a highly engaging account of the personal experiences of various Koreans in Berlin, their interactions with the politically tumultuous German society, and also with the remote but tremendously influential Japanese empire. The book thus represents a valuable and timely contribution to the currently sparse literature on Korea-German interaction in the first half of the twentieth century. Indeed, the experiences of the Koreans in Berlin during this time period are virtually a forgotten chapter in the field of Korean studies. Reflecting on the formative role of the Berlin Koreans in both South and North Korean societies, the biographies of these Berlin Koreans certainly represent a small but crucial piece to the jigsaw of Korean national history.
This book is organized into three sections: the first section analyses the experience of Koreans who lived or worked in Berlin in the first half of the twentieth century, while the subsequent two sections examine the portrayal of Korea in advertisements and artistic works in Germany.
The first section of the book, which accounts for two thirds of the publication, carefully explores the biographies of twelve Berlin Koreans who came to play crucial roles in various sectors in the new-born “republics” in both South and North Korea. These twelve Koreans and their biographies are allocated to three groups. The first group, referred to as the “Chosŏn generation,” comprises An Pong-gŭn and Kim Chung-se. Next, “the twentieth generation,” who were very active in the socialist and nationalist movements in Berlin, comprises Yi Kŭng-no, Kim Chun-yŏn, Ko Il-ch’ŏng and Yi Kang-guk. The third group comprises Pae Un-sŏng, Ahn Eak-tai, Pak Yŏng-in (aka Kuni Masami), Chang Kŭk, and Kim Paek-p’yŏng. It is noteworthy that this third group is also referred to as the “Nazi honors” in this book, not least because these Berlin Koreans owe their successful international careers to their collaboration with the Nazi regime, not to mention with the Japanese empire.
The second section of the book explores the image of Korea as portrayed in a highly popular card series produced by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company between 1870 and 1940. These cards were issued on the occasion of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, at a time when the European media showed unusually keen interest in the Korean Peninsula. The third section discusses the image of changsŭng, (i.e., “village guardian pole” or “totem pole”) as reflected in the famous painting titled “The Missionary,” one of the most famous works of the renowned German expressionist painter, Emil Nolde. Taken together, these chapters examine a similar message delivered through different media: the image of the Koreans and traditional Korean culture as the “exotic Other,” “noble savage,” or “primitive originality” that Western societies leveraged as their source of inspiration. The point is Korean culture must be portrayed as strange as possible and this intention necessarily led to the distortion of the image of Korea.
This book offers original and provoking insights from careful analysis of the above biographies, with two key points particularly deserving of our attention. First, this book argues for the significance of Berlin in the history of the Korean nationalist movements. As the centre of the international socialist movement as well as of period artistic work and academic research, Berlin attracted many Korean nationalists and provided them not only the stage for their artistic and scholastic talents, but also the necessary political connections to international socialists and Korean nationalist networks. According to Hoffmann’s analysis, Berlin provided the generation who were in their twenties in particular with the enabling environment to establish multi-faceted relations with various socialists. That international connection must have been very crucial to enhancing our understanding about the roots of the division of Korea.
Next, Hoffmann argues that the Koreans who lived in Berlin in the late 1930s and early 1940s were active participants in both the Japanese empire and the Nazi regime. Based on clues from various archival materials, the author contends that the successful careers of some of the Berlin Koreans in various fields such as music, dance, science, and engineering cannot be fully understood without reference to their “Nazi honors.” To complicate matters, these Berlin Koreans were not isolated individuals, but played crucial roles in the new-born Republic of Korea. The connection is dramatically illustrated in the author’s discussion of the case of Kang Se-hyŏng: the author alludes that ultra-right politics in Korea after World War II can be ascribed, at least partly, to “Korean fascists” such as Kang who introduced Nazi ideology to the Korean Peninsula during Japanese imperial rule, a quite interesting, and completely neglected, explanation for the formation of ideology and strategies that buttressed military dictatorship in Korea.
These two key insights, although derived from the unusual and exceptional biographies, allow us to venture beyond the dominant framework of nation-centred historical scholarship in Korea and to explore historical contingencies and international connections of the era. By capturing moments of the intersection between individual Korean biographies and changing historical circumstances in Berlin, the author highlights the international dimension and simultaneity, both of which have been neglected in existing scholarship, to Korea’s colonial history. Overall, this book will be welcomed by not just historians or scholars but also by readers interested in the complexities of the formation of modern Korea.
Soo-Hyun Mun, Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea
BRAC, GLOBAL POLICY LANGUAGE, AND WOMEN IN BANGLADESH: Transformation and Manipulation. By Manzurul Mannan. Albany, NY : SUNY Press, 2015. xiii, 379 pp. (Tables, maps, illustrations.) US$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-4384-5783-3.
This book makes a highly original contribution to the small but growing anthropological literature on non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The primary aim of the book is to move beyond “the well-intentioned work of NGOs” (2) to consider instead what a focus on NGOs can tell us about how ordinary people experience development processes, and how these NGOs contribute to the construction of what the author calls the “development-scape” within a particular historical setting. Its focus is on the ethnographic study of Bangladesh as a country that has for many years been on the front line of both international development and NGO worlds.
The author suggests that we need to pay attention to NGOs in Bangladesh because they “are so closely intertwined with and involved in development that they are practically synonymous with the concept of development” (1). This leads Manzurul Mannan to develop a highly distinctive approach to the topic in which he seeks to highlight the hidden aspects of people’s lives that are affected and changed by NGO work. For example, he shows how NGO credit reduces women’s reliance on traditional social networks. Mannan is also concerned with investigating globalization and development through his analysis of the “development-scape” which seeks to show firstly how power operates through international development bureaucracies and encompasses local culture in developing countries, and secondly to highlight the role played by NGOs in translating and filtering narratives that produce projects and programs.
Across ten detailed chapters, the author takes the Bangladeshi organization known as BRAC (not an acronym, but simply the name of the world’s largest NGO) as his entry point to analyze a series of important and original questions. What does it mean for an NGO to pursue an agenda of trying to bring about societal change? What effect does NGO work have on Bangladesh’s societal values at the local level? How does the NGO translate, mediate, and diffuse external Western ideas about developmentalist social change at the local level and what are the social and cultural implications of this for local populations? How does an NGO manage the conflict of values that occurs within an organization that tries to balance its obligations to thirty million women with whom it works with its position within the global development system? The resulting narratives around women, patriarchy, and poverty in Bangladesh are the focus of the book.
Central to the book’s conceptual framework is the author’s suggestion that a “global policy language” has emerged that has created a universalizing discourse within NGO worlds as these take shape in local developing country contexts. This embodies six main elements: it builds consensus and equality among poor people; it promotes a positive view of economic growth as a solution to poverty, along with a set of “non-negotiable” values around human rights, gender, and governance that serve to underpin NGO work; it creates unintended “casualties” of the development process in the form of people who do not fit the intended outcomes; it generates organizational cultures of reflection and continuous improvement through processes of regular experimentation; and finally, it operates to construct narratives of excluded and poor women that are essentially decontextualized.
The monograph covers a huge amount of ground. It presents a systematic analysis of the social and political context of Bangladesh, the history and evolution of the NGO sector in the country, and considers how local understandings of hierarchy and equality intersect with NGO work. This is situated within the ever-changing development policy and practice landscape which results in “every five to six years with the replacement of old agendas by new ones” (36). The NGO is carefully revealed as a complex hybrid of a local project and international relationships, such that it does not easily fit the conventional notion of a bounded organizational entity.
The idea of a shifting “global policy language” is central to the author’s analysis, which is a distinctive contribution of the book. There is also a valuable discussion of the research methodology used, the relationship between anthropology and development, and the role that “applied” NGO research plays in the life world of an NGO. The disjuncture between managerial and academic knowledge is usefully probed in the reflexive sections of the book, which are frequent and full of insight. A key strength is the way the author is constantly alive to the complexities raised by his earlier career as an NGO worker in a variety of settings and as a development consultant, and the difficult relationships that arise when NGOs position themselves as both commissioners and consumers of development research. The fifth chapter, which discusses the “cooperative antagonism” that arises between researchers and managers, was for this reader one of the genuine highlights of the book.
Bangladesh is a country that possesses an extensive NGO sector and where these organizations play important—but largely understudied—roles in the lives of large numbers of people. This book helps us to better understand why and how NGOs like BRAC have effects that go way beyond the stated aims of development projects and interventions.
David Lewis, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom
ENTANGLED URBANISM: Slum, Gated Community, and Shopping Mall in Delhi and Gurgaon. By Sanjay Srivastava. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015. xliv, 317 pp. (Figures.) US$55.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-19-809914-7.
In the field of urban studies, single-city profiles tend to come in two varieties: a first offers arguments about a city as a whole, and thus invites comparative analysis with other, “similar” cities. A second takes an opposite tack, homing in on particularities—specific localities, identities, and meanings within a single city—then making arguments about these particular places and people. Sanjay Srivastava’s Entangled Urbanism: Slum, Gated Community and Shopping Mall in Delhi and Gurgaon, begins instead with the evocative claim that the city itself is “like an argument” (xviii). That is, rather than approach India’s National Capital Region as either a “totality” or as a collection of splintered spaces, Srivastava focuses on what he calls the “intimate entanglements” (27) by means of which seemingly separate places, people, and ideas (slums and gated communities; shopping malls and nationalist sentiment; temples and theme parks) are co-constituted in the city. The fruits of this approach are borne out in a richly ethnographic, deeply insightful, and at times wonderfully surprising portrait of urban contestation, transformation, and self-making in contemporary Delhi and Gurgaon.
The book is divided into three parts. The first takes place on the bank of the Yamuna River in the basti settlement of Nangla Matchi, where the ethnography narrates the lead-up to the neighbourhood’s demolition (as part of an urban “beautification” drive). Srivastava probes the processes and contestations that link the “formal city” to the “exertions and activities of the occupants of its putatively ‘informal’ spaces” (xli). Focusing on Nangla Matchi residents’ efforts to shore up individual claims to compensation in the event of demolition, the chapter follows the “life-stories” (6) of three characters: first we meet Chamkili, a neighbourhood leader who enlists the technical skills she acquired during an earlier career working for a power company to now (informally) supply electricity to neighbourhood residents at a tidy profit; next we meet Balkees, who puts “faux symbols of authority” (22) to work in producing passable versions of official government documents needed to claim post-demolition compensation; lastly we meet Rakesh, an auto-rickshaw-driver-turned-real-estate-broker, whose information-gathering skills honed over two decades spent chatting with passengers underpin a lucrative (if legally dubious) career buying and selling plots of land in a slum resettlement colony. This fascinating chapter demonstrates how the elusive power to access and deploy the authority of “the state” stems from the precarious world-making practices of urban marginality itself.
Chapter 2 introduces the assorted techniques of “mutually agreed upon fraud and deception” (32) by means of which Nangla Matchi residents seek to prove eligibility for a compensatory allotment in a resettlement colony. At the heart of this chapter are the vagaries of documentary “proof”: the sociomaterial array of paper slips, signatures, and socialities that are assembled in a “great chain of documents” to make a case for eligibility. Thus we see how “entitlement” inheres not in the extent to which any particular chain of documents reflects or narrates any “true” history, but rather in the tricks, mimicries, and ruses through which “genuineness is established through fakeness” (39). “Faking,” Srivastava argues, is not only “crucial to the making of community life” (53) in Nangla Matchi, but relations between the urban poor and the state are produced and instantiated by means of these relations of deception and trickery. The bulldozers finally roll into Nangla Matchi, but not before the narrative has led us through a series of tortuous paper trails, gone-awry appeals to patronage, rumour-infused misinformation, and frantic efforts to establish “rights” to compensation—dynamics that unfold in sometimes triumphant and other times heartbreaking ways.
Part 1 concludes with a discussion of the state’s “arbitrariness”: “the state has no norms,” (50) Srivastava writes, and in the context of this inscrutability, Nangla residents approach the state as they might a fickle lover: seeking to decipher its “moods” (68) and to match moods with correspondingly capricious tactics. A good ethnography might be said to be one in which the accounts not only impel readers to question received histories and taken-for-granted categories, but one in which the material can sometimes exceed the author’s own categories of explanation and analysis. Undoubtedly, “the state” that Nangla Matchi’s residents encounter is not of the Weberian variety. But words like “moody,” “erratic,” and “arbitrary” do not quite do justice to Srivastava’s ethnography, which reveals not an arbitrary or unknowable state, but rather one that perhaps Nangla’s residents know entirely too well: one that is run through with power-infused, asymmetrical social relations of caste, class, and exclusionary ethno-religious nationalism. In this context, the ethnographies in part 1 raise pressing questions: What enables some people to take advantage of the porosities inhering in the social and semeiotic complexity of contemporary “urban entanglements,” and not others? What new forms of knowledge (social, spatial, technical) are re-valued in this context?
Part 2 leaves the rubble-strewn lanes of Nangla Matchi and the dusty offices of the lower-level bureaucracy, to turn towards the (air-conditioned) localities where “emerging cultures of market-citizenship” (110) animating “post-nationalist” Delhi come into view. The protagonist of part 2 is Delhi’s multifarious and elusive “middle class.” Chapter 5 outlines how a new form of nationalist citizen-consumerism has been spatialized through a combination of “consanguineal capitalism,” “corporatist ambition and state patronage” (130), fuelling a construction boom in gated residential complexes. Yet notwithstanding elite fantasies that gated “enclaves” like DLF City in Gurgaon might enable residents to secede from the surrounding city (and region and nation), the ethnographies show instead how “decrepitude” and “unruliness” (149) leak through the gates in pesky ways. When a “stream of sewage” (145) appears as an “unexpected water feature” in a swish Gurgaon colony (whose residents thus discover their colony has not been connected to the municipal sewage system), we learn that affluence does not enable a “clean break” from the materiality of the city and its infrastructures. And when caste-based agitations for expanded educational quotas elicit a frantic response among DLF City’s largely high-caste parents (who fear rising numbers of lower-caste students in their children’s classrooms), we see how this would-be “island of plentitude” (149) is decisively implanted in the region’s “larger restless geography” (147). Enclave residents respond to these sorts of looming “threats” with mismatched efforts to wall off their world with amped-up security—to sometimes unintended effect.
The unintended outcomes of the “urban entanglements” that Srivastava’s book presents militate against any easy vilification (or celebration) of “post-nationalist” consumer capitalism or market (neo)liberalism. The ethnographies show instead how particular versions of “history, heritage and contemporary and ancient religiosity” are bound up with the “theme-ing” (216) of Indian modernity in ways that enable a multitude of experiences and appropriations. For the upwardly mobile “service class,” we see how shopping malls are a stage for “personality development” (246), for the cultivation of middle-class comportments, and for achieving and performing “self improvement.” While cultures of consumer citizenship play out along gendered lines in uneven ways across the socioeconomic spectrum, malls are also where asymmetrical relations of power and hierarchy are reproduced (“you don’t want to be seen at the wrong mall!” ). Spaces of consumption emerge as sites where “multiple dramas of distinction” play out simultaneously.
Entangled Urbanism leaves us with the conclusion that the city is “no whole entity, but a series of connected realms, each of distinct character, linking varied lives and processes into an urban entanglement” (261). While it may indeed be true that the complexity of Delhi’s “entanglements” defies any tidy interpretation, Srivastava’s beautifully textured account suggests a more pointed proposition: that perhaps the socio-material complexity of contemporary urbanism invariably surpasses any singular effort to know the city, thereby exceeding the designs of those who would control the city and seek to circumscribe its possibilities.
Lisa Björkman, University of Louisville, Louisville, USA
India’s foreign policy can come across as enigmatic to those who are unfamiliar with the political context that underpins it. Apparent contradictions abound. The country of apostles of peace like Buddha and Gandhi, India is an unofficial member of the nuclear club. An impressive arsenal of conventional weapons complements India’s bombs and missiles, many of them indigenous in origin. However, despite the possession of this deadly stockpile, India does not have an explicit doctrine stating whom these weapons are aimed against. The Indian nuclear test of 1998, undertaken by a Hindu nationalist-led ruling coalition was not, as the subsequent events have shown, merely a flash in the pan. Despite the political bickering over details, a bipartisan consensus has grown over the need for India to acquire nuclear weapons and delivery capacity by a range of indigenously developed missiles. Nevertheless, official Indian policy systematically downplays the ownership of these deadly weapons of mass destruction. A similar incoherence marks India’s use of “coercive diplomacy,” launched against Pakistan following the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in Operation Parakram of 2001–2002. It involved mobilizing a large number of troops who were then recalled, without any demonstrable goals having been achieved or explanations offered. This lack of clarity about broader goals affects the global perception of India’s foreign policy as a whole.
Sumit Ganguly’s compact and concise volume offers a guide through this labyrinth. The book is divided into five chapters. The first introduces the current debate on India’s foreign policy, focusing on the issues of “the precise role that India hopes to play in global politics” (13). The second discusses core ideas that underpin India’s foreign policy consisting of anti-colonialism, non-alignment, a world free of nuclear weapons, and a genuine search for a new world order. Ganguly discusses their pre-independence origin, evolution, and continuity during the post-independence years, leading up to India’s military debacle in the 1962 Sino-Indian war. At a time when it is fashionable to castigate Nehru, Ganguly stands by his admiration for him as the founder of modern India. That, however, does not stop him from criticising Nehru for failing “to undertake any measures to bolster the security of India’s northern borders despite Patel’s explicit sounding of the tocsin” (34). Nor does Ganguly overlook Nehru’s policy of “appeasing and accommodating the PRC [which] had, for all practical purposes, ended in a complete military debacle” (41). The third chapter focuses on the period during the disastrous 1962 war and the end of the Cold War, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union as India’s major global backer. Ganguly argues, Indian foreign policy straddled the contrary pulls of the “ideational” elements and the “recognition of the significance of and quest for material power” (4). “Incomplete acceptance of the importance of material capabilities” marked the fourth phase. The final section of the book discusses current trends and capabilities and the limitations of Indian foreign policy in meeting its stated objectives.
Ganguly’s analysis will provide much food for thought both to the general reader and the specialist. The former will benefit from the historical narrative that helps follow the unfolding of India’s foreign policy. For the latter, the real bonus lies in the cache of interviews conducted with the diplomatic corps and high-ranking military officers, who have been part of the story that he tells. One finds insights in these narratives that help us understand turns of events that normally remain shrouded in mystery.
With the robust clarity that marks his scholarship, Ganguly excoriates the government of India for keeping India’s diplomatic corps limited in size, causing in large part its inability to meet the challenges of a fast moving world. “In 2012 the Indian Foreign Service had a mere 600 odd officers, with 150 missions across the world. For the purpose of comparison, Belgium and Holland had similar size diplomatic corps” (18). He upbraids India’s numerous think tanks for their limited value in providing policy-relevant advice: “The vast majority of them lack a sufficient corpus of individuals who have adequate professional training in international affairs and strategic studies. Most, in fact, are autodidacts of varying quality and with differing levels of knowledge and expertise” (16). The consequences are to be seen in the “residual anti-Americanism in the foreign policy apparatus in New Delhi” (137), the Indian reaction, “at the arrest and apparent maltreatment of an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, in New York in December 2013…bordering on petulance and quite unbecoming of what one might reasonably expect of a strategic partner and an aspiring global power” (136), or India’s failure to develop a suitable strategy to cope with cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan in the face of the “nuclear overhang” (119).
The long shadow of Jawaharlal Nehru hangs heavily on Ganguly’s view of Indian foreign policy. His analysis stops with Manmohan Singh’s India. Prime Minister Modi has one entry in the book (19), but even this reference is to his time as Chief Minister of Gujarat. It is therefore not possible within this frame of analysis to situate Modi’s India and ask if India has reached a turning point, or whether one is still stuck with the famous aphorism of Stephen Cohen: “One is … tempted to ask whether India is destined always to be ‘emerging’ but never actually arriving” (India: Emerging Power [Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001], 2). By recent indications, particularly, the multiple trips of Prime Minister Modi to the centres of power, and the reciprocation of some of these visits by the high and mighty to India, it might be argued that the direction of India’s foreign policy has taken a radical turn. The two figures most closely identified with emerging India—Prime Minister Modi and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar—showcase a different profile of India. “A stage has come where no country can now think of treating India with contempt or condescension. Every country today is looking at us either with deference or as an equal” (Narendra Modi, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics 2014). Jaishankar adds: “India now aspires to be a leading power, rather than just a balancing power,” and carries with it “a willingness to shoulder greater global responsibilities” (Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, 20 July 2015, https://www.iiss.org). Readers of Ganguly’s elegant and incisive analysis will eagerly look forward to his evaluation of this new phase in the unfolding of India’s foreign policy.
Subrata K. Mitra, National University of Singapore, Singapore
This book addresses an understudied subject: the evolution, socio-cultural orientation, and democratization of the Nepalese Army. This area of inquiry is important because few authors have analysed Nepal’s monarchy-military complex, which has inhibited the institutionalization of the country’s democracy. In addressing civil-military relations and democratization in South Asia, Adhikari first discusses the trend of military recruitment in Nepal. She then analyses the military-democracy and the monarchy-democracy interfaces. Finally, she offers an account of post-monarchy democratization efforts and outstanding challenges.
The book’s message is that Nepal’s rulers—from Rana oligarchs to former monarchs—have used the army as a tool to consolidate power. In this, the military has been submissive. Because of this relationship, defence reform remains incomplete even ten years into the peace agreement. The author uses interview notes and a literature review to establish her points. Therefore, primary data is the major strength of this volume. Adhikari is known for her strategic analyses and contributions to the security discourse. Her previous works on gender, inclusion, and the institutional aspects of the Nepalese Army also enrich this work as she is able to analyse the subject from multiple angles.
However, the book is not underpinned by a central theoretical question and does not provide a “research puzzle.” This does not mean the book has no theory and methodology, but it does not explicitly state them. It is difficult, therefore, to assess whether the claims have been substantiated or whether they are just the general beliefs of the author. The book is analytical-descriptive in nature because its content consists primarily of a factual recounting of events in a journalistic style. The author neatly examines concepts such as militarization or militarism in South Asia, but the concluding section lacks the contextualization of these concepts using the data presented in the book. A separate discussion chapter could have summarized key messages against the background of these conceptual discussions. The author’s arguments would be more rigorous if she had tried to offer thematic observations on the incidents discussed, rather than merely narrating them. All this makes for a weak concluding section because it remains unclear to which questions this chapter is responding.
Adhikari disagrees with some previous literature and castigates the cronyism of the so-called “reformist” military leader Bhimsen Thapa. However, much of her second chapter unquestioningly endorses existing literature, which inhibits her ability to critically engage with past scholarship. Several parts of this book read as very presumptive because the author jumps to establishing personal assumptions as conclusions, even as she starts a new chapter. The author tries to incorporate almost every historical phase and institutional aspect of the Nepalese Army and, in doing so, fails to concentrate on a timeframe and specific political events. Generalist discussions about Panchayat politics and post-2006 political horse-trading occupy space that could have been used to analyse information about the army and to critically engage with the primary data. For example, the author cites a Ministry of Finance source to claim that the Nepalese Army has comparatively good auditing practices, but a number of the auditor general’s reports, which disclose the army’s corrupt practices, are not mentioned.
Verbosity leads to awkward content. Lengthy footnotes sometimes occupy up to two-thirds of a page. The author re-uses several lines, even paragraphs, in multiple places with only minor changes. Typos are frequent, as are inconsistencies in the spelling of non-English words. Sometimes the typos lead to factual errors (like 9 September for 11 September, 214). A mistake is visible even in the author’s biographical note, in the name of her affiliated organization.
Memoirs and subjective accounts dominate strategic discourse in Nepal. Nevertheless, Adhikari’s piece is much richer than previous literature in terms of information and analytical balance. She has adequate evidence in the book to establish her arguments. It will prove useful for academic audiences as much as for those who seek in-depth knowledge about the organizational biography of the Nepalese Army. The introductory part consists of a good conceptual discourse and empirical evidence. The details on the evolution, institutional structures, recruitment trends, and orientation of the Nepalese Army are thought provoking. This section also broadens the reader’s insight because the author contextualizes the Nepalese case with other South Asian countries. The research process has covered a wide variety of informants, which reflects the author’s diligence. However, an explanation of the selection criteria for informants would have been useful.
Adhikari raises interesting questions about the inclusivity the Nepalese Army is claimed to have long practiced. She asks whether the socio-cultural orientation of the military allows for a free, fair, and just recruitment process. Another critical examination concerns the Nepali class structure and its fallout in the military. Equally insightful is the exploration of the nexus between land distribution and military power that characterizes Nepali militarism. The sections addressing the gender analysis of recruitment, the delegation of responsibility, and the establishment and transparency of the military welfare fund also deserve praise.
This reviewer seconds the author’s opinion that the monarchy-military complex doomed democracy because it frequently curtailed the rights of people and political parties. The book concludes that the Nepalese Army was also caught between rightist, leftist, and absolutist politics. Seen from her agency perspective, the Nepalese Army appears like an organization that has been fulfilling the orders of de facto powers. The democratic control of the armed forces does not mean that the military should be subservient in every situation. Rather, it should be treated as an equal partner with civilian authorities in the conceptualization, formulation, and implementation of defence policies. Worth mentioning here is that in Nepal, “democratic” leaders mostly prefer a more “loyal army” over a professional one, even now. Overall, this book does not stand out as a substantial theoretical contribution, but it can be considered important to Nepal’s military discourse. While the author has extensive knowledge of the issues involved, a bit more emphasis on theoretical and epistemological aspects, an analytically rich discussion section, and careful proofreading could have made it much better.
Safal Ghimire, University of New England, Armidale, Australia
PAKISTAN AT THE CROSSROADS: Domestic Dynamics and External Pressures. Religion, Culture, and Public Life. Christophe Jaffrelot, editor. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. vii, 346 pp. (Tables.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-17306-3.
Pakistan is facing many challenges, and as the title of this book aptly sums up, that country sits at a critical crossroads. At one end of the political spectrum, the country is facing an existential threat amid incessant tides of terrorism ready to override the country, while on the other end, the prospect of a nuclear state falling apart due to its rivalry with the regional hegemon India has caused many migraines with the international community.
In this context, Jaffrelot’s edited volume has brought together an exciting list of contributors writing on their specific areas of expertise regarding the domestic and international environment of Pakistan. The book’s central theme is to assess the current imbroglio of Pakistan at the junction of domestic and international constraints. In this, it adopts a descriptive, thematic, and analytical approach with an overarching argument of analyzing Pakistan problems at the intersection of internal and external factors. On the domestic or internal front, the discussion is centred on issues of civil-military relations, political parties in Pakistan, judicial activism, insurgency in the tribal areas, police reforms, and the state of the Pakistan economy, while the four chapters examining the external front look at Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, the United States, China, and the Muslim world—especially Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The section on external relations begins with a chapter on Pakistan-Afghan relations. It castigates Pakistan for creating Jehadi proxies in Afghanistan under the cloak of “strategic depth” to counteract a probable Indian attack on its eastern flank. Furthermore, these proxies were used as infiltrators in Indian held Kashmir to lessen the Indian threat through her military engagement with these proxies in Kashmir. There is scant discussion of the anarchical global Cold War structure that forced Pakistan to play a double game at the behest of the United States. The infidel relationship between Pakistan and the USA was premised upon missed opportunities by both states to forge ahead. The fact that all dictatorships in Pakistan received American blessings is not mentioned at all.
Similarly, two other chapters on the external front, those looking at Pakistan’s relations with China and the Muslim world, explain how the all-weather friendship with China helped Pakistan to develop and upgrade its nuclear missile technology despite American sanctions in the 1990s. The discussion on the role played by Saudi money to fund madrassas in Pakistan for the Afghan jihad during the 1980s requires a closer look as the propagation of indoctrinated ideology promoted Sunni-Shia violence in Pakistan, but again there is no discussion of the Cold War as a major geostrategic compulsion vying for such a discourse. Investments from the Muslim world, particularly Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, helped to galvanize Pakistan’s nuclear program after being conveniently labeled as the Islamic bomb. This entire discussion of Pakistan’s external relations needs to bring in the role played by global politics, meaning a convergent discussion on domestic compulsions and external pressures.
As far as the domestic section is concerned, the book’s contributors discuss the significant sectors of Pakistan, but the weaving of a recurring common theme seems absent. For example, the chapter on civil-military relations explains Pakistan as a security state flanked by hostile neighbors to both east and west (India and Afghanistan respectively). This led to the rise of the military as a domineering institution and its largesse in political and economic spheres is taken for granted. In his discussion of Pakistan’s tribal insurgency, Mariam Abou Zahab writes in the chapter “Turmoil in the Frontier” that the country’s spate of terrorism is tied to the uprooting of the socio-economic fabric of tribal society due to the excessive involvement of religion in state politics as a counterpoise to centuries-old Pushtun nationalism, but there is scant discussion of how the external variable of containment of communism was instrumentally employed to reinvigorate political Islam for waging jihad against the godless communists. This narrative was established due to the then prevalent global structure of superpower rivalry, and the discussion here needs to blend the domestic and international discourses in order to strengthen the narrative. Similarly, Mohammad Waseem’s chapter, “The Operational Dynamics of Political Parties in Pakistan,” is primarily centred on personality cults. Although in Pakistan political parties are personalized, dancing to the tunes of its incumbents, the premises of the chapter need to involve a discussion of party manifestos, performances, and pledges of its leaders, promises whose un-fulfillment cause domestic pressures. Hassan Abbas’ contribution on the Pakistan police, “Internal Security Issues in Pakistan: Prospects of Police and Law Enforcement Reform,” is focused on the structural and functional aspects of Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies. His argument that inadequate resources and excessive political interference are the prime reasons for their dismal performance needs closer scrutiny. He rightly points out that corruption and the lack of counterinsurgency training in the police department led to the abuse of power by officials. The chapter on the theme of judicial activism is the most interesting as it is a new phenomenon in Pakistan, where the judiciary has assumed a pro-active guardianship role vis-à-vis the body politics. Here Philip Oldenburg adequately discusses the causes behind the rise of the judiciary led by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad in 2007. Oldenburg labels this “juristocratic” democracy (89).
In conclusion, this volume, written by eminent scholars on Pakistan, is an interesting addition to the already burgeoning literature on Pakistan since 9/11. It brings to light various domestic and external aspects of Pakistan based on recent developments, though the main assertion of the book expressed by its editor—that it studies the case of Pakistan’s tribulations at the junction of “domestic dynamics and external pressures”—is clearly lacking, as these are all isolated in-depth analyses of various internal and external sectors of Pakistan.
Muhammad Shoaib Pervez, University of Management and Technology, Lahore, Pakistan
PLURALISM AND DEMOCRACY IN INDIA: Debating the Hindu Right. Edited by Wendy Doniger, Martha C. Nussbaum. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xiii, 384 pp. (Illustrations.) US$35.00, paper. ISBN 978-0195-3955-32.
Nineteen distinguished contributors assess the threat to Indian pluralism posed by majoritarian intolerance from the Hindu right which seeks to achieve hegemony. They mainly focus on public culture: ideas and imaginings. They argue that pluralistic values have not percolated down adequately to ordinary folk who are therefore vulnerable to a narrow, Hindu chauvinist homogenization of culture and society. They discuss history, religion, politics, civil society, minorities, the media, gender, and much else.
This collection was completed as Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government took power in mid-2014 and, aided by affiliated organizations, set about recasting public culture. Subsequent events lend credence to the authors’ concerns, but they also indicate that the Hindu right faces obstacles that this book underemphasizes.
Contributors rightly worry that too little has been done, in Gurcharan Das’s words, to “combine our liberal modernity with our traditions” (209). “[M]odern, liberal Indians … may abdicate [their past] to the narrow, closed minds of the fanatical Hindu nationalists.” Rightists seek to impose a hierarchy on a “non-hierarchical pantheon” (211). They propagate a “shrunken, defensive, and inaccurate version of history” (208) and a diluted, simplified parody of India’s diverse culture.
Most contributors have a rather narrow focus, so that the overall assessment is strangely incomplete, often concentrating on “high” public culture and the concerns of the middle-class minority. What Tanika Sarkar calls the “capillaries” (285), the lowest reaches, of society are examined in only a few chapters. Sarkar stresses Hindu extremists’ very real impact at that level, but other things are also happening there which raise doubts about the right’s prospects.
The fate of India’s social and political pluralism will be determined not just at the level of “high” public culture, but—more crucially—at a more mundane level. In this society of unequalled complexity, diverse subcultures engage in multiple contestations that resist regimentation. Political and social institutions, and material realities, impede homogenization and intolerance. We get glimpses of these things here, but they deserve more attention. This society is not deeply imbued with liberal values, but pluralism and (for the most part) reasonably civilized social and political interactions are sustained by a formidable array of tangible realities which will not be easily subverted.
Consider what Hindu chauvinists’ drive for hegemony is up against. At the level of ideas and imaginings, they face a potent impediment: ironically, traditional Hinduism. A myriad of local gods and heterodoxies defy efforts by Hindu extremists to homogenize, and to impose an alien hierarchy on that “non-hierarchical” Hindu pantheon. As Wendy Doniger writes, this Hinduism “of the pluralistic, creative sort, remains in the majority” (311).
Rightists are also impeded by a strong, enduring tendency, firmly established by reliable opinion surveys, towards blessed inconstancy in Indians’ attitudes to their identities. They shift their preoccupations from one of their many identities to another, and then another, often and with great fluidity—bad news for Hindu nationalists who seek to fix their attention on their religious identity.
We must look beneath high—and high-minded—public culture. The subsoil in which India’s pluralistic socio-political order is rooted consists of things that are more mundane but more dependable: the tangible needs, realities and experiences of ordinary people, and their attendant perceptions and habits of mind, giving rise to another, less exalted public culture. This falls short of the “liberal religion and liberal spiritual culture” which Martha Nussbaum would like to see (53). But just as ordinary Indians need not be literates for pluralist democracy to survive, it is unnecessary that they be liberals.
Amrita Basu (91) quotes Charles Taylor’s argument, first, that “being citizens has to rate as an important component of who they [citizens] are,” and then for the need “to shift the balance within the identity of the modern citizen, so that being a citizen will take precedence over a host of other poles of identity.”
Plentiful evidence indicates that in India, the first of these things exists in strength. Voters have repeatedly punished ineffective or abusive governments that violated tacit understandings with citizens. Witness the post-Emergency landslide (1977) at the national level, and voters’ repeated humiliations of vile state governments.
But Taylor’s second requirement has not been fulfilled. Being citizens seldom takes precedence over “other poles of identity.” This may sound like a threat to democracy, but in practice, it is not, because of the fluidity with which they shift their preoccupations among various identities. Those shifts often occur not because ordinary people/voters are liberals, but because many governments fail to address their mundane concerns.
Winning control of governments is essential both in validating the Hindu right and in enabling its drive for hegemony. But it is a marginal force in 40 percent of India, and often fails to gain power elsewhere. When it wields executive power, it is unable to dominate key political institutions—the courts, the Election Commission, lower-level councils, etc.—which have gained great substance and backbone since 1989 and resist subjugation.
More seriously, the right is often unable to retain power, because of poor performance. At this writing in mid-2016, disappointing performances by the Modi government at the national level and by BJP governments in several states, threaten to alienate many of India’s discerning, impatient voters. To grasp this, we must understand what constitutes good “performance.” Sarkar notes that the only state where the BJP has held power for three successive terms is Gujarat, as a result of religious polarization after the 2002 pogrom. She argues that this “carries a dangerous lesson: excess and not moderation in violence may be its most effective weapon” (285). Since she wrote that, BJP governments in two other states have lasted three terms by downplaying Hindu extremism, and by concentrating on development and service delivery. Outside polarizable Gujarat, that sort of “performance” is the BJP’s best hope.
But several BJP state governments elected amid the initial Modi euphoria, and headed by hardline but inexperienced Hindu rightists, have poor records at delivery. The abundant new jobs that Modi promised have not materialized. His response is a further unrealistic promise: to double rural incomes by 2020. When that proves unfeasible, it will deepen discontent by the 2019 national election. Extreme over-centralization, with Modi making all key decisions, has weakened the BJP’s organization and increased administrative paralysis. These mundane things alienate voters.
Contradictions in the right’s attempt to change public culture add to BJP woes. They have sought to appropriate Gandhi’s legacy, but Hindu chauvinists are celebrating his assassin! Modi has striven to appropriate the legacy of the iconic Dalit (ex-untouchable) leader, B.R. Ambedkar. But cow protection vigilantes have committed atrocities in three states against Dalits for pursuing their traditional occupation, removing carcasses of dead cattle. A firestorm of protest ensued, leaving Modi struggling to revive his appeal to Dalits.
The BJP was thrashed in a state election in Bihar where Modi’s religious polarization backfired. Can it win the crucial state election in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 without support from Dalits (20.7 percent of the state population)? How will it win the national election in 2019 without votes from Dalits (16.6 percent of India’s population), in the teeth of disappointment over Modi’s unfulfilled promises and poor delivery by its national and several of its state governments? Defeats will discredit the party and its leader, and check or possibly thwart the drive for political and cultural hegemony.
James Manor, University of London, London, United Kingdom
REEL WORLD: An Anthropology of Creation. By Anand Pandian; with a foreword by Walter Murch. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. xv, 339 pp. (Illustrations.) US$26.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6000-1.
This book turns an ethnographic light towards an unexplored terrain, the creative processes that go into the making of a contemporary Tamil film. Notwithstanding the dominant characteristic of any cinema, the “tyranny of repetition,” as Anand demonstrates this process is always a passionately absorbing moment with the unknown, producing something new and unforeseen. True, but what is the primary objective of this kind of study?
Describing our contemporary anthropocene epoch with its disturbing images of all encompassing catastrophe as the appearance of the gigantic everywhere in a Heideggerian fashion, Anand reminds us that when unmanageable chaos is knocking at our door, our only hope remains in generating new ways of seeing that could take us beyond the vanities of human agency and its disastrous effects. For that kind of shift to occur in our perspectives, it is necessary to cross the confines of our familiar sociocultural worlds and its modes of thought and perceptions.
Invoking Deleuze, he argues, therefore, that cinema can do this by rattling our unshakeable habits of thinking, by “carrying perception into things.” The primary objective of this book is then “to put the medium back into the world, back into the environment from which it arises, the web of relations through which it grows”(18). Towards this task, looking at “cinema as something more than an archive of finished forms and tales” (18) becomes a methodological requirement. Within this ecological frame, the moment of creation is then more a speculative confrontation with becoming than being; “a series of wagers made on the redemptive potential of the world at hand” (18) by cinematic means. Thus, this book is daring and vaster in its philosophical scope than any usual discussion of creativity.
It deploys a tangible strategy by following several film crews at different stages of filmmaking, instead of pursuing a sample from start to finish. Moving from the social experience of Tamil cinema, which often blurs the distinction between the reel world and the real world, Anand dives headlong into its manifold registers, abandoning any pretentions of being a detached observer. His American accent surprisingly turns him into a participant, as he is compelled to dub for Barack Obama in Tamil Padam, a hilarious spoof on the figuration of the mass hero. Simultaneously with his accounts of the medium, to pin point where he is coming from, he narrates his personal ethnography both as a diasporic viewer of Tamil Cinema and as a professional anthropologist engaged in the process of unraveling its magic. Chapter to chapter, the creative process in the cinematic world runs in tandem with the author’s moments of hope and anxiety in shaping this book, while his keen observations bring alive a wide range of people, with the distinct and varying atmospheres in which they labour.
With Reel World at its opening and An Anthropology of Creation at its conclusion, as an academic enterprise, this book is unconventional in its form and style; naming as it does the seventeen chapters that fall within these two extremes as Dreams, Hope, Space, Art, Love, Desire, Light, Color, Time, Imagination, Pleasure, Sound, Voice, Rhythm, Speed, Wonder, and Fate. Written in delectable prose, with a series of juxtapositions drawn from poets, philosophers, and film theorists, it captures the profound resonances at play in each of them. The most telling self-reflexive moment is the chapter on Pleasure where as an ethnographer he had to confront his own embarrassing voyeurism during the shoot of an item number, when a skimpily clothed female dancer had to perform her sexually provocative act for this song and dance routine, amidst a predominantly male crew. At the same time, Anand maintains a constant vigil from making any quick politically-correct judgments, but without eliminating critical remarks when necessary.
In the final analysis, the creative moment could be explained only in a retrospective manner after the act, when it brings forth something new that did not exist before. Anand, however, carefully notes in this context that such a process can never be ex nihilio. If that is the case, then the question arises what if we can describe this moment simply in prosaic theoretical terms as film practice. It may lack the poetic resonance of a word like “creative,” but would it be inaccurate? Is dealing with cinema as more than an “unfinished form” the sole virtue of an ethnographic framework? Surely, theoretical exercises which take history or shifts in mode of production as the ultimate horizon of film theory can identify generic mutations and the rupturing of a narrative regime that not only produces something new but indicate changes in film practice and film form that did not exist before; provided, the underlying conditions of production have changed. Can this not serve the same objectives and contribute to the creation of a better world?
Much has changed in Tamil Cinema with the advent of globalization. Although Anand describes its impact on a CGI outfit, his description of a producer like G. Dhananjayan does not register the very presence of this corporate agent as a novelty that could be accounted for only by the transformations that have taken place in the mode of production. His emergence is unlike that of any entrenched producer like A.V.M. Saravanan or Kalaipuli S. Dhanu in an industry that was until recent times an unorganized sector of the economy. Not contextualized thereby in large historical terms, this book is actually full of exciting data that can support a contrary thesis. However, Anand can still maintain within his ecological concerns that such novelties could be bracketed, as his attempt is delimited to what emerges during the creation of a film and the way it unfolds in the registers of the perception-image, action-image, affection-image, or time-image in the auditorium. In that sense, there is much that is redemptive in this book, making it a significant contribution towards the on-going debates in South Asian film studies.
Venkatesh Chakravarthy, L.V. Prasad Film & TV Academy, Chennai, India
THE SPECTRAL WOUND: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971. By Nayanika Mookherjee; foreword by Veena Das. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. xxiv, 325 pp. (Figures.) US$26.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5968-5.
I was enthusiastic about reviewing this publication. The subject is fascinating, convoluted, provocative; a challenging anthropological endeavour. But then as I began reading, I found that I had to put the book down from time to time to clear my thoughts. Not because of the poignant issues discussed (and they are poignant), but because of the overwhelming inaccessibility of the presentation style.
The book’s title references the shadowy, phantom-like memory of wartime sexual violence against women and the aftermath of that violence in terms of women’s lived experiences and familial, community, and government responses. The rape of as yet undetermined thousands of women during the Bangladesh War of Independence (1971), perpetuated not only by the enemy Pakistani military but also by resident Bangladeshi collaborators, is redolent of women’s experiences the world over, wherever armed aggression degenerates into sexual violence.
In Bangladesh, the rapes represent a mortification that the government has variously tried to conceal, suppress, and/or commemorate with varying degrees of success. Moreover, since the women have had little control over the ways in which they are acknowledged as Birangona (war heroines), and only limited understanding of the possible consequences of such disclosure, they have been thrust into public view and exposed to new forms of scrutiny and critique. Nevertheless, the ways in which these women respond, recover, and reconstruct their lives are not necessarily as might be expected.
The research approach encompasses anthropological fieldwork combined with activist interviews and analysis of available written and visual materials. Establishing rapport and being present in the village of Enayetpur to see, hear, and participate allows the author to offer intimate insights into the lived experiences of three war heroines, their husbands, children, and extended families. Contextualized in history, politics, and memories of Indian and Bangladeshi independence, the author considers public representations of the women, secrecy (and openness) surrounding sexual violence, and the ways in which the birangonas remember, reinterpret, represent, and normalize their experiences. At a book launch at Drik Picture Library in Bangladesh (YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r5tEQHSxSo, January 2016), the author described a triangulation of birangona narratives, activist discourse, and literary and visual accounts. And, indeed, the chapters of the volume present these perspectives. For example, an analysis of familial and community responses to the rapes and subsequent government maneuverings highlight the power of words (khota) to wound and denigrate individuals. Words used toward and in the presence of the women and their family members reinforce behavioural norms and expectations, purportedly punish transgressions (perceived or real) and critique disclosure of enigmatic secrets that are held to be appropriately “known,” yet “not known,” particularly when disclosure is perceived to benefit those who make the revelation. Nevertheless, women negotiate relationships with husbands, children, and others on an ongoing basis and the language used to secure their places in family and community reveal subtle perspectives on (dis)honour, responsibility, power(lessness), victimization and “failed masculinity.”
Visual and literary representations of war, sexual violence, and the birangonas themselves complement discussion of activism in pursuance of memorialization, transitional justice, restitution, and rehabilitation. The author writes:
Along with using the metaphor of “combing” to ethnographically examine the birangonas’ narration of the “testimonial culture,” I…deconstruct the visual and state narratives of the birangona as sites of enunciation or effaced invocation through the analytical tools of absent presence of the spectral war heroine…The frequency with which the birangona is evoked, brought into existence so that she can be effaced and exited, inscribes her with the logic of a specter. Thereby she can be subjected to a double sense of calling into presence in her absence and made safely available for the nation… various literary, visual, and testimonial representations…make the birangona disappear even while affectively invoking her, bringing into play at the same juncture both of the connotations of combing over—searching for and hiding. In the nation’s positive conceptual formulation of the raped woman, she can only be exemplified in the absence of her presence, through horrific enactment and representation as a wound, which ensures a greater invocation of her “trauma”…The emphasis on the wound of the war heroine creates a pathological public sphere whereby the raped woman can only be perceived as a horrific alterity. (25)
In rereading, I reconsider, could my concerns with readability be exaggerated? I think not. I can decipher the meaning but have to work far too hard to do so. Sitting in the sun, over cups of chai latte, discussing my enthusiasm for the research findings, concomitant with consternation regarding their presentation, my colleague and friend welcomed me to the fellowship of academic curmudgeons, an invented, yet probable, group of old-school academics who struggle with the machinations of contemporary scholarly rhetoric. After all, if at the heart of good anthropological research is an interesting story, well told, doesn’t the responsibility for telling that story lie with the teller? Thus, the onus is on the writer to convey information in a clear and comprehensible manner, not on the reader to decipher perplexing language that obscures the story and/or its significance. After all, what purpose does academic writing serve if not to elucidate and enlighten? Moreover, with whom are we communicating? If only ourselves, then what is the point?
I recognize the modus operandi of the academy customarily demands demonstration of scholarly talent. Publish or perish persists and specialized neologisms that obfuscate meanings are de rigueur in some academic domains. That being said, this story is complex enough; the nuanced interpretation sufficient to reflect the intricacy of memory and experience. On that basis, I would recommend Spectral Wound if issues of women’s history, resilience and narrative are of interest. It is a fascinating (if challenging) read that provides a discerning exploration of a convoluted, tragic, and largely unheeded episode in South Asian history.
Margot Wilson, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada
Interest in the study of Buddhism in Cambodia has grown among scholars in recent years. Historian Ian Harris provided us with Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice (2005) and Buddhism in a Dark Age: Cambodian Monks under Pol Pot (2013), which provide comprehensive analyses of Buddhism and its role in Cambodian society. Anna Ruth Hansen’s How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1930 (2007) explored Buddhist modernism in the French protectorate of Cambodge in the first half of the twentieth century. While these studies broke new ground, certain aspects of Cambodian Buddhism, such as the death ritual practice and its connection to present-day Cambodian culture and society, remained unexamined. This is why Deathpower: Buddhism’s Ritual Imagination in Cambodia by Erik W. Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Macalester College, is especially felicitous. Davis’ book is the most intensive ethnographic study of contemporary Buddhist death rituals in Cambodia to date.
The book contains eight highly readable chapters that combine Davis’ observations, interviews, and theoretical regressions to highlight the nature and form of Buddhist death practices in Cambodia. It is an expansion of his dissertation and fieldwork, which focused primarily on two temples in Phnom Penh (Wat Koḥ Yakkha and Wat Trī Loka) from 2003 to 2006. Davis draws from Michel Foucault’s notion of “biopower” for his concept of deathpower, which he calls a “domain of death over which human power has taken control” (134). More specifically, it refers to the relationships between the living and the dead as mirrored in the interactions on how Buddhist monks care for the dead. Davis also acknowledges in his introduction that Cornelius Castoriadis’ concept of the “magma of social significations” influenced his work considerably, and credits Clifford Geertz and Catherine Bell for their performance-oriented ethnography.
The first three chapters discuss types of burials, ritual personnel, technical details on the preparation of the body for cremation, and activities conducted after the cremation. Davis describes his fieldwork in two crematoriums where Buddhist monks and lay-ritual specialists physically bind the corpse of the dead to a location. This section includes an insightful discussion of the interconnections between rice agriculture and religious concepts. Chapter four explores funerary practices and two types of power held by the king who controls life and the Buddhist sangha (community of monks) that controls death. Davis introduces the boundary (sīmā) ritual, which he suggests “mimics and replaces the historical decapitation of a human head” (119). Davis then examines the connection between Buddhist ritualistic imagery and agricultural activities, including the role of paṃsukūla (rag robe) and its ties to the burial shroud. Here, he seeks out “agricultural resonances” (153) to link death rituals to agricultural imagery. Chapter six examines Bhjum Pinda (lit. “gathering the rice balls”), which Cambodians perform annually in the autumn and in which the Buddhist monks play a vital role, noting that a “monk serves as a conduit to the dead ancestors, whose blessings are the prerequisite for wealth, health, and happiness for their descendants” (168). The next chapter moves its attention to the ritual use of “physical remains of a human being to the remnants of another’s meal” (189) to show the differences between Buddhist monks, spirits mediums, and witches. Davis turns to the central question of his work in the book’s final chapter: what is, after all, Cambodian Buddhism? The title of the chapter, “Buddhism Makes Brahmanism” is somewhat misleading, since by “Brahmanism” the author does not mean the religion that existed in India or Cambodia prior to the advent of Buddhism. Instead, the author refers to all non-Buddhist spiritual entities and practices other than Cambodian Buddhism.
Davis argues that Buddhist ritual practice creates the “non-Buddhist category of spirits through its domination of them” (22) and “it needs non-Buddhist spirits to treat, tame, instrumentalize, or transform into beneficent ancestors” (241). This gives the sense that the sangha has certain control over non-Buddhist religious practice in Cambodia. How common is it for a non-Buddhist to ask Buddhist monks to perform funeral rituals for their family member? What might ethnic minority peoples in Cambodia who also believe in the spiritual world think of this “lumped” category? Moreover, Davis seems to disagree with the concept of syncretism or hybridity in relation to Southeast Asian Buddhism, suggesting an integration of them into a common Cambodian cultural imagination in which “Buddhism is a moral and ritual offense against a world essentially composed of wild, amoral spirits, including those that constitute us as human beings” (22). But this process is dialectical since Buddhism adopted religious aspects of other local religions and incorporated them. A Buddhist/non-Buddhist binary opposition may occur within the sangha imagination in an urban setting, but this is a questionable assumption in rural communities where everyday interaction and practice are often not as static. Davis acknowledges that Buddhism “embrace[s] as many types of spirits as it can, as long as they are willing to submit to the ultimate moral authority of Buddhism and its power over them” (242). How then can we determine what is Buddhist and “non-Buddhist”? What type of moral authority and power of the “non-Buddhist” submits to the Buddhist? In addition, Davis explains that he focuses more on lay ritual specialists rather than monks, but I wonder if Buddhism as portrayed by monks in general is the same Buddhism as practiced by lay followers?
Deathpower is insightful reading that provides sound scholarly analysis of complex phenomena at play within Cambodian Buddhist practice. This book is a long overdue contribution to the field of Buddhist studies in general and Cambodian Buddhism in particular. Davis’ ethnographic approach to his topic throws into sharp relief new and engaging aspects of the nature of Southeast Asian Buddhism’s encounters with local practices and performances. His work is persuasive and well researched, and should be compulsory reading for any scholar who is interested in both Cambodian studies and contemporary Buddhism in Southeast Asia.
Mai Bui Dieu Linh, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada
JAVAPHILIA: American Love Affairs with Javanese Music and Dance. Music and Performing Arts of Asia and the Pacific. By Henry Spiller. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. xii, 266 pp. (Figures.) US$42.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-4094-5.
Javaphilia is a smartly researched, historical account of four influential individuals’ engagement with Javanese music and dance in the American cultural imagination. The biographical data is sandwiched between two expositions, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which featured the Java Village, and the 1986 Exposition in Vancouver, where the First International Gamelan Festival and Symposium was held. Culminating in several performative moments throughout the decades, Spiller provides critical perspectives on four influential “javaphiles,” or “those who love Java” (vii): artist Hubert Stowitts (1892–1953), singer Eva Gauthier (1885–1958), ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood (1918–2005), and composer Lou Harrison (1917–2003). Henry Spiller shows that artists and scholars alike have participated in a subcultural affinity for Javanese expression since 1893, leaving perennial waves in the contemporary American cultural imagination.
By utilizing a microhistorical approach, Spiller explores “the minute details of small events or individuals’ lives to illuminate larger cultural patterns and narratives” (17). More specifically, the purpose of the book is to illuminate and critique the ways in which Americans have imagined Java through an analytical lens that explores “self-understanding and self-fashioning, orientalisms, and microhistory” (25). Four of the book’s seven chapters are devoted to specific individuals, those mentioned above, illustrating how each used Java for their own careers and “self-fashioning” (25), while contributing to a wider cultural affinity for Javanese arts. He argues that for Stowitts, Gauthier, Hood, and Harrison, Javanese arts provided more individually suitable ways to negotiate aesthetic sensibilities and identity formations where mainstream American artistic practices could not. Spiller also reflexively includes himself in his nuanced critique of javaphilia in America by providing his own, albeit brief, microhistory in the form of an autobiographical account.
The central theme of the book revolves around the notion that American mainstream values and sensibilities left each individual javaphile feeling marginalized, pushing them to pursue new ways of forming identities through the idea of Java. Gauthier was not well received as a singer before traveling to Java, Stowitts felt alienated by homophobia at home, Hood was frustrated with Cold War values, and Harrison shied away from the “anxious expressions” of the American music establishment (5). Each of these javaphiles was disenchanted by their place in American culture; as Spiller notes, “[n]one of the conventional subject positions available to them was quite suitable” (5).
While focusing primarily on biography and microhistory as method, Spiller also weaves in musical analysis that illustrates the ways in which individuals have imagined Java, Indonesia, and the East through orientalizing and decidedly American filters. These analyses are interesting given that, as Spiller argues, many javaphiles looked to Java as an alternative site through which to express their artistic, sexual, and political identities and desires. As revealed throughout the book, these desires are often expressed through misrepresentations and exaggerations of Javanese culture. Notably, as Spiller demonstrates, many of the musical features associated with Java remain consistent from the time of the 1893 World’s Fair, throughout each of the aforementioned javaphile’s lives, and remain salient for affinity groups today.
The primary musical characteristics that came to represent Java in American performances included “complex timbres, stratified polyphonic textures, and formulaic repetitiveness of the music that stuck in people’s ears” (27). While these features stood out and remained consistent in American conceptions of Javanese music, other biases in musical transmission included practices such as conforming transcriptions to Western musical preconceptions (37), or gravitating towards Western harmonic conventions in Javanese song arrangements (73). These and other tendencies are traced throughout the book, from transcriptions by visitors to the World’s Fair to Lou Harrison’s tuning and stylistic adaptations in what he called the American gamelan.
In concluding the book, Spiller notes that individuals no longer dominate the arena of javaphilia but have influenced a wider subcultural affinity for Javanese culture, most notably in university settings. Citing what ethnomusicologists have called “ethnodrag” in university gamelan performances, where students and teachers play the part of Indonesia through often awkwardly fitting costumes and musical adaptations, he suggests that the American gamelan musician is a “double-Other” who, in part because of his or her own feelings of alienation and need to identify outside of the American cultural mainstream, reinterprets Javanese culture in order to construct an identity for him- or herself (199).
Though critical in his examination of American javaphilia, a critique that includes himself, Spiller is charitable in his assessment of Americans’ love of Javanese culture. Noting that “assimilation is different from intimate familiarization, and that the former is impossible in an American setting,” he provides an ultimately supportive and positive interpretation of the cross-cultural bridges that are built upon an initial platform of individual self-fulfillment (199). In addition to self-fulfillment, the author cites ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin’s two-pronged approach as a way of understanding affinity groups: self-fulfillment and communitas (199). Spiller argues that it is through these motivations that javaphilia continues in American settings today.
Spiller’s work contributes to a lesser-covered topic in ethnomusicology: gamelan and Javanese arts in American settings. Along with works such as Judith Becker’s “One Perspective on Gamelan in America” (Asian Music 15, no.1 : 81–89), or Leta Miller and Fredric Lieberman’s “Lou Harrison and the American Gamelan” (American Music 17, no. 2 [summer 1999]: 146–178), where ethnomusicologists have examined the impact of gamelan in North America, Javaphilia is a significant contribution. Relevant to a wide range of cultural scholars, but especially ethnomusicologists, those studying Javanese arts will appreciate the many insights into their field through Spiller’s careful historical research. Beyond interest to specialists, the book is relevant for all those working and studying in American—and wider—academic institutions where ethnomusicology and world music is taught and performed. Alongside works such as Performing Ethnomusicology: Teaching and Representation in World Music Ensembles, edited by Ted Solís (University of California Press, 2004), which examines the performative aspects of ethnomusicology as a discipline, or Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History, edited by Stephen Blum, Philip Bohlman, and Daniel Neuman (University of Illinois Press, 1991), which discusses ways that ethnomusicology fits into historical music research, Henry Spiller fills in a major portion of the performative history of ethnomusicology, a portion significantly and influentially bound up with javaphilia.
Joe Kinzer, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
Decades ago, at the end of a devastating conflict, a flow of humanity, braving all dangers while paying a deadly price, fled Indochina to asylum countries where they resettled into new lives, their homelands branded into their memories. Their experiences—seldom directly recounted by themselves but more so by their children, a generation further removed from the conflict—became a barely discernible genre within a voluminous stream of works known in the English language as the Vietnam War literature. This genere involves not only the written word but also a filmography churned out by Hollywood, which has been viewed globally and implicitly accepted as expressing the wartime realities, whether rendered coarsely as in the Rambo series or artistically as in Apocalypse Now.
These works tend to be Manichean in their interpretations, predominantly concerned with explaining how the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, lost to an underdeveloped, formerly colonized country, Vietnam. None went beyond this dualistic approach which opposed the (American) Self/perpetrator and the (non-American) Other/victim, ignoring the fact that the victim could also be the perpetrator. None, that is, until Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies.
Nguyen’s work is a multidimensional reflection on conflicts in general and on the Second Indochina War in particular, from the further removed location of memories; it is about how the Vietnam or American War—the names are “false choices” (7)—is remembered, reflected, produced, and disseminated, and by whom. The author explores memories grouped under three headings—“Ethics,” “Industries,” and “Aesthetics”— canvassing a vast literary, artistic, and cinematographic array produced in the English language. Employing Marxist dialectics and influenced by the school of memory and forgetting, from Halbwachs to Ricoeur, Nguyen argues that remembrances, themselves part of a thriving industry of memory, are reflections of a dualistic imbalance of power, the powerful versus the weak, the rich versus the poor, the developed versus the underdeveloped, as “memories are signs and products of power, and in turn, they service power” (15).
Nguyen strives to be as inclusive as possible, including not only the voices of Americans and Vietnamese but also of Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong, and others. He advocates “just memory” to be approached “by recalling the weak, the subjugated, the different” (17). Nothing and no one escapes his scrutiny, from the hallowed Vietnam War Wall in Washington, DC, to the revered Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, as he examines the underpinnings of consecrated symbols, and shines light on the victims to show that they can be equally perpetrators, “human and inhuman.” The author extends such metaphorical analysis to present-day “others” such as the Muslim, the Arab, or the terrorist, who are supposedly treated in some circles “in the same idealized fashion as the antiwar movement treated the Vietnamese” (74).
Nguyen’s work is a reflection not just on the Vietnam War but also on other conflicts fought by the United States (e.g., Korea, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Iraq), explaining that “historically intractable conflicts continue” because both sides see themselves as victims but refuse to acknowledge that they are also perpetrators (73). It ponders racial relations in America between the predominant English-speaking white majority and the varied ethnicities that have also settled the land, and the problematics of writing from an ethnic point of view—be the perspective that of the Vietnamese American or another ethnicity. Nguyen confronts the paradox of Vietnamese American and, by extension, all ethnically based literature bound to a defining trauma as “minority writers know they are most easily heard in America when they speak about the historical events that defined their populations” (201).
Nothing Ever Dies’ strength lies in the voice its author gives to the disenfranchised via a lyrical, impassioned style, fuelled by a considerable scholarship and coloured by numerous trips to Asia. He demands that we, the readers, always remember “ethically.” While having “Vietnam” in its title and a Vietnamese author’s name may limit its readership to those eternally seeking an answer to the conflict, this work is very much of the moment—and beyond—in its examination of current issues that are at the forefront of American society such as racial relations, identity politics, war, and memories. While the work by itself may read as a philosophical discourse on “just forgetting,” on Asian Americans and their fates in “the land of the free,” it conveys a touch of tenderness and relatable fragile humanity via a filigree of a voice, that of the refugee child that the author used to be before his metamorphosis into a full-fledged, Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer. His trajectory of exodus, resettlement, and return to his roots make him palpably one of “them,” in search of his “self” in his ancestral as well as adopted land.
Throughout the work, the author strives to be inclusive by refusing to accept the dominant memories of the “patronizing, guilt-ridden” majority (196). This drive, while necessary and commendable, is weakened by his attempt to step into cultures and lands with which by ethnic membership and scholarly training, the author is unfamiliar. Thus his examination of the Cambodian Genocide through visits to the killing fields reads as simplistic and reductive in its interpretation of such a complex phenomenon, just like his desire to include the Lao experience is limited by the scarcity of English-language works about such a little-known nation. Equally it is sometimes plagued by facile, jargonistic phrases such as “the American industry of memory is on a par with the American arms industry just as Hollywood is the equal of the American armed forces” (108).
Overall, Nothing Ever Dies affects us all, whether we are students of the Vietnam/American War or simply concerned by questions of “identity politics,” whether we are part of the first or second generation of exiles adapting to a new homeland or whether we are curious about the “other.” It will affect all readers who are musing about present-day conflicts, and above all, those of us who try to remember justly.
Nguyễn Thị Điểu, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA
ROMANCING HUMAN RIGHTS: Gender, Intimacy, and Power between Burma and the West. Intersections: Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies Series. By Tamara C. Ho. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press in association with UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Los Angeles, 2015. xxvi, 184 pp. US$49.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3925-3.
One of the benefits of Myanmar’s ongoing transformation after decades of military rule is that the scope of academic reflection is broadening, and broadening quickly. In the past, scholars were generally content to grapple with the familiar binaries: generals and democrats, minorities and majorities, war and peace. In Tamara C. Ho’s densely composed and passionately argued Romancing Human Rights, we get an entirely new set of critical dispatches. These emerge from the close reading of a motley collection of source materials and authors, everything from George Orwell to Aung San Suu Kyi, and Rambo to Zoya Phan. The interpretations are bold, often grasping at a single paragraph to make punchy postcolonial assertions about the deeper priorities and prejudices of the authors.
The basis for Ho’s re-reading of “the hegemonic influence of Western heteropatriarchy” (xi) is “Asian/American” (xvi), meaning there is a “slash” in the identity matrix. In her words, Ho presents a “queer/feminist genealogy [that] tracks displaced Burmese women as real and fictional author-translators across the twentieth century in various geopolitical spaces” (xvii). Her advantage for this type of scholarship is historical and personal: Ho is a “doubly diasporic feminist critic, a tayoke (Chinese) immigrant from Burma with the privileges of US citizenship and education” (xviii).
Given the genre, there is no escaping the barrage of concepts and theory, unleashed with gusto in chapter 1’s survey of “interracial affiliations and transnational antagonisms.” Ho’s “analysis highlights how the political power of ‘the West’ (the United States in particular) operates in neo-Orientalist, messianic discourses about ‘saving’ the abjected, minoritized, and postcolonial Other” (5). The whole point of her re-reading of the literary materials is to challenge “heteropatriarchical normativity” (15), which at one stage morphs into “an overdetermined and homophobically Orientalist trope” (22).
In this case, the literary homophobe is the scripting of Rambo, a 2008 film that sees the classic Hollywood brawler take to a Myanmar army battalion with a heavy machine gun. It is hardly high art, but Ho gives Sylvester Stallone’s notorious character the full critical treatment. In her view, “Rambo perpetuates a heterosexist, individualistic ethos and unchecked collateral damage while reinforcing U.S. exceptionalism and Christian spiritual redemption” (23). Later, in chapter 2’s discussion of “possessive investments in masculinity,” we learn “how Western imperialism and patriarchal hegemony worked to obliterate feminized and minoritized discourses” (26). Later, on the same theme, we get the interpretation of a “phallic needle” (50).
However, when it comes to the grim and often violent politics of Myanmar, Ho is curiously imprecise. She lumps together a “series of brutally repressive military governments since 1962 (i.e., General Ne Win and the BSPP, SLORC, SPDC, USDA, and USDP)” (67). The fact that the USDA was never the government, and that the USDP (which ruled from 2011 to 2016) implemented wide-ranging political and economic reforms, does not fit Ho’s story of uninterrupted and unrelenting brutality.
Instead, Romancing Human Rights goes back to broadcasting unflattering appraisals of other writers. One unlucky biographer is admonished for a “passage [that] illustrates enduring voyeuristic and Orientalist fantasies about Burma” (81). In this style, Ho ends up criticizing those with whom she more-or-less agrees, arguing that one otherwise useful analyst “falls prey to the imperialist (Western) tendency to sexualize and eroticize Burmese bodies” (81). In Ho’s sharp assessments, nothing can ever be taken for granted or accepted at face value. Apparently “the authors of Burmese descent examined in Romancing Human Rights are a few examples of minoritized voices that are too often ignored or repackaged for exploitation/profit by the publishing marketplace and consumption by mainstream audiences of the global North and One-Third World” (110). In another section, Ho scornfully writes of Myanmar’s “reforms” (115). Myanmar today remains imperfect, of course. The fact that this book does not appear to mention Naypyitaw, not even once, is an indication of a curious disconnect from the harsh realities of power and ideas.
The book’s 498 footnotes are also fascinating artifacts of Ho’s literary method. Footnote 3, on page 121, presents another phallic reference, this time about sixteenth-century reports of penile enhancement. Later, on page 158, in footnote 25, Ho admits that her “study does not extensively engage literature or journalism written in Burmese” (158). Given her immense effort to reclaim a more authentic and politically acceptable vision of Myanmar culture, it is surprising that we do not learn more from the pluralized vernaculars of the people themselves.
Colonialisms and their postcolonial rebuttals are certainly worthy subjects of scholarly labour and Ho is to be commended for her thorough and radical approach. Yet, when it comes to today’s geopolitics, if there is a serious colonial element to life in Myanmar it rarely emanates from Ho’s reviled West. It is big Chinese players—ably abetted by Singaporeans, Koreans, Thais, and Malaysians—who are doing their utmost to reshape the economy, exploit national and human resources, and stamp an entirely new set of values on society. In most cases, these implacably illiberal influences are the ones deserving our sustained critical scrutiny. In this respect, Ho’s literary interpretations may prove anachronistic when put side-by-side with the foundational battles for livelihood that matter so much to millions of people across Myanmar today.
Nicholas Farrelly, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Readers may not be familiar with three of the four remarkable women who are not Aung San Suu Kyi but who are profiled along with her in this excellent new book by Nilanjana Sengupta: Khin Myo Chit, Ludu Daw Amar, and Dr. Ma Thida. Aung San Suu Kyi’s story is quite well known, but Sengupta shows how some of the choices she made in the past foreshadow those she is making today as the de facto head of state in Myanmar. The personal stories and writings of the other three notable women depicted in this volume may be less familiar, but make just as compelling reading.
The four women featured get more or less equal billing in this 383-page book, of which 65 pages are devoted to a very useful and detailed glossary, endnotes, bibliography, chronology of publications, and index. There are also photos, both familiar and rare. Sengupta is an intrepid and resourceful scholar who did not let her relative newness to Myanmar studies lead her to secondary sources; rather she deployed a team of Burmese researchers to translate and help her analyze Burmese primary source material including letters, journals, books, and articles by her protagonists. This book is a welcome contribution to Myanmar scholarship in many disciplines, but more importantly it is an enticement for any researcher interested in Myanmar to do more work on the status of women, the politics of sexuality, and the power dynamics between men and women.
Myanmar’s modern history comes alive through the carefully crafted personal narratives of the four extraordinary women. Ludu Daw Amar is the Mandalay-based publisher-editor of the anti-establishment leftist Ludu Press who championed critical thinking and progressive learning institutions as well as students advocating for social justice. Khin Myo Chit was prolific as a journalist, translator, and an early feminist commentator who questioned the cultural acceptance of male supremacy and the innate gender bias in Buddhism—this in a conservative and devoutly Buddhist country. We follow Ma Thida’s journey from a surgeon and writer, to prison, where she finds refuge and peace in practicing “mindfulness” meditation, and where her jailer whispered sadly to her, “Thamee [daughter], you are free but we are not.” The most prominent “voice,” of course, is that of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose trajectory from academic spouse to democracy icon to de facto leader of Myanmar is not as accidental as it appears. Sengupta points out how Suu Kyi’s earlier writings and speeches always espoused individual choice, the power of non-violent resistance, and pragmatism, as they do today.
The lives of the featured four often intertwined: Ma Thida once took a Shakespeare class with Khin Myo Chit years before she worked as a close aide to Daw Aung Suu Kyi, who admired and attended Daw Amar’s birthday parties. All four escaped their oppressive surroundings at difficult times in their lives (usually prison or house arrest) through the practice of meditation.
However, these four women of Myanmar do not represent the average female in a Burmese Buddhist patriarchy where the burden of being female in is not inconsiderable. Through the subtly feminist writings of Khin Myo Chit, we are reminded of the myriad ways women’s sexuality threatens the debasement or loss in a man of what the Burmese call “hpon,” an innately superior aura of which men are believed to possess more than women. Even today in Myanmar, the fear in Burmese society of the capacity of women to pollute or lessen men’s hpon relegates women’s htameins, or sarongs, to be dried on separate (lower) clothes lines, lest a distracted male inadvertently bump into it and endanger his precious hpon.
Khin Myo Chit focused a considerable part of her writing on Burmese society’s deeply rooted belief in women’s biological inferiority. The universal fear of woman as pollutant explains the extremes the Burmese Tatmadaw, or armed forces, went through to sabotage the perceived power of its main antagonist, Suu Kyi. Another under-studied research topic is the widespread belief in Myanmar of performing yedaya, a proscribed set of actions that is believed to pre-empt or deflect a feared or predicted negative occurrence. During the 2015 national election campaign, an example of a political yedaya appeared on the front pages of many Burmese language newspapers to much amusement. The photo of a green gourd-like vegetable on a small wooden stand perched on the roof of a local market depicted, in the eyes of Burmese society, a performance of yedaya by the military to evoke victory in the election. The Burmese acronym for the ruling party (headed by men in green military garb), rhymes with the word for this particular type of gourd, which lies on top of a market whose name sounds like “Suu Kyi.”
Ludu Daw Amar spent her long life (to age 93) focusing her writing on three major struggles for freedom: from British colonialists, Japanese occupiers, and the home grown dictatorship of General Ne Win and his successors. Daw Amar’s contemporary, Khin Myo Chit, born the same year (1915), also machinated her way around General Ne Win’s censors. Revisiting this period through the gaze of these two patriots we are reminded of the unpredictability of Burmese politics. In 1987, a year before the nationwide uprising, the famously ruthless General Ne Win gave up on a Burmese socialist utopia and offered to retire, even suggesting a public referendum on whether the country preferred a multi-party democracy. He preceded by almost 30 years a top-down opening of the country initiated by one of his successors in 2010.
In the last chapter, Sengupta uses Aung San Suu Kyi’s writings to explain her evolution from idealist to pragmatist and suggests how this may be playing out in her approach to the transition in Myanmar. Many characters from the earlier days of struggle led by Suu Kyi are now helping her, unofficially at least, run Myanmar. One of the many poignant photos in Sengupta’s book includes an iconic shot of a very young Htin Kyaw, now President Htin Kyaw, sitting locked arms with a phalanx of other student leaders “guarding” Aung San Suu Kyi at her momentous speech at the Shwedagon Pagoda on August 26, 1988.
Maureen Aung-Thwin, Open Society Foundations, New York, USA
THE MAKING OF MIDDLE INDONESIA: Middle Classes in Kupang Town, 1930s–1980s. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, v. 293; Power and Place in Southeast Asia, v. 5. By Gerry van Klinken. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2014. xviii, 300 pp. (Figures, map, table.) US$148.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-04-26508-0.
Political scientists tend to focus on capital cities, and anthropologists on the village, but few scholars pay much attention to what is in between, despite the fact that smaller cities house the bulk of the world’s urban residents and represent underappreciated political power. Gerry van Klinken’s The Making of Middle Indonesia: Middle Classes in Kupang Town, 1930s-1980s shines a light on the administrative class of one such middle city. Kupang serves as the backdrop to a careful historical study of local politics, charting the rise of administrative classes and detailing their connections to the central government. Van Klinken paints a picture of local administrators as synaptic figures, mediating between metropolis and village, centre and periphery. He argues that administrative elites represent the lifeblood of Indonesian politics, the glue holding the sprawling archipelago together.
Van Klinken has penned some of the most interesting, in-depth work on Indonesian politics, and this book is no exception. A companion to his co-edited volume, In Search of Middle Indonesia (KITLV Press, 2014), The Making of Middle Indonesia is an explicitly historical study, one with many implications for today. Organizationally, early chapters provide an introduction, assess the literature, and discuss fieldwork, and are then arranged chronologically, from Dutch colonialism, to the Japanese invasion and independence struggle, the Sukarno era, the ascent of the Indonesian Communist Party, the rise of the bureaucratic class, and the violent purge of Kupang’s leftists in 1965. The core of the book is a thoroughly researched local history of Kupang. Van Klinken has browsed archives, conducted interviews, and examined personal collections to construct a history that has not really been told. One of the book’s many highlights is the range of images and figures included, such as local maps and even labels from local manufacturing, providing some local flavour.
The book’s core contention is that “Middle Indonesia,” the country’s administrative classes, constitute Indonesian politics. As Indonesia survived the chaos of reformasi, scholars wondered what holds this massive, diverse country together. Some saw strong leaders, pluralism, or perhaps anti-colonial experiences as playing this role. Van Klinken’s response is that the country is bound together by state patronage and the personal networks of the thousands of bureaucrats across various levels of the state. For those who have conducted research in remote parts of the country, this explanation is entirely convincing. The state dominates regional political economies, keeping notables within Jakarta’s orbit. Here we see an evolution in van Klinken’s work, as he previously explained post-Suharto violence in terms of competition for control of local bureaucracy. The role of the subnational state is illustrated nicely by an example in the late 1960s, when 60 percent of East Nusa Tenggara’s provincial budget expenses were marked “other,” and 85 percent of this funding came from Jakarta (201). This illustrates both the local patronage and national resources that make subnational administrative classes such an important area of study.
“Middle Indonesia” refers to both a class of administrators as well as the towns they inhabit. In a sense, this is a different type of middle class; instead of the educated cosmopolitans of capital cities that dominate the democratization literature, these are the somewhat corrupt town leaders. If globalized middle classes in capital cities are forces for political change, provincial middle classes appear as vanguards of political stability. The provincial and township administrative classes are important because they are connected to rural Indonesia in ways that Jakarta’s middle classes are not, and indeed this is where Middle Indonesia draws its power.
For all of the book’s great strengths, I perceived a couple of shortcomings. Although the concept and empirics are exceptional, I found references to other studies to be awkward. Chapters 1 and 2 appear at first glance to provide a literature review and some broader historical context (chapter 2 is titled “Historical Synthesis”). However, both chapters fluctuate between academic theories and Indonesian events. There are dozens of times where the author alludes to academic theories, but not in a sustained, coherent manner. For instance, on page 11 there is a focused discussion of John Allen’s concept of Associational Power. Despite appearing as a touchstone for the book, it is not really returned to. Later chapters provide sporadic references to other studies, mentions that seem not entirely fleshed out.
Another potential criticism is that the book stops suddenly in the late 1960s. This was especially surprising since the introduction alludes to post-Suharto politics, the title suggests a focus through the 1980s, and early on notes the centrality of the 1970s oil boom in making Middle Indonesia. The book’s primary focus is, surprisingly, the 1965–1966 massacre of leftists and its immediate aftermath, with only a few pages devoted to the 1970s or 1980s, and none for events after this. Given extensive decentralization, subnational bureaucratic politics seem more important now than ever; the discussion of the creation of Nusa Tenggara Timor Province to reward local elites has clear parallels for the recent blossoming of district governments. Although more contemporary content is provided in the companion edited volume, this omission nevertheless makes this book feel incomplete.
Overall, though, this is an exceptional study. The author is to be commended, providing a convincing account of what makes Indonesia tick. It will be appreciated by anyone studying subnational politics and outer Indonesia, and it will provide an important lesson for those who study national politics or village life. Even though this detailed study is aimed mostly at Indonesia experts, it is a rewarding read for those interested in the places between metropolis and village in any country. As Indonesia has decentralized, it is reassuring that the keenest observers of the country have followed suit, providing a new appreciation for the vibrant middle.
Shane J. Barter, Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, USA
THE MALAYSIAN ISLAMIC PARTY PAS 1951–2013: Islamism in a Mottled Nation. Religion and Society in Asia. By Farish A. Noor. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014. 260 pp. US$99.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-8964-576-0.
What is the role of Islam in Malaysian politics and society? To what extent can Malaysia continue to play the role of a moderate, pluralist, Western-friendly, Muslim nation in Southeast Asia? More ominously, is Malaysia still immune to the hard Islamist currents that have been entrenched in global politics post-9/11? These and other fascinating questions are covered in Farish A. Noor’s very timely The Malaysian Islamic Party PAS 1951–2013: Islamism in a Mottled Nation. Noor focuses on Malaysia’s Islamist opposition political party, Partai Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), as a case study through which to demonstrate how Islamist politics are dynamic and flexible, adapting to the character of the local political and cultural context. According to Noor, Islamist politics under the banner of PAS have been integral to Malaysian politics and history, from pre-independence to modernist nation building. Noor first locates the founding of the party to then colonial Malaya as PAS struggled to reconcile its desire for a doctrinally pure Islamic state or accommodate itself with a secular and multi-ethnic Malaysian nation-state. Noor then covers the party’s transformation into a vehicle for Malay political identity as it flirted with expressively ethno-nationalist politics in the 1950s and 1960s. The impact of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the global Islamist movement that it spawned dominates Noor’s examination of the party in the 1980s and 1990s. PAS’s recent co-operation post-2008 with other opposition parties to build a genuinely alternative multi-ethnic power sharing coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, comprises the final part of Noor’s sharp and incisive historical narrative of PAS. Finally, Noor argues that these attempts at political bridge building could translate into PAS developing its own model of “Islamist democracy,” as the party has evolved to meet the demands of Malaysia’s changing society in the era of “the war on terror.”
One of the major strengths of the volume is simply the huge amount of new information presented here about the historical origins of PAS, its important political leaders and personalities, and insider information regarding internal conflicts between moderates and hardliners. Noor as a local Malaysian scholar now based in Singapore has spent many years researching PAS and developing contacts with local cadres. This expertise with the subject matter is clearly demonstrated in his nuanced and careful analysis of PAS, as both an ideological Islamist movement striving for sharia and as a pragmatic political party seeking power by working with opposition secular Malay nationalist and minority non-Malay parties. In this respect, Noor takes PAS seriously on its own terms, and does not examine the party through the often awkward lenses of security and anti-terrorism studies.
One of the attributes of good scholarship is a work that often raises many questions that it cannot answer. Noor concludes his work with optimism that PAS could continue to play a constructive role in the multi-ethnic opposition by working with its allies and toning down its more hard-lined Islamist policies. However, PAS’s abortive pivot towards an “Islamist democracy” remains one of the great “what ifs” of Malaysian politics. Writing in 2014, Noor could not directly foresee the splintering of PAS in early 2015 as party moderates walked away from the party to found their own competing Islamist political party, Amanah. The consequential fracturing of the Pakatan Rakyat alliance as the two parties began to compete for the Islamist constituency in Malaysian politics weakened Malaysia’s diverse and multi-faceted opposition. Noor’s great contribution is to provide context for this new intriguing political development in contemporary Malaysia, appreciating that Islamism in Malaysia is a dynamic movement, not monolithic or unchanging.
Trevor W. Preston, Centennial College, Toronto, Canada
THREE CENTURIES OF CONFLICT IN EAST TIMOR. Genocide, Political Violence, Human Rights Series. By Douglas Kammen. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015. xv, 231 pp. (Maps, illustrations.) US$55.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8135-7410-3.
What is missing from the discussion of violence as one of the crucial problems in East Timor, as Douglas Kammen points out in his book, is the relationship between the recurrent mass violence over long periods, the local targets who are the object of this violence, and the perpetrators of it (4). A lack of attention to this relationship leads to the dominance of narratives of the colonial powers, i.e., the Portuguese, the Dutch, and Indonesia, and even the local elites after a series of national uprisings in 2002 and 2012. The relationship also leads to the quest for East Timorese nationalism that emerged in the early 1970s, particularly during the Indonesian occupation.
In order to provide a more balanced approach to understanding the violence in East Timor, Kammen focuses more on grassroots perspectives and experiences than have previous authors.
Through the Maubara case, Kammen brilliantly shows how local stories describing the lives and roles of certain figures who were highly contentious in their relations with the colonial power and their fellow villagers can be used to explain why a recurrence of conflict happened in three different contexts and times but in only one particular area.
In the first two chapters, Kammen explains the situation in Maubara, through its early history, political dynamics, and interaction with the external powers who became its rulers. The arrival of three strangers from Suai Loro, locally known as Loro Lio (Sun Lords) marked not only the onset of a local elite power struggle but also, and more importantly, the bringing of order to Maubara’s local conditions, which had for years been characterized by anarchy. The descendants of Loro Lio faced a potential rivalry with the local population, and this rivalry shaped the way they interacted with the newly arrived Portuguese and the Dutch, as either collaborators with or opponents of the colonial power (33).
There are two theories as to why mass violence became a recurring feature in Maubara. The narratives provided by the colonial powers in their historical records offer the first explanation. From the Portuguese perspective, the Portuguese made several attacks on Maubara following Dutch moves to exert influence in north-central Timor through collaboration with a local ruling family, the Doutels from Guguleur (48), and other rulers. These battles provided the historical background for Portuguese attempts to rule Maubara by treating its local rulers as unitary actors, rather than competing actors themselves involved in a power struggle. From the Dutch perspective, a series of agreements, such as one made in 1795 (58), failed because some leading families in Maubara had collaborated with the Portuguese. Even when there was no external involvement, some leading Maubara families were in conflict with one another, which led to violence at the expense of the local population.
In chapter 3, Kammen further explains how the Portuguese dealt with competing actors among Maubara’s local elites who were struggling for power. After the colonial powers signed a treaty handing over the kingdom of Maubara to Portuguese administration (75), the area became a source of long-standing conflict among several groups: ruling families and Hakka traders against the Portuguese; local inhabitants against Hakka interlopers; rival families of Guguleur and Vatuvou; and certain individuals. Kammen points out that the colonial power’s practice of indirect rule over Maubara’s population did not result in thorough obedience, but instead was a major factor in destabilization.
Chapter 4 discusses in greater depth the resistance that took place in Maubara when prominent families formed a short-term alliance with the Dutch against the Portuguese colonial administration in order to control trading networks. However, a fragmented effort and the different interests of the actors in this rebellion, such as the spiritual figure Maubete, Hakka merchants, and African soldiers who had deserted from the Portuguese army (93), resulted in an inability to stage a full-scale attack on the Portuguese military.
The rebellion in 1893 had several consequences, as discussed in the book’s chapter 5, such as providing a pretext for the Portuguese to exert their full armed control over Maubara, particularly under Governor Forja; the introduction of new colonial approaches to local administration and forms of direct taxation; and also local marginalization (105) through mandatory labour service and tributes.
Chapter 6 focuses on another critical juncture in East Timor’s history of recurrent mass violence. After the Indonesian army invaded East Timor in 1975, they began to manipulate the interests of competing parties, including those in Maubara. In addition, the history of various responses by the East Timorese to external powers and internal chaos led the Indonesian government to gradually reinforce its military capabilities to defeat the nationalist party Fretelin and to fully control the area from 1975 to 1998. In its colonial governance, Indonesia employed the same approach as had previous colonial powers—appointing individuals based on traditional authority, which in turn exacerbated a long-standing conflict between elite families in Maubara and other areas (141).
In chapter 7, Kammen discusses how violence served as a means for local and national actors to respond to local history and meaning based on a national struggle for independence and reconstruction, including how local inhabitants position themselves in their newly formed country. Violence, which shaped the way locals interacted with states and others, was more severe in the waning days of the Indonesian administration. The roles of Indonesian militias and local supporters of independence in Maubara reflected long-standing local divisions. These divisions reinforced the previous limitations of fragmented actors—both elite and grassroots—in responding to the competing interests of the colonial powers and local actors (161).
By focusing on the role of certain actors, this study provides scant discussion of how institutional factors contributed to the recurrent mass violence in Maubara. The cultural values of the East Timorese in Maubara played merely a peripheral and complementary role in these actors’ behaviours. Instead, as violence was one characteristic in Maubara’s societal interaction, each ruling family and the locals had their own arrangements, norms, and values for dealing with communal violence, based on community principles. That these approaches were not consistent with competing interests led to violence.
Across the board, this book provides advanced insights into how to promote grassroots traditions as counter to national narratives of local history. This book is highly recommended for scholars with an interest in ethnic and mass violence in Southeast Asia, a region that to some extent still wrestles with post-conflict mass traumatic memory.
Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge, Marthinus Academy, Jakarta, Indonesia
ALCHEMY IN THE RAIN FOREST: Politics, Ecology, and Resilience in a New Guinea Mining Area. New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century. By Jerry K. Jacka. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. xii, 283 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$25.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6011-7.
Social studies of mining in Papua New Guinea must invariably deal with the existence of insiders and outsiders. Despite Porgera mine, a world-class gold mine, being situated within the cultural landscape of the Ipili of Porgera Valley, the mining wealth is narrowly distributed to specific clans, and promised development has failed to materialize. Environmental anthropologist Jerry K. Jacka’s book Alchemy in the Rainforest charts the Porgeran community’s methods of grappling with the results of the inside-outside divide. The particular Porgeran community Jacka developed a relationship with sits outside the landowning elite of the Porgera mine’s Special Mining Lease, and thus is excluded from the main benefit streams of the mine. These people, while seeing the immense wealth come out of the mountain of their ancestors, are on the periphery. The book focusses on their ontologies, political ecology, resilience, and the concept of alchemy.
Jacka’s book is essentially about how the Porgeran communities show resilience in two respects relating to resource development and land. All things in the Porgera Valley come back to these two elements. Mining resource development has transformed the communities in the hinterland of the mine significantly and possibly irretrievably. The first section examines the creation of the resource frontier through the colonial intrusion into the Porgera Valley, initially by Australian gold explorers and missionaries and the localised responses to this resource frontier. In the case of the Ipili speakers of the Porgera Valley, they situated the white colonists in their cosmology, as tawe wandikali, or sky people. This absorbing was a critical resilience mechanism, as it slowed the pace of cultural and societal change for the Porgerans. Similarly, Porgerans situated the presence of the exploited resource—gold—within their creation myths.
The second section locates the resource frontier within the three aspects of Ipili/Porgeran social and cultural landscape: Land, Yu; People, Wandakali; and Spirits, Yama. These chapters are the ethnographic heart of the book. Jacka’s exploration of the cultural importance of altitude and land use in the Porgera Valley context provides the backbone for the book. Three altitudinal spheres divide the valley: below 1600 metres are the lowland forests, wapi, where malevolent spirits and malaria prevent settlement; between 1600 and 2200 metres we find the andakama, the domestic settlement sphere; and above 2200 metres is the aiyandaka, a place of benevolent spirits. Traditional rituals and myths contribute to a system of land management and soil fertility centred on the concept of ipane (grease) that lubricates the land, spirits, and community relationships. The topographical divisions are breached by roadside settlements built up on the traditionally sparsely populated customary hunting lands in aiyandaka, overexploiting the fragile high-altitude ecosystem. Jacka studies the exploited ecosystems in chapter 6 through analysis of economic trees and resources in both primary and secondary forests. Jacka discloses that restrictions imposed by customary landowners on forest resource usage and violence have seen an increase in forest cover between 2002 and 2013 despite increasing population.
Woven throughout the book is personal commentary and stories of Jacka’s experience of Porgeran culture, spirits, and politics. Jacka’s relationships with Porgerans are at times cut short prematurely by the widespread tribal violence that now seems intractable. Where previously tribal wars were a method of maintaining the wider social order through longer-term redistribution of wealth via compensation payments and clan intermarriage, war is now used to generate short-term wealth as a response to exclusion from mining benefit streams.
The book sits within a recent renaissance of research on resource-affected communities in PNG, including Jacka’s contemporary Alex Golub’s Leviathans at the Gold Mine (Duke University Press, 2014). Jacka’s analysis sits firmly with the community, and from that position examines the complexities of Porgera mine’s impact. The book only briefly situates Porgera in its national context. Possibly drawing out the comparison with local responses to mining at Ok Tedi and Lihir would have created a richer contrast and highlighted the volatile political and community situation in the Porgera Valley. However, the narrow focus allows for more space to examine at length the fascinating resource management practices, community resilience, and spirit world of the Porgera Valley.
Phillipa Jenkins, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
In his second book, Giff Johnson provides a well-versed historical and intimate look at the most challenging issues of great relevance to the sovereign identity and development of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), although the focus is definitively on the latter, where Johnson has resided for several decades. This self-published work is a compilation of essays originally scribed as blog entries between 2013 and 2015 for the Pacific Institute of Public Policy. As the editor and major contributor for the RMI’s only newspaper, The Marshall Islands Journal, Johnson’s finger is undeniably and authoritatively on the pulse of the country’s state of affairs, and these pieces immediately bear that signature. The great advantage, and notable difference, between his contributions to the weekly news editions and these essays, is the freedom afforded him in the latter to provide more personal contemplation, analysis, and commentary not afforded to him in his professional role. This distinction is an extraordinarily valuable one, and Johnson’s best work is here in his critical examination of the many underlying political and cultural motivations behind high-level historical and contemporary decisions.
The book is divided into chapters that organize his essays into topics, such as the ongoing strained relationship between the US and the RMI thanks to its nuclear legacy, teen pregnancy, and the disincentives complicating healthy lifestyle choices. In the first three chapters, Johnson addresses the linked themes of corruption, development, and governance, offering the most valuable insights of the work. Pointing to the financial corruption scandals increasingly surfacing in the Marshall Islands, he identifies a “long-term, ingrained” problem of the failed nature of donor funding, western-style development plans, and local engagement. He provides several examples depicting a culture of active disengagement that he identifies as another (albeit subtler) “flavor” of corruption on par with direct theft or misuse of money. Quoting FSM’s former Yap Governor John Mangefel, he gets to the core of a viral incentive problem plaguing the young nations: “If you work, you eat. If you don’t work, you still eat.” In terms of societal and economic development, notably exemplified by the failure of many Pacific Island countries to meet even half of the Millennium Development Goals, funding continues to pour in and plans develop on paper regardless of visible evidence of effective results.
Johnson is not afraid to place a fair helping of blame on the failures of a local leadership that spends more than half their time abroad at conferences, and rarely suffers the consequences of poor decisions that unduly affect the larger community. It is not hard to empathize with local frustrations when leadership flexes its sovereignty muscles demanding more control (and less transparency) over its allocation of received donor funding, while dismissing and chastising local citizenry’s criticisms of the lack of reform or improvements in livelihood.
In a rare positive note, Johnson’s attention to fisheries in chapter four commends the great strides and advances undertaken by synergistic multinational efforts, notably the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) regional fisheries entity, and the Micronesia Challenge conservation consortium. Revenues in fisheries have more than tripled under the PNA initiatives, and regulation and conservation efforts have increased in both scope and effectiveness, trickling further down to an increase in sustainable business ventures. Where Johnson sees a remaining challenge is the application of these more successful strategies in other arenas of governance, and the struggle for respectful buy-in by the international community.
Climate change is the most discussed topic of the day for many Pacific Island countries, and no work on challenges to the region would be complete without addressing it, which Johnson does in chapter five. His most notable contribution questions the relative worth of the aggressive international campaign for global climate change action, as well as calling out the so-called hypocrisy of the Marshall Islands’ economic profit from the fossil fuel industry (as the world’s third largest ship registry of drilling rigs and oil tankers), while simultaneously demanding the international community reduce dependency on said fossil fuels. Johnson’s suggestions include reducing local government employees’ attendance at all-too-frequent international meetings, and focusing human and monetary resources on scientifically supported local studies and focused mitigation projects.
The book’s slim final chapter begins to confront the double-edged dilemma of out-migration and the “local” challenges citizens of the Freely Associated States (those of FSM, Palau, and RMI) face abroad, an increasing trend that very well may be the future of a majority, if not the entirety, of the region’s population. While relocation in relation to climate change displacement or nuclear contamination is described in terms of loss and pain, it is clear that thousands of islanders are actively electing, often permanently, to relocate. In their selected homes in the United States, they face another set of challenges amidst a leadership regime full of inadequacies of its own.
While Johnson laments that many of the addressed dilemmas are unlikely to change in the immediate future, his repeated call for both an abandonment of the blind implementation of western-style development plans, and the rampant negligence and complacency by leadership, is sorely needed. It is unfortunate that there is no concluding essay or chapter tying all of these linked challenges he so carefully and passionately explores into a more broadly reflective and historical context.
The book’s essays appear to be minimally edited from their original versions, and are lacking dates of authorship or revised considerations, with relevant updates limited to asterisked sentences. As standalone pieces they are astute and timely reflections, yet some readers may find the oft repeated facts and sentences in back-to-back essays tiresome. Zealous academics too will find themselves yearning for citations for the splendid examples and statistics, or additional supporting evidence for many of the statements.
These additions and revisions would certainly improve the value of the collection’s shelf life, although their absence does not hinder the primary value of this work as a fresh, but historically deep and well-grounded reflections on witnessed and lived dilemmas in the North Pacific region. Johnson’s “calling it like it is” approach is rarely heard so sensitively yet unabashedly expressed outside of beer and kava sessions with trusted peers. Those familiar with the region will find a solemn salience to Johnson’s remarks, and perhaps even be challenged to address those less-than-idyllic accusations, but it remains to be seen who that readership will be. And will it fall on deaf ears?
Ingrid Ahlgren, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
IN THE ABSENCE OF THE GIFT: New Forms of Value and Personhood in a Papua New Guinea Community. Pacific Perspectives, v. 5. By Anders Emil Rasmussen. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2015. x, 199 pp. (Figures, tables, map.) US$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-78238-781-7.
Some 1,500 Papua New Guineans hail from Mbuke, an eleven-island archipelago lying just south of Manus, an island Margaret Mead made famous through her book, New Lives for Old. Forty percent of Mbuke Islanders live elsewhere, many of whom have well-paying jobs in PNG urban centres and who remit a portion of their income to kinspeople living on the islands. In the past, seven exogamous patrilineal descent groups would exchange gifts upon intermarriage, the birth of children, and death. But nowadays such exchanges are rare, a change Rasmussen dates to the post-World War II period. Today, in fact, some, perhaps most, Mbuke Islanders consider such exchanges “a waste of resources” (27) because acquiring money for commodity consumption has become the new way of life. Rasmussen’s purpose is to chronicle the “new forms of value and personhood” (the book’s subtitle) emerging under these circumstances.
Rasmussen is at pains to argue that money is not necessarily a corrupting force, that when deployed toward moral and social ends, money helps make, sustain, and cause to “appear” social relationships. The clearest case for this is made with respect to something Mbuke Islanders call singaut (“sing out”), a Melanesian pidgin term that means to “sing out” in the sense of addressing and in this case beseeching assistance from someone. In singaut a person in need requests assistance from a person of means, who gives support out of pity and without any expectation of a return. Singaut transactions are therefore a matter of sharing, not of reciprocity. Today remittances comprise the most economically consequential mode of sharing, allowing homeland Mbuke Islanders to live in material comfort through the generosity of relatives living (typically) in urban centres and who have an income.
Singaut occurs within a relatively narrow social orbit. The motive for rendering assistance to someone who sings out is “the emotional and/or kinship bond between giver and receiver” (111), and “[t]here is a sense in which singaut operates in the domestic sphere more than the public sphere because it takes place between people who have at some point been part of the same household (parents, children and siblings)” (48). Singaut may well mark a contraction of the scope of sociality, therefore, from interlineage to intralineage and/or from interhousehold to intrahousehold. Still, singaut does perpetuate the relational personhood and the ethos of relationality so often commented upon by Papua New Guinea researchers. In this it contrasts sharply with “the person alone,” as Mbuke Islanders refer to anyone who fails to honour kinship obligations and respond to singaut requests (126). Such individuals are rare, despite pervasive monetization, because they fear being branded as “greedy” and “selfish.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Rasmussen’s sociology is his insistence that relationships are necessarily forged in and through the optics of sharing. In this he argues, along with Robbins and Rumsey (“Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology and the Opacity of Other Minds,” Anthropological Quarterly 8, no. 2: 407–420) that, insofar as a person’s mind and thus commitment cannot be known directly but must be revealed to others through actual transactions, relationships are also constituted, negotiated, and revised through sharing (56 and passim). Transactions are ways of “making appear” or rendering visible “the nature of social relations in dialectical (or reciprocal) negotiation with others. In this latter sense, social action makes visible one’s view (feelings or thoughts) . . .” (56 and passim ).
Rasmussen deploys the same argument with respect to a new level or arena of sociality, one that has yet to be lexicalized locally but that Rasmussen calls “community.” “Community” opposes both individualism and relationalism (as manifested today in singaut). The historical roots of this level lie in the Paliau Movement, which was begun after World War II and whose initiator and prophet hoped to unify villages, leaving behind the parochialisms of kinship and descent (127–128). “Mbuke was (and still is) one of the movement’s strongholds” (34), and the goal of unifying social wholes beyond the level of the lineage persists to the present day, when communities are “made to appear” through projects and activities such as building a communal canoe that are truly collective in their organization and spirit. Community-forging activities and events involve “a degree of totalization of social relations” (178), “a totalization of perspectives and relations” (178) of all participants in, and all observers of, an event or activity. Here Rasmussen returns to his theme of the ontological powers inherent in the optics of action and transaction. Communities exist only if they are seen to exist in the unified purpose of collective action. Thus produced, a community is not (as “society” is thought to be) an objective, “bounded totality” (179) but contingent and subject to disputes.
Rasmussen implies that singaut is a replacement for the ceremonial exchange of the past, indeed a “new” form of value and personhood. Yet much of Rasmussen’s reporting, especially regarding singaut, is reminiscent of the emphasis on mutual aid and exchange in New Guinea ethnographies written in the colonial era, raising the question of just how new singaut really is. Another interpretation might be that singaut constitutes a monetized perpetuation of the obligation to share with needy kith and kin, remissions being the mode of sharing that is most consistent with an economy predicated on migration and commodity consumption. In contrast to singaut, community and the anti-particularistic ethos that undergirds it do seem new but also quite fragile. No matter the interpretation, Rasmussen’s book is a valuable contribution to the burgeoning literature on personhood, sociality, and transaction in contemporary Papua New Guinea as this postcolonial nation experiences monetization, urbanization, migration, and mounting economic inequalities.
Aletta Biersack, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA
POSTCARDS FROM OCEANIA: Port Towns, Portraits and the Picturesque during the Colonial Era. By Max Quanchi, Max Shekleton. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific Press, 2015. 202 pp. (B&W and some coloured photos.) US$60.00, paper. ISBN 978-982-01-0941-4.
There is a wealth of scholarly literature about Oceania and colonialism but very little exists that focuses specifically on postcards and their important link to colonialism. This accessible volume by Max Quanchi (a scholar of Pacific history and the history of photography) and Max Shekleton (the owner of the 60,000-plus postcard collection used for the book) is a welcome addition to the literature. The authors’ goal is to mine the images from the “postcard craze” period (1890s through 1930s) to explore the interrelated histories of photography, anthropology, and colonialism. They underscore the contrary and complex readings of the images, and shed light on the convoluted production processes in which Euro-American photographers often stage images, and printers often twist captions and incorporate faulty information. The book combines textual information alongside more than two hundred images of postcards as examples of the variety of images, colouring techniques, and styles employed.
The first chapter introduces the key ideas. One is that postcards relied on images and captions that portrayed people and settings in generalized and distant ways. Individuals were rarely named and were referred to as “native,” “warrior,” “chief,” etc. For example, a club-wielding Kanak man has the label “Kanak warrior, New Caledonia.” A cluster of houses under coconut palms captioned “Scene along Agana River, Guam” becomes the idyllic “South Seas” village. A second idea is that postcard images were open to multiple interpretations. “Readers in the early 20th century may have thought postcards were an authentic record of empire, proven by the stamp, scribbled message, and origin out in the colonies, but we argue in the following chapters that postcards offered selective, mediated and multiple meanings” (14). Many things—captions, cropping, colour, format, style of publication, and manner of distribution—all affected the audience’s interpretations. Was the Kanak warrior made to pose with his club or did he choose to proudly display his identity in that way? Does the romantic image of the village indicate an unchanged world? Or do depictions of wharves, schools, roads, and ships indicate unwanted change? Third, and most important for the authors, there is the persistent theme of colonialism. “Colonial propaganda underpins nearly every photograph and postcard” (27). For example, a posed photo of uniformed men in formation conveys colonial order, European authority, and loyal subjects.
The second chapter describes the postcard craze that began soon after the first postcard was produced in 1861. The authors outline the history and details of postcard production, where German suppliers were the main manufacturers. They describe how identical images were recycled, with slight changes to the way they were cropped, tinted, given new codes and captions, or reversed on the page. These changes make it difficult to correctly attribute the cards and images today.
Following the two introductory chapters, the remainder of the text is organized sensibly into six chapters that focus on various topics that the authors have extracted from studying the images: the picturesque, portraits, village life, traditional culture, town life, and colonialism. “The Picturesque” category includes romantic scenes of mountain peaks, lush valleys, and cascading waterfalls, all formulaic images indicating European penetration of the wild interior. In terms of numbers of postcards this was the least popular category. “Portraits” comprises posed unnamed individuals that indicate a Western “scientific” interest in the expression of faces and the shapes of heads and noses. These images usually include markers of “South Sea” islanders, such as tattoos, scarification, and bodily adornment. Many were staged with a portable backdrop. Not surprisingly, the majority were images of women, thus satisfying Western interest in exotic female bodies. “Village Life” includes postcards of houses, which were easy to photograph and were seen as symbols of primitive life. House-building techniques that illustrated pandanus weaving, post erecting, and roof thatching appealed to Western interest in indigenous technology. Ironically, everything was labelled “village” even though the local inhabitants usually used this term to refer only to the European-dominated administrative centre, and not to the hamlets where they lived.
Postcards in the category of “Traditional Culture”—showing pottery, tapa making, fishing, gardening, food preparation, dancing, kava ceremonies, and men climbing coconut trees—exemplify the abundance of errors that can occur when staging and labelling. Although customs were changing, as seen in images of ox-carts and European clothing, a search for authenticity seems to lie behind many of these images. The “Town Life” category includes streets, wharves, stores, banks, hotels, schools, and churches, as well as tidy streets lined with businesses and houses with verandas, all communicating messages about the success of empire, Christianity, and modernization. This category comprises about half of all images produced, although 95 percent of indigenous people did not live in towns. The chapter on “Colonialism,” with its images of busy natives and bustling activity, best illustrates the mixed messages of the postcards. Is the behaviour benign and beneficial or exploitative and oppressive? Postcards, of course, tended to depict only the benign side of colonialism through pictures of schools, churches, parades, monuments, women in Mother Hubbard dresses, and the clearing and replanting of land for plantations. There are no portrayals of patrol officers collecting taxes or inspecting latrines. One would have to read beyond the margins of the postcard to understand a more accurate portrayal of colonialism.
Postcards from Oceania is a clear and concise text that is highly descriptive in nature. The book could have been even more engaging had the authors pushed further and presented some analytical ideas about such broad topics as visual imagery, authenticity, authority, or impact. In the introduction they say that interpreting these visual images can complement interpretations based solely on textual documents, yet they never actually pursue this intriguing notion. Also, more information about the photographers and manufacturers would have been welcome. These minor quibbles aside, the book is definitely a worthwhile contribution to the literature.
Miriam Kahn, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
STATE CRIME ON THE MARGINS OF EMPIRE: Rio Tinto, the War on Bougainville and Resistance to Mining. State Crime Series. By Kristian Lasslett. London: Pluto Press, 2014. x, 246 pp. US$40.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-7453-3504-9.
Few events have rocked the Southwest Pacific like the brutal civil war on Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG). When the Panguna copper mine opened in central Bougainville in 1972, existing processes of social change were soon amplified by the social impacts of the mine. This gave rise to a local resistance movement that eventually forced the closure of the mine in 1989. Combined with a heavy state response these events sparked a conflict that lasted for nearly ten years and claimed up to 20,000 lives from a population of approximately 180,000.
Given the volumes of literature on the origins and aftermath of the conflict, the successes of the peace process, and the lessons for the mining industry, I was admittedly sceptical whether Kristian Lasslett could offer any fresh perspectives in his new book State Crime on the Margins of Empire. But as I made my way through the dense thicket of highly original material these misgivings were soon allayed.
State Crime on the Margins of Empire marks the beginning of a new series in state crimes studies launched by the International State Crime Initiative. Lasslett is a scholar in the burgeoning branch of state crime studies that is concerned with the interaction and collusion between states and corporations. Lasslett sheds new light on the forms of collaboration between the developer, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), and the PNG and Australian governments, and how these actors contributed to the escalation and perpetuation of the crisis. The bulk of his work charts in exceptional detail the series of events leading up to the closure of the mine and the start of the conflict. His insights stem from access to the case file compiled for the class action against Rio Tinto as the parent company of BCL—a case which has since failed on jurisdictional grounds. These primary sources, which include BCL memos, meeting minutes, and correspondence between BCL and the PNG government, and various affidavits, enabled Lasslett to pursue more penetrating and specific lines of enquiry. It was a happy coincidence that he undertook his research at a time when many ex-BCL executives and government officials involved in the crisis were less encumbered by socio-legal constraints and more prepared to provide Lasslett with candid perspectives.
State Crime on the Margins of Empire is not an anthropological study, but it sits comfortably with the growing list of ethnographies on specific mine sites in PNG. As several of these recent studies show, getting a handle on the complexity of these social environments requires recognition of the multitude of individual actors with their multiple interests who come to stand for various collective actors like “the state,” “the landowners,” or “the company.” Lasslett is generally more concerned with exposing the crimes of the powerful, but the inclusion of frank comments from his interlocutors and his use of primary evidence helps to put a face on these actors and reveal the pivotal roles played by certain individuals, the effects of different managerial temperaments, and the organizational dynamics which contributed to the outcome of events.
Lasslett makes a convincing argument for the careful application of Marxist concepts to illuminate important political and economic processes that in turn deepen our understanding of state and corporate crimes. Rejecting the common empiricist tendencies that supposedly prevail in state crime studies, Lasslett deploys a dialectical framework to bridge the divide between appearance and reality and orient the consciousness towards those capitalist forces that shape history. This also provides the basis to chart new agendas for future state crime studies. However, I am less convinced by his proposition that only Marx can provide the theoretical tools to understand what is going on here, and there are moments when Lasslett reads less like a classical Marxist and more like a structural determinist. Lasslett is highly critical of existing narratives and orthodoxies on the origins of the conflict and the role of powerful actors. Lasslett takes no prisoners, and in his final afterword he is especially scathing of some analysis offered by Anthony Regan, the preeminent scholar of Bougainville and legal advisor to the Bougainville government, and others who present themselves as the bipartisan voice on the conflict.
This book assumes a lot of pre-existing knowledge on the peculiarities of PNG politics and resource development and the accompanying scholarly debates. There is a case to be made for a more popular version of this book for non-specialists, and this has been achieved in part through the development of an online repository of the primary documents referenced in this work. Despite unveiling the shroud of secrecy around BCL’s involvement in the crisis—from petitioning the government to directly intervene, to the provision of material assistance for armed forces stationed in Bougainville—Lasslett laments a distinct lack of media interest in these materials.
At the time of writing this review, Rio Tinto announced that it would relinquish its majority shareholding in BCL, signalling their intention to step away from the troubled project for good. Predictably this has sparked local and international outrage over the apparent impunity of Rio Tinto and intensified debates over the future role of resource development in Bougainville. Perhaps this latest twist might provide the impetus for more journalists to review the materials Lasslett has made available. But not all Bougainvilleans appreciate Lasslett’s forensic investigation into BCL’s complicity in the civil war and his dogged efforts to bring Rio Tinto to justice. As Bougainville edges towards a referendum on independence, some Bougainvillean leaders clearly envision a role for BCL in this new future. In the end these differences reinforce the complexity of the relational space between different players, and there is no reason to assume that this cast of actors, with their diverse range of interests, should perform according to predetermined scripts.
Not least of all, this book is a fascinating case study of engaged social research and could be read in conjunction with Stuart Kirsch’s Mining Capitalism: The Relationship Between Corporations and their Critics (University of California Press, 2014) which documents the legal proceedings launched by landowners against BHP as the operator of the Ok Tedi mine located on the opposite side of PNG. Both authors are uncompromising activist-critics and their works raise important ethical and methodological questions on the positionality of social researchers critiquing the global mining industry. Lasslett may feel dismayed by the apparent political divisions between some Bougainvillean leaders that impede efforts to hold state and corporate actors to account. But similar to Kirsch, Lasslett’s broader project has helped to spark the conscience of allies in civil society and government and may well contribute towards the eventual delivery of remedies for those who have suffered.
Nicholas A. Bainton, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia