Higher Education Regionalization in Asia Pacific: Implications for Governance, Citizenship and University Transformation. Edited by John N. Hawkins, Ka Ho Mok and Deane E. Neubauer. Reviewed by Grant McBurnie
Health Transitions and the Double Disease Burden in Asia and the Pacific: Histories of Responses to Non-Communicable and Communicable Diseases. Edited by Milton J. Lewis and Kerrie L. MacPherson. Reviewed by Holly Wardlow
China and Inner Asia
Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958–1962. By Yang Jisheng; translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian; edited by Edward Friedman, Guo Jian, and Stacy Mosher; introduction by Edward Friedman and Roderick MacFarquhar. Reviewed by Yixin Chen
Imperatives of Culture: Selected Essays on Korean History, Literature, and Society from the Japanese Colonial Era. Edited by Christopher P. Hanscom, Walter K. Lew, and Youngju Ryu. Reviewed by Theodore Q . Hughes
Australasia and the Pacific Islands
DOCUMENTARY FILM REVIEWED
The World Before Her. Written and directed by Nisha Pahuja; producers: Ed Barreveld, Cornelia Principe, Nisha Pahuja; editor, David Kazala; original music, Ken Myhr. Reviewed by Simon Chambers and Alpa Shah
HIGHER EDUCATION REGIONALIZATION IN ASIA PACIFIC: Implications for Governance, Citizenship and University Transformation. International and Development Education.Edited by John N. Hawkins, Ka Ho Mok and Deane E. Neubauer. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. xvi, 215 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-00287-7.
One danger for studies of regionalization is that they can become a triumphant (and tedious) parade of acronyms denoting organizations, committees and agreements. The implication, then, is that regionalization is proceeding apace, that there is a shared vision and that goals are well defined and being achieved, or will be with due passage of time. This volume avoids such traps by its use of critical approaches both at the country level and in discussing the broader trends in the region. It is arranged into three sections (each containing four chapters) under the headings: Conceptual Issues; Country Studies; and Regulatory and Governance Dimensions.
The opening chapters provide an accessible introduction to thinking about the dauntingly complex terrain of regionalization. Deane E. Neubauer sketches the key dynamics in the region. Jane Knight sets out a series of definitions of terms that are used (not always consistently) in the field and proposes a scale of types of interaction ascending from weakest to strongest: cooperation, coordination, convergence, integration. She suggests there are three basic approaches—functional, organizational and political—and lists some thirty examples arranged under these headings. Rounding out the section on conceptual issues, in their respective chapters, Molly Lee and Miki Sugimura provide useful snapshots of the array of bodies involved in regionalization and the types of activities they carry out. It is a complex web they delineate well, though a separate glossary of acronyms would have been a welcome addition to the volume.
In section 2, the country studies of Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines each provide useful insights. Wen Wen discusses a Chinese approach to regionalization—“province leading with the state approving”—noting that some Chinese provinces are as powerful as some smaller state economies in the region. Anthony Welch studies the challenges facing Indonesia in meeting domestic demand and the limits this places on its regional activities. Akiyoshi Yonezawa and Arthur Meerman look at the demographic challenges facing Japan, and its role in multilateral initiatives in East Asia. Regina Ordonez examines the responses of the Philippine Commission on Higher Education to the global labour market and the lure of overseas employment.
The third section considers regulatory issues at multi-country and regional levels. Commentators observe that countries in the region have more differences than commonalities but that, on the other hand, they have more in common with each other than with Western countries. The editors of this volume distinguish two phases of regionalism. The first, spanning roughly 1950 to 1980, featured cooperative interactions between exclusive peer-country groupings in the fields of trade, security and education. The second phase, dating from the 1980s to the present, features broader-based inclusive groupings and is more characterized by the philosophies of neoliberalism, deregulation and marketization.
In this context, Ka Ho Mok refers to the “tango” between cooperation and competition, as several countries strive to position themselves as education hubs, in the quest both for income generation and for exerting “soft power” through enhanced prestige. He explores the prospects for regulatory regionalism noting that, while such developments are in an early phase, there is the potential to facilitate new models of governance, including “network governance” to address the increasingly transnationalized nature of education offerings. Molly Lee looks at recent events in the restructuring of university governance and how these affect institutional autonomy in eleven countries. In cases where there is greater pressure to justify university budgets in relation to national and local priorities—and the benefits for taxpayers of the country—international projects may be seen as a second or third-order option.
A routine evaluative approach is to compare Asian regionalization projects with those taking place in the European Union. Quite apart from the question of whether this is a useful comparator, the editors point out that recent reports suggest the European project is having its own difficulties and that domestic education is largely unchanged despite numerous agreements, high-level conferences, intergovernmental meetings and inspiring rhetoric. Similar observations are made for Asia. One author notes, for example, that the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) Credit Transfer Scheme, the Asian regional version of the European credit transfer system, is seldom used by institutions. This despite the fact that 34 countries and some 350 higher education institutions (HEI) have joined UMAP and the scheme has operated for more than twenty years.
John Hawkins analyzes the centripetal and centrifugal forces acting to promote or frustrate the regionalization of education. Centripetal forces include: economic and prestige/“soft-power” incentives to strengthening the profile and role of the region in the education sphere; and the mutual benefits of facilitating the mobility of students and academics within the region. Centrifugal forces include in particular: the wide variety of linguistic and ethnic diversity; major variations in systems for admissions, grading and credit; differences in curriculum; lack of common QA standards; lack of commitment at the level of government and HEI; and a lack of financial resources for the organization, promotion and follow-through on regional cooperation projects. There are also historical disputes and potential military tensions between the most powerful countries in the region: China, Japan and Korea. The concluding chapter by Hawkins, Mok and Neubauer draws together the themes and observations of the book, and points to directions for future research.
This volume is valuable for those who want: an introduction to (and disentangling of) concepts in the regionalization of education; an outline of key organizations and developments; illuminating country studies of Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines; and an assessment of the current state of play and factors influencing the likely outcomes of higher education regionalization in the Asia Pacific. As such it is recommended for researchers, students and those concerned with the development and analysis of policy development in the field of international higher education in Asia and beyond.
Grant McBurnie, Independent Scholar, Carnegie, Australia
HEALTH TRANSITIONS AND THE DOUBLE DISEASE BURDEN IN ASIA AND THE PACIFIC: Histories of Responses to Non-Communicable and Communicable Diseases. Routledge Advances in Asia-Pacific Studies, 14.Edited by Milton J. Lewis, Kerrie L. MacPherson. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. xiii, 317 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$155.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-57543-0.
This informative edited volume addresses the complexities of “the epidemiological transition” in countries in Asia and the Pacific. The epidemiological transition—a theory first proposed by demographer Abdel Omran in 1971—states that as populations “modernize” (i.e., adopt medical technologies, such as childhood immunizations and essential medicines, and improve sanitation and housing), their members go from having relatively brief lives, typically cut short by communicable diseases (CDs), such as measles, tuberculosis, malaria and cholera, to living relatively long lives, burdened by chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. A recent addendum to the epidemiological transition is the “nutritional transition,” the shift towards the increasing consumption of meat, salt, sugar, saturated fat, and refined or highly processed foods, with an accompanying decrease in the consumption of vegetables and whole foods.
In wealthy Western countries the epidemiological transition is thought to have largely taken place. Most other countries around the world, however, are experiencing what has come to be called the “double-disease burden.” They are mid-transition, as it were, and thus some segments of their populations continue to suffer from deadly infectious diseases; other segments suffer from the hazards associated with sedentary lifestyles and over-nutrition; and yet other segments find themselves plagued by the ailments of both pre- and post-transition. To use the term “mid-transition” implies that it is inevitable: that the transition will eventually occur for all and that it will look roughly the same everywhere. However, epidemiological transition theory is based on the broad contours of the histories of Western nations. These histories may not be replicable and, moreover, the broad contours tend to hide the internal variability and inequalities that were and continue to be experienced in high-income nations. For example, the very compelling chapter in this volume about Australia clearly shows that the health transition for the Aboriginal population has been markedly different and worse than for the non-Aboriginal population, with Aboriginal populations experiencing a double-disease burden and suffering disproportionately from both CDs and NCDs.
For the most part, each chapter in this volume is devoted to one nation, and each follows approximately the same template of describing the history of the nation’s shift thus far from CDs to NCDs, the nature of its double-disease burden, the health policies and services intended to address the burden, and the challenges encountered. Considering that a whole book could be written about these topics for each of the nations in question, most of the chapters do a very good job of laying out the crucial information in a necessarily succinct yet interesting way. Thus, the volume as a whole is a very valuable compendium of useful and important information about the epidemiological history of each country.
My initial impression of the volume was that each chapter told pretty much the same story: as India (or South Korea or Thailand, etc.) came to provide its citizens with childhood immunizations, better access to clean water, and improved living conditions, the burden of communicable diseases decreased. And, as the citizens of Sri Lanka (or the Philippines or Indonesia, etc.) came to eat more fat, sugar, and salt, and as they became more urbanized and sedentary, they came to suffer more from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancer. This overarching narrative is perhaps inevitable when the disease history of each country must be collapsed into 20 pages, thus smoothing out most of the unique vagaries of each case.
However, each case does, in fact, convey some of its singular trajectory. For example, while 21 percent of Papua New Guinea’s mortality is now caused by cardiovascular disease (CVD), in fact coronary heart disease (which ranks as the first or second cause of CVD deaths in other Pacific Island countries) is not the leading cause of its CVD deaths. Rather, CVD deaths in Papua New Guinea are from rheumatic heart disease (caused by staphlyccocal infection) and from cor pulmonale (likely caused by lifelong exposure to domestic wood-smoke, not surprising given that much traditional housing is not ventilated). In other words, fat, sugar, salt and increasing sedentism may have similar effects everywhere, but the details of how a citizenry live (e.g., how they cook, how they build their houses) also matter a great deal.
The edited volume is a lesson in how national economic policies can have profound health outcomes, again contributing to the unique nature of each case. For example, the authors of the chapter about Thailand discuss that nation’s rapid economic growth due to industrialization, the state’s reluctance to discourage foreign investment in factories that produce hazardous wastes, and the consequent increase in ailments associated with industrial pollution in communities living near industrial estates—not only cancers and chromosomal abnormalities in children, but also a very high rate of suicide. The volume is also interesting for the information each chapter provides about how these nations are trying to address their rapid increases in costly NCDs. For example, the authors of the chapter about Singapore note that it became the world’s first country to require adult children to care for their aging parents.
The best chapters for me were the ones that focused a bit more on the social and political histories of health and a bit less on the health statistics. For example, the chapter about Japan nicely explains how Chinese medicine, two centuries of isolation policy under the Edo Shogunate, and Buddhist philosophies all influenced health regimens there. That said, the volume is quite even in the sense that most of the chapters provide a good balance of socio-political history and epidemiological data. In sum, I think this volume will be an extremely useful resource for medical historians, public health practitioners in the Asia/Pacific region, and scholars and practitioners anywhere who are interested in the double-disease burden.
Holly Wardlow, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
STATE VIOLENCE IN EAST ASIA. Asia in the New Millennium. Edited by N. Ganesan and Sung Chull Kim. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. xi, 294 pp. US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8131-3679-0.
The “Note on Romanization” page in State Violence in East Asia offers clues as to the breadth that this volume covers: Korean, Japanese Chinese, Indonesian, Thai and Burmese. Not listed here are two additional geographic areas also included: the Philippines and Cambodia. Most readers will be familiar with the skeletal details of the events addressed here. However, the authors expand their meticulous coverage of these events to analyze the efforts by civilians and government officials to negotiate reconciliation and closure to the crimes committed during these troubling times. This latter effort I felt to be the most interesting angle of this well-conceived and tightly organized volume.
The framework for State Violence in East Asia is paved by two excellent introductory chapters, one by the editors and a second by Vince Boudreau that analyzes the “social and political role” of state violence. The chapters that follow, building their arguments on ideas and questions presented in these two discussions, focus on four fundamental aspects of state violence: the reasons behind the state’s decision to use violence; social treatment of this violence in its aftermath; the path(s) taken to push for reconciliation; and the relationship between political transition and resolution of violence (4). Boudreau’s distinction between instrumental and exemplary violence (24–29) serves as an important thread that weaves its way through many of the volume’s case studies. His discussion on “Asian Cases” (34–38) correctly warns that much variety exists within this geographically defined area due to the different historical experiences of the residents. The question then arises as to the value of limiting the discussions here to just East Asian cases.
The question of why the state chooses to commit acts of violence on its citizens is most relevant to distinctions that Boudreau draws between instrumental and exemplary violence: does the state simply act to eradicate a potential or visible threat or does it employ violence as a preemptive warning directed at potential threats to its existence? The two motivations often overlap, as suggested in Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom and Kate Merkel-Hess’s consideration of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident in China as “instrumental in the moment” but harbouring “exemplary ends” (chapter 4). The question of why the state targets its own people is closely related to a second question concerning which people it targets: ethnic minorities (Okinawans and non-Khmer Cambodians), and political minorities (politically ostracized Koreans of Chŏlla province and leftists in general). Both groups have traditionally been seen as harbouring less intrinsic interest in central state operations, and thus peoples that pose the greatest potential threat to the state. Many chapters reveal attempts by the state to link radical political movements to citizen protests by describing their acts as communist-directed attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments, a claim that has enjoyed less support since the end of the Cold War.
The diverse experiences found in the case studies regarding popular attempts to reach resolution and gain restitution underlines the difficulty of negotiating closure after the violence has subsided. Boudreau offers two necessary factors that encourage this process: a “balance of power between the regime and its critics,” and the extent to which either side “controls the narrative” (40). Rewriting state narratives is facilitated by, as seen in South Korea, significant political change that allows the victims political space to assume a degree of control over the reconciliation process. Even here, as Namhee Lee demonstrates, the results are never completely satisfactory to all (64–68). Yet, this example is exceptional in that it resulted in powerful heads of state and industry being brought to trial. An insurmountable roadblock found in many cases was the retention of either direct or indirect power and influence by officials responsible for the violence.
This leads to the rather important question raised in a number of the chapters: to what extent is regime change necessary for resolution and narrative correction? Douglas Kammen’s chapter on Indonesia’s 2004 examination of the mid-1960s revolution (chapter 6), and Rommel A. Curaming’s chapter on the mid-1980s overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines (chapter 8) are of particular value in addressing this question. The two authors independently attribute the lack of success of reconciliation to non-ideological factors, namely the social class and economic interests held by those who remained in positions of influence over the periods of state violence and reconciliation. Other pertinent factors include the “relative empowerment of civil society,” “the form of military engagement that accompanied the political transition, and the “proximity of justice” (15–16). An unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, barrier is the “natural fear” element: the fear that the perpetrators of state violence will be pardoned for their crimes as a compromise toward the “utilitarian premise of achieving the greatest good for the greatest number” (16).
State Violence in East Asia offers eight generally sound case studies that follow rather closely the road map laid out by the volume’s editors. The study on World War II-era Okinawan suicides, however, appears slightly out of place for two reasons: first, the acts under discussion occurred during a wartime situation, and the victims were targeted not as state enemies but for their assumed position as imperial subjects. In other words, it was their Japanese identity that “entitled” them to die for the imperial cause. This diverse collection of case studies might have benefited from a short consideration of similar developments in Latin America or Africa. That said, the structure, cohesion and diversity among the chapters qualifies State Violence in East Asia as a steady anchor for a survey course or seminar on modern Asian issues, a welcome counter to the many publications dealing with East Asia’s miracle economies. Its overall structure demonstrates an excellence in organization that future edited volumes might consider emulating.
Mark Caprio, Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan
Middle age is often seen as a time for reflection on our lives, and the 40-year mark of the relationship between the People’s Republic of China and Australia is an apt time for reflection. Yi Wang has written a timely study that joins a number of recent publications on the fascinating relationship between the newest great power of Asia, and an aging middle power.
This book examines the relationship from the Australian perspective, divided into discrete historical chapters roughly linked with Australian prime ministers. Chapters include the 1949–1972 period, the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser years (1972–1983), the Bob Hawke government up until the “June 4” incident in 1989, 1989–1996 under Hawke and Paul Keating, John Howard’s long reign from 1996–2007 and finally Kevin Rudd’s aborted 2007–2010 term.
As the subtitle indicates, the author weaves a careful study of both the political and trade aspects of the relationship, and works hard to bring both parts to light and show the links between the two. Wang demonstrates that while there have been regular diplomatic disputes and political challenges, the overall relationship has significantly strengthened and matured. As Wang notes, this is in large part because Australian leaders and their Chinese counterparts have placed the maintenance of good trade relationships ahead of political considerations. This has not only served the economies of both countries well, it has enabled a deepening relationship where issues such as human rights and regional security politics now have the opportunity to be openly discussed.
Reading through the years, it’s encouraging to see how similar many of the debates and worries about China have been for Australian audiences. Wang’s historical survey shows that contemporary fears about how close Australia should get to China and the relative balance between the security and economic aspects of the relationship are neither new nor particularly fraught today. The book also shines in periods where the author, a former Chinese official now working in Australia, was either involved or at least present for key moments in the relationship. The section on Australia’s human rights delegation visits to China after Tiananmen, and the analysis of Kevin Rudd’s now infamous “zhengyou” or “true friend” speech shine with personal detail and sharp analysis. Indeed, the analysis of the “Rudd paradox,” where a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat oversaw growing mistrust and suspicion between China and Australia, is excellent.
Unfortunately, the wide scope and different levels of access means a varying quality and quantity of analysis. The author has managed to talk to many senior policy makers on the Australian side, but aside from an interview with John Howard in 2011, the bulk of the interviews were conducted back in 1991–1994. This is a shame, as it would have been great to see the author revisit those involved during this crucial period and see how their views have changed or evolved over time. The interviews and the author’s engagement with the early 1990s period also lead to an overly heavy focus on this era. Most chapters, such as the one on the 23 years between 1949–1972 or on the 11 years between 1996–2007 run to about 30 pages in length. The 16 years of the Hawke-Keating government, however, is given 88 pages. In turn, the impact of Whitlam, Fraser and Howard in particular feels under-done. The “findings and conclusion” chapter is also too brief, while raising many tantalizing but unaddressed questions.
It’s also clear that the author’s interest lies more towards the trade side of the relationship, and so several of the political questions which are raised in the introduction are largely sidelined during the book. Most notably, the author sets out to “answer the question of whether Australia has been pursuing its relations with China independently or otherwise” (ix) given its alliance with the US, yet aside from a few half-hearted references the issue is largely ignored. The author doesn’t even really address the topic in the findings chapter, aside from dismissing similarities between Canberra and Washington’s approach to Beijing as a “coincidence of interests [rather] than from blind subservience to great power policy” (211).
This is a shame, as the impact of the great powers on Australian foreign policy is one of the key questions in the field, and Wang’s focus on a non-allied power such as China could have proven an excellent addition to the literature. Certainly careful readers can see a justification for the author’s assessment in the historical chapters and draw their own conclusions, but it would have been useful to see a more explicit engagement throughout. Indeed, while the author sets out to present the book as a work of political science and international relations, this feels at times like a coat pulled over the top of a more traditional piece of diplomatic history—one put on in order to attract a wider readership without necessarily deepening the analysis. Big questions such as whether Australia now faces a “China choice,” for instance, are hinted at by the author, yet left untouched.
Ultimately, this book represents a very useful reference work that will inform and guide any student or scholar of Australian foreign policy. But it also feels like something of a missed opportunity. Given the author’s background, it would have been great to learn more about what the Chinese think of this middle-sized Western outpost with its great mineral wealth and a healthy self-regard on the international stage. Maybe that’s for the next book. Until then Yi Wang is to be congratulated for holding up a mirror to Australia’s approach to China, showing both the growing strength, as well as patches of flab that need further work.
Andrew Carr, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
China and Inner Asia
This thoughtful and accessible book by one of the most prominent senior scholars in the history of China and its relations with the rest of the world will be of interest both to academics specializing in the history of Chinese nationalism and to many ordinary readers who want to understand more of China’s history and culture. It will also be a welcome addition to reading material for undergraduates since it combines a pleasant prose style with a deeply scholarly approach to the subject. However, readers should be aware that, despite the title, this is primarily a book about the history of Chinese nationalism and identity, rather than about the new global history.
The book is made up of lectures given on various occasions and a previously published essay. In each chapter Wang Gungwu reflects on a different theme in the history of modern China’s changing ideas of the nation by analyzing a particular term or idea. The first chapter considers the vexed issue of how to write global history. Wang focuses on the question of how Chinese writers can understand their own history in its global context given that global history as a genre remains centred on the rise of the West, while Chinese history has long placed China at the centre of the story.
The ideas of empire, sovereignty, and revolution form the subject of the three subsequent chapters. In each case Wang meditates on the changing relations between the English term and its Chinese equivalents. One of the nicest features of the book is the depth that this gives as we learn the classical origins of the terms and how their meanings in the twentieth century and today have continued to hold elements of those roots despite becoming the apparent equivalent of English terms. Using this methodology Wang argues that “empire” and “imperialism” are not very helpful terms to apply to China. The Qing were not the rulers of an empire that was equivalent to the Dutch in the East Indies, and both the Qing and the Dutch were very different from the earlier Malay networks of the Southeast Asian archipelago. This comparison with the history of Southeast Asia is no doubt a natural one to a Singapore-based scholar, but it is one of the book’s most attractive features, making a refreshing change to the general tendency of Chinese, American and European authors to deal with the Qing strictly in comparison to the nation-states of Western Europe. It also draws our attention to the wide range of potential meaning in a term such as “empire” and the political implications of different uses through time. The next essay argues that sovereignty, as a Western European legally-based understanding of political legitimacy, has been alien to the Chinese tradition, even though the twentieth-century Chinese state adopted the idea of sovereignty and has used it effectively in international negotiations. Nevertheless Wang argues that the Chinese state has long been more comfortable with more flexible ideas of legitimacy in their relations with foreign states, whether that took the form of the tributary states in the Ming and Qing or the Soviet idea of a family of socialist states in the 1950s and 1960s. The final essay looks at the idea of revolution and its relation to the traditional concept of geming by asking the provocative question: Why are the changes that have taken place in China since 1979 never described as a revolution? This leads into a discussion of how geming was connected with ideas of violent dynastic overthrow, which makes it very different to the Western conception of an industrial or social revolution.
The book ends with a pair of alternative concluding chapters. The first looks at efforts to create a modern Chinese civilization, mainly since the 1980s, and gives some of Wang’s own ideas for necessary changes, such as the eradication of Han chauvinism in government policies and efforts to avoid discrimination against the religious practices of minority peoples. The second and more interesting concluding chapter is curiously labelled an appendix. In it Wang returns to his longstanding interests in the overseas Chinese to look at how ethnic Chinese outside China have related to the idea of China as a universal Confucian value system (tianxia) or as a modern nation-state. By telling the stories of Ku Hung-ming and Lim Boon Keng, Wang argues that ideas of tianxia were hopelessly outdated and irrelevant by the middle of the twentieth century. He then contrasts Ku and Lim’s political failure with the success of Liao Zhongkai and Eugene Chen, who were loyal to China as a nation state, and Tan Cheng Lok, a prominent Chinese community leader loyal to Malaya as a nation state. He suggests that the concept of tianxia gave a space for forms of identity (pre-nationalism or trans-nationalism) that was eradicated in the world of the nation states. Thus the book ends with the somewhat wistful concession that the modern nation-state can be as problematic a unit for its inhabitants as an empire.
The book’s weakness lies exactly in its greatest strengths: this is a work at a high degree of generalization. It is intellectual history dedicated to great men, great thinkers and widely shared ideas. Wang also consciously and explicitly adopts the “point of view of an ethnic Chinese” (x) in his writing. As a result, to a Western reader the book may seem at times disconcertingly supportive of Chinese state nationalism, for example in its treatment of the Tibet and Taiwan issues. Nevertheless Wang Gungwu is one of the world’s leading scholars in the field; the book is clearly the product of a lifetime of thinking. It is well worth reading.
Henrietta Harrison, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
This book is a contribution to the field of Chinese politics. It is particularly helpful to the understanding of the CCP’s mechanisms for controlling both Party members and the general population. Although the author emphasizes that it is not a book of “political history of Chinese security and intelligence apparatuses,” (1), the author describes the creation, evolution and development of China’s security and intelligence agencies as well as their role in influencing Chinese Communist Party politics throughout the Party’s history. Of course, the author was trained as a political scientist and he wrote this book from the perspective of a political scientist. His main focus is to examine how the security and intelligence apparatuses and elite politics interplay in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) politics. In other words, the author wants to look at CCP politics through its way of organizing security apparatuses.
The author states that he wants to achieve several related goals, namely, to analyze the evolution and development of the CCP security and intelligence organizations during the CCP revolution before and after 1949, to examine the organizations’ pursuit of social control of the Chinese populace and their influence over elite politics, to explore the function of the security and intelligence apparatuses as paramount shields for protecting the regime and as potent forces guaranteeing compliance with party leadership, and to reveal the manner in which the CCP organizes and motivates the security and intelligence organizations to ensure effective social control and compliance of Party and state officials with Party discipline.
Given the role played by security apparatuses in Chinese politics, it is easy to understand that over the decades the CCP has developed a very complicated and sophisticated security regime. Understanding this regime is not an easy task. Based on a review of the historical evolution of public security organizations, the author focused on several key components within this regime, including the Central Guard Bureau, Central Guard Regiment, armed police, people’s armed police, garrison commands, intelligence agencies and services, and PLA (People’s Liberation Army) security services. While each of these organizations can be a book-length study, the author, based skillfully on chosen historical materials, has investigated patterns of leadership politics from the vantage point of security and intelligence organization and operation. The author also points to the main trends in the changing relations between the CCP and its security regime. For instance, he highlights how professionalism and institutionalization in the security regime have impacted the security regime’s relations with the CCP.
While the book answered many questions on China’s security regime, it could also have brought up many new questions. The author examines how different organizations in the security regime play their roles in defending the CCP, but he did not pay enough attention to how the CCP managed this vast regime. The lack of coordination between and among different organizations within the security regime implies that the security regime is not integrated but fragmented. While fragmentation provides the CCP leadership with the tool for manipulation, thus preventing a major threat from the security regime, it could lead to conflicts between and among them. Changing external and internal environments have called for better integration within the security regime. For example, the Central Military Commission managed the PLA, and thus its security and intelligence services, while the Political and Legal Commission handled security and intelligence services in the civilian sector. But with globalization and the rise of terrorism, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish external and internal threats. This is the main rationale behind the recently established State Security Committee, with Xi Jinping as its president.
The author also tried to make a comparison between the CCP and the Soviet Union. The comparison is justified due to the fact that both were Communist regimes. However, it would be interesting to compare the Chinese Communist regime and its traditional dynasties in terms of the organizational configuration of the security regime. For example, the Central Guard Regiment today is very similar to the Jinwei jun or the Yulin jun in traditional dynasties. It provides protection to the CCP leadership while the Jinwei jun or the Yulin jun protected the emperor and imperial families.
Some key arguments can be refined to reduce misunderstandings of the relations between China’s security regime and CCP politics. For example, the author correctly argues that internal security and intelligence are key components for the CCP’s survival since having a monopoly on power is the only way the party-state can maintain its authority. However, the author also claims that contrary to Western democracies, China is governed by a monopolistic party whose leaders are not democratically elected, which means that political legitimacy is not based on popular support. As a result, the CCP shielded itself from internal and external threats by instituting a strong security system (418). This statement somehow exaggerates the role of the security regime. Many studies have indicated that in the past decades, China’s economic miracle has served as a major source of legitimacy for the CCP.
In the last chapter, the author tries to predict the future of China by comparing it with other countries such as Singapore, Russia and Japan. This comparison is not necessary and misleading. For example, to review the Singaporean democracy as a combination of “benevolent government and autocracy,” Russia’s as “illiberal democracy” and Japan’s as “democracy with a strong state bureaucracy” is far too ideology-loaded. The comparison does not add value to this important study of China.
Zheng Yongnian, National University of Singapore, Singapore
PAX SINICA: Geopolitics and Economics of China’s Ascendance. By Y.Y. Kueh. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; New York: Columbia University Press [distributor], 2012. xxi, 437 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-988-8083-82-4.
The eleven essays in this volume were first published in different journals and collections. Gathered together with a new introduction and a concluding chapter, they are carefully researched articles that highlight three main stages in China’s development story over the past two decades.
The first two published in 1993 mark the great surge that followed Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour. One of them reminds us of the remarkable turnaround after the Western world’s reaction to the tragedy of Tiananmen Square in 1989. The other records the impact of China’s reforms on Hong Kong and reminds us how the colony, as it was then, adjusted to the thrust of China’s challenges.
On the eve of Hong Kong’s return to China, Professor Kueh examines key aspects of change that have wider repercussions both for China and the region and for Hong Kong. His 1996 study of Guangdong’s transformation supports the case to view the province as the “fifth dragon” in eastern Asia. Clearly, it has been the greatest beneficiary of China’s new reform policies. Another essay provides a close examination of the overall effect on Hong Kong’s links with its most important external market, the United States, and shows that Hong Kong has acted as a stabilizer in that relationship. And in the third essay, chapter 10 of this volume and also of 1997, there is a preliminary look at the outreach of the PRC into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) framework, one that would accommodate both Hong Kong and Taiwan as thriving economies in the larger region.
Professor Kueh has made important contributions to our understanding of the consequences of the 1997 financial crisis in Asia. Three years after it began, he published his studies on how that sudden downturn that happened only days after the Hong Kong handover led to a near meltdown of several key economies in the region. The four essays republished here describe the various ways Hong Kong dealt with the series of financial shocks that followed. The first shows that the optimism at the handover was justified by the way the Special Administrative Region coped with the unexpected banking collapses and withdrawals in several partner countries. A helpful chronology of the events from July 1997 to January 1998 has been included here.
Another essay outlines what the PRC authorities did to assist Hong Kong’s financial restructuring despite moments when Beijing wondered whether Hong Kong might become a burden on the PRC. Together with some technical scrutiny of the data pertaining to the “US Dollar Peg,” the third of the essays also explains how “the China factor” served to help Hong Kong overcome some immediate challenges. The fourth of the essays, focusing on what has been called “the Greater China Triangle,” demonstrates the value of the connections that Hong Kong has established over time with both Taiwan and the PRC.
Chapter 11 deals with a decade of two special developments. It is a substantial report on China’s advances since the 1990s into new industries: the electronics and IT industry and the automobile industry. Much of the report details what began well before the 2008 financial crisis and before the report’s first publication in 2009. But, in many ways, this meticulous study of the rapid progress of the industries prepares us to understand both the precariousness of their links with the American market as well as the strong resilience of the Chinese economy when the global crisis struck. The stress in the report on how the industries enabled China to realign its policies towards the Asia-Pacific provides clues to what China may plan to do in order to deal with the recent US-Japan rebalancing. The report was published in Manila and is not easily accessible. Its inclusion here should be welcome to scholars concerned with post-2008 economic readjustments in the region.
The final essay follows the evolution of Chinese policies towards the “open regionalism” favoured by its regional partners. It updates an earlier study of how China’s WTO accession impacted on a number of larger regional arrangements and suggests why that may not hurt the close economic relations that China still wants with ASEAN.
The book’s title Pax Sinica is a little misleading. It implies that the geopolitics in the subtitle might have played a greater part in Chinese policies than we think. By comparing it first with Pax Britannica and then Pax Americana, one could be led to believe that geopolitical factors dominate the changes of the past three decades. Professor Kueh’s essays, however, follow Deng Xiaoping’s emphasis on economic development and how he focused on that almost to the exclusion of everything else. And the book as a whole shows how decisive that emphasis has been. The essays collected here, therefore, provide a great deal of data that point to the fact that it was not until after Deng’s death that geopolitical concerns surfaced as a matter of wider interest. This has more to do with the response of other countries to China’s economic success than any deliberate shift on China’s part. It is not surprising, whether rightly or not, that Professor Kueh is inclined to believe that economics is more likely to prevail over geopolitics.
Wang Gungwu, National University of Singapore, Singapore
THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY AND CHINA’S CAPITALIST REVOLUTION: The Political Impact of the Market. Routledge Contemporary China Series, 61. By Lance L.P. Gore. New York; London: Routledge, 2013, c2011. xx,180 pp.(Figures, Tables.) US$44.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-415-85526-6.
Gore’s book represents a renewal of scholarly interest in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a topic which has been neglected for two decades. This persuasive study analyses the transformation of the largest ruling communist party in the world, which, despite its contradictions with marketization, and unlike its Eastern European counterparts, gained 72 percent of its current membership in the past thirty years (4). However, the CCP is experiencing an atrophy of its grassroots organizations in urban and rural areas, undermining its vertical integration. The CCP’s role in enterprise is declining, although, unlike the East Asian developmental state, it plants itself inside the businesses (128). The CCP is adapting by reformulating its goals and roles along pragmatic lines, and picking up the characteristics of market institutions. However, the different living conditions of party members make ideological unity impossible, as party membership holds no common meaning beyond its role as a label. The party is independent of any class, as, despite its rhetorical claims to represent and focus on the recruitment of the proletariat and peasants, these groups have been the biggest losers in the reform era and have not been a source of party expansion since the 1950s (20, 57). The CCP is no longer an avant-garde party. It is evolving into a corporatist-elitist party of the middle class, striving to serve the community in exchange for loyalty.
In one theoretical and four empirical chapters, Gore approaches the transformation of the CCP through the sociological lens of institutional isomorphism on the basis of a wide range of materials, both central and local, from across the country. These include newspapers, statistical reports, and party-building publications, as well as materials from government and quasi-governmental non-profit organizations, state-owned business corporations, and local party organizations, such as party-building websites, investigative reports, recruiting plans, meeting minutes, self-evaluation forms, online courses for potential party recruits, and works by scholars from party schools and research institutes.
Gore examines the adaptation of the CCP in China’s new mass society, new market-era institutions and job and residential patterns. Except for on college campuses, which are a focus of CCP recruitment efforts and which provide over one-third of new members each year, the party is struggling to stay relevant in corporate governance, in the private sector, and among the middle class, that is, the “managerial personnel” and “technical and professional specialists,” i.e., professional intellectuals who have always been crucial for party building (66). The CCP has adapted by professionalizing party cadres and creating interlocking positions in party- and state-owned enterprises. As the motivation for party membership among students is often not ideological but nationalist, pragmatic (for recruiters, party membership indicates quality and connections), and social (due to family pressure), Gore raises the question whether the CCP still recruits communists (79). The CCP’s efforts to recruit capitalists who can provide jobs and stability—and one-third of whom are party members (65)—present the danger of creating a hybrid ruling class, not unlike the “bureaucratic capitalist class” that the CCP overthrew in 1949, that can undermine the party’s autonomy in policy making (127).
Gore’s conclusion that the CCP is now pressed to revive the tactics of the United Front, which it used against the GMD before coming to power in 1949 (65), brings to mind other commonalities with that time of struggle for survival of the underground CCP in China proper and overseas. These similarities are the synergy of lineage and religious associations with grassroots party organizations in the countryside (50–56); the dilution of ideology; the struggles to overcome the party’s irrelevance to the private sector; and the attempts to relate the party to this private sector through social organizations and public events, finding new “carriers” among market and administration organizations (such as trade associations) (62–65). Much like the Malayan Communist Party—which was, organizationally, a branch of the CCP—did in the 1930s, the CCP now facilitates employment, as well as business ties among mobile party members whose mobility today challenges party recruitment strategies (113). Moreover, this synergy of the party with migrant associations was not only manifested in the organizational and functional similarities between the Malayan Communist Party and Chinese associations which I found in my own research, but in some of the early party organizations in mainland China, which emerged as adaptation organizations among youth migrating from rural areas to the city for their studies (Yeh Wen-hsin, Provincial Passages:Culture, Space, and the Origins of Chinese Communism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
Gore concludes that the future direction of the CCP’s current transformation is uncertain. The CCP is once again becoming, as in its pre-1949 underground times, a nationalist party with large student participation and flexible ideology, facilitating migrant adaptation, and recruiting capitalists. This important study of the CCP adaptation shows the need for new questions about the organizational nature of the CCP, as well as about Chinese organizations broadly, since the CCP’s structure is already being appropriated as an organizational model for other institutions, such as protestant home churches (Karrie J. Koesel, “The Rise of a Chinese House Church: The Organizational Weapon,” The China Quarterly 215, Sept. 2013, 572–589).
Anna Belogurova, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA
This is an outstanding study, highly recommended for a wide variety of audiences. For China scholars, the book provides valuable and original primary data on various kinds of social organizations within the PRC; for specialists in comparative politics, it sheds new light on the persistence of authoritarian rule and the role of civil society; for students of social movements, it lays out a clear, useful and novel framework for understanding “opportunity structures”; for new researchers, it includes a detailed discussion of data collection and research methodology; and for practitioners, it reveals important and often counter-intuitive information regarding the specific and nuanced ways in which foreign funding can have both good and ill effects. The book is a pleasure to read, from start to finish. It is carefully researched, exceptionally well-organized, convincingly argued, and written in clear and engaging prose.
Hildebrandt investigates the ways in which Chinese NGOs adapt to changing political, economic and personal opportunities, focusing on NGOs involved in environmental protection, HIV/AIDs prevention, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights. He blends qualitative and quantitative data and methods, drawing on eighty in-depth interviews with NGO leaders in Beijing, Yunnan and Sichuan (conducted in 2007–2008); a thorough and well-thought through web-based survey; and official news stories. Rather than focusing on one type of NGO per chapter, the book is divided into three thematic sections: one on political opportunities, one on economic opportunities, and one on personal opportunities. The three types of NGOs are compared within each section.
Hildebrandt consciously chooses NGOs focused on these issue areas because they are “profiles in success”; by and large, they have avoided repression and effectively adapted to the opportunity structures within which they operate. Through these case studies, Hildebrandt uncovers how social groups can succeed even within China’s authoritarian political system. However, he also emphasizes that the adaptations that these groups must make in order to persist undermine their ability to thrive in the long-term. Moreover, he finds that the limited success of these groups actually serves to strengthen the authoritarian political system, not to weaken or change it. In this sense, Hildebrandt challenges predominant understandings of the role of civil society in fomenting democratic political change.
The book’s first section, on political opportunities, looks at how ever-changing policy decisions and government institutions at the central and local levels shape the behaviour of Chinese NGOs. The main adaptive response to China’s political opportunity structure is to be “self-limiting”; these groups do not question or challenge the boundaries imposed on them by the state, but rather accept these as givens, and do what they can to succeed within these restrictions. Perhaps the most important and surprising finding in this section is that these NGO leaders express a remarkably positive attitude toward both central and local governments. Moreover, when a group does come into conflict with the state, NGO leaders almost universally blame the organization (and more specifically, the organization’s leader), and not the state. A further implication of this mentality is that when a group is repressed, instead of rallying around it in sympathy, other groups distance themselves from it, and fault the group’s leader for engaging in unwise behaviour that is seen as having elicited the negative state action.
Another interesting finding in this section concerns the Chinese government’s official registration system for social organizations, which on paper all such groups are expected to follow. Somewhat surprisingly, NGO leaders report no perceived relationship between registering and having good relations with the government. To the contrary, both local government leaders and NGO leaders sometimes believe that it is more advantageous to not become registered. Because a lack of official recognition allows these groups to exist “under the radar,” it can give both group leaders and local officials more flexibility in their actions.
The second section of the book, on economic opportunity structures, is perhaps the most intriguing and novel; although most studies of social movements emphasize political opportunities, Hildebrandt stresses that for the groups in this study, economic concerns far outweigh political concerns. Simply put, social groups need money in order to succeed, and money is in exceedingly short supply. Because domestic charity giving is almost non-existent in China (in part, Hildebrandt suggests, due to unsupportive tax codes), the NGOs in Hildebrandt’s study rely largely on international organizations for funding. These organizations have their own goals and requirements, and Chinese NGOs wanting their money have no choice but to abide by them. This, then, constricts the ability of NGOs to pursue their own self-defined aims, and to do so in the way that they deem most effective.
The third section of the book, on personal opportunities, is also innovative and illuminating. Across issue areas, personalistic patron-client relations (wherein a particular government official acts as the former and a particular group leader acts as the latter) characterize virtually all successful groups. The more “deeply embedded” a group leader’s relationship with a particular leader, the more potential success and protection the group may enjoy in the short-term. But in the long run, such relationships are very vulnerable and idiosyncratic, and are not sustainable. This feature of NGOs also explains why, when a group comes into conflict with the government, it is not seen as a failure of the political system, but rather as an interpersonal dispute.
Although the groups studied in this volume were chosen due to their demonstrated success, Hildebrandt concludes that their long-term future is “bleak.” They show little prospect of becoming institutionalized, or of working with one another. Moreover, they appear to be quite content with—and indeed may prefer—the authoritarian political status quo. Further, to the extent that these NGOs actually do solve China’s pressing social problems, they may strengthen the regime’s legitimacy.
Teresa Wright, California State University, Long Beach, USA
In this overview of America’s difficult relationship with China, Mel Gurtov sets out to challenge the notion that the new century belongs to China in the same way that the preceding century was said to belong to the United States. Professor Gurtov looks at the different schools of thought prevalent in both China and America and argues that it is too easy to overstate China’s strength, ambitions and capacity to lead. He also says it is wrong to exaggerate the likelihood of a decline in the United States’ global role. He regards it as important to keep engaging China as a respected partner and to avoid treating China as a threat and creating a new Cold War. He wants to strengthen US engagement with China and makes a series of suggestions as to how this should best be done. At the end of the book, he adds various documents such as excerpts of China’s National Defense policy document.
The book certainly serves as useful background to stimulate debate and he covers many bilateral issues which make the news. Occasionally, he slips up, such as when he says that the Asian Financial Crisis took place in the 1980s instead of 1998. The serious drawback to the book is what is left out rather than what is included. Professor Gurtov presents himself as a skeptic against the establishment hawkish view of China and as a dedicated advocate of engagement. As such he recommends reducing US military spending, abandoning Taiwan, giving China a greater power to veto humanitarian intervention wars and recommends a regional security forum which would put China in a strong position to influence US traditional allies in the region. This is very much what Beijing would like too. It would like Americans to underestimate China as a threat to its interests and its representatives are always warning Americans not to start a new cold war.
Throughout the book Professor Gurtov takes the liberal or left-wing position on China, or rather the Chinese Communist Party, and this has invariably been the default policy of the American establishment since the 1940s. The reason why this encounters a great deal of mistrust is that the promises and predictions of the engagement faction have failed to come true. Ever since Nixon went to China, we have been assured that the Chinese Communist Party would lose power, or at least get weaker, as it would be obliged to undertake political reforms, but China has not become a democracy nor has it even made a meaningful start in that direction.
We were also told that economic engagement would bring mutual benefits but it is China which has grown hugely prosperous, and America which has become dangerously indebted to China, with no appreciable rise in living standards. And many concerns about the wisdom of continuing the huge transfer of technology and know-how to China are justifiable because the country is not an ally but a rival.
We were also led to believe that as China became a pillar of the global economy it would become a peaceful and positive player. In fact, we know China continues to back all the worst dictatorships around the world: Cuba, North Korea, Burma, Syria, Sudan, Ghaddafi’s Libya, Milosevic’s Serbia, and so on. Its belligerent posture on regional issues, including claims to all of the South China Sea and dramatic military build-up, is frightening all the small countries in the region and has started a regional arms race.
At every critical point in history, the United States has made mistaken and misinformed choices on China. Washington first gave support to the Communists in Yenan during the Second World War, it forced the Nationalists to negotiate with the Communists in 1946/1947 and then withdrew support from Chiang Kai-shek. It did not expect the Communists to win the civil war, nor invade North Korea, nor back the Vietnamese Communists. During the 1950s and 1960s, CIA reports denied that tens of millions perished from famine in China so it rejected Taiwan’s calls for an invasion. Rather, it asserted that the Chinese economy was growing by 10 percent a year, faster even than Japan’s, so when Kissinger went to China, he failed to realize that he was dealing with a bankrupt failed state in the midst of a civil war. In 1979, the United States gave its support to Deng Xiaoping when he posed as a democratic reformer and again renewed that support after the 1989 Tiananmen student protests.
As such, his underlying assumption—that engagement has worked so well in the past that the answer to current problems is simply to have more of it—needs to be addressed and defended more directly.
It is open to question whether we are any the wiser about the ambitions and policies of China’s new leaders than we ever were. The CCP remains a secretive Leninist organization that produces a great many opaque statistics about its activities. For all these reasons, the public has every right to be extremely cautious about accepting the views that Professor Gurtov articulates in this book. It’s surely not because anyone wants a new cold war, as he suggests, but because American experts and politicians have been wrong so often in the past. Some may also recall just how wrong the CIA and the Sovietologists were about Mikhail Gorbachov, the state of the Soviet economy and the proportion of its economy devoted to military spending.
Professor Gurtov also argues that our key concern should be about the challenges to China, not the challenges from China. You can see what he means but many of these challenges which he talks about are not so much challenges to China but to the absolute rule of the Chinese Communist Party. It is surely important to distinguish between the two. If a different party were in power with different priorities, perhaps environmental issues, minority ethnic unrest or worker protests and so on would not pose a threat to stability but enhance it.
Jasper Becker, Independent Researcher, Bath, United Kingdom
THE MIDDLE CLASS IN NEOLIBERAL CHINA: Governing Risk, Life-Building, and Themed Spaces. Routledge Contemporary China Series, 91. By Hai Ren. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. xv, 192 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$135.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-50135-4.
With China becoming one of the largest economies in the world, the rising Chinese middle-class citizens and their astonishing consumption power have become popular topics in Western media. Yet, in academic circles, the urban middle class as an emerging social group has fallen under the radar, unlike migrant workers, whose work and lives in big cities and industrial towns have received consistent careful examination. Dr. Ren’s timely empirical study allows readers to glimpse the framing processes of the middle-class subjectivities in contemporary China, with an unconventional perspective that elaborates on the performances and effects of an ethnic museum and theme park-based ethnic tourism.
Inspired by Foucault’s “dispositif” in his study of biopolitics, Dr. Ren defines the Chinese middle class as “a dispositive class”: an ensemble of forces, practices and discourses that is “both strategic and technical” (12). To unravel this dispositive class, Dr. Ren follows a three-prong framework: the normative formation of the middle class as a governing strategy; the institutional framing of middle-class subjectivities by cultural industries including museums, theme parks and media; and the self-making process of middle-class individuals as rational, responsible consumer citizens.
Specifically, Dr. Ren starts his discussion by tracing the rhetorical transformation of class composition in official documents in China (chapter 1). When a socialist state was transformed into a neoliberal state from the late 1970s, the “from-cradle-to-grave” planned economic system was replaced by a market-oriented system that redistributed risks and responsibilities to individuals. The proletariat was no longer the leading class as stated in the old constitution. Thanks to surveys and statistics as tools that articulated the newly established truth of the existence of the middle class and other classes, a new class structure recognizing the effects of the new self-making processes was inscribed in official speech and documents. Thus the formation of the middle class is more than a result of economic growth, but is itself a political strategy of the neoliberal state in legitimizing its rule ideologically and institutionally.
In the next three chapters (chapters 2, 3, 4), Dr. Ren extrapolates the framing of middle-class subjectivities from his ethnographic examples of a Yi ethnic minority museum in Sichuan Province and the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park in Beijing. Museums and ethnic parks illustrate the transformation of cultural institutions that served propaganda purposes to cultural enterprises in China’s neoliberal transformation. As themed spaces, museums and ethnic parks provide controlled built environments to present different temporal and spatial narratives about lives that deviate from those in the socialist period. The adaptation of TV media further promotes the new narratives by bringing the spectacular, including ethnic festivals performed in the ethnic parks, to a broader audience than those who can afford to go to the pricey ethnic park. The new narratives communicate the idea of life as a strategic response to external changes and of nonlinearity and heterogeneity as constitutive of human quality and community life. These narratives resonate with the new configuration of social stratification that is drastically different from the poor but relatively even past. In this sense, with the help of media, ethnic museum and theme parks form part of the governing apparatus that manages risks in the neoliberal order, on the one hand, and teaches the middle class “what living a Chinese everyday life means, should mean, and will mean” on the other (72).
Dr. Ren then continues to explain self-making processes by examining the tourists’ as well as the ethnic workers’ experiences in the ethnic theme parks (chapters 5, 6). He depicts how the tourists took costumed photographs and how they sought to maximize the value of the tour by participating in as many ethnic performances as possible. Seeing these occasions as illustration of the do-it-yourself way of individualizing living, Dr. Ren argues that they are also stages that demonstrate middle-class civility and cosmopolitism, and training grounds that orient individuals to be rational consumers. Yet, the middle-class tourists’ self-refashioning would not be possible without the ethnic workers’ affective labour. Despite their precarious lives in and outside the ethnic park, Dr. Ren argues that these workers’ performance of being “authentically” ethnic enables the framing narratives of the middle-class subjectivities.
The Middle Class in Neoliberal China is theoretically engaging and ethnographically interesting. It is thought provoking for Dr. Ren to argue that the middle class in China can be understood as a statistical fact and a political strategy in articulating a new political order. Inspired by the Frankfurt School and later cultural studies scholars, Dr. Ren’s investigation of ethnic tourism goes beyond the conventional framework of ethnic studies, and probes into the realm of subjectivity in tandem with new forms of governmentality. The propositions of China as “a neoliberal state,” and of identifying the hand-over of Hong Kong in 1997 as the transitional moment from socialism to neoliberalism, which Dr. Ren developed in his previous book Neoliberalism and Culture in China and Hong Kong: The Countdown of Time (Routledge, 2010), will continue to be a touchstone for scholars grappling with neoliberalism and China’s transformation. Nevertheless, while the book poignantly analyzes the changes in the framing processes of the new class structure, the readers might still wonder whether the potential framing effects of the new political representations through work and leisure are unique to the middle class or in fact equally applicable to all social strata. As other scholars have demonstrated, the values of individualization as required by neoliberal strategies are well articulated among migrant workers as well as the new rich. Yet, after all, a class structure is inherently built on distinction, if not confrontation. That said, Dr. Ren’s book contributes greatly to the ongoing discussion of China’s structural transformation.
Jun Zhang, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Xufeng Zhu, a professor at the Zhou Enlai School of Government at Nankai University, maintains that think tanks are a window for the outside world to observe the Chinese political system and its processes. In The Rise of Think Tanks in China, a detailed study of China’s think tanks, Zhu provides the reader with empirical evidence of the rise of think tanks, as well as a comparative analysis of seven prominent think tanks. The book also makes use of a nationwide survey of think-tank leaders.
Zhu attempts to answer the questions: how do different types of think tanks operate in China and to what extent do they actually influence policy making? While the second question remains clouded in conjecture because policy makers will often draw on multiple sources, the book does provide a pioneering account of think tanks’ administrative structure and influence, the strategies adopted by leaders, and the resources on which they draw. The overall argument confirms the view that the closer one is to government the more likely one’s voice is to be heard. While this is unsurprising, the book does provide an insider’s view on the machinations of influence in China’s policy circles.
The book is divided into four sections. The first section provides a comparative theoretical analysis in respect to how think tanks are positioned within China’s policy circles. In contrast to Western counterparts that seek to maintain a high degree of autonomy from government, political parties and interest groups, China’s think tanks benefit from close relationships with their ideological sponsors, whether these are the party-state apparatus, elites or universities. Zhu argues that it is necessary to redefine the concept of think tank in order to understand their role in China.
Zhu classifies China’s think tanks into two broad categories: semi-official think tanks and non-governmental think tanks. He investigates three influential semi-official think tanks: the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC), and the China Centre for Information Industry Development (CCID). The China Development Institute (CDI) and the China Center for International Economic Exchange (CCIEE) represent “nongovernmental think tanks with governmental sponsorship.” A third category is the so-called “independent” non-governmental think tank, examples being the Unirule Institute of Economics (Tianze), and the Beijing Dajun Center for Economic Watch and Studies (Dajun Center).
Zhu proposes three levels of influence on decision making: the first is the decision maker nucleus, whereby think-tank participants are effectively advisors to government; the second level of influence takes in social elites. This “centre” constitutes academic and other policy actors, including special interest groups. The third level of influence is the public and is called the “periphery.” The periphery includes inputs from the media and from the Internet as well as a range of academic and non-academic publications. Zhu makes the point that whereas the periphery is powerful in democracies, that is, where the media acts as the fourth estate, its function in China is also to circulate decisions made at the inner levels.
The second section sets out the seven cases in the book. The analysis of semi-official think tanks tends to get bogged down in lists of responsibilities, channels of dissemination and functional linkages. Chapters 5 and 6 provide detail on the expansion of think tanks outside the protected umbrella of state institutions. In these cases, such semi-autonomous bodies have drawn attention, resources and linkages from outside China.
Chapter 6 focuses on the most independent category: smaller think tanks. These smaller operations are plagued by financial difficulties and a higher turnover of staff. Zhu concludes that these smaller institutional formations are marginalized in terms of their influence on decision making, their main sources of income being consultancy, keynote speeches and reports. The influence of think tanks is proportional to their public identity. Semi-official think tanks function as the most important components in the policy research and consultation system. Non-governmental thinks tanks are variously registered as Civilian Nonprofit Institutions, social groups, enterprises and university-run research institutes.
Section 3, “Networks, influences and social consequences,” draws on empirical research and considers how influence is calculated. The research draws upon surveys sent to the leaders of 1,124 institutes. While this was obviously the most appropriate means of soliciting a response, the questions in the survey were not likely to elicit deep responses about the political landscape. In fact, they were more likely to flatter the egos of think-tank leaders. The results confirm that the personalities of think-tank leaders are a decisive factor in building the reputation of the team and bringing in research contracts. The leader might be a person who has returned from overseas or who has strong connections with overseas returnees. Unsurprisingly, the higher the administrative level a think tank inhabits the more advantages accrue in access to China’s decision makers. However, Zhu points out that many think-tank leaders lack a high level of educational achievement.
Zhu maintains that the influence of all think tanks ultimately depends on their networks. Because of China’s special administrative system, relationship networks are configured differently to what one generally finds in the West. Having a high administrative ranking translates into direct influence; think tanks’ administrative level generally falls one level below their direct supervisory institution. Semi-official networks have the inside running thanks to their well-developed administrative networks. Hence the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences sits directly under the State Council. In contrast, non-governmental think tanks rely more on personal social networks to realize influence. In addition, such non-governmental think tanks are popular with social elites.
The Rise of Think Tanks in China is a welcome addition to scholarship. It will be a much cited reference for observers of China’s political reforms, particularly scholars of political transition, and it will be essential reading in courses on Chinese and international politics.
Michael Keane, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
CHINA AND THE ENVIRONMENT: The Green Revolution. Asian Arguments. Edited by Sam Geall; with an introduction by Isabel Hilton. London; New York: Zed Books, 2013. vii, 256 pp. (Map.) US$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-780-32340-4.
This well-written and insightful book explores the brave new world of environmental activism in China. It is essential reading for anyone interested in how journalists, lawyers and ordinary citizens are using a variety of strategies and tactics in their struggle to prevent health-harming pollution, fight grievous environmental injustice, and preserve vital ecosystems. The brief introduction sets out the context within which environmental activism takes place, and then the five extremely rich chapters examine, in turn, the role of environmental journalists, the key campaigns that have formed the contemporary environmental movement, the use of the legal system in struggles for environmental justice, urban middle-class environmental protest, and the struggle against dams in China’s Southwest region. What makes these chapters especially powerful is how they use detailed descriptions of cases to illuminate the bigger picture. The engaging nature and empirical richness of this book is not surprising given that four of the six contributors are editors at the outstanding online environmental newsmagazine chinadialogue, while the other two are a China-based journalist and a legal scholar with extensive experience in China.
In the introduction, Isabel Hilton argues that new government policies, such as freedom of information regulations, have dovetailed with the emergence of a new generation of younger and more confrontational activists to create an energetic environmental movement. Yet she wisely eschews the temptation to herald the coming of age of a robust civil society, instead noting that there still remains a deep contradiction in the state’s handling of environmental NGOs and activism—these activities can be useful to the regime, but they can also be dangerous. Hilton concludes that “the potential for a robust and vibrant civil society is clear, [but] whether it is allowed to come into being is less certain” (13). The five following chapters provide vivid pictures of the efforts of activists at the centre of this struggle.
Chapter 1 by Sam Geall explores the changing media landscape in China and the ability of journalists and citizens to use the media to fight pollution and protect the natural environment. He hones in on those journalists who advocate for environmental causes, arguing that they actually benefit from the often chaotic or confused media environment as they work the murky ground between what is obviously acceptable and what is clearly off limits. Geall introduces the reader to a variety of activist journalists, concluding that they have “helped to create more environmentally aware citizens, bring light to murky back-room politics and foster a feistier, more responsive public sphere” (38).
In the next chapter, Olivia Boyd reviews some of the key campaigns of the past two decades of environmental activism in China, giving a fast-paced tour through campaigns to save endangered species, to stop the building of dams, to get pollution data made public, to force multinational corporations to pay attention to the environmental record of their suppliers, and to improve animal welfare. While this review yields no neat conclusions, it does illustrate that the field of action has expanded and that “Chinese citizens are becoming players in an effort to build a greener, cleaner and more open society” (93).
The legal arena has become an important site for environmental activism, and in chapter 3 Adam Moser uses an examination of one legal case—the Yangzonghai case—to open a window on the state of environmental law and governance in China. Following a useful review of the overall situation, Moser explores the clashing interests involved in the Yangzonghai case, ultimately concluding that the judiciary is still too weak to play a constructive role in environmental enforcement.
The last two chapters each focus exclusively on one case study. Jonathan Ansfield’s “Alchemy of a Protest: the Case of Xiamen PX” is a tour de force of reportage. While many have heard about the middle-class protests against a chemical plant that erupted in Xiamen in 2007–08, Ansfield takes the reader on a journey behind the scenes, illuminating the complex machinations that went on before, during and after the main protests. The protests were unprecedented and were followed in subsequent years by similar upheavals in other cities. While this has seemed to be a momentous development, Ansfield’s account suggests that whether or not such protests can achieve citizens’ aims is still unclear. In contrast to this, in the next chapter Liu Jianqiang tells the story of the successful campaign to stop the damming of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Liu’s position as a reporter who followed the case from its beginning to its end enables him to tell the story with rich detail. Liu argues that “its success showed that a group of stakeholders joining forces to defend their rights—with the support of the media, civil society and the public—can defeat a formidable alliance between government and business” (203). It must be said, however, that it is still unclear whether the outcome of this case (at this point in time) is a one-off result or a harbinger of things to come.
China and the Environment deserves a wide readership. While it does not make a theoretical contribution to the literature, it offers an accessible, interesting and insightful look into the world of environmental activism in contemporary China.
Kenneth W. Foster, Concordia College, Moorhead, USA
BAREFOOT DOCTORS AND WESTERN MEDICINE IN CHINA. Rochester Studies in Medical History. By Xiaoping Fang. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press; Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2012. xii, 294 pp. (Figures, tables, maps.) US$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-58046-433-8.
Since the late nineteenth century, states have increasingly taken it upon themselves to provide basic health care for their populations, but this goal has often been thwarted by limited finances and personnel. With up to 90 percent of China’s 1949 population living in rural areas, the question for the state was how to spread resources in an effective, yet efficient manner. A tiny group of elite Western-trained physicians tried to implement rural medicine before and after 1949, yet even sixteen years after Liberation, Mao Zedong famously accused the Ministry of Health of serving only privileged, urban party elites. As Xiaoping Fang tells us in his important monograph, free services for civil servants made up 33 to 73 percent of total health-care expenditures between 1955 and 1965 in a single county, despite covering only 2 percent of the population (29). The barefoot doctor movement of the Cultural Revolution saw the first sustained penetration of the countryside by state medicine, and Fang’s book analyzes the movement through extensive interviews and documentary research. If official propaganda proclaimed that the barefoot doctors primarily brought herbal medicines to the doors of Chinese villagers, Fang demonstrates the opposite—it was Western medicine and mass-produced pharmaceuticals that these paramedical professionals promoted. The barefoot doctor program of 1968 to 1983 was “a pivotal stage in the displacement of Chinese medicine by Western medicine in rural China” (181).
From 1949, Chen Hongting and his Jiang village clinic become the reader’s interlocutors to explore these revolutionary changes to the medical field in rural China. In chapter 1, Fang demonstrates the plural medical ecology in rural China that included family businesses of Chinese medicine like Chen’s, but also folk healers, bonesetters and religious healers. In 1952, Chen and other medical practitioners formed a union clinic that was responsible for doing public health work, but with no funding. These union clinics “represented a significant downward extension of the state medical system” (27). But a comprehensive system based in Western medicine was not introduced to the countryside until the Cultural Revolution.
In the late 1960s, Chen Hongting and his colleagues began to introduce Western medicine and spread the barefoot movement (chapter 2). To one prospective disciple he said: “I find you clever and good at studying. I choose you to be a barefoot doctor. I will come to stay at your home. You will study under me” (48). These doctors were mostly young, between 17 and 26 years old, often semi-literate. The movement notably expanded medical work to include women in a significant way. For the first time in rural China, a standardized system of medicine was spread through a corpus of textbooks and journals, many of them well illustrated. These included the Manual for Barefoot Doctors. Contrary to common belief, the book is not primarily about herbal medicine, but is one-third about public health, epidemic prevention, first aid, family planning, basic surgical skills and human anatomy. The remaining two-thirds is therapies using a combination of herbs and Western drugs. Basic Western medical technology in the form of blood pressure metres, thermometres and stethoscopes, along with IUDs were spread widely, along with basic operational skills that included injections, disinfections and intravenous drips. Why did they focus on Western medicine? Chinese medicine was too difficult. Barefoot doctors studied on average only two to four months, although some studied up to one year, and this was not long enough to learn the classical Chinese necessary to read Chinese medical classics.
Chapter 3 describes how the early PRC saw medicine shops folded into the union clinics, the end of the division of doctors and pharmacies that had existed for thousands of years (75). Yet Western medicines were completely out of reach: a single bottle of basic antibiotics cost three years’ salary for a villager in 1957. A proclamation by Chairman Mao in 1969 saw pharmaceutical prices reduced and standardized nationwide on over 1200 basic drugs so that prices in 1971 were one-fifth that of 1949 (78). This massive state intervention saw a complete turning point in reducing mortality from infectious diseases by 1970. Mortality for measles dropped from 22 to 4 per hundred thousand and fatalities from 2 percent to 0.46 percent. Chapter 4 demonstrates how Western medicine continued to triumph over Chinese medicine in propaganda films of the barefoot doctor movement, although there was a resurgence of emphasizing use of local herbs when state expenses grew too fast in the 1970s. Nonetheless, the success of Western drugs was so significant that it led as early as 1978 to the over-prescription of Western medicine among barefoot doctors (121).
As the movement spread, it began to create increasingly institutional spaces that governed the medical encounter (chapter 5). Fang describes how the three-tier system of brigade, commune clinics and county-level institutions of the early PRC was transformed by the barefoot doctor movement to a dumbbell-shaped structure as the middle commune level (now township) became increasingly redundant (145). By developing brigade-level (now village) medical service at villagers’ bedsides, barefoot doctors undercut the role of commune clinics as patients would go straight to county hospitals for specialist care. Once established, barefoot doctors became increasingly professionalized (chapter 6) and survived as a class into the reform era, but lost their official title in 1985 to become either more highly qualified “village doctors,” or merely “health workers” (175).
Fang Xiaoping’s book demonstrates that the very success of the barefoot doctor movement at bringing state medicine and its public health benefits to the countryside had two interrelated effects, the marginalization of Chinese medicine and the overuse of Western drugs and technology. This book will be of wide interest to anyone wishing to understand the state of health care in China today and the roots of its successes and dilemmas.
David Luesink, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, USA
TROUBLE IN THE MIDDLE: American-Chinese Business Relations, Culture, Conflict, and Ethics. By Steven P. Feldman. New York; London: Routledge, 2013. xii, 493 pp. US$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-415-88448-8.
The relentless march of US-China economic interdependence has been led by a drumbeat of commercial self-interest, punctuated from time to time by dissonant chords of mutual suspicion. In recent years, distrust and disaffection has increased, in part due to the growing sophistication and ambition of Chinese firms looking to be more than low-value sub-contractors for multinational firms, and who are in many cases competing head-to-head with US and other Western companies. The optimism that greeted China’s WTO accession in 2001—thought to be the turning point to a more level playing field for foreign firms in China—has all but faded. Under the leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, Chinese state control over the economy has increased, especially after the 2008 global financial crisis. The new president Xi Jinping has spoken forcefully of the need to fight corruption, and Premier Li Keqiang has embraced “rebalancing” as a key priority, but slower growth in the economy (hence less new “pie” to be shared) will in all likelihood exacerbate tensions with foreign firms, at least in the near term.
In this context, Steven Feldman’s book on American-Chinese business relations is well-timed. Trouble in the Middle is a sweeping volume that touches on cross-cultural management, business law and ethics, Chinese political and economic history, and international relations. It is extensively researched and—consistent with the broad coverage of issues—eclectic in its scholarship. There is original material by way of 84 interviews (37 with American executives and 51 with Chinese executives) conducted by the author between 2006 and 2010. In addition, the author interviewed 21 Chinese “middlemen,” who come to occupy a central role in the book. The Trouble in the “Middle” does not refer to the middle kingdom that is China but to middlemen who facilitate transactions between American and Chinese partners.
The book boils down to a critique of the middleman who, according to Feldman, performs a bridging role between Chinese and American companies that often results in corrupt activities. It is, on the one hand, a way to address the pervasive culture of “gift-giving” in China while allowing the American firm to maintain a stance of plausible deniability (and hence avoid prosecution under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act). Feldman deplores this activity as doing “damage to both cultures, despite the fact that the two parties do nothing wrong, because their moral faculties are suspended as the middleman transforms the lack of trust, cultural conflict, and possible moral violations into instrumental success” (40).
Feldman introduces the concept of a “cultural middle” which he defines as a place where there can be moral resolution of cultural conflict, and that he believes should be occupied by the parties directly involved in the relationship rather than by a middleman. The role of the middleman in China is explained in historical-cultural terms with an extensive discussion of the “low-trust,” “high context,” “hierarchical” nature of Chinese society, which according to Feldman is compounded by the authoritarian politics and economic domination of the Chinese Communist Party. The book devotes an entire section to “culture and history,” which consists of “brief histories” of Chinese culture and innovation, and American-Chinese cultural relations. Another section, on “Government and Corruption,” consists mostly of a discussion on political and economic reform in China.
While the extent of Feldman’s scholarship is not in doubt, much of the discussion on history, culture and politics seems tangential to his thesis, and is in any case highly repetitive. The treatment of “religion,” “ethics,” “political system,” “economic system,” “perceptions of the Government,” and “modernization” in China is cursory at best, with each topic covered in barely a few pages.
The original research that Feldman has conducted shows up mostly in the second half of the volume, by which time the reader can be in no doubt as to the conclusions that Feldman has already drawn. Quotes from his various interviews in China and the United States are used not so much to support or underline his argument, but as illustrations of the types of issues encountered in US-China business. Using an alternate framework of analysis, the reader might well have drawn different conclusions from the quotes used.
At nearly 500 pages, the volume reads like it was intended to be a number of different books. The central message—on the ethics of using middlemen to carry out corrupt activities—could have been conveyed in a far more compact and effective manner. Indeed, that thesis could have been communicated even without the use of field interviews conducted by the author. On the other hand, the insightful and nuanced chapters on intellectual property did not resonate with the thesis and would have benefited from stand-alone treatment. Feldman acknowledges as much in his summation: “American-Chinese disagreements over IPR [intellectual property rights] … go far beyond cultural incompatibility to include political, economic, and historical conflicts. The problems are so broad, numerous, and contradictory that it is difficult to ethically evaluate the legitimacy of IPR in the China context” (345)
As a practical guide to the ethical challenges of doing business in China, this book is too long and discursive to be helpful to most executives. Nevertheless, Feldman issues an important reminder to US and other Western businesses operating abroad (and in home markets) that the use of intermediaries to carry out corrupt activities is morally unacceptable, even under situations of deniability. And he is right to advocate a kind of cultural “fusion” based on mutual respect, trust and openness as the long-term solution to US-China conflicts. How to bring about that fusion will be a challenge for both sides for many years to come.
Yuen Pau Woo, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Vancouver, Canada
TECHNOMOBILITY IN CHINA: Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones. By Cara Wallis. New York: New York University Press, 2013. xiii, 264 pp. (Figures, B&W photos.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8147-9526-2.
How have China’s national efforts for development affected the daily behaviour of its people? How are the conditions behind migrant labour different for women than for men in China? Are there avenues of social mobility available to these migrant workers? Cara Wallis answers these questions in her book, Technomobility in China, using one common item, mobile phones, to provide insight into the lives, struggles and accomplishments of young female migrant workers. Her study was conducted between 2007 and 2011 and included a number of ethnographic techniques such as interviews, online communication, comparing informants’ phone address books to their social media contact lists, as well as having a select few subjects keep journal accounts of their mobile phone use. The most poignant contribution of Wallis’ arguments is the agency she shows of individuals whose social status is otherwise reified as passive in Chinese society. The actions of these young migrant workers are conditioned by the ideological and economic constraints surrounding them, but as Wallis hints, the self-actualization these women engage in may be part of wider “transformations in the attitudes and values of China’s young people … contributing to … changes in how migrants might fare” in the future (115).
With a thorough explanation of particular social and historical contexts in contemporary China, Wallis isolates the “dagongmei” (working little sisters) as the subject of her study. Dagongmei are born in rural areas and break the confines of family security and government hukou (household registration) regulations to make a life in the city. Unlike their male counterparts and the first wave of migrants in the 1990s, these women often leave home for personal reasons, such as delaying marriage, rather than to provide financial support for their families, and often start their rural to urban migration as young as sixteen years old. Due to perceptions surrounding their education and abilities, these female migrants are limited to “three Ds” jobs; those which are dirty, demeaning and dangerous. Their birthplace, gender, age and economic status all serve to make these women a salient group which is often considered passive and compliant. Wallis drives this point home with examples of paternalism such as: a customer scolding an employee, a manager calling an employee to make an hour return trip to find misplaced inventory and other similar accounts.
Despite the sociopolitical barriers and unappealing “three D” labour, the numbers of migrants have continued to climb alongside an increase in the diffusion of mobile phones in China. With the stories of her informants, Wallis shows how mobile phones have been used to maintain and build relationships as well as to fulfill self-aspirational goals. Mobile phones make communication with family and other relations more convenient by providing a stable means to access these individuals who frequently relocate for employment. The camera function of the phones, while also noted as a means of keeping home close, was mainly highlighted in chapter 4, as a way for these women to demonstrate their aspirations. This was depicted by accounts of women associating with luxury goods by photographing magazine pictures, of purses and travel destinations, with such perfection that their photos could not be detected as copied images.
While Wallis challenges the idea that migrants’ desire for mobile phones, which was recorded in chapter 2 as many migrants’ first big urban purchase, represents false consciousness, she analyzes the desire as part of migrants’ self-regulation, a practice premised on the principle of “su zhi” (quality). “Su zhi” describes one’s mannerisms and is practically used to rate how “civilized,” “modern” or “cosmopolitan” one appears to be. Improving su zhi, one of the primary “mobilities” phones help migrant women act upon, is shown to operate in much the same manner as Foucault’s theories of governmentality and bio-power. Wallis argues this by demonstrating how the narratives which the Chinese Communist Party uses to describe their efforts to develop and modernize the nation operate at the level of individual self-regulation and personal fulfillment. This ranges from the very motivation to migrate to only taking fashionable pictures of one’s self, thereby digitally hiding one’s rural and marginalized status.
The mobility offered by phones, in terms of easing the migratory experience and providing an avenue for self-articulation, is shown at every turn to be limiting and socially confined. Wallis describes this concept as “immobile mobility.” She shows that although these migrant workers might use their phones to expand their social network, there was no serious indication that these networks were breaking social boundaries. Migrant workers primarily know other migrant workers. Wallis explains that while women use phones to find additional jobs there is little to capitalize on: with no examples of a job offer being leveraged, or any hint of better conditions elsewhere. Mobile phones are shown to be exploited by employers to exert a new means of surveillance and power over vulnerable workers.
In Technomobility in China, Wallis brings the story of young female migrant labourers to public attention. Their aspirations and the different strategies they use to “get by” in the city cuts through the stereotype that they are passive vessels waiting for instruction. The thick descriptions accompanying Wallis’ arguments of the ideological, social and economic barriers that tend to limit the success of the migrant workers’ efforts drive this point home: these barriers are neither necessary nor deterministic. Perhaps, just as Wallis gave back to the community while conducting her ethnography, her book will contribute to the improvement of the social and political conditions migrant labourers face.
Byron Rigel Hauck, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
FIGHTING FOR BREATH: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village. By Anna Lora-Wainwright. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xv, 323 pp. (Figures, B&W photos.) US$52.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3682-5.
Anna Lora-Wainwright’s Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village provides an ethnographic account of how Chinese cancer sufferers and their family members alike make sense of cancer causality, struggle with medical treatment, and practice care and mourning. Based upon her fieldwork between 2004 and 2005, Lora-Wainwright focuses on the experiences of villagers, with special attention to Gandie and Uncle Wang—both cancer patients from Baoma village of Langzhong in Sichuan province. She not only recounts detailed narratives about cancer as individuals’ lived experience but also offers analyses that treat illness as collective life in the sense that the battle with cancer involves family negotiations and thus recapitulates moral-social life. Her bottom-up case studies outline “an emergent moral economy [of cancer] that combines past and present,” namely, the historical memory of socialism and contemporary experience with state capitalism are intertwined, especially as they clash inter-generationally (42).
The book is divided into three sections, each comprising two or three chapters. Part 1, “Foundations,” lays out a theoretical framework and situates the ethnographic site of Langzhong historically and geographically within China’s political economy. Taking a cue from Arthur Kleinman’s emphasis on the social nature of suffering, Lora-Wainwright in chapter 1 calls for a cross-examination of individual subjectivities and social interactions in the study of cancer in rural China. To understand forms of social relations, she emphasizes the concept of morality (especially family relations), placing it at the heart of her analysis. In the second chapter, Lora-Wainwright explains Langzhong’s situation as a cancer village, delineating its historical trajectory from Mao’s era to Deng’s reform and then to Hu and Wen’s post-socialist China.
Part 2, “Making Sense of Cancer,” seeks to trace the contending ways in which villagers perceive cancer etiology “within the intersecting contexts of the state, the family and local community, and the moral economy of the market” (92). In the first chapter, Lora-Wainwright analyzes three perceptions of cancer etiology: water pollution, strenuous labour work (xinku), and farm chemicals. First, the view about the causal relationship between polluted water and cancer, though well-reasoned, does not register with the villagers because the water problem has structural obstacles that the local officials are incapable of addressing due to financial conditions—hence a problem too common to mobilize local agency. The failure to politicize water, moreover, can be explained by the fact that two other perceptions of cancer cause—hard work and food chemicals—make better sense to the villagers. People had to sacrifice their health in harsh times to work hard for their families’ well-being. The villagers thus recuperate their historical memories of hard work and hardship to explain cancer. Lora-Wainwright suggests that this perceptual link enables the villagers to make the cancer victims into moral subjects. Food chemical as cancer cause also resonates with the villagers because it allows for their agency to avoid cancer by avoiding chemicals to grow foods for their own consumption. The remaining two chapters examine the discursive formations of blame (often gendered) and morality in the context of the village’s changing social reality. The emphasis is placed on how inter-generational differences—a result of China’s economic transition—restructure gender dynamics and perceptions of cancer cause.
Part 3, “Strategies of Care and Mourning,” investigates the various practices and strategies of care and mourning in order to “unpack family relations as always in process, renewed or challenged through social practices” (199). Chapter 1 takes on Gandie as its case study, examining how the extended family practices care and affection. Due to the financial situation and inter-generational divergence, family members differ in their care practices. In chapter 2, Lora-Wainwright first explains healthcare provision in both national and local contexts before arguing that the skepticism and rejection of marketized medicine reflects the family’s moral reasoning. Gandie’s rejection of expensive surgery, for instance, represents his care towards the family, “reproduc[ing] a moral universe in the face of market challenges” (228). In the last chapter, she examines how contested religious and ritual moralities change family relations in the course of mourning.
Lora-Wainwright’s monograph represents ethnography at its best in the sense that her bottom-up studies demonstrate local and inner workings of power relations otherwise not readily available to casual observers. As an ethnographer, she values human experience, not reducing individuals to mere data, because “an anthropology of cancer is not simply another form of cultural critique. This would deny the reality and poignancy of suffering” (262). Lora-Wainwright is persistent throughout the book in her humanistic sensitivity. Moreover, deploying Kleinman’s intersubjective framework in her treatment of suffering as socially negotiated, Lora-Wainwright views cancer as a crisis moment for reconstituting family relations. To help the reader make sense of social suffering, her heuristic use of morality and moral reasoning is highly effective. The book also enjoys a sufficient level of analysis. Lora-Wainwright’s cultural critique is sharp and nuanced. She engages rigorously with cultural critics like Susan Sontag and Pierrre Bourdieu.
The book, however, not only draws from cultural and social theory, but also uses China as a case to modify existing theories. In her effort to investigate consumption and health, for example, Lora-Wainwright, while benefitting from Bourdieu’s habitus, insists on using the Chinese concept of xiguan instead of habitus in order to better understand bodily habits in the Chinese context. This level of conceptual nuance and respect for local context should be applauded. One small reservation that I have concerns Lora-Wainwright’s conceptualization of morality in mostly confining it to family life. Although family relations are central, one may wonder about the extent to which the social and moral life among villagers figures into the political economy of morality. Social pressure and the concept of Chinese face (mianzi), for instance, might materially change the dynamics of family negotiations in cancer treatment. Regardless, Lora-Wainwright’s monograph makes a theoretically sophisticated and empirically nuanced contribution to medical anthropology and the ethnography of rural China. Although it focuses on one Chinese village, the cultural work the book performs will shed light on the moral complexity of contemporary Chinese society.
Hangping Xu, Stanford University, Stanford, USA
THE GREAT MANCHURIAN PLAGUE OF 1910-1911: The Geopolitics of an Epidemic Disease. By William C. Summers. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2012. xiii, 202 pp. (Maps, B&W photos., illus.) US$40.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-300-18318-1.
Summers’ monograph on the 1910 outbreak of pneumonic plague in Manchuria that killed 60,000 is a welcome addition to studies of the Chinese northeast. The monograph’s goal is to record the regional and colonial geopolitics of a Manchurian epidemic in a region whose political identity and natural resources were claimed by China, Russia and Japan. Summers’ work demonstrates how epidemiology, as both a study of plague and a means to contain it, was used by all three powers to strengthen their claims to Manchuria. The monograph is a contribution to the growing historiography on the interaction between modern medicine and colonialism. The short monograph (153 pages of text) introduces Manchuria’s complex political, economic and colonial identity in chapters 1 and 2. Chapters 3 and 4 examine the progress of the plague across Manchuria and the 1911 International Plague Conference that met in Shenyang (Mukden) under Chinese sponsorship. The final two chapters outline the plague’s origins and its intersection with Manchuria’s complex early twentieth-century political landscape. Summers argues that the plague’s outbreak and the subsequent jockeying among Russian, Chinese, Japanese, American and British diplomats, administrators and doctors was due to Manchuria’s new-found place in the global transportation and fur trade. China’s political weakness, according to Summers, coupled with Russian and Japanese colonial aspirations, shaped the plague’s management. Summers illustrates this strategy in three cities—Harbin, Shenyang (Mukden) and Dalian—using them as stand-ins for Manchuria’s aforementioned three competing powers. Ultimately the plague’s outbreak, containment and transformation into formal administrative bodies of management (international conference, medical schools, and government supervision) served the three powers’ competing colonialisms.
The monograph’s strongest sections are those on the plague’s origins and ecology, as well as its intersection with the global fur trade, since it was said the plague originated in the fur trade of the Mongolian marmot. Summers also does a fine job examining how Russian and Japanese colonial strategies, such as the use of medicine and modern medical administration, justified their political claims, as well as obstructing the claims of others to Manchuria. Summers argues correctly that the plague, its outbreak, management and institutionalization cannot be understood separately from claims each power was making in Manchuria.
The monograph’s shortcomings are perhaps because this very complex situation is examined in few pages. The source base is all English; Japanese, Russian and Chinese sources are in translation or credited to other sources. For example, the work of Russo-German Dr. Roger Budberg-Boenninghausen, Harbin’s only doctor who spoke Russian and Chinese, is only briefly noted. I would direct readers towards Marc Gamsa’s article “The Epidemic of Pneumonic Plague in Manchuria 1910–1911” (Past and Present no. 190, Feb. 2006: 147–183) for Budberg-Boenninghausen’s contribution to plague’s management, as well as a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics of plague management between Russian and Chinese territory, through the adjoining cities of Harbin and Fujiadian.
Readers of Summers’ work may also come away with two erroneous conclusions. The first is the plague’s origin with the Mongolian marmot, for which there is no proof. The monograph’s extensive coverage of the marmot trade, and the global fur trade as a “plague reservoir,” is fascinating and does contribute to the debate on Manchuria’s incorporation into a global economy. Summers could also draw on the growing literature of Russian and Japanese scientific observation of Manchuria’s wildlife as part of a bigger project to justify their tenuous claims to Manchurian territory. This Russian and Japanese work produced the incorrect conclusion of marmot-to-human transmission, a conclusion that was one lap in a race between competing colonial powers to claim the plague’s origin. Summers’ discussion of the plague reservoir needs to be placed into the context of these competing claims.
The second fuzzy conclusion concerns the nature of claims, political and otherwise, to Manchurian territory. Perhaps because Summers uses Russian and Japanese sources in translation, he takes their claims at face value. These sources sought to justify and extend the privileges of what were essentially economic concessions, the Chinese Eastern Railway and the South Manchurian Railway, through claims of modern administration, city governments, education and health care. For example, Summer’s discussion of plague management in Manchuria’s three biggest cities of Harbin, Shenyang and Dalian—Russian, Chinese and Japanese controlled, respectively—praises Harbin and Dalian’s management but has little good to say for Shenyang as the older and presumably less well-administered city. He gives no proof beyond straight roads and more coercive Russian and Japanese plague management, and does not explore the impact of management on the population. A photo on page 60 of a Russian doctor examining a man identified as Chinese who has been tagged ignores that the man was tagged like an animal, measures that did not apply to the Russian population. The power relationship between the Japanese, Russians and Chinese, so clear in Summers’ account of the competition over who would mount the 1911 international conference, is absent from the description of plague containment. These measures, such as quarantining, at gunpoint, Harbin’s Chinese population on Chinese territory, and the destruction of Chinese property, were measures not uncontested by Russians and Chinese, and perhaps partly an explanation of why Chinese authorities were unwilling to harshly enforce quarantine. See Ruth Rogaski’s “Vampires in Plagueland: The multiple meanings of weisheng in Manchuria” (Health and Hygiene in Chinese East Asia, Duke University Press, 2010) for more insights into Chinese perceptions of Russian and Japanese colonial medicine.
Qing China, since the late nineteenth century, modernized Manchuria’s administration, incorporated it as three provinces, and sponsored Chinese settlement and economic development. China was not a helpless bystander to either Russian or Japanese colonial projects (Summers uses both colonial and post-colonial without defining them). Summers’ work unwittingly reproduces the troupe of Chinese tradition and Japanese and Russian modernity. China, like Japan and Russia, was colonizing a frontier but politically it was their frontier and the Chinese state was very much in the game. Summers’ work is certainly the best introduction to this event but should not be taken as the final word.
Blaine Chiasson, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada
TOMBSTONE: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. By Yang Jisheng; translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian; edited by Edward Friedman, Guo Jian and Stacy Mosher; introduction by Edward Friedman and Roderick MacFarquhar. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. xxvi, 629 pp. (Map, tables, figures.) US$35.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-374-27793-2.
The English translation of Tombstone, which retains fifteen of the twenty-eight chapters of the book’s Chinese version, mostly those chapters examining various aspects of the Great Leap Forward Famine at the national level, explains the famine’s effect from the perspective of the political centre. Leaving out the other thirteen chapters that largely recount provincial famine stories, the translation more cohesively represents Yang Jisheng’s central argument: that Maoist totalitarianism was the basic reason for the thirty-six million deaths during the famine. In Yang’s view, this totalitarianism, in combination with the Soviet-style autocracy and ancient Chinese despotism, and dominated by Mao Zedong’s emperor type of dictatorial power, caused the greatest famine in human history as a result of its ruthless suppression of political dissenters in China and of different policy opinions within the Communist Party. Eventually, as Yang sees it, the political system, after criticizing, dismissing or imprisoning the officials at every level who had doubts about the Leap, was able to drive its entire body of cadres to frenziedly pursue Mao’s industrialization targets, during which the cadres competitively exaggerated grain production to an absurdly high level, relentlessly pressed the peasants for the last bit of the so-called “surplus grain” for funding industrialization, strictly restrained food quotas distributed to the rural residents through commanding communal kitchens where hundreds of millions of these residents were force to dine, shamelessly or fearfully concealed local hunger reality, and heartlessly prevented the starving refugees from running away or practicing any other survival strategies. Yang obviously regards the catastrophe as “Mao’s famine.” In early 1959, as Yang’s chapter “Turnaround in Lushan” recounts, Mao was aware of the grave consequences of his leap programs and ready to take “corrective measures.” Yet, when he felt that defense minister Peng Deihuai’s criticism of his erroneous polices, made at the Party’s leadership meeting in Lushan in summer 1959, challenged his authority, Mao punished Peng and abandoned the corrective measures. The result of the continuation of the Leap was the death of tens of millions of people in 1959–61, for which Mao was ultimately responsible.
Tombstone’s greatest contribution to the existing literature of the Great Leap famine is its detailed account of events, people, statistics and policies that took place during the famine. Before Yang’s book, political scientists Roderick MacFarquhar, Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun wrote about how Mao and the central leadership took the road to the Great Leap disaster; economists Justin Lin, Gene Chang, James Wen, James Kung and political scientist Dali Yang debated over whether the communal dining or agricultural collectivization was the major cause of the famine; American and Chinese demographers estimated the Great Leap mortality; and journalist Jasper Becker reported on “Mao’s secret famine” based on the stories he gained from a few Communist documents and from interviewing a number of Chinese villagers and famine survivors. Yet, due to the difficulty in accessing China’s archives, none of the aforementioned people were able to write on the Great Leap events in a manner as genuine and persuasive as that offered by Yang.
Using his privilege as a senior reporter of China’s state-run news agency, which permits him to read secret internal reports stored in archives and to interview Communist cadres at almost all levels and all walks of life, Yang spent two decades searching for source materials and talking to the officials who were in charge of some of the worst events during the leap or involved in the process of national economic planning or responsible for collection of the nation’s population data. Supported by hundreds of original documents and a large number of memories of those officials, Tombstone records in the most authoritative manner the reality of the Great Leap famine, including not only several notorious major events such as the “Xingyang Incident” in Henan that resulted in the death of one million out of the Xingyang Prefecture’s 8.5 million people but also many less-known events such as the “Bo County Tragedy” in Anhui that ended in the death of 200,000 of the county’s 737,000 rural population. For decades scholars have tried to uncover, with only partial success, the terrible truths of the Great Leap famine, which the Chinese authorities have made every endeavor to cover up, and with Tombstone these truths are now made known to the world in the most reliable manner. Tombstone is unparalleled in the existing literature of the Great Leap famine. Although a few recent works on the famine have also been able to dig out some archives, none of them has been able to compare with Tombstone in terms of the scope of subject coverage and the depth of source materials.
One astounding reality Tombstone has revealed in unprecedented detail is how Mao and cadres at high levels evaded the responsibility of the famine. When terrible deaths occurred, Mao often laid the blame on landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries or bad elements because their alleged takeover of local political power had enabled evil events to take place, or on some local cadres who, in Mao’s eyes, due to the decay of their revolutionary spirit, had become spokesmen for the landlord classes. As happened in the disastrous Xingyang Incident, grassroots cadres at the village, county and prefectural levels were the ones who took the blame, while Henan’s provincial party secretary and Mao’s policies remained intact.
Since Yang has written his monumental Tombstone more in the style of a journalistic report than an academic work, his book has not answered a certain number of questions with regard to the famine. One would wonder why there was a great discrepancy in mortality across provinces or across counties within a province, and this issue apparently cannot be interpreted solely by the fact of the oppression of totalitarianism because other factors such as natural conditions might have played a significant role. Similarly, one may also ask why mortality was drastically different across villages or even why in one village some peasants died of starvation while others survived. These questions call for further studies beyond Tombstone.
Yixin Chen, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, USA
NORTHEAST ASIA’S NUCLEAR CHALLENGES. Explorations in Korean Studies. Edited by Su Hoon Lee. Seoul: Kyungnam University Press; Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers [distributor], 2013. 229 pp. (IIIus., maps.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-89-8421-347-0.
As its title indicates, this book covers critically important nuclear issues pertaining to Northeast Asia. An edited volume with contributions from seven authors, some of whom are well-known, the book includes papers that address commercial and military nuclear issues, that is, nuclear weapons and materials and the security threats posed by them to the region. Some of the papers also include limited coverage of the nuclear policies of the United States, Russia, China, North and South Korea and Japan. The book is well organized and all seven papers are very readable and filled with useful general information.
Thus, the book’s single biggest contribution is that it provides general discussions of an array of important nuclear issues and concerns currently germane to Northeast Asia, whether it is the Fukushima nuclear disaster, nuclear terrorism, commercial reactors in South Korea, China and Japan, the North Korean nuclear problem or Russia’s position on the restraint of nuclear weapons and materials. Students, policy makers wanting to get an understanding of liberal perspectives on nuclear matters important to Northeast Asia, policy wonks and others interested in these issues will find this collection of papers valuable.
It is important to note, however, that the papers in this book are products of a recent international conference on nuclear issues affecting Northeast Asia. And they do, indeed, read like conference papers: good points are often raised but the time needed to think through analytically the pertinent details is too often missing. Moreover, the papers generally lack rich historical foundations, which could provide scholarly segues to deep contemporary analyses of the various topics covered in this book. Citations are too frequently not academic but far too often appear to be what is easily accessible to corroborate different points. Thus, academics and scholars looking for fresh analytical details that are essential to strong and convincing empirical or policy positions may not find these papers too rewarding.
Although the papers all raise important policy questions, they do not give sufficiently detailed explanations of how to implement effectively the proposals that they make. For example, two of the papers that address the North Korean nuclear-weapons issue each propose a different but very plausible solution to this problem: a peace treaty to end the Korean War and the normalization of US-North Korea diplomatic relations. However, neither paper provides a detailed historical and contemporary framework that is needed to demonstrate how exactly these proposals would lead to the North’s denuclearization.
In a third paper that deals with the North Korean nuclear issue the author appears to take the position, at least when it was written, that since Pyongyang had then stopped plutonium-reprocessing activities at Yongbyon, it could turn out, though he admits perplexity on this, that North Korea will rely on uranium enrichment for both commercial power and nuclear weapons. But since Pyongyang has recently restarted its plutonium reprocessing, which he indicated in his paper was a possibility, there is little point to his discussion of how the North will build bombs. Moreover, the generally good description of the North Korean nuclear issue aside, this paper has far too many statements based on assumptions as well as statements that tell readers what the author believes and what he thinks is most likely to happen.
The volume also contains different sets of expectations stemming from President Obama’s commitment to rid the world of nuclear weapons, which he made in a speech given in Prague in 2009. With respect to Obama’s commitment, readers of two of the book’s papers have the option to come away either with a not-quite-satisfied perspective, that is, President Obama hasn’t done quite enough, or cautious optimism. But the fact is that President Obama has completely ignored the promise he made in April 2009 to ratify expeditiously the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In the same speech given in Prague, Obama also stated, “my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” Perhaps more unsettling, and for sure very disturbing to the mayors of the nuclear-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is that the Obama administration continues to perform US subcritical nuclear testing (which stops just short of producing a nuclear chain reaction), most recently conducting the 27th such test in December 2012. Both the failed promise and the continuation of subcritical nuclear testing should be taken as important empirical signals that the ideals of politicians offered for public, and in this case global, consumption often do not comport with their political decisions.
Another paper that addresses the continued use of nuclear energy, despite its many manifest and latent dangers, to power the Japanese, South Korean and Chinese economies, concludes with a very brief discussion of the need for countries to transition to clean and renewable energies. Such a transition is especially attractive to environmentalists and others concerned about the serious and enduring problems that nuclear power can bring to societies, something that they are particularly aware of after the Fukushima disaster. However, what is missing is how this transition is to take place. Or put differently, absent from the paper is the important discussion that identifies the strategies needed to be employed that will compel policy makers, who are typically focused on economic growth, to make the change over to these alternative and renewable forms of energy.
All in all, the book is a worthwhile read for those who have a general interest in the important nuclear problems and issues now facing Northeast Asia. The expert, however, should have limited expectations.
Anthony DiFilippo, The Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, USA
EDUCATION REFORM AND SOCIAL CLASS IN JAPAN: The Emerging Incentive Divide. Routledge/University of Tokyo Series, 3. By Takehiko Kariya; translation edited by Michael Burtscher. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. x, 221 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$135.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-55687-3.
This book by sociologist Takehiko Kariya on education and social inequality is a translation from its 2001 Japanese original. It is the third publication within Routledge’s new University of Tokyo Series, which features translations of Japanese works of University of Tokyo past or present faculty, and it is a particularly readable translation. It is laudable that this book features a new afterword and has added some important information to bridge the gap of 12 years between the original publication and its English translation, but it could have benefitted from updated data, as most of it is by now 15 years old.
Today not a day goes by that Japan’s unequal society (kakusa shakai) is not discussed in the press. More than 2400 Japanese books have been published on the topic, with almost 500 specifically on the topic of education and class or social stratification. Yet Kariya’s original Japanese book was published three years before the term kakusa shakai was coined (in 2004 by fellow sociologist Yamada Masahiro), making him one of the early scholars to argue for the importance of class formation and class reproduction in postwar Japanese society.
Kariya’s book, clearly written for a Japanese audience, argues repeatedly how the educational system, educational reforms and policies, as well as discursive “myths” about Japan’s education and society have contributed to social inequalities and their further increase. He blames the government for deciding quickly on new educational reforms that were poorly if at all researched and for having created a “lost decade” within the educational system.
The book was quite influential when it hit the market in 2001. Reviews at the time in Japan were mostly very positive, yet some questioned the limited scope of some of the data used. Some datasets were not nationwide and only sampled high school students, thus raising questions about generalizability.
The book is a critical account of the historical development of Japan’s postwar education system and educational policy. It is divided into eight chapters and provides in all but one chapter quantitative analyses of data on education and social class. It is a sociological study, employing methods such as cross tabulations, multiple regression, factor analysis as well as path analysis. Data comes, among other sources, from the Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM) surveys. The data analysis is thorough and convincing.
In the introduction and chapter 1, the author gives a historical macro-level overview of the changes in Japan’s postwar education and the employment structure. He points to the country’s unique synchronicity in the 1950s and 1960s of fundamental changes in the occupational structure, namely the severe decline in the agricultural sector and the rise in manual labour, coupled with the expansion of secondary education. Chapter 2, entitled “The age of meritocracy,” describes the growing importance over time of educational credentials and the type of high school attended, once high school entrance examinations had turned into a “mass phenomenon.”
A discourse analysis is at the heart of chapter 3 and in my view is the most fascinating part in this study. Kariya looks at longitudinal shifts in teachers’ discourse using the records of the National Education Research Conference of the Japan Teachers’ Union from the 1950s onwards. He analyzes the social construction of “educational problems” in this rich, qualitative data. He describes the discussion of students’ differential treatment based on individual ability in terms of “meritocratic discrimination.” Whereas correlating scholastic achievement and social class background was rejected as causing a “sense of discrimination” in students, only in regards to Buraku education was it acceptable to problematize social inequalities. Kariya calls this the “double standard of inequality,” showing through his data analysis that the influence of social class on scholastic ability is far more pronounced than the influence of a Buraku background.
Chapter 4 once again looks at historical changes, here in regards to Japan’s prewar educational aristocracy, finding status consciousness to have disappeared by the 1970s, despite the fact that students from prestigious universities come from well-off backgrounds and that there is a clear reproduction of social class. In chapter 5 Kariya analyzes data on study effort outside of school, what he calls “learning time,” and chapter 6 looks at data on study motivation, convincingly showing how class disparities in study effort and motivation have expanded during the 1980s and 1990s, with learning time and motivation having declined most significantly among the lower class. On the eve of the implementation of the yutori kyōiku (relaxed education) educational reform of 2002 to reduce learning time even further, Kariya criticized the reforms and predicted a further widening of disparities in scholastic ability.
The analysis of high-school student survey data from 1979 and 1997 is at the centre of chapters 7 and 8, in which the author develops his argument of the “incentive divide.” Kariya finds that in 1979 the greater the level of self-esteem, the higher the level of schooling sought and the longer the study time. In 1997, these correlations had disappeared, with students from low-class backgrounds having developed high self-esteem with decreased study effort on the one hand, and highly motivated students from high social background showing long study hours on the other hand. At this point Kariya’s analysis partially drifts into speculation about class differences in study motivation of students and thus the study would have benefitted from additional qualitative data.
Altogether, this book can be understood as a strong statement against the 2002 education reforms, drawing a bleak picture of the development of the education system in Japan. The book wraps up with a newly added afterword, in which the author describes the impact his study had, with the Ministry of Education revising its curricula for the better in 2010.
As the book was originally a collection of previously published essays and articles, it is slightly repetitive in driving home its argument. Surprisingly, supplementary cram school education is only mentioned very briefly and did not enter any analysis. As the author mentions, the growing trend towards private schools and the growing role of cram schools as shadow education have contributed to the widening of the educational gap. These issues deserved some more attention. Finally, some of the data only sampled male students; we do not learn about the effect gender had on the findings, which could have added some more diversity to this class-based view.
If one keeps in mind that the book was published in Japan a decade ago and included articles published even earlier, this English translation can nonetheless be highly recommended for a general audience as well as scholars on comparative education and Japan scholars. It provides access to a centrally important, classic study on education and social class in Japan.
Barbara G. Holthus, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
DEATH AND DYING IN CONTEMPORARY JAPAN. Japan Anthology Workshop Series. Edited by Hikaru Suzuki. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. xviii, 240 pp. (Figures, tables, B&W photos.) US$155.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-63190-7.
Death has a bad rep. No one likes it, yet it comes to us all. Books on death are, therefore, generally gloomy and depressing, making us further abhor dying. Although Death and Dying in Contemporary Japan is not a particularly cheerful book, it is not only about death but also about the authentic cultural traditions and cosmology of Japan that are intricately related to this subject. Based mostly on ethnographic case studies, the research presented in each chapter stimulates enough of our intellectual curiosity that the grim subject seems to lose its sting. In the end, one feels not depressed but enlightened.
In past centuries, Japan experienced dramatic shifts in demography (e.g., lower birth rate, higher life expectancy, decrease and delay of marriage), economy (e.g., unprecedented prosperity after WWII and the economic bubble/bust), politics (e.g., feudal system to imperialism to the current democracy/capitalism), and social/environmental (e.g., near environmental-collapse and dissolving of traditional family/community cohesiveness). As a result, according to editor Hikaru Suzuki, death-related ideologies and practices also went through a series of transformations, and this book attempts to answer why and how these changes occurred.
The book consists of three sections: meaning of life and dying in contemporary Japan, professionalization of funerals, and new burial practices in Japan. The first section focuses on the concept of ikigai (“that which makes one’s life worth living”). Mathews claims that ikigai is achieved through either individual self-realization or contribution to a collective whole. This is a refreshing perspective on Erik Erikson’s classic theory: we become who we are through a contribution to a collective whole by leaving a legacy (generativity vs. stagnation in middle adulthood) or individual self-realization by accepting one’s life as is (ego-integrity vs. despair in late adulthood). Interestingly, after her husband’s death Joan E. Erikson decided to add another dimension: gerotranscendence, characterized as moving away from the rational and interpersonal to a more cosmic and spiritual focus during the final stage of life. How might ikigai be manifested in relation to gerotranscendence? Long suggests that a person may find ikigai (or maybe we should say shinigai) by choosing a meaningful place to die. A place of death is not, after all, “merely empty space,” but filled with symbolic meanings of and for the dying person that transcend the rational and interpersonal.
Kurotani’s chapter adds another layer to the discussion of ikigai by introducing a broadly defined Durkheimean interpretation of sarariiman (middle-class white-collar men) suicide in the 1990s. She argues that its prevalence was intertwined with a loss of self-identity in contemporary Japan where the once tight-knit community/company and collective moral framework had been replaced by fragmented formal networks and urban, individualized values. Without the traditional social network and strong spiritual beliefs, many boomers chose the ultimate path of taking control of their own death via suicide.
The second part of the book explores the transformation of funeral ceremonies and surrounding professions. Tanaka’s ethnographic study of a funeral home in Tokyo illustrates professionals’ day-to-day activities ranging from savvy marketing to handling a decomposing body. The success of this industry eventually replaced conventional community-centred funerals with “McFunerals,” a mass-produced, efficient, industry-centred funeral system. However, a new trend is emerging which focuses less on efficiency and more on the dying individuals. The new types of funeral ceremonies and burial styles are regarded as an expression of the self (“jibun rashiku”) without strict constraints of religious, ideological or societal obligations. H. Suzuki illustrates “funeral-while-alive” in which a deceased-to-be creates a mock death and celebrates his/her life with people who will remember him/her, thus creating a sense of immortality. Although these ceremonies are not widespread, Inoue (chapter 6) claims many people prefer these non-traditional ceremonies and burials which give the deceased-to-be more control and a sense of belonging.
The last part of the book expands on the previous section, elaborating on changes in mortuary and burial practice. I. Suzuki explores a new form of relationship between the deceased and the bereaved through an in-depth investigation of changing attitudes toward the Buddhist altar and display of the photographs of the deceased at home. Kawano describes a group from the “War Generation” (senchūha) who chose to have their ashes scattered in lieu of a conventional Buddhist burial. These individuals feel that their lives have already been blessed and that having a proper Buddhist burial for themselves would be inappropriate and unfair to their cohort who perished in the war. Boret also reports on the phenomenon of Tree-Burial, which has been gaining popularity since the 1990s. In addition to the sense of survivor guilt, he maintains that the Japanese affinity to nature, partially rooted in traditional Shintoism, plays a significant role in the desire to place cremated remains in a secluded mountain spot and plant a tree above it.
Finally, Hood’s historical investigation of the 1985 crash of JAL 123 into a remote mountain cliff describes a unique memorialization process. A huge facility with stairs and a parking lot was built for the bereaved (izoku), not at the crash site, but at a more “convenient” nearby location. Hood claims this shows that Japanese ways of memorialization are not so much about religion, but cultural practices which are often amenable to pragmatic needs.
Some may argue that the publication of a book focusing on death and dying in Japan is not appropriate now, because it has been only two years since the 3/11 Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster, an unprecedented tragedy with more than 15,000 deaths and many more still missing. Yet, it is also the 3/11 tragedy that has ignited a discussion on a topic that has been marginalized in both secular and spiritual dialogue. Along with H. Suzuki, I believe that it is extremely poignant and sensitively important to bring up this subject, now. With rapid changes in many aspects of our lives, it is enlightening to see that the society as a whole is eager at last to undertake a definition of what constitutes a “good death” in contemporary Japan.
Masami Takahashi, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, USA
HOUSEWIVES OF JAPAN: An Ethnography of Real Lives and Consumerized Domesticity. By Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. xxv, 273 pp. (B&W illus.) US$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-230-34031-2.
Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni’s new book is a welcome addition to the growing English-language literature on Japanese housewives. Grounded in feminist ethnography, this study examines the social and cultural constructions of the “professional housewife” (sengyō shufu) in postwar Japan. Employing her “anthropological interpretation” of the concept of the “State,” Goldstein-Gidoni contends that it is the Japanese state that has through its various agents and agencies—such as the government, the corporate sector, the media and the market—actively promoted and sustained this role. Uncovering this process, the book “offers a reflective perspective on the ‘real life’ of women and their narrations about it, but also situates their lives and ideas within ongoing cultural and social debates that shape women’s social roles, experiences, and expectations in Japan today” (xvii).
Housewives of Japan is divided into three parts. In part I, the author unpacks her research methodology (chapter 1), critically evaluates the historical process of “housewifization” (shufu-ka) of Japanese women, and summarizes Japan’s “housewife debate” (shufu ronsō) (chapter 2). Part II introduces the study’s ethnographic data, gathered mainly among housewives of a suburban community near Osaka. This data was collected thanks to collaboration with Mariko Ishikawa, the study’s coauthor and key participant. The reader is presented here with the women’s narrations of their assumed social role as full-time housewives (chapter 3) and their “salaryman” husbands’ position within this “gender contract” (chapter 4), as well as accounts of their increasingly diverse and insecure lifestyles (chapter 5). In part III of the volume, Goldstein-Gidoni departs from her research site to take a closer look at the processes behind changes in housewives’ roles in postbubble Japan. She analyzes the images of housewifery as portrayed by the media (chapter 6) and sums up recent trends and government initiatives that she sees as having taken a “reactionary direction” (chapter 7). The book’s Afterword offers a reflection on the post-March 11 lives of the research participants.
Based largely on extensive observations, interviews and informal conversations, as well as e-correspondence and other tools of virtual ethnography, this book offers an excellent window into the “real lives” of Japanese housewives. It is impossible to summarize all its insights here, but suffice it to say that the issues discussed range from the central theme of the “professionalization” of female homemakers, identity formation and social class, to such mundane chores as manoeuvres involved in making the husbands take out the garbage. Goldstein-Gidoni also does a good job in elucidating a dazzling diversity of housewife types, including “charisma housewife” (karisuma shufu), “model housewife” (shufu no kagami), “working housewife” (kengyō shufu), “beautiful housewife” (utsukushii shufu), “ugly housewife” (minikui shufu), “second-class housewife” (nitō shufu), “first-class housewife” (ittō shufu), “special-class professional housewife” (tokutō sengyō shufu), and “delinquent housewife” (furyō shufu). Indeed, throughout the book, the reader finds an abundance of revealing Japanese vocabulary in addition to thorough reviews of debates that have emerged in Japan in relation to womanhood and housewifery.
The study is fairly well balanced, although some of its analytical conclusions seem to fit too readily with the author’s ideological stance. For example, the discussion of domestic power and control of the family budget would have benefited from more insights from an ethnographic inquiry into the male side of the “gender contract.” Furthermore, particularly in view of the popular Japanese saying that “women’s enemies are women” (onna no teki wa onna),the apparently often strained relations among housewives themselves—that is, within the “inside group” (nakama)—seems to be a topic that is under-explored.
The book is timely, given recent findings (not cited in it) showing that Japanese females, unlike their American counterparts, prefer not to work outside the household and are happier if they embrace marriage based on specialization (Kristen Schultz Lee and Hiroshi Ono, “Specialization and happiness in marriage: A U.S.-Japan comparison,” Social Science Research 37, 2008: 1216–1234). This latest “backlash,” the author contends, is, for one, stimulated by cultural constructs delivered through such “state agents” as the market and the media. What is somewhat unsettling in this picture, however, is that it paints the Japanese woman as a passive consumer of images created with a sole purpose of domesticating her in one form or another. To be sure, media’s attempts to engineer gender relations have been well known since Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew and father of modern advertising/propaganda, embarked in the 1920s on creative campaigns of “liberating” American women from societal shackles through cigarette smoking. As such, Goldstein-Gidoni’s discussion of Japan’s consumerist culture is illuminating (although limited by the emphasis on the specialized genre of women’s magazines, despite the important role of TV programs and commercials in Japanese consumerism); yet, its actual causal effect on the specific life choices needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed. This could potentially be achieved with more systematic data, such as surveys or in-depth interviews with various age and socioeconomic groups, including women before they marry.
The major weakness of this study, however, is its research design. Basing the argument on a view of the “State” that blurs boundaries between the state, market and society is problematic. There is, of course, nothing intrinsically wrong with broadening the narrow Weberian notion of the state, and the author is free to work from her own definition. However, the problem in this case is that such an all-inclusive variable, which comprises the government, the bureaucracy, the corporate sector, the market, the media (including privately published magazines), as well as the college system and some (read: “conservative”) academics, lacks precision. These agents, both individually and especially as a cluster, are by no means a monolith. Indeed, their interests have often conflicted and varied over time. Thus, although the book leaves no doubt that various agents have attempted to render Japan’s social reality, lack of analytical rigour causes this holistic approach, in which everything is deemed equally relevant and all vectors are pointed in exactly the same direction, to obscure more than it clarifies. It is for this reason that this work struggles to make predictions about the future of Japan’s “gender contract.”
Notwithstanding its shortcomings, the book is worth reading if only for its rich empirical content. It should appeal to a wide audience, including both specialized academics and general readers in particular.
Konrad Kalicki, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
CAPITAL AS WILL AND IMAGINATION: Schumpeter’s Guide to the Postwar Japanese Miracle. Cornell Studies in Money. By Mark Metzler. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. xvii, 295 pp. (Tables.) US$49.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8014-5179-9.
In his 2006 book Lever of Empire, Mark Metzler provided a masterful account of Japan’s efforts to cement its position in the late nineteenth-century gold standard and its subsequent struggle to return to the gold standard following World War I and into the 1930s. This book carries his interest in Japan’s financial policy to the 1940s and 1950s. He looks at key figures in Japanese immediate postwar economic policy, such as Okita Saburo (of the Economic Planning Agency), Ichimada Hisato (the long-serving governor of the Bank of Japan), Arisawa Hiromi (the architect of the Priority Planning System that sought to revive key industries after 1945), and Ishibashi Tanzan (an economic journalist who was briefly prime minister). Alongside them were policy makers in the US Occupation, particularly Joseph Dodge. Metzler uses the work of the economist Joseph Schumpeter as an overarching framework, arguing that a policy of “inflationary” finance underlay the phoenix-like ascent of Japan from the 1950s.
Using Schumpeter as a framework does not make that task easy. He was a powerful intellect of unbounded curiosity, a romantic who was interested in the forest and the trees—but did not build systematic theory and was fundamentally uninterested in policy. That made him fascinating as a lecturer and raconteur but meant that his influence on the later development of economics and of policy was minimal. He was aware of his failings, at least subconsciously. His personal library resides at Hitotsubashi University, and includes the most advanced mathematics treatises of his day but he used not a single equation in his writings. He was a founder of the Econometrics Society, pushing for the development of statistical data analysis; his own work includes none. Instead Schumpeter insisted on looking dispassionately at all sides of arguments, even arguing for the workability of the socialism that he personally despised.
By making Schumpeter central to his story, and insisting on casting his argument in Schumpeter’s terms, Metzler weights himself down with idiosyncratic jargon that dates to the 1912 Theory of Economic Development, and to early work on monetary economics and business cycles. Unfortunately much of the latter two either has turned out to be wrong (Schumpeter’s theory of business cycles was developed before Simon Kuznets and the development of modern national income accounting and the data it provides) or a dead end (Schumpeter’s capital theory is analogous to Marx’s effort to develop a labour theory of value). Instead it was his romantic vision of “creative destruction” that has had a continuing impact, reflected in studies of entrepreneurship and industrial organization. That however did not find a home until Robert Solow’s first formal growth model (1956), which provided a framework for distinguishing the role of capital accumulation from that of technical change, and in work in industrial organization on the role of firm exit and entry that only gained currency in the 1980s.
Metzler, however, latches onto Schumpeter’s term “money-capital.” That muddies his arguments throughout, and leads to many basic errors. For example, the book is riddled with places that confuse relative and absolute price changes (102, 112), and that confuse financial flows with flows of goods and services (202). He ends the book, for example, by talking about “deflation” stemming from manufacturing, where what Metzler really means (I think!) is that productivity in manufacturing increased faster than that in other sectors, leading to relative price falls (217). Given that the book focuses on the issue of inflation it is curious that he ignores the past century’s writing on that issue; Irving Fisher is mentioned only once in passing, Milton Friedman not at all.
He also provides a confusing picture of monetary policy. That is ironic on many counts. First, Metzler devotes much of a previous book to the interaction of central bank policy and the gold standard, and unlike here, in general translates those debates into modern terminology. One puzzle in this book is why there was no globally coordinated disinflation following World War II, as there had been in the 1920s. He attributes it to social learning (166) without realizing that the Bretton Woods system represented a decisive break with the gold standard which did not attempt to reconstruct global capital markets, which remained moribund until the 1970s. There was in practice no post-World War II analog to the gold standard. Second, he emphasizes throughout the book the use of an inflation tax to support economic development, which the data available today shows to be unimportant. Instead, in the early years government and corporate savings (retained earnings) were central, not “money-capital.” Again, Schumpeter suffered from a lack of data that allowed subsequent economists to pick apart the savings-investment nexus.
Third, he spends three of his eight core chapters (and much of his introduction and conclusion) on Schumpeter’s writings rather than those of the key Japanese actors. This contributes little to his overall project. Indeed, Metzler himself argues that the key actors—Ichimada at the BOJ, Ikeda and Ishibashi in government—were not disciples of Schumpeter. Yes, Schumpeter had more disciples in Japan than in the United States. However, Metzler fails to demonstrate that he had a decisive influence on policy, hardly surprising since Schumpeter himself wrote almost nothing on practical matters, consistent with his brief and undistinguished stint as the Austrian Minister of Finance in 1919. Nor does Metzler demonstrate that he was a teacher to more than a small subset of those Japanese involved in making policy.
In the end, while Metzler provides snippets of the fascinating policy scene in 1940s Japan, that is only about half of his book (chapters 5–7 and chapters 8–9). Even there he fails to illuminate the richness of the intellectual threads at play, from Keynes and the classicists to the German historical school and to Marx and even the Stalinist example of “big push” industrialization. If anything, his book makes the case that seat-of-the-pants empiricism rooted in the experience of individuals such as Ichimada and Ikeda was more important than high theory of any school.
Michael Smitka, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, USA
IMPERIAL ECLIPSE: Japan’s Strategic Thinking About Continental Asia Before August 1945. Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. By Yukiko Koshiro. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013. xvi, 311 pp. (Tables, maps.) US$39.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8014-5180-5.
Professor Yukiko Koshiro of Nihon University’s College of International Relations sets herself an ambitious historiographical task with Imperial Eclipse: Japan’s Strategic Thinking About Continental Asia Before August 1945. In the ongoing project to recover the imperial identity Japan lost in 1945, Koshiro seeks to demonstrate how continental concerns underlay Japanese strategic thinking, especially in the last months of the war. The book contends that over the empire’s birth, life and, especially, death, Russia/the Soviet Union, much like a black hole, exerted a powerful yet generally hidden influence over Japanese strategic decision makers. The book is designed to illuminate this underappreciated effect.
Koshiro asks us to re-conceptualize the conflict in which the empire was lost. She rejects the Pacific War narrative as a US imposition which posits the United States as the primary influence on Japan both pre- and post-war. However, a Second Sino-Japanese War narrative emphasizing the struggle between Japan and the Nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-Shek is equally problematic. The notion of a Greater East Asian War is also too limited for her scope. Instead she makes the Soviet Union a key strategic factor in the struggle and, as the USSR was both an Asian and a European power, posits the name Eurasian-Pacific War to describe the conflict.
However conceived, Koshiro’s key contribution is the interrogation of numerous collections of records thought lost in the bonfires which consumed, and served to obscure, Japan’s imperial project. However, the manner in which she employs this new source material is problematic, and ends up demonstrating a rather different point from the one she intended. While she seeks to challenge the prevailing view of Japan’s orientation between the Soviet Union and the United States, the quality of Japanese strategic thought during the war years, and the termination of the war itself, her source material often proves considerably less authoritative than she claims.
Koshiro’s central contention is that Japanese government and military leaders, anticipating defeat at the hands of the United States, sought to gauge likely postwar continental developments and their effect upon Japan. “The Japanese Government and Imperial General Headquarters monitored the plans of the allies for the disposition of Japan’s colonies, began to anticipate insightfully how postcolonial East Asia would emerge, and built exit strategies around them.” Yet it is in the concept of an “exit strategy” for the war where her argument most seriously breaks down.
Until the very end, Japanese at virtually all levels continued to believe that they had some degree of initiative in determining how the war would end. Strategic thinking about the evolution of postwar continental affairs remained premised on the assumption that these developments would influence Japan, and Japan would retain some degree of influence over them, no matter how modest. But this was a delusion. With the Cairo Declaration of November 1943 the allies (without input or consultation from Stalin) determined that Japan would be stripped of its empire. This was reiterated in the Potsdam Declaration of July 1945. Despite this, Japanese leaders still clung to the belief that Soviet mediation, or even Soviet entry into the war, could be used as leverage against the United States. “Even without playing the mediator,” Koshiro notes on page 285, “Stalin still could have taken diplomatic advantage of Japan’s strategic stalemate on the Soviet-Japanese front by arranging Japan’s surrender and determining the postwar disposition of the Japanese empire to the Soviet advantage.”
The fact that Stalin chose not to do this, renouncing the neutrality pact which still had six months to run, constitutes the “betrayal” of Japan by the Soviet Union. She further notes on page 244 that “bilateral communication between Tokyo and Washington defined the nature of Japan’s surrender. The two nations focused so much on the future of the emperor system that they neglected the fate of Japan’s continental empire, much less Japan’s commitment and responsibility to it. Stalin … let the United States single-handedly define the nature of Japan’s surrender.” But there was no neglect. Japan’s “commitment and responsibility” to the empire had long since been extinguished by the allies and Stalin had already secured all the advantage he desired through the Yalta agreement of February 1945. Ultimately Koshiro does not simply describe the Japanese inability to grasp that they had lost the initiative regarding the end of the war, but manages to recreate it.
While this is the largest problem with the book it is hardly the only one. Koshiro’s contention that the Pacific War narrative is a US imposition simply ignores the extent to which Japanese collaborated in this construction for their own purposes, as Yoshikuni Igarashi has well demonstrated (Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945–1970, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). Most of the secondary literature she uses to bolster her contentions is old and has been superseded by more recent work. Notably, she cites Tsuyoshi Hasegawa (Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman and the Surrender of Japan, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005) but does not engage him and she entirely ignores the work of Richard Frank (Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, New York: Random House, 1999). Finally, given the new primary source material and ambition to rewrite the scholarly consensus on such a contentious topic the absence of a bibliography is a most curious omission.
Yukiko Koshiro’s Imperial Eclipse adds weight to the case that Soviet entry was the primary motivator for Japan’s surrender in 1945 but its failure to engage the considerable recent historiography, questionable premises and conclusions, and problematic use of evidence severely undercuts the book’s central thesis.
Paul E. Dunscomb, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, USA
OCCUPYING POWER: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan. Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. By Sarah Kovner. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012. xi, 226 pp. (B&W illus., map.) US$50.00, cloth . ISBN 978-0-8047-7691-2.
In her thought-provoking book, Occupying Power, Sarah Kovner examines the immediate and long-term impacts of the arrival of the Allied servicemen on the Japanese sex industry and sex workers. While focusing on the specific time period from 1945 until the 2000s in Japan, this book also helps us understand the more general and ongoing issues related to the politics of sex work under occupation, which Kovner broadly defines as “a condition of compromised sovereignty resulting from a foreign military presence” (5).
The central argument that runs throughout the book is how the arrival of Allied servicemen in Japan “produced a new political configuration that finally abolished licensed prostitution,” which “[i]ronically, and tragically … made sex workers less visible and more vulnerable” (2). In exploring the process and explaining why this occurred, Kovner focuses on questions such as “how intimate histories and international relations are interconnected in ways scholars have only begun to explore” (4) and “how an influx of new buyers of sexual services, different sellers, and varied approaches to regulation shaped not just the larger political economy of Japan, but also the politics of memory and national self-perceptions” (5). Kovner’s analysis gives “equal weight to the experiences of the sex worker, client, and regulator” (5), and treats sex workers as both symbols and actors with agency without assuming “that they were powerless victims” (56).
The book is organized in a broadly chronological structure, beginning with the arrival of the Allied occupying forces in 1945. Chapter 1 focuses on the initial reaction of the Japanese government to the influx of Allied servicemen and the measures adopted by the US and British Commonwealth authorities to deal with their concerns about the spread of venereal disease infections among their servicemen, which eventually led to the deregulation of the sex industry in Japan in 1946 under MacArthur’s direction. Chapter 2 explores the relationships between Allied servicemen and Japanese women, including sex workers, paying attention to the diversity of such relationships ranging from rape to short-term sexual encounter to marriage. This chapter also analyzes the reactions of the Allied and Japanese authorities to such relationships and to the biracial children born out of these liaisons. Chapter 3 demonstrates how Japanese observers and critics attempted to impose an order on the newly deregulated sex market. Their particular concern was the phenomenon of the so-called “panpan” who sold sex on the street and who were often understood as catering to Allied servicemen. They were seen as selfish women who sold sex out of materialistic desires, and were considered social evils that could threaten social morality and have a negative influence on Japanese children. As it turned out, this way of symbolizing sex workers influenced the political effort to ban prostitution, which Kovner documents in chapters 4 and 5. These chapters closely examine the movement toward the establishment of the first national anti-prostitution law, the Prostitution Prevention Law of 1956. Female Diet members and activists played active roles in the policy making process; however, Kovner demonstrates how this coalition of women did not include sex workers. Sex workers were used as the symbol of postwar Japan’s corrupted social morality or as fallen women who needed rehabilitation, rather than as rightful workers. Chapter 6 examines what happened to commercial sex and sex workers after 1956, focusing on “diversification, outsourcing, tourism and trafficking” (144). This chapter also points out how a similar tendency, which had emerged in the 1950s, resurfaced again in the 1990s, in which “criminalizing a form of commerce made real victims both less visible and more vulnerable” (146).
With rich data and numerous insights, Occupying Power offers a value contribution on a number of levels. For example, Kovner’s claim that “the memory of the panpan may well have changed the way Japanese men and women understand the experience of occupation, to the point that they have found it all too easy to believe that military comfort women voluntarily sold sex to Japanese servicemen in occupied China” (157–158) is an interesting insight that can shed light on the ongoing and heated debate over this issue. Kovner’s analysis also makes an important contribution to the question of sex workers’ agency in Japan. Kovner includes actual experiences and voices of sex workers in her analysis, “albeit mediated through judicial proceedings, Diet hearings, and press reports” (56). Her careful treatment of these voices persuasively argues how Japanese sex workers “could actually negotiate the terms of their own relationship with the occupiers” (17). Simultaneously, Kovner also reveals how Japanese sex workers have been marginalized in public debates and political processes, which have led to regulations that could harm the interests of sex workers. Kovner’s close analysis of the complex dynamics that led to this in Japan make her final remark very persuasive: “[a]ny attempt to improve the lives of sex workers must therefore be based not merely on moral principle, but on a critical analysis of the practical and symbolic politics of such measures” (158).
The book contains detailed descriptions of the complex history of sex work under the Allied Occupation in vivid narratives, which makes it an accessible and useful resource for anyone who is interested in Japanese history and the politics of sex work. This close analysis also slightly limits the scope of the book, however, and if Kovner could more fully engage in cross-national comparative analysis, as she suggests in the Introduction (8), the book could have wider appeal to audiences with an interest in the politics of sex work more broadly. Having said that, by paying attention to the agency of sex workers, yet situating their agency in the fluid, chaotic and complex context of occupation in which power imbalances of various kinds clearly existed, Kovner’s careful and nuanced analysis successfully complicates and challenges conventional approaches for understanding sex work and sex workers in Japan and beyond.
Kimiko Osawa, Yonsei University, Wonju, South Korea
TUMULTUOUS DECADE: Empire, Society, and Diplomacy in 1930s Japan. Japan and Global Society. Edited by Masato Kimura and Tosh Minohara. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. xxii, 298 pp. (Maps, tables.) C$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-4426-1234-1.
In the process of exploring Japanese society, empire and diplomacy during the 1930s, the eleven chapters herein reveal the decade to be one of multiple trends and not simply a long slide into war. The book is divided into three sections, the first addressing aspects of Japanese society at home. Masato Kimura considers first the options facing the Zaikai (financial elites) in the wake of the Great Depression: many remained inclined towards repairing relations with the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite their hopeful sponsoring of trade missions, however, they were ultimately sidelined. Jessamyn Abel’s chapter looks at the forerunner to the Japan Foundation, the Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai (KBS). Decidedly internationalist in orientation, the KBS sought to present Japan favourably overseas, a job that became more difficult after the outbreak of war in 1937. After 1941 the KBS shifted its focus to Southeast Asia and the creation of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Building upon his earlier work, Cemil Aydin then explores Pan-Asianism in relation to Pan-Islamism to consider the civilizational discourse at the heart of each and asks why supporters of each came to embrace an alternative modernity. In the last chapter of this section Sumiko Otsubo reflects upon the debate surrounding the National Eugenics Law of 1940. Finding diverse opinions she shows ably how science and ideology had to come together to result in the bill’s passing.
The second section considers aspects of Japan’s empire. Through an examination of the Taiwanese port of Jilong, Evan Dawley shows that Japanese social work there was a progressive accompaniment to colonial urban planning efforts. In fact, even if social work aided colonial government control, the Japanese reliance upon Taiwanese participation may have rendered it more genuinely progressive. In a not unrelated fashion, in her chapter on Korean neighbourhood associations fostered by the Japanese, Jun Uchida shows the limits of Japanese penetration into Korean society, even during wartime. This underscoring of agency among Taiwanese and Koreans is echoed in Yuka Fujioka’s chapter on efforts taken by the Japanese foreign ministry to lobby public opinion in the United States. These efforts included working with the Japanese Association of America since many of its members understandably supported Japan’s more aggressive posture given their unwelcome reception in the United States. Others, however, supported the ministry for more positive reasons, though the paucity of sources makes it difficult to assess the Japanese community in the United States categorically.
The last section of the book reconsiders aspects of Japanese diplomacy in the 1930s. Rustin Gates’ analysis of Uchida Kōsai shows Uchida’s term as foreign minister in the wake of the Manchurian Incident (1931) to be not too different from his earlier terms two decades earlier. Thus, rather than see Uchida as caving in to rightwing pressures in his last term, it makes more sense to Gates to perceive Uchida as acting consistently as a Meiji-era imperialist. Perceiving Manchuria as necessary for Japan’s security, Uchida insisted upon Manchukuo’s recognition but at the same time pursued strong bilateral ties with the other Powers. In an opposite manner, Satoshi Hattori’s examination of Matsuoka Yōsuke’s term as foreign minister shows Matsuoka endeavouring to create something new, a novel alignment of great powers that would compel the United States to back down. Although covering previously trodden intellectual terrain, Hattori’s chapter is useful in that he introduces new materials clarifying Matsuoka’s reasoning. Peter Mauch’s chapter on Matsuoka’s successor Toyoda Teijirō also breaks new ground in that Toyoda has received relatively little academic attention. In considering Toyoda as a senior official in two ministries—the navy and the Foreign Ministry—Mauch portrays Toyoda as seeking to contend with not only stiffening American pressure but also growing domestic desires to confront the United States. In acceding to some of the demands of the latter, however, Toyoda ultimately found there to be no leeway in negotiations with the former, leaving him in an untenable position. The final chapter by Minohara sets out to uncover the apparent flip-flop by Toyoda’s successor Tōgō Shigenori. Not only did Tōgō shift from actively trying to prevent war with the United States to supporting war but he also opted to remain in the Tōjō Hideki cabinet after Pearl Harbor. Minohara’s reasoning is plausible but involves some speculation: Tōgō’s expectations were dashed by faulty intelligence.
A subtle counterfactual thread inherently lies just below the surface of several of the contributions to this volume, but together this volume does more than raise the rhetorical “what if?” These studies point to the essentially untidy nature of history. Every society is of course riven by a diversity of goals and agendas, a reality that becomes more complicated when that diversity confronts the world beyond its borders. These essays document some of the diversity of views apparent in Japan in the 1930s that lost out, yet in so doing also acknowledge the pressures insuring their likelihood of failing. As a result the volume presents some of the paradoxical aspects of Japan’s road to war and instructively muddies the water by showing not all Japanese to be in lockstep with activist military figures.
This is the third volume in the “Japan and Global Society” series at the University of Toronto Press, a series that focuses on Japan’s interactions with the broader world. Given that its contributors have enjoyed a variety of opportunities to share ideas and shape its collective orientation since first meeting in 2000-1, it also represents a little more than a decade of collaborative effort. The book would thus be a useful addition to most university libraries.
Bill Sewell, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada
Jean-Louis Comolli, building on the work of Jean-Louis Baudry, has argued that cinema functions as a mechanism for the imposition of Western or Eurocentric ideology precisely through the mechanical, chemical and aesthetic components necessary for its production (see for example essays by both in Philip Rosen’s Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, Columbia University Press, 1986). The very equipment of cinema, from lenses to projection apparatus, by necessity, the argument propounds, accepts the underlying ideologies of aesthetics which grow forth from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment to the present, in terms of what constitutes the look and the sound of reality—perspective, camera placement, the specific contrast ratios of film stocks, depth of field, even developments in stereophonic recording and playback—these exist not as universal givens in art but have come to project a dominant way of seeing through the medium of cinema. The cinemas of diverse countries, while presenting narratives in perhaps distinguishable ways, or articulating specific responses to specific social, historical or “national” situations, nonetheless and unbeknownst even to the works of art themselves, accept and adopt a form of hegemonic control: the domination of European-derived visuality.
It is against this backdrop of a technological/ideological analysis of film history that we must situate Miyao’s volume, for in it Miyao explicitly argues “that lighting technology in cinema has been structured by the conflicts of modernity in Japan, including the struggles over how to define cinema, subjectivity, and nationhood” (5). As Miyao himself suggests, his book is a valuable approach to film history, looking not at thematic issues—a valid and vital approach in itself—but at the technical history of cinema’s development as represented by one central studio, Shochiku, here in particular focussing on light, and even further: on the complex, powerful relationship between light and shadow.
Miyao writes well, placing his technical film history within a solid theoretical discourse on the nature of Japan’s tense negotiation between “kindaishugi (the ideology of modernisation, industrialisation, rationalisation, and scientific progress, modeled upon the West) and modanizumu (discourses of newness in everyday life and materials of consumer culture)” (7): that is, the process by which Japan throughout the early part of the twentieth century attempted to determine for itself the nature of its “modern” existence. Along the way, Japanese arts too underwent a self-reflective transformation, balancing their traditions against their current social contexts. Cinema, although a “new” art form—in Japan as well as Hollywood—participated in this transformation, and interestingly, did so in a way which quoted heavily from a “traditionalist” approach to beauty. The substance of Miyao’s film history is to describe the “process of how the aesthetics of shadow has been invented, developed, naturalised, and publicised in the discourse of modernity in Japan” (8), but in so doing, his work also describes the process by which a new, indeed even foreign, art form became “Japanese” through flirtations with Nihonjinron, the “theories of Japaneseness” which were emerging themselves throughout the same period of cinema’s explorations of light and darkness.
The volume is comprised of four chapters with an introduction and a conclusion, each chapter situating Shochiku Studios within a specific context: Hollywood; jidaigeki (period films); Germany; and Shochiku’s main rival, Toho Studios. Miyao highlights the contributions of specific cinematographers, utilizing frames not only from their work but also photographs of them at work, to illustrate his argument. Along the way, we have rich discourse on the Japanese film industry as a capitalist enterprise; the star system; textual analyses of films and their aesthetic and ideological implications; and a discussion of “how and why the aesthetics of shadow, arguably the most significant manifestation on lighting in Japanese cinema, emerged in the late 1930s to 1940s” (12)—the most intense period of Japanese fascistic nationalism. As we can see, Miyao focusses most effectively on an extremely important, formative period in Japan’s still-evolving film history, a period which has received considerable critical attention from both Japanese and non-Japanese scholars, but which still requires much further investigation. Abé Mark Nornes’ Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era through Hiroshima (University of Minnesota Press, 2003) and Iwamoto Kenji’s Nihon eiga to nashonarizumu(Japanese Film and Nationalism, Shinwasha, 2004), for example, cover the same period, from very different vantage points, but both provide a good context into which we may favourably situate Miyao’s contribution. This is a solid work, creating an insightful and persuasive argument for the relationship between a particular aesthetic and a particular ideological environment. That Miyao has directed his energies and our attention to the role of the cinematographer in the creation of film meaning is an overdue aspect of Japanese cinema studies. So, too, is his focus on the ways in which aesthetics can both cooperate with and challenge ideological assumptions. Even while working within the confines of an imported, mechanical process, and so partaking of the ideologies which underpin it, filmmakers have the power within their art to articulate specific responses, specific resistances, to those ideologies and others which inform their contexts. Miyao’s volume is an excellent analysis of how they may do so, along the boundary between light and shadow.
Timothy Iles, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada
KOREA AND EAST ASIA: The Stony Road to Collective Security. Studies in East Asian Security and International Relations, v. 1. Edited by Rüdiger Frank, John Swenson-Wright. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2013. xii, 296 pp. (Figures.) US$125.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-04-22910-5.
East Asia, particularly the Korean Peninsula, has not found a durable solution for reducing mutual threat perceptions and preventing conflict. Korea and East Asia: The Stony Road to Collective Security takes a fresh look at the potential for collective security to play a role in solving regional security dilemmas. All of the authors agree that the conditions in Northeast Asia are not ripe for a collective security mechanism, but, in embarking on this quixotic quest, they shed light on East Asian multilateral institutions, international relations theories, foreign policy strategies, and more.
The volume is the product of a conference hosted in Vienna in June 2010. The chapters were revised until mid-2011, and therefore have missed some key changes—the American rebalancing strategy and new leaders in Korea—but otherwise feel current. The editors added a twist to the traditional edited volume format by including short contributions from the conference discussants, who comment on the main chapters. This internal dialogue adds perspective and depth. The authors are an eclectic mix of academics and former policy makers from Europe, Asia and the United States, and the book includes welcome discussion of the Asia-Europe relationship. Aside from the chapter by Nele Noesselt on Chinese international relations scholarship, there is relatively little investigation of theory. Julie Gilson, writing one of the commentary pieces, finds the lack of reflection on the definitions of regionalism and collective security to be a weakness, but the pragmatic orientation of the volume has more utility for a broader audience.
Much of the book is focused on the complex security challenge that North Korea presents to its neighbours and the world. In the search for collective security solutions, the authors grapple with several paradoxes. They observe that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a terrible problem, but yet not so intolerable that states would cede their sovereignty to a collective security organization. Another contradiction is the importance of making a collective security arrangement inclusive, weighed against the difficulty of dealing with North Korea as a member. Third, there is a paradox in the editors’ laudable goal of treating North Korea as a normal country despite its many idiosyncrasies. Haksoon Paik takes this approach in his chapter “North Korea’s Place in East Asian International Relations,” which illustrates the domestic and foreign policy challenges facing Pyongyang from a sympathetic perspective.
In this examination of East Asian security, the editors also seek to answer the question, “What is the place of Korea in the regional security environment?” Rüdiger Frank notes that the geography of Korea has put it at the centre of regional and even global conflicts and power transitions in the past. For both North and South Korea, the bilateral relationship with China is a critical factor and may shape the future of the peninsula. That point begs the question: to what degree can the two Koreas chart their own course, surrounded by larger powers? North Korea has been more successful at driving its own agenda at the Six-Party Talks, discussed in Chung-in Moon’s chapter, but Pyongyang never seemed fully satisfied with the outcomes. Chaesung Chun observes that South Korea’s foreign policies in the democratic era have been characterized by “incomplete conceptualisation and short-term perspectives and incoherence” (163). David Kang and Leif-Eric Easley see South Korea as a bellwether in the US-China competition for influence in the region, implying that Seoul will retain a certain amount of leverage as a swing state. Kang and Easley make a strong argument to expect continued US predominance, even before the roll-out of the Obama Administration’s rebalancing strategy.
The discussion of possible collective security mechanisms yields many thought-provoking points. Colin Munro demonstrates how the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could be a template for East Asia in certain respects, such as its confidence-building measures, but he remains skeptical of the prospects for collective security. Munro cites, among other reasons, the lack of consensus on conventional arms reductions and incomplete historical reconciliation. China’s position is also problematic, as Nele Noesselt illustrates in her chapter: China will not cede sovereignty to a multilateral organization and will not renounce the use of force to reunify with Taiwan. Heterogeneity, low levels of mutual trust, and absence of common threat perceptions, are other reasons that authors give for the ineffectiveness of multilateral security mechanisms. Chun observes that the international order in East Asia simultaneously displays features of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern systems.
Despite these serious obstacles, the contributors are generally supportive of sober attempts to improve the East Asian security environment through multilateral institutions. In this regard, the book is a valuable resource for scholars and policy makers assessing President Park Geun-hye’s Trustpolitik and her proposal for a Northeast Asian Peace and Cooperation Initiative. The issue of inter-state trust is present throughout the book. In a chapter centred on Russia’s role, Georgy Toloraya provides a thoughtful outline for constructing a multilateral security structure in Northeast Asia, drawing on lessons learned from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Scott Snyder challenges the conventional wisdom about collective security in East Asia and argues that “national anxieties regarding future developments in security,” not historical constraints, are inhibiting multilateral cooperation (268). Considering factors like nationalism and realist power competition, Snyder suggests that broadening the Sino-Japanese relationship and fostering strategic reassurance between the United States and China ought to be precursors to a successful multilateral solution.
The book covers much ground, but leaves a few stones unturned. There is little examination of historical precedents for collective security mechanisms in East Asia, namely the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO). Two chapters focus on contemporary Europe-Asia connections, but only the chapter by Munro provides lessons from Europe’s experience with collective security, lessons which would benefit North American readers. Lastly, deeper consideration of functional/instrumental alternatives to a grand scheme for multilateral security would enrich the discussion.
Ian E. Rinehart, Congressional Research Service, Washington DC, USA
NORTH KOREA: Beyond Charismatic Politics. Asia/Pacific/Perspectives. By Heonik Kwon and Byung-Ho Chung. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2012. xii, 219 pp. (B&W illus.) US$39.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-7425-5679-9.
More than fifty years after its foundation, North Korea continues to command the attention of scholars and elude current paradigms and theories of social development. Heonik Kwon and Byung-Ho Chung’s North Korea: Beyond Charismatic Politics endeavours to call some of these paradigms into question through an engaging analysis of the country’s changing socio-political system. Drawing on Max Weber’s notion of charismatic authority, the two anthropologists set out to resolve why the North Korean case of charismatic revolutionary rule seems to defy the Weberian model, which assigns it a role of historical ephemerality.
The study is largely concerned with the issue of what Weber calls routinization of political charisma and hereditary transfer of personal charismatic authority from one political leader to another. In trying to understand how this process played out in the North Korean scenario, the authors employ Clifford Geertz’s concept of the theatre state, originally applied to the analysis of a traditional polity, in their effort to extend it to modern revolutionary states such as North Korea. In fact, Kwon and Chung are following in the steps of Wada Haruki, who was the first to apply Geertz’s notion of the theatre state to North Korea. Our authors, however, emphasize that the idea must be situated “more squarely in the context of what Weber calls conflicts between personal and hereditary charisma” in order to grasp its full implications for the field of North Korean studies (45). Pursuant to this objective, Kwon and Chung undertake a series of forays into a kaleidoscopic array of material related to the concept of the theatre state, spanning visual art, architecture, drama, music and cinema to convey the scope of this concept at work. Much of this information, however, comprising the book’s second chapter, is hardly new, derived mostly from well-known secondary scholarship on the subject, although Kwon and Chung do an admirable job presenting it with a fresh new spin.
The work’s more interesting and original insights, however, come from the authors’ elaboration on the culture of gift exchange and its constitutive nature in North Korea’s political economy in chapter 5. Kwon and Chung suggest that the gifts presented to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il by foreign heads of state and individuals, which are housed in two museums in the vicinity of the scenic Myohyang mountains, play a crucial role in the state’s “theatrical politics” (128). They argue that the very organizing principle of North Korea’s modern political sovereignty is based on an idea of the gift in relation to the international community. Thus, the tokens of international protocol courtesy become routinely reinvented as objects of foreign admiration and diplomatic tribute, adding to the domestic prestige and political charisma of the country’s leaders. Above all, the gifts signify North Korea’s aspiring role as the leader of the postcolonial world, providing material evidence of the country’s respected place in the family of nations.
Perhaps the book’s greatest strength is a consistently careful and thoughtful analysis of a number of key indigenous concepts, essential for our understanding of contemporary processes in North Korea, such as sŏn’gun (“military-first”) and ch’ongdae (“barrel of a gun”). Kwon and Chung identify the sŏn’gun politics, inaugurated by Kim Jong Il in the wake of his father’s death in 1994, as another key element in the drama of charismatic succession. Chapter 3 carefully documents this retroactive “production of historicity” (88) by showing us how the renewed efforts since the mid-1990s to reanimate the myth of the partisan state (which, perhaps, could be more accurately rendered as a guerrilla state) have both enabled and validated the institutional transfer of charismatic authority between the three generations of the Kim dynasty, ensuring its unprecedented longevity. According to Kwon and Chung, the hereditary transfer of charismatic authority was made possible through being vested in a material relic—a gun—which had been handed down from father to son over several generations. In this manner, the legendary revolutionary gun becomes both a transcendental symbol and an actual vehicle for charisma, so that its legitimate owner can wield his charm while in possession of it.
In the book’s closing chapter on North Korea’s moral economy, the scholars discuss the inherent contradictions between the theatre state and the partisan state models operative in the North Korean political system, which were eventually made manifest by the dire economic crises of the mid-1990s, euphemistically referred to as the “Arduous March” in official parlance. The symptomatic failure of the government distribution system during the crisis to provide for the population’s economic needs, which led to a widespread famine, they argue, betrayed the nation’s foundational telos based on the paternalistic idea of a family state, effectively compromising the state’s political legitimacy. As the work’s title suggests, the authors harbour skepticism as regards the future of North Korea’s charismatic politics, which they so masterfully dissect in this study, calling upon Pyongyang to move beyond its narrow confines.
While North Korea: Beyond Charismatic Politics sets out by taking up an apparent challenge to the Weberian model, in the end, it concludes that an exception only proves the rule, arguing that even North Korea cannot much longer resist “the natural mortality of charismatic power” and escape its inevitable end (192). The authors seem to assume that charismatic authority has been the sole motor of North Korean political life and the real glue that has kept the nation together for the past half-century without giving much consideration to the thought that it may have actually existed alongside and been buttressed all this time by other forms of political authority, such as traditional and legal-bureaucratic. Unfortunately, the majority of primary sources on which the authors rely are mostly limited to the last decade, which makes it difficult to see through the self-devised smokescreen of charismatic politics installed by the North Korean state. If, however, postsocialist studies are any indication, there must be, at least, some legal-bureaucratic mechanism in place behind the dazzling façade of charismatic politics to be accounted for, on which the authors remain silent.
Dima Mironenko, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
Jae-Jung Suh’s edited volume Origins of North Korea’s Juche: Colonialism, War, and Development, is a much welcome addition to the field of Korean studies. The essays in the volume, most of which appeared in a 2006 edition of the Journal of Korean Studies edited by Suh, analyze the origins and evolution of the “Juche Institution,” a system that, according to Suh, “has resulted from interactions between North Koreans and outsiders, that has evolved in response to shifting conditions and as a result of anticipated and unanticipated outcomes of choices, that structures not just the North’s political, economic organizations but also constitutes social order, and facilitates certain choices and impedes others as North Koreans continuously respond to indigenous developments and exogenous shocks” (7). The volume thus correctly attaches much more significance to Juche than recent treatments of the idea, and makes important corrections to the narrative of Juche’s origins and application. The essays trace the development of Juche from the colonial period through the 1970s, suggesting that the Juche Institution emerged not purely as a tool of suppression in a brutal leadership competition—as the standard narrative in the English-language historiography has long suggested—but also as a device to limit the impact of North Korea’s putative allies (China and the Soviet Union) on the trajectory of political and economic developments. This developed out of the experiences of North Korea’s leaders with China and the Soviet Union, both proving to be unreliable, and worse, at times exploitive and overly intrusive. Two additional essays in the volume are less explicitly tied to the theme of the Juche Institution and examine the history and collapse of North Korea’s agricultural sector and leadership dynamics in what many incorrectly consider a one-man dictatorship.
This volume makes a very valuable contribution to the existing literature on North Korean history by introducing the work of Korean scholarswho have made significant contributions to the Korean-language historiography on the postwar development of the North Korean political and ideological systems. For this fact alone, the volume should be on the reading lists of students of North Korea. For decades, the research of Korean scholars working on North Korea had been hindered by South Korea’s infamous National Security Law, which restricted the access of scholars to North Korean materials. Restraints were lifted, to a degree, in the early 2000s at a time of improved relations between the two Koreas under the progressive governments of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun. Given the opportunity to work more freely with the available North Korean materials, Korean scholars, primarily political scientists, made significant contributions to the field of North Korean studies. The work of some of these scholars, including Gwang-Oon Kim and Young Chul Chung, are nicely summarized in the essays presented in this volume.
The first three essays (tied together in the editor’s introductory essay) in the volume deal directly with Juche’s origins and evolution. Hongkoo Han’s essay nicely summarizes the findings of his pathbreaking University of Washington Ph.D.dissertation on the so-called Minsaengdan incident that led to the massacre of hundreds (and possibly thousands) of Korean communists at the hands of their Chinese comrades in the early 1930s because of suspected ties to a pro-Japanese organization. Han’s dissertation was already well-known by most students of North Korean history. Han argues that the seeds of mistrust between Korean and Chinese communists were sewn as a result of this incident, over two decades before the founding of the DPRK, during which the future leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, himself narrowly escaped persecution.
Gwang-Oon Kim’s essay, which summarizes the argument in his monumental work Bukhan Jeongchisa yeongu 1(The Political History of North Korea 1), identifies crude and transparent attempts by Soviet officials to assert their hegemony over and exploit Korea in the years immediately following the country’s liberation. Kim argues that the Soviet influence on the North Korean system should not be overstated. The North Korean state that emerged was not a Soviet puppet regime, but successfully indigenized a variety of influences; Soviet, Chinese, and homegrown.
The argument presented in Young Chul Chung’s essayis largely absent from the English-language historiography, despite representing a developed historiographical line on North Korea’s post-Korean War development in Korean. The essay goes beyond the “power-centred” narrative of the introduction ofJuchein 1955 as an instrument of suppression that has long dominated the English-language historiography to reveal significant differences among leading North Korean government and party officials over postwar economic development.Chung’s essay in this volume is representative of the work of a number of Korean scholars working on this critical period in North Korea’s history, including Taeseop Lee, Younchul Kim, and the late Dongman Suh.
The last two essays in the volume are less explicitly connected to the origins and evolution of the Juche Institution. Chong-Ae Yu’s article provides an historical overview of North Korean agricultural development, from the redistribution of land and subsequent collectivization (or as the North Koreans called it, cooperativization or hyeopdonghwa) through its spectacular collapse in the 1990s. Yu describes some of the many triumphs of North Korea’s agriculture prior to its collapse, noting that it was once considered a “poster child for successful socialist modernization”(119). One important component of this was the successful mechanization of agriculture, which was carried out both for practical (labour shortages in a country that put so much emphasis on industry) and symbolic (mechanization symbolized modernity) reasons. Unmentioned in the early history, however, was the country-wide famine of 1954–1955 that was a result of the chaotic (and often violent) process of cooperativization. Yu’s comprehensive explanation of the tremendous failure of the agricultural system in North Korea in the 1990s, however, convincingly argues that the eventual collapse of agriculture was in part a result of its earlier successes with mechanization and the interconnectedness of agriculture with energy production and industry.
Finally, Patrick McEachern’s essay challenges the notion that under the leadership of the late Kim Jong Il, North Korea was a one-man dictatorship. He suggests instead that there were divergent and even competing interest groups in the military, Korean Worker’s Party, and cabinet. McEachern’s essay summarizes the argument of his 2011 book Inside the Red Box.
While not enough to diminish from the value of the volume, there are a number of minor errors and inconsistencies between the essays that could have been addressed before going to press. Suh’s essay inaccurately places the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1969 instead of 1968. Inconsistencies in the volume include the use of different styles of citation in essays and references to Kim Jong Il in the present tense. The latter is less forgivable considering the fact that the volume was published approximately eighteen months after Kim’s death.
While Suh’svery theoretical introduction might discourage those other than political scientists from reading further, the volume as a whole presents much that should be basic knowledge for anyone with even a passing interest in North Korea. The editor should be commended in particular for assembling works by scholars who primarily write in Korean. The volume will be of interest to both political scientists and historians.
James Person, Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars, Washington DC, USA
IMPERATIVES OF CULTURE: Selected Essays on Korean History, Literature, and Society from the Japanese Colonial Era. Korean Classics Library: Historical Materials. Edited by Christopher P. Hanscom, Walter K. Lew, and Youngju Ryu. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xxi, 230 pp. (Tables.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3281-8.
Imperatives of Culture: Selected Essays on Korean History, Literature, and Society from the Japanese Colonial Era is composed of an introduction and twelve chapters, each of which contains a translation of a text written by a major Korean writer or intellectual and a translator’s introduction both to the author and the work in question. The essays included in this volume cover a temporal range from 1922 to 1948, with a focus on the 1930s. These essays cover an impressive range of disciplines, topics and concerns, including, among others, nationalism, race, imperialism, capitalism, historiography, gender, socialism, proletarian culture, literary form and history, modernism and realism. Imperatives of Culture will for the first time provide an English-speaking readership access to the most important intellectual currents making up the Japanese colonial period in Korea (1910–1945).
The essays by key colonial-period intellectual and literary figures such as Yi Kwangsu, Ch’oe Namsŏn, Paek Namun, Kang Kyŏngae, Chŏng Inbo, Mun Ilp’yŏng, and Ch’oe Chaesŏ are central not only to an understanding of pre-1945 Korea, but postcolonial Korea as well. As Seung-Ah Lee points out in her introduction to Chŏng Inbo’s mid-1930s essay, Chŏng’s tracing of 5000 years of Chosŏn’s ŏl (spirit), influenced President Park Chung Hee’s formulation of nationalism in the 1960s. The inclusion of two post-1945 essays by Kim Tongni and Son Chint’ae further serves to highlight the important connection between the colonial-period intellectual and literary history presented in the first ten essays of the volume and the beginnings of post-1945 South Korean cultural production. At the same time, essays by leftist thinkers and writers such as Sin Paegu, Paek Namun, Kang Kyŏngae and Kim Namch’ŏn will allow readers interested in North Korea to situate post-1945 developments in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula in relation to a history of leftist thought going back to the early 1920s. The works included in Imperatives of Culture, moreover, possess significance well beyond Korea’s borders. Essays by Ch’oe Namsŏn and Kang Kyŏngae concern themselves centrally with the metropole (Japan) and the periphery (Manchuria), while Kim Kirim’s and Kim Namch’ŏn’s works negotiate Western literary forms in complex ways. All of the essays in Imperatives of Culture, in fact, address, in different ways, a global modernity.
Imperatives of Culture provides the opportunity for non-Korean-speaking scholars engaged in transnational, interdisciplinary research on East Asia and the West to incorporate key Korean primary materials into their work. The volume also serves as an invaluable source of materials for a range of undergraduate syllabi, not only Korean history, civilization and literature courses, but also the increasingly important border-crossing courses on East Asian and Western modernity. In terms of the undergraduate curriculum, then, Imperatives of Culture is a most welcome complement to the seminal two-volume Sources of Korean Tradition (Peter Lee et al., ed., Columbia University Press, 1996, 2000).
The essays comprising Imperatives of Culture are extremely well chosen, presenting the richness and diversity of the colonial and early postcolonial Korean intellectual milieu. The translations are excellent, capturing the originals in every respect. Finally, the introductions to the volume itself and to each of the essays, all by Korean studies scholars engaged in cutting-edge work on the modern period, do an impeccable job of situating both the authors of the essays and the essays themselves in relation to a global intellectual and literary history. Imperatives of Culture: Selected Essays on Korean History, Literature, and Society from the Japanese Colonial Era makes a major contribution not only to Korean studies but, more broadly, to Asian studies and to our understanding of colonialism and modernity in the first half of the twentieth century.
Theodore Hughes, Columbia University, New York, USA
INDIA IN SOUTH ASIA: Domestic Identity Politics and Foreign Policy from Nehru to the BJP. Routledge Advances in International Relations and Global Politics, 108. By Sinderpal Singh. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. x, 163 pp. US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-62530-2.
The literature on Indian foreign policy has long been dominated by a standardized realist mode of analysis cast in the vocabulary of national interests and power distribution. It is refreshing therefore to find a work that—without ignoring questions of power and interest—is firmly embedded in an ideational framework. Sinderpal Singh’s India in South Asia, written in a lucid style that eschews the dense jargon common among constructivist writings, centres on how the politics of identity framed within India’s domestic political context is reflected in its foreign policy toward its neighbours, mainly Pakistan, but also Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Singh studies the discourses on secularism, democracy and anti-imperialism during the Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) eras and shows how contests over them shaped domestic politics and thence the foreign policy realm over the years.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s syncretic approach to religion and national identity made India’s clash with Pakistan over Kashmir “a battle over two contending identities of statehood—secularism and communalism” (32). His democratic credentials were evident in his willingness to seek the Kashmiri peoples’ preferences in choosing between India and Pakistan. But when Pakistan joined the US-led alliance system, Nehru’s anti-imperialism and his desire to preserve India’s autonomy from big power domination led him to back away from his position on plebiscite in Kashmir.
Indira Gandhi’s quest for domestic power drove her to shift from Nehru’s institutionally based democracy to a more personalized rule that bypassed institutions in favour of populism. This was reflected not only in her policies on currency devaluation and bank nationalization, but equally in foreign policy, as when she sought to appeal directly to the Pakistani public by returning territory seized by India during the 1971 war. The BJP undertook a radical re-invention of Indian identity by wrapping it in “Hindutva” (“Hindu-ness”), which was imbued with hostility toward Muslims both within India (as in the state of Gujarat, which witnessed horrific anti-Muslim violence in 2002) and without (vis-à-vis Pakistan’s “betrayal” in the occupation of territory in the Kargil region of Kashmir, and large-scale Bangladeshi migration into India). In all three cases, the overriding factor was anti-imperialism, which—rather broadly defined by Singh—brought threats of intervention from the United States, China and potentially others. This caused Nehru to back away from conciliatory approaches to Pakistan and Nepal; Indira Gandhi to lean toward the Soviet Union to counter the Pakistan-US nexus and invoke the “Indira Doctrine” in Sri Lanka; and the BJP to exercise restraint against Pakistan to preclude American intervention.
There are interesting and unexpected insights. Nehru the anti-imperialist appeared anything but that in asserting India’s “special interests” in Nepal. Mrs. Gandhi, to many the quintessential realist, made concessions to Pakistan to provide ballast to the democratically elected (and deeply hostile) Z.A. Bhutto for his political survival. And the BJP began by espousing “Gandhian socialism,” of which “swadeshi” (self-sufficiency) was a critical component before it turned liberal after assuming power.
The strengths of the book are evident. It will occupy a distinctive place in the literature on Indian foreign policy because it links domestic politics and foreign policy through a seamless analysis of the two realms; it uses a constructivist framework that gives it a prominent place among writings on the subject; and it adopts an ideational approach that goes well beyond older arguments based on Indian exceptionalism. Realists may object that it does not quite undermine their case. Anti-imperialism and the quest for autonomy, which have been key components of India’s foreign policy identity, are also easily accommodated by realist analysis. Academics will find the theoretical content a bit thin. Given the author’s express contention that realist and liberal theories are inadequate for a full understanding of foreign policy, a more extensive engagement with the theoretical literature could have strengthened the argument. A discussion of the considerable work on the relationship between dometic and foreign policy would have done likewise. The author might also have tackled some critical questions, such as why Mrs. Gandhi eschewed the bomb after the 1974 test; or why the BJP’s hostility toward Muslims did not prevent Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee from undertaking his Lahore initiative.
That said, Singh’s work is likely to be of enduring value. It will effectively shift the median in the literature on Indian foreign policy away from purely power- and interest-based analyses to a more nuanced understanding of a complex reality that encompasses ideational themes. The book is timely at a juncture when India is engaged in an energetic debate over its identity. The BJP’s efforts to invigorate domestic politics with a new Hindu-pragmatic identity and the promise of a more decisive foreign policy befitting an emerging power will be better understood by readers who have had the benefit of the historical grounding and conceptual tools provided by this book.
Rajesh Basrur, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
AN INDIAN POLITICAL LIFE: Charan Singh and Congress Politics, 1957 to 1967. The Politics of Northern India, 1937 to 1987, v. 2. By Paul R. Brass. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2012. xxiv, 475 pp.,  pp. of plates. (Illus., maps.) US$69.95, cloth. ISBN 978-81-321-0947-1.
We have never seen, nor are we likely to see, anything quite like this book—or rather, like the multi-volume treatment of which it is the second instalment (with more to come). Its unique value derives in part from Chaudhary Charan Singh, the political leader who is its main focus. He was an inveterate writer not just of documents for public consumption and long letters (sent and unsent), but of highly detailed private records and assessments of political processes and policy issues—to which he brought a fine analytical mind. And he preserved these documents!
The other key element is Paul Brass’s long engagement with the politics of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s largest state and Charan Singh’s region—and with the man himself. This goes back more than half a century; an appendix contains transcripts from interviews in 1961 and 1962. Brass is one of the great interpreters of India, and he has here a massive trove of quality evidence.
The decade covered in this book (1957–1967) was a curious, low period in Charan Singh’s career. It stands between his earlier (and greatest) achievement as a minister in UP (covered in volume 1), zamindari abolition:that is, the breakup of large landholdings across much of that state. That reform largely removed inequities which would have made politics in this crucial region inherently unstable and grossly unjust: the sort of vile politics that survive in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh. It also benefited small and medium cultivators who duly became Charan Singh’s committed followers. But that political base did not suffice to raise him to pre-eminence in his state, so the years covered here were marked by considerable isolation and repeated frustrations. He broke with the Congress Party just after this narrative concludes, built an opposition party, was jailed during Indira Gandhi’s emergency (1975–77), then emerged as a senior figure in the subsequent Janata government, and was for six months a caretaker prime minister in 1979. The excitements of those years will figure in a later volume.
In the first half of the book, the focus alternates between chronological narratives of events and rich discussions of important themes: the region’s political economy, the redrawing of states’ boundaries, and debates over the development model for UP and indeed, for India. In those debates, Charan Singh—the champion of agriculture in general and owner-cultivators in particular—was on the losing side, as agrarian surpluses were redirected to fund state-led industrialization.
The second half of the volume concentrates on the decline of the Congress Party in UP. It deals in great detail with corruption and factionalism. Indeed, it is astonishing that infighting proceeded more or less unabated even amid India’s war with China, and just after the death of Nehru. Brass also assesses the strangely ill-judged roles played by the party’s national leaders in a state that provided the very core of their power base. The Congress high command in New Delhi made numerous destructive interventions and—remarkably often—remained inert when urgent action was needed. We get glimpses here of an aloof Jawaharlal Nehru, of (even in that early period) a devious and paranoid Indira Gandhi, and of a stubbornly (and surprisingly) non-committal Lal Bahadur Shastri (Nehru’s successor as prime minister).
We also get fascinating accounts of Charan Singh’s usually shrewd machinations—which nevertheless seldom bore fruit. He was often quite vocal in advancing meticulously constructed arguments based on far more evidence than other Congress politicians deployed then (within and beyond northern India) or indeed since. And yet on other occasions, he carefully remained mute, when his views had no chance of success, or when his advocacy of an issue would do more harm than good.
Brass is careful, even in the overall title for this series of books, to clarify that his focus is “northern” India. This is welcome since things were rather different in western India—where Y.B. Chavan was building a remarkably broad base for Congress—and in the south.
This study is decidedly sympathetic to Charan Singh, but Brass also provides plenty of criticisms which lend credibility to the analysis. He could be naïve, and only partly aware of his own defects of character. He was at times inconsistent and at others rigid. He was sometimes ineffective as an administrator. He tended to be insensitive to the pain that he inflicted on others, a trait that mattered greatly since he was perhaps India’s “great denigrator” (352). He was unsympathetic to the plight of the labouring classes and adivasis (“tribals”). He condoned police excesses, and on one occasion failed to deal effectively with religious riots. So this book is by no means the cosy story of Charan Singh “as told to” Paul Brass.
It is striking to see how lively the debates were over political and policy issues in that era, before Indira Gandhi radically centralized power in the Congress Party and stifled discussion, along with intra-party democracy. Debates have revived a little in recent years, but the contrast with that earlier period is still striking.
Brass offers us a bleak view of UP politics—and abundant evidence to justify it. This is apparent from titles and sub-titles in various chapters: “Political Farce…,” “Crisis and Sabotage,” Groupism and Venality,” Forms of Corruption,” etc. Charan Singh was similarly despondent. He emerges here as a lonely figure, thwarted by rivals: a man with ideas and a political base that would only begin to flourish after 1967, when the narrative in this volume concludes, after Charan Singh had left the Congress Party.
Other scholars (including this reviewer) have based their analyses on extensive interactions with key Indian politicians. But it is hard to imagine anyone ever matching the exhaustive account that Brass provides: thanks to decades of deep immersion in UP and close interactions with Charan Singh, to that unrivalled archival goldmine, and to the author’s acuity.
James Manor, University of London, London, United Kingdom
GLOBALISATION, EMPLOYMENT AND EDUCATION IN SRI LANKA: Opportunity and Division. Routledge Studies in Education and Society in Asia, 2. By Angela W. Little and Siri T. Hettige. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. xiv, 270 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$135.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-63808-1.
The authors have provided a comprehensive overview of the education system, policies and infrastructure in Sri Lanka, tying these very neatly to employment in Sri Lanka within the ambit of globalization. The book is mainly focused on understanding the effects of Sri Lanka’s liberalization in 1977 on education and employment. However, the authors give the book added depth by providing a concise description of colonial education policies, systems and infrastructure. These have hardly changed since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, especially in regard to social class structure and employment, in a country where a “majority of school-going children … preferred government jobs” (147).
A fascinating central feature of this book is the discussion of the peculiar nexus between education, the political landscape and the socio-economic demographics of Sri Lanka, which have propagated ethnic and social-class identities by “the division of the education system along ethnic lines” (182) and medium of instruction, leading in some instances to violent youth uprisings. The book posits that the majority Sinhalese ethnic divide and the student uprisings in 1971 and 1987–1989 had much to do with class divisions—both were spearheaded by the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana [JVP], whose agitation in the first instance had “less to do with the type of education available for rural children … [and] more to do with the continuing monopoly on high-status educational and occupational opportunity by the English educated” (36). The disenchantment of Tamil youth with government educational policies and inadequate employment opportunities, especially in the government/public sector, led eventually to the civil war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
In chapter 4, the authors draw attention to the transition from English to Sinhalese or Tamil as a medium of instruction in schools from the mid 1940s onward, and chart the detrimental effect this policy has had on gainful private-sector employment. Yet, the authors make clear the advantages of education in the vernacular by providing evidence for increasing literacy in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Chapter 5 provides information on the availability of foreign education in Sri Lanka through cases studies of UK-accredited institutes and businesses offering opportunities to students in Sri Lanka.
Chapter 6 provides an interesting ethnographic study of the “aspirations and expectations” of youth and their parents (in their youth). The survey spread across nine areas consisting of a mix of urban and rural areas and provided insights to the question “has economic liberalization had an impact on the levels and types of aspirations and expectations of youth?” (150). The answers to the survey in regard to youth preferences and parents’ preferences for employment for their children is useful for policy makers in both the educational and employment sectors.
The unintended consequence of fostering ethnic identities over a national identity through the education system has on occasion led to violence, as mentioned above, and the authors warn “if the education system is maintained in its present form, it will continue to underpin ethnic relations” (192). This brings us to the realization of the importance of education in postwar reconciliation amongst communities. Chapter 7 provides an in-depth discussion of the challenges and issues surrounding this topic, while providing useful information such as the desire amongst students for “the opportunity to learn together with students of other ethnic groups” (192).
The book’s concern for comparison in three important areas is applauded. The authors have looked at the pre- and post-1977 periods, comparing the aspirations of the current young generation with those of their parents, and comparing Sri Lanka’s educational and employment policies with those of the Asian Tigers during the 1960–1990 period and with India/China during the period 1990–2012.
Yet, there are important areas the authors fail to develop, thus doing a disservice to the holistic nature of the book. These are as follows:
- The unionization of tertiary education. While the authors mention the difficulties students face in completing tertiary education, readers would benefit if the unionization amongst lecturers and students alike was made explicit in discussion. In 2012, the Federation of University Teacher’s Associations (FUTA) undertook strike action, lasting 99 days, protesting against stagnant government investment in education, and low wages. Student unions in universities protest on a regular basis against government plans to introduce private, international universities in Sri Lanka.
- The lack of opportunities for students who study in international schools. The authors make perfunctory mention of international schools, noting that “in 1977/8 there was only one international school … since then the numbers have mushroomed” (101). While students completing A-Level qualifications receive internationally recognized certifications (as “Sri Lankan universities do not recognize foreign ‘A Level’ qualifications” ), entry and study in overseas universities is restricted by the costs for tuition and stringent visa procedures for host countries. This is compounded by the unavailability of financial aid schemes for Sri Lankan students in Sri Lanka and in most foreign countries. Further, those that manage to take loans cannot return easily to Sri Lanka given their financial obligations. Obviously this situation contributes to the brain-drain begun since the 1950s.
- The private tuition malaise. The authors have recognized the popularity and frequenting of private tuition classes by students enrolled in general education, including higher secondary education. Readers would have benefitted had the authors delved into the contentious issues surrounding private tuition such as the inability of state teachers to complete syllabi for various reasons including self-interest, as some of the same teachers promote their private tuition classes. This then throws into question the availability of state “free education” and state measures enforcing teacher accountability.
Overall, the book provides a valuable introduction into education and employment in Sri Lanka for those uninitiated in the subject, while chapters 6 through 9 provide food for thought for policy makers, practitioners and academics.
Gloria Spittel, National University of Singapore, Singapore
THE BANGLADESH READER: History, Culture, Politics. The World Readers. Meghna Guhathakurta and Willem van Schendel, eds. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013. xiv, 550 pp. (Map, illus.) US $27.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5318-8.
Situated within the world’s largest river delta, Bangladesh contains the eighth-largest national population in the world, and the majority of its inhabitants speak the world’s sixth most widely-spoken language. Yet Bangladesh remains largely neglected by the international community, and tends to feature in the Western media only when there is a natural disaster or, as in the case of the April 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, a man-made one.
The latest addition to Duke University Press’ World Readers series is a gem. It offers both general readers and specialists an unprecedented and much-needed array of information, voices, images and perspectives on Bangladesh’s history, politics and culture. The 134 extracts that are contained within—including newspaper articles, letters, speeches, fiction, academic writing, posters, memoirs, poems, a recipe, and a host of other forms of text—cover a vast amount of ground. The book also contains a wealth of illustrations, including some gorgeous photographic plates.
The task of reviewing a book such as this one is of course largely impossible, given the amount and range of material contained within, but I will try to convey a flavour of what is here. The selections are grouped into nine sub-sections: voices from Bangladesh, early histories, colonial encounters, Partition and Pakistan, war and Independence, dilemmas of nationhood, contemporary culture, the development gaze and Bangladesh beyond its borders. Each section, and each contribution, is carefully introduced by the editors, giving the reader a strong sense of overall cohesiveness that makes the book a real pleasure to read, either from the beginning of the book in sequence, or equally satisfying, by dipping in and out at random. One way to approach the book in the first instance is simply to read these introductions in sequence to gain a fascinating overview of the country before engaging with the material.
The first section, containing diverse contemporary voices, immediately sets the scene for what follows, with entries by Shana K., a garment worker, Abdul Qader Mullah, a senior member of Jama’at e Islami (whose views might not match every reader’s understanding of the characterization given to him of ‘fundamentalist’), and Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, each vying for the reader’s attention. The early history section ranges across the diverse local and non-local rulers of the territory of Bengal including Afghans, Ethiopians and Arakanese, and traders from China, Persia and Arabia. Moving on, the entries on the pre-1947 colonial encounters range from new religious movements to European entrepreneurs, while the section on Partition and Pakistan combines the familiar (such as the Awami League’s famous “Six Points”) with useful insights into less familiar aspects of this period, such as the 1964 Garo exodus, and the destruction by the Kaptai lake dam project in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. We then arrive at war and Independence, which includes a chilling account of Operation Searchlight by Siddiq Salik, a junior officer in the Pakistan army in 1971, and an equally distressing transcript of a telephone call between Kissinger and Nixon. As one might have expected, many voices are represented in the dilemmas of nationhood section, reflecting a diversity of views on religion, the military and issues of ethnicity. The extract from Kalpana Chakma’s diary, discovered after her disappearance, allegedly at the hands of the army in 1996, is particularly moving, caught between army violence, local patriarchy and Bengali “ethnic oppression.”
By the seventh section, on contemporary culture, it has become clear that the impoverished nature of the outside world’s view of Bangladesh has been vividly exposed and long left behind. Rather than replaying all-too-familiar dichotomies of urban/rural, or religious/secular, the editors talk instead of a “multilayered cultural fusion” (367), and of the politics of cultural space. B.K. Jahangir’s piece on the timeless art of Zainul Abedin is a highlight, and one is immediately tempted to put Shornomoyee’s recipe for Ilish fish with mustard sauce to the test! The issue of development is approached imaginatively, combining some well-known academics with the voices of ordinary people. Finally, the section on Bangladesh’s global dimension draws on migrant accounts, and a piece by the Clean Clothes Campaign on the issue of garment workers’ rights within international value chains brings home the issues that underpin the tragedy of Rana Plaza (which occurred after the book went to press).
A real pleasure of this collection is collision between the familiar and the unexpected. It brings together in one place some of the key writings that will be essential for anyone wishing to engage with the country (such as Sheikh Mujib’s speeches, a Rabindranath Tagore story, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s 1905 proto-feminist satire Sultana’s Dream, Rounaq Jahan on the rise of the vernacular elite, Rehman Sobhan on the economic disparities of Pakistan, Richard Eaton on the rise of Islam); but at the same time readers will delight in the many unusual and unexpected pieces that lie scattered throughout its pages. And while the volume might be thought by some people broadly to endorse a particular vision of Bangladesh (diverse, multicultural, pluralistic) with which not everyone might agree, it is by no means didactic. For example, Lamia Karim’s view of developmental non-governmental organizations as “modern landlords” is followed by Ainoon Naher’s description of mobilization by village elites against outsider efforts to empower the poor. Different points of view jostle within these pages so that readers can make up their own minds about what remains a fascinating and complex country.
Overall, this is a hugely impressive feat of scholarship for which the two editors should be congratulated. The lyric of James (Nagar Baul)’s 2005 Baul-inspired rock song is as good a place as any for me to end, and for readers of this wonderful book on the ongoing story of Bangladesh to begin: “Forge your way through the milling crowd, Turn the leaves of sorrow; and find the garden of dreams” (410).
David Lewis, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom
This is a revised edition of SarDesai’s Southeast Asian History: Essential Readings (Boulder: Westview Press, 2006) and, like its predecessor, can be a companion to the author’s textbook, Southeast Asia: Past and Present (seventh edition, Boulder: Westview Press, 2013). The readings would usefully supplement any other textbook on Southeast Asian history, although the organization of these readings closely follows that of the four parts of the textbook, “Cultural Heritage,” “Colonial Interlude,” Nationalist Response” and “Fruits of Freedom.” Of these, the last and the first sections are the longest, while colonial rule as such receives relatively little space, although the third section, including nationalism and Japanese occupation, could be seen as picturing the decline and demise of the colonial era.
Let the buyer beware: the revised edition is little changed from the previous one. Five items, in all nearly one hundred pages dealing with the US war in Vietnam and Cambodia, have been eliminated, reflecting the editor’s desire to spend less time on the Second Indochina War. Instead, a much briefer pair of statements from Malaysia’s Mahathir bin Mohammad (whom SarDesai calls “Mohammad”) records his vision for Malaysia for 2020, and this is reflected in an additional “Vision” from ASEAN on the same topic. The other addition, Keith Taylor’s “The Trung Sisters in the Literature of Later Centuries,” shows how Vietnamese nationalism perpetuated the legend of their uprising against China. After the select bibliography, a new chart of Southeast Asian history provides an overview of significant events over the centuries. Unlike the first edition, this one has no index.
In geographical extent, the readings appear to cover the entire region, but Singapore has only subordinate mentions, while Laos and Timor Leste have few or none. Combining chronology and geography reveals that the texts on the Philippines are all from the Spanish colonial period—surely the articulate and rhetorically gifted Filipinos of the twentieth century could have added provocative material to the final section as well!
This leads to another problem. While most of the readings add information and background, the “voices” of Southeast Asians form only about one-fifth of the book, 66 pages by my count. These include Rizal, Sukarno, U Nu, Mahathir and Aung San Suu Kyi, but not Lee Kuan Yew, Suharto or others. Other primary sources, accounts by first-hand observers like Fa-hsien [Faxian], Marco Polo or de Loarca, add a mere 16 pages.
Some items are from “outsiders.” These are Lenin’s “Theses on Nationalism and Colonialism,” a text that exercised great influence on Ho Chi Minh and on other Southeast Asian nationalists, and excerpts from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 speech, “The United States in Vietnam,” the apologia for the widening of the war by bombing targets in North Vietnam. Another is the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize eulogy for Aung San Suu Kyi, which pales compared to her own words.
About two-thirds of the book is comprised of reprints of other, secondary sources. These include Ian Mabett on early “Indianization,” and Heine-Geldern’s essential “State and Kingship in Southeast Asia.” In comparison, John Whitmore (“Foreign Influences and the Vietnamese Culture Core”) delineates the interaction of Chinese culture and indigenous Vietnamese responses in pre-modern times. Also important is an excerpt from Ben Kiernan’s “Pol Pot’s Rise to Power.”
The editor provides brief explanatory introductions. He has barely edited the texts, although some were shortened. Probably others could have used more editing. Certainly, a footnote could explain why U Nu wrote that on “the evening of 14 May ” (182), the Japanese ambassador informed Burmese leaders that the atomic bomb had been dropped, that the Russians had entered the war against Japan and that Japan would surrender. The following reading from Elly Touwen-Bouwsma places these events (correctly) in August.
Many factors—suitability, length, availability and personal preference—can govern the choice of readings. I have problems with at least two of them. John Leddy Phelan’s “Hispanization of the Philippines” is a valuable discussion of the peculiar development of a special Philippine Catholicism, but it illustrates this point with minute details about the administration of the Sacraments. Could another article have illustrated Philippine developments more succinctly, or could this one have been shortened? The other is A.J. Stockwell’s “Decolonization in Malaya, 1942–1952,” which seems ill-placed in the section on “Nationalist Response.” Stockwell’s original title, “British Imperial Policy and Decolonization in Malaya” [italics mine] better reflects its contents, which describe not a struggle between Kuala Lumpur and London for the independence of Malaya but primarily a battle between the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office in London over Malaya. Imperial history, yes, but not “nationalist response.” While in the editor’s opinion this may reflect the real power struggle, Onn bin Jaafar, Tunku Abdul Rahman or even Chin Peng might have had something more pungent to contribute. Also, Buddhism and Islam take a back seat to political developments. Thus, Greg Fealy’s fine survey of Islam in Southeast Asia appears almost as an afterthought at the end of the book.
Perhaps it is too much to hope that students might pick up a book by Kartini, Mahathir or Aung San, even to read only parts of it. SarDesai has laudably attempted to cover the region in an interdisciplinary way, offering an alternative to messy or unbalanced collections of photocopies sometimes assigned to students. More local content, perhaps even some presentation of opposing views, could have enriched the choice, but if the editor has not quite met these ideal goals, the problem may lie with the complexity of his task and, in the end, the challenges of teaching Southeast Asian history.
Mary Somers Heidhues, Independent Scholar, Göttingen, Germany
THE HISTORICAL CONSTRUCTION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES: Korea and Beyond. Edited by Park Seung Woo, Victor T. King. Singapore: ISEAS, 2013. xviii, 468 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$49.90, paper. ISBN 978-981-4414-58-6.
In Western countries, Southeast Asian (SEA) studies has now declined to the point of elimination at many universities. But SEA studies is on the rise in East Asia, as documented in this work.
In chapter 7, author Heryanto describes how the new cultural identities being forged in SE Asia today by the “waves” of Japanese and Korean television serials, music and films will require a total rethinking of the underlying presuppositions of SEA studies and its “overall structure and defining framework” (228). With selected examples, Heryanto thoroughly reviews the influence of new technology and media, affecting even one’s self-identity. Analyzing themes of personal self-restraint, “cultural proximity” (241) and lack of overt sexuality or violence, he finds that the unifying factors are a kind of internationalism, and a strengthening of the legitimacy of the new middle class (250). His outline of a future indigenous SEA studies abandons the paradigms of the past, as networks and flows replace the nation-state as the unit of study.
SEA studies in China (chapter 2, Park S-M) has always been focused on the overseas Chinese and their ties to the “homeland,” which in fact helped establish modern Chinese SEA studies. Thus an “Oriental Orientalism” is strong in Chinese research, something “to be expected” in the view of the editors (28). Another factor is China’s numerous ancient texts on SE Asia, which tend to limit research on contemporary or theoretical issues. A recent theme in Chinese SEA studies is ethnic populations straddling China’s borders with SE Asia.
Japan (chapter 3, Insun) has the largest number of historians of SE Asia, but publications in Japanese do not circulate internationally, despite the “world class quality” (84, 102) of the detailed research, due to generous funding for long-term in-country field work and language study (103).
In chapter 3 author S.W. Park (112) notes that Korean SEA studies began in earnest after demilitarization of the Korean government in 1987 led to a general opening of the country and the return of many PhDs from the US. Currently Korea holds regular conferences with Japanese and SE Asian institutes, and there is much promise for those Korean academics who produce more analysis and theoretical interpretation (136).
SEA studies in Singapore (chapter 5, S.K. Lee) is well respected, especially the accomplishments of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Institute of SE Asian Research. But is this indigenous SEA studies? Located on the world’s busiest commercial sea-lane, Singapore naturally has a global perspective, using merit-based recruiting, English language, and foreign experts in business, government and academia.
Early British scholars had a thoroughly imperialist perspective, which author Lee calls their “ecology” (164). A flourishing Chinese scholarship in Singapore was largely eliminated by the 1980 merger of Nanyang University into NUS. The Asian Research Institute at NUS (est. 2001) has been the recent flagship of SE Asian research, and is now in the hands of Singaporeans, who emphasize a broader Asian studies (182). This will affect SEA studies worldwide, such is the influence of Singapore today.
Chapter 6 (H. Choi) is on SEA studies in Vietnam, which entered the field relatively late, but Vietnamese scholars were writing of a “common ancient civilization unique to Southeast Asia” long before Western scholars arrived (209, 212). After đổi mới in the late 1980s, local SEA studies institutions were set up rapidly; however, many were too rushed, and did not last. Choi finds that in Vietnamese international research projects, seeking business connections is more common than doing research (202).
Vietnamese scholarship was also deeply influenced by the Soviet Union, with much ideological rhetoric. Today, Vietnamese research tends to be in specific disciplines and on Vietnam, despite an official stress on interdisciplinary approaches to the entire region (216).
In Chapter 8, V. King argues that the British were pioneers in SEA studies within the region (267), but he stresses that British imperial support of SEA studies was “fitful and indecisive” (270). The generations of British academics who worked in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Rangoon constitute an honour roll of famous scholars. King gives strong evidence that many of them studied SE Asia in its own right (308–315). The ongoing role of the School of Oriental and African Studies and the Association of SEA Studies in the UK (ASEASUK) are chronicled, and there is a good review of the debate on the reality/artificiality of SE Asia (272–77). Finally, King reviews the impressive European contributions to SEA studies, in particular those of Germans and Austrians.
Chapter 9 shows the impact of 250 years of colonialism upon Dutch society itself. Author F. Colombijn concludes that SEA studies within the Netherlands has finally “decolonized” itself, but the path through postmodernist perspectives has not been pleasant. Many Dutch feel colonization was beneficial to Indonesia, and people have to be pro-colonialism or against it (both Eurocentric views), leading to much heated debate (326).
The three colonial burdens of contemporary Dutch scholars of Indonesia are (1) the extensive archives of the VOC and of the colonial government, (2) the emotional debates over the morality of colonialism, (3) how such heavy moralizing impedes academic work from a detached perspective (325–27). Thus Dutch scholars seek objectivity in wider debates on ethnicity, nation-building, etc. (341).
Australia (chapter 10, J.J. Fox), has enjoyed strong government support for Indonesian studies, but they too have suffered declining funding. A 2008 report showed a large drop for Indonesian language courses (down 24 percent) and Thai and Vietnamese were almost wiped out (383–4). One success story is the Update series, annual lectures well-attended by the public. There are now Updates on all SE Asian countries, the Indonesian Update covering two days with 400-plus attendees, and a counterpart in Jakarta (371).
The last chapter (by Song S-W) chronicles SEA studies in the US, which contributed much to theoretical frameworks while focusing on the modern period (399–400). Describing the American decline of SEA studies, author Song mentions “the loss of official interest in sustaining the huge funding of area studies, resulting in the general decline of student interest as well” (400). But by what mechanisms does funding affect student interest? None of the other authors or editors of the volume deal with this question.
In 1961 John Smail called for an “autonomous history or SE Asia.” Other American theoretical concepts were “loosely structured social system,” “agricultural involution,” “shared poverty,” “theatre state,” “syncretic religion,” “moral economy” of minority peoples, “spiral approaches to history,” “imagined communities,” “upstream/downstream” relations, “center/periphery” relations, and “borderless polities.” American SEA studies replaced colonial perspectives, but also brought a Cold War worldview and other ethnocentric “universals.” This chapter shows that as a genuinely autonomous SEA studies is pursued through small-scale studies of minority peoples and cross-border flows, the field becomes more diverse and fractured, and thereby more vulnerable to attack by globalization theorists.
For a dedicated student of SE Asia, the book contains jewels of personal details of the esteemed authors and administrators, and the background to famous issues and debates. The copious bibliographies of each chapter are goldmines. But the brightest gem is Heryanto’s chapter, which masterfully points to the global future of SEA studies.
Jim Placzek, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
FOUR DECADES ON: Vietnam, the United States, and the Legacies of the Second Indochina War. Scott Laderman and Edwin A. Martini, editors. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. ix, 334 pp. (Figures.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5474-1.
This outstanding collection of eleven essays focuses on the legacies of the Vietnam wars in postwar America and Vietnam, with emphasis on the American choice of denial over closure, illustrating the aptness of Socrates’ comment that it is worse to commit a crime than to be the victim of one. The collective conscience of the Vietnamese, despite their far greater suffering, is clear; in the US, though the wounds it suffered were borne “only” by its veterans and their families and communities, guilt remains the unremembered legacy of every American.
The essays constitute a handbook for teaching and learning about how the Vietnamese have coped with the after-effects of the war and how different US administrations have handled their humanitarian responsibilities. A number of the essays merit study by every citizen.
The focus is on Vietnam and the US. We learn little about the two other Indochinese nations, Laos and Cambodia, and almost nothing about China, which looms in the background. Before the war China had aided the Vietnamese communists, furnishing Washington with a rationale for waging war against Vietnam: stopping Chinese aggression. Afterwards, Vietnam gravitated to Russia and China to the US, and Sino-Viet relations turned antagonistic in tandem with Sino-Russian relations. During the war Russia and China had conflicts, but overall did more to help than hurt the Vietnamese.
Only one essay goes into the last years of the war showing how Washington foreclosed possibilities of a more pluralistic politics. In “Legacies Foretold, Excavating the Roots of Postwar Viet Nam,” Ngo Vinh Long writes, “Unless one understands how the policies of the RVN [Republic of Vietnam / South Vietnam Government] effectively destroyed the pluralistic potential of the south, one cannot understand the myriad developments that unfolded in Viet Nam in the years after the war came to an end” (17). The Paris Peace Agreement, signed January 27, 1973, contained promises and commitments that were not kept. Four days before the signing Nixon announced publicly that Washington would recognize only its own Thieu regime as the “sole legitimate government.” This negated beforehand the Agreement’s commitment to allow the Vietnamese to “decide themselves the political future of South Vietnam . . . through general elections” and Washington’s promise not to “continue its military involvement or intervene in the internal affairs of South Vietnam” (17). The Agreement further provided for a National Council to supervise a “national reconciliation” “of the two South Vietnamese parties,” meaning the Thieu ruling group and the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong). To give these prospects a chance to come to fruition Hanoi restrained its forces (32). However, massive US military aid to the Thieu regime continued and so did Congressional funding, so that the eventual outcome was the continuing imposition of the Thieu regime’s dictatorship. As in China 1945–1949 the population, war-weary, demanded peace, not ongoing civil war, and was alienated from Washington and its governments. This suggests why Thieu’s regime crumbled so quickly under the final onslaught from the north: it could no longer hold the allegiance of the population or of its own army.
In the second essay, “Viet Nam and Vietnam in American History and Memory,” Walter Hixon shows how the state, media and film industry worked to erase the actually existing Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian victims of Washington, leaving the Americans as victims not the losers of the war. To what end? “As the history and memory of ‘Vietnam’ were being repackaged, the United States resumed its normal interventionist course in foreign policy . . . first Carter and then more aggressively Reagan intervened to roll back reformist governments in Central America” (52).
In addition Washington pursued a policy of revenge against the Vietnamese, supporting the Khmer Rouge dictatorship in Cambodia and its military action against Vietnam. At the same time sanctions and other penalties were imposed on Vietnam, until, in the early 1990s under Clinton, normalization was achieved. Washington had up to then maintained a hostile attitude toward Hanoi, claiming that prisoners of war were still being held, a largely if not completely mythological assertion. Once it was shown that no such large body of missing American soldiers actually existed, American objection to normal relations dwindled. (Though the author does not mention it, Vietnam was also being courted as a counterbalance to China. In “Missing in Action in the Twenty-first Century,” H. Bruce Franklin offers a detailed narrative of how the POW/MIA issues were falsified and exploited to make unreasonable demands of Hanoi and then to evade responsibility for the catastrophic damage done to the land, economy and people.
Another instance of Washington’s unfair treatment concerns Vietnamese catfish, a product lured into the American market on the basis of free trade and then subjected to tariff discrimination at the behest of domestic fishing interests. This cruel trifling with norms of “free trade” and “rule of law” illustrates the hypocrisy of politics in US commercial practice, the subject of Scott Laderman’s “A Fishy Affair: Vietnamese Seafood and the Confrontation with U.S. Neoliberalism,” an essay suitable for every Economics 101 class worldwide.
Other essays offer enlightening commentary on literature, on film, agent orange, and the environment. Each of the eleven is a gem, for which the editors are to be congratulated. Since the book is balanced between American and Vietnamese issues, it is fitting to close this review with a note on Heonik Kwon’s “Cold War in a Vietnamese Community,” which shows how Vietnamese veterans on both sides of their civil war learned to come to terms with their tragedies and to acknowledge, even respect, the pain and losses of former enemies to achieve closure and reconciliation through mourning and remembrance.
From the US a good number of veterans and others have gone to Vietnam to share grief and memory across the artificially created boundary of “enemy nation” and also to contribute financially and personally to easing the continuing suffering there. The day may come when the conduct of official America rises to that level of humanitarianism and transcends its narcissistic denials. For that, however, the habit of scapegoating others, especially the Chinese, must be transcended. Is the drumbeat of negative reportage on China and its past really about deflecting attention from the harm that Washington has done in Indochina?
Moss Roberts, New York University, New York, USA
THE BUDDHA SIDE: Gender, Power, and Buddhist Practice in Vietnam. Topics in Contemporary Buddhism. By Alexander Soucy. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012. x, 244 pp. (Figures, tables, B&W photos.) US$49.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3598-9.
In an age marked by “post” and “isms” in anthropology, it is refreshing that ethnographies written with such clarity and theoretical precision are still being produced. Alexander Soucy’s fascinating book on Vietnamese (in particular, Hanoi-centred) Buddhist practice covers the gamut of indigenous definitions as to what constitutes Buddhism and its performance in everyday life. Soucy’s ethnography weaves history, personal anecdotes, anthropological musings, politics and theory in a manner that is accessible and highly readable. He populates his book with colourful vignettes and the voices of men and women who consider themselves Buddhists, to varying degrees. These interlocutors share their stories with Soucy and the reader gets a glimpse into their lives and the moment of interactive exchange between the anthropologist and his friends. By the end of the ethnography, the reader feels like he has been to Hanoi, entered the pagoda complexes, walked through the crowds of elderly women worshippers, heard their sutra chanting as well as the gossips, condemnations and irks that pepper the way some Vietnamese define Buddhism. An ethnography is the story of people and their lives encapsulated within a rich theoretical debate. Soucy’s book is a success on both these levels. It was a page turner and I found it hard to put down.
Soucy writes about the way Buddhism, gender, politics, power, spirituality, travel and Vietnamese notions of personhood are enmeshed in the contemporary practice of Buddhism in Hanoi. Although focusing on Sino-Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhism, Soucy rightly points out the difficulties in thinking about orthodoxy and categories in a culture where Buddhism and popular spirit cults have often influenced one another. This dynamism is evident in the way people talk about their practice. Soucy’s ethnography focuses on the going ons at two pagodas: the large and nationally celebrated Quan Su pagoda and the smaller Phuc Loc pagoda. Yet, he does not restrict his analysis to these two Buddhist spaces but rather looks at the networks and connections people make with other Buddhist sites across the northern (and in some cases, southern) Vietnamese landscape. The study of religion in Vietnam has largely been dominated by works on spirit cults/possession rituals with little being written about the way Buddhism is lived in the country. Soucy shows that in many so-called “Buddhist” landscapes, Buddhism and spirit cults occur side by side. Yet, the complexity emerges in the way people define themselves as religionists, with some proudly proclaiming to be Buddhists by virtue of their religious practice while others—in particular, older educated men—tend to distance themselves from religious activities and focus on a more Confucianist foci of education and study. Then there is the influence of the Communist state with its long history of religious opiate. Soucy’s work comes at a time when anthropology has moved away from an earlier concern with the neatness of social categories to focus on the multiplicity of noisy voices that animate social and ritual realities. By the end of the book, the reader does not have an answer as to the question of what constitutes Vietnamese Buddhist identity. Rather, what emerges is a tapestry of identities defined according to gender, age, political association, social economic level and so forth. This is a refreshing take not only on Vietnamese religion but on the study of religious identities in many modern societies. As I read Soucy’s work, I could not help but think about my own research in a small Malaysian Thai Buddhist village, where similar type issues seem to be the norm. Here I would like to add a minor critique to the book. Although Soucy covers the Vietnamese material thoroughly, I would have liked to have seen more of an engagement with other societies—in particular, with other Buddhist societies that have emerged from long-standing political conflicts, e.g., Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia. To his credit, Soucy does provide us with cross-cultural comparisons but these are often relegated to minor points in endnotes. Soucy’s gaze (and he mentions this in his introduction) is very much directed at Hanoi and Mahayanist practice. Yet Buddhism in Vietnam is definitely more complex. Soucy writes of how one of his interlocutors preferred to wear robes akin to practitioners in the south rather than the common brown robes of the north. There was also a mention of Theravadism in the ethnography and much of what some of the older men told Soucy about Buddhist ideas seemed clearly derived from intellectual Theravadin debates. Here Soucy could have complicated his picture by showing the variants of Buddhisms in Vietnam and how these variants (and not just the spirit-side) were instrumental in forging the gendered and social identities that form the theoretical ballast of the work. Perhaps Soucy could engage more with his own earlier work on transnational Vietnamese Buddhism. Although he writes about pilgrimages and movement, and the sale of popular Taiwanese robes and wooden fish in pagodas, the reader does not get a clear image of the global scale of Buddhist practice in the region. Vietnamese Buddhism has had a long history of cross-cultural influences with China and subsequent movements and migrations of Vietnamese into diasporic landscapes. Adding this global dimension to the discussion would definitely enhance the scope of the work and its theoretical contribution.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Soucy’s ethnography. I particularly liked chapter 7, where Soucy writes about “conspicuous devotion,” an aspect of Buddhist practice that one rarely reads about in ethnographies. Most writings on Buddhist communities tend to eschew the negative, in part due to the anthropologist not wanting to create unsavoury images of the society and people he/she is living amongst. Yet Soucy does this with great tact and manages to show that many in Hanoi practice a form of popular Buddhism where public recognition is about the power to be included and excluded. This, like the ethnography, is a fascinating window into a little-known world. The Buddha Side has set the bar high for many an anthropologist interested in writing about Buddhism and Buddhist identities, both in terms of its rich theoretical content as well as its brilliantly composed ethnography.
Irving Chan Johnson, National University of Singapore, Singapore
CATHOLIC VIETNAM: A Church from Empire to Nation. From Indochina to Vietnam v. 5. By Charles Keith. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. xiv, 312 pp. (Illus.) US$49.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-520-27247-7.
In the margin of the early China mission the first Catholic missionaries arrived in a politically divided Vietnam from the 1570s on. They had a history of modest results, frequent opposition, but sometimes also royal support in a kingdom that was united in the early nineteenth century. In the period from 1860 to 1880 French colonialism took over the administration of the country, although a nominal kingdom continued. In September 1940 Vietnam was occupied by the Japanese army. In September 1945, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed in Hanoi. It defeated the French army in 1954 and the Americans in 1975. Catholics never represented more than 10 percent of the population; this was at the end of the French colonial period. Nowadays the population is about 8.5 percent Catholic.
Keith concentrates in this book on the French period, 1860 to 1940. His first chapter explores the idea of the difference between the modest presence in the last period of independence, the Nguyen Kingdom, and the strong growth during colonial administration. From 68 French missionaries in 1868, there were nearly 400 a generation later. In the vivid symbolic language he likes, he sees the contrast also in the “enormous cathedrals in the centers of Hanoi and Saigon, both completed in the 1880s” (30).
Chapter 2 presents “a colonial church divided.” It chronicles a long list of complaints by the Vietnamese people, most voiced by the clergy, about the French in general and especially their missionaries. One missionary loaned funds of his order to a colon[ist] for the sake of his family in France. Some were addicted to opium, or lived with Vietnamese women. There is even a story about a local priest who was accused of having killed a missionary who had tied him up and whipped him. Keith does not give a complete narrative, let alone much statistics and institutional history, but instead offers a series of stories that together build a picture.
Chapters 3 through 5 discuss the 1920s and 1930s, when the Vatican wanted to build a church, independent from French colonialism where anticlericalism, freemasonry and preference for Buddhism was often strong. In 1933 the first Vietnamese bishop was nominated, followed by two more in 1935 and 1938. Vietnamese priests began mission work in the tribal regions of the mountains in the west of the country. A Catholic press was established, magazines, newspapers and books in Vietnamese, printed in the adapted Latin alphabet as developed by the early missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (in Vietnam between 1627-1645). Catholicism was more an urban than a rural phenomenon: in 1897 one-third of Saigon’s 38,000 inhabitants were Catholic (153). In the 1920s the popular French Catholic organizations were also established in Vietnam: Association de Saint Vincent de Paul, Catholic Action, Catholic Boy Scouts, Eucharistic Crusade. Popular Catholicism developed through various places of pilgrimage, the most popular being La Vang.
Chapter 6 treats the political parties and actions by nationalist Catholics. Here again, the Vatican is a symbol of the international and non-French character of the Catholic Church. Religion is by many described and experienced as not bound to a specific ethnicity or geographical identity. Besides, the social message of the Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI was also interpreted as a criticism of French colonialism, “both by identifying French secularism as the root of radical mass politics and by focusing on how the oppressive nature of colonial rule had birthed and sustained communism in Vietnam” (200).
Chapter 7 discusses the most dramatic period of this history, the Japanese occupation of 1940, the declaration of independence of 1945 and the French attempt to come back to its former colony, resulting in the defeat of the French, the division of the country in 1954, and the unstable and corrupt government of the Saigon administration, for the first time under a Catholic president, Ngô Ðình Diệm. The epilogue bears as title “a national church divided,” an echo of the title of chapter 2. It is no longer the opposition of French versus Vietnamese clergy and faithful, but the Catholics of the North who in 1954 migrated to the South and caused many problems in this region. Here the book ends: without much theory, but again with symbolic and meaningful stories like the one about the use of the names of former Northern parishes for the new settlements in the South.
Charles Keith does not concentrate on religious history, but on social and political positions. He does not present the formal structure of the story, but gives anecdotes, quotes and symbolic events that are elaborated on in order to portray the tragic and dramatic lines of history during the hundred years between 1860 and 1960. He starts with an appalling photograph on page 2 of three Vietnamese priests arrested in 1909 for nationalist, anti-French activities. The last photograph, in the epilogue, is of Ngô Ðình Diệm, president of the (southern) Republic of Vietnam, side by side with his brother, who became archbishop of Hué, Pierre-Martin Ngô Ðình Thục.
One of the more theoretical issues discussed here is that of revisionism, the process of changing interpretations of persons as pro-French, nationalist, religious or socialist (180-183). While reading about the portrayal of the priest Trấn Lục (from a paragon of colonial cooperation to a true patriot) I was thinking about the negative portrayal given here to French colonialism and to the Communist rule: times they are a changing. Charles Keith has not given us an easy book, no dry bones, but in many episodes a living history resembling a Greek tragedy rather than a dull textbook for history classes.
Karel Steenbrink, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
FOREST OF STRUGGLE: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia. Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory. By Eve Monique Zucker. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xii, 233 pp. (Figures, B&W photos.) US$28.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-3805-8.
This is a fabulous and timely book. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Cambodia’s mountainous southwest, it takes a “social memory approach [combined with] theoretical paradigms concerning morality” to explore the reconstitution of village life following the significant violence and dislocation experienced in the region (and the nation) during the 1970s and beyond.
In the main, this book provides a lucid account of a village named O’Thmaa. As the author rightly underlines, studies of the events, experiences and afterlives of Khmer Rouge violence in “base” (moulâdthan)areas and communities are almost nonexistent. (These were areas and communities under Khmer Rouge control from the early 1970s that subsequently provided a material and political base for the rule of Cambodia as a whole from April 1975.) O’Thmaa is one such community, though its members fought both for and against the Khmer Rouge, as well as for various groupings in preceding conflicts. Moreover, “accusations among the villagers [of O’Thmaa] had led to a significant number of executions [of fellow villagers]” (7).
There are several interwoven aims of the book, including concern with “how communities negotiate the memories associated with difficult pasts and come together to rebuild their lives” (7), “how people and their societies cope with radical and violent social change” (176), and with “the moral ideals or virtues for which individuals and communities [such as present-day O’Thmaa] strive” (172). The larger commune that contains O’Thmaa, Prei Phnom, and the neighbouring commune of Doung Srae, are brought into the analysis at various junctures to provide comparative perspectives on how villagers are reconstituting their shared existences.
The book is accessible for the non-anthropological reader because it starts from the ground and builds up. It offers analyses of everyday social interactions—including commensality and assistance—and of kinship in O’Thmaa. In addition, the book analyzes various contemporary festivals and observances associated both with Khmer Buddhism (including a chapter on Bon Dalien) and the guardian or tutelary spirits of this upland locale. Significant attention to the question of moral discernment(sâtisampajania) is given throughout, as are the wider societal constructs of the civil and the wild (srok/ prei), trust and distrust, “face” (mukh), agency and victimhood. The book will thus be of great interest to ethnographers of Cambodia and scholars of Khmer Buddhism, as well as to those concerned with social memory in post-conflict societies beyond issues of formal political discourse and state-based initiatives.
A significant part of this fine-grained study of morality and remembrance in O’Thmaa concerns the village elder, Ta Kam, a former village chief who many families hold responsible for the execution of their loved ones during the 1970s. Zucker’s account of the complex and changing relationship between villagers and Ta Kam should be essential reading for anyone interested in the current international criminal tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The conclusion of the book comments explicitly and expertly on this formal legal mechanism for “dealing with the past” vis-à-vis social memory at the village scale. Insightful as the case of Ta Kam is, Zucker does not claim that the same social practices are wider spread though, as she notes, instances of living with Khmer Rouge perpetrators certainly is.
Indeed, as a caution against generalizing about Cambodian social memory, the book offers very important lessons in socio-spatial specificity. Zucker explores how even the neighbouring communes of Prei Phnom and Doung Srae “have the means and motivation to produce different narratives about the past that [nonetheless] still share common features” (176). An example of differing stories about an historical Thai invasion of the region proves this point, allowing Zucker to note that: “Prei Phnom and Doung Srae’s distinct ways of coping with the past and their notions of modernity and tradition reflect their recent histories” (146). In these and other ways, the book goes to the heart of the question of whether or not (and how) the experiences of “base people” (neak moulâdthan) have differed significantly from other Cambodian groups. It also gives a nuanced response to the question of the degree to which (and in what ways) contemporary Cambodian communities still (differently) struggle with the losses and ruptures of the late twentieth century.
Resonant and resurfacing memory (149), the mixing of memory (139), and the projection of an idealized past onto the future as a moral ideal (173), are each fascinating discussions. And although the book is (necessarily) limited to a discussion of processes at the village or community level, the social space of the household as an intimate zone of relatedness suggests itself (to this reader at least) as a potential future research site for a closely related set of research questions about the reconstitution of household or family life in such areas.
Students contemplating ethnographic fieldwork in similar contexts would do very well to read this book, and early! Zucker is open about the challenges of ethnographic research, and does not omit the story of her own development as a researcher: her earlier states of not-yet-knowing, her immediate responses and confusions, her hopes and humour. But neither does this personal voice dominate, rather the quality of thought and mastery of the field demonstrated in the book is greater for it. Here is a deftly detailing voice whose growing knowledge, sensitivity and involvement encourages these attributes in the reader.
Rachel Hughes, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
POTENT LANDSCAPES: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia. Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory. By Catherine Allerton. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xi, 221 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$25.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-3800-3.
Catherine Allerton’s book Potent Landscapes is an anthropological study of Manggarai settlements in West Flores in Eastern Indonesia. In many ways it is a classic village ethnography, increasingly the exception within an anthropology that has turned its attention away from the rural towards the urban and transnational. Allerton’s initial fieldwork anxiety in the late 1990s is significant as she wonders whether the village she has chosen is “too remote.” Yet she turns this remoteness to her advantage, using contemporary anthropological theory to conceptualize broad themes such as place and mobility while producing an elegant contrast to the classic models of Eastern Indonesian ethnography, most notably the structuralist tradition of the Leiden School.
The Manggarai settlements that Allerton studied are ostensibly Catholic but people continue to have “animist” beliefs and practices, particularly in the context of rituals aimed at affecting the environment and social relations. Furthermore, through state resettlement programs, the highland village that was at the centre of the study had a site in the lowlands, where political authority and schooling was centred, while ritual authority remained in the highlands. Yet, one of the book’s main goals is to move beyond these forms of dichotomies—between Catholicism and animism, between highlands and lowlands, for instance—and develop a more phenomenologically oriented approach to Manggarai lifeworlds.
Influenced in particular by Tim Ingold’s work on the “fundamental historicity” (4) of the environment as well as Bruno Latour’s concern with non-human agency, Allerton is interested in describing how people in Manggarai “dwell” in—rather than, for instance, symbolically represent—the landscapes they inhabit. In disturbing distinctions between “natural” and “cultural” environments, Allerton highlights how landscapes must be understood as constantly under construction in relation to not only the everyday experiences and practices of individuals and communities, but also the agency of material and physical forms such as rooms and waterways. By way of this perspective, she describes how place and mobility are co-constructed through various literal and figurative “pathways,” for instance marriage, childbirth and migration.
In contrast to the classic tradition of Eastern Indonesian studies—which has focused on the “house”—Allerton begins with the “room” in chapter 1. In particular she notes how the room can be considered in biographical terms, as a space that is transformed with rituals and changing family structures, as well as a critical starting point for considering the ethnography of everyday life. Rooms themselves gain particular characteristics, even agency, that allows for the protection of its inhabitants. Via the room, Allerton returns to the house in chapter 2, which she considers not primarily as an architectural object, but rather as a particular kind of place characterized by permeability—of sounds and smells, in particular—as well as what she calls “liveliness.” Again, this is in stark contrast to earlier structuralist approaches to the house in the region. Chapter 3 furthers this approach by considering marriage “not simply as a set of rules and classifications but as a sequence of place-based, practical actions” (74). In this context Allerton introduces marriage as a “path” that connects dwellings and villages. In other words, marriage is considered as a practical process and form of travel that comes to connect and transform places.
Chapter 4 shifts attention to the environments that surround settlements and are at the centre of agricultural subsistence, for instance, fields, forests and waterways. In this process Allerton highlights how ritual, story-telling and subsistence must be understood together as a form of dwelling. Spirits and subsistence are thus closely integrated and should be not be dichotomized in terms of ritual and labour. Like the rooms described in chapter 1, the broader landscape that people in Manggarai inhabit embodies a form of agency that always remains outside of people’s complete control. Chapter 5 considers the changing relationship between the highland and lowland settlements, and particularly the effects of state resettlement and the definition of the highland village architecture as “authentic” in cultural terms. By following discussions concerning the so-called “drum house” that is only allowed in independant ritual communities, Allerton considers the shifting politics of landscape. The book’s final chapter considers more explicitly the relationship between place and mobility, and movement between the highlands and lowlands, across the region and to other countries such as Malaysia. Once again there is an attempt to break down dichotomies, in this case between mobility and immobility, by highlighting how movement depends upon a form of rooting or dwelling in particular places, most notably the village.
In conclusion, it should be noted that this book is a welcome addition to studies on Eastern Indonesia, in particular, and Southeast Asia, more generally. Characterized by rich ethnographic description and unusual clarity in the face of complex theoretical discussions, Potent Landscapes is an ideal book for undergraduate teaching and introducing students to a world that is both mundane and unfamiliar.
Johan Lindquist, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
BEING MĀORI IN THE CITY: Indigenous Everyday Life in Auckland. Anthropological Horizons. By Natacha Gagné.Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. xvi, 345 pp. (Maps.) C$32.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-4426-1413-0.
As Gagné points out, until relatively recently, there has been a paucity of anthropological work on indigenous ways of life in the city. This lack is perhaps a result of two factors: a disciplinary tendency to prioritize small-scale societies which engage in “authentic traditional” practices and where relationships with land and resources are perceived to be primordial; a lasting conceptualization of such communities as relatively bounded and the methodological challenges associated with undertaking participant observation in a multi-complex site. This book is timely given that an incredible 84.4 percent of Māori now live in urban centres compared to 50 percent of the world’s population. Auckland, the main site of Gagné’s research, is the largest multicultural city in New Zealand; Greater Auckland has a population of 1.3 million, and is home to just under one quarter of all Māori. Auckland also has the highest population of Polynesians of any city in the world.
Gagné’s research, described as one of the few ethnographic studies on Māori urbanization since the 1970s (i), employs classical anthropological methods of long-term participant observation and interviews to capture “the everyday combat … regular experiences and strategies of urban-based Māori” (4). In the introduction and first chapter she contextualizes this struggle within the history of Māori urbanization from World War II, the Māori renaissance of the 1980s and more recent battles for land and resources in light of neoliberal policies of privatization and devolution. Crucial to this background is the colonization of New Zealand and the evolving significance of the Treaty of Waitangi and Waitangi Tribunal as a means through which Māori articulate indigenous losses and seek compensation. The Office of the Treaty Settlements, an alternative and more direct method of negotiating with the Crown, is not explored. Gagné does, however, provide a comprehensive overview of the main issues and a multitude of references for readers interested in further exploration.
In the second chapter Gagné emphasizes the diversity of experiences of Māori in the city. This diversity includes: different tribal identities and homelands and the absence of this type of identification; length of time in the city; occupational and educational heterogeneity; whether residence is in a predominantly brown/working class or Pākehā (New Zealand European)/middle-upper-class neighbourhood (this dichotomy is not nearly so clear-cut!) and strength of attachment to kin and tribal territory. Gagné sympathetically highlights the contradictions that inhere in the discourse surrounding “authentic” and “urban” Māori and the politics of differentiation used to demarcate Māori and non- Māori ways of being and doing. Key to the discussion is the concept of “comfortable,” which Gagné’s participants use to highlight their oft-conflicting feelings of being at home/not at home in the city. Closely connected with this are the bonds of Māori kinship as expressed through whānau (extended family), hapū (sub-tribe) and iwi (tribe) and the organizing principles of whanaungatanga (a kinship ethic that communally and horizontally unites) (55) and whakapapa (a vertical descent ethic which enables boundaries to be created) (55). Gagné shows how these concepts have become lived in the city, how whānau includes non-kin members and how, despite this elasticity, the underlying ethical values, principles and structuring elements remain intact. The ability of whānau to expand in the city is again emphasized in chapter 5.
The third and fourth chapters underscore the importance of place, here grounded in marae, the traditional Māori meeting place, ceremonial centre and a principal site in which to reaffirm tribal culture and belonging. In the third chapter Gagné traverses the literature on marae highlighting traditional functions, associated protocols and symbolic representations. Threaded throughout this discussion is the hint that she is inclined to concur with Sissons’s (Building a house society: the reorganization of Maori communities around meeting houses,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16, no. 2, 2010: 372-386) recent assessment of Māori society as being structured by a relationship between houses, rather than, or at least as well as, descent. This argument comes out more clearly in chapter 4, where Gagné uses her own ethnographic material to describe an urban Māori suburban house which, she argues, is a marae. Two main points are used to validate this analysis: “these houses, like ‘real’ marae are all about sharing and the community … [and] these types of houses and their principles are not necessarily part of everyone’s daily experience. A house is not necessarily in a permanent state of being … it could be so only on special occasions” (120).
Gagné’s analysis of the continuation yet also mutability of marae is an important contribution to the study of modern Māori society. Perhaps missing from this discussion are the more contentious and conflictual aspects of contemporary marae. For instance, various government departments consult with Māori on marae, introducing new types of power dynamics and technologies; a notable tension exists over whose protocol is prioritized. Waitangi Tribunal hearings, long held on marae, involve Māori presenting their history of loss and alienation in the midst of Tribunal judges, well-heeled lawyers and other hapū groupings which often have alternative renderings of history and they may individually be subjected to intense questioning from Crown lawyers. Such hearings are deeply emotional and politicized occasions and the Tribunal often leaves a heightened conflict in its wake. In the event of a successful claim, marae may become further entangled with bureaucratic procedures; marae, rather than hapū, are the channel through which compensation, held by the central iwi, is distributed on an annual basis. As these examples suggest, the modern marae is not purely a Maori space but has, in some instances at least, been infiltrated, maybe even co-opted, by bureaucratic and state forces.
In the final three chapters Gagné weaves together her themes by employing the concept of “universes of meaning,” which is as an “orientational device through life, experiences, and practices” (12). She shows how a politics of differentiation can serve to create a distinctive universe of meaning for Māori, but that this universe is paradoxical, has internal inconsistencies and continually intersects with alternative universes: “in practice … Māori and Pākehā people alike internalize multiple universes of meanings and develop multiple identities and ways of engaging within these worlds” (229). In her conclusion, Gagné makes a compelling argument regarding the importance of an anthropology concerned with ordinary, superficially apoliticized, indigenous city people: “What is really significant is the continued general attachment of Māori people to the idea of being Māori and to Māori identities” (253).
Fiona McCormack, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
TAX HAVENS AND SOVEREIGNTY IN THE PACIFIC ISLANDS. UQePressPacific Studies Series. By Anthony van Fossen. St. Lucia, QLD: UQ ePress, 2012. xi, 411 pp. (Map, tables.) A$38.50, paper. ISBN 978-1-921902-21-2.
Tax avoidance. If you are a major, multinational company, incorporated in the UK, Australia or the United States, here’s how you do it. You re-incorporate yourself in some country that has low or, even better, no taxes on corporate profits, and that offshore tax haven becomes, for tax purposes, your new home. No, you don’t have to be doing business there; you don’t have to move your head offices there, or, indeed, any office at all. All you need there is an agent who will put your name on a brass plaque on their door, together with the brass plaques of all the other companies they represent. From then on, all your worldwide profits are credited to that offshore company, making your taxes low or non-existent.
And how, you may ask, do you, the domestic company—still operating out of London or Sidney or New York though, now, technically, a subsidiary of your own offshore holding company—get your hands on those profits without having to pay taxes when they come to you? At this point, the tax avoidance game gets even better. The domestic company borrows that money from its offshore parent, thereby realizing no income. Quite the opposite, that infusion of cash puts a great big liability on its balance sheet.
The use of offshore tax havens and financial centres is not new, although—and this insight is one of the many contributions of van Fossen’s readable and valuable study—with the decline of colonialism and the concomitant increase in the number of small sovereign states, the jurisdictions able to become offshore havens has multiplied. In the nineteenth century, most tax havens were in Europe—Switzerland, Lichtenstein and the Channel Islands, for example—close to the companies they served. The island nations of the Pacific have only recently become centres of offshore financial activity; they had to wait both for the development of rapid communications channels and for the end of colonialism, which freed them from the constraints of rule by the US and Australia, neither of which favours offshore tax havens. Now, however, the Pacific Islands are major players:
The Cook Islands concentrate on forming trusts to protect assets from seizure by courts, wives, husbands or creditors. Samoa is excellent for registering international companies, which can hold stocks, bonds real estate and other assets so that taxes can be avoided on incomes from dividends, interest, rents or profits when the holdings are sold. Vanuatu has more offshore insurers, banks, casinos and tax-free real estate than any other Oceanian haven. Offshore mutual funds operate in Vanuatu, and hedge funds register and banks book large international loans in the Cook Islands to minimize taxes, avoid regulations, and increase secrecy. (1-2)
Pacific Island nations are economically and militarily far from the equal of the UK, the US or Australia but, van Fossen points out, international law creates the legal fiction of a world made up of nation-states that are equally self-reliant. Sovereignty means that, if a country wishes to have no taxes on income or profits, or wants to encourage Internet gambling, or permit banks to keep their accounts secret, so that money can be laundered more easily, it may do so.
It is pretty widely agreed by now that the effect of offshore tax havens on the economy of their host countries is close to zero. Most of the money flowing into tax havens flows out again almost immediately. Van Fossen notes some possible financial benefits: “offshore centres may generate government fees, employment, training, investment, high-end tourism, better tele-communications and greater international recognition” (3). But, the emphasis is on the “may.” He would agree that plaques on office doors generate precious little in the way of employment, training, investment or even tourism.
The primary economic results are a relatively small amount added to government coffers—although, if a country is poor enough, even the few thousand in corporate registration fees can make a difference—and a bump up in the incomes of a score or so indigenous compradors. However, the effect of these on a host country’s politics is probably way out of proportion to the net economic benefits to the country as a whole. There is a great incentive for those few who benefit economically to make sure that the money keeps coming, an aim requiring that domestic legislation continue to be friendly to the offshore companies. Corruption is an inevitable consequence of tax haven status.
One of the easiest ways to criticize an author is to accuse him of not writing the book he never intended to write. I will not do that. But, I will say that van Fossen’s exhaustive study of the legal and political regimes that support Pacific Islands tax havens begs for another scholar or two to study the political or cultural impact of these financial centres on the countries in which they are located. How, for example, have the social structures and Vanuatu been affected by the presence in Port Vila of offshore banks and Internet gambling companies? What are the consequences for the people and cultures of the Cook Islands, say, of the cluster of large international banks booking loans from its capital?
Van Fossen does not try to answer these questions, though there is much grist for an anthropologist’s mill in his descriptions of the takeover of Pacific Islands financial centres by Australian and Asian gambling and money laundering interests, or his revelation that the nearly-successful secession movement in Vanuatu’s Espiritu Santo was backed by US multi-millionaires looking for tax free havens for their wealthy, libertarian friends.
Jean Zorn, CUNY School of Law, Long Island City, USA
LANDSCAPES OF RELATIONS AND BELONGING: Body, Place and Politics in Wogeo, Papua New Guinea. Person, Space and Memory in the Contemporary Pacific, v. 3. By Astrid Anderson. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011. xii, 262 pp. (Tables, maps, figures, photos.) US$95.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-84545-775-4.
The legacy of a prominent ethnographic forebear is an especial burden for an anthropologist conducting fieldwork for a doctoral degree. Ian Hogbin looms large in Astrid Anderson’s monograph, which is based on her dissertation research on the island of Wogeo, off the north coast of Papua New Guinea. Hogbin conducted fieldwork on Wogeo in 1934 and 1948, and his two authoritative books about the island, The Island of Menstruating Men and The Leaders and the Led, had become part of the canon of Melanesian anthropology by the 1980s. Anderson conducted her research in the 1990s, not only on the same island but also based in the same village as Hogbin. She has negotiated the historical engagement well, approaching the inevitable interpretative differences with her predecessor diplomatically and nicely illustrating the degree to which he had become integral in the mythology of the Wogeo themselves.
Her book is divided into four parts. The first is a scene setter prefaced by an origin myth. It describes the island and its people and the important place of Hogbin in Wogeo’s recorded history and contemporary memories. The second discusses bodies, taboos and death, showing the degree to which bodily care is at the same time a nurturing of networks of relations. The male cult famously described by Hogbin is a memory nowadays, but Anderson revisits it to contextualise it with other bodily rituals, and her greater attention to gender aspects provides further insight into the subject of embodiment. The third part focuses on landscape, place, knowledge and leadership, taking the perspective that the social landscape and the geographical landscape are mutually constitutive. The final part draws these themes together in a group of chapters on “the way histories of people, places and kinship can be seen as arguments in an ongoing process of establishing a proper social landscape” (69), which the author calls the politics of belonging.
While more than half a century had passed between Hogbin’s era and Anderson’s fieldwork and much had changed on Wogeo, she has not made the book a study of exclusively “current” issues. Her ethnography draws on that of her predecessor, providing additional information and detail of her own, and deconstructing the contemporary view held by the Wogeo of their own past and kastom. The focal aspect for a reader familiar with Hogbin’s ethnography is the difference in analytic perspective. Hogbin was a functionalist (Radcliffe-Brown, Firth and Malinowski were his main influences) noted for his attention to precise representation. Anderson, for her part, invokes Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and cites Roy Wagner and Marilyn Strathern as inspirational theorists. Her application of Heidegger is actually limited and focussed on his discussion of “dwelling,” which has become popular in recent anthropology concerned with landscape and spatial socialization. Merleau-Ponty is briefly cited in relation to embodiment. The author (like a growing number of others in contemporary anthropology) regards the perspective served by these fragments of the two philosophers’ work as phenomenology. While this modish generalization is surely in need of interrogation, Heidegger’s discussion is well-used here in a series of examples towards the argument that dwelling and experience in the Wogeo landscape are a continuous creation and manifestation of a meaningful world.
The most discernible analytic influence throughout the book is Wagner, and it is his work on symbols that provides the real fuel for the author’s re-reading of Wogeo sociality.
Anderson brings the combined interpretative shifts exemplified by Wagner and Strathern to bear on kinship and relation. She consequently gives a more nuanced account of kinship and relation than Hogbin was able to and, in a particularly strong passage in the book’s last section, expands significantly on his observations on house construction. Here she really does bring together her titular themes of landscapes, relation and belonging, showing for example how the various parts of a house are imbued with meaning: she gives detailed descriptions of how individual rafters are connected to particular pieces of land as they embody histories of the land-holding people who hold rights in them.
Classic Melanesian ethnographies are nowadays often used as little more than an uncritiqued backdrop to contemporary anthropological research on topical development-related issues, as if there were nothing more of value to say about traditional sociality in rapidly changing societies. Worse, they are sometimes dismissed as irrelevant in the face of a concern with local engagement with global processes. In contrast, the reflexive potential of anthropology is demonstrated in this book, which revisits, enhances and improves on the insights of a previous good ethnographer at the same time as it offers new material from a contemporary fieldworker equipped with a different analytic toolkit.
Michael Goddard, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia
CREATING A NATION WITH CLOTH: Women, Wealth, and Tradition in the Tongan Diaspora. ASAO Studies in Pacific Anthropology, v.4. By Ping-Ann Addo. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013. xii, 227 pp. (Figures, tables, maps.) US$95.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-85745-895-7.
Creating a Nation with Cloth provides an excellent insight into how contemporary Tongan women, living far away from their ancestral homelands, experience textile wealth and use it to build up and reinvigorate a network of relationships that spans a huge geographical area. This fourth volume in the series of publications by the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO), is divided into six chapters, preceded by an introduction and completed by a conclusion. The well-written concatenating chapters start with a focus on materiality to move over to the role of women and the financial and identity implications of gifting traditional textile wealth. The book compellingly demonstrates how women, textile wealth and tradition are enmeshed.
The introduction sets out the premises on which the analysis presented in the book is built. Ping-Ann Addo explains how koloa, valuable objects which can comprise barkcloth, fine mats, baskets and coconut oil, are a means for Tongan women to participate in the building of a multiterritorial Tongan nation strewn geographically over New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
In the first chapter entitled “Migration, Tradition, and Barkcloth. Authentic Innovations in Textile Gifts,” the focus lies on the technologies of making barkcloth, including the use of innovative materials in both Tonga and one country of the Diaspora, New Zealand. The concept of “pragmatic creativity” (50) which the author had first introduced in an earlier co-authored publication with Heather Young Leslie (Introduction: Pragmatic Creativity and Authentic Innovations in Pacific Cloth), is applied to account for design and material innovations initiated by commoner Tongan women who in so doing effectively shape their multiterritorial nation. The second chapter, “Gender, Materiality, and Value. Tongan Women’s Cooperatives in New Zealand” turns to the social agency of women in diaspora who make and gift koloa. Addo argues that Tongan commoner women engage creatively with modernity by tapping into financial support opportunities from the government, local councils and arts bodies to create and use objects that are valued culturally. Chapter 3, “Women, Roots, and Routes,” recounts case studies of three Tongan women, tracing how they perform their traditional gender roles as “culture workers” (93) when exchanging koloa. Coined by Patricia Hill Collins (From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism, Temple University Press, 2006), the notion of culture workers reflects, according to Addo, women’s active engagement in the definition of their gender, femininity and position in kin groups and society as a whole. The fourth chapter, “Gender, Kinship, and Economics. Transacting in Prestige and Complex Ceremonial Gifts,” moves away from the materiality of exchanges, to consider the relationship between women’s identity and their kin on the one hand, and ceremonial gift-giving and reciprocation on the other. Consequently the author examines how Tonganness is practiced globally. In section 5, “Cash, Death, and Diaspora. When Koloa Won’t Do,” Ping-Ann Addo chooses the specific case study of a funeral to examine the challenges engendered by exchanging koloa between multiple locations, especially when these valuables are exchanged alongside cash. She concludes that “Money generically bespeaks good Tonganness, but koloa materialises appropriate Tongan womanliness” (165). Finally, chapter 6 looks at the central role of the church in the competitive gift-giving of both cash and koloa. Churches in general, but the mainstream Methodist churches specifically, are channelling the flow of textile and cash wealth by operating as the recipients and the transferors and thus giving Tongans the opportunity to distinguish themselves on a personal level, while also respecting traditions. In her conclusion, Ping-Ann regroups her work around two themes: the movement of people and the movement of things. She also suggests that her own research would be enhanced by studying how dwelling somewhere affects the sense of identity of second-generation Tongans in the Diaspora. It would in a sense contribute to testing her conclusion that the exchange of valuables in this continuous movement of people is effective in providing Tongans a renewed sense of being at home.
Through careful ethnography, the publication articulates the processes at play when large amounts of barkcloth and mats are exchanged and gifted over long distances within the contemporary Tongan ethnoscape. In dealing with the gift-giving activities of contemporary Tongan women, this important study engages in a nuanced way with the theory of the gift in Oceania, and the exchange of textile wealth in particular. Ping-Ann Addo’s work also contributes to the studies of modernity and globalization and Diaspora communities. Her careful analysis teases out the different attitudes and shifts of views towards material culture of commoner and chiefly women in the twenty-first century. To explain these variations, historical events—generally dating no earlier than the nineteenth century when the modern kingdom was being shaped—and sensibilities are taken into account. Regretfully, no attempt was made to unravel the relationship between mats and barkcloth. Are there occasions when fine mats are preferred over barkcloth or vice versa? However, this book adds considerably to the understanding of how material culture works in a contemporary society and how women can bind geographically scattered communities through the movement of these valuable objects, which are the products of female activity.
Fanny Wonu Veys, National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands
ECHOES OF THE TAMBARAN: Masculinity, History and the Subject in the Work of Donald F. Tuzin. Edited by David Lipset and Paul Roscoe. Canberra: ANU E Press, 2011. vii, 317 pp. (Illus., maps.) A$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-921-86245-8.
David Lipset and Paul Roscoe have edited a handsomely produced commemorative volume to honour their Sepik colleague, Don Tuzin, who died in 2007 at the age of 61. Tuzin, whose teaching career was in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, San Diego, had a distinguished research career based on his two field trips among the Arapesh speakers of one of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) largest villages, Ilahita, located in the East Sepik Province. His four books about the villagers, The Ilahita Arapesh: Dimensions of Unity, (1976); The Voice of the Tambaran: Truth and Illusion in Ilahita Arapesh Religion (1980); The Cassowary’s Revenge: The Life and Death of Masculinity in a New Guinea Society, (1997); and Social Complexity in the Making: A Case Study Among the Arapesh of New Guinea, (2001), were each a significant contribution to the anthropological canon.
The fourteen contributors to the volume, all either Tuzin’s colleagues and friends or former graduate students, have written articles that emanate from one of his many intellectual interests. Regarding Tuzin’s interests, the editors note that “driven by methodological individualism and a strong commitment to comparativism, he focused on social control, dreams, politics and art, cannibalism, food symbolism, the psychodynamics of masculinity, the origins of religion, sexuality and childhood”(1). The editors’ introduction includes an incisive account of Tuzin’s cultural background and career and a commentary on the organization and contents of the book. The articles are organized into four rather awkward sections but, concerning Tuzin’s myriad interests and the occasional contributors’ oblique connection to his work, I can appreciate the editor’s planning challenge. As usual for a festschrift, the articles vary greatly in organization and style. Several of the articles, e.g., Roscoe, Lipset, and Gregor, while extolling Tuzin’s research, examine aspects of his work and offer different interpretations or explanations.
Section 1 is titled, “History, Masculinity and Melanesia,” with articles by Paul Roscoe, Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, David Lipset and Bruce M. Knauft. My comments regarding the papers in this section, as in the others, are by necessity brief and, unfortunately, cannot convey the theoretical and ethnographic complexities that make the book a compelling read, at least for a fellow New Guineaist. Roscoe, who worked among the Boikin, also located in the East Sepik Province, takes exception to Tuzin’s explanation for the formation of Ilahita’s large population. While Tuzin posits a prehistoric migrational hypothesis to explain its size, Roscoe makes a strong case for its enormity due to natural population growth because of its desirable ecological condition.
Tuzin’s third book is a dramatic exposition of the collapse of Ilahita’s culturally dominant male initiation cult and its negative impact on male-female relations. Hauser-Schäublin worked among the neighbouring Abelam who similarly abandoned their hegemonic male initiation cult. She creatively implements the detailed analogy of an ordinary Abelam string bag to understand this radical cultural transformation. Lipset’s fieldwork is with the Murik Lakes people, another East Sepik Province, located near the mouth of the great Sepik River. Using Jacques Lacan’s concept of the phallus as a symbol of symbols, Lipset examines the fate of ritual masculinity among the Murik people in terms of the Gaingiin male age-graded society and its improvised cultural changes in contrast to wholesale cult abandonment. Knauft’s paper centres on PNG’s Highlands and his work with the Gebusi of the Western Province. Taking a broad view of the cultural meaning of masculinity through time, he finds that its permutations are unpredictable, noting that the Gebusi, who relinquished their male initiation, longhouse and traditional dancing, have revived them.
The authors in section 2, “Culture, the Agent and Tuzin’s Methodological Individualism,” are Kevin Birth, Don Gardner, Stephen C. Leavitt and Joel Robbins. Birth, a Caribbeanist with fieldwork in Trinidad and Tuzin’s former student, examines the “uncanny” in Tuzin’s work as informed by the ideas of Charles Morris, Giambbattista Vico and Susanne Langer, and its important ontological and epistemological implications. Like Birth, Gardner is interested in the scholarly ideas that helped shape Tuzin’s research, especially Karl Popper’s “methodological individualism,” that Tuzin acquired from his Australian National University professor, Derek Freeman, a life-long friend. (It is a testament to Tuzin’s interpersonal skills that it was Margaret Mead, not Freeman, who wrote the introduction to his first book.) Leavitt, another of Tuzin’s graduate students, did fieldwork with the Bumbita Arapesh, a group bordering the Ilahita Arapesh. Leavitt uses his data from a male informant recalling childhood experiences to explicate Tuzin’s view that culture arises from the possibilities of individual action and subjectivity. Robbins, using data from his fieldwork with the Urapmin of PNG’s West Sepik Province, contrasts his holist approach to the study of society to Tuzin’s methodological individualism.
“Comparativism, Psychoanalysis and the Subject” locates the papers in section 3 authored by Michele Stephen, Karen J. Brison, Thomas A. Gregor and Gilbert Herdt. Stephen advances Melanie Klein’s psychoanalytic importance of the mother image in personal development and adjustment. She uses her fieldwork in Bali to amplify her views with an extensive analysis of the performed monsters, Barong and Rangda. Brison, another former Tuzin graduate student, later worked in Fiji where she compared play in rural and urban school children, the focus of the present essay, and their take on hierarchy and equality. Gregor’s paper plumbs the problem of the ritualized cruelties inflicted on young male initiates that Tuzin characterized as “cultural addictions.” Gregor takes exception to this view, citing the “ego-dystonic nature of the cults” and the “moral ambivalence” of some members that can facilitate their collapse. Herdt studied the ritualized male homosexual initiation cult among the Sambia in PNG’s Eastern Highlands Province. His paper is concerned with the men’s secrecy in their “harnessing of sexual speech” and the related notions of both Freud and Foucault.
Section 4, “Style,” contains essays by Alexander H. Bolyanatz and Diane Losche. Bolyanatz, who did graduate research in New Ireland under Tuzin’s supervision, focuses his paper on Tuzin’s gracious and courteous style as a fieldworker, then reflects on his own fieldwork style and the handling of doubtful cultural disclosures. The final paper is by Losche, who worked in the Abelam-speaking village of Apangai a few miles from Ilahita. She compares the rhetorical styles of Tuzin and Margaret Mead, showing how each adopted a magisterial and authoritative voice in an initial cultural account only to shift to a more nuanced and uncertain voice in a later work about the same people.
The editors conclude with Tuzin’s complete bibliography. In this otherwise exemplary 317-page volume, it is notably missing an index and, inexcusably, identifying notes on the fourteen contributors.
William E. Mitchell, University of Vermont, Burlington, USA
ISLANDS OF LOVE, ISLANDS OF RISK: Culture and HIV in the Trobriands. By Katherine Lepani. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2012. xiii, 241 pp. (Figures, maps, photos.) US$34.95. ISBN 978-0-8265-1875-0.
The Trobriand Islands were once described by Annette Weiner as “one of the most sacred places in ethnography” (13). Trobriand Islanders figured centrally in the classic works of Bronislaw Malinowski, who held them up as exemplars of “primitive man” in mirrored opposition to Western society. The irony is that the Trobriand culture differs in significant ways from other parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG): the institution of paramount chiefs, an unusually rich tradition of magic and mysticism, elaborate memorial ceremonies dominated by massive exchanges of banana leaf bundles and skirts between women, and a remarkably positive attitude towards pre-marital sex, among other things. Paradoxically, the cultural extremes of Trobriand society may make it a better candidate for the examination of comparative issues than other more “normal” Melanesian societies. Regardless, for almost a century, the Trobriands have inspired some of the most sophisticated and influential ethnography—while triggering equally fierce debates—in the anthropological canon. Katherine Lepani’s superb new book very much follows in this august tradition.
Islands of Love, Islands of Risk deals with topics at once new and familiar. It is primarily a study of how Trobrianders have understood and responded to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly to outside interventions intended to educate and protect the population. The Papua New Guinea (PNG) population as a whole has exceptionally high infection rates for sexual transmitted disease and is thus highly vulnerable to HIV. Given the inadequacies of the medical system in remote rural areas, estimates of how many people in the Trobriands have HIV are “highly speculative.” In contrast, the “discursive presence” of HIV/AIDS is pervasive due to effective awareness campaigns, particularly the village birth attendants program, which reaches most women of child bearing age at the village level (31). Drawing upon ethnographic observation as well as individual and group interviews in 23 villages across four of the six Trobriand Islands, Lepani provides the first full-length monograph examining both the execution and reception of HIV/AIDS interventions and information campaigns in a rural Papua New Guinea community.
Making sense of how Trobrianders have responded to HIV takes Lepani into territory first explored by Malinowski in Sex and Repressions in Savage Society (1927) as well as Weiner’s feminist reappraisal of the 1970s and more recent writings on gender and relational personhood. The depth of the ethnographic record allows an unusual degree of insight into how gender roles and sexual practices have changed over the past century. (Remarkably little!) She provides a particularly revealing review of the long history of government interventions in response to sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the Trobriands, dating back to the establishment of a venereal treatment clinic in 1905. Lepani’s main concern, however, is the ethnographic present of 2000-03. She writes a fine-grained account of gendered agency through the life cycle, moving from the considerable sexual freedom of youth through the complementary responsibilities of women and men in birth and child rearing and the multifold exchanges that constitute the reproduction of clan-based personhood. Lepani’s sensitive description of Trobriand attitudes towards sex, however, will no doubt attract the most interest. Trobriand sexual culture, she notes, is unique in PNG in terms of the enthusiastic validation of premarital sex with multiple partners (102). Yet Trobriand sexual practices and desires are very much cultural productions: regulated in terms of how partners are selected as well as the essential roles played by love magic and exchanges. “Young people,” she observes, “represent their sexual freedom as a process of decision making that involves careful discernment and studied selection, not careless abandon” (127).
Given such cultural orientations, Trobriand Islanders have been unusually receptive to certain aspects of HIV/AIDS awareness and medical interventions. Unlike elsewhere in PNG, they do not attribute the pandemic to a vengeful Christian God; and from the paramount chief on down there is a general acceptance of the need to use condoms to protect oneself from STIs. While multi-partnering in general and a growing trend of older married men bribing young women for sex leaves the Trobriand population increasingly vulnerable, Lepani finds hope that those affiliated with AIDS in the future will find compassionate care within their extended families. For the most part, however, she documents mismatches between the intentions of HIV interventions and the local reception. To some degree, these are practical. Boxes of condoms often sit locked up in government offices until they become useless because officials are awaiting permission or lack access to networks to distribute them, for instance. At a deeper level, however, there is an ontological divide between the Western understanding of disease vectors through individual behaviour and the Trobriand conception of serious illnesses and accidents as the consequences of moral breaches of collective morality—an understanding that, for now, places the invisible but highly dangerous condition of HIV infection into the class of sovasova, chronic illness resulting from clan incest. At a more fundamental level, there is a serious mismatch between the moral assumptions of HIV awareness discourses that portray sex as dangerous and an individual responsibility and a culture which celebrates sex in the context of collective well-being. The running theme of the book is that a truly effective HIV intervention must be built upon “a foundation of respect for both the commonality and diversity of human sexual desire and experience” (133). She demonstrates just how challenging this is to accomplish even with the best intentions.
Lepani brings a quiet authority to this complex study. She has long experience with HIV awareness campaigns and was the principal author of the National HIV Prevention Strategy in PNG. She is also a member, through marriage, of the Trobriand community. While addressing a dark and difficult topic, the ethnography presents a positive, compassionate and intimate portrait of contemporary life in the Trobriands. Drawing effectively on personal vignettes, the text is wonderfully evocative, accessible and engaging. It is an important book that will be of considerable interest to specialists studying cultural responses to HIV around the world. Yet it is at the same time an engaging introduction to a contemporary Melanesian society that I enthusiastically recommend for undergraduate teaching.
John Barker, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
DOCUMENTARY FILM REVIEWED
THE WORLD BEFORE HER. Written and directed by Nisha Pahuja; producers: Ed Barreveld, Cornelia Principe, Nisha Pahuja; editor, David Kazala; original music, Ken Myhr. Toronto: Storyline Entertainment; Distributed by KinoSmith, 2012. 1 DVD (90 mins.) C$150.00, Educational Use; C$23.98, Home Use. In Hindi and English with English subtitles. Url: www.worldbeforeher.com. Url: www.kinosmith.com.
This self-assured documentary by Toronto-based filmmaker Nisha Pahuja alternates between the run-up to the popular Indian magazine Femina’s Miss India beauty pageant (2011), showing the hopes and aspirations of the girls taking part in Bombay, and the annual training camps of the Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the largest Hindu nationalist group in India who have an altogether different idea of what it means to be a woman in India today.
Those who do not know India well tend to see Hinduism as a relatively non-violent and tolerant religion. But one of the strengths of the film is that with rare access to the Durga Vahini, we see women and young girls being trained to take up arms and defend Hinduism against Christians and Muslims who are seen as infidels.
As the Miss India contestants are botoxed and have their skin bleached they talk about a passport to a new kind of freedom and progress for themselves (with the implication that this applies generally to women in India). In the speeches they practice for the “big night” they learn how to champion social causes without being too political.
Meanwhile the girls at the Durga Vahini are being told that it is a woman’s duty to bear children and that they should be married by the age of 18. Durga Vahini opposed the Miss World contest which took place in India in 1996 and we see archive footage of widespread street protests against the “Americanization” of attitudes to women.
The Durga Vahini trainers tell their girls that they should be anti-ego and anti-career while Ruhi, one of the Miss India contestants, proudly proclaims she is being transformed from a “person into a personality,” a desire underwritten by a drive for individual success and career.
There is much to commend this film. It is a non-judgemental portrayal of an alternating succession of scenes which present two Indias that could broadly be described in terms of capitalism versus fundamentalism, tradition versus modernity. But herein lies the problem of the film. Perhaps because of this alternating structure, a perception develops that these worlds are being portrayed as being diametrically opposed to each other. Anyone who knows about contemporary India and party politics will know, for example, that the Hindu fundamentalist Narendra Modi, running for prime minister at the time we are writing, is India’s strongest proponent of Western neoliberal development, American-style presidential campaigns and the cult of the personality.
The alternation of the scenes eventually becomes monotonous, as there is no intrinsic development to push each narrative forward apart from the revelation of who will win the beauty pageant. But we are not given the opportunity to care enough about any of the contestants for it to really matter to us as an audience. Ultimately the film is about exposition as opposed to explanation or analysis. “Look, these are the two faces of India,” it seems to cry out. But what more? Are we to believe that these two strands of women’s experience represent the spectrum of what it is like to be a woman in India today? The film scrapes the surface of a huge range of issues around what it is like being a woman in India today but frustrates us by not enabling us to enter them in more depth.
Though presented as a clash of values, reading between the lines we realize that in fact both attitudes to women—Miss India or Miss Militant—are underpinned by a perspective which sees women as “the second sex.” Perhaps one of the most shocking and enduring of images is that of the beauty contestants parading up and down Goa’s Baga beach, with their heads masked in white sheets with holes cut for their eyes like the Ku Klux Clan members, so that the leering male judges are not distracted while rating their legs. Whether they are being encouraged to use their beauty to have power or women are brandishing their swords to gain power, ultimately in both these cases it is at the service of patriarchal values. Patriarchy is alive and kicking in India.
Though it is the beauty pageant contestants who see the contest as a way to freedom from the limitations placed on their lives by patriarchy, in fact the most subversive, complex and fascinating character of the film—one who could be the focus of a film in her own right—is Prachi, a volunteer at the Durga Vahini camp. She embodies nearly all of what it is like to grow up as a young woman with a fiercely independent mind, desperately seeking a route out, amidst all the pressures of Indian patriarchy. Early in the film she states that she wishes that she had not been born neither as a girl nor a boy. She rejects her parents’ wish for her to get married yet respects her father for disciplining her with a red hot iron rod when she was young. She is deeply troubled, living with all the contradictions and complexities that come from being an independent-thinking female caught in a deeply patriarchal society. And despite her claim that she would use violence to defend her religion she is the one character in the film with whom we can build empathy. It is definitely a film that should be watched by anyone interested in women in India today.
Simon Chambers, Independent Documentary Film Maker
Alpa Shah, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom