China and Inner Asia
Australasia and the Pacific Islands
DOCUMENTARY FILMS REVIEWED
Wild Rose [Ye Meigui] 1932. Producer, Luo Ming You; director, Sun Yu; cinematography, Yu Sheng San; music, Donald Sosin; DVD producer and writer, Richard J. Meyer; translation, Mahlon D. Meyer. Reviewed by Chris Berry
RETURN: Nationalizing Transnational Mobility in Asia. Xiang Biao, Brenda S.A. Yeoh, and Mika Toyota, editors. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013. vii, 208 pp. (Figures.) US$23.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5531-1.
Often when considering migration, we focus on the outward journey, or the landed experience: getting there, or being there. Seldom do we focus on the return. Yet return is an important feature of migration in the transnational world, and especially in Asia, which, as D.H. Seol and J. Skrentny (International Labor Migration Review, vol. 43 (3): 578–620, Fall 2009) have argued, is much more likely to host temporary migration flows than Europe. As Xiang Biao himself notes, “transnational circulation in Asia serves as a (national) method of migration regulation” (3). He and his co-editors, Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Mika Toyota, have put together a collection of exceptionally well-written essays on return migration in Asia, examining it as a goal of the state, as well as part of the imaginary of migrants themselves. Forced returns after financial crises, compulsory returns of labour migrants, returns of refugees or trafficked people, reverse flows of professionals are all considered. These chapters illustrate how the notion of return changes over history, in the minds of the migrants as well as in the projects of the state.
The first three chapters take up historical migrations. Koji Sasaki writes on the question of return since 1990 for Japanese who had migrated to Brazil from 1908, Mariko Tamanoi discusses the staggered and delayed return of Japanese soldiers and POWs after World War II, and Wang Cangbai relates the differential receptions in the People’s Republic of China of overseas-born Chinese (“Guiquiao”) from the 1950s to the late 1970s. We can feel the reverberations of Asian nations’ entwined histories throughout these accounts. For the Japanese Brazilians, emigration that began in the early 1900s as Japan pushed out excess population, ended up in reverse temporary migration of over 300,000 in the 1990s as Nikkei-Brazilians were beckoned back as labour migrants. This scheme then soured with the 2008 financial crisis. Sasaki’s finely detailed chapter, based on archival accounts, reminds us of changing meanings of mobility for Nikkei Brazilians while underlining the role of the nation in facilitating and regulating this mobility over history. In Wang’s fascinating account, we can sympathize with the guiqiao as they return to mainland China full of the anticipation of nation-building, but become increasingly disillusioned through government campaigns that render them as class enemies. Wang reports that in the decade after China re-opened its borders, some 250,000 returnees migrated to Macao and Hong Kong, partly so that their descendents would not suffer from class discrimination.
The remaining five chapters focus on return migration in current globalization. In chapter 4, Xiang Biao examines compulsory return as evidenced in migrant labour schemes of Singapore, Korea and Japan. Recruitment agents, employers and states create systems of temporary labour through bilateral agreements. The return of the workers is enforced legally through visa regulations but also illegally by the policing actions of informal employer networks. Ultimately, even if the state does not institutionalize draconian measures of surveillance, the system is set up such that employers and agents impose constraints on workers to assure that they will return at contract’s end. Hence, systems of temporary labour facilitate human rights violations. Interestingly Xiang points out that the fear of overstayers has meant that a primary goal of the whole system of temporary migration has become one of co-opting that possibility. Xiang does not suggest a way out of this mess.
In chapter 5, Sylvia Cowan tells the story of Cambodian refugees who left for the US from the 1970s. Some of the younger generation committed crimes and were deported “back” to a Cambodia of which they remembered next to nothing. Initially displaced because of US military actions in Indochina, and again displaced by the US justice system, she notes, they are expelled as aliens essentially for circumstances that were the result of US government policy that relocated them in marginal urban neighbourhoods. Cowen points out that the Iraq war has spawned a new group of poor and displaced refugees. Her query of whether these people’s children will be the next cohort to suffer expulsion rings in our ears.
Johan Lindquist analyzes Indonesians and return in chapter 6 through the lens of three projects: a deportee program, a documentary film on trafficking, and a counter-trafficking program. We can easily see how governments and NGOs alike focus on organized deportation or rescue and return, but as long as the underlying conditions that propel people to migrate are not ameliorated, return is hardly a solution. Lindquist clearly points out the absurdity of these processes. The author’s last comment in the chapter demands our attention as he points to the necessity of looking beyond the “trafficked victim” to ask ultimately about freedom of mobility and labour rights.
The return from the West of Bangalore’s hi-tech migrants is the topic of Carol Upahdya’s chapter. Facilitated by strong state policy that beckons these professionals back, as well as by the desire on the part of the migrants to contribute to India’s further development, it is a highly orchestrated sort of return, with the migrants expecting to make their contributions to the homeland while enjoying the lifestyle of affluent global cosmopolitans. Upahdya discusses some of the attempts of returnees to bring social remittances such as “modes of respectable living and civil life” from the West. Whether India will become the nation of their imaginations—that hybrid of global comforts with an Indian flare—remains a question.
In the final chapter, M.C. Lu and Shin HJ discuss the case of ethnic Korean return to South Korea, arguing that there was a divide in state policy between ethnic Koreans in developing countries and developed countries, a kind of “Hierarchical Nationhood”(170). In the post-1997 financial crisis, many Chinese of Korean ethnicity were deported to China and repatriated, but eventually, through protest movements, their return was ensured. They note, “The notion of return has to remain ambiguous in order to accommodate the contradictions between ethno-nationalism, civic nationalism, and economic rationality”(175).
In sum, this volume offers highly readable, provocative critical analyses of return migration that force us to consider how it is regulated, and at what costs. It will be valuable for anyone interested in the complexities of return migration in Asia.
Glenda S. Roberts, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan
ARCHITECTS OF GROWTH?: Sub-national Governments and Industrialization in Asia. Edited by Francis E. Hutchinson. Singapore: ISEAS, 2014. xxv, 399 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$49.90, paper. ISBN 978-9-814414-53-1.
Architects of Growth is essentially a collection of ten case studies on the nature and role of provincial or state governments in growing and nurturing electronics hardware manufacturing across a range of countries in Southeast Asia. The region is well known as a hub for high technology manufacturing and within it the electronics industry.
In fact the sector has been very important for the catch-up of these industrializing countries. Three of these countries—namely China, Korea and Taiwan—have indeed become world leaders in the design, manufacture and sale of various electronics products such as telecommunications equipment, semiconductors and notebook and tablet computers. It is also well documented that the governments of these countries did play an important part in shaping the trajectory of this technology-intensive industry, which is prone to various sorts of market failures. In fact even in advanced countries such as in the United States and Japan, the state had an important role in promoting the growth of the electronics industry. However in the literature the role of the state is very often equated with the central or national government. But in more ways than one the sub-national governments, especially at the level of states or provinces, also do have a strong and important role to play. The role manifests itself in two broad ways. First the state itself directly embarks on the manufacture of these products by setting up state-owned undertakings and second, the state providing the necessary incentives, usually fiscal, for the product to be manufactured by the private sector. It is this multifaceted role of the state that is analyzed by the collection of case studies in the book and given the fact that the role of sub-national entities is very rarely discussed or understood, the book under review is a welcome addition to the literature on decentralization, which so far has been preoccupied mainly with governance issues and not commodity producing ones.
The book is structured into 13 chapters of which ten are case studies that constitute the core of the book. The case studies are grouped into three categories, namely: on the basis of geographical location of the countries, size of the economies and according to the degree of industrialization in a mutually exclusive fashion. In fact the use of multiple criteria to situate the cases limits to some extent the comparative picture that the cases are supposed to throw light on. The first set of cases is four Southeast Asian countries: the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, all in different stages of development as far as electronics manufacturing is concerned. The second set focuses on two large countries: China and India, and the third set consists of four cases of industrialized countries: Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands. Here the inclusion of both Singapore and the Netherlands is likely to raise some eyebrows. The concept of sub-nationalism may not at all apply to Singapore and the Netherlands is not an Asian country and hence one does not find sufficient justification for its inclusion especially given the fact that the book focuses on the role of sub-national governments in promoting industrialization through the diffusion of the electronics industry in Asia. Although the case that the author discusses, North Brabant province, is important for high technology development within the Netherlands, the role of the national government too was equally relevant. As important is the location of a leading electronics MNC in that region which would have spawned in any case a cluster of electronic component suppliers. The cases do not adopt a common theoretical framework and hence the results of the individual cases are not easily comparable despite the heroic attempt made in the concluding chapter to draw out lessons from their role in promoting industrialization. This is because the chapters are edited versions of a conference organized in 2011. The absence of a common framework does indeed limit the usefulness of this otherwise laudable project on an underexplored but important theme. However without any doubt the book places on the table the growing importance of sub-national entities at a time when all economies are globalizing and even the importance of national-level policies for industrialization has come under some strain.
The most refreshing aspect of the book is the central question that the editor raises, namely the extent to which sub-national governments design and implement policies to address needs regarding their industrial sectors. The ten case studies do provide enough evidence to the effect that they do, and in that process earn the title of being architects of growth. This central question is then followed by three sub-questions: (1) when do sub-national governments take on the role of architects?; (2) to what extent can they become the prime drivers of industrialization; and (3) which of the strategies and policy measures that are available to them are productive, and under what conditions? These are then answered through the case studies although there is considerable variation in the clarity with which these are dealt with in the successive case studies.
An important but interesting issue that is under-explored in the case studies is the extent to which the sub-national entities across the range of country cases have actually used fiscal incentives of various sorts (notably tax concessions) to attract FDI and through that process industrialization. In fact this incentive-induced industrialization has led to a competition of sorts between the sub-national entities to attract large FDI projects. The belief was that this would accentuate the creation of additional employment in the local economy. The fact that almost all these countries have experienced “jobless growth” (defined as rate of growth of industrial employment being at a much slower rate than the rate of growth of GDP) has diminished one’s faith in this type of industrialization. There are, of course, well-known exceptions to this where provincial governments have successfully used policies to raise both employment growth in tandem with overall rate of growth of GDP. It is in this context that one can appreciate the North Brabant case, although commentators familiar with the Netherlands may consider the province of Limburg to be a better case of transformation. Although there are discussions of linkages (horizontal and vertical), the discussion of it is rather skimpy across the cases.
That said the book is stimulating and readable and a systematic appreciation of it can lead to the emergence of research on the welfare implications of incentive-induced industrialization at the sub-national level.
Sunil Mani, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, India
This well-organized book assesses China’s military, infrastructure and commercial assistance to its ally, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea (DK). Chapter 1 offers a succinct overview of China’s relations with DK. Chapter 2 describes in detail the Khmer Rouge bureaucracy, informing the reader that authority relations in DK were constantly in flux and that specific responsibilities of an individual or office were based on the trust of the system’s top members: Pol Pot or his chief lieutenants. We also learn that while commercial functions were controlled from top-down, the Kampong Som petroleum refinery project was a decentralized policy area which came under the purview of the local zone commander. Chapter 3 explains the bureaucratic structure and process of Chinese assistance to DK, giving the Kampong Som case as illustration.
The book’s central argument, that China’s aid provision bought it little influence in DK due to bureaucratic fragmentation in China combined with an institutional matrix in Cambodia either strong enough or too weak to resist Chinese demands, are expanded upon in chapters 4, 5 and 6. Chapter 4 deals with Chinese military assistance to DK, the argument here being Chinese influence was curtailed due to the strength of the DK military. Chapter 5 addresses the Kampong Som project, in which it is maintained that Chinese investments brought even smaller returns because of the fragmentation of Chinese bureaucracies. Chapter 6 takes up the issue of Chinese assistance to DK’s international trade and commerce. The seventh and last chapter attempts to extend the study to present-day policy making by Chinese bureaucracies.
The author refers to the military airfield complex of Krang Leav as an unqualified success of Chinese infrastructure aid to DK. As such, it is all the more curious for Mertha to assert that, “even if China wanted to, it was unable to influence DK in implementation of policy” (97). More likely, by not insisting that radar stations or the military airfield be sited near the coast or the Thai border, China had given way to DK’s military concerns and priorities, particularly in helping to construct Krang Leav near the border with Vietnam, although the Chinese had initial qualms about appearing provocative to the Vietnamese (84–85). Of the three cases, only Kampong Som could really be considered a failure. Although Mertha argued that a major problem was that the Chinese institutions involved were fragmented into overlapping jurisdictions and organizational mandates, and incapable of effective planning and coordination with numerous contracting and subcontracting parties and agencies, he stressed no less that the mass killing of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge authorities and its fratricidal purges largely deprived the country of skilled personnel to handle the tasks assigned to them by the Chinese. In the case of trade, while the Chinese bureaucracies were said to have clear functional delineations of responsibility without the need to rely on “a constellation of subordinate units” (125), the DK Ministry of Commerce was described as “institutionally complex and fragmented” (120), yet had enough influence with the top leadership to function as a trading unit.
The central question of the book is: “Why was a powerful state like China unable to influence its far weaker and ostensibly dependent client state”(3)? Mertha refers to Sophie Richardson’s China, Cambodia and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009) in which she argued that Beijing subordinated its own interests to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and their domestic priorities, but then brushes her argument aside. Perhaps Mertha could have entertained the notion that China was not so much unable, but rather unwilling, to assert influence over Cambodia, particularly on issues that were not the priorities of the leadership of either China or Cambodia. While defense and trade were vital to the survival of DK as China’s client state, “the Chinese-retrofitted Kampong Som oil refinery would have made DK reliant on crude oil from China” (99), and the Pol Pot leadership was obsessed with achieving self-sufficiency.
The period that the Khmer Rouge was in power, from April 1975 to the end of 1978, witnessed tumultuous changes in Chinese politics, with the purge of Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping, death of Premier Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao Zedong, arrest of the leftist “Gang of Four” faction, succession by Hua Guofeng to Mao’s position, and the return to power of Deng and his setting aside of Mao’s autarkic economic policy in favour of reform and opening. As such, the analysis should have been extended from the bureaucratic fragmentation hypothesis to investigate whether changes or instabilities in the leaderships of the various ministries, bureaus, institutes or agencies on the Chinese side might have affected their relationships with the DK authorities or their operations in Cambodia.
The author’s use of bureaucratic fragmentation in a previous work to shed light on the politics and policy making of hydroelectric dam constructions in China—where energy bureaucracies are jealous guardians of their own turfs—may be more straightforward than its application for this study, which deals with more than just one country or one issue. Furthermore, the bureaucratic fragmentation argument was never explicitly made for the Cambodian side regarding the failure of Chinese aid projects, although patron-client networks of zone commanders in DK were cited as central to cadres’ decision making (12). Elsewhere, Mertha mentioned the youth of (often teenage) project managers and the political purges in Cambodia (69), and the technical and administrative shortcomings of Cambodian personnel and institutions (57). These were certainly hindrances to the projects, but hardly attributable to institutional failures of fragmented bureaucracies.
The author’s thesis thus leaves much room for debate, particularly since it relies on three case findings that only partially confirm it. Nonetheless, the study is a product of painstaking field work, thorough research and plausible theoretical inference. This reviewer recommends the book to both experts and laymen alike for its insights on Sino-Cambodian relations and China’s aid to developing countries.
Chien-peng Chung, Lingnan University, Hong Kong SAR, China
Until recently, very few foreign researchers had succeeded in getting long-term access to the field in China, Vietnam and Laos. The situation began to improve after the three socialist countries started to open up to foreign investors, tourists and, to a lesser extent, NGOs, in the wake of “economic liberalization” (first in China in the early 1980s, followed by Vietnam and Laos in the late 1980s). Nevertheless, bureaucratic obstacles and political surveillance are still very much prevalent in these centralized authoritarian regimes. Access to the field is furthermore complicated by the fact that all the contributors in this volume have conducted research with ethnic minority groups inhabiting the upland areas of China, Vietnam and Laos, where government concerns for “national security” and suspicion towards foreign researchers are especially heightened. This rich collection of essays offers insightful and candid accounts of these anthropologists’ and geographers’ fieldwork challenges and dilemmas, as experienced to varying degrees and in various ways prior to their access to, and during their sojourns in, “the field” in upland socialist Asia.
Sarah Turner articulates in her introduction the core themes that traverse the analyses of each contribution, reflecting on the researcher’s positionality and reflexivity, and gatekeepers that provide (or hinder) access to key resources, as well as on ethical dilemmas that unavoidably arise in such controlled, yet shifting, environments. In chapter 2, Jean Michaud provides a useful timeline and background to the communist ideology and national priorities (i.e., integration in the mainstream/majority culture and society) that have driven state policy regarding ethnic minorities in the three socialist countries.
The twelve subsequent chapters engage with a wide array of experiences relating to long-term and repeated fieldwork. An experience commonly shared by several authors was their convoluted path to getting fieldwork research permits (i.e., “red stamps”) and their tangled interactions with state bureaucracy and Party officials (chapters 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13). Their pre-field preparations were at times remarkably informal in such a top-down and seemingly rigid system: they might involve a good measure of (mandatory) sociability (e.g., dinner parties and drinking sessions), unplanned expenses (small “gifts” and other “fees”), and compromises (through self-censorship and “revised” research proposals). Jennifer Sowerwine and Pierre Petit, in their essays (chapters 6 and 8), offer a frank description of these awkward situations. Petit saw in these multi-tier dealings and multiple interactions with officials in Laos an opportunity to study the state in “its daily practices” (162). This allowed him to demystify the image of the state as a separate entity shadowing the society and to establish relationships based on trust with state and Party officials embedded in the “real life” of the state beyond ideology.
It is trust that convinces some gatekeepers (at every administrative level) to facilitate the researcher’s access to, and prolonged visits to, his/her field site. For a few authors, equally crucial to the issuance of “red stamps” was the support of a powerful patron (Petit, chapter 8; Sturgeon, chapter 10; Henrion-Dourcy, chapter 11). Social skills and networks, cultural sensitivity and patience may not be sufficient, though; some amount of luck as well can be a determining factor in improving one’s fieldwork research prospects (McAllister, chapter 9; Salemink, chapter 13). Strategies to gain access to the field were therefore diverse and often had to contend with a fair amount of unpredictability that the researchers tried to mitigate with their own aptitude for flexibility and resilience.
Several contributors in the volume also reflect on their positionality in the field (though male contributors seem relatively less reflective about their gender). Candice Cornet, who carries out her PhD field research in a village in southwest China, first as a pregnant woman, then as a mother, is refreshingly open about her anxieties, doubts and shortcomings, but also the unforeseen possibilities (chapter 5). Jennifer Sowerwine was deeply conscious of her identity as an American citizen, which influenced her conduct in her field site in Vietnam. Magnus Fiskejö with humour and insight recounts his endeavours to lessen the Wa villagers’ perception of himself as a Grax, or “the Other” (chapter 4). This was achieved through humility, respect, improved language skills and participant observation (including “participant intoxication”). Cultural immersion creates complicity and a sense of shared solidarity with the local people towards external actors (especially the state and the Party), as finely analyzed by Stéphane Gros in his interactions with the Drung people in the Drung valley in Yunnan province (chapter 3) and experienced by Christine Bonnin with Hmong women in Sa Pa in Northern Vietnam (chapter 7). Bonnin in her contribution raises the important issues of emotions (i.e., anger in her case) and engagement in the field.
Oscar Salemink, Steven Harrell and Li Xingxing tackle head-on these issues in the third and final section of the book; having carried out their research fieldwork many years ago, they willingly share their experiences of engaged anthropology (Salemink) and emotional attachment (Harrell and Li). Their remembrances in a way work in counterpoint to the reflections of their younger colleagues. Will the latter be as intimate and bracingly honest (as Harrell’s confessional narrative) in remembering their fieldwork in a few decades’ time with the benefit of hindsight? In spite of (or because of) the manifold obstacles, their narratives are all success stories; they have overcome adversity. Yet, there is room for reflection on unsuccessful, or less rewarding, fieldwork experiences that could shed a more intense light on a even messier reality. The interviews of Vic and Chloe, two research assistants (to Christine Bonnin and Candice Cornet, respectively), by Sarah Turner in chapter 12 provide glimpses of this. Nevertheless, Red Stamps and Gold Stars should be read by students in anthropology and of socialism in Southeast Asia, as well as anyone who is planning to embark on challenging research fieldwork. This volume will help guide their conduct in “the field” and inspire them to persevere.
Vatthana Pholsena, National University of Singapore, Singapore
ENCOUNTERING MODERNITY: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America. Edited by Albert L. Park and David K. Yoo. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014. viii, 342 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$42.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3947-5.
If there were a law against misleading advertising in book titles, Albert L. Park and David K. Yoo would be in serious trouble. The collection of eleven interesting and enlightening articles they brought together under the title “Encountering Modernity: Christianity in East Asia and Asian America” should have been sub-titled “Protestant Christianity in East Asia and Asian America.” You would not know from the authors in this volume that there are approximately as many Catholics in Japan as there are Protestants, or that the fastest growing religious community in Korea is the Roman Catholic community. And the existence of over 20 million Catholics in China is hardly mentioned at all. This is a book about Protestant Christianity in China, Korea and Japan, as well as among Koreans and Taiwanese in North America, and should have described itself as such.
Moreover, even though there is much a reader can learn about Protestant Christianity in modern East Asian history from the chapters collected here, this volume suffers from a fault shared by many such collections of chapters by different scholars: the authors do not appear to be talking to each other or even to be addressing the same issues.
For example, there is only one article about Taiwan. In Carolyn Chen’s discussion of Taiwanese who have become Protestant Christians after they immigrated to the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, we learn that they became Christians because churches replace the extended families they left behind in Taiwan. However, neither in this or the other ten chapters is there any discussion of Christianity in Taiwan itself.
The only other chapter on Asian Americans is David Yoo’s account of Koreans in the US in the first half of the twentieth century, when Korea was under Japanese rule. He persuasively argues for a close connection between Protestant Christianity and nationalism for that small group of overseas Koreans. However, not only do Chen and Yoo deal with totally different time periods, no other chapters provide any help for readers who would like to place pre-World War II Koreans and post-World War II Taiwanese into the broader context of religion among Asian immigrant groups in North America in the twentieth century. No attention is paid to Japanese-American Christians, for example, or to Christianity among Chinese-Americans who are not from Taiwan (except for a brief discussion by David Ownby of Chinese Christians in the US trying to promote Christianity back in China).
Of the remaining nine chapters, four focus on Korea, three on Japan, and two on China. Three of the Korea chapters deal with Korea just before and during Japanese colonial rule, though none of those chapters specifically address the relationship between Korean Christians in Korea and Korean Christians in the US at that time. All three of those chapters specifically deal with the relationship between Protestant Christianity and the modernization of Korea. Yunjae Park relates the early history of Severance Hospital, the first major institution of Western medicine in Korea. In her chapter, Koreans are mostly absent since she focuses on the contributions of Western missionaries to Korea’s transformation. Albert Park and Kyusik Chang, on the other hand, focus on Korean Christians and their attempts to create a modern Korean economy and society via Christian institutions. Park shows how Western missionaries worked with their Korean counterparts to train young Koreans in the technical skills needed for a modern industrial economy. Chang explains how Cho Man-sik used the YMCA in P’yŏngyang as well as the Korean Production Movement to carve out space for Korean autonomy under Japanese colonial rule.
The fourth chapter on Korea has an entirely different subject. Eun Young Lee Easly jumps into a Korea free from Japanese rule with an analysis of two generations of Korean mega-churches, arguing that they both promise to show believers how to become prosperous, but the older emphasize prayer as the way to do so while the newer mega-churches recommend hard work.
The chapters on Japan are quite different from the chapters on Korea. Two of the three chapters on Japan share the common theme of Japanese trying to remain both fully Japanese and fully Christian at the same time. Gregory Vanderbilt tells us about Japanese Christian nationalists in the 1930s who supported Japan’s imperial expansion. Garrett L. Washington focuses on three Japanese pastors in the first decades of the twentieth century who could also be called Christian nationalists, since they argued that Christianity makes Japanese believers more loyal Japanese. The other chapter, by Mark R. Mullins, takes another tack. He introduces us to Kagawa Toyohiko, a practitioner of the social gospel who, according to Mullims, was more concerned about serving the poor and needy of Japan than with dealing with questions of Japanese Christian identity.
The two chapters on China have little in common with the other chapters. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee traces how Christianity has grown in southern China through personal connections and family ties. David Ownby is more interested in the relationship between churches and the state, particularly the relationship between the state-regulated church and the much larger underground church, and how that underground church has nonetheless tried to make Christianity look authentically Chinese.
With such a diverse range of subjects selected from the history of Christianity in modern East Asia, this is a book few scholars will sit down and read from cover to cover. It provides enough new information that it belongs in the library of every scholarly institution with an interest in global Christianity or modern East Asian history. However, I recommend that it be made available as an e-book for libraries so that researchers could easily access individual chapters they find useful or instructors could ask their students to read individual chapters in it, since it is unlikely the entire book would be relevant to any one research or class project.
Don Baker, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
CONFRONTING MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR II: European and Asian Legacies. Jackson School Publications in International Studies. Edited by Daniel Chirot, Gi-Wook Shin and Daniel Sneider. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014. ix, 330 pp. (Tables.) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-295-99346-1.
In this volume, ten experts of Europe and East Asia discuss how countries in both regions have dealt with the legacies of their problematic pasts. Half of the essays are dedicated exclusively to European experiences. But the essays’ focus on the process and not just the result of national memory making generates insights that are directly relevant to Asia as well. In this way the book manages to link the two regions without falling into the common trap of obsessively comparing the current situation in both areas, which only results in superficial moralizing of the history issue. Secondly, the contributions in this volume are refreshingly evenhanded. Even the possibly provocative thesis by Gilbert Rozman that not Japanese but Chinese historical revisionism has been driving the history gap in the past decade is very well argued.
There are several themes in this book. The main one in my view is succinctly summarized by Gi-Wook Shin when he writes: “No nation is immune from the charge that it has formed a less than complete view of the past” (158). Indeed, reading the ten essays will inevitably lead to the realization that every country—European or Asian, victim or perpetrator—has engaged in national myth-making and the reinterpretation of its past history. The authors discuss the various factors that account for this in each state. But the volume also succeeds in calling attention to the greater link that exists between memory politics, national identity and nation-state building. Julian Jackson makes this connection explicit when he quotes “forgetting, even historical error, are a necessary factor in the creation of a nation” (150)and argues that “finding a balance between history and myth, denigration and celebration, is very difficult” (151). This has been indeed the case for Japan, China and South Korea as Sneider and Rozman demonstrate in their essays. But we find similar problems in Europe. For decades many European nations harped on their legacies of resistance and victimhood while ignoring the often more salient histories of collaboration and cooperation in the murder of European Jewry (see the chapters by Julian Jackson, Thomas Berger, Frances Gouda, Roger Peterson and Daniel Chirot). Some of this was probably necessary. As Fania Oz-Salzberger’s essay suggests, raw facts of history have the capacity to tear apart the fabric of its societies, especially after an intense period of conflict. The argument implied in Oz-Salzberger’s essay, however, also puts the Korean and Chinese unwillingness to investigate their history of collaboration into a more sympathetic light. After all, their communities were as damaged by the past as those of postwar Europe. That being said, one also needs to distinguish between the necessity to boost one’s national identity after an intense collective trauma and an outright nationalist revisionism that prevents reconciliation 70 years later. Rozman argues that the current history politics of China errs on the side of the latter.
Another major theme of this book is Japan. Specifically, several authors set out to provide a more proper contextualization of the country’s role in East Asia’s memory politics. Chirot makes the compelling case that Japan’s less than sanguine approach to its past legacies is common amongst nation-states. Germany is the real exception. Yet Berger speculates that even the Federal Republic might have taken a similar path had it not been subject to a much larger pressure from the international community. Berger also informs us that on the level of collective memory, the Japanese were more pertinent than Germans in early postwar decades. This finding falls in line with Sneider’s article, which disavows the myth of Japanese memory having been monolithic and dominated by right-wing conservatism. The larger point of these essays is a simple one. Vilifying Japan and subjecting it to over-simplistic comparisons with Germany will not provide any solutions for the history problem in East Asia.
The authors, however, do recognize Japan’s central role in this issue and the shortcomings of its politics. Rozman rightly points out that Japan’s own haughtiness caused it to miss the opportunity to seek deeper reconciliation when it could have in the 1980s. He is also correct in asserting that Japan’s obsession with its neighbours’ use of the “history card” has prevented it from recognizing its own offensive historical revisionism. And one cannot find much fault with Gi-Wook Shin’s argument that Japan has apologized plenty, but that these apologies have sounded hollow to Asians because of its domestic political conduct. In short, the message of these authors is that there is nothing wrong with pushing Japan to assume greater responsibilities for its past transgressions and contrasting it to Germany for that reason. But one needs to do so sensibly and in a historically defensible manner. Naturally, this conclusion is commonsensical. Except that in this work we find plenty of examples of how to do so properly.
Last but not least, the book offers an interesting proposition on how to move forward in East Asia. Gi-Wook Shin argues that this can be done only with the more active involvement of the United States—a country that has apparently been co-responsible for the creation of Asia’s history problem from the start. Shin suggests that were the United States to fully acknowledge and apologize for the atrocities committed on Japan during World War Two, Japan might do the same in regards to its neighbours. This is certainly an idea worth pondering. But one should also add that China and Korea will have to be ready to compromise themselves—something Shin seems to take for granted.
There are many other interesting arguments as well as criticisms that deserve mention but cannot be treated here. In closing it suffices to say that despite any quibbles one might have with one or another essay, the overall quality of the contributions is very high. Reading them will make one rethink what we know about memory politics in East Asia, Europe and the comparison thereof. Even those who have studied these issues extensively will find new ideas in this publication.
Ivo Plsek, University of California, Berkeley, USA
COPRODUCING ASIA: Locating Japanese-Chinese Regional Film and Media. By Stephanie DeBoer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. 244 pp. (Illus.) US$75.00, cloth, ISBN 978-0-8166-8949-1; US$25.00, paper, ISBN 978-0-8166-8950-7.
Transnational and transregional film coproduction has been a remarkable trend in postwar world cinema, and has become increasingly phenomenal since the 1990s with booming cultural industries in Asia, and in China in particular. Coproducing Asia is a welcome endeavour that explores film collaborations between the two largest Asian powers, Japan and China.
Echoing the opinion that pan-Asian regional film and media coproductions are central to the possibilities of a rising “new Asia,” the book argues for the importance of understanding coproduction as a production technology that could better address the regional cultural geography that is in the making. The book views coproduction more as a site of negotiation than a site of transformation, and interrogates the ways in which regional coproductions become arenas of negotiated meaning and uneven assemblages among a competing range of media geographies, production practices, imaginaries, and technologies. The author claims that Coproducing Asia is not a history and contemporary account of all coproductions among the media capitals of Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong and mainland China up to the current moments. Rather, the book aims to “provide a set of contexts and framings that enable us to interrogate the Asian coproduction and its locations, both material and imaginary, as a simultaneously critical and particular dynamic of transnational film and media” (15). To achieve this end, the author employs a genealogical method to highlight particular moments in which Asian coproductions are engaged in regional media projects.
Addressing three postwar moments of Asia, the book is divided into five chapters. The first two chapters examine regional film and media relationships during the late 1950s and 1970s when Japanese colonial and imperialist legacy was juxtaposed with Eastern Asia’s regional desire for technomodernity. The first chapter addresses the specters of Japan’s imperial occupation of the region and its postwar media development linked to romance coproductions ranging from Night in Hong Kong to Night in Bangkok. The second chapter discusses Hong Kong-Japan coproductions made from the 1950s to the 1970s, and interrogates Hong Kong’s “copying” of new film technologies, rationalized production methods, genres and styles linked to Japan. Chapter 3 analyzes Sino-Japanese friendship coproductions following Japan’s reengagement with the PRC in the early 1970s, by focusing on the NHK-CCTV television documentary series The Silk Road and TV series A Son of the Good Earth. Chapter 4 explores the context and practices of Japanese cultural industry projects by placing Tokyo as the central media capital of Asia from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Chapter 5 investigates the importance of emerging mainland China’s media market and rich resources by examining coproductions like Battle of Wits, Tea Fight and The Longest Night in Shanghai, in order to facilitate an understanding of mainland China as a geography through which the possibilities of new Asian cultural production are imagined and practiced.
The book’s strength is its effort to theorize the phenomenon of coproduction by placing coproduction in historical contexts and viewing it from a cultural specific perspective. In the author’s view, coproduction is a technology and a mode of production that potentiates new forms of encounter and cultural expression. Coproduction is also a site for the negotiation of meaning and identity. Moreover, coproduction is a battling ground on which Cold War structures have been repeatedly reconfigured and a progress-driven capitalist modernity is articulated. The second strength of the book is its engagement with current literature in the field of Asian cinema and Asian cultural studies. The author does a good job of integrating the main arguments of Asian cultural studies literature into her analysis of coproductions. Specifically, the author employs Michael Curtin’s well-known thesis of “media capital,” and attempts to use the coproduction locales of Tokyo, Hong Kong and mainland China to display the development and current formations of Asian media capital.
While Coproducing Asia is a welcome exploration of transnational cinema, the book would have benefited from the following: First, while the author tends to view Japan as a central place of Asian media capital, it may have been better if the author had devoted more space to examining other major media coproduction centres, especially Hong Kong, to expand the width and depth of the analysis of Asian coproductions. Similarly, coproductions between Japan and Taiwan are almost missing from the discussion. Considering Taiwan’s half-century of colonial experience under Japanese imperial rule, Japanese-Taiwanese coproduction should have been a major focus and could have provided more valuable examples for considering coproduction as a site for the negotiation of meaning and identity.
Second, as the author states, coproduction technologies are entwined with discourses, ideologies and practices. When discussing the “copying” practices of Hong Kong’s film industry and martial arts cinema in particular, the book could have engaged in a more thorough discussion of the genre, style and “oriental” flavour of Hong Kong-based coproductions. This thorough discussion can facilitate the audience’s understanding of Hong Kong’s crucial appreciation of Japanese technology and the integration with Chinese cultural elements, so that the audience can get a better idea of the changing dynamics of transnational media and the shifting power of Asian media capital.
Third, it remains unclear what might constitute a “Japanese-Chinese coproduction” in terms of co-investing, co-directing, co-screenplay-writing, or co-starring. Also, the book needs a rationale for the range of movies that the author selects as main objects of analysis. For example, for the coproductions of the 1950s and 1960s, why is Night in Hong Kong selected for analysis but not many other Hong Kong movies in which Japanese actors and actresses starred. For the coproductions of the 1970s and the 1980s, why are The Silk Road and A Son of the Good Earth selected, but not the very influential movie The Go Masters? For recent movies after 2000, why aren’t those popular coproductions selected for analysis, such as Last Love First Love, Shanghai, East Wind Rain, About Love and Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles? The book would have benefited from a clear explanation of selection, as well as more primary or secondary sources and interviews.
Wendy Su, University of California, Riverside, USA
China and Inner Asia
CHINA CONSTRUCTING CAPITALISM: Economic Life and Urban Change. International Library of Sociology. By Michael Keith, Scott Lash, Jakob Arnoldi, and Tyler Rooker. London; New York: Routledge, 2014. xiv, 330 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$50.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-415-49706-0.
China Constructing Capitalism argues that the relationship between the market and the state in China is not so much one of competition or corruption, but a generative relationship that produces a new, “Chinese model” of capitalism, which the authors call “the system of local state capitalism.” This Chinese model, however, didn’t simply emerge anew during the reform period, but is founded upon Daoist and Confucian thought and culture. While “rational action” is the “basis of Western capitalism” (44), Daoist wu wei (non-action) and Confucian rites are the basis of the Chinese “mode of capitalism.” Putting aside this orientalist argument, many of the chapters, especially the empirical ones on urban land markets and developments, migration and financial markets, contain a wealth of ethnographic detail showing how “the hybridisation of state and market emerges to structure risk and uncertainty” (85). Nonetheless, it is hard to escape the orientalist framing, a symptom of contemporary desires to find a different capitalism in a booming China.
Methodologically, the book compares an ideal image of one society (Western neoliberalism) with an ethnographic study of economic life in another (China). Thus neoliberalism, an economic ideology that affects the economic regulation of capitalism in much of the world, is seen as abstract, rationalist, disembedded and individualistic compared to how markets work in China. After making this comparison in the introduction—where it is posited as central to the main argument of the book—chapter 2 confusingly suddenly exposes the methodological problem this entails, stating that actual markets in the West do not operate the way neoliberalism says they should either. The focus shifts from whether the economy is embedded or not to how it is embedded. The big splash of the introduction suddenly disappears, the sharp civilizational dichotomies rapidly dissolve—this is probably a good thing, and chapters generally improve from number two on.
Chapter 1, mostly summarizing the arguments of Durkheim-student Marcel Granet and French sinologist Francois Jullien, draws a strict distinction between Chinese and Western thought and culture, arguing that the West is rationalist and individualist and China immanentist and relational. This sharp East-West divide, founded in the Axial Age, largely determines the difference between Chinese and Western capitalism. Sounding more like a series of notes than a finished draft, the chapter is vague and repetitive. Chapter 2 jumps (over 2000 years!) to the contemporary period to describe the institutions of “Chinese capitalism.” It argues for a socio-economic approach to understanding China, with particular attention to formal and informal institutions. While the book intends to make a big argument about the uniqueness of Chinese capitalism, the authors are unable to sustain the argument in the empirical chapters.
Chapter 3 focuses on the importance of urban land markets and property relations to China’s recent economic development, arguing that the particular forms of governance in urban China are necessary to mediate between “incommensurable forms of expertise” and value (75). An interesting historical argument about the importance of British systems of property in Hong Kong to Chinese property reforms over the last 30 years seems to contradict the earlier culturalist approach detailed in the introduction and chapter 1. Chapter 4, which discusses regional economic models, the scale of governance, and the shift from danwei to xiaoqu, argues that the “relationality” central to markets in “Chinese local state capitalism” makes for a longer-term focus and a broader sharing of high-degree risk. Chapter 5 entails a quantitative analysis of the efficacy of guanxi within Chinese firms.
Chapters 6 and 7 are fashioned out of long-term ethnographic research by one of the authors (Rooker). Together with chapter 8 on the financial sector, they are the most negative about “local state capitalism,” showing both the corrupt and the productive sides of state-market hybridization. The “risk biographies” in chapter 9 contain interesting material, but, unfortunately, much of the orientalist language of East versus West returns, especially in the chapter’s conclusion. Chapter 10, constructed out of extensive interviews with migrants, focuses on the chengzhongcun (urban village), migration and new urbanism and points to the “flexibility of the urban form” (250). The conclusion unhelpfully returns to a comparison between China and neoliberal and neoclassical ideology.
For a book on Chinese capitalism, the discussion of debt seems like a side note when in fact it should be central to its theorization. Likewise, the marginalization of a discussion on corruption and illegal land grabs, too, allows the authors to be far more positive about its sustainability than might otherwise be warranted. Perhaps most startling is the assertion of the “non-subsumption” of labour by capital in China (12)—unexplained and, unsurprisingly, missing from the empirical chapters.
The authors go so far as to argue that Weber was right about the cultural differences between China and the West, only that for China what “did not work at the turn of the nineteenth century seems to be eminently successful at the start of the twenty-first century” (3). One must ask, hasn’t anything changed in China over those 200 years? Here the book’s orientalism is on full display. This reversal of fortunes is not a new argument: while during the Cold War Confucianism was blamed for holding China back, since the 1980s some in the West began to argue the opposite, that Confucianism was actually a boon to capitalism. The authors of this book do not attempt to explain why what didn’t work 200 years ago suddenly is so effective today.
The book perhaps should have been published as discrete articles, for they do not come together in a coherent fashion. Just as the theoretical perspective of the book is a hodge-podge construction (a bit of Weberian orientalism, some misreadings of Marx, snippets from Wang Hui, Cui Zhiyuan, and Giovanni Arrighi, all tossed together with a big helping of Daoism and Confucianism as understood by Francois Jullien), the chapters do not seem to produce a coherent theoretical argument about the contemporary Chinese economy or society. This incoherence saves some of the chapters from the orientalist theoretical edifice of the book.
Alexander F. Day, Occidental College, Los Angeles, USA
SECURITY AND PROFIT IN CHINA’S ENERGY POLICY: Hedging Against Risk. Contemporary Asia in the World. By Øystein Tunsjø. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. xvi, 316 pp. (Maps.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-16508-2.
China’s quest for secure energy supplies has been a topic of great interest in policy, academic, journalistic and popular circles for some time. The country’s transition to net oil importer in 1993 raised the specter of an increasingly petroleum-thirsty China competing against the United States and other major oil importers for world oil supplies. Now, with the US Energy Information Administration reporting that China’s monthly petroleum and other liquid fuel imports have surpassed those of the US, policy makers in Beijing, Washington and elsewhere are keen to understand the economic and geopolitical implications of this new reality. Based on extensive interviews with energy experts and decision makers in China, Europe, Japan and the United States, Øystein Tunsjø argues that China’s economic and strategic considerations to securing petroleum supplies are self-reinforcing hedging mechanisms—complete with “short” and “long” bets—that seek to balance the needs for profitability and security.
Tunsjø distinguishes strategic approaches and market approaches to understanding China’s energy security (or, rather, China’s behaviours intended to reduce energy insecurity) and argues that scholarly analyses focusing on one or the other fail to fully explain how China actually behaves. He also regularly underscores the difference between managing risks and reducing threats and, relatedly, between wartime threats and peacetime risks. He argues that scholars writing on China’s energy security have thus far neglected these distinctions. Throughout the book Tunsjø writes of “Chinese decision makers,” including bureaucrats in party and government offices as well as leaders of major (state-owned) energy companies, as acting more or less in a coherent fashion throughout the book, while at the same time arguing that sometimes the pursuit of company profits conflicts with strategic interests of the state and vice versa.
Tunsjø’s key theoretical objective is to “explore how hedging and risk management can explain some of the complexity that is lost in the gap between the strategic and market approaches and thereby provide a more complete understanding of China’s energy security policy” (21). He offers several dichotomies as examples of hedging: “strategic partnerships but not alliances, military buildups but not arms races, and cooperation as well as assertive policies but not armed conflict” (22). Though the study’s primary focus is on petroleum, Tunsjø spends a good portion of chapter 2 detailing China’s overall energy mix, explaining how roughly 90 percent of the country’s energy needs are met with domestic production. At the time of writing, a Sino-Russian gas deal had been under discussion for roughly a decade; now, at the time of review (summer 2014), that deal has been struck, an economic and geopolitical boost for Russia given Western sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in February 2014.
Overall, the book is well written and carefully edited, barring occasional distractions such as non-standard usage (e.g., Export and Import Bank of China, or EIBC, instead of the more common China Exim Bank) and a tendency for passive constructions to appear en masse (“it is believed,” “it is expected,” it is acknowledged,” and “it is noted” all in the space of a few paragraphs (87–88). A missing “not” momentarily confounds: “The advocates of expanded Chinese naval power do show (sic) how expanded naval power will neutralize the US threat” (124, italics added).
Chapter 3 surveys China’s petroleum investments overseas, with special attention to Iran and Sudan, where the author finds an important distinction in countries where China’s national oil companies (NOCs) hold equity production rights (Sudan) or lack them (Iran). Tunsjø’s expertise in international security shines through in chapter 5, where he argues that China’s grand strategy has for decades been centred not on energy, but instead on Taiwan. He does allow that China’s pursuit of blue-water naval capabilities is at least partly motivated by the so-called Malacca Dilemma, though questions whether such pursuits may lead to a net reduction in China’s overall national security.
Tunsjø briefly examines government policies promoting energy efficiency, and curbing demand in the vehicle fuel sector, either through promotion of increased fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles or through promotion of alternative vehicles such as hybrid-electrics, is a vital piece of the China petroleum puzzle. As Tunsjø notes, although consumer-led petroleum demand represents a small fraction of China’s total energy mix, with the vast majority of primary energy and electricity consumed by heavy industry, the consumer fraction is projected to grow fastest in the future, barring a major shift in the dependence of mobility on petroleum. He reminds readers that in the event of a wartime event threatening seaborne transport of oil to China, the government would take immediate steps to curtail all non-strategic uses of petroleum and continue to meet a large fraction of remaining consumption using its own domestic sources or, when necessary, conscripting state-owned NOC tankers to do the dangerous work of repatriating overseas equity oil production or shipping oil through war zones.
Tunsjø draws heavily on the work of a few well-known experts in the global and China and energy literatures such as Kenneth Lieberthal, Daniel Yergin and Erica Downs, while admitting to consulting no Chinese-language sources (though he conducted numerous interviews with Chinese informants). In the end, his argument that “when China’s leaders sense uncertainty about whether a market or strategic approach—or what kind of mix of these two approaches—best enhances China’s interests, they will hedge their bets rather than choose one strategy at the obvious expense of another” seems fairly obvious (26). That “Chinese decision makers draw on both security and profit considerations to develop energy strategies” (89) acknowledges the pragmatism that Deng Xiaoping called “crossing the river by feeling for stones” and which shapes the approach China, a rising power with clear economic and political clout but limited power projection capability, must take to reduce energy insecurity. To this reviewer at least, the greater contribution of this study lies in Tunsjø’s clear and methodical account of “China’s” (including NOCs’) overseas petro-energy production behaviours and their drivers, rather than the hedging framework into which he seeks to fit those behaviours.
Darrin Magee, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, USA
THE CHINA MODEL AND GLOBAL POLITICAL ECONOMY: Comparison, Impact, and Interaction. Routledge Contemporary China Series, v. 111. By Ming Wan. London; New York: Routledge, 2014. xix, 194 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-71796-0.
China’s remarkable three decades of economic growth have spawned an academic industry investigating how this has been achieved. Is there a “China model”? If so, what are its central workings and is it replicable? These have become well-researched questions. Early examinations stressed the difference between China’s gradualism and pragmatism with the “shock therapy” route to a market economy chosen by (or for) the states of the former Soviet Union. Others stressed the parallels between China’s developmental state (or, more accurately, states, if local governments are included in the analysis) and those found elsewhere in East Asia. More recently, China has entered the “varieties of capitalism” literature, with scholars seeking to compare Chinese capitalism with other forms found around the world.
Ming Wan has taken many of these questions and literatures, added hegemonic transition questions, and brought them together in this book. However, it does not result in a smooth, integrated analysis but a rather lumpy, loosely held-together text. Many questions are raised and addressed, sometimes in detail, sometimes in a more perfunctory way. The tone varies from academic to more casual; the content from detailed synthesis to superficial coverage. It’s all a bit indigestible.
The book has nine chapters. The first, titled “China’s rise, the China model, and global governance,” covers a wide panorama in which we learn that the focus of the book is on a “dynamic feedback loop between two processes, namely the evolving China model and an evolving global governance structure” (2). This loop is summarized as “world capitalism saved the CCP, and the CCP came to save world capitalism in the later years” (3). As a thesis this is both interesting and important. However, like many other statements in the book, they are not really developed and the author moves on to other topics too quickly.
Chapter 2 outlines the “China model,” a topic also of much intellectual and policy interest and central to the book’s focus. The model, we are told, is “a hybrid system of partial market economy and authoritarianism under Chinese Communist Party leadership. It is complex, multi-layered, multi-dimensional, and still evolving” (16). It is so complex, in fact, that later on we learn that “even the Chinese government has trouble understanding it” (123). In fact, the features of the model identified by the author are well known and include incentives for elites to support reform, globally embedded mercantilism, pragmatism, high savings and investment rates, government bias in the media, and a foreign-aid program based on non-interference and infrastructure building. In short, a longish descriptive list of well-known features of China’s political economy. The causal relationships between these features which might move us beyond description to the delineation and theoretical understanding of a “model” are, alas, largely absent. The following three chapters compare the features of the China model with those present in the “Washington Consensus,” the “Japan model,” and those “Beyond America and Japan,” including the East Asian, Soviet, European social democratic and BRIC models.
Having presented and compared the China model, Ming Wan’s next three chapters shift to the global level and analyze the “global impact of China’s rise,” “the China model from a global perspective” and “the China model, the Great Recession, and the rise and fall of the great powers.” The chapter titles suggest a greater coherence than their content provides. There is a smorgasbord of topics including: renminbi internationalization; the China price; the limited appeal of the China model in the developing world (and virtually none in the developed world); the limited efforts to export the China model by the Chinese leadership, compared to its support for the “China dream” and other aspects of Chinese “soft power” (the latter concepts being different from the China model per se); China’s global financial power; global and regional security issues; Sino-US relations; great power transitions and their relationship to financial crises; and the prospects for a transition to democracy in China. On the latter, the author argues that China’s successful integration into global capitalism has produced the economic results which have enabled the regime to resist great democratization.
The book provides a good overview of many current issues for a reader unfamiliar with the basics of China’s political economy (although whether they would be prepared to pay $145 for the privilege is doubtful). It provides many details but lacks a theoretical framework capable of bringing them all together and adding to the “China model” debate which has occupied scholars. The part of the book I found most interesting was the section in chapter 2 which analyzed the debate about the “China model” in China itself. The six schools of thought outlined there are instructive (even if a “disadvantaged” school is not persuasive). The implication of the different interpretations outlined is that we should use the term “the China model” with caution, an implication which rather calls into question the premise of much of the rest of the book.
Paul Bowles, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, Canada
“Good neighbor diplomacy” (mulin waijiao) has been a key component of Chinese foreign policy, especially after the late 1980s. Improved relations with Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea helped China break out of the diplomatic and political isolation imposed by Western powers following the tragic 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident. Singapore established diplomatic relations with China in 1990, becoming the last Southeast Asian country to officially recognize the People’s Republic. In October 1992 Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. This first visit to China by a Japanese emperor raised the China-Japan relations to a new level of closeness. In the same year, the Republic of Korea and China formalized diplomatic ties. A peaceful and friendly neighbourhood was extremely helpful as China strove to step out of Tiananmen’s shadow and deepen economic reforms and opening up in the 1990s. Beeson and Li’s new book highlights the importance of China’s relations with major countries on its periphery. This is a particularly valuable study at a time when China is experiencing deteriorating relations with several neighbours. Beeson and Li remind us that if China cannot handle its regional relations well, its foreign policy will not be considered successful.
Beeson and Li discuss China’s relations with its key neighbours in the context of China’s rapid rise to the global power status. Indeed, China’s reemergence has fundamentally changed the political and economic landscape of Asia. The authors’ overall argument is that at this stage, China’s rise and growing importance are manifesting themselves primarily in China’s relationships with its closest neighbours. These regional relations offer an important and revealing window into not just China’s evolving foreign policy, but also the way its elite policy makers think about the world and China’s place in it (2). To elaborate on this thesis, the authors analyze China’s relations with Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia as well as India, Russia, Australia and Central Asia after briefly discussing how China has fundamentally been transformed into a global economy and how theoretical frameworks such as regional integration and institutional development can help understand the regional relations.
China is expected to play a role in the world commensurate with its growing economic clout. Yet its more assertive foreign policy since 2010 may have undone much of the positive image it created through its earlier diplomatic efforts. If China cannot manage its bilateral relations in Asia, what kind of global power will it become? Close neighbours are dearer than distant relatives. As the authors remind us, improving soft power in its immediate neighbourhood should become a priority of China’s foreign policy.
China has repeatedly assured its neighbours and the international community that it will be a peaceful and benign power. As the authors suggest, China’s regional role is still very much a work in progress. To a large extent China is uncertain about how to use its newfound power. The learning curve has been steep and the record is mixed (197). Though China’s relations with several neighbours—particularly Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines—remain volatile, the authors are cautiously optimistic about China’s foreign policy based on its successful resolution of border disputes with Central Asia and its effective management of relations with other countries in the region such as Australia and Russia.
The authors briefly mention that Chinese policy makers have to reconcile competing domestic interests in making foreign policy. This is an important point that should have been emphasized. Indeed, China is not a monolithic society anymore and it often sends out mixed messages. Domestic debates are inconclusive, with some suggesting that China should depart from Deng Xiaoping’s admonition that China must keep a low profile and focus on economic development. Hawkish generals and nationalistic scholars argue that it is time for China to flex its muscles now as the US power weakens. Many in China, just like elsewhere in Asia, are skeptical about America’s commitment to Asian security. Chinese government agencies such as the Foreign Ministry and the Department of Defense may not speak with one voice. An increasingly diverse and vibrant Chinese society will inevitably make foreign policy making more complicated.
Another variable that warrants more discussion is the reaction of China’s neighbours, including the United States across the Pacific, to China’s rise and how it affects China’s foreign policy. The action-reaction model in international relations is very useful in studying the dynamics of China’s regional relations. For example, China-Japan relations continue to be haunted by historical memory. Yet Japan seems careless or perhaps intentional in provoking China on sensitive historical issues. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recalcitrant visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and the Japanese government’s categorical denial of the existence of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute destroyed the bilateral trust and shook the foundation of the relationship. With growing nationalism on both sides, neither can step back. This action-reaction pattern may spin out of control if the two nations do not have the wisdom, courage and a sense of urgency to halt the further deterioration of bilateral relations.
Cooperation, not confrontation, is what China and its neighbours need to move beyond the classic security dilemma they are trapped in now. In Northeast Asia alone, for example, China and Japan can work together to help form a multilateral security mechanism to deal with common challenges from North Korea. Meanwhile, the United States and China have mirror images of each other as a security threat. Building mutual trust will not only help dispel misperceptions of each other but also promote cooperation on a wide range of issues between the two sides.
Overall, the book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on China’s foreign relations in the twenty-first century. Its focus on China’s regional relations offers a useful vantage point to observing and analyzing China’s role in global politics and economics.
Zhiqun Zhu, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, USA
RISING INEQUALITY IN CHINA: Challenges to a Harmonious Society. Edited by Shi Li, Hiroshi Sato, Terry Sicular. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xxix, 499 pp. (Tables, B&W photos.) C$120.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-00291-3.
This book provides a timely and thorough account of inequality in the world’s second-largest economy. As the title suggests, inequality in China is rising, a trend which China specialists and comparative political economists interpret as alarming and potentially destabilizing. A book on so significant a topic could easily have gotten itself entangled in predicting China’s own future. Instead, the authors offer a transparent survey of rising inequality during the first half of the Hu-Wen administration (2002-2007), a period during which inequality, at least according to China’s leaders, was supposed to decline. The book’s conclusions are conservative; for example, inequality is likely to keep increasing, despite efforts to restrain it. At the same time, the survey methods and model descriptions demonstrate precision and instill confidence in a concept that has, until now, been poorly and inconsistently measured. For those interested in a reliable source on inequality in and across China, this book aims to please.
The book starts off with an illuminating overview of recent trends in inequality and poverty in China. The book relies on two sources. The first comes from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The second is an independent survey: the Chinese Household Income Project (CHIP), designed and coordinated by a number of the contributing authors. A casual reader, myself included, may have expected that, in comparison, the official NBS numbers would come out “sugarcoated.” On the contrary, it is striking how closely the official NBS numbers track the authors’ CHIP estimates. On some dimensions (such as urban income inequality, see chapter 7) the official numbers portray an even bleaker story (see chapter 2). This is because the CHIP survey measures something obvious—income from rental property and housing subsidies—that previous studies, including the NBS, leave out. This inclusion, one of many refreshing innovations strewn throughout the book, adds a new angle to China’s inequality challenge, an angle future research ought to pursue.
The book continues by detailing the emergent role of homeownership and property leasing in urban and rural China, both as a budding economic sector and as a factor contributing to China’s rising inequality. Subsequent chapters deal with inequality in education and migrant communities, across age cohorts and ethnic groups, and even between public- and private-sector labour markets. Chapter 11 on gender inequality, a personal favourite, proposes a novel hypothesis: that women, because they tend to work in low-skilled jobs, face disproportionate competition from migrant labourers, which contributes to non-migrant male workers earning higher wages. The findings strongly support the hypothesis, warranting further exploration in China and in other countries where migrants constitute a large share of the workforce.
In each chapter, the authors make it a point to reference existing policies and institutions that contribute to inequality as well as reforms taken by the state to alleviate it, namely, the Hu-Wen administration’s effort to engender harmonious (read: more equal) growth. How have these reforms fared? A consistent, but equivocal, conclusion throughout the chapters is that reforms have helped, but not enough, and not always without unintended consequences. For example, while abolishing agricultural taxes in 2006 significantly reduced burdens on the poor (see chapter 5), the state has been much less successful in taxing the rich (see chapter 10). Similarly, central initiatives aimed at reforming household registration rules (hukou) have been stymied by local governments unwilling to expand urban benefits, resulting in sustained income inequalities among homeowners (see chapter 3) and migrant workers (see chapter 6). Less explored are a number of equally important institutional adjustments, such as the central government’s move to empower counties by freeing them of prefectural oversight and fiscal control (16).
While discussing the state helps string the volume’s chapters together, it is too thin and fragile a fabric to bind them into a cohesive book. Conspicuously missing is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which features only fleetingly (mainly in references and footnotes). This omission is unfortunate, not only because the Party is the single most important institutional actor in China, but also because the Party has presided over, and in many respects orchestrated, China’s move from socialist egalitarianism to today’s extreme inequality. After all, it was Deng Xiaoping who famously said, “let some people get rich first.” While many assume that inequality is dangerous for the Party, Teresa Wright’s book Accepting Authoritarianism (Stanford University Press, 2010) provides a compelling counter-argument: inequality prevents China’s citizens from acting collectively against the Party. Also missing is the role of the public, for whom inequality must matter the most. Take, for example, Martin White’s Myth of the Social Volcano (Stanford University Press, 2010), which challenges the link between rising inequality with instability by highlighting the paradoxical acceptance of inequality among even China’s poorest as being “fair.” In contrast, the Chinese citizen in this book comes off more as a data point than an integral part of the narrative. While it is in some ways inappropriate to compare this edited volume with single-authored books, the weak integration of politics and society into the economic trends suggests a missed opportunity.
Despite these drawbacks, the book does exactly what it sets out to do: that is, to thoroughly assess inequality in China across a wide range of dimensions. To this end, the book is crammed with insights that, if emphasized and pursued further, offer potential starting points for exciting new research. Among these many insights is the proportion of urban households where the members own their own home, 89 percent in 2007, up from only 14 percent in 1988 (90-92)! Less surprising and perhaps more distressing is the apparent lack of return on education for rural students (see chapter 4), which explains why so many young migrants have flocked, unprepared and ill-equipped, to the cities. To get at these meaty empirical morsels, however, the reader must know what to look for. Indeed, reading from cover to cover may prove overwhelming, but for those with a specific research question in mind, this book is great starting point.
Dimitar D. Gueorguiev, University of California, San Diego, USA
CLEARER SKIES OVER CHINA: Reconciling Air Quality, Climate, and Economic Goals. Edited by Chris P. Nielsen and Mun S. Ho. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013. ix, 433 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$50.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-262-01988-0.
With China’s air pollution in the global spotlight, Clear Skies Over China: Reconciling Air Quality, Climate, and Economic Goals, edited by Chris P. Nielsen and Mun S. Ho, is an informative and timely volume. This book is a follow-up to the similarly structured edited volume Clearing the Air: The Health and Economic Damages of Air Pollution in China, published by the same editors in 2007 (Mun S. Ho and Chris P. Nielsen, Clearing the Air: The Health and Economic Damages of Air Pollution in China, MIT Press, 2007). The new book benefits from the linking of more advanced atmospheric research methods with economic and policy framing, facilitated by higher resolution emissions inventories, as well as a broader policy assessment. It also includes an expanded assessment of benefits to pollution mitigation beyond health to include agricultural productivity.
Part 1 begins with an overview of the atmospheric environment in China, including a review of the existing research, and a discussion of the methods used and the results from the models used to assess the costs and benefits of various emissions control policy options. In this section, the authors review two “past” scenarios, and two “future” scenarios. The “past” scenarios examine the impact of the actual technology mandates for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions control that were part of the 11th Five-Year Plan, as well as a hypothetical economy-wide carbon tax again for the 2006–2010 timeframe. The “future” scenarios run from 2013–2020, spanning the 12th and 13th five-year plan periods, and include an assessment of 4 different future visions of carbon tax implementation.
Part 2 contains 6 different studies that lay out the underlying research that helped to inform the integrated modeling work reviewed in the earlier chapters. These chapters examine topics such as emissions from coal-fired power plants and cement production, emissions inventories and pollution concentrations, and the benefits of pollution reductions for human health and agriculture. Chapter 9, the final chapter of this section, provides a concluding, integrated approach to estimating the costs and benefits of air pollution control policies in order to assess how such policies would affect the broader economy.
Part 3 contains three appendices that provide a more technical overview of the assumptions on which the analysis in the earlier chapters is based. Appendix A details the economic-environmental model of China used to produce the results detailed in the book, including its structure, key variables and parameters, and the data sources used. Appendix B contains the methodology and reasoning behind the valuation of health damages as used in this book, including the mortality and morbidity valuation methodologies. Appendix C reviews the methodology used for emissions estimates for the 2007 model base year in the 2013–2020 policy cases, including a discussion of how some new assumptions were made that differ from the 2005 base year used in the 2006–2010 model.
There are several key contributions of this book that will be of particular interest to students and scholars of energy and environment in China. The book is very data rich, and the authors are careful to provide clear documentation of their varied data sources. The authors provide a nice overview of the limitations of official estimates of emissions in China, and piece together alternative studies to provide more comprehensive inventories than the national statistics provide. The clearly articulated discussion of how emissions estimates from independent researchers differ from those of official sources is very useful.
In addition, the modeling work on which most of the analysis in this volume is based is both intricate and innovative. As the authors discuss, the resolution of emissions inventories “had to advance significantly in both sector and spatial dimensions to link a multisector economic model with a spatial atmospheric one” (23). In addition, the authors explain the basic but often neglected distinction between how scientists measure pollution and how governments measure pollution. While scientists have to characterize sources of pollution more comprehensively in order to assess the effects of changes in emissions on actual atmospheric concentrations, policies tend to be pollutant specific. Since most pollutant species react chemically in the atmosphere, evaluating pollutant quantities in isolation may miss key interactions that affect concentrations.
A key conclusion of the book that will be of particular interest to scholars of environmental policy in China and perhaps surprising to many is that the pollution control policies implemented as part of China’s 11th Five-Year Plan, including the SO2 control policy and the small plant shut down policy, resulted in “a substantial improvement in air quality achieved at modest cost to GDP” (367). As a result, the authors note that while they may not have been the most efficient policies possible, they did provide a substantial net benefit. The authors note that this experience may be useful in the design of policies to control other types of pollutants including NOx and CO2, and suggest that China implement a carbon tax that would start low and gradually increase over time. Finally, the authors note that while reduced carbon dioxide emissions would result in global benefits, their results suggest that it is in China’s own national self-interest to price carbon to encourage energy transitions.
The main limitation of the book is that it is not written to be widely accessible to non-specialist readers. While the first three chapters do a much better job of speaking to a broader audience, chapters 4 through 9, as the editors note, are written primarily for other researchers with significant background in economic modeling, air pollution and China’s energy sector.
Nielsen and Ho’s edited volume is a significant contribution to the literature on air pollution control in China. It will be most useful for specialized scholars and students of atmospheric science, economic valuation, and environmental policy in China.
Joanna Lewis, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA
THE LOST GENERATION: The Rustication of China’s Educated Youth (1968-1980). By Michel Bonnin; translated by Krystyna Horko. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2013. xxxix, 515 pp. (Photos., figures.) US$55.00, cloth. ISBN 978-962-996-481-8.
Between 1968 and 1980 one of the largest-scale, government-sponsored and short-term population transfers in history occurred in China. Seventeen million young people were sent from their urban homes to the countryside. This English translation from the French brings to a wide readership the most comprehensive Western study of this xiaxiang (down to the villages) movement during the Cultural Revolution era and after. Michel Bonnin has worked on sent-down youth since the mid-1970s. The 2004 original of this book, drawn from a 1988 doctoral dissertation, is based to a large degree on countless interviews with former sent-down youth in Hong Kong and, since the late 1970s, on the mainland. Bonnin supplements these personal stories with official documents, and reference to fictional accounts of the sent-down youth experience. The author readily acknowledges his distinguished predecessors in this field, notably Liu Xiaomeng of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Thomas P. Bernstein, whose Up to the Mountains and Down to the Villages: The Transfer of Urban Youth from Urban to Rural China (Yale UP, 1977) appeared while the movement was still in full swing and became an instant classic. Bonnin takes this story further with the benefit of perspective and a great deal more access to informants and records. His book should be in the library of every student of contemporary China, as this is now the standard reference work on the xiaxiang movement.
Bonnin offers insight into the motivations for the launch of the movement, noting that the thousands sent from the cities in 1968 had predecessors earlier in that decade and before. He suggests that worries over urban youth unemployment as much as Maoist revolutionary idealism about learning from the peasants were reasons for the effort. Returning to the question of motives in his concluding chapter, the author notes how the waves of youth heading for the hills were matched by floods of peasants moving in the opposite direction to jobs in the cities. In covering the movement into 1980, Bonnin dispels any assumptions about it coming to an end with the death of Mao. Young people were still being sent down in 1978, as Deng Xiaoping prepared to repudiate some of Mao’s legacy.
The book extensively sets out the sent-down experience and various large and small-scale efforts to refine, adjust or demolish the movement from almost immediately after it got underway in 1968. Bonnin illustrates well the tensions between educated youth and the cadres designated to look after them and between the city youth and local populations. Interviewees are particularly informative on these aspects of the movement and on the yearnings and plotting of just about every sent-down youth to return home. His sources combine interview material, statistics from labour gazetteers from across China, and fictional examples of suffering, abuse and rebellion.
Although he acknowledges the difference between short stories and actual events, and has interviewed several noted authors of educated-youth literature, Bonnin is perhaps too eager to cite fictional episodes as illustration of many of his points. The use of fictional material is fraught with problems. A writer’s license to embellish and heighten episodes based on real events should engender more caution in using fictional accounts of suffering and abuse from these years. A second flaw in the book may be a reflection of its relatively long gestation. Inconsistencies appear in these pages, when, for example, the suggestion is made about the near absolute level of control over sent-down youth only to be followed by pages of accounts of youth resistance and initiatives in finding space for their own activities. On one page we are told that zhiqing had no time for anything but work, but a few pages on, “frequent” visits from village to village are cited, without any reference to a specific location, as contributing to zhiqing solidarity (303). Culture and leisure were “virtually non-existent” (262–263), but then much is made of the youth’s own efforts to create their own entertainment. Bonnin seems to both underrate the appeal and overstate the influence of the Cultural Revolution yangbanxi (model performances). Only one half of the generation that might have been subject to rustication actually participated (xvii), raising the question of what happened to the other half, which is touched on but not developed. Sometimes major points seem to appear only in passing: only 8 percent of sent-down youth were sent outside their home province or municipality, for example (178). In summing up the movement, Bonnin concludes that it failed in its aims to transform a generation (453). I would argue that the sent-down youth experience did indeed transform the zhiqing, but in ways not intended by the movement. The flourishing and inventiveness of Chinese youth culture after 1978 owed much to the preceding decade, as Bonnin himself argues earlier in the book. As new sources have appeared in China, the author seems to have inserted further examples or discussion a little haphazardly in the text. The number of footnotes referring to preceding pages is striking. But the xiaxiang movement continues to resonate in China and is constantly throwing up new knowledge. We should applaud Bonnin’s mastery of his subject and dedication to continuing his fine work on the topic.
Also admirable is the Chinese University Press’s decision to place notes at the bottom of pages and to provide an extensive glossary. Why traditional characters are used instead of simplified for a book on this topic is a mystery. The same press published a Chinese translation of this work in 2009. The English translator is to be congratulated, with only a few places where the best expression escapes her. To bring this important study to the widest community of English-speaking students of contemporary China, a paperback edition must surely appear soon.
Paul Clark, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
PARTNERS AND RIVALS: The Uneasy Future of China’s Relationship with the United States. By Wendy Dobson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. vii, 198 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$32.95, cloth. ISBN 978-1-4426-4752-7.
Wendy Dobson’s book purports to tackle the multi-faceted subject of US-China relations. She identifies as the book’s thesis the unambitious argument that this key relationship “can avoid traditional Great Power competition” (5). She fails to make that case, however, because she largely avoids addressing that competition.
Dobson is an economist, and this shows in her analysis. This book is really an expert explanation of China’s economic situation, followed by a workmanlike introduction to the US-China relationship, and finishing with an amateurish set of policy recommendations that demonstrate under-appreciation of the political and strategic issues that divide Beijing and Washington.
Dobson’s appraisal of China’s economy highlights the incomplete transition from traditional and communist-era practices to the efficiencies demanded by a globalized twenty-first century. She demonstrates that China has left communism far behind. The Chinese economy is now one of the world’s most open, she says, and suffers higher income inequality than the United States or India.
Dobson echoes the argument of many other economists that China is reaching a crossroads: the factors that powered rapid economic growth beginning in the 1980s are reaching a point of diminishing returns. While Beijing has presided over immense reductions in poverty and the long period of rapid economic growth that is the basis of China’s “rise,” the flaws hidden by these successes are becoming more prominent. To maintain a high growth rate, China must re-balance toward less reliance on exports and more on domestic consumption. China’s relatively low rate of domestic consumption is “a consequence of policy choices that favour producers over consumers” (24). Government policies also “penalize the non-state sector, which tends to be more efficient and productive” (25).
The book provides (on page 109) a good summary of China’s attitude toward the World Trade Organization, of which China is a somewhat grudging member, and a helpful explanation (138–141) of the overlap and distinctions between the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Dobson gives ample advice to the PRC leadership on how to make China’s economy more efficient. Her recommendations, however, are apolitical. Dobson herself recognizes “the Communist Party’s need to legitimize its autocratic rule” (4). No doubt the leaders in Zhongnanhai have heard such recommendations before; the question is why they have not implemented them. An explanation of why the political milieu of the Party makes it difficult for the leaders to carry out particular reforms would be welcome, but Dobson does little of this beyond noting that powerful industries and influential individuals will resist economic restructuring.
Having an economist tell this story becomes increasingly problematic as the subject matter expands from China’s economy to the US-China relationship. In a section titled “The Dangers of Mutual Ignorance and Miscalculation” (97–99), while there is much she might cover, Dobson focuses mostly on the issue of currency manipulation. A major giveaway comes on page 99, when Dobson states her view that in a “‘normal’ major power relationship … economics trumps military thinking.”
Dobson understates the problem of strategic rivalry between the old great power and the rising challenger. She argues, for example, that “there is little evidence of China’s repudiating or replacing the existing global system” (101). Such a conclusion might be warranted if one focuses solely on international economic issues, but it overlooks China’s alternate-universe claim to ownership over most of the South China Sea, the Chinese government’s massive international cyber theft campaign, Chinese support for pariah states, and Chinese disrespect for a variety of international norms.
In the final three chapters Dobson offers policy recommendations for Washington and Beijing to keep their relationship constructive rather than conflictual. Disappointingly, she invokes the usual shallow platitudes of “transparency, trust, and cooperation” (126). She calls for more meetings and more dialogue. China and the United States, she writes, “both should move to build confidence through deeper understanding of the other’s core interests and accommodating the other’s deepest fears” (100). It is an assumption, and probably an erroneous one, that “deeper understanding” of each other’s objectives would “build confidence.” Would Americans feel more “confident” to more deeply understand that the Chinese want American alliances and military bases to leave the western Pacific? Would frank American talk about antipathy toward the Communist Party increase Chinese confidence in the bilateral relationship?
Dobson asserts that “each government needs to effect change at home to earn and maintain the other’s respect” (131). So China needs to start respecting its citizens’ civil and political rights, end official corruption, and improve its international image to gain America’s respect, while the Americans must solidify their financial situation, control inflation, and end the paralysis in Washington politics. Calling for the solution of massive and deeply rooted domestic problems as a policy recommendation for improving US-China relations is bizarre, even silly.
Dobson’s idea that the two countries should “work out mutually acceptable approaches to fraught issues—such as the futures of the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan” (146) seems a throw-away line. “Mutually acceptable approaches” on these and several other important strategic issues do not exist. Up to now Washington supports the Taiwan people’s desire not to be ruled by the CCP, while China insists it has sovereignty over Taiwan, whether or not the Taiwanese agree. With regard to North Korea, China’s view is that regime collapse must be avoided even at the cost of tolerating a DPRK nuclear weapons program, while the US view is that the DPRK must be pressured to de-nuclearize even at the risk of regime collapse.
Dobson implores the rivals to “cooperate on new areas of common interest, such as a global cyber security regime” (146). Again, there is no “common interest.” As the catch-up player, China’s interest is to steal from the developed countries. But Dobson’s recommendation plays into the hands of the Chinese, whose idea of “cooperation” is for the United States and other victims of the PRC government’s massive cyber theft program to stop “groundless accusations” against Beijing.
The first half of the book would be useful for readers with a background in economics who want to learn about China’s economy or for readers interested in the question of China’s current and future place in the global economic system. However, readers interested in the overall US-China relationship, and particularly the bilateral strategic competition, should look elsewhere.
Denny Roy, East-West Center, Honolulu, USA
DIASPORIC CHINESENESS AFTER THE RISE OF CHINA: Communities and Cultural Production. Contemporary Chinese Studies. Edited by Julia Kuehn, Kam Louie, and David M. Pomfret. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013. vi, 237 pp. (Figures, B&W photos.) C$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-7748-2592-4.
In the past few decades, studies on the Chinese overseas and the Chinese diaspora have been a burgeoning field covering themes and topics ranging from identity and subject formation to migration, media and technology, the global economy, politics and art. The field has also been covered regionally, with particular focus in and around Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific. This book is a collection of essays centred around the production of culture within the specific context of China’s growing presence in the global economy. The unifying theme of the book is not simply in the contributors’ discussion of the production and reproduction of “Chinese culture” by the Chinese diaspora, but more fundamentally, in their discussion of what kinds of Chinese cultures and identities are presented and represented in the production of art as a cultural and political vehicle. The essays in the book draw from art in a variety of textual forms (poetry, plays and prose), film and performances (dance and theatre) to explore meanings of Chineseness within and without China.
Kuehn et al. introduce the text with an overview of “the rise of China” and link it to the kinds of cultural productions that have emerged as a result of this shift in political and economic power. The editors go on to review the changing relationship that the Chinese diaspora maintains with the state, recognizing that such an association is fraught with complexities wrought by the ill-defined identities of the diaspora itself. They question what this “rise of China” means for the Chinese diaspora, and set out to explore how “definitions of nation, identity, community, and culture” (6) are being represented in the wake of such a change in their “homeland.”
In chapter 2, Ien Ang rounds out the introductory chapter by grappling with the inevitably problematic identity of the overseas Chinese, and addresses the question, when does one stop being Chinese? She recognizes that as long as the diaspora identifies as a diaspora it necessarily refers to itself in terms of the nation of origin, and that the rise of China allows for the possibility of China being the definitive source of Chineseness (29).
Ouyang Yu in chapter 3 reflects on his experiences as a writer having migrated to Australia from China, and dealing with the theme of return (to China). The difficulties Chinese artists face in Australia relate to the way they continue to be identified as ethnic and migrant, and are sentenced to producing ethnic and/or migrant work that is continually judged from within the structure of “Western” art. Kam Louie follows along a similar theme in chapter 4, analyzing fictional prose within the context of the returning migrant. Louie unpacks the complex identity of the returnee, and what it means to be a successful Chinese, by bearing the trappings of foreign wealth: in essence, Chinese, and yet not Chinese. Louie additionally brings a gendered perspective into this analysis, studying the particularly masculine perspective of the successful returnee.
In chapter 5, Shirley Geok-lin Lim examines the contradictions inherent in the concept of peace in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Fifth Book of Peace, and the possibility of the Chinese diaspora as a purveyor of such a peace. Her essay deals with the oxymoron of the “Chinese American” figure that, like war and peace, can most meaningfully be defined in relation to each other.
Chapter 6 turns to New Zealand, where Hilary Chung studies how two playwrights, as ethnic subjects, “write back,” grappling with their minority status and their hybrid and ethnic identities. Chung, like Louie, focuses on the gendered perspective of these plays. She notes the feminine perspectives of the stories and the way relationships and identities are negotiated “through the intergenerational relationalities of mothers, daughters, and granddaughters” (98).
Chapters 7 and 8 deal with film. Rey Chow examines the changing imagination of China in the minds of a global (“Western”) audience through the presentation of the film itself, as well as the very particular family culture that the film makes visible to its audience, and the way that the past gives way to the present. Cristina Demaria also explores the way the past is represented in the context of the present, focusing on the cosmopolitan production and consumption of the film and the diasporic nature of this cultural production.
In chapter 9, Sau-ling C. Wong examines “cultural long-distance nationalism” through the study of a Chinese grassroots organization, a dance association, in San Francisco. Wong analyzes the changes in the role the dance association plays as a purveyor of Chinese culture as relations between China and the US morph over the past half-century, critically problematizing the kind of Chineseness that the association presents to the US.
Yiyan Wang in chapter 10 studies the complex landscape that diasporic Chinese artists navigate, particularly in Australia. Like Yu in chapter 3, Wang notes that diasporic Chinese art is judged according to “Western” standards, and that what is deemed acceptable in the global and “Western” market tends to remain what is expected of “ethnic” culture, that is, a stereotypical imagination of Chinese culture as constructed from the “West.”
In the final essay, chapter 11, Kwai-Cheung Lo takes China and, by default, the diaspora, to task in the examination of the Han-centrism of the diaspora, and the nation’s treatment of ethnic minorities, particularly the Tibetan and the Uighur communities. Lo critiques the way China absorbs these communities as part of its multicultural nationalism despite their desire for an autonomous homeland.
This book of collected essays is an excellent starting point from which to explore the growing literature that examines the cultural production of the Chinese diaspora in a contemporary era that acknowledges China’s changing political and economic landscape. The diverse range of cultural production that the authors collectively study presents an effective means of exploring such a landscape. At times the link to “the rise of China” is not explicitly clear in some of the essays; however, this is generally mitigated by contextualizing the analyses within China’s contemporary global and cultural politics.
Serene K. Tan, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
WANG RENMEI: The Wildcat of Shanghai. By Richard J. Meyer. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; New York: Cornell University Press [distributor], 2013. xxv, 157 pp., [20 pp. of plates] (Illus.) + 1 DVD (Wild Rose) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-988-8139-96-5.
WILD ROSE [YE MEIGUI] 1932. Producer, Luo Ming You; director, Sun Yu; cinematography, Yu Sheng San; music, Donald Sosin; DVD producer and writer, Richard J. Meyer; translation, Mahlon D. Meyer. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013, 1932. 1 DVD (ca. 84 mins.) Silent film with musical accompaniment; intertitles in Chinese and English.
It gives me great pleasure to commend the latest in Richard J. Meyer’s book-and-dvd sets on Chinese film stars from the 1930s. After his biographies of Ruan Lingyu and Jin Yan (also from Hong Kong University Press), we now have Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai. It comes with the DVD of the film that made her famous and gave her the “wild cat” nickname, Wild Rose. The Shanghai cinema of the 1920s and 1930s is probably the most aesthetically and politically significant and also plain enjoyable cinema that you have never heard of and never seen. Getting to know Shanghai cinema challenges the old idea of modernity as a Western cultural formation that slowly spread across the world. Instead, it suggests that by the early twentieth century multiple incarnations of modernity were already developing simultaneously in metropolises across the world. With his careful research, accessible writing and the provision of a quality DVD with English subtitles—courtesy of his Mandarin-speaking son, Mahlon—Richard J. Meyer is helping the world to get to know the cinema of old Shanghai. His latest book will be of interest not only to film scholars and China scholars, but also to anyone who enjoys movies.
There is an implicit logic to the choice of Wang Renmei for the third of Meyer’s biographies. If Ruan Lingyu is the best-remembered of Shanghai’s female stars and Jin Yan the best-known male star of the 1930s, then Wang was also a major female star and Jin Yan’s wife. The biography maps out her life in a straightforward chronological order. Wang’s life was both exciting and tragic. Initial great success was interrupted by World War II, after which her career never really recovered. She entered a decline marked by episodes of mental illness after the 1949 Revolution, and died in 1987. In an era when film scholarship overlaps with research on the creative industries and people are interested not only in film texts but also the circumstances of their production, Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai provides much important information and insight for future scholars as well as the general reader.
Wang Renmei’s sad fate could have been worse. As Meyer notes, her life was intertwined with that of Mao Zedong himself, who taught at a school run by her father in Hunan when she was a child. Later on, he shielded her from the political movements that destroyed the lives of so many other artists and intellectuals. Using regular Chinese published sources supplemented by interviews with her friends and colleagues, Meyer traces her road to stardom via membership of the Bright Moon song and dance troupe. Luo Mingyou, boss of Shanghai’s famous Lianhua Studios, used the Bright Moon Troupe in a couple of his movies. Wang was spotted on the set by leading director Sun Yu, and also her future leading man and husband, Jin Yan.
Sun Yu cast Wang Renmei as a country girl opposite Jin Yan as the artist scion of a rich Shanghai family in Wild Cat. Her vivacious energy, his dashing charisma, and the chemistry between them are all evident when watching the DVD that comes with the book. Unsurprisingly, the film shot her to overnight stardom. The country girl and the artist fall in love when Jin drives his convertible out into the countryside to paint a bucolic scene. But his father will not accept the relationship. After numerous trials and tribulations, the film ends with a Sun Yu signature shot of the pair joining a march of patriotic volunteers. Although it could not be specified because of the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist government’s policy of appeasement, the march is implied to be against the Japanese invasion of Northeast China.
What remains disputed is whether Wild Cat and other patriotic and class-conscious films of the era should be understood as a leftist cinema and part of the heritage of the People’s Republic, or whether they were in fact equally in tune with the ideology of the Nationalists. Perhaps wisely, Meyer does not get involved in this debate! Wang starred in other important films of the period, including Cai Chusheng’s Song of the Fishermen (Yu Guang Qu, 1934). This film won Chinese cinema’s first major international award at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1935. When the Japanese invaded the rest of China in 1937, Wang and Jin fled south. However, they did not join Mao and the Communists in Yan’an, which meant they were not part of a trusted inner circle of cinema artists after the 1949 Revolution. A declining career of occasional minor roles was accompanied by divorce, bad remarriages, and poor mental health until her death in 1987.
As well as giving her biography, Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai includes synopses of every film, transcripts of the interviews that Meyer conducted with her friends and colleagues, and credits for all of her films, as well as some details on their availability. This meticulous scholarship makes the volume both an enjoyable introduction to the star for the general reader and an important scholarly resource. My only quibble is that this excellent work could be further improved by the inclusion of Chinese characters, at least for the names of all people mentioned in the text and the titles of the films. That’s something to hope for perhaps in the next book in this valuable series.
Chris Berry, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom
HONG KONG’S COURT OF FINAL APPEAL: The Development of the Law in China’s Hong Kong. Edited by Simon N.M. Young and Yash Ghai. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. lv, 681 pp. (Figures, tables, B&W photos.) US$120.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-01121-2.
In the People’s Republic of China, the intermingling of law and politics has long been a central feature of Communist Party policy on judicial institutions. In many ways, the story of legal reform over the past several decades in China has involved a tension between ideals of the rule of law and the practical imperatives of Party leadership. This tension has come into particularly sharp focus with the re-assertion of PRC sovereignty over Hong Kong, where common-law traditions of the Hong Kong courts have come into conflict with the “political-legal” policies of the Communist Party of China. The magisterial treatise under review reflects the complexity of this interaction, as played out at the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (HKCFA).
Commemorating the retirement of Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok Nang, Professors Yash Ghai and Simon Young have compiled a wide-ranging and analytically rich compendium of essays examining the background, context and practice of the HKCFA. In keeping with much socio-legal scholarship on courts, questions of institutional history and context are presented at the beginning of this treatise. Yash Ghai’s masterful treatment of the autonomy of courts and law in comparative perspective offers a useful opening. The PRC has made no secret of its intent to ensure that Party policies and PRC sovereignty will take precedence over judicial and legal autonomy, and as Professor Ghai points out this has affected the practice of the HKCFA. In many ways the HKCFA is caught between two worlds, that informed by the political imperatives of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) and the world of the common law. The NPCSC perspective, grounded in provisions in the PRC Constitution that vest the NPCSC with exclusive jurisdiction to interpret the meaning of legislation, is presented by Dalian Maritime University Professor Nancy Xiaonan Yang, who explains the formal jurisdictional limits on the authority of the HKCFA. The perspective of the common law is addressed by Sydney barrister Oliver Jones, who examines the legacy of the Privy Council, the final appeals court for Hong Kong prior to the 1997 handover. These introductory chapters about autonomy, the power of the NPCSC and the continuing legacy of the Privy Council provide an essential context for understanding the current role and future potential of the HKCFA.
Subsequent essays on the practice of the HKCFA examine institutional questions of establishment, appeals practice, jurisdiction and procedure, and the views of conventional and human rights practitioners. These particular chapters, authored by eminent scholars and experienced practitioners, provide a comprehensive overview of the operational conditions of the HKCFA. Through each of these discussions runs a theme distinguishing between private and public law, and related questions about access to justice and judicial independence. The observers of the HKCFA’s institutional record tend to suggest that it accords with widely accepted standards for handling appeals on conventional private and commercial law matters, but that the bulk of the HKCFA’s work has been on public law and human rights questions where political interference from China or the desire to avoid such interference has affected judicial outcomes. These distinctions are also evident in the subsequent section on judges and judging. While noting the distinguished background and eminent integrity of the retiring Chief Justice Andrew Li, analyses of HKCFA judges (including foreign judges appointed to the HKCFA under Hong Kong’s Basic Law) are particularly attuned to the dilemmas of rendering appeals judgments on political questions that might draw the attention and resistance of Beijing.
The distinction between public and private law and questions about China’s political imperatives are also evident in the chapters included in an expansive section on jurisprudence. In many areas, such as administrative law, criminal law, commercial and land law, torts and civil procedure, the jurisprudence of the HKCFA appears to operate relatively smoothly. Different issues arise however in areas such as interpretation of law and human rights where the authority of the HKCFA tends to be clouded by the overarching authority of the NPCSC. Noting the importance of the Ng Ka Ling case on the right of abode, which resulted in a declaration by the NPCSC in 1999 sharply curtailing the jurisdiction of the HKCFA over matters of concern to China, analysts of the HKCFA’s Basic Law jurisprudence and human rights appellate practice express concern over the HKCFA’s long-term autonomy. The book closes with three important but somewhat incongruous chapters examining perspectives from beyond Hong Kong, notably the impact of HKCFA jurisprudence elsewhere (growing but limited), the example of Macau (much more diminished in Hong Kong due to little public or governmental resistance to PRC authority) and the role of the foreign judges appointed to the HKCFA under the Hong Kong Basic Law (limited capacity to steer decisions toward international rule of law standards).
This compendium provides an invaluable overview of the performance and prospects of the HKCFA. Established in the context of a handover of colonial territory, HKCFA operates between the two worlds of China’s “political-legal” principles and the common law tradition. Relying on principles and traditions of the common law, the HKCFA has attempted to build an autonomous jurisprudence of its own. But the Hong Kong’s top court still remains embedded in an institutional arrangement over which the political authority of the PRC reigns supreme. This returns us to the fundamental questions raised at the beginning of the volume as to what might be the conditions and limits on autonomy of judicial decision-making in Hong Kong after the handover to the PRC. To the extent that the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal represents the “best case” for judicial independence under PRC leadership, the prospects seem dim indeed. This masterful volume is an essential read for all who are interested in the development of law in Hong Kong and the PRC and questions about judicial economy generally.
Pitman B. Potter, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
NEGOTIATING AUTONOMY IN GREATER CHINA: Hong Kong and its Sovereign Before and After 1997. Governance in Asia Series, no. 2. Edited by Ray Yep. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2013. xi, 324 pp. (Tables, figures.) £19.99, paper. ISBN 978-87-7694-120-8.
Negotiating Autonomy in Greater China explores what autonomy means in the context of Hong Kong-China relations before and after the 1997 handover. It examines this question through a very broad lens, considering Hong Kong’s colonial experience and China’s governance beyond Hong Kong, as well as Hong Kong’s own recent struggles and negotiations vis-à-vis China, its sovereign.
The book’s initial chapter, by Ray Yep, provides a broad overview, discussing how autonomy in the Hong Kong-China relationship should not be considered formalistically, but rather as a matter of ongoing negotiation, particularly considering the unprecedented nature of “one country, two systems,” and the fact that Hong Kong and China are distinctly different in culture and in institutions. The book’s following four chapters discuss Hong Kong under British colonial rule. Robert Bickers, in chapter 2, discusses the nature of colonial authority in Hong Kong, which was characterized largely by a lack of detailed supervision, with colonial administrators sent from post to post across the globe, and with Hong Kong, over a century and a half of colonial rule, largely left on its own without much interference or guidance from the colonizer. Gavin Ure, in chapter 3, considers Hong Kong’s autonomy in the context of public housing, particularly how the colonial authorities created public housing because of the massive influx of squatters in the late 1940s and early 1950s, again without guidance from Great Britain. Leo F. Goodstadt, in chapter 4, discusses the making of Hong Kong’s capitalist society. “Laissez faire and fiscal conservatism were not the typical legacy of British [colonial] rule” (83), but this was definitely the case in Hong Kong, where a lack of oversight by London enabled the local Hong Kong business elite’s interests to take priority over all else. Ray Yep and Tai-lok Lui, in chapter 5, discuss the MacLehose era (1971–1982) in Hong Kong. It was MacLehose, in particular, who worked to build up a sense of local pride and identity in Hong Kong, as well as leaving a legacy of social reform that was more partial and piecemeal than his British colleagues back in London sought for the territory.
The book’s subsequent chapters turn to an examination of communist rule. Chapter 6, by Lam Tao-chiu, looks at relations between Beijing and China’s provincial governments, concluding that these relations are markedly different from those between Beijing and Hong Kong. Ho-fung Hung and Huei-ying Kuo, in chapter 7, consider “one country, two systems” in Tibet and Taiwan. They show how the formulation “one country, two systems” was earlier framed in terms of Beijing-Tibet relations in the 1950s, as Deng Xiaoping later stated (179). “One country, two systems” failed as an experiment in Tibet and a proposal in Taiwan, Hung and Kuo show in their chapter; they ask in their conclusion as to whether its failure can be avoided in Hong Kong. Eilo Yu Wing-yat discusses “one country, two systems” in Macao, analyzing why this arrangement works more or less harmoniously in Macao as it does not in Hong Kong.
The book’s final two chapters turn, at long last, to contemporary Hong Kong as their object of inquiry. Ma Ngok analyzes in chapter 9 the 2010 political reform in Hong Kong, discussing how after the mass protests of 2003, Beijing tightened its control, reinterpreting the Basic Law to ensure that all electoral reform could only take place with Beijing’s approval. “The 2010 negotiations over political reform marked the first time that Beijing officials negotiated face-to-face with the Hong Kong democrats over the constitutional reform of Hong Kong” (262), with pragmatism prevailing—a pragmatism that in ensuing years has come to seem in increasingly short supply. In chapter 10, Benny Tai examines judicial autonomy in Hong Kong. The legal systems of China and of Hong Kong are markedly different, with the former taking precedence over the latter in Hong Kong of late. Because Beijing’s Standing Committee has the right to overrule Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, the latter proceeds very gingerly in order to preserve its autonomy to the extent that it can, Tai shows.
This book is quite interesting as a whole, but also imbalanced in my reading. I had hoped to discover much about Hong Kong’s complex relations with China since the 1997 handover, but only three of the book’s ten chapters—its initial chapter and two concluding chapters—directly address this topic. I found the book’s final four chapters to be its most interesting, first in their discussions of Tibet, Taiwan and Macao and their different renditions of “one country two systems,” and then in the final two chapters’ meticulous analyses of Hong Kong’s attempts to preserve and create political and judicial autonomy under Beijing’s massive shadow. There is great need for a full and comprehensive scholarly volume explaining in an institutional, political, economic and sociological sense what has happened to Hong Kong over the past twenty years. This is not that volume. Nonetheless, this book is well worth reading for the insights it provides as to what autonomy means in the context of “one country, two systems.” As its editor and chapter writers well realize, Hong Kong-China relations at present represent an extraordinary political experiment, an experiment whose broad historical and comparative context this book ably documents and analyzes.
Gordon Mathews, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
VOICES FROM TIBET: Selected Essays and Reportage. By Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong; edited and translated by Violet S. Law. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014. xxxviii, 81 pp. (Maps, figures.) US$20.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-3951-2.
Voices from Tibet is a collection of translations of blogposts and radio broadcasts on Radio Free Asia by husband and wife, Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong. Tsering Woeser is a well-known Tibetan blogger and an adept user of social media to disseminate her commentaries on the current situation in Tibet. She has received international recognition in the form of numerous rewards, notably, in 2013 the US State Department’s Woman of Courage Award. Wang Lixiong came to prominence in China with the publication of his novel Huanghuo, (Yellow Peril) in 1991, an apocalyptic novel about the collapse of China. He is also one of the few Chinese intellectuals to tackle the issues of minorities, notably in his two books on Tibet and Xinjiang, which offered a personal perspective on the current situation in these conflict-ridden regions, and that are critical of the Chinese government’s policies in dealing with Tibetans and Uyghurs. Woeser’s blog is banned in China and she posts on her blog using a proxy server.
Robbie Barnett of Columbia University provides an informative and excellent introduction, which makes up nearly half of the book. Barnett contextualizes Wang and Woeser’s writings in the context of the larger issue of Chinese intellectuals’ engagement with the general issue of “nationalities,” and particularly with Tibet. Barnett points out in his introduction that Woeser’s writing focuses on “the everyday pressures faced by Tibetans” in Tibet, whilst Wang’s writings deal with “strategy and policy” issues.
Woeser was the editor of Tibetan Literature, a Chinese-language literary journal of the Tibetan branch of the Chinese Writers’ Association, but she fell foul of Chinese censors and was dismissed from her post as the editor. She was forced to move to Beijing. Wang is not regarded as an outright dissident in China. He carefully crafts his writings not to cross the censor’s line. Because of the current wave of violent attacks by Uyghur nationalists and self-immolations in Tibet, Wang’s work has gained renewed interest amongst Chinese readers. Woeser has gained enormous popularity amongst the Tibetans in China and she is a conduit for news of protests and arrest, which she feeds through her over fifty thousand followers on Twitter.
Chinese readers will be familiar with their writings and their blogs attract a huge readership amongst the Chinese. Although Wang and Woeser have a high profile in the media, their works are rarely translated into English. Many of Woeser’s posts on her blog “Invisible Tibet” have been translated into English by Dechen Pemba and reposted on the blog “High Peaks Pure Earth.”
Violet S. Law, a journalist and translator, has done a great service by bringing English translations of selected posts from Wang and Woeser’s blog. The book consists of 41 short essays that are either posted on their blogs or broadcast on Radio Free Asia. The essays are organized into five broad themes; the first chapter consists of nine short vignettes on the current situation in Tibet’s capital Lhasa (1–18), other chapters deal with the economic marginalization of Tibetans (19–32), religion (33–48), the devastating effects of developments projects in Tibet (49–60), and contemporary cultural politics (61–74). These essays demonstrate what Woeser refers to in the epilogue, “to write is to bear witness”(75). Woeser sees herself speaking of and for the plight of Tibetans.
The essays in the book are attributed to Wang and Woeser but the essays have no named author, just a list of sources for the essays at the back of the book. The majority of the translated essays have been published in Taipei under the title Tingshuo Xizang, the same title as the book under review. The collections show Woeser and Wang as keen and insightful observers of the everyday lives of Tibetans. One constant theme emerges in their writings, that is the question of why the Chinese government have failed to win over the hearts and minds of the Tibetans. Woeser and Wang see the reasons in the gulf in everyday interactions between state officials, majority Han and the Tibetan people governed by mistrust and mutual incomprehension.
Woeser is a writer and poet whose works cannot be published in China but this has not silenced her or prevented her from taking to the Internet to circumvent the censor. This collection of essays attests to the opportunity and power of the Internet for a writer under an authoritarian regime.
Tsering Shakya, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
LIVING DEAD IN THE PACIFIC: Contested Sovereignty and Racism in Genetic Research on Taiwan Aborigines. By Mark Munsterhjelm. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014. 292 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$95.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-7748-2659-4.
This book fills an important gap in the literature on international indigenous studies. With a population of more than 550,000, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan are more numerous than the Aborigines of Australia or the San of Southern Africa, yet far less is known about them outside of their own country. A solid addition to Latourian Science and Technology Studies (STS), this book examines how genetics research contributes to the biocolonialism of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, as well as how indigenous peoples resist the use of their genetic material by outsiders without free, prior, informed consent. This issue is especially important in light of Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that indigenous peoples have the right to control and protect their human and genetic resources.
The first chapter provides a history of the political economy of Taiwan. From an indigenous perspective, the most important fact is that Taiwan’s indigenous peoples were incorporated into states and capitalist forms of accumulation—some as late as 1914—as Chinese, British and ultimately Japanese colonial forces sought to extract camphor from the central mountain regions. For readers interested in contemporary geopolitics, this chapter even explores PRC (Peoples Republic of China) claims to Taiwan and their discourse on the island’s “minorities.” By denying them status as indigenous peoples, who have certain rights in international law, the Chinese (especially in the UN) attempt to exclude any recognition of them as peoples with their own sovereignty (15). The same is true of Taiwan’s status. Only if Taiwan maintains its sovereignty vis-à-vis China and its democratic system can indigenous peoples there enjoy what Munsterhjelm calls “graduated sovereignty” (44). This book demonstrates clearly that Taiwan is a settler state like Canada or New Zealand, marked by differential political and economic power between settler and indigenous populations.
In the absence of anthropological field research, Munsterhjelm bases his book on Latourian Actor Network Theory (ANT) and rhetorical analysis of genetics research as narratively organized networks and resistance. He goes beyond Foucauldian discourse analysis by showing how discourses are both constructed and resisted. Chapter 3 examines scientific articles and their media coverage, showing how research on alcoholic “genes” constructs Taiwan’s indigenous people as genetically deficient. Chapter 4 shows how advocates of Taiwanese independence used genetic research to assert that Taiwan is the origin of the Austronesian diaspora and that 85 percent of Taiwanese have indigenous genes. This positions the indigenous peoples as the ancestors of the settlers, making genes “weapons of ontological violence” (120), but indigenous groups (in this case the Kavalan) were able to disrupt the narrative by asserting their own sovereignty (124).
The following two chapters move beyond Taiwan. Chapter 5 examines documentaries about genetic linkages between indigenous peoples of Taiwan and the Maori of New Zealand. This chapter is useful for contrast, as Munsterhjelm reveals how the Maori have successfully contested a discourse of “warrior genes” that can supposedly explain domestic violence in their communities. He concludes that the Maori have a stronger position relative to settlers in New Zealand than Taiwanese indigenous people relative to Taiwanese settlers. The Maori are better organized, even with the Maori Party in politics, and the media are more supportive. New Zealand researchers are more willing to criticize colleagues for violations of indigenous rights, whereas Taiwanese scientists have a “culture of impunity” and are even permitted to publicly criticize indigenous rights (161). Chapter 6 is about attempts to patent indigenous genetic material in Taiwan and the United States, indigenous resistance to the commercialization of their genes, and the ultimate failure of the patent applications. In this chapter, the author reveals his own participation as an advocate for the rights of Taiwanese indigenous peoples in genetics research (192).
STS tends to have a strong moralistic tone, as it portrays “Western” science as a form of Western intellectual hegemony over the rest of the world. This book is no exception, concluding that genetics research constitutes indigenous peoples as belonging to a “state of nature,” while giving researchers exceptional power (210). Taiwan is described as a “semi-sovereign American protectorate” (19), and many of the issues are complicated due to neoliberal assemblages involving American institutions such as Stanford University, Coriell Cell Repositories, and the US Patent and Trademark Office. Munsterhjelm gives the impression that this effect is intentional, as “scientists seek to cancel out or naturalize” (210) the colonial history and continuing hierarchies between settlers and indigenous peoples. In Taiwan, the crux of the issue is that, although Article 21 of the 2005 Indigenous Peoples Basic Law stipulates that academic researchers must gain consent of the peoples involved, there are still no indigenous autonomous governments or band councils who can give such collective consent. By drawing attention to this issue, Munsterhjelm helps promote indigenous rights in Taiwan.
As with any publication with such ambitious goals, there are occasional factual errors and omissions, but these are likely to be noticed only by Taiwan specialists and do not detract from the general argument. The concept of graduated sovereignty allows him to optimistically conclude that indigenous people in democratic states can assert themselves as “self-representing peoples who must be treated with dignity and respect” (223). Due to difficult and often obscure vocabulary, this book will not be useful as an undergraduate textbook. It is, however, an erudite work, making good use of both English- and Chinese-language source materials. It shows the utility of Latourian STS and ANT theories to social scientific analysis. Although not an ethnography, it provides indispensable information for anthropologists working with Taiwan’s indigenous peoples; as well as comparative data for researchers elsewhere. The focus on indigenous rights and on Taiwan as a settler state challenges many state-centric notions in Asian Studies, especially those that see Taiwan as intrinsically related to China. It is thus an important contribution to international indigenous studies and Taiwan studies, as serious reflection on sovereignty is crucial to both areas.
Scott Simon, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
MIGRANT WORKERS IN CONTEMPORARY JAPAN: An Institutional Perspective on Transnational Employment. Japanese Society Series. By Kiyoto Tanno; Translated by Teresa Castelvetere. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press; Portland, OR: International Specialized Book Services (exclusive distributor), 2013. xxxii, 376 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$89.95, cloth. ISBN 978-1-92090-160-8.
Migrant Workers in Contemporary Japan is primarily concerned with changes in social institutions within the context of globalization and the implications of these changes for the lifestyles of people living and working in Japanese society. Kiyoto Tanno regards the essence of globalization as “the reintroduction of disparities” (xvi) to relationships in the most fundamental social institution, i.e., the division of labour. Globalization in this sense has not only dismantled Japan’s mythical tradition that made the lifetime employment and seniority-based wages of regular workers the ideological norms, but has also promoted the rapid growth of irregular workers. Within this restructuring of the Japanese labour market, Tanno draws special attention to the formation of the “transnational employment system” (xiv) that brings in labour from beyond its national borders to meet its needs. He also emphasizes that it is crucial to carefully investigate the long-unexplored “fiction (lie) surrounding workers who cross national borders” (xxx). This refers to the Japanese state’s official stance that does not recognize the existence of trans-border migrant workers engaged in so-called “unskilled” jobs because of its principal ban on the entry of these workers to Japan. With these frameworks coherently underpinning the arguments in the book, Tanno aims to disclose the economic and political logics driving the incorporation of transnational migrant workers—in particular, the Nikkeijin (Japanese descendants) mainly from Brazil who are able to work legally in Japan—into Japan’s reorganized division of labour in an era of globalization.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 explores the ways in which the transnational employment system has been created. With a focus on peripheral, irregular work under short-term contracts, chapter 1 shows how Japan’s labour market reform, ushered by calls for deregulation, has shifted the role of migrant workers from simply alleviating the shortages of low-skilled and low-wage labour to constituting part of the expanding insecure contract labour force. Chapter 2 describes the function of the brokers who recruit Nikkei migrant workers in Latin America and deploy them to Japan’s local labour markets, while chapter 3 demonstrates how the lifestyles of these migrant workers have been influenced by the increasing prevalence of service contracting companies that assemble flexible workforces as needed. In chapters 4 and 5, Tanno further unpacks the dynamics of the transnational employment system, highlighting the spread of stratification and diversification among migrant workers, mainly due to their ethnicity and legal status.
Part 2 of the book brings together a range of quantitative and qualitative data from primary research conducted by the author in order to empirically illustrate the development of the transnational employment system. For example, chapter 6 traces the historical inflows of the Nikkeijin as migrant workers to Japan and elucidates the ways in which the increasing demand for these workers has been derived from profound changes in the Japanese management of employment contracts. Chapter 7 offers a summary of the findings from a survey of manufacturing factories in Toyota City—most of which are related to the automobile industry—and following interviews with those who identified their experience of hiring migrant workers. It illuminates emerging differences among these firms in terms of their reliance on migrant workers according to their position within the hierarchically organized subcontracting structure (known as keiretsu, which is one of the key elements that characterize Japan’s industrial relations). Based on an ethnographic study of a service contracting company in Toyota City that distributes Nikkei migrant workers to the factories, chapter 9 reveals specific labouring and living conditions imposed on these workers in Japanese society.
Finally, part 3 attempts to explore “the social foundation of [migrant] workers who straddle national borders” (xxxi), though it is not entirely clear how, exactly, the three chapters in this section are connected. Chapter 10 extends the analysis put forward in chapter 2 of the broker structure that sends the Nikkeijin from Brazil to Japan, delineating its linkage with the Japanese service-contracting companies and its transformation over time. Chapter 11 dwells on one particular court case concerning the system that grants special permission for unauthorized migrant workers to stay in Japan. Although the chapter sheds some light on the minimum requirements set by the state for unauthorized migrant workers to make their residence in Japanese society legitimate on a permanent basis, it creates a sudden disruption from the previous discussion of the transnational employment system with a central focus on the Nikkeijin. Chapter 12 examines genealogically the definition of Japanese nationality. It should be noted that this last chapter is not in the original Japanese version of the book, and the reason for its inclusion is not clarified anywhere in this English translation.
Migrant Workers in Contemporary Japan has much to contribute to the study of transnational labour migration to Japan. Of particular importance are Tanno’s efforts to combine various original sources in order to generate a more comprehensive and empirically grounded analysis for understanding the transnational employment system under conditions of globalization. However, while carefully disclosing the complexity of the transnational employment system, this book does not precisely explore the fiction surrounding cross-border migrant workers, which, in Tanno’s view, is another key framework that endorses its arguments. The link between a transnational employment system and the fictitious perception of migrant workers should have been more clearly articulated, possibly in part 3. Indeed, another salient question left unaddressed is: How far and in what ways does the specific study of Japan contribute to a growing body of literature regarding international labour migration and globalization? Despite these shortcomings, this book must be welcomed as an important resource for researchers, activists and policy makers who are interested in global labour migration and the politics of contemporary Japan.
Hironori Onuki, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia
MORAL NATION: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History. Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes, 29. By Miriam Kingsberg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. xvii, 304 pp. (Figures, maps, tables, illus.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-520-27673-4.
As a late-coming Asian nation in the West-dominant world order, Japan’s modernity consisted of constant struggles to establish itself as an equal to European and American counterparts. After Japan fully entered the global community by signing unequal treaties with Western powers in the 1850s, the country underwent a turbulent century. Japan’s assertion of autonomy soon turned into a claim to regional domination, and the country’s defeat in World War II left the nation in a state of devastation, exhaustion and despair. In her recent book Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History, Miriam Kingsberg tells a tale of Japan’s repeated self-reinventions as a modern nation by tracing its narcotic policies during this period.
Moral Nation chronicles three episodes of legitimacy crises and subsequent anti-narcotic moral crusades during Japan’s first century in the Westphalian system. Each episode occurred in a different geopolitical context, prompting distinctive narratives of drug use. The first episode took place in the early period of Japan’s imperialism, following their surprise victory in the Sino-Japanese War and the cession of Taiwan. Kingsberg argues that, in this early period of the Japanese Empire, narcotics policies were a key ingredient of Japan’s justification of imperialism. Opium smoking, which was prevalent in China and Taiwan but not among Japanese, became a politically useful marker for Japan to distinguish the civilized self from the uncivilized Other, for it placed non-opium-smoking Japan among Western powers and apart from their defeated and drugged Asian neighbour. In Taiwan, Japan regulated the opium trade through a government monopoly, claiming its commitment to eventual extinction of this barbaric habit of natives. This approach allowed Japan to generate a substantial profit and the approval of Western colonizers, who were also enjoying profitable opium monopolies in their own colony.
The author placed the greatest emphasis on the second episode: Japan’s increasing political isolation in a global community during the interwar era and the anti-opium crusade in the Kwantung Leased Territory (KLT). After the failure in gaining international approval for Manchukuo, Japan shifted the basis of its legitimacy claim from the Western standard to traditional Confucian values. Under the Japanese rule, the KLT’s port city of Dairen witnessed unprecedented levels of narcotic trafficking. Antidrug initiatives in the KLT employed the language of a benevolent government (jinsei) and framed drug control as a benevolent act of liberating smokers from their enslavement to opium. While the drug use in the KLT, in reality, was diverse in the choice of substance as well as the nationality of users, anti-drug discourses exclusively targeted opium addicts, who were predominantly Chinese. The narrow focus of the moral crusade on opium resonated with a larger political narrative of the salvation of colonial subjects by civilized Japan; however, it did not help eradicate the actual problem of wide-spread narcotic addiction in the region.
The third episode in the book is a methamphetamine epidemic called the “hiropon age” and anti-meth crusade during the 1950s in Japan. Methamphetamine, which was legal in Japan until 1950 and was marketed as a safe and inexpensive stimulant by major pharmaceutical companies, rapidly gained popularity in postwar Japan. The fact that meth users were neither other nationals nor colonial subjects, but the Japanese themselves, led to different narratives of drug addiction and a distinct orchestration of anti-drug initiatives. In the moral crusade against meth, Japanese addicts were seen as an embodiment of the bruised and humiliated nation; conquering the meth problem became a symbolic act of re-establishing Japan as a modern nation with its former strength, confidence and high moral ground.
Moral Nation, meticulously researched and sensibly written, is a welcome addition to the library of Japanese studies. By examining Japan’s symbolic boundary-making and identity assertion through the lens of narcotic policies, Kingsberg makes a fresh contribution to a growing body of research of modern Japanese national identity. Critical criminologists have repeatedly reported the political use of anti-narcotics policies as means to stigmatize particular groups and legitimize their subordination. The book contributes to broader historical studies of social problems through its careful examination of the cultural production of drug problems.
The book also comes with some weaknesses. Kingsberg uses moral entrepreneurship as the book’s core theoretical framework. While the author astutely acknowledges the substantial diversity in narcotic discourses and roles of different actors such as merchants, law enforcement, scientists and medical doctors, the book frequently refers to unidentified ‘moral entrepreneurs’ as if they had been a unified entity. Such generic use of the label blurs the multiplicity of voices in moral crusades. Compared to rich discussions on narcotic policies in the interwar period, the book’s coverage of the hiropon age, contained in the last chapter, is limited both in the breadth of data and the depth of analysis. Furthermore, the lack of a clear conclusion may leave a reader with a sense of incompleteness. A concluding chapter that examines the lasting consequences of these narcotic moral crusades might provide a better ending to the book.
While Moral Nation exclusively focuses on a period between the 1850s and 1950s, the value of this volume goes beyond historical specificities. The political dynamics articulated in the book offer a useful perspective for sociologists, criminologists, political scientists and social historians who are eager to learn the use of deviance in the construction of self, other and nationhood.
Ryoko Yamamoto, SUNY College at Old Westbury, Old Westbury, USA
The cover of Anne Allison’s new publication sets the tone for the whole book. It is a photograph by Dominic Nahr of two elderly Japanese women who have taken refuge in a school after the triple disaster of 3.11. The two women are looking anxiously into a dark forest beyond a parking lot, under a gloomy sky. They seem shaken by what has happened to them, but the photographs also convey the impression that they are even more worried about future events; it is as if a dark force may be lurking out in the wilderness, ready to engulf them. Whilst this is unquestionably a high-quality picture, one also feels somehow reminded of a horror movie poster. The same can be said about the content of the book. It is not an easy read; rather, it is a highly emotional account that takes us into the murky underside of Japan. It is an impressive ethnographic study of exclusion, precariousness and struggle that will leave no reader untouched; nevertheless careful reflection suggests that as a scholarly analysis it is not fully satisfying and at times its argument risks drifting into sensationalism.
Allison’s study starts with the story of a middle-aged man whose corpse was found one month after he had starved to death alone in his apartment. Surrounded by wealthy Japan, in his last diary entry the man expresses the simple, yet unfulfilled, wish to eat a rice ball (onigiri). Rice balls are a staple food that can be bought at any hour of any day throughout Japan for little more than one US dollar and rice is also a core symbol of Japanese culture. The anecdote shows us a man who has not only been abandoned by society; even his socio-cultural existence has been annihilated. In the first chapter Allison puts this and other stories into the broader context of precariousness, the new social risks and insecurities which have become an issue in Japan and in many Western industrialized societies. The second chapter illustrates Japan’s transformation from a society of stable institutions and predictable life-courses into a fluid society, in which the unstable margins are creeping towards the core. Allison identifies changes in human resource management, neoliberal reforms and demographic aging as the main factors in this transformation. In the next two chapters Allison discusses examples which illustrate how this new instability leads to the dissolution of “home” as a secure place in society and the emergence of new forms of homelessness, the breakdown of the family as a unit and withdrawals from society. Chapters 5 and 6 are centred on aging, death and hopelessness. In these chapters examples are used to show the effects of Japan’s liquidization. The loss of social stability leaves those excluded alone, outside in the social cold, struggling with circumstances for which they have not been prepared. The final chapter embeds examples of the triple disaster of 3.11 into this narrative of precarious Japan. Three eleven and its impact are not discussed as a singular event, but as an example of Japan’s new fragility.
The book is part of a recent wave of studies on social inequality in Japan. For many decades, Japan was not only lauded for its outstanding economic growth, but was also identified as a prime example of social equality and fairness. The existence of harshly discriminated-against minorities and other marginal groups was often overlooked and absent from public discourse. However, from the late 1990s onwards, Japan’s self-view started to shift fundamentally. A new model of Japan as a “gap society” (kakusa shakai) became dominant and issues like atypical employment and poverty started to fill newspapers and television programs and prompted new research. Allison has made a valuable contribution to this field. Most studies involve quantitative analysis of structural changes, but she has focused on daily life. For readers not aware of the dark side of contemporary Japan, the book will be an eye-opener. The examples are powerful and some feel like punches to the stomach. However, readers already familiar with the debate about Japan as a “gap society” may not be fully satisfied by this book. Its structure and theoretical foundation are a kind of potpourri. The argument is not introduced at the beginning, nor does the book end with an overall conclusion. It is also hard to find a clear thread running between the strings of examples discussed in the chapters. Although in the second chapter Allison develops a concise model of former Japan as general middle-class society, in the chapters which follow she too rarely makes use of this model as a comparative tool to contemporary Japan. Instead, she introduces new theoretical concepts based on studies of Western societies throughout the book. Because similarities and differences between precariousness in Japan and Western societies are not fully discussed, these concepts add another layer of theoretical complexity, but rarely a new dimension to the analysis. It would be beside the point to reproach a qualitative study for being unrepresentative, but some of the examples here seem somewhat exploitative in character. For example, Allison discusses what she acknowledges may be a fictitious story of a homeless boy who becomes a famous comedian (108–112). It is a breath-taking story, but why include it in an empirical study if it might be manufactured? Although it is not openly stated in the book, Allison seems to position herself both as a researcher, and as an activist for Japan’s underprivileged classes. Her political commitment notwithstanding, choosing less stark examples would have made possible a more subtle analysis; after all, the existence of poverty and marginal groups in Japan is not a completely new phenomenon. I would argue that the paradigmatic change of recent years has been the return of such groups into the limelight, indicating a new fear of social downward mobility among the middle classes. Despite these caveats, and although the analysis may not be wholly convincing, Allison’s new book will surely be highly impressive for many readers and a good resource for discussions in courses on contemporary Japan.
David Chiavacci, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
JAPANESE PERCEPTIONS OF FOREIGNERS. Japanese Society Series. Edited by Shunsuke Tanabe. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press; Portland, OR: International Specialized Book Services [exclusive distributor], 2013. xviii, 182 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$79.95, cloth. ISBN 978-1-920901-54-7.
This book is an English translation of a work published in 2011 in Japanese that deals with Japanese perceptions of issues related to migration and their interrelation with political views. The analysis is based on results from a nationwide survey held in 2009 that focused on eight themes: nationalism, immigration, coexistence society (or tabunka kyōsei), citizenship, neoliberalism, support for political parties, swing voters and populism. Subjects were Japanese nationals aged 20 to 79 years and the authors collected 3610 samples, with a 43.4 percent return rate. The themes covered by the survey correspond with the topics of the eight chapters, which are organized into two groups: the first deals mainly with issues related to perceptions of migrants and the second focuses more on political views and their interrelation with immigration-related issues. Overall, this book presents a significant contribution to the still infrequent quantitative studies of Japanese perceptions of the growing foreign population in general and to relating these to political orientations and social characteristics of populations in particular. As the editor himself emphasizes, issues of nationalism, anti-foreign sentiments and political attitudes have tended to be considered separately in Japan and the integrative approach presented here underlines the significance of this work.
In the introduction, Shunsuke Tanabe outlines the background to this study: the changing face of nationalism in the age of globalization, a growing foreign population in what was once believed to be a single-ethnic Japan, and the relationship between an increasingly fluid political situation and (the new) nationalism in Japan. One of the characteristics of this survey is that it was conducted after the general elections in 2009 that meant a change of ruling parties in Japan after more than five decades. This is mainly related to the second part of the book, yet issues concerning foreign residents, such as suffrage, have been on the political agenda of the new ruling party as well. In the first chapter, Tanabe challenges the simplistic views of a relationship between political stances and nationalism and elaborates on the factors contained in the term nationalism in present-day Japan. In particular, he focuses on the views of ordinary people and outlines three dimensions of nationalism in Japan: patriotism, exclusivism and purism. These three dimensions, which he explains and describes both theoretically and empirically, represent core concepts that connect the remaining chapters of the book. The second chapter deals with differences in opinions on foreign residents in Japan by respondent’s occupation, education or region. Unsurprisingly, those with managerial jobs, a higher level of education and more contact with foreigners view the contribution of foreigners to the economy in more positive terms. On the other hand, blue-collar workers tend to see foreigners’ role more negatively and these views are associated with purism and patriotism. The third chapter focuses on support for multicultural coexistence in Japan. The author identifies four major types of perceptions of multicultural coexistence based on the degree of acceptance of equal rights and willingness for communication. The ideal type of autonomous coexistence, when both equal rights and mutual communication are promoted, has been found only among around 30 percent of respondents whereas the majority have more exclusionary ideas of coexistence. The fourth chapter aims to uncover the determinants of support for the political rights of foreign nationals in Japan. Indeed, the results confirmed the hypothesized relationship between purism and patriotism on the one hand and the support for suffrage on the other. Interestingly, however, the author found no correlation between support for suffrage and the socio-economic situation of an individual. This uncovers an intriguing point: the relatively tolerant views of socio-economically well-situated individuals towards migrants do not necessarily translate into support for migrants’ political rights.
Chapters in the second part of the book focus more on the contemporary trends among voters in Japan. Due to the brevity of the review, I focus here only on results related to views on migrants. The fifth chapter focuses on aspects of neo-liberalism and discusses their correlation with nationalism. Patriotism in particular was found to be strongly related to all aspects of neo-liberalism. The sixth chapter analyzes the shift in voter support after the general elections in 2009. In regard to migrants, the analysis uncovers a link between LDP support and low support for extending rights to foreigners. The seventh chapter scrutinizes the voting preferences and socio-economic characteristics of swing voters and shows that those swinging to DPJ were more tolerant toward migrants. The eighth chapter analyzes the characteristics of supporters of populist politicians. Similar to LDP voters, populist supporters are also inclined to be more patriotic and less tolerant towards an extension of foreigners’ rights. The book concludes with Tanabe’s chapter summarizing the main findings and discussing the new nationalism in Japan in light of these findings.
Whereas the findings of this survey suggest some important and interesting points about views concerning foreign nationals in Japan, the analysis and discussion of the results tend to be limited in some places. For example, the discussion of support for the rights of foreigners is largely limited to that of suffrage, although the data provide views concerning other social or civic rights as well and the author undertook a considerably more elaborate analysis and discussion of a similar topic elsewhere (Kikuko Nagayoshi, “Support of Multiculturalism, But For Whom? Effects of Ethno-National Identity on the Endorsement of Multiculturalism in Japan,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 37, no. 4: 561–78). Furthermore, whereas the particulars of the sample of this survey are sometimes discussed (e.g., 18), a more comprehensive discussion is lacking elsewhere. For instance, the authors do not discuss some major differences (21) in their results with other similar surveys such as ISSP’s module National Identities. Nonetheless, the book represents a valuable contribution to studies on migrants and their acceptance in Japanese society and it unveils, through empirical methods, links between various aspects of nationalism, political orientation and socio-economic characteristics.
Miloš Debnár, Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan
Based on her rich longitudinal study of Japanese women, Rosenberger demonstrates the ways that Japanese women resist the status quo in their daily lives through the 1990s and 2000s. Originally interested in these women because they were “delaying marriage” by remaining single beyond their mid-20s, she conducted the first interviews in 1993 with sixty Japanese, never-married women between the ages of 25 and 35; 58 of the participants were interviewed a second time in 1998; a third interview with 54 women was conducted in 2004. In 2004, about one-third of the women had remained single, two-thirds were married, and half of the women had children. Throughout the book, she utilizes four core concepts—ambiguity, tension, ambivalence and contradiction—to describe women’s long-term resistance that is often performed in a subtle manner such as remaining single or continuing their career after marriage.
The book is organized in a straightforward manner. Chapter 1 provides the background and theoretical framework of the study. Chapter 2 illustrates the ways Japanese women experience tension and ambivalence by living in a transitional era that contains two sets of contradictory values: traditional cultural values and newer global values. Chapters 3 through 6 introduce subgroups of these women based on their marital, maternal and work statuses as of 2004. Chapter 7 summarizes her findings, while the epilogue introduces snippets of her fourth interview in 2012, which touches on the women’s experiences of the deadly earthquake in northeast Japan in 2011.
Single women in her study all wrestle with their sense of self as their single status runs counter to the traditional cultural code. Single women in the study are assigned to one of three subgroups: successful singles, struggling singles and struggling-and-crashing singles. Successful singles, who are financially and emotionally stable, tend to have higher education, live in the city, and have healthy parents. Struggling singles experience noticeably high tension and ambivalence, while struggling-and-crashing singles have collapsed over the year both physically and psychologically.
For married women without children, childlessness is more acceptable in Japanese society than previously. Some women in this group enjoy “the two of us” while others have problems with immature husbands. Married, stay-at-home moms can be planners, cocooners or caretakers. While both planners and cocooners place their focus on mothering for the moment, planners are more aware of their multiple identities. On the other hand, caretakers are tired with caring for two sets of loved ones (parents and children). The experiences of married working mothers vary, yet they all try to accommodate their roles in marriage to maintain their career. For full-time working mothers, their parents’ help is a key for them to continue working. Part-time working mothers in her study were either independent or family workers, and affected by economy and relationships with husbands. The author features a married organic farmer as she represents this generation’s ideal of self-actualization.
With careful examination of Japanese women in the subgroups, and by drawing on postmodern, feminist and Japanese studies scholars such as Comaroff, Melucci, Butler, Doi and Ueno, Rosenberger claims that Japanese women in her study engage in ambiguous, long-term resistance to the status quo with ambivalence and tensions. Such resistance is enacted through the use of vague movements (i.e., tacit refusal) in the contexts of contradiction. She also notes that women’s aging and Japan’s economic downturn over the years (time), urban-rural differences (space), and level of education (class) indicates complex effects on women of different subgroups. In addition, historically salient concepts such as dependence (amae) and endurance (gaman) are highlighted to illustrate the ways these psychological traits emerge in the process of resistance.
The women’s resistance produced negative tension and uncertainty as well as reflective awareness and increased tolerance and a continuing search for life that allows them reasonable satisfaction. In the end, Rosenberger attests that while these women created changes in the world around them, a new kind of social movement, the direction of this movement is still uncertain. As a result, these Japanese women feel that “they have choices, and yet simultaneously they have no choice but to negotiate their way with practiced ambivalence through the dilemmas of their adulthood” (175).
The strength of the book is in her detailed descriptions of the women’s voices from her longitudinal in-depth interviews of women with whom she formed relationships over the years; moreover, her ethnographic observations—from their dresses to their interactions with husbands and children during the interviews—are outstanding. She featured at least 37 women’s personal stories throughout the book, which indicates her thorough examination of the data. Yet, as each of these women’s lives is full of stories, it was at times confusing to keep track of the stories threading through so many voices. Although she attests her struggle of analyzing the data using the Western feminist framework in the beginning, with her careful narrative of the women’s stories and thorough literature review, she demonstrates that the behaviours and attitudes of these women, often interpreted as submissive, passive or parasitic by some scholars, are indeed, resistance that is changing Japan’s landscape.
While we await her forthcoming analysis of the fourth interview, additional work is necessary to further our understanding of the social dynamics involved in the women’s resistance. In particular, it would be interesting to hear the voices of these women’s counterparts, single and married men of their generation, as well as the generation of their parents, who were most likely affected by the social upheaval of World War II in their youth. With these individuals voices added, we can develop a more complete understanding of the ways postwar cultural codes and newer global values influence individuals of different status, and hopefully, find a direction that allows both women and men to make life choices without fear, but rather, with care and love.
Eriko Maeda, University of Hyogo, Himeji, Japan
GENDER AND LAW IN THE JAPANESE IMPERIUM. Edited by Susan L. Burns and Barbara J. Brooks. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014. ix, 301 pp. (Table, graph.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3715-0.
Susan Burns and Barbara Brooks have put together a markedly revisionist anthology, with nine case studies analyzing legal reforms concerning prostitution, reproduction, sexuality, female criminality and family, while paying attention to relationships between Japan and the West, Japan and its colonies, and state and society.
Following Burns’ introduction, chapters are organized thematically in three parts. In part 1, Douglas Howland and Sally Hastings discuss the origin and abolishment of legalized prostitution in modern Japan. Howland examines the 1872 Maria Luz Incident, which juxtaposed the similarly inhumane indentured labour practices of Chinese coolies and prostitutes. Kanagawa assistant governor Ōe Taku, in charge of this case, established a legal context in improving conditions for prostitutes, propelled by Japan’s desire to present itself as a civilized and humanitarian, and thereby modern nation, in the international labour migration debate. Hastings investigates another action to liberate prostitutes from mistreatment in the 1950s. Newly enfranchised and elected female Diet representatives, in favour of eradicating prostitution, regarded prostitutes as victims of human rights violations. Not everyone, however, shared this view, as brothel owners and unionized prostitutes advocated for their right to work. For bipartisan female Diet members, the passage of the 1956 Prostitution Prevention Law was bitter-sweet because, while selling daughters was made illegal, prostitution itself was not.
Part 2 investigates criminal and penal law with an emphasis on applications beyond definitions. Using actual court cases involving abortion and infanticide in the early Meiji period, Susan Burns challenges Fujime Yuki’s influential theory of the prewar judicial system as gendered and oppressive, designed to limit women’s reproductive and sexual choices. Rulings demonstrate that gender biases against female reproducers were remarkably limited, as their male sexual partners as well as parents and in-laws were routinely punished for reproductive crimes. Similarly, in his examination of the legal double standard of adultery, Herald Fuess presents court decisions which were more sympathetic toward wives than adulterous husbands by granting the former divorce through some liberal interpretation of laws. Daniel Botsman’s chapter illuminates that men and women in premodern Japan committed different types of crimes. The gendered pattern of crimes and punishment did not change following the post-1868 “modernization” of Japan’s penal system. His study tentatively links an intriguing decline of female prisoners during interwar years to the medicalization of female criminality and calls for further investigations. Darryl Flaherty’s richly contextual study of female criminality focuses on a very specific event, the 1928 Tokyo Court’s first jury trial of alleged arsonist-for-insurance Yamafuji Kanko. The all-male jury trial upheld Yamafuji’s acquittal precisely because she was a woman in need of paternalistic sympathy. This portrayal of women reinforced the prevailing gender stereotypes, which ironically coincided with such democratizing and hierarchy-fighting experiments as the jury system, “new women” and “modern girls.”
Part 3 highlights legal decentralization and centralizing efforts in the Japanese empire. Diverse legal definitions of family existed because Japan allowed customary laws in Taiwan and Korea. Chen Chao-ju offers a new theoretical reading of a customary law governing the Taiwanese tradition of sim-pua, an adoption of a young girl who was often expected to marry her adoptive brother, which invited later interventions by Japanese authorities. Legal handbooks informed the late Barbara Brooks of how the boundary that divided colonizer and colonized through separate household registration systems was “porous” (219), as Japanese women married colonial men and they had “hybrid” offspring. Matsutani Motokazu’s study of the bitterly detested sōshi kaimei (often translated as name-changing) policy rejects the commonly held view that the policy, issued in 1939, reflected Japan’s intent to promote assimilation by means of the forced adoption of Japanese names at the expense of Korean identity. Matsutani’s provocative essay concludes that the central tenet of the policy was to “reform” the traditional Korean family system so that it could align with the Japanese family system. Incidentally, women, who had been used to retaining their natal family’s clan name (sei) after their marriage, came to share the same newly created family name (shi) with their husbands.
From these summaries, one may sense new sources, approaches, perspectives and interpretations in the volume. Additional examples sustain the important claim that this volume is indeed revisionist (7). A comparative approach is particularly productive. According to Fuess, “[a]s adultery laws evolved, change did not proceed exclusively in a linear fashion as a story of women’s liberation, nor did all the Western models that were evoked support notions of gender equality” (110). His discussion reveals that the adultery law of supposedly progressive and egalitarian France and that of supposedly conservative and male-chauvinistic Japan were strikingly similar. Likewise, Chen notes that Taiwan’s customary succession system had exhibited greater “equality” than that of Japan, typically deemed more “modern” than its “backward” colony (204). Botsman also challenges “any simplistic equation of mass incarceration with modernity” since “imprisonment was already a relatively important form of punishment for women” in late Tokugawa Japan (137). Matsutani’s discussion on whether a woman would take the family name of her husband upon marriage could have been used to question the linearity of feminist master narrative as well. As Burns mentions, in contemporary Japan and the world, feminists argue requiring the one (often husband’s) surname for a married couple is discriminatory (14), and a wife’s retention of her maiden name can be seen as progressive and liberating. However, as Matsutani illuminates, Japan’s “modernizing reform” regarding Korea’s family system moved in an opposite direction by promoting one last name within a family, though not only female identity, but also choice was at stake. Taken together, all this evidence pushes us to reevaluate the oversimplified notion that the modern West was a source of inspiration and model for progress elsewhere, as well as the question of what is “liberation” for women.
If they are looking for thought-provoking ideas in discourse analyses rather than recovery of women’s voice, scholars and students in Japanese and comparative gender history will benefit from this finely edited volume with coherent and mutually cross-referenced chapters.
Sumiko Otsubo, Metropolitan State University, Saint Paul, USA
IMAGINING JAPAN IN POST-WAR EAST ASIA: Identity Politics, Schooling and Popular Culture. Routledge Studies in Education and Society in Asia. Edited by Paul Morris, Naoko Shimazu and Edward Vickers. London; New York: Routledge, 2013. xv, 264 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$155.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-71399-3.
East Asia has enjoyed a long period of relative peace since the end of the Vietnam War some four decades ago, a peace undergirded by the remarkable economic growth of the region. While the unresolved problems of the Cold War, most notably the divided Korean peninsula, remain a source of tension, the postwar structure of order in East Asia has been unusually stable. A principal source of that stability and order has been the role of Japan, resurgent from the destruction of World War Two as an engine of economic growth and the pillar of the American-led system of alliances in the region.
The East Asian order is increasingly under stress, however. Globalization produces stresses on social and political systems, as well as inter-state relations. New powers such as South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia seek a greater role in the region. And most powerfully, China claims its place as the new regional hegemon, an aspiring equal to the United States as a great power, at least in East Asia. These forces combine to create political and cultural changes within East Asian societies, manifest in the search for forms of national identity that can serve the needs of the state and society.
Japan occupies an important role in the construction of national identity across East Asia. As the first Asian nation to achieve the status of a modern nation state, one capable of challenging the Western powers, it was a role model for many in Asia. But there is another Japan, the “dominant Other,” which embarked on a path of imperial aggression, colonial occupation and invasion earlier in this century, leaving a legacy of mistrust that remains stubbornly intact.
Images of Japan continue to play a critical role today in the formation of national identity in East Asia, most obviously in the nationalist ideologies of China and Korea but even elsewhere in the region. But those images can vary widely, not only over time within each society but also between nations, some of whom embrace the image of Japan as a model of modernization much more than as a perpetrator of aggression.
What is most disturbing to observers of contemporary events is the degree to which anti-Japanese sentiments, driven by historical memories of the wartime period that are encouraged and sharpened by governments, are now dominating relations in Northeast Asia. The Sino-Japanese rivalry is most worrisome, raising the specter even of armed conflict, but the tensions now prevailing between Japan and South Korea are equally entrenched.
This volume offers a valuable contribution to the literature on the formation of national identity in East Asia through its focus on how the images of Japan shape that process of identity construction. The volume looks at the images of Japan through two comparative lenses. At the broadest level, the volume is broken down into two sections: one examines the images of Japan in popular culture and public propaganda and the second looks at the portrayal of Japan in school textbooks, which is a form of official discourse in most Asian countries due to the role of the state in the content and publication of school textbooks. The second comparative dimension is between nations: the volume provides varied studies of the images of Japan in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines in Southeast Asia, and of Japan in China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong in Northeast Asia. The volume is also comparative in a disciplinary sense in that the contributors work in a variety of academic fields from education, culture and history, to the social sciences.
In the comparison between Southeast and Northeast Asia, across both popular culture and textbooks, the volume offers evidence that in Southeast Asia the images of Japan tend to emphasize its use as a normative model, rather than dwelling on its wartime past. The “learn from Japan” campaign in Singapore, for example, was a valuable tool for the regime’s own developmental model. The view of Japan in South Korea and China is quite different, though not necessarily uniformly negative. In an interesting contribution on the depiction of Japanese in Chinese war films, Kinnia Yau Shuk-tin points to the emergence of “good Japanese” characters who offer a more subtle portrait of Japanese than the previously Manichean portrayals found in Communist Chinese propaganda movies about the war.
The discussion of popular culture is necessarily somewhat anecdotal in nature, given the scope of the subject. The most cogent and useful section of this book deals with textbooks. In particular there is an excellent contribution from Caroline Rose on changing views of the Sino-Japanese war in Chinese high-school history textbooks, which have been revised to reflect a more “patriotic” and anti-Japan narrative, downplaying the previous emphasis on the civil war struggle against the Nationalists. Other chapters, such as Alisa Jones’ detailed examination of Taiwanese textbooks and Paul Morris and Edward Vickers’ chapter on Hong Kong textbooks provide useful contrasts with the Chinese textbooks. And finally there are very fresh additions to the literature in chapters on the images of Japan in the textbooks of Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
As the editors of this volume stress in their introduction, this is a study of how images of Japan are constructed and the plasticity of their use in neighbouring Asian societies. It is not a study of how Japanese themselves have acted to construct a self-image, or to portray themselves to others, and most importantly, not a study of how closely those images actually track reality. And equally important, this does not look at how other foreign nations, such as the United States, might also impact the formation of national identity in East Asia. But it does assert, and quite correctly, that: “Understanding how and why portrayals of Japan have become so intertwined with the construction of identity in many societies across the region is an essential precondition for steps—that must follow—to untangle image from reality, and prevent the war of minds from becoming a war of men” (23).
Daniel Sneider, Stanford University, Stanford, USA
WORLD WAR I AND THE TRIUMPH OF A NEW JAPAN, 1919–1930. Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare. By Frederick R. Dickinson. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xii, 221 pp. (B&W illus.) C$90.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-03770-0.
Japan is far from the first country that comes to mind in connection with the First World War. Although it entered the global conflict on the side of the Allies, with most of the war taking place on the other side of the globe, Japan’s role was limited to the swift occupation of German territories in China and the Pacific, limited naval operations in Europe, and participation as one of the powers at the Versailles Peace Conference. In this book, Frederick Dickinson sets out to reveal how important that war and the new world order it brought about were for the development of modern Japan. At the same time, he also seeks to challenge the all-too-common view, among postwar Japanese and Japan-specialists alike, that there was something fundamentally flawed in Japan’s interwar “Taishō democracy” that led inexorably to the militarism and authoritarianism of the 1930s and early 1940s. Dickinson claims that by interpreting the 1920s in light of the 1930s, previous scholars of modern Japan have overemphasized the crises and reactionary tendencies of interwar diplomacy, politics and culture, thus overlooking or devaluing the degree with which the Japanese understood the post-Versailles world order as an opportunity to advance Japan’s international stature, while also using the internationalist tide of the postwar years to advance progressive changes at home.
Dickinson urges us to consider the Japanese reaction to the First World War in a light similar to that of the Meiji Restoration. Just as scholars have moved away from an interpretation of the early Meiji years that emphasizes Japanese fears of the threats posed by Western imperialism toward one that focuses on the active pursuit of modernity, wealth and power in the state-building process, he contends that we could more accurately view developments of the interwar years not as a series of compromises forced upon Japan (or, domestically, upon a reactionary government by its citizenry), but rather as the active embrace of opportunities to assume a role in global politics more commensurate with its arduously acquired power. There is one important difference between the Meiji years and the 1920s, however: whereas the Meiji state-builders’ quest for modernity was in many ways a game of “catch-up ball” with the Western powers, by 1918 Japan’s leaders and people understood that Japan had achieved great power status. Japan’s willingness—indeed eagerness, according to Dickinson—to embrace the kind of multilateralism embodied in the League of Nations, the Washington Naval Conference, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact (to name just a few examples that Dickinson explores), far from being little more than humiliating compromises or superficial gestures doomed to failure, revealed an understanding of the new order that Versailles had brought about and the belief that Japan could play a major, even a leading role, in sustaining it. Dickinson also views the effort made across the 1920s by successive party cabinets to downsize the military as part of an international trend in reaction to the carnage of the war. Here too, Dickinson demonstrates that Japan’s leaders recognized that to lead meant to lead by example; the militarism exemplified by Germany had failed, and the leading states in a new, civilized world order needed to chart out a better course.
On the domestic scene as well, Dickinson notes the positive political and cultural developments that came about in response to the First World War and the failure of the German-style authoritarianism that was, he claims, one of the greatest lessons that Japanese observers took away from the Allied victory. Dickinson downplays the importance of some of the benchmarks of interwar history familiar to students of the period, such as the post-1918 economic downturn as European goods returned to the international market, the Rice Riots, the Great Kantō Earthquake, and the Peace Preservation Law and the subsequent roundups of communists and socialists. While these were far from unimportant, he cites the writings of prominent intellectuals and political leaders of the time to show that they saw these as much less dire for Japan than historians have since 1945. Instead, Dickinson urges us to look at the trends of the period: the democratization that began with Hara Takashi’s expansion of the electorate and took off with the achievement of universal male suffrage under the progressive policies of Katō Takaaki’s Minseitō; the downsizing of the military, also carried out by the Minseitō; a reevaluation of Japan’s imperialist program and approach to ruling its colonies; and the rise of a “culture of peace” in Japan that reigned until the travails of the early 1930s.
Throughout his analysis, Dickinson offers revealing evidence of how the leaders and knowledgeable observers of this “New Japan” understood their nation’s role in the new world order and the opportunities it promised to enhance Japan’s international influence. I was somewhat less convinced in regard to his claims about domestic developments, particularly in regard to disarmament and the culture of peace. The fact that the electorate seemed to support the downsizing of the military, after all, does not necessarily indicate a broad sentiment of anti-militarism or pacifism, as Dickinson suggests; people can accept the benefits of military power while at the same time being unwilling to pay higher taxes for them, after all. Readers may also come away wondering how the commitments to internationalism and peace that Dickinson claims were so deeply held in interwar Japan collapsed so rapidly after 1931. Dickinson promises to answer that question in a forthcoming study, but given the challenge he mounts to the standard historiography of the interwar period, a few hints in that direction would have given this book a better sense of conclusion.
Be that as it may, Dickinson provides us with a thought-provoking reminder not to read the past in light of what we know came next. This book, in combination with his next, will become important texts for students and specialists of interwar diplomacy, politics and culture in Japan.
Jeffrey P. Bayliss, Trinity College, Hartford, USA
OPENING A WINDOW TO THE WEST: The Foreign Concession at Kōbe, Japan, 1868–1899. By Peter Ennals. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. xxiii, 237 pp. (Maps, illus.) US$29.48, paper. ISBN 978-1-4426-1416-1.
Japanese treaty ports have been neglected as a subject of study by foreign historians so it now almost appears as if nineteenth-century globalization bypassed Japan’s harbours. In Japan, treaty ports now symbolize a time when Japanese sovereignty was impaired by the “unequal treaties,” which is a period the public would rather forget. From a comparative perspective, Japanese treaty ports also seem less interesting to global historians, as this era was rather short in Japan (1859–1899) and limited to a few places. By Chinese standards the foreign community in Japan remained small while the Japanese government also took meticulous care in ensuring that foreigners did not transgress treaty boundaries so these ports did not become stepping stones for further imperialistic encroachment. As a result, Japanese treaty ports, which used to be the main places of cultural and economic interaction between Japan and the outside world, are marginalized in Japanese and international history. Peter Ennals, a Canadian professor emeritus of geography, has now published a very readable, well-informed concise history of the Foreign Concession in Kobe, which together with Yokohama, was Japan’s main international port in the late nineteenth century.
In the first three chapters of his book Ennals places Kobe geopolitically in the broader region and leads us through the establishment of the physical and political infrastructure of the foreign concession in relation to the native town of Hyōgo. When Kobe opened in 1869, ten years after Yokohama, its foreign planners wanted it to become a better location to work and live for middle-class Western merchants than other East Asian treaty ports. Just like other planned international settlements of the time, it included a grid-pattern for housing lots with streets and canalization, and a waterfront imitating the famous Bund at Shanghai, with the prominent building of a Japanese customs house for clearance of all international transactions. Unlike more nationally fragmented treaty ports, Kobe’s Foreign Settlement was united administratively and thus able to conduct its municipal development more effectively. This common core, designed to enable Western merchants in their business and maintain facilities for residents, manifested itself in a large brick municipal building for council meetings, which also housed a fire brigade, rooms for consular courts, and even a jail. The transient Western population of sailors, however, was provided for through inns and grogshops in the native town and high property prices in the settlement induced a stronger social segregation than for example in Yokohama.
The next two chapters explain Kobe’s economic basis. Silk and cotton textiles formed the backbone of Japan’s international trade and industry in the nineteenth century. Ennals shows how merchants at Kobe went through a period of trial and error, hoping to match Yokohama’s strength in silk exports, but failing due to market inexperience. The 1870s for them turned out to be rather disappointing. Eventually Kobe settled on its competitive economic advantage: assembling, processing and selling Japanese green tea to the American West and to Canada. The green tea export market thus came to influence the urban landscape in the Kobe settlement. Godown storage spaces with tea firing facilities and Japanese day labourers to handle tea leaves turned into a common sight. The seasonality of the tea trade meant very busy and intensive seasons followed by a stretch of time with much lower commercial activity. While North America became the prime destination of Kobe tea, the trade was mostly organized by British merchants with a surprisingly weak American presence, which was more prominent in the Yokohama silk trade. The economic chapters pay more attention to the initial years than Kobe’s burgeoning import trade, even though Kobe’s key economic success was its emergence as Japan’s leading import harbour, surpassing Yokohama by 1893. The reason Kobe’s second-largest group of foreign merchants was from Germany, which remained an insignificant destination for Japanese exports, may also have been related to the fact that German imports and shipping to Japan was on the rise. Foreign entrepreneurs later engaged in industrial activities such as the repair and building of ships as well as paper production but the most promising ventures were eventually bought by Japanese investors.
The last three chapters explore the social dimensions of the Foreign Settlement, which was separated by “Division Street” from the older Japanese town. Just like other treaty ports with an expatriate community where men outnumbered women, selective clubs and physical recreations provided an important venue of male sociability. The Kobe Club became the premier gentlemen’s club with a strict dress code and a bar. The Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club, with the support of the municipal council, turned a former river valley adjacent to the concession into sports grounds for horse racing, cricket, soccer and a gymnasium that could also be used for theater performances. Protestant missionaries established schools teaching English and the Bible.
Peter Ennals’ excellent and pioneering study relies exclusively on English-language material. British and American perspectives are thus well documented through diplomatic reports, corporate archives and the English-language local press, which also catered to other Western nationalities. To what extent Kobe, as the book title suggests, “Opened a Window to the West” or remained an extraterritorial enclave with limited local impact is more difficult to assess. As a showcase model of overseas life, Kobe’s role in introducing the Japanese people to Western culture and politics can be deduced in the partial spread of Western-style architecture in the Japanese part of town but we also know that despite all earnest missionary efforts in Kobe and elsewhere, the spread of Christianity often disappointed the proselytizers. Kobe in the nineteenth century appeared to be a port for processing and moving goods more than people, with Japanese overseas passenger traffic not yet playing a major role. One wonders how the overall narrative would need to be amended when continental European, Japanese or Chinese sources and voices were integrated more fully into the picture. This caveat does not detract from the fact that Peter Ennals has written a wonderful history of the Foreign Settlement at Kobe, which appears especially strong in its analysis of spatial developments and patterns of architecture.
Harald Fuess, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany
REGIONALIZING CULTURE: The Political Economy of Japanese Popular Culture in Asia. By Nissim Kadosh Otmazgin. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xxv, 230 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$42.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3694-8.
In an information age, our globalized world is increasingly impacted not only by the intraregional and interregional flows of financial capital but also by the movements of cultural commodities. While the cultural industry worldwide continues to boom, it is now one of the hottest business trends in Asia. Particularly in East Asia, the sector of popular culture products has experienced rapid growth in recent years, fuelled by a large number of emerging middle-class consumers with higher disposable income. From such a viewpoint, this book gains importance and assumes a responsibility for timeliness.
Structured in six chapters excluding a general introduction, the single-authored volume has become a reality with funding, logistic and advisory supports received from a number of related sources, institutions and people. It endeavours to explore a regionalized system of Japan’s popular culture proliferation in urban East Asia, and to examine the illustrative effect of its cultural industries on the dynamics of East Asian regional formation. As its findings reveal, the country’s popular culture products have been widely disseminated and consumed in many East Asian cities over the last three decades. The researcher’s core argument is that cultural industries underpin regionalization in East Asia by creating regional markets and propagating a regionwide transformation of the structural framework for commodifying and appropriating culture. I would however like to present my following straightforward feedback about this publication.
First, it is clear that the research has been conducted on East and Southeast Asia. But as the author clarifies, “In this study, East Asia refers to both Northeast and Southeast Asia” (185), the term “Asia” used in the book’s subtitle is misleading. While “Asia” and “East Asia” have been interchangeably used throughout the volume, other subregions of the greater Asian continent (South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia and North Asia), where the rate of Japanese pop-culture diffusion is relatively low, are clearly left out.
Second, with a concise conceptual analysis about “popular culture” and “high culture,” the researcher has used the term “popular culture” to refer to commercial cultural commodities mainly including music, animation and television dramas. It is also good that an integrated “political economy” approach has been utilized in the study. When a link between political economy and popular culture has been made, a difference between regionalization and regionalism has essentially been shown as well. Nonetheless, this transregional research project should have been realized by an international political economy approach. In this connection, it seems excessive that the book covers almost a chapter-long description on the production mechanisms, local markets and organizational concerns of the Japanese image factories.
Third, to be more skeptical, this volume begins with some inconsistent statements recognizing the potential of soft power for the East Asian governments and publics while at the same time viewing Japan’s ever-expanding cultural export industry as a multibillion-dollar business. Since the author himself has rightly asked “If we can think of economy and security as factors that define a region, why shouldn’t we be able to think of popular culture in the same way?” (184), it is seriously questioning the relevance of the entire book. Actually, he has paid more attention to the “economic aspects” and placed less emphasis on the “political affairs.” In other words, this study basically deals with the mass-commercialization of Japanese cultural exports for money making, and it does not investigate how the politics of Japanese popular culture as ideological values can help shape the contemporary East Asian international relations order.
Fourth, the researcher has of course better justified the rationale for selecting Japan as a useful case study. Besides, the research is basically based on fieldwork at several hybrid cultural cities in the region comprising Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Bangkok and Seoul. Moreover, this practically grounded project includes in-depth interviews with 68 cultural industry insiders in addition to a survey of primary sources in Japanese, English and other languages. But I am not so convinced by the research results. More concretely, when the author has disclosed “The research focuses on East Asia’s nine biggest markets for Japanese cultural exports” (xxiv), a full-fledged chapter on any above-mentioned city (except Tokyo) might have made genuine sense. In fact, he regards Japan’s pop-culture industries as a forerunner “regional model” of production and circulation, and tells us numerous success stories of its highly profitable manufacturing enterprises. Frankly speaking, he has taken neither a logical approach to fault-finding nor a bold stance throughout the volume. It is a major problem.
Fifth, when the concluding chapter summarizes the book’s main findings and it ends with some questions, it would have been valuable for the well-informed readers if this section had sharply answered the following pressing and stimulating questions: (1) Why is Japan, despite its status as a pop-culture powerhouse, failing to mobilize the nation’s available soft power resources so that it can exercise more cultural influence globally? (2) How can the country project its goodwill of “Cool Japan” around the whole geography of Asia given that Japan still has image problems in East and Southeast Asia for its imperialist past? (3) How does Tokyo’s public diplomacy relate to the strategic interests of Japan as a leader in East Asia and more specifically as a counterweight to Beijing as China’s thriving economy makes it more powerful and attractive?
Finally, when it comes to my overall assessment, regardless of a few weak points and some gaps in coverage, the principal purpose of this book has been realized in a rewarding manner. In the publishing world, there are already many books (written mainly by sociologists) on East Asian popular culture in general. But I have not found any piece that specifically analyzes the regionalization of Japanese cultural industries within a political-economic context. By doing so, it fills an academic gap in globalization studies literature on cross-cultural relations. I understand that this young scholar has shown passion, patience and true commitment to his field of specialization to produce this volume, for which Nissim Otmazgin is congratulated. Because of its distinctiveness, the volume can be suggested for everyone involved and interested in the subject-matter.
Monir Hossain Moni, Asia Pacific Institute for Global Studies, Dhaka, Bangladesh
EXPERIMENTAL BUDDHISM: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan. Topics in Contemporary Buddhism. By John K. Nelson. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xxiv, 292 pp. (Tables, figures, B&W photos.) US$32.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-3898-0.
Modern pressures of rapid global development are being keenly felt by religious institutions around the world. Their future will depend to a great extent on how readily religious leaders can adjust to these changes while still maintaining relevance for their members. John K. Nelson’s Experimental Buddhism, a new study of this phenomenon in contemporary Japan, is a welcome addition to Asian cultural studies, providing an intimate and well-researched examination of a wide range of efforts currently being made by major Buddhist denominations to survive the current competition for hearts and minds in the new globalized Japan.
A cultural anthropologist from the University of San Francisco, Nelson has produced important written works and documentaries surveying the current Japanese landscape of religious meaning and practice. In the present work, through a series of interviews with priests and administrators from 40 different Buddhist temples, the author attempts to uncover the kinds of changes being tested to slow the recent dramatic decrease in parishioners, and to offer new entryways to Buddhism that would attract greater levels of interest among various demographics. Nelson states in his introduction that the book provides a broad survey of these experiments across a number of denominations, without focusing extensively on any one institution. In order to maintain flexibility, he also recognizes that he could not rely on a single methodology, but rather needed to employ several approaches across disciplines in order to respond effectively to the unique challenges of the study.
Beginning his first chapter with a striking example of the kinds of experimentation occurring among long-established temples in Japan, Nelson relates the story of a 400-year-old Pure Land temple in Kyoto that burned to the ground, killing the head priest. The priest’s eldest son left Kyoto for another location, and what was left had to be run by a board of advisors. Faced with little political or economic support, they rented out parking spaces on the temple grounds for a period of time, and eventually designed a seven-story tenant building with shopping, restaurants and bars on the first six floors, and a temple on the seventh. Because the temple lost most of its parishioners after the fire, its uncertain future will depend almost completely on the ability of the tenants to continue making a profit.
In chapter 2, Nelson provides a brief yet informative history of Japanese Buddhism, and then focuses on three denominational headquarters (Tendai, Sōtō and Pure Land) to provide greater detail about approaches taken by administrative officials to improve public interest. The next chapter, “Social Welfare and Buddhist-Inspired Activism,” responds to the common question, “Does Buddhism really have anything to offer the social world given the practices of renunciation and the primary concern for personal liberation?” Nelson answers the question in the affirmative, finding evidence throughout Buddhist history of monks providing for the social good. In contemporary Japan temples are attempting to become more relevant to the citizens they serve by responding to concrete problems of human suffering. Two prominent examples provided by the author are suicide prevention programs and aid for victims of the March 11, 2011 “triple disaster” earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.
In chapters 4 and 5 Nelson surveys a range of temple experiments, first detailing the approaches of four prototypes, and in chapter 5, examining some of the more ground-breaking, even risky, attempts at innovation. The chosen temple prototypes in chapter 4 tend to have common narratives involving a disillusioned or jaded young priest who, after experiencing a life-altering moment, chooses to return to temple life with a new vision. There is a Pure Land priest who only sees possibilities for his vocation after witnessing the devastating effects of the Kobe earthquake and Aum Shinrikyō attacks in 1995. Creating a new temple, not in the funerary business, but rather one offering a calendar of lectures, concerts and performances, his mission is to become a credible source of “learning, healing and enjoyment” (117). There is also a Rinzai priest who finds his calling in caring for child victims of the Chernobyl incident who are suffering from thyroid cancer; a priest of a prominent temple in Nara establishes “Everyone’s Temple” in the shopping district of the city, available to anyone who wants to walk in and receive counseling; a Pure Land priest opens a drinking establishment in Ōsaka, an astute means of conversing with customers in a relaxed environment. Other temple innovations surveyed in chapter 5 include temple web sites, pet memorials, organizations for temple wives, chanting concerts, musical performances in rock, jazz and rap, and fashion shows of priestly robes. In the final chapter of the text Nelson concludes that the future of Buddhism in Japan remains uncertain, and there is no telling whether or not the experiments currently being tried by temple priests will prove to be successful in achieving a sustained relevance for the general public.
Because Nelson limits his interviews to priests belonging to prominent denominations, there are certainly some gaps in his study. More interviews with parishioners would have provided greater understanding of the actual effectiveness of temple experiments. Investigating New Religions would have clarified how these rival institutions may be influencing the changes being made in the more traditional sects. But Experimental Buddhism fills an important need in the study of contemporary Japanese Buddhism, illustrating the kinds of challenges facing the clergy, and the necessities of making meaningful changes in everyday temple life in order to respond to the needs of persons living in the twenty-first century. The text would make a fine addition to both undergraduate and graduate courses in contemporary Asian studies or cultural Buddhism. Nelson writes in an engaging and accessible manner, and students will find great pleasure in reading the pages of his book.
Victor Forte, Albright College, Reading, USA
RACE FOR EMPIRE: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II. Asia Pacific Modern, 7. By T. Fujitani. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013, c2011. xxi, 488 pp. (Figures, tables, maps.) US$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-520-28021-2.
T. Fujitani’s Race for Empire is a very insightful book that examines how the authorities in both the United States and Japan actively sought to integrate a key ethnic minority—Japanese Americans in the US and Koreans in the Japanese Empire—within the nation and have them actively participate in their respective war efforts. This required the creation and dissemination of a new discourse that reinvented the traditional relationship between nation, race and soldiering, a discourse which denied the existence of racial discrimination within their borders. Fujitani’s objective is not to describe in detail the soldiers’ experiences during the war, but rather to “utilize the two sites of soldiering as optics through which to examine the larger operations and structures of the two changing empires … as they struggled to manage racialized populations within the larger demands of conducting total war” (6). Another recurrent theme is how both empires used these soldiers as part of their wartime propaganda offensive to, as Edwin Reischauer stated in a 1942 memorandum, “[win] the peace” (102).
Part 1 of the book exposes the theoretical framework which sustains—and, in a real sense, drives—the analysis. Drawing on Foucauldian concepts of governmentality and bio-politics, Fujitani argues that, faced with the irrevocable exigencies implied by the logic of total war, both governments were progressively driven to enfold the heretofore unwanted populations and to tap them for soldiers and workers for their wartime industries. Officials deployed modern technologies of bio-power and governmentality to nurture and control these individuals, effectively turning them into free-thinking citizens and giving them the right to die for their nation. As Fujitani indicates, however, the discursive shift which allowed the minorities’ passage from the periphery to within the nation did not completely erase all forms of discrimination against them: while the more blatant, “vulgar” expressions of racism were officially denounced and repudiated, other forms of racism (which Fujitani refers to as “polite”) persisted. The first chapter of part 2 thus examines the American authorities’ efforts to discursively integrate the Japanese-American population within the nation and to collect its energies for their war effort. The second chapter offers samples of the reactions of the targeted individuals to this new discourse and their various attempts to negotiate their place within the nation, while the third chapter is dedicated to the analysis of Robert Pirosh’s movie Go for Broke (MGM, 1951), presented as representative of the new, “politely racist” discourse. In part 3, Fujitani follows a similar approach as he shifts the focus to the Koreans in the Japanese empire.
Missing from Race for Empire is any formal attempt to systematically compare the experiences of both ethnic minorities as they navigated their way into their respective nation. The author does, however, expertly bring into conversation a number of elements which, taken together, challenge our understanding of loyalty and patriotism, and subvert received narratives sustaining national identities. For example, upon describing how many Koreans reacted positively to volunteer recruitment drives for the Japanese imperial army, Fujitani writes that “[t]he idea that they might respond with patriotism to a regime that continued to discriminate against them despite official disavowals of racism is only as absurd or reasonable as the notion that patriotic Japanese Americans volunteered out of internment camps to defend the freedom they did not have” (251). More broadly, Fujitani does not shy away from showcasing Japanese Americans and Koreans as seeking to improve their own socio-economic situation, sometimes at the expense of other political and ethical considerations: that is why, for example, many Japanese Americans asked for guarantees in exchange for their unconditional loyalty (176). When we consider the fact that the total number of Japanese-American volunteers was well below the government’s targets, this undermines the “model minority” discourse which lauded the Japanese Americans’ participation in the war, and thus confronts the postwar myth of America as a multiracial and multiethnic democracy with its own contradictions. Conversely, Fujitani warns against the uncritical acceptance of the narrative according to which all militarized Koreans were unwilling victims of the colonial power, as a large proportion of volunteers were economically well off. He writes: “those who benefited materially from colonialism and the possibility of incorporation into the expanded concept of ‘Japan’ had the most to gain from acting as if they were loyal to the Japanese nation” (251). The overall result is a delicately nuanced, decidedly fair, study of the processes through which the two warring empires redefined their “problematic” ethnic minorities into idealized ones, and how these populations responded to their new circumstances as free, calculating agents.
Race for Empire is an outstanding contribution to a growing number of studies focusing on racial politics in Japan and the United States, which began in earnest with John Dower’s War Without Mercy (Pantheon Books, 1986). Canadian scholars will undoubtedly draw useful comparisons with Mutual Hostages (University of Toronto Press, 1990), by Patricia Roy et al., and especially Stephanie Bangarth’s Voices Raised in Protest (UBC Press, 2008) and Greg Robinson’s A Tragedy of Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2009), books which engage, at least partly, with the question of race and the wartime treatment of Japanese Canadians in a transnational setting. Meticulously researched and brilliantly written, Race for Empire nevertheless feels like it should have brought the concept of “race” under more critical scrutiny, especially as it evolved from what is, apparently, a strictly biological phenomenon to one with more cultural undertones. For example, Fujitani notes how Japanese American volunteers who practiced “quintessentially Japanese and nationalistic sports” such as kendo and judo were rejected as a result of the authorities’ cultural racism (154). In fact, however, many martial arts dojo on the American West Coast were in a trans-Pacific relationship with such nationalist organizations as the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, which included individuals with proven, strong links with the Japanese military. That members of these dojo would appear suspicious to the American military during times of war is not racist in itself. This should not, however, detract from what is otherwise an excellent book.
Daniel Lachapelle Lemire, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
THE KOREAN POPULAR CULTURE READER. Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe, editors. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. xi, 450 pp.,  pp. of plates (Tables, figures.) US$28.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5501-4.
Korean popular culture has become a global sensation in the early twenty-first century. Starting with television dramas in the late 1990s, Korean popular cultural forms, such as film, music (K-pop) and online games have rapidly penetrated the global cultural markets and created global fandom. Previously, the Korean Wave (Hallyu), known as the rapid growth of Korean cultural industries and popular culture, was based on the export of television dramas and film within Asia; however, the Hallyu phenomenon has experienced a dramatic change because of its interplay with social media. The Korean Popular Culture Reader, edited by Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe, is a timely and valuable contribution to the expanding collected works on the Korean Wave tradition, mainly because it relates “the contemporary cultural landscape to its historical roots.” It aptly traces and documents the historical evolution of Korean popular culture, focusing on transnationalism and cultural politics.
As the result of a workshop held at the University of California, Irvine in June 2010, two editors recruited both local-based and Western-based scholars to extend their focus, from traditional media areas, such as film and music, to non-traditional media areas, encompassing literature and sports. In order to systematically combine relevant chapters, the editors compartmentalized the sections alongside field demarcations rather than along with the lines of historical chronology.
The book is divided into five sections. Part 1, Click and Scroll, includes four chapters, such as “The World in a Love Letter” and “The Role of PC Bangs in South Korea’s Cybercultures.” These chapters explore the ways in which the landscape of modern-day consumers is shaped by a quick fix with celebrity gossip, serialized comics and blog culture. Part 2, Lights, Camera, Action, contains four chapters on Korean cinema, including “Film and Fashion Cultures in the Korean 1950s” and “The Star as Genre in Bong Joon-ho’s Mother.” The chapters raise several ideological matters surrounding cultures of celebrity and fan consumption practices built around them from questions about how images signify within cultural economy. Part 3, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, contains chapters titled “Sports Nationalism and Colonial Modernity of 1936” and “Female Athletes and (Trans)national Desires.” The two chapters focus on sports, which are capable of creating overnight sensations, compared to movies and music. Part 4, Strut, Move and Shake, comprises chapters that focus on ethnomusicology. They include “The Seo Taiji Phenomenon in the 1990s” and “Girls’ Generation: Gender, (Dis)Empowerment, and K-pop.” In theorizing hybridization strategies, partially, if not entirely, these chapters analyze the evolution of contemporary Korean popular music, from the 1930s to the early twenty-first century. The final part, Food and Travel, encompasses three chapters, including “The Commodification of Korean Cuisine and Touristic Fantasy,” “Photographic Desire,” and “Catastrophic North Korea.” By employing the notion of spectacle, these chapters focus exclusively on the contemporary period and attempt to conceptualize approaches to state-sanctioned art.
While there are several significant strengths of this book, it especially develops three major theoretical practices: the historicization of cultural forms, the diversification of Hallyu discourse, and the appropriation of the notion of cultural politics. To begin with, the obvious asset of this volume is its consistent analysis on the historical background of each cultural form. The chapters show the intimate connection of Korean popular culture to Korea’s historical roots starting in colonial histories. The chapters develop a historical discussion of local popular culture because contemporary popular culture is “linked to related historical precedents” (xi) so that the readers can fully understand the roots of the contemporary stardom of local culture in the global market.
Secondly, the diversification of the Korean popular culture discourse is another strength of this volume. The book is successful in its goal to depart “from the “intra-Asian cultural flow” model that had been proposed by media studies scholars who tended to rely on primarily data-driven, audience- and fan-oriented research”(3). The editors consciously select several key topics, both in media-driven and non-media-driven fields, including literature, film and music, sports and food studies. Combining translations of a few essays written in Korean by local scholars with new works by Western scholars, the chapters expertly map out cultural uniqueness embedded in Korea’s socio-political context that has contoured the growth of local popular culture. Through the process, they achieve their aim in advancing “the interpretations of values set by the most obvious ideologies that determine image creation”(3).
Thirdly, the book thematizes cultural politics as the most significant component running through the volume. It identifies cultural policies as a form of social and political dynamic, including the movement for social democracy, that have shaped Korean popular culture in given periods, from the colonial period to the contemporary neoliberal regime. As the landscape of Korean popular culture has changed and continued within the period’s political agendas, the majority of chapters carefully engage with socio-political situations, from censorship to the resistance to colonial and/or neoliberal oppression; therefore they prove the significance of the active roles of cultural creators in reflecting the ordinary people’s mentalities.
The book is not without areas of concern. Although I understand the limitation of space, there are no serious discussions on a few eminent areas, such as social media and cultural policy issues. The book sparsely touches on these areas; however, it is unfortunate that it does not more deeply analyze these matters. Secondly, it lacks an investigation of contemporary popular culture. Regardless of a few chapters emphasizing the Korean Wave phenomenon, it does not include analyses of the influence of the historical evolution of Korean popular culture on contemporary practices. Lastly, it could have detailed the role of globalization. Since globalization started several decades ago, the clear appropriation of globalization alongside transnationalism would have enhanced the value of the book.
Overall, this volume nurtures the readers with a generous abundance of information on Korean popular culture. It is well designed and thoughtfully presented and makes a convincing contribution to a growing body of literature on Korean studies, media studies, and anthropology. It is a must-read book for those who desire a common introduction to the diverse local cultural landscape and those interested in popular culture in tandem with Korean society and culture.
Dal Yong Jin, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
Most research on sport politics either focuses on state government of sport and the implementation of public policy or on the way in which sport organizations wield their power for their own sectional interests, usually at the expense of other interest groups. Brian Bridges, the recently retired head of the Department of Political Science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, takes a distinctively different approach by placing the state into the centre of analysis and introducing a functionalist dimension to the political scientist’s understanding of sport in international relations. His double history of Korean sport looks at the simultaneous development of sport politics in two states and their interactions in national and global sporting arenas over the past sixty-something years. The result is a valuable, though way too pricy contribution to the still sparse literature on sport in non-Western nations. It is unique in the sense that it attempts to compare the development of national sport systems in both Korean modern states.
Bridges has been known as an avid writer on sport in East Asia among the few political scientists who acknowledge the political nature of sport. Bridges is particularly interested in the dimensions that make sport politically useful in international relations in East Asia, e.g., for the projection of national images, the conveying of messages of dissent or consent, or the mitigation of rivalry and conflict. Some of his earlier journal articles, in which he discussed the aforementioned aspects, provide the core chapters of this book: the troublesome relations of the International Olympic Committee, with two states claiming to represent one nation (chapter 4); the politics behind the Seoul Olympics (chapter 5); and the exaggerated expectations towards the Beijing Summer Olympics as facilitator of inter-Korean encounters (chapter 7). Previously unpublished work fills the gaps within the historical account of sport politics in Korea. Since chronology dictates the sequential arrangement of chapters, the 23 pages (chapter 3) between the theory chapter and the ICO chapter must tackle the ambitious goal of summarizing the trajectory of sport in Korea from premodern times through centuries of feudalism, exposure to the Chinese cultural sphere of influence until the colonial period and the early years of postcolonial state formation. Similar gap fillers—all of them descriptive rather than analytic—are chapter 6 on sport relations in the 1990s and chapter 8 comparing the two Korean national sporting systems in contemporary times. All chapters also contain a useful overview of the two Koreas’ domestic policies and the changing international environment, which are crucial impact factors.
The book sets out with a short overview of its content and a more detailed introduction to the linkages between sport, nationalism and international relations. Political scientists argue that because of its socio-cultural functions and its strong association with ideas of the national, sport can play an important role in the domestic politics and social order of modern nation-states. Bridges differentiates state nationalism from popular nationalism, which is a useful distinction, particularly in the realms of sport, where state-run actions as well as popular images and media productions contribute to the construction of national ideas and the perpetuation of nationalist sentiments. But Bridges is more concerned with the top-down approach of state actors who are getting engaged with the world of sport for the purpose of outlining the contours of the national. He grasps sport as a selected functional field in which states can cooperate, thereby building up ties that compel them to cooperate in other areas as well. Because spill-over effects can be achieved (and indeed are desirable), sport becomes a powerful factor in foreign diplomacy and the management of international relations.
Well, in theory. Most of the chapters following the introduction look into the ways in which the two Koreas have tried to utilize their entanglement with supranational sport organizations and high-profile sport events to gain clout in the global arena or to emphasize their claim for national representation. North Korea’s spectacular advance into the quarterfinals of the 1966 FIFA Football World Cup in England or South Korea’s successful hosting of the Seoul Olympics in 1988 provide some evidence of the weight of sport for nation branding. However, in the end (chapter 10) Bridges concedes that sporting contacts did not help to improve relations between the Korean states, because sport in general is held hostage to political relations, or sport is not such a heavyweight in international relations as theory wants us to believe. Just the contrary seems to be the case, judging from the sketchy survey of sport in other divided nations (chapter 9). Evidence from the case studies of Germany, Vietnam, Yemen and China (Ireland is conspicuously absent in the review) unanimously confirms the negligible leverage or even total irrelevance of sport in the promotion of reconciliation.
Placing Korea into the context of competing representation or divided nationhood would have been a great jumping-off point. Such a study would generate more analytical depth and theoretical insight than a primarily descriptive and ultimately hermeneutical approach could ever produce. The methodological weakness is particularly profound when considering the kind of sources Bridges is relying on. Most of his account is based on academic literature and other secondary sources in English, including media clippings and government reports. Archival material is hardly used, government officials are hardly questioned, and other agents are not surveyed. The quantitative data is not explored to a degree that would allow the reader a clearer picture of any of the Korean sport systems, while many of the qualitative accounts are drastically devalued by the selection bias and the question of provenience and partisan interests behind them. The gap between social reality and scholarly account is uncomfortably large in the case of North Korea, for which no reliable material is available, which is a shortcoming acknowledged by the author himself. For the time being, therefore, in the end we still do not know that much more about the contours and content of Korea’s sport systems. At least the context has become a bit clearer.
Wolfram Manzenreiter, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
IN THE SERVICE OF HIS KOREAN MAJESTY: William Nelson Lovatt, the Pusan Customs, and Sino-Korean Relations, 1876–1888. Korea Research Monograph, 35. By Wayne Patterson. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2012. xii, 193 pp. (Figures.) US$20.00, paper. ISBN 978-1-55729-100-4.
When East Asia was undergoing momentous changes in the late nineteenth century, Westerners were hired as officials and experts by East Asian governments. These Westerners were used to help establish new institutions based on Western models that started arising with the expansion of European and American influence in the region. Among the best known of these institutions is the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, which was set up by the Chinese government to collect customs dues from overseas traders. Most of its employees were foreigners, including its head, Sir Robert Hart. When Japan forced Korea to enter into the Western system of international and economic relations through the Treaty of Kanghwa in 1876, the Koreans also started hiring foreign experts to set up and administer new institutions that arose as a result of changes in the international system. Wayne Patterson tells the story of one of these Westerners, the British-American William Nelson Lovatt, based on letters and other documents that he obtained. The result is an interesting account of a Westerner’s personal experience in East Asia, his and his family’s interaction with Korean society during the 1880s, and the personal impact that domestic and international events in East Asia had on his and his family’s life.
Lovatt was born in Britain, but spent most of his working life in East Asia. He worked first for the British military and came to China during the last years of the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion in 1860. Soon after, he switched employers to work for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, where he worked in several treaty ports for the next twenty years and rose to a mid-level rank. During this time, he also married his American wife, Jennie, whom he courted in a long-distance relationship before going to Minnesota to get married. During his career in China, Lovatt also became friends with the German Paul Georg von Möllendorf, who also worked for the Chinese customs service and later for the German diplomatic service. It was this connection that would lead Lovatt to Korea. When Möllendorf resigned from the German diplomatic service to work for the top Chinese official Li Hongzhang, Li assigned him to act as a new Western expert to the Korean court to establish a Korean customs service on the model of the Chinese customs service. Möllendorf eventually persuaded Lovatt to become the head of the customs service in the southern Korean port of Pusan, where Lovatt lived along with his wife and one of his daughters from 1883 to 1886.
Most of the book deals with the life of Lovatt and his family in Pusan. What is striking is the strong Japanese presence in Pusan already in the 1880s. Lovatt lived and worked in the Japanese area of Pusan and most of his interactions were actually with Japanese people rather than Koreans. Lovatt did have interactions with Korean officials and with some Koreans working for his family as servants, but these contacts were less frequent. The book also reveals the isolation and loneliness of life for Westerners in Pusan, especially for Lovatt’s wife, Jennie. This book shines in its treatment of Western lives outside a capital region and its intimate portrayal of family life. In the end, Jennie became pregnant and left Pusan with her daughter before her husband to return to America to give birth to her son.
Lovatt’s story also reveals how vulnerable these foreign experts were to changes within the domestic and international spheres involving the East Asian governments they worked for. Lovatt’s stint in Pusan ended because of the consequences of the failure of the Japanese-supported Kapsin Coup in the Korean court in 1884. This led China to further reinforce its presence and influence in Korea. Möllendorf turned against his Chinese employers and instead advised the Korean court that Korea should look towards Russia rather than China to act as a counter-balance to Japan. This elicited a harsh Chinese reaction and Möllendorf was removed from office. This led anyone connected to him, like Lovatt, to suddenly come under suspicion. The increase in Chinese influence in Korea in the aftermath of the Kapsin Coup’s failure also led to a proposal by Sir Robert Hart, the head of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, to merge the Korean customs service with the Chinese service. This would clearly be a severe weakening of Korea’s sovereignty and eventually never happened. However, Lovatt, knowing that his days in Korea were numbered, threatened to reveal this scheme to the Korean court unless he got an improved severance package to go quietly. In the end, Lovatt got most of what he wanted and left his position in Pusan and went to the United States to join his wife and family. However, he could not get used to being a farmer in Minnesota and ended up going back to China to work at a reduced rank for the Chinese customs service. He would eventually be able to rise to his old rank that he had before going to Korea by the time he died in China in 1904.
Wayne Patterson’s book is successful in bringing to a human level the effects that the economic, political, social and cultural changes in East Asia had on individuals and communities, both Western and East Asian. It relates a Westerner’s experience in East Asia in a place where there was not a large Western community and in this way, provides a new perspective. The fact that Lovatt worked for the Chinese and the Koreans also gives a new twist to the Western experience in East Asia. This is a good supplementary book that helps to show how the changing situation in East Asia was reflected in individual lives.
Carl Young, Western University, London, Canada
AN INDIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRACY: Integrating Markets, Democracy and Social Justice. Editors: Sunil Khilnani, Manmohan Malhoutra. Box edition. New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 2013. 2 vols. (Figures, tables, B&W photos.) Rs.1995, cloth. ISBN 978-81-7188-994-5.
These two volumes are the outcomes of the tenth conference organized by the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, held in Delhi in November 2010. The conference brought together an extraordinary group of intellectuals, policy makers, activists, and business people—a real galaxy of serious thinkers, rather than of stars—from within India, and from overseas, presided over by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, to discuss the challenges and the prospects of an Indian social democracy. As the principal architect of the conference, Sunil Khilnani, puts it in his short introduction, the realization of sustainable growth in India, and in such a way as to ensure that the majority of the people can benefit from it, requires “the renewal of our social contract … (one) … that integrates and renovates India’s foundational commitments to democracy and social justice with recognition of the necessity of open markets for economic growth.” As he goes on to say, “Such a social contract is best described in social democratic terms …” (I:15). He, and others, are to be congratulated for their courage in using this language, for the idea of “social democracy” has often been regarded negatively in India, even though it seems to many of us that it is what the Nehruvian state aimed at achieving.
The volumes include 16 substantial papers, of which nine are by major Indian scholars: Sunil Khilnani, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Vijay Kelkar, Kaushik Basu, Nitin Desai, Pranab Bardhan, Niraja Gopal Jayal, Sudipta Kaviraj and Yogendra Yadav. Two are by outside scholars, Michael Walton and Steven Wilkinson, who have written important works on India. Four other papers bring in comparative experience from Europe, China and the United States, and a global perspective (this from Pascal Lamy, then director-general of the WTO); while Pierre Rosanvallon of the College de France contributes an historical perspective on democratic society which makes the useful distinction between “relational” and “arithmetic” understandings of equality and presents a strong case for striving to establish a society of equality rather than only seeking to reduce economic inequalities. These papers, supplemented by the text of a memorial lecture given on the occasion by Joseph Stiglitz, on “A Social Democratic Agenda for a More Dynamic Indian Economy,” constitute the core of the two volumes. They also include transcripts of the presentations made by the paper writers and of the discussions that took place and which involved a wider group of comparably distinguished individuals.
As might be expected, the books are a bit of a curate’s egg, though for this reader at least, there is more good than bad in the various parts. The transcripts do include valuable points in addition to the arguments of the papers, though they take some digging out. Khilnani sums up broad conclusions as being, first, that “a sustainable social democracy for India must be based less on directly redistributive policies” than on building people’s capacities for participating in economic growth. As others have pointed out, too, for all the remarkable achievements of the Congress-led UPA governments between 2004 and 2014 in establishing a new rights-based welfare architecture for India, there was an awful failure to improve public education and health services. The second broad conclusion was that India must aim to replace the current
“cats-cradle of anti-poverty schemes,” most of them supposedly aimed at particular groups, with “a more simplified set of universal schemes, delivered by more efficient and trustworthy mechanisms” (so easy to say, so hard to achieve). And third, “the state must be wary of assuming large-scale fiscal responsibilities, which in future it may be unable to fulfill.” More generally, what is envisaged is not the kind of welfare state established in the West in the postwar period, but rather a polity based on principles of mutuality “between state, citizen and enterprise” (I:17).
It is impossible in a short review to do justice to the richness of the core papers. For me the outstanding ones are those by Pratap Mehta, Pranab Bardhan and (especially) Michael Walton, though I also believe that the paper by Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah on finance and economic policy is particularly worthy of attention, while Sudipta Kaviraj’s on “Indian Social Democracy and Questions of Culture” brings together ideas of his from writings over many years in an illuminating way. The core of the argument is summed up in his words: “Deep inequalities of culture, rooted in different levels of education, differential access on the basis of language, prevent our democracy from developing a real deliberative culture” (II:245).
Mehta’s paper is especially significant, I think, for its discussion of how and why social justice has come to be seen in India so much in terms of caste, and of what the implications of this are. He elaborates upon arguments that both he and Niraja Gopal Jayal have developed elsewhere about how the pursuit of affirmative action for particular social groups has led to a situation in which there is competition for power in order to secure benefits from the state for a particular set of people rather than in order to bring about transformations in society as a whole. Bardhan supplies a trenchant critique of social protection programs in India and advocates—in the spirit of encouraging serious rethinking—the possibilities of the payment by the state of a Universal Basic Income (in place of the “cats-cradle” of programs referred to above).
Walton offers, in short compass, a comprehensive review of arguments about why it does make sense to consider a social democratic resolution for India, what this might require, and its feasibility. The argument is conducted through comparisons with experiences elsewhere, both in Latin America and in Sweden, in particular, and the paper includes some detailed discussion of policy design for equity and growth. Walton’s conclusions about the feasibility of social democracy in India are not very optimistic. In the light of the victory of Narendra Modi in the Indian general elections that were completed shortly before I began this review, Modi’s evident commitment to big corporate capital (in spite of his tearful statements in parliament about serving the poor), and the evidence marshalled by Walton amongst others, of the extent of crony capitalism in India, one wonders whether there is much prospect, for now and the middle term at least, that Indian capital can possibly be part of a social democratic settlement. Walton concludes: “Sound social democratic designs are almost certainly in Indian capitalism’s long-term interest but this would involve a form of long-sightedness and collective action that is not apparent now” (II:68).
These books deserve close attention, offering as they do an alternative vision for India than the one that I suspect will be pursued by the new government.
John Harriss, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada
For centuries, the Indian Ocean has been ferrying people, goods, beliefs, ideas and thoughts across Africa and India. Maritime movements propelled by commercial instincts of traders on either side have not only transported ivory, silk, fruits and other cargo, but have shipped numerous vignettes of trans-continental cultures as well. The African continent is replete with examples of such cultural transplants. Mainstream historical narration of the continent, however, tends to explain its contemporary social and institutional structures largely as outcomes of its interactions with the West. Desai attempts an alternative understanding of the history of the continent by widening the context to include Africa’s sustained unbroken exchanges with the East, particularly the Indian subcontinent.
The radical re-interpretation of the mainstream historical narration and understanding of Africa in Commerce with the Universe proceeds through critical examination of a body of diverse literary work spanning the Indian Ocean trade and experiences of Asians in Africa. The author reviews well-known novels like Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land and M.G. Vasanji’s The Gunny Sack along with a series of other literary works, including several travel accounts, biographies and memoirs. The research covers meticulous inspection of a remarkably diverse range of documents and ideas for gathering inputs in penning a sincere alternative account.
Constructing a convincing alternative is not easy when a powerful mainstream explanation exists. Desai’s painstaking research for discovering new insights from works that are already much-discussed and debated yields results due to his willingness to view through multi-disciplinary prisms. By giving equal importance to historical narration, sociological and ethnographic approaches, and also occasionally and contextually to political and economic analysis, Desai succeeds in identifying the understanding of Africa as far more complex than what many scholars of the continent and the Indian Ocean have gauged it to be.
A typical example of the complexity is the new insight gathered on outcomes of colonization. The usual explanation of colonization in Africa (and elsewhere) is to interpret it as a binary process in terms of the structural duality between the “settler” and the “native.” Desai challenges the loose application of the construct in the African context. He argues that the presence of Asians in East Africa from well before the beginning of the formal European colonization of the continent makes it difficult to characterize the process in such a typical fashion. Indeed, the history of colonization and its outcomes in Africa become a far more complex process given the involvement of several more actors. The finding corroborates Desai’s hypothesis of the significance of viewing Africa’s history through not only its interaction with the West, but also the intense and varied interactions it had with the East and India.
An alternative account cannot help but grow out of a critique of the mainstream. One of the interesting critiques that Desai successfully builds is in underpinning the salience of cosmopolitanism in the Indian Ocean trade that unmistakably resonates in In an Antique Land, and the possibility of the narrative marginalizing of other significant simultaneous historical processes such as the sub-Saharan exchanges. Desai does not appear to be too comfortable with the passionate interpretation of several historical narratives of the Indian Ocean in identifying its commerce as a key contributor of the cosmopolitanism and religious and ethnic tolerance manifesting on the shores it touched. He is acutely conscious of the caveats that his research throws up in vindicating such passionate endorsement.
Notwithstanding the arduous effort and bold approach, the book falls short of connecting to its contemporary context through its conclusions as effectively as one would have expected. The introduction underscores the historical significance to the backdrop of the book: the struggle for survival between capitalism and socialism as ideologies influencing national development strategies given the cyclical reverses both have suffered in the last couple of decades. The initial context also points to the renewed engagement of Africa by China and India and the revival of the Indian Ocean as a key maritime route in global strategic geography. It is not completely clear how the various findings of the book contribute to a more objective understanding of Africa in these contexts. While the importance of looking closely at Asia and India in understanding both historical and contemporary Africa is well understood—and can be flagged as a success of the alternative discourse that Desai aimed to build—greater connectivity between the discourse and the context is missing. That said, the book deserves careful study by scholars of various disciplines for its commendable effort in throwing new light on important, but largely neglected, aspects of the interactions between Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
Amitendu Palit, National University of Singapore, Singapore
THE DARJEELING DISTINCTION: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India. California Studies in Food and Culture, no. 47. By Sarah Besky. Berkeley: University of California Press, c2014. xx, 233 pp. (Maps, figures.) US$29.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-520-27739-7.
This is an anthropological study of tea plantations in Darjeeling. This region is famous for its special variety of tea that is known for its specific flavour. The history of tea plantations that are over 150 years old is important for this region. The tea industry is closely linked to the growth of this district as it is its main economic activity. The industry gives the district and its people a unique characteristic that sets the latter apart from the state of West Bengal in which the area officially lies. The book covers different aspects of the district that are vital for its economy and identity.
The author has done considerable archival work that is evident from her second chapter. She gives a new understanding of the district as an entity. She shows how Darjeeling was originally a part of Nepal and was later given to the kingdom of Sikkim. Later, the East India Company took Darjeeling from Sikkim in order to establish a sanatorium for British soldiers because of its pleasantly cold climate. This part of Darjeeling’s history is important because both Nepal and Sikkim have laid claims to Darjeeling after India was free of British rule in 1947. The author’s study provides a clear picture.
The author’s writings on fair trade are important. The author has studied plantations that are endorsed by the fair trade label and finds that they are as exploitative of their labour as the other plantations. Moreover, the benefits of fair trade are taken by the planters whereas the conditions of their workers remain unchanged. She also critiques the concept of fair trade because it puts so much emphasis on individual entrepreneurs and not on collectives. She argues that fair trade operates in the neo-liberal environment and can function best under free trade (chapter 4).
Unfortunately, when it comes to contemporary history she falters because she leans too heavily on what her informants told her. She should have double-checked these views. For example, she is very critical of the role the communists played in the Gorkhaland movement because this was the view of her informants. As a researcher, she should have verified these facts because the communists were the first to recognize that the Nepalese in Darjeeling constituted a distinct identity. She keeps referring to the communists as the Communist Party of India Marxist and she describes how the party entered the district in 1943 (77–78). She should know that CPI(M) did not exist at that time, as it was formed only in 1964 after a section split from the Communist Party of India (CPI). The CPI(M) distanced itself from this resolution and strongly opposed any form of autonomy for Darjeeling. The CPI still holds on to its original resolution of autonomy. The author should have tried to understand such differences.
The author’s explanation of the decline of Darjeeling’s tea industry in the post-colonial period is controversial. She states that the workers suffered a setback during these dark days because they were unionized and the planters started rolling back the facilities they had earlier given to them. The author notes that the deprived workers had to resort to violence against the managers and they also burnt down tea factories (79). In other words, it was the communist unions that provoked the planters to deprive the workers who in turn retaliated by burning down factories.
The author also hints that the Plantation Labour Act (the only law granting protection to plantation labour) was one of the reasons British planters left as it increased costs of production and that the communist unions pressured the employers to implement the provisions of the Act (78). The Act was passed in 1951, a few years after India was independent of British rule, and its main provisions relate to facilities for plantation workers such as permanent quarters, sanitary and bathing facilities in the labour lines, provision of clean water, hospitals and primary schools for the children. Most of these facilities (except for medical facilities) did not exist in plantations. The Indian Tea Association (an association of mainly British planters) readily agreed to implement the Act. Yet the author feels that it has ruined the industry.
In most cases the author has put together voices of workers, managers, intellectuals, etc. without verifying their authenticity or analyzing their views. As a result we get a compilation of contradictory and opposing views. The views she puts forth on the decline of the tea industry are based on the statements of the managers (157). She has not looked at the living and working conditions of the workers. Though she is sympathetic to the women workers she does not look at their problems of defecating in the open because there are no toilets even though the PLA makes such toilets mandatory.
The author believes the managers when they say that labour unrest is a result of the male population: “Some suggested that ‘too many males’ on the garden created unrest, both in the plantation and in regional politics” (157). She has not verified if this is true. The fact is that a large section of the unemployed males in plantations have been recruited into the military and paramilitary forces.
Despite the contradictory views presented in the book, the author is clear about one view that she keeps reiterating, namely, the decline in tea production started after the British left and the natives took over the plantations. She has admitted that the British “ran their gardens like fiefdoms, but they kept the men under control” (195). Could such a system continue in a democracy? Her concluding sentence—“But workers are keenly aware that in a market for justice, the plantation is not going anywhere” (220)—contradicts what she has put forth in the earlier sections.
Sharit K. Bhowmik, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India
THE GOLDEN WAVE: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka’s Tsunami Disaster. By Michele Ruth Gamburd. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014. xii, 216 pp. (Maps, figures.) US$28.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-253-01139-8.
The author of this book, Michele Ruth Gamburd, ploughs through a deep, rich and thick ethnographic study to highlight important aspects of Sri Lankan post-tsunami relief and rehabilitation such as the ambivalent impact of competitive humanitarianism, its limited outreach, the multiple dilemmas and ambiguities embedded in the recovery process, as well as the frustration of aid beneficiaries regarding paternalistic aid practices and the politics of housing, as well as new challenges for rehabilitation. The work thereby highlights that it is impossible to understand post-tsunami reconstruction without recognizing the wider political, cultural, social and cultural terrain of war, ethno-nationalism and uneven development in Sri Lanka.
The book is organized in three main parts focusing on different stages of the disaster relief efforts. First the book focuses in three chapters on the immediate aftermath of the disaster, illustrating how the natural event created a local solidarity overlooking class, politics and ethnic conflict issues. The ethnographic material also describes very vividly how people tried to make sense and give meaning to the outreach and magnitude of the devastation. Here it becomes evident that class, religion, belief, and local politics related to gender and socio-political status started to regain momentum while power, personal politics, patronage and clientelism prevailed within the society. The second part of the book moves on to bring in the international dimension of post-tsunami aid, elaborating on the political economy of aid within the post-disaster housing sector and business recovery, especially looking into the tourist sector. The last part, again organized into three chapters, illustrates how people constructed their identity and that of others within the immediate and longer-term post-tsunami rehabilitation process. Here the stories the author has chosen clearly show that most of the people see themselves as ethical and generous while others tried to profit and gain personal advantages out of the post-tsunami aid situation. It further underlines that socio-economic and socio-political hierarchies as well as ethnic and class structures only disappeared for a short term in the immediate aftermath of the disaster as all Sri Lankans were under shock as well as due to the fact that nature did not distinguish between ethnicity, economic status, class or gender.
The strength of the book is definitely its rich and thick ethnographic description. The many stories presented make the various post-tsunami phenomena available and visible in a personalized manner. However in this strength I also see the weakness of the book. At one point reading the book and the many stories that are told, the personalized information that is provided confused and distracted my attention. I gained the feeling that many of these stories are not new to what is known of post-tsunami Sri Lanka or what has been written on post-disaster situations in general. What I miss in Michele Ruth Gamburds’ ethnographic achievements is the placement of these stories in a solid theoretical framing and interpretation. Furthermore, it misses an overview of the way in which these stories help to enlighten “how” tsunami aid and relief works and “how” aid affects the everyday life and social community of a Sri Lankan tsunami-affected village. The analysis that is provided at various places in the book, again not in a holistic and detailed manner, does not ground itself using a broad and in-depth understanding and discussion of the concepts referred to, such as Foucault’s concept of governmentality, Marcel Mauss’ theory of the gift or literature on post-disaster housing and brokerage. Similarly, there is no mention of relevant literature, also based on the ethnographic material Michele Ruth Gamburd refers to but that carries more theoretical depth and arguments, particularly those of Barenstein/Leemann (eds), Post-Disaster Reconstruction and Change: Communities Perspectives, Taylor and Francis CRS Press, 2012; Korf/Klem/Hasbullah/Hollenbach, “The gift of disaster: the commodification of good intentions in post-tsunami Sri Lanka,” Disasters, 2010; Hollenbach/Ruwanpura, “Symbolic Gestures: The Development Terrain of Post- Tsunami Villages in (Southern) Sri Lanka,” Journal of Development Studies, 2011; Mosse/Lewis, Development Brokers and Translators: The Ethnography of Aid and Agencies, Kumarian Press, 2006.
Overall the book provides a rich ethnographic insight into how the tsunami changed socio-political structures, identities and how national/international aid relates to and influences these formations. These ethnographic insights definitely add value to already existing literature. However, theoretically and analytically the book does not provide any further enhancement or innovation and fails to provide recommendations on how a future disaster should be managed or governed differently in order to avoid the repetition of existing inequalities, disaster and personal politics.
Pia Hollenbach, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
COMMUNICATING INDIA’S SOFT POWER: Buddha to Bollywood. Palgrave Macmillan Series in Global Public Diplomacy. By Daya Kishan Thussu. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. xi, 227 pp. (Figures, table.) US$100.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-137-02788-7.
Communicating soft power through cultural engagement has gained enormous prominence in contemporary academic discourse, underpinning the “constructivist” shift in the theoretical discussion of international relations that was long dominated by positivism. Rooted in neoliberal and constructivist visions of power, soft power, comprising “ideas” and culture, aims for “harmonizing international relations.”
Anglo-Saxon powers like the US and Europe, with large reservoirs of cultural capital, have traditionally employed “softer” resources for carving benign images. However, there have been disappointments in the scope and strategy of the exercises with desired strategic outcomes often remaining suboptimal. The West, and the US in particular, has been revisiting its soft power strategy post-9/11. In the meantime, major Asian powers like China have also been picking up the narrative on soft power. India, too, is becoming increasingly noticeable in this regard.
China has been pragmatic in honing its soft power wherewithal as a major tool of statecraft for opening new channels of communication and external engagement. Beijing’s economic and military rise has been complemented by commensurate increase in soft power efforts. India is yet to demonstrate a similar correlation. The backdrop urges wider scholarly discussions on India’s soft power. Daya K. Thussu’s Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood is a timely effort to portray and critically examine India’s communication with the world through its soft power.
The book provides an exhaustive and interesting catalogue of India’s cultural outreach, both ancient and contemporary. It traces the historical roots of India’s soft power and how such history can be harnessed in building and strengthening international relations in the contemporary world. The author cautions that possession of soft power is not a sufficient condition for securing a benign national image and making a country attractive on the world stage. He rightly emphasizes effective utilization of national soft power capital. The criticality of the imperative is highlighted in the discussion (chapter 4) on the role of India’s IT, deregulation, liberalization and privatization policies in shaping India’s “software for soft power.”
The book carefully examines India’s cultural engagement in the context of its strategic “rise.” Right at the beginning, while alluding to India’s “rise” both economically and militarily, the author contextualizes India’s soft power as “increasingly becoming an element in its diplomacy.” The organic link between hard and soft power—“smart power”—is a recurrent theme in the book. Thussu’s repeated emphasis on the need for India to combine its hard and soft power for effective communication with the rest of the world on various issues of strategic importance can hardly be overstated.
An engaging read, the book offers an alternative, largely Asian perspective to the academic discussion on soft power, and marks a valuable contribution in this respect. Thussu “de-Americanizes” the discourse on soft power (chapter 2) by emphasizing a clear “element of localization” which is at play. He discusses soft power practiced by European and other non-Western countries moving beyond the “American” examination of culture and soft power. The key point to note in this regard are the media initiatives, enabling countries to expand the national brand-building exercise and obtaining strategic benefits while charting a different course from the predominant “American” communication by offering alternative perspectives, such as the Xinhua, China’s state press agency.
The book is also a harsh reminder about how individual accomplishments have repeatedly dwarfed India’s success as a country in influencing international perception. Chapters 3 and 6 reflect on these aspects of India’s soft power which contribute to the “not-so-positive” international perception of India. Chapter 3 studies the role of the diaspora and distinguished individuals in determining India’s global perception. While prominent economists like Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen contribute to India’s robust global intellectual presence, outstanding business leaders like Indra Nooyi and Ashok Pandit ensure a presence in the global corporate domain. Moving on from individuals, chapter 6 focuses on the Indian state, particularly its limited success in enhancing India’s reputation as a democracy that delivers for its people. Notwithstanding India’s vibrant democracy and successful organization of elections on a gigantic scale, the Indian state is hardly identified with virtuous notions and is saddled with negative perceptions of corruption, social and economic chaos and instability.
An interesting aspect analyzed by the author is the unpremeditated efforts by India’s non-state actors to shape global perception of India. While recognizing that India’s official public diplomacy infrastructure is still at an early stage, Thussu discusses the country’s non-state actors, which are distinctly Indian in character. Chapter 5 examines Bollywood and its cultural heritage in defining India’s attractiveness to foreign audiences. The Indian government probably prefers the “unofficial diplomacy” spearheaded by Bollywood and other non-state actors given its less propagandist character. Readers would have benefited from deeper insights on non-state actor initiatives beyond Bollywood, particularly efforts by industry chambers and business groups.
The book concludes with the author reflecting on India’s potential and its failure to achieve an “ascribed status” consistent with its ambition. The author bemoans that though India has much to offer to the world by encouraging intercultural communication given its wonderfully rich history and heritage, its messages of multiculturalism, secularism and pluralism are not adequately projected. Thussu rightly argues that the best way to communicate Indianness is not just through Bollywood and Indian cuisine but by empowering its citizens and addressing the inequalities that exist within society. It is only by achieving equality that India’s international image will improve and its soft power look attractive and its story be heard worldwide, facilitating its “rise.”
Parama Sinha Palit, Singapore-based Independent Scholar
China in Comparative Perspective Network (CCPN) Global, London, United Kingdom
Several books have recently tried to shed light on the role of the Pakistan army in Pakistani politics. Paul’s contribution receives strong endorsement from the Washington-based think-tank gatekeepers on Pakistan: Stephen Cohen, Hussain Haqqani, Bruce Riedel, Shuja Nawaz and Teresita Schaffer. The point the author wants to make is that historically war preparation and war in Europe proved to be an engine of economic development, but in Pakistan this has not been the case. So, “the puzzle is why not” (2), he remarks.
However, when he reviews the literature from European contexts the evidence is mixed. Successful were those countries which while facing external threats engaged in economic, technological and political modernization and as a result became centralized, bureaucratized entities extracting taxes and other services from their populations and in return providing not only security but gradually also welfare. Expansion through conquest during the colonial period additionally provided material for economic development. The two examples of war preparation, war and development he gives are Germany and Italy. This is quite peculiar, because the reason they survived as developed states even after being defeated in World War II was that they were helped through the Marshall Plan to remain and grow as industrial powers. He admits that the war preparation, war and economic development thesis does not hold in all cases. Besides mentioning minor European states as failures he refers to Austria-Hungary and the Soviet Union as failed warrior states. What is perhaps most crucial is that in case of defeat the prevailing powers do not let such states fail.
With regard to the developing world, the war preparation, war and development hypothesis becomes even more problematic. The author says that in the developing world “war and war preparation have not produced similar instances of positive results” (8). The reason should not be difficult to guess: no African or Asian state was industrialized when it became an independent state. They were mainly agrarian societies dominated by small urban elites. Moreover, any scope for economic development through conquest and expansion did not exist. So, the relevance of the war preparation, war and development thesis is rather weak when it comes to the developing world.
Paul does not mention the only really successful example in the developing world where not just war preparation but actual war-making, conquest, annexation and occupation have fuelled dramatic development: Israel. The United States and other Western powers’ help and patronage have been crucial for Israel to be a successful developmental warrior state. It has attained a highly sophisticated level of technological competence and has become one of the leading arms exporters of the world. The author prefers to refer to Israel in another context—as a “democracy”—in contrast to authoritarian states such as South Korea and Taiwan, which have, through war preparation, successfully pursued economic development with great determination.
The most interesting part of the book is the comparison between Pakistan and Muslim states such as Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia. Pakistan’s obsessive concern for security deriving mainly from the perceived threat posed by the bigger and industrially more advanced India generated a garrison mentality. Additionally Islamism, with its extremist and expansionist jargon, became part of the national project and identity. Lacking indigenous resources Pakistan exploited its geostrategic location to solicit economic and military aid from foreign powers. Such aid strengthened the military vis-à-vis the civilian branches of the state. It corrupted the military establishment; consequently economic and human development was neglected. Therefore the geostrategic location became a geostrategic curse.
Such a curse, Paul asserts, also afflicts Egypt though the nationalist army under Nasser did not cultivate Islamism. After the defeat in 1967 and particularly 1973, Egypt abandoned its ambition to defeat Israel and be the leader of the Arab world. It established peace with Israel which brought in huge amounts of US military and economic aid, yet the geostrategic location of Egypt proved to be a curse because economic development was not pursued with determination and commitment.
With regard to Turkey, he mentions that the strong nationalist, modernistic roots and traditions of its army and the exclusion of backward-looking Islamism from ideology provided the balance between war preparation and economic development. As far as Indonesia is concerned, the army too has its roots in the national liberation movement. It became the core player acting as the guardian of the country’s security but without hobnobbing ideologically with political Islam. Instead it made economic development a major concern of state policy.
I have shown in my book, Pakistan: The Garrison State—Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947–2011) (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2013), that the British military backed Pakistan’s creation (as a dependent state) to act as a buffer against Soviet communism in south Asia. The United States co-opted Pakistan in that role through military pacts with the latter (1954; 1959), but quickly realized that the reason Pakistan wanted to acquire American arms was to assert itself against India and not to help contain the Soviet Union in South Asia. This incongruence of interests had a decisive bearing on Pakistan’s prospects as a warrior state. Thus when Pakistan waged wars against India the United States did not extend it any help because in US calculations India was the paramount power in South Asia and not Pakistan. Therefore India could not be alienated; rather it had to be supported as a counterweight, for the containment of Chinese Communism in South Asia. Pakistan reacted by moving closer to China. As a result US-Pakistan relations remained strained during the 1960s but after the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan their military alliance of the 1950s came back to life and Pakistan was armed and abetted to the hilt: Pakistan could even pursue its clandestine nuclear programme notwithstanding concerns of some members of the US Congress. Some of the Washington-based experts played no small role in extenuating the Islamist character of the Pakistani warrior state. Therefore, the war preparation, war and development thesis needs to be qualified by another pre-condition: does a warrior state in the developing world enjoy the trust and support of powerful external patrons and donors or not? Israel has enjoyed such patronage but not Pakistan. I sent my book to some of the gatekeepers in Washington mentioned above but never heard a word from them. I am not surprised.
My book figures in Paul’s work but only as an obscure reference to the failure of existing literature on Pakistan to take notice of the war and development literature. As I have shown, it is not very helpful to understand Pakistan’s predicaments as a postcolonial garrison state. One chapter in his book is entitled, “The Garrison State.” My work is not reviewed or commented upon, which is a disappointment. On the whole, the book is interesting and instructive. Pakistan’s obsessive focus on security and military preparation has meant a flagrant disregard of economic development. Such remiss should be blamed essentially on the Pakistani power elite’s flawed priorities and ambitions.
Ishtiaq Ahmed, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan
Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
National University of Singapore, Singapore
Robert Kaplan, writing in the 28 October 2011 issue of Foreign Policy, called the South China Sea the “future of conflict.” Yet on 22 May 2014, after over 20 years of negotiations, Indonesia and the Philippines signed a maritime border agreement delineating the boundaries of their overlapping exclusive economic zones. However laboriously achieved, the spirit of compromise and cooperation in this agreement is very much needed to try to settle the plethora of conflicting territorial claims involving what the NY Times editorial board on 29 May 2014 characterized as a seemingly endless list of Asian nations, including Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, China and Taiwan. There is also a consensus among strategic thinkers of varying schools of thought that the United States has played, and continues to play, a key role in the South China Sea, although they differ in their interpretation of the American influence. The concept of the United States as a safeguard against a rising China having a stabilizing effect by creating a feeling of security within ASEAN is one perception.
At issue in the South China Sea is which nation-state controls the large reserves of oil and gas that are thought to be available. Living marine resources are also important. According to the NY Times editorial board, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea have strong economic motives but they also reflect a deep-seated nationalism and as the Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin put it, the South China Sea is central to China’s very existence as a global economic power.
The Philippines recently filed a legal case against Beijing with an international arbitration panel in the Hague, seemingly undaunted by China’s sometimes aggressive rhetoric and expansionist claims to nearly all of the South China Sea. The strategy of the Philippines clearly has implications for others in the region with similar claims against China, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Meanwhile, Vietnam and China have been sending warships into the South China Sea to confront one another.
This volume, entitled Entering Uncharted Waters?: ASEAN and the South China Sea, is in this context an exceedingly important and timely piece of scholarship based on a workshop organized by the ASEAN Studies Centre, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) at the initiative of Ambassador K. Kesavapany, who asked the question: “What does ASEAN have to do with the South China Sea?”
The answer is that all ASEAN nations, both individually and as a whole, have a deep and abiding interest in peace and stability in the South China Sea. All ASEAN nations, both individually and as a whole, also have a deep and abiding interest in the freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea. Simply put, much of ASEAN members’ commerce, including traded food and energy resources, passes through or over the South China Sea.
ISEAS was very fortunate to have so many leading scholars participating in this workshop who are acknowledged experts in South China Sea issues. The list of contributors to Entering Uncharted Waters constitutes a veritable “who’s who” in South China Sea law and policy and includes Robert Beckman, director of the Centre of International Law at the National University of Singapore and head of the Programme on Ocean Law and Policy, and Ambassador Hasjim Djalal, former vice chairman of the Delegation of Indonesia to the Third United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. Even if all of these experts did not necessarily speak for their respective governments they at least well understood the positions and interests of those governments. Importantly they also offer genuine hope that increased knowledge might lead all claimants to bring their claims within the framework of the 1982 Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, to which all of the nation states of the South China Sea are party. They also point out that what continues to be regrettably conspicuous by its absence in the South China Sea is an understanding that compromise and cooperation need not threaten national sovereignty and that the quarreling nation states need to return to the spirit and intent of the 2002 ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea. The NY Times characterized the 2002 ASEAN Declaration as a lofty but non-binding agreement. However, the 2002 ASEAN Declaration included commitments to international law, a pledge to resolve disputes peacefully and a promise not to occupy uninhabited islands.
Regrettably, as noted by the NY Times editorial board on 29 May 2014, as long as the nation-states in the South China Sea continue to make maximalist sovereignty claims, there will be no agreed-upon maritime borders and only missed opportunities to manage the resources of the sea and the seabed of the South China Sea for the benefit of present and future generations.
Richard Kyle Paisley, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
INTERACTIONS WITH A VIOLENT PAST: Reading Post-Conflict Landscapes in Cambodia, Lao, and Vietnam. IRASEC-NUS Press Publications on Contemporary Southeast Asia. Edited by Vatthana Pholsena and Oliver Tappe. Singapore: NUS Press in association with IRASEC, Bangkok, 2014. xi, 300 pp. (Maps, plates, tables.) US$32.00, paper. ISBN 978-9971-69-701-3.
Over the last decade, an exciting body of scholarship has emerged on the socio-cultural consequences of some thirty years of extreme warfare over the former states of French Indochina: Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This renewal is part of a wider intellectual shift in scholarship focused largely on the world wars of the twentieth century. Scholars of World War I led the way, as George Mosse’s classic study, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (1990) and Paul Fussel’s landmark The Great War and Modern Memory (1975) attest. The emphasis on historical memory was itself connected to innovative and theoretical attempts to understand what this might mean. Pierre Nora’s magisterial Les lieux de mémoire (1997) comes to mind as does Paul Ricoeur’s work.
With the publication of their edited volume, Interactions with a Violent Past, Vatthana Pholsena and Oliver Tappe make a major contribution to our understanding of the socio-cultural impact of the wars for Indochina on Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and how a wide range of peoples living in these countries have remembered, forgotten, retailored and continuously lived with these wars and their memories to this very day. In their introductory chapter, the editors focus the book thematically on the notions of “post-conflict landscapes” and “violent memories.” In different ways, all of the contributors to this book (initially a conference) show how the war has deeply affected “these countries’ human and physical landscapes.” “From battlefields and massive bombing,” the editors write, “to reeducation camps and resettled village, the past lingers on in the physical, often ruined, environment, but also in precarious objects such as unexploded ordnances that are shallowly buried in large areas of contaminated land” (6).
All of the authors effectively demonstrate the different ways war transformed physical reality; but they also show that the postconflict landscape is not some sort of an objective reality existing “out there” (6). The unexploded ordnance and the Agent Orange continue to transform that landscape quite literally, while people for all sorts of different and ever-changing reasons continue to remember the landscape—now and then—in a myriad of ways. And in so doing, they constantly change the contours of the landscape.
Consider the following. Elaine Russel and Susan Hammond take up the question of the still very real dangers of “Living with Unexploded Ordnance” and “Redefining Agent Orange, Mitigating its Impacts” (chapters 4,7). But both go beyond mere description of the consequences to take up questions of how people live with this passé qui ne passe pas. Oliver Tappe, Marksus Schlecker and Ian Baird show us in different and quite original ways how local peoples in Vietnam and Laos today have carefully contested and reshaped official sites and narratives of memory. Vatthana Pholsena zooms in on Route 9 in southern Laos to serve as her postconflict “landscape.” She teases out nicely how people in Sepon see this road as being more than just a source of development and modernity, but also as “a source of healing, with travel and trade resumed, craters filled in, and lingering memories of violence slowly dwindling” (182). Christina Schwenkel tapped into recent scholarship on “the productive life of risk” to provide a highly original and insightful study on the question on how landscapes “heal” and get wounded again. Yes, she concludes, the rapid economic development—new roads, homes, forests, buildings and markets suggest that regeneration and renewal are well under way in Quang Tri—but the global demands for war debris, for example, have led people, including children, to take extraordinary risks to unearth relics of the war. In so doing, they leave holes in the ground and they often leave their lives behind, as the war and its hidden landscape continue to maim and kill.
Each contributor has conducted very impressive fieldwork and advances solid arguments. They also provide us with a vast array of new information and insights. While my eyes sometimes glazed over when certain authors bogged us down with unnecessarily academic jargon, it’s worth carrying on. For, together, they have succeeded in providing us with new insights into the socio-cultural consequences of war in this part of the world and how the peoples who suffered through it still cope with this violent past in a variety of different and ever-changing ways.
Christopher Goscha, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Canada
HANOI’S WAR: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam. By Lien-Hang T. Nguyen. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. xiv, 444 pp. (Illus.) US$34.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8078-3551-7.
Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, an associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky, has distilled a decade of research into a tightly constructed work that adds significantly to the political and diplomatic history of the Vietnam War, especially the critical period between the major US intervention of 1965 and the conclusion of the Paris “peace process” in 1973. Nguyen has had unprecedented access to archival material in Hanoi, although Vietnam Workers’ Party (VWP) files remain closed. She has trolled the archives of the former South Vietnam (RVN) government as well as declassified US documents and a wealth of secondary sources. She has also interviewed Vietnamese players, including Northerners who faced purges during the VWP intra-party disputes of the 1960s.
Le Duan, first secretary (later general secretary) of the Party from 1960, is at the centre of this narrative, along with his loyal deputy, Le Duc Tho. Duan progressed from the anti-French insurgency in the Mekong Delta in the 1930s and 40s to pre-eminence in the North Vietnamese (DRV) leadership, sidelining the revered early leaders of the revolution, the ailing Chairman Ho Chi Minh, and, somewhat less successfully, Defence Minister Vo Nguyen Giap. An important factor in Duan’s rise may have been his absence in the South during the draconian collectivization process of the late 1950s, under the direction of Truong Chinh. A rift had opened in the party between “North-firsters,” who advocated building socialism in the North while waging a mainly political struggle in the South, and those who favoured reunification by force. Following the US buildup, Le Duan pursued the overthrow of the Saigon government by means of a strategy of “general offensive and general uprising (GO/GU).” He seems to have been convinced that this would succeed if large unit forces were employed against urban centres. Several senior North-firsters were marginalized, even imprisoned, during this period, many with real or suspected ties to Moscow; some were subordinates of Ho or Giap. Other “right deviationists” and “capitalist roaders” suffered as well, including Catholics. To a degree, Le Duan needed to continue the armed struggle in the South to deflect from domestic dissent in the DRV.
The Sino-Soviet dispute, and the differing counsel China and the USSR offered, along with military equipment and logistical support, was a major source of concern for Hanoi. China in the early 1960s advocated People’s War, with a concentration on guerrilla activity, while the Soviets urged enhanced political struggle, but remained the more important provider of heavy artillery and armour. The situation became complicated by the fact that both Moscow and Beijing were intent on improving relations with the United States. The year 1972 witnessed détente with the USSR and, most important, Nixon’s dramatic visit to China, all of which posed a quandary for Hanoi. By the end of that year, both were advising Hanoi to accept a political settlement and await the withdrawal of US support before actively pursuing unification efforts.
The ultimate test of the GO/GU strategy was the Lunar New Year (Tet) Offensive of February 1968, which was a military disaster for the communists and ended any illusion that the indigenous movement in the South, embodied in the “Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG),” could operate independently of Hanoi. The most important outcome of Tet, however, was the impact it had on public opinion in the West, where media portrayed it as a defeat for the US and the RVN. This perception forced Lyndon Johnson from power, and persuaded him before the 1968 elections to call a halt to bombing north of the 19th parallel and to seek a political settlement of the war through the Paris peace talks.
The election of Richard Nixon changed the picture: he had run on the promise that he would bring “peace with honour” to Vietnam. He was determined to maintain Nguyen Van Thieu in power in Saigon, and this became the major sticking point in the on-and-off negotiations in Paris for the ensuing three years. At his side was Henry Kissinger, and Nguyen draws a parallel between the Nixon/Kissinger team, which made the White House the centre of decision making for Vietnam, and the Le Duan/Le Duc Tho partnership, which was predominant within the VWP.
Far from being dissuaded by Tet, Le Duan ordered a further offensive in May 1968, and several “mini-Tets” throughout 1969 and 1970. With the death in 1969 of Ho Chi Minh, his hand was strengthened further. As the war ground on, Nixon sought to elicit DRV concessions in Paris by the interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Cambodia and intensified bombing in the North. Thus, 1972 marked a change of strategy on the part of Duan. The intense Easter Offensive, which just happened to take place between Nixon’s dramatic visits to Beijing and Moscow, was thwarted, largely by RVN forces. Nguyen devotes the bulk of her book to a meticulous account of the Paris talks, listing the various proposals put forward by both sides with an eye to mutual troop withdrawals, the release of US prisoners of war and, most important, the fate of RVN President Thieu. Thieu was never fully consulted, and RVN suspicions of a US sellout grew apace.
Although four parties—the RVN, the DRV, the PRG and the US—constituted the official participants to the talks, the real business was conducted in secret exchanges between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. In spite of the ceasefire agreement of January 1973, Nguyen concludes that “peace never had a chance.” The People’s Army (PAVN) remained in the south, and the ARVN fought on with little or no US support. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, prompting the satirist Tom Lehrer to comment that “Satire is Dead.” To his credit, Tho declined the honour. General Dung’s victorious army entered Saigon just over two years later to end the conflict. Vietnam was, finally, reunited.
Nguyen’s book is not a “primer”: working one’s way through arcane acronyms and unfamiliar Vietnamese names requires at least a cursory knowledge of the history of the war and its origins. It is a commendably dispassionate account, and is recommended reading for any serious study of the Cold War and the interactions among the United States, the USSR and China in the 1960s and 1970s.
D. Gordon Longmuir, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
SOUNDING OUT HERITAGE: Cultural Politics and the Social Practice of Quan Họ Folk Song in Northern Vietnam. Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory. By Lauren Meeker. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. viii, 192 pp. (Figures.) US$45.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3568-2.
Village quan họ singers in Vietnam’s Bắc Ninh province say that their songs “rise up and out of the belly” (64). The singers, who sing in pairs (hát đôi), appear to be whispering to each other, and their performances involve minimal movement. But their voices loudly resonate as they “play an instrument in the throat” (57). Their bodies become infused with stoic energy, fueled by sentiment, and the singers would say that they “did not know how to get tired” (63).
As Lauren Meeker shows in this compelling ethnography, the songs performed in the villages of Bắc Ninh, where quan họ is said to have originated, are not something one simply goes to “watch.” Building from fieldwork in Diềm village, the book details the fascinating social dynamics of quan họ in the village setting, showing how singers, gathered in partner groups called bọn, would engage in ritualized exchanges of song with groups from other villages with which they had established friendship relations. In this way, the book not only provides a clear and detailed analysis of one of Vietnam’s most important styles of folk song, but it also depicts the larger “soundscape” of quan họ, in which cultural performances express, produce and reproduce social relations at both the village and inter-village levels (18–20).
But these soundscapes are not confined to Bắc Ninh. The book documents how this musical style has been an object of national attention by Vietnamese folklorists, ethnologists, intellectuals and culture workers ever since Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France in 1945. In 2009, furthermore, UNESCO registered quan họ as an element of “intangible cultural heritage.” Thus, in addition to offering a detailed study of Bắc Ninh, the book also shows how quan họ is appropriated and heralded as a part of Vietnamese national heritage and national character. Quan họ has been updated, revised and “corrected” by experts or culture workers from Hanoi (only 30 kilometres away) who transformed the music to make it harmonize with various historically situated agendas, ranging from socialist projects of egalitarianism in the 1950s, to the exaltation of heroic struggle and unity of the war years, to more recent efforts to capitalize on the potential “value” of cultural heritage and branding in the post-reform era.
For the purposes of nationalism, part of the allure of quan họ stems from the very fact that it is deeply local. While this might seem like a contradiction, Meeker develops compelling arguments about the way heritage in twentieth-century Vietnam speaks in the universalizing idioms of the state, all while national rhetoric claims to build on diverse local practices as sources of authenticity. Both local singers and national folklore experts alike will commonly assert that people from Bắc Ninh have a special capacity to embody the music, and Meeker’s evocative ethnographic discussion of “the way of practicing” (lối chơi) quan họ in Diềm village help explain some of the logic behind such assertions. The book’s clear explanations of quan họ performances, coupled with carefully chosen and precise ethnographic details, shows how the situated, embodied and relational practices of village-based performance tightly integrate this style of folk song into a complex set of social relations. As such, it is hard to imagine how quan họ could be performed outside of this web of social relations. But this is the magic of nationalist heritage, as it transforms diversity into a source of unity. As Meeker shows, the emergence of a professional, staged, style of “new quan họ” after 1969 encouraged professional singers to transcend the local context and present quan họ as part of a national repertoire. In the process, they simultaneously elevated and transformed many of the attributes of village quan họ. What emerges is a distinct set of differences between new and old-style quan họ. Where old-style quan họ is rooted in the village, new-style quan họ is performed on a stage and can be broadcast anywhere. The old style is meant to be listened to, and is performed by sentimental, slow moving, often elderly, coy and drably dressed members of a parochial but sentimental rural society symbolically associated with the premodern past. The new style, by contrast, is meant to be watched, and the performers are theatrical, full of stylized movements, often young, flirtatious, colourfully dressed citizens of a gregarious national society made modern by a commitment to preserving their national heritage for the future.
It would appear from these strings of difference that the new and the old styles of quan họ are irreconcilable opposites. But Meeker shows how these binary oppositions are in fact mutually entangled with each other in a series of productive tensions that are not so much contradictory as generative. A local, “authentic” old-style quan họ rooted in Bắc Ninh is not undermined by the development of a national “new-style” quan họ. Instead, Bắc Ninh’s authenticity as the centre of quan họ is reinforced by the nationalist impulse to find local cultural essences, even as those imperatives themselves transform the conditions within which that authenticity is produced. In developing this argument, Meeker goes a long way in showing how the sounds of quan họ do different things for villagers, young and old, yesterday and today, than they do or did for revolutionary cadres and ideologues of the past, or for modern-day government officials, scholars, media companies, culture departments and international agencies. To see this required going, as Meeker’s informants always insisted, to Bắc Ninh. But in going there, she also shows what happens when the sounds of quan họ rise up and out of the belly of Bắc Ninh to be broadcast across the nation, and inscribed in the records of UNESCO.
Erik Harms, Yale University, New Haven, USA
RESISTING GENDERED NORMS: Civil Society, the Juridical and Political Space in Cambodia. Gender in a Global/Local World. By Mona Lilja. Farnham, Eng.; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013. xii, 150 pp. £60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-4094-3431-3.
This book is part of a series that explores global forces and local gender identities. It contains 11 chapters divided into two main parts. The first three chapters are devoted to adapting James Scott’s theory of resistance to notions of “disciplinary power” and “biopower” and exploring these within the context of postwar gender norms in Cambodia. The author presents arguments that globalization is making space for Cambodian women to forge new political identities through access to technology, discourses on democratic practices that are inclusive, and through material culture shaping new images identifying women as politicians.
The first main section of the book is entitled “Gender, Resistance and Gender-Based Violence.” This section focuses on non-governmental organizations’ approaches and understandings of this subject. It contains slim chapters (co-authored with Mikael Baaz) on the handling of gender-based violence (GBV) issues within the Extraordinary Court of the Chambers of Cambodia (ECCC) and “biopower and resistance” in the ECCC.
Case studies based on interviews with women in politics and NGOs from the 1990s form the basis of the rest of the book. Cambodian perspectives on gendered identities and new roles for women and men were gathered through the author’s interviews with 41 women and men from a variety of political parties between 1997 and 2007. It is not stated how many of each were interviewed. In addition, 11 NGO workers were interviewed from four NGOs. All but two of the interviewees were based in Phnom Penh. For the chapter on how the ECCC dealt with gender-based violence, the author and Mikael Baaz conducted 33 interviews in 2010 of investigating judges, lawyers, prosecutors, witnesses, victims and civil parties. English was the language of most interviews with interpreters used for some. The length and details of the interviews were not reported.
In the chapter reviewing women politicians and their resistance to gendered norms of male power, the author posits that Western models of the state are referred to in order to justify their ambitions. The irony that women in Western states are also politically marginalized is not discussed. The author concludes: “globalization provides subaltern groups with discourses from abroad that they can employ to renegotiate power sites, in this case the gender equalities within the public administration” (99).
The following chapter examines the strategies and approaches of four local non-governmental organizations in combating gender-based violence. Here it is argued that because the NGOs are largely financed by Western organizations, the values of gender they espouse have an influence over the approach of the work. This is not argued so persuasively by the evidence presented, however, especially as the chapter focuses more on techniques of male trainers with men in local communities and less on value systems and gendered identities.
From initially focusing on women, the NGOs moved to include men in their training and awareness-raising campaigns. Concepts of universalism (in so far as hegemonic masculinity is at play) and particularism are used to examine men’s roles as family members (fathers, sons, husbands) and as those who hold most power in society. The subject position of women in Cambodian society as marginalized and passive is discussed as a hurdle that both men and women have to overcome in order for gender-based violence to be reduced. It would have been interesting for the author to include the approaches to combat GBV by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs since it was the key institution in crafting the law against domestic violence and also works with NGOs to spread key messages and help change attitudes of men and women.
One of the more interesting chapters of the book is an examination of the struggles to get the issue of gender-based violence to be part of the ECCC agenda. These focused foremost on the phenomenon of “forced marriages” of which up to 500,000 took place during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. These marriages were often conducted en masse, among couples that did not have a say in their union.
In light of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 that recognizes the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace negotiations, various international and local human rights organizations began to advance the issue of “forced marriage” as a legitimate civil party complaint. However, some court staff, including those who themselves remained in forced marriages, objected to these cases. The author writes: “Male Cambodian court staff, some of whom still live in ‘forced marriages’, seemingly obstruct or refuse to admit the existence of trauma, thereby undermining the survivors’ credibility… In all, the resistance from the men in power was often substantial against the new victims’ stories of ‘forced marriages’” (65) and this had the result of undermining the confidence of some witnesses in the efficacy of the ECCC to deliberate their cases with impartiality.
This book will be of interest to Southeast Asianists who teach or study global/local gender relations. So, too, it will be of interest to scholars and students of Cambodia generally, and especially to those interested in post-1975 social developments.
Kate Grace Frieson, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Most scholars of Southeast Asia are well aware that an individual’s relationship with the Buddhist community, or Sangha, is central to Khmer religious practice, and that Buddhist monks occupy essential sociocultural roles as educators and spiritual guides in Cambodian society. But despite the importance of Buddhist monks to most Cambodians, the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s (CPK) violent persecution of the country’s ethnic minorities tends to take the spotlight in the existing scholarship on the Cambodian genocide. It is for such a reason that Ian Harris’ Buddhism in a Dark Age: Cambodian Monks under Pol Pot is such a welcome addition. An Emeritus Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Cumbria, Harris combines archival materials with dozens of interviews with genocide survivors to argue that successive Cambodian regimes “have sought to disengage Cambodian Buddhism from its traditional roots through the introduction of a modernist emphasis on the value of the monk’s engagement in socially progressive activity” (170). Rather than something disembodied, passive, or “devoid of purchase on historical and political reality,” Harris asserts that Buddhism remained influential even in lieu of the Sangha’s marginalization and the defrocking of monks, serving as an extant source for CPK thought and policies (3).
Buddhism in a Dark Age consists of seven engaging chapters that cover the period from the rise of Prince Sihanouk’s Buddhist socialist Sangkum Party in the opening chapter to the rise and fall of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) and the emergence of the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). The second and third chapters—the latter is arguably Harris’ most interesting—traces “filial links between the ideology of Angkar [the CPK] and the more traditional Buddhist categories and attitudes that are well established in Cambodian history and culture” (44). Subsequent chapters discuss the ways in which the CPK treated Buddhist monks during its reign, the Party’s destruction of wats and removal of monks from their traditional roles as educators, and the topic of monk mortality during the DK years. The final chapter explores the attempts to rebuild, unify and “(re)-politicize” the Sangha under Vietnamese rule (163).
As a whole, the book introduces the erosion of the Buddhist state in Cambodia, the CPK’s persecution of monks, and the long and trying process of rebuilding the Sangha in the post-DK years. Harris’ discussion of the ways in which the CPK pushed monks away from their usual study of classical scriptures and practices of meditation and towards “productive” labour shows the reader one of the many Party practices that brought the Sangha to its near total destruction. The two chapters that attempt to link Theravada Buddhism to Cambodian/Khmer communism present intriguing pathways into understanding the extant ideas that possibly influenced CPK thought. Yet such efforts also raise questions on the role Buddhism played in the development and promulgation of CPK thought, among others.
Indeed, Harris argues that many of the CPK’s policies are identical to and possibly informed by Buddhist practices (43–44). Such efforts bear resemblance to Frederic Wakeman’s History and Will, in which Wakeman argues that earlier Western philosophical tracts informed Mao Zedong’s later ideology and practices. But such connections do not necessarily “fit,” thus giving the impression that Wakeman—like Harris—is exploring backward and finding continuities in disparate sources that may very well have figured less prominently in the subject’s thought as ideology matured. How do we know, for instance, that Buddhist modes influenced many CPK leaders’ ideologies to the degree Harris suggests, especially after their conversion to communism in Paris during the 1950s? Or that Cambodians endorsed the CPK because of the Party’s allusions to Buddhism, and not, say, references to Cambodia’s oral history and tales of past greatness (Angkor)? While an understanding of the confluence of extant, pre-revolutionary political thought with alternative ideas from outside sources is necessary to explain CPK thought, the primacy Harris places on Buddhism as the possible driving force behind the nature and form of the CPK’s political thought ultimately raises more questions than it answers.
Harris also argues that in some areas Buddhist influence was “explicit” while in others “it led to the inversion of customary Buddhist modes of praxis” (63). One wonders if a link exists between the CPK’s inversion of Buddhist modes and the inversion of Maoist precepts in the doctoral dissertations by the CPK’s intellectual thrust (Khieu Samphan and Hou Yuon). Despite the author’s partial siding with Karl Jackson—who argued that Khieu’s doctoral dissertation was a blueprint for DK (51–52)—there is almost no discussion of it or its impact on the nature of Democratic Kampuchea.
The author also relegates the importance of the Cultural Revolution as an influence on CPK practice. Harris interestingly makes no connection between the CPK’s “Year Zero” and Mao’s campaign to destroy the “Four Olds,” both of which broke with orthodox Marxist analysis, nor does he link Mao’s Great Leap Forward to the “Super” variant the CPK initiated. The absence of engaging the topic of nationalism is also a disappointing omission. It would have been interesting for Harris to situate his assertions on Buddhism in contrast to Penny Edwards’ “temple complex” argument—that the symbol of Angkor Wat came to signify Cambodian sovereignty and faith in Cambodia’s past glory and fears of impending annihilation. Indeed, the French construct of the glorious Khmer past, which contrasted with Cambodia’s present state of weakness, is necessary in explicating the CPK’s weltanschauung.
These questions and criticisms notwithstanding, Buddhism in a Dark Age is a well-researched and thorough analysis of the struggle of Buddhist monks over the past century. Harris’ book is both a long overdue contribution to the literature on the Cambodian genocide and an ambitious study that reminds us of the resilience of Buddhism in Cambodia—even to those who sought so fervently to eradicate it.
Matt Galway, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
AFTER THE NEW ORDER: Space, Politics and Jakarta. Writing Past Colonialism Series. By Abidin Kusno. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xxxii, 268 pp. (Figures, Illustrations, maps.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3745-7.
Abidin Kusno’s third book on the history of architectural forms and spatial practices in Indonesia, After the New Order, establishes him as the foremost architectural historian of Indonesia. In this volume, Kusno continues with the trajectory established in his prior books, identifying the connections between a politics of collective memory, ideological presences and influences embedded within the architectural and the actual lived outcomes of such temporal-spatial collisions. After the New Order’s erudition and comparative potential is evident not only in the literatures cited (e.g., political philosophy, literature, anthropology and history), but also in providing readers access to a variety of urban practitioners, Indonesian thinkers, Asian thinkers, as well as Dutch, North American and Australian scholarship. The periodization of the book as “after” the New Order situates Kusno’s effort to prove, through careful historical research, the evidence for how present-day conditions of floods, traffic and displacement are legacies—the combined result of the Indonesian state’s negligence and governance. Thus, Jakarta is not, as many of its critics and inhabitants argue, a city “without a plan.” Rather, Jakarta is a place of uneven development, where the discourse of urbanization has until recently been regarded as an elite and statist domain.
Kusno’s longue durée approach is applied throughout the 7-chapter, tripartite book, yet the material feels resolutely contemporary as it deals with Jakarta’s ongoing urban ecological problems of scarce affordable housing, limited access to public services, floods and traffic, even providing us with glimpses into the last two impactful gubernatorial reigns of Sutiyoso and Fauzi Bowo. Thus, it is a forward-looking book, particularly concerned with the fate of the rakyat (the People, but more aptly the poor and dispossessed) under state and private schemes to regulate, formalize and ultimately displace them. Jakarta’s growth upward (chapter 7: Housing the Margin) and outward (chapter 5: The Coast and the Last Frontier) show spatial politics to be urban realizations of applied state power, and even, as was true during the New Order, the result of presidential fiat. Against this backdrop of state-led modernization, the informal arrangements of vernacular and grassroots adaptations appear as unplanned aberrations and disturbances. As Kusno argues, state initiatives targeting social mobility and affordable, “modern” vertical housing for the poor are often selectively successful in their stated aims but remain effective machines for transforming large areas of urban space, reclaiming and “upgrading” coastlines, and presenting “greenwashing” campaigns. After the New Order offers the sobering thought that the social project of housing the poor is too often dominated by a logic of making the poor invisible to the rest of the population. In doing so, he shows the intertwined histories of massive state projects used to imagine a different urban modernity and the population flows and displacements that precipitated and resulted from such policies. The book brings to mind Mike Davis’s haunting thought in Planet of Slums (2006), that the urban poor are celebrated for all the wrong reasons (as capable of self-governance) and passed over because of their fragmented capacity for self-representation.
The first section of the book, titled “Longue Durée,” contains two chapters: chapter 1 on the history of City Hall, and chapter 2 on the ruko, or shophouse. These chapters showcase Kusno’s skill in combining a historical approach with a more ethnographic one. Similar to his analysis of the posko (command post) (Abidin Kusno, The Appearances of Memory: the Mnemonic Practices of Architecture and Urban Form in Indonesia, Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), chapter 2 uses the ruko architectural form as a historicizing device to analyze Chinese identity and national belonging through the colonial and postcolonial eras. Here, he situates the conventional, resolutely utilitarian and now repellently splendid structures of (Chinese) commerce that are identified with Chineseness in the national imaginary, and shows how the ruko’s desirability eventually transcends its ethnic roots, leading to even more lifestyle exclusive structures such as Islamic ruko. Yet as a reader I found the “identity and morality” (xviii) aspects of the book’s argument to be its weakest, since ethnic and “moral” (i.e., religious) claims have had the least impact on the kinds of class-based displacement that Kusno is concerned with. The book returns to safer ground in the remaining two sections, “Time Remembered/Time Forgotten” and “Spatial Conjunctures.” There, Kusno has relaxed his stance toward his patented concept of “nationalist urbanism” to allow for more complex formations of middle-class participation, private capital and international factors in Jakarta’s development. Even as he focuses on elite instruments of urban development, including the zoning of globalized, capitalist spaces (EPZs in the Jabotabek area) and exclusive superblocks and malls, the book offers glimpses of hope, from the NGOs who agitate against city officials and private developers, to the growing capacity of the rakyat to seek housing rights in the democratic era. Two significant contributions to our understanding of Indonesian urbanism appear here. The first is Kusno’s chapter theorizing the “periurban fringe” (chapter 3). As other authors have argued, the peri-urban is a hybrid zone characterized by the appearance of “desa-kota” (village-town) and the aspirations of permanently transitional subjects (Erik Harms, Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010). Kusno analyzes the peri-urban as a “space of exception” that has become a buffer zone of negligent governance, a form of indirect rule in which the poor and the working classes subsist without right to citizenship claims, but remain with the prospect of the city dangled before them. The second significant and new argument that Kusno presents is his ecological framing of urban issues (chapter 6: Green Governmentality), a frame that has become more popular in planning discourse in Indonesia, albeit without the critical lens with which Kusno views “Go Green” campaigns.
The interview that appears as an epilogue is as informative and rich in data as the chapters themselves. The banter between Etienne Turpin, an urbanist studying Jakarta, and Kusno draws together the major themes animating the book, including urban informality, the agency of the urban poor, lingering modernism, and climate change. Here, Kusno eloquently explains why the rakyat’s urban struggles must be seen in broader political frames of social justice and climate change. The book is as appropriate for an undergraduate readership as it is for experts, in large part due to the author’s clarity of thought and writing. I would recommend that especial attention be paid to the epilogue, where the author’s lively voice demonstrates the extent of his intellectual engagement with urban Indonesia.
Doreen Lee, Northeastern University, Boston, USA
CULTURE, POWER, AND AUTHORITARIANISM IN THE INDONESIAN STATE: Cultural Policy across the Twentieth-Century to the Reform Era. Southeast Asia Mediated, v.3. By Tod Jones. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2013. xviii, 312 pp. (Tables.) US$116.00, cloth. ISBN 978-90-04-25509-8.
This book is a major study of cultural policy (seen as a state apparatus for social control) as it develops over time in the course of twentieth-century Indonesia. It comprehensively documents key debates, institutional formations and regulations around the production, circulation and reception of cultural policy in Indonesia across different political regimes (though a large part is devoted to the New Order under Suharto, 1965–1998). “Culture” here is understood as an institutionally mediated practice which involves the interplay between structure and agency. This is a definition drawn from Michel Foucault and developed by Tony Bennett with a particular focus on the themes of accommodation, contradiction, misrecognition and, should we say, resistance. The author, Tod Jones (in a theoretically well-informed introductory chapter) offers the notion of “culturality” as a concept to help illustrate the working of those themes in order to show how cultures, while constituted by formal (state) institutions, were shaped by a constellation of other unofficial practices. The book thus can be seen as having a theoretical agenda to show how culture is formed through different forces, even as the formal state discourses remain the most dominant.
To write a book about the complexity, or better, the difficulty of producing and regulating culture is indeed a difficult task. One could go into the messiness of dealing with the irreducibility of cultural practices. Jones however manages to “escape” from the messiness of cultural production by sticking with his main target: cultural policy, a domain that represents the cultural strategy of government. The key actors of the study thus are those associated with the different layers of government structures, and in a way we could say that the study is moving within and around these layers, but never quite beyond them. Playing with these layers, Jones shows the tension and negotiation between the regional and the Pan-Indonesian in asserting cultural strategies. The central theoretical struggle in Jones’ book thus is the question of whether cultural policy is best understood as a formulation from above but one that is deeply shaped by “culturalities,” the discursive cultural practices, from below. Such struggle could be seen in his different twists in the study, for instance he relies on governmental discourses and acknowledges the state’s power, but he aims at showing the different implications of the policy. In the end, we see cultural policy as a set of incomplete attempts and unclear desires of the state to control “culturalities.”. The point Jones wants to make however is that while the government cannot control culture, it can keep producing it through policy.
Central to the study thus are the continuous attempts by the government through its network to issue cultural policy and its institutions. While the efforts are not always working, cultural policy is considered important to maintain order and stability in a socio-political domain filled with often uncontrollable culturalities. This imperative applies to all political regimes. Jones’ theoretical formulation allows “old” modes of governance to keep returning to “new” regimes. This has made the study non-linear even as the book is organized chronologically following the rise and fall of each political regime: Dutch colonialism, Japanese occupation, the Constitutional Democracy and Guided Democracy of Sukarno era, the Suharto’s New Order and the Reform era. The main empirical finding is the influence of colonial cultural policy in the postcolonial era and how the supposedly democratic Reform era is never quite able to leave behind the cultural policy shadow of Suharto’s New Order.
The New Order of Suharto is understandably central to the book, as it provides a bridge between the colonial and postcolonial mode of governing cultures, and it continues to shape the contemporary reform era. The book argues that the New Order replayed the cultural policy of the colonial era, which sought to both preserve and develop Indonesian culture according to the state’s aesthetic and moral norm, and in ways that supported development goals. The discourse of preservation was constructed through the idea that there is a realm of unchanging spiritual qualities in Indonesian cultures. Cultural policy is supposed to protect the spiritual domain by isolating it from politics. After the collapse of the Suharto regime, the preservation of the spiritual domain has been relegated to the regional governments.
The strength of Jones’ study however is also its weakness. With a focus on governmental discourses and their definition of cultures, the study follows logically the purview of the state, thus leaving out cultural forms that did not receive attention from cultural policy makers. What has also been left out in the study is the cultural policy on ethnic Chinese which Jones mentions only in two footnotes. Jones is aware of this limit as acknowledged in various instances. Culture, Power, and Authoritariansm in the Indonesian State is a major contribution to the study of cultural policy in a postcolonial country.
Abidin Kusno, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
PRODUCING INDONESIA: The State of the Field of Indonesian Studies. Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, no. 76. Editor, Eric Tagliacozzo. Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University, 2014. vi, 370 pp. (Figures.) US$31.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-87727-302-8.
The 25 essays in this volume reflect upon some of the most recent scholarly work in Indonesian studies throughout the globe, but particularly in Australia, Canada, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. The book is organized by six general fields: anthropology, art history, history, language and literature, government and political science and ethnomusicology. All its articles were originally presented at an April 2011 conference organized by the Kahin Center for Advanced Research on Southeast Asia at Cornell University and hosted by Cornell’s Modern Indonesia Project faculty. Besides Eric Tagliacozzo, the leading figure behind the conference and the book’s publication, as well as the book’s editor, 25 other well-known scholars have contributed to this collection.
Essays by Marina Welker, Danilyn Rutherford, Kenneth M. George and Patricia Spyer approach Indonesian studies from an athropological perspective, with Welker, Rutherford and George focusing on more general discussions while Spyer focuses specifically on violence. Kaja M. McGowan, Natasha Reichle, E. Edward McKinnon and Astri Wright assess the importance of contributions in art history and heritage studies to the study of Indonesia. In the field of history, three contributors (Rudolf Mrazek, Laurie J. Sears and Jean Gelman Taylor) investigate various issues surrounding Indonesian historiography, with Taylor focusing more on the Indonesian stream in the study of Indonesian history, while Sears gives much attention to the historical interpretations of two Indonesian novelists, Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Ayu Utami. Eric Tagliacozzo is to be thanked for bringing together all aspects of these three essays in his introduction at the beginning of this section.
Turning to language and literature, five writers—including one Indonesian academician—present to those of us who work mainly in linguistics. Here Abigail C. Cohn, together with Jolanda Pandin, Joseph Errington and Bambang Kaswanti Purwo, provide much information on the study of Bahasa Indonesia. Tinneke Hellwig’s essay is the only one in this section that focuses on the issues surrounding the study of Indonesian literature and literary criticism, both in Indonesia and abroad, although some of her points are also discussed by Sears.
In the section on government and politics, the three essays written by very senior scholars in the field in Indonesia politics focus generally on the state of the field in political studies of Indonesia. Following the introduction by Thomas B. Pepinsky, other essays include that of the guru of most Indonesian political scientists, R. William Liddle, as well as that of senior Indonesianist Donald K. Emmerson, who focuses on political science scholarship in Indonesian politics. Liddle correctly points out how only a “few Indonesians are publishing at an international-quality level” and “well below the needs of Indonesian society” (259), although the numbers are growing. But above all, Edward Aspinall’s essay seems to summarize all the issues of this section into “three generations, three approaches and three contexts” of doing research on Indonesian politics.
The book’s five final essays—on ethnomusicology—add an important social and cultural dimension to this book. Christopher J. Miller, Martin Hatch, Marc Perlman, Andrew N. Weintraub, and last but not least the most senior Indonesian scholar working on Javanese music, Sumarsam, together explore the different issues of how music is becoming an important means for producing Indonesian realities and images.
Obviously, some important topics are not included in this book, but in his introduction the editor points out that “the essays in this volume catalogue, critique, and play with much of the humanities and social sciences disciplines that have been important in deconstructing Indonesian society over a long period, for at least the last 150 years” (15). Therefore, most essays are valuable in explaining “Indonesia as an entity across a large number of fields” (1). This volume is about the birth and development of Indonesian studies from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, a process in which Cornell University—the inspiration for this publication—was a pioneer, and at one time also the most prominant centre for Indonesian studies abroad, other than those in the colonial mother country of the Netherlands. Indonesian studies at Cornell has as a legacy a large number of trained scholars from around the world. Those scholars have gone on to create their own legacies in “producing Indonesia” in different parts of the globe, with or without copying the Cornell tradition. But now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Indonesian studies is a declining field. Today there is hardly any first-rate centre dedicated to Indonesian studies, notwithstanding those at Cornell and in the Netherlands, where Indonesian studies began during the period of Indologie in order to prepare those for service in the colony. At this point, it is the editor’s expectation that this book might answer, “who are we, where do we come from and where are we going?” within the context of knowledge production. People might benefit from the book to revive Indonesian studies since Indonesia is “clearly moving up in the world” (2), although those studies might not attain the same scale as they had in the past.
Taken together, all the essays raise fascinating notions as Indonesian studies is trying to move away from official accounts of the Indonesian state to the daily life of the common people, and from an orientalist nature to a more critical, autonomous and scientific one by seeking to represent the perspective from within. Some sections of the book even deal with much neglected segments of Indonesian studies. Jean Gelman Taylor’s article is one to be mentioned here. It argues how future Indonesian studies, in producing Indonesia abroad, should also take into account “different perspectives” within Indonesian scholarship about their own images and realities. This can prevent the orientalistic approach from striking back.
The book’s only weakness lies in its structure and reminds us of the fact that most essays fail to produce Indonesia as part of its most proximate environment: Southeast Asia. Like most edited collections, Producing Indonesia varies in quality and significance according to the particular essay; some are too short while others are too long. Although most essays present Indonesia and its civilization as part of world society, they fall short when it comes to Southeast Asia. Producing Indonesia without Southeast Asia is surprising since most centres for Indonesian studies abroad, including that at Cornell, in fact developed hand-in-hand with Southeast Asian studies. In terms of perspective, the book excludes the story of Indonesia studies in what was once known as the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, when centres on Indonesian studies were developed in places such as the USSR and China. The absence of any contribution by a Japanese scholar also illustrates the limitations of most essays regarding the uniqueness of the Asian perspective on Indonesian studies. These limitations notwithstanding, this book is an impressive piece of scholarship that addresses the state of the field of Indonesian studies. The book should be of interest to scholars and students of Indonesia and Southeast Asia both in Indonesia and abroad, particularly those in the fields of humanities and social sciences.
Bambang Purwanto, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
SURABAYA, 1945-2010: Neighbourhood, State and Economy in Indonesia’s City of Struggle. Souteast Asia Publications Series. By Robbie Peters. Honolulu: Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with the University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xvii, 254 pp. (Illus.) US$27.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8248-3864-5.
The city of Surabaya has gone through several ups and downs in the past seventy years. Its history reflects, of course, in many ways the changes that have taken place in Indonesia as a whole, but Surabaya also has idiosyncratic characteristics. One trait that distinguishes Surabaya from its biggest rival, the capital city of Jakarta, is the policy to allow most kampongs to stay in the city centre and not to demolish them to make room for office towers, hotels, shopping malls, and elite housing. Robbie Peters has written a fascinating account of the city, from Independence (1945) till 2010. The focus is on the way state interventions and the economic ebb and flow have impinged on the lives of kampong residents and how these residents have struggled to carve out a pleasant living for themselves.
The work is based on an extensive study of local newspapers and other literature, and intermittent ethnographic fieldwork conducted from 1997 to 2010. Peters stayed in the kampong Dinoyo during the whole of 1998, a momentous year during which the Asian crisis hit Indonesia hard, long-reigning President Suharto stepped down, and so-called ninja killings peaked. He returned regularly to Dinoyo after 1998. The focus of the book rests on this kampong, but Peters often widens the angle, making the connection with developments in Surabaya or Indonesia as a whole. For each period, a few themes take central stage, which are analyzed with a range of theoretical concepts.
Two-thirds of the people fled the city during the fierce Battle of Surabaya of 1945, but a reversed flow of migration already started during the Indonesian Revolution. After the transfer of sovereignty (1949) many people moved from the hinterland into town; old and new residents of Dinoyo often found work in the adjacent industrial estate, Ngagel. In 1957 the workers’ movement seized Dutch-controlled factories in Ngagel, but within a fortnight the army took over the seized factories and brought them under army control. Henceforth, labour unrest inevitably developed into a conflict between unions backed by the Indonesian Communist Party and the army (as selfish managers of the companies), culminating in the dramatic prosecution of Indonesian communists in 1965 and 1966. Peters sheds new light on these events by his economic approach to the conflict, with the army targeting the communists not so much for political as economic reasons. The stories of two labourers, Eko and Rukun, show how people tried to survive the purges.
In the next decades, the municipality embarked on a path of kampong improvement and new investments in the urban infrastructure. Data collection as a prerequisite for urban planning reminded the kampong residents of the searches for evidence of communist involvement in the mid-1960s. In the 1980s industries were moved from the inner city to the outskirts and Ngagel was developed into malls and hotels. This created new jobs for young, pretty girls from Dinoyo, like a certain Ria, because the consumer society required beauty as a precondition “to ‘promote’ the sale of commodities” (105).
The Asian crisis of 1998 brought new hardship and drove dismissed workers to the street to engage in informal economic activities. Kampong residents thus ventured outside of their secure environment into the streets associated with danger. Some years later, the War on Terror gave the state an excuse to step up scrutiny of the kampong residents, in order to distinguish between locals and outsiders (allegedly potential terrorists). The state definitions and boundary making, however, do not match the local definitions of belonging, which are based on the participation in ritual meals (slametans), death rituals and activities like pigeon racing. The residents of Dinoyo have until today successfully resisted state intrusions into their community.
It happened that I read Surabaya, 1945–2010 while staying in a Surabaya kampong myself and I found the book very inspiring for my fieldwork. The book is an excellent companion to Howard Dick’s Surabaya, city of work: A socio-economic history, 1900–2000 (NUS Press, 2003), which gives the general history of Surabaya with more “hard facts,” but lacks the experiences of ordinary people, and Lea Jellinek’s The wheel of fortune: The history of a poor community in Jakarta (Allen & Unwin, 1991), which must have been a model for Robbie Peters, but which hardly or not at all covers the disconcerting events of 1965 and 1998. The fact that the illustrations of the book are of an incomprehensibly poor quality is of no import, because of the very vivid descriptions in words that make illustrations superfluous. The book is a real page-turner, because of the lucid argument and colourful scenes, especially where Peters develops his case with the help of short vignettes about kampong residents.
From what I know of other Indonesian kampongs, my biggest concern is that the book might give an overly romantic view of a harmonious community of like people. The preface leaves no doubt that Peters’ sympathies lie with the kampong residents (and shows his excellent rapport with the residents). How about gender differences? We learn more about the men than the women and may wonder whether they liked the pigeon races as much as the men. When young girls go to work as sales girls, are they still controlled by male relatives? And how about class differences? In colonial times the composition of kampongs was determined by low incomes, but nowadays it is not uncommon to see houses with three storeys and a car port in the midst of basic dwellings in a kampong. Monthly expenditure figures of eleven residents (124) testify to enormous income differences, but go unanalyzed. Do the rich and poor get along well with each other or is there a lot of hidden strife? These queries should not distract from the fact that Surabaya, 1945–2010 is an excellent, admirable book.
Freek Colombijn, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
TRAILS OF BRONZE DRUMS ACROSS EARLY SOUTHEAST ASIA: Exchange Routes and Connected Cultural Spheres. Nalanda-Sriwijaya Series. By Ambra Calo. Rev. new ed. Singapore: ISEAS, 2014. xxx, 228 pp.,  pp. of plates (Charts, maps, figures.) US$69.90, paper. ISBN 978-981-4517-86-7.
Ambra Calo makes a significant contribution to the extensive literature on the bronze drums of the Dongson type by choosing to consider these ritual metallaphones in their entire geographical range. In doing this she avoids nationalistic debates and at the same time provides rich insights into the extensive trading networks and pathways along which Dongson drums moved during the late metal age (300 BCE–500 CE). Calo makes use of a select set of “regional clusters” of bronze drums that she then uses to study the routes and timing of transmission of drums produced in workshops like those of the Red River Valley of northern Vietnam, her first regional cluster. Calo uses her impressive mastery of archaeological detail to trace a series of “distribution domains” that include the Dongson and Dian cultures of northern Vietnam and southern China, the cross-regional routes of mainland Southeast Asia and the islands of western Indonesia. By meticulously examining the archaeological record for regional clusters found in these distribution domains she is able to build an accurate picture both of centres of production and important nodal points in the trading pathways by which bronze drums spread throughout mainland and insular Southeast Asia.
Calo first focuses on her first and third regional clusters, the bronze drums and situlas produced in the Dongson culture of the Red River Valley in northern Vietnam and southern Yunnan, and the closely related artifacts of the Dian culture of Yunnan. In the process she provides convincing solutions to earlier debates on the relationship between these two separate, but closely related, traditions of bronze casting. In her second chapter Calo provides a detailed overview of the larger domain of Dongson-style drums on the Southeast Asian mainland and western Indonesia that brings into clear focus the routes of transmission along exchange networks connecting much of Southeast Asia c. 300 BCE–100 CE.
In other chapters Calo examines the later movement of drums of Dongson provenance into eastern Indonesia (200–600 CE) that her model “envisions […] entering a series of inter-island trade networks controlled by local seafaring traders” (113). She then gives a detailed description of the similarities and differences between Dongson-type drums of mainland origin and the bronze drums cast in the workshops of Bali, demonstrating that the method of using a separate tympanum attached to the hourglass-shaped base of the drum with a flange represents a bronze-casting method of local origin. She goes on to show that important find sites of these drums in Bali are at critical junctures in the riverine system of south-central Bali, which was harnessed by the early dynasties of Bali in the service of the irrigation networks that supported their domains.
There is a great deal of solid scholarship and scientific detail in Calo’s work that will ensure its usefulness for many years to come, and her contribution to our understanding of the timing and routes of transmission of Dongson-type drums is enriched through her methodological choices, which introduce the very useful concepts of regional clusters and distribution domains to a wider readership. In addition, in the final chapter of her book, Calo puts forward a challenging thesis, proposing that motifs that figure strongly in the decoration of Dongson drums have their origin in western Borneo, where they are reflected today among the Dayak peoples of western Borneo. Combining ethnographic and ethno-musicological evidence Calo traces lines of connection between the motifs, myths, ritual implements and musical instruments of Dayak society and those of the Dongson culture. Taking a cue from the linguistic evidence, which suggests a large-scale movement of Austronesian speakers from western Borneo to coastal and central Vietnam sometime in the mid-first millennium BCE, Calo proposes cultural links that were strengthened by the movement of speakers of Malayic languages from Borneo to Vietnam, where they developed as the Cham languages of the Austronesian (AN) family. Calo’s evidence suggests that a long history of contact and exchange between speakers of Cham and their close neighbours from the Austroasiatic populations of the mainland led to the sharing of cultural traits that cross ethno-linguistic boundaries.
While Calo’s final chapter promises much with its assertion of an “island to mainland” pathway for much of the ritual and mythological imagery that is featured prominently in Dongson and Dian drums, the author ends her otherwise impressive volume by introducing a brief discussion of a “Neolithic exchange network involving Taiwanese nephrite” with a brief but inconclusive discussion. One might rather hope for a summation of her views on the “island to mainland” pathway that she introduces so convincingly in the concluding chapter of the work.
The photographs, maps and figures in this volume constitute a very important contribution to the field in and of themselves. The resolution might be improved on some of the photographs, but that is a minor point in comparison with the value of having at our disposal a well-organized and strongly representative record of the production and spread of bronze drums in Southeast Asia. The volume suffers from relatively frequent misspellings or typos that we can hope will be corrected in subsequent printings of this valuable resource.
Thomas Hunter, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Australasia and the Pacific Islands
PERFORMING PLACE, PRACTISING MEMORIES: Aboriginal Australians, Hippies and the State. Space and Place, 7. By Rosita Henry. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2012. xii, 275 pp. (Figures, maps.) US$95.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-85745-508-6.
Being in place in the world could be assumed to be so simple and yet Rosita Henry brings into clear focus the complexities of place as lived experience in her valuable ethnography. She draws deftly on diverse theoretical and methodological strands in her exploration of the dynamic relationship between people and place that perpetually reconstitutes and vivifies what is now commonly known as Kuranda, the tourist-focused “village in the rainforest” and its surrounds in tropical north Queensland. She draws us into the conflicts, contestations, contradictions and ironies of culture, identity, memory and politics, made and revealed in the social dramas through which the performative struggles and affirmations for being in place are enacted. In the process, Henry has produced a highly engaging and topical work that makes an original and eclectic contribution to understanding the transforming nature of being in place and elucidating a myriad of contemporary issues concerning the environment and development; local communities, politics and interventions of the state; tourism and Aboriginal being in place; and much more.
The book is peopled by those who might have remained as iconic groups—Aboriginal peoples, “old” settlers, hippies, environmentalists—but a primary concern for Henry is not to take these categories for granted but to explore how they are brought into being through the perpetual negotiations of performance, which articulate and renegotiate identity and community, in and of place. Her focus is on the lived body engaged in the discursive social dramas, which she identifies and explores in their manifestation as performance through a series of case studies. Acknowledging the origin of this approach in the work of Victor Turner and the extended case studies produced through the Manchester School of Anthropology, Henry makes these approaches her own through a conceptualization of social dramas not merely as reflective of human interactions in place, but as constitutive of being in place.
The chapter titles illustrate the thematic link of human agency in the bringing into being of place and the nature of being in place that run the course of the book: dancing place, commodifying place, protesting place, etc. Chapter 1, “Colonising Place,” unlike other chapters, relies heavily on the use of primary and secondary historical sources, but it provides a rich contextualization that is vital to an appreciation of the nuances of the social dramas and performance that follow in subsequent chapters, particularly with respect to the disruptions and continuities of Aboriginal being in place.
Although the ethnographic focus is decidedly local, the perpetual external interventions—waves of new types of “settlers,” hippies, tourists, environmentalists, developers, and the impositions of state and neo-liberal agendas for the management and commodification of difference—provide the diverse mix through which local being in place is perpetually made, contested and negotiated. This approach permits Henry to make an important and original contribution to what she acknowledges is an already prolific field dealing with the “relationship between Indigenous peoples, environmentalists and developers” (218). The development of Kuranda’s tourist industry is a key locus across a number of chapters and Henry elucidates the vortex of need it creates for various protaganists to shape their place and their own being in place through performance. The broader context of native title claims in the 1990s resonates strongly in this sense with more immediately localized pressures on Aboriginal people to define their identity and “perform” their relationship in place.
The pernicious potential of this “cultural project” for Aboriginal people is canvassed further as Henry identifies the increasing demands of the bureaucratized order of government and a growing global desire for cultural alterity sought through tourism. She explores the manifest effects of this in the requirements for Indigenous authentication that so often creates an imperative for a static fixing of culture and identity in order to affirm veracity through historical continuity. The staged cultural performances by Djabugay people in their Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park are raised in light of these circumscriptions but, she asserts, cultural performance is also embraced as an opportunity by Djabugay people to actively engage with dominant forces: at once, conforming through expected cultural performance, and resisting through the production and propagation of their own narratives. It is in this sense both cultural and political production that in dance works through a “body memory”; making meaning from their own pasts of dispossession, and resisting their obliteration through the reclamation and rejuvenation of their traditions.
This blurring of the cultural and political manifests again in her focus on the strategic relationship between Aboriginal people and environmentalists/“tree-sitters”/“greenies” in opposition to the development of the cable car or “Skyrail” development linking Kuranda to Cairns through the Barron Gorge National Park and the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Any presumption of this as a purely natural alliance made in common cause is challenged through her dissection of the varying performances of protest; roles are explored, revealing variant motivations and ambiguities of moral positioning.
Henry is an insider of sorts: her family, having had a long association with Kuranda in her childhood, moved to the area in the late 1970s as part of the wave of “alternative lifestylers.” Her portrait of “hippies” is sympathetic but nonetheless highlights the ironies arising from their communalist agendas that are so reliant on individual libertarianism. This contradiction is at the heart of her explanation as to how the original Kuranda barter-based markets initiated by this wave of counter-culture settlers outside of the town, were so quickly transformed into capitalist commercial entities and some original hippie settlers became “upstanding members of the Kuranda Chamber of Commerce” (157). This sets the scene for numerous other dramas played out both onstage in formal productions and offstage in committee rooms, community meetings and public confrontations as the struggle to enact competing visions continues.
The descriptive and intellectual depth of this book, shaped by Henry’s empathetic but critically aware insight, makes this a highly readable and valuable book for a diversity of readers.
Lorraine Towers, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
GOVERNING NEW GUINEA: An Oral History of Papuan Administrators, 1950-1990. Edited by Leontine Visser. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2012. vi, 358 pp. (Maps, illustrations.) €34.90, paper. ISBN 978-90-6718-393 -2.
This volume nominally collects together reminiscences of indigenous former administrators in Netherlands New Guinea. However, as the editor highlights, it goes further to provide a mix of accounts of the move through the UNTEA period, the “Act of Free Choice” and on into Indonesian government of the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Those whose stories are included have occupied a variety of roles over the years, being posted to various locations, and being subject to shifts in the political climate too, often resulting in demotion, resignation or a career “dead-end.” The bulk of the book is made up of edited transcripts of multiple interviews carried out with each of the participants in 1999–2000. According to the introduction, these were semi-structured, but followed a similar series of questions “in order to obtain a comparable, yet highly diverse set of data that together would provide a more coherent historical picture than … just a series of idiosyncratic memoirs” (17). Fortunately, though, this does not translate to a stilted or formulaic set of narratives. Each interviewee maintains their voice and seems to have been free to determine the length and direction of the varied digressions that occur.
In relation to such tangents, the editor suggests that they are in fact demonstrative of overlaps between these narratives and indigenous forms of storytelling—particularly, an interest in the details of journeys; places visited and those encountered along the way. Grievances with superiors and slights received are often recounted with relish, particularly when retribution or exoneration has been attained at some later date. But the stories do not always follow a predictable pattern. In the first chapter, Trajanus S. Boekorsjom recounts a number of instances of violence: throwing a chair at a superior administrator, brawling with another, punching another so hard that he fell and took down his office wall with him. Yet, none of these result in much fall-out, with his career continuing apace. A further anecdote from Dolf Faidiban suggests though that violence may not have been considered unusual in the colonial administration, and, indeed, may have functioned as part of an economy of paternalistic affect. Describing the closeness of his working relationships during his posting in Teminabuan, he recalls being beaten by the Resident: “When I was staying at his home, I came home late, so he beat me. He beat me with a rod, but he only beat people he cared about. He told me to lie on the table, then he struck me on the rear with the rod. But I knew he was affectionate, because if it were someone he did not know, he would not strike the person. Apparently everyone knew that if someone who was close to Van der Veen made a slight mistake, he got beaten. So we felt we were treated as children” (66).
A recurrent theme in the various chapters is development and the allure of the undeveloped “interior.” The interest that most of the officers appear to have had in visiting and working in “traditional” parts of the provinces stands in contrast to the indigenous former colonial officials I have interviewed in Vanuatu, many of whom viewed the less developed areas of the archipelago with trepidation; places of danger. “Touring” in those circumstances was left predominantly to the foreigners. One factor that may account for this difference is the training received by the Papuan employees at OSIBA (School for Indigenous Administrators) and, later, the Academy of Domestic Government (APDN). The editor suggests in the Introduction that their training emphasized development, particularly in relation to the introduction of democratic institutions such as Regional Councils (14), and students were conversant in theories of development administration such as Fred Riggs’ “prismatic society” (3). On a slightly different note, one OSIBA student recalls also being “motivated by films about Africa” and inspired by accounts of Livingstone (124). Amidst this, they were encouraged—through the study of ethnology—to consider and utilize indigenous culture as “an asset, not as a threat, to development” (14). The extent to which this was put into practice is not always clear, with attempts to modify indigenous clothing, architecture, diet and so on—often in the name of health—forming part of the administrative duties remembered here.
The betrayal of developmental goals forms part of a common narrative of decline from 1961 onwards. Unsurprisingly, most of the interviewees spend a large amount of their narrative on the upheavals, uncertainties and dangers faced between the withdrawal of the Dutch administration and the “Act of Free Choice” in 1969. The fortunes of the interviewees during this period and after are mixed, with some being imprisoned for a period of time and some continuing in a variety of administrative positions up to retirement. The narratives do not follow a strict timeline so there is no clear point of conclusion to many of them, and, if so inclined, the reader is left to discern the viewpoint of each interviewee on the provinces’ trajectory since 1969. The editor is clear at the outset that this volume is not designed as a political/historical account, privileging instead the “everyday” and “ordinary” (8–9). This does bring to the fore the variety of voices amongst this group of Papuan civil servants, and allows participants to choose where to focus their storytelling. For those not familiar with the history of this period though, the lack of any timeline of key events is frustrating. Events recounted in interviews are also often unlocated in time, taking for granted prior knowledge on the part of the reader. As such, the volume would appeal most directly to scholars of the region, but there is much of comparative interest here regarding colonial administration, as well as numerous—often funny and puzzling—anecdotes.
Benedicta Rousseau, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
PACIFIC IDENTITIES AND WELL-BEING: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Routledge Monographs in Mental Health. Edited by Margaret Nelson Agee, Tracey McIntosh, Philip Culbertson and Cabrini ‘Ofa Makasiale. New York; London: Routledge, 2013. xxiv, 290 pp. (Tables, illus., B&W photos.) US$140.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-53428-4.
This book is a rich resource of cultural insights, attitudes and strategies for addressing mental health problems in communities of Polynesians (Pasifika) and Māori in the South Pacific, especially in New Zealand. Over the last 25 years, large migration streams have contributed to a significant ethnic diversification of the New Zealand population. At present, Pasifika constitute 7 percent of the population, while the indigenous Māori people form around 15 percent. It is important to add that both Māori and Pasifika sections of the New Zealand population are rather young, so many children and adolescents are growing up in a multicultural environment with ethnic and cultural aspects of their identity being salient in everyday activities. In this context, it is important that they develop a strong and positive cultural identity, which provides them with an extensive repertoire to negotiate difficult situations in which they are faced with socio-cultural diversity, unfair treatment or even negative stereotypes. After all, a positive cultural identity and high levels of self-esteem can help adolescents to buffer the effects of cultural differences, discrimination or racism on their psychological well-being.
For a variety of reasons, however, many Pasifika and Māori are not successful in negotiating and shifting their identities between ethnic and mainstream circumstances. Their socio-cultural and psychological development is not infrequently hampered by the discrepancy between cultural contexts that are crucial in their lives, which often entails school problems, anxiety, loneliness, anger, depression and violence. As a corollary, a disproportionate number of Pasifika and Māori are diagnosed with mental health problems. Until recently they were routinely treated with Western therapeutic strategies, but the results of this therapy were generally below par because of the cultural differences that are at stake. Over the past 30 years, integrative and holistic approaches may have been developed, but these, too, are chiefly framed within a cultural perspective that does not match with the socio-cultural background of Pasifika and Māori. If the members of South Pacific communities are to be engaged effectively, they need to be approached and appreciated through a cultural lens that acknowledges their different cultural background, which in turn facilitates intercultural communication in counseling. This book aims at providing the necessary resources for intercultural counseling and to expand the growing corpus of literature that specifically covers mental health issues among populations that are indigenous to the South Pacific region.
The book is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on identity issues and provides a discussion of the cultural contexts in which mental health problems of Pasifika and Māori are to be situated. It opens with a chapter by Melinda Webber on behaviours, perceptions and challenges of adolescents in a multi-ethnic urban context, which offers some pertinent insights into the cultural encounters and self-perceptions of young people who face complicated choices that affect their socio-cultural and psychological development in an ethnically diverse society. Her examination of adolescent understandings of cultural and ethnic aspects of their identity provides a wonderful introduction to the issues addressed in subsequent chapters, such as, for example, the contribution of parents and grandparents as facilitators of cultural knowledge who may help to clarify transgenerational changes and conflicts. Teena Brown Pulu, herself of mixed New Zealand and Tongan descent, presents some marvellous autoethnography to explore how identity is shaped by location, nationality and family migration patterns.
The second part focuses on therapeutic practices and includes a range of case studies presenting innovative strategies for dealing with mental health problems. Some practitioners describe their creation of visibly striking resources that resonate directly with the cultural background of their clients, while others compare culturally sanctioned ways of connecting counselors with clients holistically, including their family, their village and country or land. Furthermore, differences between Pacific Islanders born and raised on the islands and those born and raised in New Zealand are discussed in relation to different values of respect, solidarity and resilience, while the ambiguity of family relations are also explored in relation to sexual violence. Pleas are made for counselor education, in which greater emphasis is placed on cultural imagery and meanings, one of which concerns the different meaning of death in Pacific worldviews.
The third part is specifically concerned with a large-scale research program on the social meaning of death and dying, associated customary practices, bereavement and healing in the Māori world in New Zealand. It includes a case study of the public performance of grief following the passing of the Māori Queen in 2006, and the national significance of this event. An autoethnographic reflection on the ethical dilemmas of doing research on Māori who are dying or others who are mourning the loss of family or friends is also provided.
The final part offers various reflections on therapeutic practices. Several traditional stories, myths and poems are reinterpreted in order to identify timeless truths about cultural well-being, intercultural programs are demonstrated to be required at multicultural high schools, the unadulterated voice of the mentally ill is advocated to be taken seriously, while, finally, a Pacific psychotherapist and counselor cogently argues that spirituality is an important source of inspiration in all aspects of life for all Pacific peoples.
Each part begins with a selection of powerful poems by Serie Barford, Tracey Tawhiao and especially Selina Tusitala Marsh, a well-known literary critic and poet, who herself is of mixed Samoan, Tuvaluan and English descent. These poems express unequivocally that mental health problems of Pasifika and Māori cannot be considered independently of the cultural diversity and associated ambiguity that characterizes their lives in contemporary New Zealand and elsewhere in the South Pacific.
Toon van Meijl, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
THE ECHO OF THINGS: The Lives of Photographs in the Solomon Islands. Objects/Histories. By Christopher Wright. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2013. xv, 221 pp. (Maps, figures.) US$27.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-5510-6.
Christopher Wright’s perceptive contribution to the Objects/Histories Series argues for an ethnographic approach to understanding photography. He looks at the uses of photographs in Roviana Lagoon in the Solomon Islands and examines the ways in which the people of Roviana are entangled with photography: as once colonial subjects, as producers and consumers of photography, and also Roviana perceptions of the past, present, memory and history.
Wright questions the normative value of Euro-American photography and seeks to provincialize those dominant models through an ethnography of Roviana photographic practices. Underpinning Wright’s approach is a perception of photography as socially activated which draws not only on Bourdieu’s notion of the “sociogram” but also Elizabeth Edwards’ concept of the photograph as an oral history. Wright does a thorough synthesis of many contemporary and historical commentators on photography, from John Tagg and Victor Burgin to Allan Sekula, Peter Galassi, Christopher Pinney, Barthe and Batchen, among others, drawing on a wide terrain of photographic interests. In doing so Wright has brought together an interesting field of analysis for future scholars of photography in the Pacific. He reflects on the way photography shares a parallel history with anthropology and argues for a wider focus that is inclusive of other photographic traditions alongside an understanding of photography as a medium. Photography, he believes, is not a neutral tool but is productive of many kinds of selves, imaginaries and networks and he traces the history of white colonial engagement in Roviana as well as that of the Methodist Church with the use of archival images. By focusing on what the early photographic encounters reveal about both the colonialists and the Roviana people, Wright here and elsewhere in the book gives equal value to the similarities and differences in their experiences. This supports his broader argument for an expanded understanding of plural photographies and the cultural and historical situatedness of those photographies. Ultimately however Wright looks at what photography is for those from Roviana and he explores this through the words of local people.
Faletau Leve is one of the many locals Wright spent time with during his years in Roviana, between 1998 and 2001. It is a quote from Faletau that provides the title of the book and his portrait by Wright is on the front cover. Narratives concerning Faletau form the basis of the prologue, chapter 4 and epilogue of the book and these stories and their particularities are central to the way Wright organizes his insights to Roviana lives in photography. Faletau’s worn, photocopied image of the raid on Roviana by the HMS Royalist in 1891 provides Wright with an event and its photographic trace with which to demonstrate his point about the contingency of history. Wright examines modes of photographic expression, often through connection with an individual and unfolds historical and social narratives from these encounters; the studio stael (studio style) imagery generated at An Tuk’s Honiara store, the advent of “love photos,” photographs as memory-objects, a precious photo taken in 1953 that expands into a narrative of American involvement in the Solomon Islands during World War II.
Wright is sensitive to the visual dynamics of a photograph but also clearly communicates the tenderness and loss a mother, Voli Gasimata, feels when she looks at the photographs of and by her absent daughter Clarinda. The differences and similarities in Donald Maepio’s and Josephine Wheatley’s family photograph albums each map the ownership and history of such collections in Roviana but are also revealing about reciprocity, kinship and changing value systems. Wright’s introduction to so many local voices personalizes and particularizes the content of the images and creates continuities across social and historical fields. Multiple voices are heard which underscore Wright’s subscription to the plurality and mobility of Pacific histories. Wright’s note that Faletau’s construction of Roviana events from his own perspective is an act of visual decolonization is a convincing closing argument.
This is a careful, sensitive ethnography that contains compelling portraits of people of Roviana for whom I hope the book is an important contribution. Oddly for a book about photography the quality of the images is not the focus and with over 80 images some unevenness is to be expected given the diversity of sources, but it is Wright’s field photographs that are among the weakest. This is a small quibble however in the context of a book that very successfully argues for photographs as a means of allowing for and understanding that a single uncontested history is impossible and, like Faletau’s battered briefcase, can contain the possibility of multiple histories.
Andrea Low, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
THE KANAK AWAKENING: The Rise of Nationalism in New Caledonia. Pacific Islands Monograph Series, 27. By David A. Chappell. Honolulu: Center for Pacific Islands Studies, School of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa; University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xxii, 289 pp. (Map, figures, tables.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3818-8.
In-depth studies of New Caledonian politics have been rare in the English language over the past 15 years. Anglophones have been typically confined to the snapshots of Melbourne journalist Nic Maclellan in Islands Business monthly, as well as cogent updates by him and Frédéric Angleviel issued by the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at Australian National University. Less accessible, but useful as well, has been an anthology edited in Tahiti by Regnault and Fayaud (New Caledonia: Twenty Years On, 1988-2008, Jean-Marc Regnault and Viviane Fayaud, eds., Paris: Société Française d’Histoire d’Outre-mer, 2010).
In Kanak Awakening (KA), David Chappell, an historian at the University of Hawai’i, competently chronicles the Melanesian insurgency in Caledonia over the past four decades. Yet inasmuch as his study displays political acumen, one further pines for a comprehensive exploration of the issue of the day—e.g., a broad supplement assessing whether the not-quite-a-majority Kanaks will prevail politically over the next four years. Granted, KA styles itself a political history; but with so few sources available, Anglophone students currently have nowhere else to turn for a detailed forecast.
But first to the book’s forte—its account of Kanak political development.
From the perspective of progressive Pacific Islanders, colonialism in the region has long become obsolete. In Caledonia, its continuation is attributed to France’s greed for the control and profits of the territory’s nickel reserves, as well as Paris’ desire to retain a military presence in the Pacific.
Yet dislodging the French is challenging. It’s typically assumed that those who identify indigenously remain nearly 45 percent of the population, while Europeans compose some 34 percent, Polynesian immigrants (largely from Wallis, Futuna and Tahiti) some 12 percent, and Asians (largely from Indonesia and Vietnam) some 4 percent. Building a consensus for independence, then, not only requires Kanak unity, but deft alliance with a progressive slice of Europeans and Polynesian and Asian immigrants.
Chappell’s study expertly recounts the development of Kanak organization. As an astute analyst, he understands that successful movements are typically launched by privileged elites. More objectively than previous studies, he documents the early agitation of Caledonian students in Paris in the late 1960s (organized as the Foulards Rouges [Red Scarves]), and their ensuing alliance back home with the Union des Jeunesses Calédoniennes (Union of Caledonian Youth) in 1973 and Groupe 1878 in 1974. (The three groups join the Parti de Libération Kanak in 1976, which itself becomes a component of the ongoing Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste in 1984.)
The author poignantly reports a conversation in 2009 with the former leader of the Foulards, Kanak chief Nidoish Naisseline. The chief recounts that although the French insurrection in May 1968 catalyzed the founding of the Foulards, his comrades disparaged its ideology:
The Paris students only thought of throwing the culture and values of their parents in the gutter. We, in contrast, dreamed of rehabilitating that of our ancestors, which had been crushed underfoot by the colons. (248)
The quote is revealing, as it exposes a Kanak dilemma: is it possible to effectively federate with other ethnicities while prioritizing one’s traditional culture?
Granting Chappell’s premise that the political development of the Kanaks has been inspiring, the question remains how well the movement relates to its sina qua non—potential allies. Due to intermarriage and official denial of ethnic division, ethnic voting data is difficult to obtain in Caledonia. To measure the size of the European left in Caledonia, one would need to interview progressive figures in the media, universities, trade unions, environmental movement, and sectarian parties. This must be followed by interviews with ethnic leaders in the Polynesian and Asian communities. The subjective data might then inform an analysis of voting behaviour.
In the election to the territory’s Congress in May 2014, loyalists captured 29 seats while indépendantistes garnered 25. Some observers are skeptical the Kanak-led coalition can top this showing. A riposte would need to weigh Kanak turnout as well as the vote and turnout of potential allies.
It may very well be that Chappell is contemplating an extensive article or book that will address the prospects of independence. Or perhaps he knows of a political scientist who is about to publish such a study. But if neither article nor book appears in English, KA may retrospectively be regarded as a study of Caledonia politics that, true to its mission, ably reviewed the past … but left Anglophone students unguided about the future.
Michael Horowitz, Vava’u Academy, Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga
COLONIALISM, MAASINA RULE, AND THE ORIGINS OF MALAITAN KASTOM. Pacific Islands Monograph Series, 26. By David W. Akin. Honolulu: Center for Pacific Islands Studies, School of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawai‘i, Manoa; University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013. xx, 527 pp. (Maps, figures.) US$59.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-3814-0.
Since 1979, David Akin has spent about five years working and researching in the Solomon Islands, at first as a Peace Corps volunteer when he and Kate Gillogly, then his wife, helped Kwaio set up the Kwaio Cultural Centre, in central Malaita. His work for the Centre is highlighted in Roger Keesing’s 1992 Custom and Confrontation. The Kwaio Struggle for Cultural Autonomy. Akin’s unpublished PhD thesis (1998) is entitled Negotiating Culture in East Kwaio, Malaita. But it remains unclear to what extent his graduate research was geared towards the analysis that he presents in the book under review. Quite appositely, the anthropologist Akin describes his book as a “political history of the island of Malaita” (1). True to the book’s title, the focus is on the Maasina Rule, the revitalization movement earlier discussed in books by Peter Worsley, Roger Keesing, Hugh Laracy and others. In a book in the making he discusses kastom, particularly with regard to Kwaio women.
As regards the book under review, Akin documents the historical background of Maasina Rule in its first four chapters. The British Solomon Islands Protectorate appears here as a model backwater: under-administered, under-staffed and economically under-developed. Malaita became the provider of labour, often indentured, first to plantations in Queensland, later elsewhere in the Solomon Islands. Akin agrees with (100) Caroline Mytinger’s 1942 observation: “Malaitans were scattered all through the islands; the houseboys were Malaitans, the boat boys were Malaitans and [also] the labour lines on the plantations … .” World War II provided a sharp contrast. In the war effort Malaitans were again employed as labour, but this time in a quite different regime: better funded and less repressive. Out of those regimes Maasina Rule emerged, from late 1943.
Akin details that emergence in chapter 5 and continues in chapters 6, 7 and 8 with the responses of the colonial administration. Although he writes (2) that his discussion is influenced by Gramsci, Foucault, Said and Bernard Cohn, their influence remains largely implicit. With a few exceptions, the flow of events is the main organizational device of his account. The exceptions are sections in which he presents, for instance, vignettes of Maasina Rule leaders (173–80), and an analysis of what Malaitans mean by, in Solomon Pijin, kastom, in contrast to custom (209–13). For a proper analysis of what Malaitans attempted to achieve by Maasina Rule, Akin quite fittingly considers it necessary to grasp what they meant by kastom. He discusses the topic repeatedly; I cite two examples. The first is: “Kastom ideology encompassed twin goals: the expansive transformation and advance of Malaitan society and a reassertion of valued indigenous ways, many relatively new and many Christian” (241). And the second: “Kastom is … a modern and evolving political philosophy born from colonial and postcolonial experience” (342).
Notwithstanding their ethnic diversity, with Maasina Rule Malaitans started carrying out a common program. Most moved to the coast where they built large settlements, “towns.” They appointed their own chiefs and refused to pay tax. Together these joint actions were an extraordinary achievement. They were possible, in part because they were fuelled by the kastom philosophy, as characterized above, and in part because, in Akin’s words, “the real power of Maasina Rule flowed upwards from ‘the rank and file’” (172).
After an accommodating start in 1946, by August 1947 the government’s reaction to Marching Rule became hostile and repressive. The measures taken were harsh, in hindsight astonishingly so. They included mass arrests, followed by criminal charges, court proceedings and jail sentences. But they did not succeed in breaking the movement. Malaitans answered by well-ordered civil disobedience , thus continuing their common stand. A stalemate ensued, broken in 1952 by a new High Commissioner for the Western Pacific who conceded many Maasina Rule demands, notably in administration and local jurisdiction. At this point Akin ends his account. In chapter 9, the final one, he appraises Maasina Rule. He views it a success, in many respects. Notably, it “transformed government-Malaitan relations in enduring ways” (329).
To write his book, Akin has assembled an extremely impressive range of data, in part the result of what must have been painstaking archival investigations. And in part he makes use of oral communications by, especially, Kwaio, collected during his field research. He acknowledges support from Ben Burt, who worked among the neighbouring Kwara’ae, also from the 1980s. Nevertheless, he assesses that the data are incomplete and he expresses the hope that future research by Malaitans themselves will “fill the many gaps” (188). It strikes the reader that Akin does not mention, in addition, the likelihood that the historical record will remain contested. In any case, Akin has managed, quite admirably, to fashion the multitude of data into a very readable account that is likely to remain authoritative for a long time.
The book’s bibliography comes to 67 pages. While the main text counts 345 pages, it is followed by 97 pages of endnotes, in the main collective ones combining references for and additions to entire paragraphs. There is a profusion of names, as regards the Europeans, due to the rapid turnover of government officials. Fortunately, when names are listed in the bibliography—and many are—Akin has added their function, or functions, in the administrative and missionary organizations.
In comments in chapter 9, Akin makes it clear that the 1952 conciliation contained seeds of dissension, given that Maasina Rule adherents, and also the followers of kastom movements elsewhere in the Solomon Islands, regarded their organizations as means to interact with the government “from a position of autonomy and equality” (341). How did that work out? Given the time and the length of his fieldwork, Akin seems well placed to discuss the topic in a sequel to this highly commendable book.
Anton Ploeg, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
DOCUMENTARY FILM REVIEWS
NOWHERE TO CALL HOME: A Tibetan in Beijing. Directed by Jocelyn Ford. [China]: Stories that Matter, 2014. 1 DVD (77 min. or 52 min.) Institutions and Universities, US$300.00; Secondary Schools,US$200.00; Personal Use, US$15.00 or $4.99 online rental. In Mandarin, Rma Tibetan and English with English subtitles. Mandarin and bilingual versions are also available. url: http://www.tibetaninbeijing.com/.
Veteran radio correspondent Jocelyn Ford has produced a poignant and important documentary that follows the story of Zanta, a rural Tibetan migrant struggling to make a living in Beijing. The film weaves together narratives of female suffering and agency under patriarchal gender relations with the little-studied phenomenon of Tibetan migrants in eastern China, and the account of a Western outsider wondering whether and how to get involved in a family dispute that she knows she has little understanding of.
After being widowed at the age of 28 in a village in the Gyarong region of Sichuan, Zanta’s life is made intolerable by her abusive in-laws, who will not allow her young son to attend school. She refuses to remarry, as expected of women in her situation, and instead migrates to Beijing where she tries to make a living by hawking jewelry on sidewalks. There she meets Jocelyn, who happens to buy a piece of jewelry from her. Two years later, she calls Jocelyn out of the blue, asking her to take and raise her son. Zanta’s life is too difficult for her to see any other way to enable him to attend school and thus have a chance at a better life.
Jocelyn starts supporting Zanta’s son to attend school in Beijing and becomes increasingly involved in their lives. While Zanta interprets this as evidence that the two were relatives in a past life, Jocelyn questions her own role and wonders on occasion if she is doing the right thing and what it means to try to help someone else who inhabits a very different social and cultural world. Their relationship gives Jocelyn—and thus the viewers of this film crafted over four years—a much better understanding of the discrimination faced by Tibetans in Beijing. As a Tibetan, Zanta is scoffed at when she applies for a job as a custodian, and is repeatedly turned away by landlords and harassed by police.
The film culminates in a trip back to Zanta’s home region and an encounter with her dreaded, violent father-in-law, who has withheld Zanta’s and her son’s national identification cards, contributing significantly to their difficulties in Beijing. He threatens to beat Zanta’s son if he does not come visit, and once he is there, refuses to let him go. Through Jocelyn’s presence and intervention, he eventually allows him to return to school in Beijing but also expels Zanta from his clan. Throughout, Jocelyn finds very discomfiting not only the severe injustices faced by women in the region, but also Zanta’s apparent fatalism; though the trip concludes in a happy ending from Jocelyn’s point of view, it seems less so for Zanta, who finds herself with “nowhere to call home” now that she belongs neither to her former husband’s family nor her own, and lives as a perpetual outsider in Beijing.
Viewers specifically interested in contemporary Tibet may find it provocative, as I did, to consider Nowhere to Call Home in relation to Tenzin Jinba’s recently published book, In the Land of the Eastern Queendom: The Politics of Gender and Ethnicity on the Sino-Tibetan Border (University of Washington Press, 2013). Indeed, it would be productive to teach the two together in classes on China and Tibet, as well as in women and gender studies courses, as they both concern gender relations and the politics of Tibetan identity in Gyarong, but depict what seem to be strikingly different situations. Jinba dwells on the complexities of ethnic identity for the Gyarongwa, who he argues are culturally and politically marginal to both dominant Chinese and Tibetan societies. Some linguists categorize Gyarong language as a Qiangic rather than Tibetan dialect, and many Tibetans do not consider Gyarongwa “real” Tibetans, though the Gyarongwa disagree. These cultural politics make even sadder the heightened post-2008 discrimination that Zanta faces in Beijing.
Jinba’s book concerns a part of Gyarong that is the site of the “Eastern Queendom,” a legendary matriarchal kingdom used today as a local brand in competing for the ethnic tourism market. He argues that as part of this competition, local elite men in that part of Gyarong invert gender status, strategically valourizing women’s status (he calls this “self-feminization”) as a way of demonstrating their superiority to other Tibetan men vis-à-vis cosmopolitan, rather than traditional, gender norms. In Nowhere to Call Home, though, we bear witness to a diametrically opposite situation: a patriarchal culture that is violent and often abusive to women, a hyperbolic mode of traditional masculinity, rather than an inverted one. Domestic violence appears to be common, and women are severely devalued. Indeed, Zanta remarks that “women aren’t worth a penny” in the village, three of the four girls in Zanta’s own family have attempted suicide, and she herself says “If I could be reincarnated a man in my next life, I’d kill myself tomorrow.” In its depiction of actual gender relations within the families, the film provides a much-needed account of a little-told story.
More generally, the film is highly informative both about the harsh realities of life for Tibetan women in the countryside and Tibetan migrants in urban China today. Indeed, I found myself wanting to know more, especially about the thousand-some members of Zanta’s community who we learn are also trying to make their livings in Beijing, but also about where Zanta gets the wares she sells and how she is eventually able to exhibit at international bazaars indoors. In raising such questions for its viewers, the film travels far from the usual tropes of Tibetans that pervade public imaginations in China and in the West alike. Jocelyn’s own role also raises interesting questions for discussion. Both educational and moving, Nowhere to Call Home deserves a wide viewership.
Emily T. Yeh, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
MALLAMALL. Written, produced and directed by Lalita Krishna. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources, 2013. 1 DVD (74 min.) US$245.00, Institutional Use; US$24.95, Personal Use. In English and Hindi with English subtitles. URL: http://www.der.org/films/mallamall.html
Lalita Krishna’s documentary Mallamal guides us through that classic showdown: “Old India” versus “New India.” On the one hand are the 5000-odd vendors of the 250-year-old KR Puram street market (called sandi) in Bangalore that cater mainly to the majority poor, while on the other hand are a group of whip-smart consultants and collaborators who wish to build malls and retail stores all over the city for the aspirational and booming middle class. Will KR Puram street market be able to hold out much longer against the government injunction to vacate their lands? The documentary is a riveting look at two competing business and cultural models.
In his well-regarded book Provincializing Europe (Princeton University Press, 2000) social scientist Dipesh Chakravarty used the image of “time-knots” as a metaphor for the post-colonial condition: an illustration of an India that cannot be understood as a nation moving in a temporally linear, constantly juggernauting manner. Krishna’s film is full of these knots. We might be in a department store, a sleek design firm, or an air-conditioned car in one moment and then transported to a centuries-old farmers’ market, a rustic, low-income home, or inside a small grocery store in the next scene. Each of these locations and the people in them seem to be as “Indian” as the next. The documentary captures this constant ambiguity well—the camerawork is fluid and the fast intercutting effective because of the film’s back-and-forth storytelling style. The music is somewhat predictable: hip and fast-paced for the modernization segments, and more local-classical for the scenes covering the old markets and “traditional” themes. While somewhat clichéd, the trope does work.
Three strong, persuasive characters guide us through the documentary. Yele Srinivas is an articulate, confident street-store merchant advocating for his many hundred colleagues who are threatened by the government’s plans to seize their commercial land. Representing the capitalist dream is Anand Arumigam, a young, ambitious, MBA degree-holder who partners with a Canadian retail design firm Perennial and wishes to get bullish on the Indian retail market. He shares with us their aspirations to transform shopping in India into a sleek, convenient, air-conditioned experience. Nandini Sethuraman, recently returned from Canada, is an urbane, senior retail manager with a fondness for malls and cooking foreign dishes. Through her character we get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the successful executive who lacks little in material and Western-style comforts. At the same time, Nandini seems well-embedded in all of the disparate worlds around her—equally at ease planning elaborate dinner parties at her gated residential enclave, and in rolling down the window of her chauffeured car to give packets of biscuits to beggars. She is very possibly someone Anand would wish to be like someday.
What is striking about Krishna’s narrative construction is that all three characters are given the space to articulate their ideas and come across as genuinely believing in their aspirations and the ethics of their different lifestyles. There are additional commentators in the film, notably Dharmendra Kumar, the director of a foreign investment watchdog NGO who decries the Westernization of India’s business model from traditional-market-based individual sales, to large wholesale retail. Canadian marketing guru Scott Harrison thinks otherwise, he is convinced that this shift will jumpstart an already fecund economy. He is unabashedly in it for the money.
After a somewhat slow first half, with analyses on society and politics from various directions, the film settles on its core stories: the developments of the Canadian design firm with a branch in Bangalore trying to break into the Indian market, and the struggle of the sellers of sandi trying to hold onto their plot of land. Although their paths never cross in the narrative, their parallel stories are interwoven well. So convincing are the major players, that viewers might find themselves in an odd conundrum: rooting for both sides. It is the ability to bring out these contradictions with little bias that makes Mallamall an excellent documentary.
As the film progresses, we are privy to a number of intimate scenes in these various settings: the Canadian offices of Perennial where executives lock their heads together to work on their India strategy, a new Bangalore office where team members are involved in round-the-clock meetings to find new business, and Anand’s grass-roots organizing of his fellow shopkeepers so they can hold on to their market space in KR Puram. The camera is unobtrusive as emotions peak and the story gradually shifts from an analytical mode to a more dramatic unfolding of events.
Perhaps predictably, given Krishna’s remarkable lack of bias, in the end both sides seem to gain concessions. Anand cinches a deal for his fledgling Canadian-Indian branch. The government decides not to go ahead with the new mall in KR Puram. We are relieved not to have to witness failure on either end. It seems to be just a matter of time, however, before retail stores and malls do take over. A minor criticism is that viewers might have benefitted from some discussion around a sustainable economic model where both sides—the rising middle class, and the still enormous below-poverty-line groups—will manage to find a habitable balance.
With the recent elections and the ushering in of a government that has promised rapid economic development, Mallamall is released at an especially relevant time in India’s socio-political history. The film will make for excellent discussion in any course that studies Indian law, economics, politics, governance or sociology.
Sandeep Ray, National University of Singapore, Singapore
UNITY THROUGH CULTURE. Directed, produced by Christian Suhr, Ton Otto. Watertown (MA): Documentary Educational Resources [distributor], 2011. 1 DVD (59 min.) US$219.00, Institution use; US$19.95, Home use. In Tok Pisin, Tok Baluan, and English dialogue with English subtitles. http://www.der.org/films/unity-through-culture.html
STORI TUMBUNA: Ancestors’ Tales. By Paul Wolffram, producer/director/cinematographer; story devised by Patrick Toarbussi, et al; Handmade Productions Aotearoa presents. Watertown (MA): Documentary Educational Resources [distributor], c2012. 1 DVD (90 min.) US$245.00, Institution use; US$24.95, Home use. In English, Tok Pisin and Siar-Lak with English subtitles; closed-captioned in English. http://www.der.org/films/stori-tumbuna.html
Indigenous populations around the world have long self-consciously identified ancestral “traditions,” along with cognate terms such as “custom” and “culture,” as the foundation of their identities in a globalizing world. “Tradition” is often portrayed as the cultural David standing in brave opposition to the Western values undergirding globalization that threaten to homogenize cultural diversity. Yet projects intended to defend and strengthen indigenous traditions often subtly—and not so subtly—succumb to a related homogenization: a flattening of the distinctions between different local groups as they conform to regional stereotypes of “culture.” The two films under review here reveal different facets of tradition projects in two Papua New Guinea communities. Less directly, but just as importantly, they illustrate the ways that foreign researchers and film makers are themselves engaged in the process of affirming “tradition” in the face of the erosion of cultural distinctiveness.
Unity Through Culture deals with the tricky themes of tradition and change directly. It documents a six-day cultural festival organized on Baluan Island in Manus Province between Christmas and New Year’s in 2006. Cultural shows displaying local dancing and art forms date back to the early years of the colonial administration, usually in celebration of the opening of public buildings, church feast days or national holidays. The long-running Goroka Show in the Papua New Guinea highlands demonstrated the potential of cultural festivals to draw tourists as well as to engage young people with the more colourful aspects of their traditions and have been popping up across the country in recent years. The Balopa Cultural Festival is the brainchild of Soanin Kilangit, an enthusiastic advocate for the resurrection of local culture not only for its sake alone but as a way to attract outside attention to the region and, over time, entice tourists to visit. The festival has the full backing of the Manus provincial government including the Governor, who opens the festivities. The organizers are thrilled to have a Danish film crew present to promote the festival to Europeans.
The film includes wonderful scenes of festival dance and drumming performances as well as a lovely choral piece celebrating local heritage in the closing credits. The excitement felt by the young performers, many of them school students, is enthralling. Yet Otto and Suhr make it clear from the beginning that they are not interested in providing a simple promotional video. Indeed, the documentary is consistently, if gently, subversive. Early in the film, we are introduced to Pokowai Pwaril, a village elder who draws a sharp distinction between “custom”—which comes from the ancestors—and “culture,” which comes from the West. His complaint is given some validity as we learn how the various dances have been modified for the festival in part because no one clearly remembers how they are to be performed but also to make them more exciting for the audience. The film visually underlines the point: dance groups performing on a mounted stage before a panel of judges, awnings advertising Pepsi in the background, and (especially) a discomforting beauty pageant featuring young bare-breasted girls speaking into the microphone about their embrace of culture. In one of the most poignant moments of the film, a string band sings a warning to the promoters of culture not becoming “slaves of tourists.”
Keenly aware of the complaints, the festival promoters argue that to survive, culture must adapt and change. They are speaking in defense of the “improved” dances which have angered some elders and, for different reasons, church pastors. Yet the film reveals the continuing innovative operation of “custom” at less self-aware registers. Pwaril suffers an accident which he and others attribute to the ancestors being unhappy with tensions in the village; a spat between organizers that threatens to derail the festival is dealt with by a compensation payment of a pig followed by a public shaming and reconciliation ceremony; care is taken to make sure all dance groups and candidates for Queen receive prizes and that the gap in prize money between the winners and everyone else is minimal. While the performances at times take on the features of ubiquitous Pacific Island floor shows, the film depicts a story that could only unfold in its particulars in a rural Melanesian setting.
Stori Tumbuna: Ancestors’ Tales takes a very different approach to the theme of tradition and change. Unabashedly romantic, it presents the story of a young New Zealand ethnomusicologist who has traveled to live for three years among the Lak people of southern New Ireland, “one of the most isolated and unique corners of the earth.” In the opening minutes, Paul Wolffram speaks of being “welcomed into the lives of these remarkably generous and curious people.” The narration then takes an onerous tone: “I also became enmeshed in events that resulted in bloodshed, death, and threatened the existence of the entire community. What’s more, I was held responsible.” For the next fifteen minutes or so, we follow Paul as he participates in ordinary village activities, records traditional stories and music, and travels along the coast to witness the famed mortuary ceremonials of this area. But soon a dark note enters the story. An old man has disappeared in the forest, leaving only his bag behind. Villagers are convinced that he’s been taken by the “Song,” a wild man of the forest. Paul is skeptical, but impressed by the seriousness with which the Lak consult their elders and customary knowledge to work out what has happened and what needs to be done, he becomes obsessed. His determination to capture the Song on video leads to a climatic confrontation in a hidden jungle valley in the dead of night.
Spoiler alert! While the mythology of the Song is real and common in much of rural Papua New Guinea (albeit with many local variations), Paul’s adventure is purely fictional: a contrivance worked out between the film maker and his hosts so that audiences can experience “their mythology the way they wish you to understand it.” And this underlines a larger theme. The gifts of the ancestors—song, dance and mythology—infuse the lives of the people. The culture is living.
It’s a good message and a clever means of delivering it. And the film itself is quite lovely with lingering shots of the gorgeous countryside, lively people and beautiful wildlife (particularly insects), all set to a compelling soundtrack of local music. I suspect, however, that it works best for people with little knowledge of Papua New Guinea. On the first viewing, I found the unfolding story increasingly implausible—not that Lak people believe in the existence of the Song but that they would risk engaging with it as they do in the film. The denouement didn’t come as much of a surprise. On the second viewing, I found myself bothered by how much of the film is dominated by Paul’s story. There is no doubt of his admiration for the Lak people and their way of life, but we learn surprisingly little about even the core subjects of Wolffram’s research: their music, oral traditions and rituals. Finally, I wonder about the exoticism of the film. By Papua New Guinea standards, southern New Ireland is not all that remote and signs of “modernity” can be spotted throughout the film, although mostly ignored. One is left to wonder how the “living culture” of the Lak people articulates with the world of money, schools, churches, healthcare, the lure of the towns, extensive clear-cut logging in the region and other challenges of modern life.
Stori Tumbuna presents an engaging if somewhat simple introduction to rural Melanesian life which should appeal to undergraduates. Unfortunately, at 83 minutes, it is too long for many classes. Unity Through Culture presents a more sophisticated and complex picture of the contradictions entailed in the celebration of cultural heritage by and for Indigenous peoples. It would work well in classes focused on the Pacific as well as courses dealing with heritage, economic development and globalization.
John Barker, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada