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Modern Asian Studies publishes cutting-edge research articles on the history, social anthropology, sociology, political science, and cultures of modern Asia. Covering all the regions of Asia, including Maritime Asia, and their interconnections, the journal particularly welcomes articles which deploy interdisciplinary and comparative research methods. Since its inception in 1967, Modern Asian Studies has specialized in the publication of longer monographic essays whose theoretical claims are supported by rich empirical data. It also carries substantial synoptic review essays which summarize and critique the current state of a field of study, and it publishes special issues, forums, and roundtable discussions which explore topical themes in depth and from a number of perspectives.
The launching of this journal of Modern Asian Studies, on the initiative of the Hayter Asian Centres in co-operation with the School of Oriental and African Studies, provides a good opportunity to review the progress being made in these studies in the universities of the United Kingdom. We have nearly reached the half-way stage of a ten-year programme of development which was put forward in the Hayter Committee Report of 1961, and are approaching the new quinquennium in which what has already been started should be consolidated and the new pattern for the future established.
The term modernity refers to a socio-historical transformative process which has its roots in the Western European experience from at least the 16th Century, marking a contrast to the medieval period. Implicit in this definition of modernity is the notion of historical progress that is based on a unilinear unfolding of time and experience whereby the Western mode of time and being is the norm against which all other experiences are judged. In recent years, this classical understanding of modernity has come under increasing critique with multiple formulations of the modern in the world that do not conform to the Western experience. The multiple formulations of modernity suggest that modernity is not necessarily only a Western phenomenon but that there are a variety of forms and meanings of the modern.
In parallel to these developments, the conceptualization of modernity has undergone radical changes. More recently, the idea that a rethinking of modernity can be positioned within or outside the West has increasingly given way to a conceptualization of modernity within the simultaneous processes of the global and the local and/or the East and the West. Traditional distinctions between the West and the non-West and the unfolding logic of modernity have been complicated. This paper explores displacements opened up by recent rethinking about both Western and non-Western experiences of the modern that provide ways out of the East-West binary and its associated unequal relations in the conceptualization of modernity.
I will take up two sets of debates on modernity to make my point. First, I identify recent studies that have reconceptualized modernity from the margins—both within as well as outside the West—in order to unsettle the centre-periphery hierarchy and locate equal force to knowledge and practices of non-Western contexts in constituting the modern condition. Second, I discuss how the recent reconceptualization of modernity poses a challenge to understanding the modern imaginaries and transformations in Southeast Asian societies in autonomous terms rather than resorting to invidious or derivative distinctions from that of the West.
Flipping through a popular news magazine recently, I came across two glossy images of Southeast Asia. The first was a beautifully composed photograph of weather-beaten Thai farmers in oversized straw hats bending over terraced rice fields. The second image was a close-up snapshot, washed in a fashionable blue tint, of an urban Chinese professional in a sharp business suit barking into his mobile phone as he navigated the metropolitan city. While close to caricature, these two contrasting images capture several truths about the region.
Firstly, the region's history of uneven economic development has resulted in extremes. In the city the rich are never too far from the poor while throbbing cities are never too far from half-empty dusty villages. Secondly, from Philippines to Indonesia to Thailand to Singapore the experience of modernization is a subjective one. Southeast Asia's modernization experience has been informed by the cultural, religious, and political facets of its many national constituents. Islam, semi-democratic, and authoritarian states, ethnic interests, and cultural values all influence the way modernization is conceived as well as the perception of promises and threats it holds for society at large. Thirdly, the two images underline not only the close geographical but also psychological and normative proximity between the old and the new, between the rural and the urban, between tradition and modernity in Southeast Asia. The lifestyles and values of many Southeast Asians are neither anchored completely in the rural or the traditional nor do they unfold exclusively in the urban or modern. The Southeast Asian must learn to negotiate different conceptual worlds from the religious, the ethnic, and the cultural to the professional, the cosmopolitan, and the global. Given these unique political, social, and cultural conditions, will a Southeast Asian modernity emerge?
A SOUTHEAST ASIAN MODERNITY?
One major question concerning many Southeast Asian intellectuals and thinkers is: can Southeast Asia ever become modern on its own terms?
From the nineteenth century onwards, communications embodied the idea of progress. The steamship, the railway, the telegraph attested to the supremacy of the West. They represented the harnessing of new forms of power; the triumph of steel over wooden construction; the conquest of time and distance; the intoxicant of industrial capitalism. They buttressed a complex of power relations that underpinned Europe's command of modernity — power over nature, power over people and their movement, power to more adequately predict events — above all, power to change the structure of systems (Elvin 1986).
Information and communications framed imperial technocracy. They blazoned across the globe a vision of Europe and sought to project a sense of her generosity. The ideal was a civilization “united not by force but by information” (Adas 1989, Richards 1993, p. 1). Communications underpinned the “psychological bluff” of European omnipotence and prestige. It propelled the languages of the metropolis to the remoter regions of the Earth and created a new ritual speech for their inhabitants — one that would, it was hoped, turn them immutably towards the metropolis for their tutelage. Whether it was in English, Dutch, Spanish, French, or American, new vocabularies of authority were created that inculcated the keywords of European power. The Europeans also reconfigured the status of vernacular tongues in a way that privileged some utterances and disqualified others. The attempt to frame the state in this way was not novel in itself. Throughout Asia, pre-colonial states had sought to harness ideology to the service of the centre (Reid 1993, pp. 181–83, 192–201). Their attempts to do so were bolstered in the face of the European threat and continued into the colonial period. However, their capacity to project themselves in this way diminished dramatically in the face of the blinding new innovations that radiated from the West.
More than most of humanity, scholars are prone to sinking their feet into the quagmire of definition. Words are unpacked, nuances of meaning are debated, and discourses are interrogated. Post-developmentalists have been at the forefront of a re-examination of the languages of development and developmentalism. Arturo Escobar, for example, states that his desire is to analyze ‘regimes of discourse and representation’ (1995: 10). Jonathan Crush is similarly concerned with the so-styled discourse of development, and expresses the desire to make the ‘self-evident problematical’ (1995: 3). He highlights work in the humanities and social sciences which concerns itself with textual issues of writing and representation through which this discourse has been framed. Crush suggests that such textual analysis offers ‘new ways of understanding what development is and does, and why it seems so difficult to think beyond it’. He goes on to argue that ‘we need to not only understand why the language of development can be so evasive, even misleading, but also why so many people in so many parts of the world seem to need to believe it and have done so for so long’ (1995: 4).
This chapter explores Asian agency in the making of capitalist modernity in Thailand. The previous chapter, by showing how the West was shaped throughout its formative period (500–1800) by all manner of Eastern agents and influences, argues that East and West have never been discrete civilisations but are better understood as ‘creolised formations’. This chapter brings the critique of Eurocentrism up to the present day. It challenges the Eurocentric view that Asian modernity has been constructed by, or is derivative of, the West. Instead, I show that Asian modernity has been significantly produced by the agency of the Chinese diaspora and trans-Asian flows (for a full account see Wilson 2004).
This chapter analyses the making of modernity in Thailand through a social history of the consumer economy in Bangkok, which has materially and symbolically created a modern infrastructure in Bangkok. Drawing on historical, ethnographic and feminist approaches, I present an extended discussion of one major Sino-Thai family business in order to illustrate the grounded practices and processes – including kinship and gender relations – behind capitalist development in Thailand.
As the discussion of Bangkok's department stores makes clear, Thailand's capitalist modernity was produced by Asian actors and trans-Asian flows. The key entrepreneurs in Thailand's development came from the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia.
In Culture and Imperialism (1993) Edward W. Said argues that “the most prominent characteristics of modernist culture, which we have tended to derive from purely internal dynamics in Western society, include a response to external pressures on culture from the imperium.” This chapter explores ways in which modernism is a literary historical development of significance for Asian American literature, and vice versa. As Said notes, it may have once seemed a coincidence that the onset of Western modernism was roughly in parallel with the delegitimation of its colonialism, but the case for connections may be hard to dismiss. Asian American literature, then, can be a crucial site for grasping how modernism and decolonization converged and were correlated. And a key way that that correlated convergence becomes evident is through acts of historical recovery, both of texts and within texts.
• I need journal articles on Chinese foreign policy.
• This is an area studies section and should be used in conjunction with the appropriate subject chapters. Closely related topics include Anthropology and Development Studies. Also relevant are the Country Information and Religion chapters, which contain resources on world religions.
• It can also provide guidance to students and researchers wishing to decolonise their curriculum to take into account indigenous voices from the region.
• Many students ask for resources on regions, such as East or South East Asia. Definitions can be different and may have altered historically. Check the nations required.
• Remember that many developing nations may not have the resources to update their national websites regularly. In these cases, the international organisations listed in this section may be useful starting points for research.
• Organisations such as WHO and the UN often have regional sub-bodies with separate websites. It is often worth locating these as they may have information not available on the main website.
• It is also worth considering whether the nation was a former colony. For countries of the British Empire, colonial records are often one of the best resources for historical research. The Commonwealth often covers current elections and social and economic development topics.
• It is not possible here to provide a complete list of Asian language resources. To get information on free and subscription resources, a good starting point are the library sub-section websites.
Key organisations – UK scholarly societies
Use these to find information on the latest conferences, publications and research projects.
British Association for South Asian Studies
Largest UK academic association supporting advanced research in the humanities and social sciences of South Asia. Podcasts from events can be found on the website.
Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland
Leading learned society, established in 1823, which seeks to promote the study of Asian languages, history and cultures. Use the website to consult its library catalogue, view a digital library of online manuscripts and paintings and find out about its renowned lecture series.
Royal Society for Asian Affairs (RSAA)
Promotes greater knowledge and understanding of Asia. Offers a library, archive and lecture series.
The preconceived image of the pre-modern East Asian region order, known commonly as the tributary system, is problematic. That is because it is represented by ‘the Other’ — not only the external (Westerners) but also the internal (Asians) — and in turn the inaccurate image has gone on reproducing, expanding, and dominating. In order to solve this problem, in question, this paper will first critically review the preconceived image of the pre-modern Chinese world order and identify the problems of Orientalism and modernism. Then, in search for a real image, the paper reinterprets Confucian ideas and concepts as the principles undergirding the pre-modern East Asian regional order. The paper also discusses the Korean kyorin system, one of the subsystems of the pre-modern East Asian order. The objective is to decipher the ways in which Korea interpreted and institutionalized the Confucian ideas on foreign policy or international relationships during the Choson dynasty (1392–1910).
By doing these, we can describe a more real image of the pre-modern East Asian region order. The more “real” interstate relationship was based on li (principle) and li* (rites), and harmonized with another concept of gong (the public/publicness), as shown by pingfen or junfen (the fairly allocated). Based on such conceptions of the human world, the pre-modern East Asian regional order was divided into different territories and dominions, each with its own sovereign. Once the formality of the suzerain and tributary state was recognized, moreover, China did not intervene in the internal and external affairs of the tributary as well as hushi (a foreign trade system) states. Like interpersonal relationships, interstate ones were hierarchic, but they were also based on the idea of reciprocity, fair allocation as well as impartiality, harmony, and coexistence.
This paper explores the link between globalization, as the source of contemporary crises in representation, and the academic crisis in Asian Studies. The situation of Japanese Studies in Australia is used as a case study to illustrate these links. I argue that traditional area studies, as a colonial structure rooted in the (Cold) War, has become anachronistic. It is suggested that one strategy through which conventional area studies may be reconfigured and revitalized is by more fully and warmly embracing those movements or networks such as cultural studies that can be seen as responses to global changes.
This article explores some of the benefits and limitations of Cultural Studies in Asian studies with particular reference to the expression of Asian-Australian identity in diaspora. It has been suggested that the influence of Cultural Studies – a discipline that is viewed as more globally relevant – may be an answer to the Asian studies “crisis”. In relation to the Cultural Studies approach to Asian-Australian identity, I argue that the discourse and rhetoric of Cultural Studies is highly beneficial in breaking down stereotypes and rebuilding the national narrative of identity. However, as a methodology it is not without limitations.