Daily Archives: January 1, 2015

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Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Gianluca BONANNO

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

Non-Traditional Security in Asia: Issues, Challenges and Framework for Action
Mely Caballero-Anthony and Alistair D. B. Cook, eds.
Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013, xvi+349p.

Virtually anything that constitutes a threat to a person can be indexed as a human security issue. This makes it sometimes difficult to determine what should be included and what, if anything at all, should be excluded from the definition. Within human security, however, we can easily distinguish two groups of threats: state-sponsored military and non-military. Anything that is technically non-military is commonly regarded as a non-traditional security (NTS) issue, be it local or trans-national in nature. Some examples are the spread of infectious diseases, natural disasters, resource scarcity, transborder pollution and environmental degradation, irregular migration, transnational crime, but also threats such as state sponsored violence on domestic populations and the emergence of non-state armed actors.

The worldwide discourse on non-traditional security gravitates around three major schools, as the editors point out in the introductory chapter (Chapter 1) of this book: the 1994 UNDP Report school; the Japanese school; and the Canadian-Norwegian school. As the scope of the book is not the analysis of such schools but the description of some case-studies, the general approach of all three is simplified as being the management of “non-military threats to the safety of societies, groups and individuals” (p. 5). One thing is, however, made very clear: since many of such security challenges are transnational, securitizing actors tend to draw closer, turning to regional and multi-level frameworks that have profound implications for regional security cooperation among states, particularly in Asia.

The editors then go on to introduce the five pillars of the securitization analysis, as defined by scholars at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies: issue area (the nature of the threat); securitizing actors; security concept (the securitized target); process (the speech act); and intervening variables (interplay of different concepts, issue linkage, role of stakeholders, and domestic political systems). Once these questions are addressed, the ultimate goal is the evaluation and analysis of policies and governance, or “the process of decision-making and the process through which decisions are (or are not) implemented” (p. 8). This inevitably results in an increased interaction between state and non-state securitizing actors, a process that gives rise to multifaceted governance structures with competing or joint mandates, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, United Nations bodies, the Bali Democracy Forum, and so forth.

Analyzing, evaluating, and eventually fine-tuning these governance structures are the sine qua non of success. Eight indicators are identified to measure governance performance: participation; the rule of law; transparency; responsiveness; consensus-oriented decisions; equity and inclusiveness; effectiveness and efficiency; and accountability. These are the perspectives through which this book undertakes an investigation into nine key non-traditional security threats in Asia.

Health is the first NTS threat to be addressed (Chapter 2). Infectious and parasitic diseases linked to poor nutrition and an unsafe environment are the major causes of death in developing countries, and Southeast Asia in particular has a worryingly high incidence. The chapter not only provides a comprehensive overview of frameworks and characteristics of health systems in the region; it also analyzes the health discourse in Asia by delineating its transnational features (epidemics often go beyond borders). Of particular relevance is the explanation of pandemic preparedness and regional cooperative schemes developed after the outbreak of the human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Given the impossibility of effectively tackling epidemics after their appearance, the authors argue that health policies should focus on multi-level, multi-sectoral preparedness in order to enhance the surge capacity of all health systems.5) Under the supervision of the World Health Organization, ASEAN, and other regional bodies, many nations have mounted extensive efforts, currently concentrating on emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases (ERIDs). Although comparative results show steady progress, the authors argue that a very low threshold means the results are far from satisfactory; hence they conclude with a series of practical recommendations in order to plug local and national responses into regional frameworks, such as through the improvement of surveillance and laboratory capacity, the management of vaccines, and a more transparent cross-border collaboration and information sharing.

Chapter 3 deals with the emergence of arguably the NTS threat of the future: food. Particular attention is paid to soaring food prices, as Asia is home to two-thirds of the world’s poor for whom food takes up 30 to 50 percent of the household budget (p. 43). Hence, a rise in food prices threatens to reverse the gains in poverty reduction in the region and thereby undermines the global fight against poverty and the achievements of both the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Moreover, given that in a state of emergency nations will implement any policy that will improve their own food security, this would most likely exacerbate regional tensions. The authors describe and analyze current and projected consequences of an uncontrolled rise of food prices at the individual, household, and national levels. They build their arguments on a thorough analysis of the 2008 global food crisis, identifying its drivers, its social, economic, and political impact, and eventually drawing some conclusions on the policy response that helped the Asia-Pacific region out of the emergency.

Chapter 4 touches upon an NTS issue so sensitive that many influent thinkers have publicly stated that future wars will most likely be fought over it: water. Much is related to this element, from obvious survival needs to renewable energy exploitation. Moreover, there is perhaps nothing more transboundary in nature than water. The authors build their short chapter around the case study of the Hindu-Kush Himalaya region, which they describe briefly but in a balanced way. Although the explanation is at times not sufficiently detailed, their comparative analysis provides an introductory understanding of transboundary water management, particularly when they expose the nexus between water scarcity, uneven distribution and access, climate change projections, and water insecurity. The chapter could have been a lot more inspiring, had the authors elaborated more on Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and its guiding principles, as the discourse on water has arguably the highest potential for both trans-national conflict and cooperation.

Asia (and particularly Southeast Asia) is possibly the region most affected by natural disasters in the world. Given the severe short and long-term consequences of such occurrences, the management of all phases of natural disasters (prevention, relief, and reconstruction) is an utmost NTS concern. Despite the timeliness and far-reaching implications of the issue, Chapter 5 fails to satisfactorily address it in a constructive way. The authors structured their chapter very well, but do not link the interesting data with some overarching findings. In particular, although they provide a systematic analysis of policy implementation in many Southeast Asian countries, most of the data are updated only to 2008 at the latest, thus limiting the study to the preparatory and planning stages of the process. A consideration worth mentioning here is the explanation of how the disaster management cycle (including preparedness, early warning, mitigation, relief, recovery, and rehabilitation) has gradually seen a shift in focus to disaster risk reduction, both through reactive adaptation (individual and local level) as well as through planned adaptation (state and institutionalized actors). An example of new models of cooperation in this field is the ASEAN Regional Forum’s Voluntary Demonstration of Response (ARFVDR), the first, robust civilian-led, military supported exercise designed to demonstrate ARF’s national capabilities in responding to an affected country’s request for assistance, and to build regional assistance capacity for major, multi-actor relief operations.

One of the most insightful chapters in the book, Chapter 6, looks at internal conflict from a too-often ignored perspective: the importance of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) in nowadays human security. From a statistical point of view, SALWs are a much greater threat than Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), in the sense that they are easy to procure, easy to use, and extremely lethal. This is particularly true for Southeast Asia, a region with on-going internal armed conflicts (demand), post-conflict states such as Cambodia and Viet Nam where SALWs can be easily obtained (offer), long maritime and continental frontiers (distribution channels), and poor storage facilities (smuggling). Since the threat posed by SALWs is still largely overlooked by both the international community and national legislations, this chapter is a valuable contribution to the NTS discourse.

Although strictly speaking the title of Chapter 7 should not be “Forced Migration,” the authors once again touch upon one of the most sensitive NTS issues in Southeast Asia: statelessness. As the definition of a stateless person greatly varies depending on its de jure or de facto terms, these people are greatly affected by political change and discrimination, trafficking, marriage discrimination, child registration problems, and nationality issues. And despite the fact that many of these problems are common to illegal migrants and refugees, the two definitions do not coincide, although they do overlap at times. In fact, the official status that stateless persons obtain considerably affects the treatment they receive under national and international law. After describing how the problem of statelessness is currently regulated, the authors explain how most conventions are still Eurocentric and can hardly be applied to the Southeast Asian reality. To support their arguments, the authors comprehensively introduce the cases of the Rohingyas, the hill tribes in Thailand, the oft-forgotten Malaysian case, to conclude their analysis with an evaluation of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). Their conclusion reiterates the need to focus on gendered policy directions to effectively understand and deal with human development in Southeast Asia.

Energy is the pivotal pillar of the sustainable development nexus of energy-economy-environment. In Chapter 8, the authors constructively paraphrase that nexus into energy security-economic growth-environmental protection. The underlying question the authors address is whether Asia is experiencing a nuclear renaissance (referring to nuclear energy) or a renewable renaissance (referring to renewable energy resources). Although they seem to agree on the renewable renaissance trend, which they support with accurate data, the structure of the chapter is confusing and at times misleading. There are multiple sections within the chapter, either listing different energy sources, or gauging the discussion through a geographical framework. Unfortunately the distinction between the sections is blurred, often overlapping, and sometimes inaccurate, particularly when repeatedly listing Southeast Asian countries under the East Asian bloc. This distracts the reader from the core discussion and conclusions.

Alongside natural disasters, transnational crime is possibly the most tangible of all NTS issues. It is also one of the most controversial NTS issues, as international regulations on the matter are still too many. “Disrupting or deterring criminal organisations and traffickers does not solve the problem because the incentives and the drivers remain in place; and as long as they remain unaddressed, the problems will persist” (p. 235). Acknowledging the practical impossibility of covering all instances of transnational crimes in a single chapter, the authors focus their attention on those with a particular relevance to the region, namely illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, maritime piracy, financial crimes, and environmental crimes. The selling point of this chapter is its second half, where the analysis of responses to two of the abovementioned crimes, i.e. human and drug trafficking, is very clearly divided into regional, national, supply-side, and demand-side. Although the analysis itself is sometimes superficial, the message that the authors deliver is effectively in line with the arguments set at the beginning of the chapter.

The last chapter of this book deals with cyber security. Until recently not considered to be a transnational crime, the threats it poses have convinced most practitioners to treat cyber security as a distinct NTS issue. One of the main reasons is that neither the securitizing actors nor the perpetrators of crime are easy to identify, while anybody else can be a direct target. Cyber security might be the only NTS issue where the balance of power does not relate to political and economic influence. Despite an increased professionalism of cyber crime in Southeast Asia, most responses to this kind of threat still put state and military interests at the center of the debate. The authors, notwithstanding the importance of the former, invite the reader to focus on the “human” factor of cyber security and the subtle threat it poses to human security in more general terms. Routine surveillance of the cyberspace is such a powerful tool that it can easily blur the demarcation line between authoritarian and democratic systems, particularly where the state is no longer the only securitizing actor and private companies are more and more involved in the business. The necessity of E-governance is surely undeniable, but the extent of it and the inevitable secrecy that its very mission implies could constitute a form of NTS. Given the early stage of the phenomenon, opinions on the future of cyber security widely differ, although fear of unknown consequences should not overshadow the potential for cyberspace multilateral cooperation, particularly as a pre-emptive measure.

Altogether, the book is a complete and well-arranged collection of the major non-traditional security concerns in the region. Due to space limitations, none of the chapters is able to analyze the issues with sufficient depth. But this is not the purpose of the book in the first place. Nevertheless, a final chapter elucidating the cross-issue nexus between policy analysis and academic investigation would have been useful. Another comment, though not strictly related to the contents of the book, is that the purpose of having the editor also co-author each and every chapter is somewhat unclear, although this might have helped in effectively producing overarching argumentation throughout this commendable endeavor.

Gianluca Bonanno

5) Surge capacity is the elasticity of a health system that enables it to expand quickly and to cope with a surge in demand of services beyond usual levels (p. 27).


Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, IGA Tsukasa

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow
Meredith L. Weiss
Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications and Singapore: NUS Press, 2011, xi+302p.

In April 2012, the amendment of the University and University College Act (UUCA) was approved in the lower house of Parliament in Malaysia. Before the amendment, UUCA had prohibited students from joining political parties and supporting political campaigning and protests. Although the amended law now allows students to engage in political activities outside campus, it is still restrictive because, for example, the new law gives each university the power to decide which organizations are allowed for student participation except political parties. But what is important here is that the Malaysian government has relaxed the UUCA, the restrictive provisions of which the government had hitherto refused to amend since its introduction in 1971. Against this background, the decline of the intellectual quality and the apathy of students in local universities have become increasingly apparent in recent times. The major parts of Student Activism in Malaysia read as an historical narrative, but also give us numerous suggestions and hints concerning current Malaysian politics and society.

The concept of “student activism” is ambiguous, as this book points out. While Weiss defines “student” as a collective identity and discussions of “student activism” in this book usually refer to students enrolled in tertiary-level institutions, the status of students is rather confusing “since they are expected to be future leaders, students’ potential may garner them respect and cultivate arrogance disproportionate to their age and experience, yet they remain for the moment still subordinates in society” (p. 3). On the other hand, Weiss argues that “efforts to define student activism not as a social movement like others, but as a ‘culture’, obscure the mechanisms behind that activism: implicit or explicit framing processes, organizational maintenance, and other aspect of micromobilization for collective action” (p. 5). Within the context of this book, its main objectives are to explore student activism as a distinctive genre of social movement and also examine those political impacts and externalities that influenced student activism in Malaysia (p. 3).

The underlying focus of this book is student activism, but Weiss’s perspective is wider. She locates the campus within a larger environment and examines the relationship between student activism and outside political forces, such as political parties and NGOs, and agenda like anti-colonialism and socialism. This book consists of seven chapters. Except Chapters 1 and 7, each chapter develops historical narratives starting with World War II until 2010. Following the introductory and theoretical parts of Chapter 1, Weiss examines the pre-independence period (before 1957), analyzing the alliance between Malayan students, radical journalists, and early political parties and how they prepared for independence (p. 25). The first decade after independence from 1957 to 1966 is covered in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 focuses on the period of the heyday of protest from 1967 to 1974, when student activism in Malaysia peaked. Students allied with peasants and urban squatters supported the protests among these sectors and also involved themselves in the general elections outside their campuses. However, student activism and its environment drastically changed after 1974, following changes in the student demographic trend. Weiss notes how prior to 1969 it was Chinese students who accounted for around 70 percent of the Malaysian undergraduate population, while Malays made up less than 30 percent (p. 19). She also notes how by the mid-1970s, those populations had nearly reversed (p. 19). The government tightened control over students and universities with the introduction in 1971 and the amendment in 1974 of the UUCA. Chapter 5 looks at the period of “normalized” higher education from 1975 to 1998 where “new universities and other institutions for higher education proliferated” and discusses how “campus politics increasingly came to mimic the partisan patterns outside the gate” (p. 26). Chapter 6 looks at the period of the gradual revitalization of student activism in the late 1990s in the wake of the Reformasi movement.

Weiss argues that “Malaysian students have been less inclined toward radicalism than their counterparts in neighboring states for at least the past few decades” (p. 18). Why have Malaysian students (and student activism) been less radical than neighboring states such as Indonesia and Thailand? This question is important, as it illuminates not only the character of Malaysian students and youth but also the long-term stability of the political regime since the 1970s led by the Barisan Nasional (BN). The key periods that answer this question are from 1967 to 1974 (Chapter 4) and from 1975 to 1998 (Chapter 5).

After the introduction and the amendment of UUCA in the 1970s, Weiss highlights how it was stiff penalties and the consequences of student activism that accounted for the “inaction” of student activism (p. 291). However, she also shows how the experiences of other surrounding nations were also taken into account (such as New Order Indonesia, Marcos’ Philippines, and Ne Win’s Burma, as well as China and South Korea) (p. 291). As she notes it is through “intellectual containment” that “the state delegitimizes students’ participation to undercut the challenge they pose, while at the same time minimizing over coercion” (p. 26). There are as such, two main forms of intellectual containment by the state: rewriting history and physical containment. Weiss points out;

By obscuring the history of student (and other, especially left-wing) activism, the Malaysian authorities have significantly stymied mobilization. Today, students are told that it is out of character for Malaysian students to engage politically. (p. 293)

Social movement theories, especially framing theories, bear out the fact that to mobilize people, “activists in one country actively borrow ‘cultural ideas, items, or practices’, such as norms of student empowerment and protest tactics, then tailor these to fit local context” (p. 283). What her work shows is that the government project to rewrite history since the mid-1970s deprived student activists of source materials for mobilization.

Another way of intellectual containment is through physical containment. By erecting fences, establishing campuses away from city centers, removing public spaces for students to gather, channeling activism toward less-than-meaningful elections and petitions, and co-opting student activists into political party machines, the government sought to hamper students’ solidarity and cooperation. Weiss points out that in University of Malaya (UM), the closure of the Union House and demolition of the Speakers Corner after 1974 made mobilizing students more difficult.

In addition to intellectual containment, commercialization and popularization of higher education in the mid-1990s also contributed to the declining momentum of student activism in Malaysia. Before the 1970s, UM was the only university in Malaysia and undergraduates and graduates were seen as the elite who would lead future Malaysia. By the 1999, 11 public universities, 6 vocationally oriented universities, and 10 polytechnics were established. In addition to these public institutions, 15 private universities and three medical schools were also established by corporations by early 2002, and hundreds of private colleges also joined in the Malaysian educational market. Weiss emphasizes that in this new context higher education itself now has more to do with the price one is prepared to pay to secure a decent job rather than “merely the means to pursue humanistic aims” (p. 191).

In sum, this book is based on historical narratives of student activism in Malaysia, but offers many interesting theoretical implications and comparative perspectives for those interested in students and protest movements in post-colonial states.

Iga Tsukasa 伊賀 司


Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Tomita Shinsuke

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

Gambling with the Land: The Contemporary Evolution of Southeast Asian Agriculture
Rodolphe De Koninck and Jean-François Rousseau
Singapore: NUS Press, 2012, xv+187p.

Gambling with the Land is one of a series of publications resulting from an international research project on “Challenges of the Agrarian Transition in Southeast Asia” funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The main aim of this book is to illustrate ongoing agricultural intensification and expansion throughout Southeast Asian countries by means of an analysis of statistical data. The book focuses in particular on rapid agricultural transformation that began in the middle of the twentieth century, and draws on statistics relating to agricultural production such as crops, livestock, land, production, yields, irrigated areas, the application of chemical fertilizers, the use of tractors, and so on. In spite of the limitations of the database examined in the book, in terms of both time and space and the quality of the data, the authors have managed to present a general analysis of agricultural data and offer a contemporary account of changes taking place in Southeast Asian agriculture.

The authors identify four processes behind the agricultural transformation occurring in Southeast Asian countries: commoditization; globalization; “agriculturalization”; and relays and complementarities of agriculture among nations. These four processes have unevenly developed across the countries and have been influenced by various factors such as a range of national policies, a number of political events, wars, colonialism, regional and international agencies, and the ecological settings specific to the region. These processes bear out a unique feature of Southeast Asian countries: agricultural intensification and expansion go hand-in-hand, thereby contradicting the widely held belief that agricultural development intensifies only after expansion. “Agriculturalization” is the most interesting process discussed in the book. Research and statistical data confirm that there is an increase in labor migration as a result of the shift from agriculture to industry and services, on which the income structure has become more reliant on such domains. On the other hand, this book also demonstrates that agricultural employment in rural areas is actually increasing in Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, and the Philippines. As such, the keyword “gambling” is used to describe the nature of the people who largely bet on the land.

The main feature of this book is its detailed use of data derived mainly from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAOSTAT) data sets between 1961 to 2007 and other figures that paint a contemporary picture of agriculture at the national level. In total, 138 figures account for a total of 187 book pages, and a large part of these are found in chapters 5 to 7 (these in fact make up the bulk of chapter 5’s “Agricultural Growth, Diversification, Intensification and Expansion,” chapter 6’s “Expansion and Intensification of Food Crops and Increase in Livestock Production,” and chapter 7’s “Expansion and Intensification of Cash Crops”). Chapter 7, with 51 figures, is the most important part of this book. Statistics on cash crops such as palm oil, coffee, rubber, tea, coconut, copra oil, cocoa, and sugarcane are used to explain harvested areas, ratios, yields, productions, and the amount of exports and imports by country.

However, as the authors mention through their analysis, FAOSTAT as well as statistics from other sources are prone to a number of errors and biases. For example, in regard to national statistics in Laos which I am most familiar with, there are considerable variations in the quality of the data across regions and years. My own fieldwork in Laos has led me to many villages where villagers claim that statistical data had not been collected until relatively recently. With land area, the large differences that exist in the collection of land area statistics (i.e. between data on authorized land certifications for household and data measured by survey, GIS, and GPS) are common. As such, it is not uncommon for the landholding size of household to be several times larger or smaller than that claimed in the certification. Moreover, villages that are located in remote areas might have frequently been omitted from the data gathering. Biases inherent in data arise from surveyors’ difficulties in gaining access to villages, and can result in underestimation of total agricultural land alongside exaggeration of the state of agriculture (as conducted in accessible areas and as presented in past records). Statistics can also underestimate agricultural activities during periods of political instability. An example of this would be Indochina during the tumultuous 1960s to 1970s, when authorities in charge of collecting statistics could not fully function at a time of war and conflict. When using statistical data, we need to keep in mind that they are just one of many instruments available for shedding light on aspects of agriculture.

The interpretation of data and items gathered and appearing in statistics are prescribed not only by common sense in the areas of expertise, but also the experiences of interpreters working in the regions. For instance, in chapter 5, the authors attribute an increase in the share of non-food production in 1970s Laos to opium production. Although opium may have been one form of non-food production that contributed to the fluctuations, these same fluctuations could also be attributable to the depletion of rice production. Although this tendency is not apparent in the statistics presented in chapter 6, it is a well-known fact that agricultural collectivization, compounded by the severe flood in 1970s, devastated wet rice farming and consequently led to the starvation of large number of farmers. Factoring such ground level developments in Laos might have resulted in a better interpretation of statistics.

Although statistics obviously include potential biases and errors, it is also true that they are often the only data available from which we can infer geographical variations and longitudinal changes in agriculture. Although the findings of this book are neither groundbreaking nor innovative, Gambling with the Land is undoubtedly an informative reference on the agricultural transformation in Southeast Asia over the last 60 years.

Tomita Shinsuke 富田晋介
Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University


Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, MIENO Fumiharu

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

Industrialization with a Weak State: Thailand’s Development in Historical Perspective
Somboon Siriprachai (edited by Kaoru Sugihara, Pasuk Phongpaichit, and Chris Baker)
Singapore and Kyoto: NUS Press in association with Kyoto University Press, 2012, xii+183p.

Over the past decade, Thailand has experienced constant political turmoil. Although fair evaluation of the economic “reforms” of the Thaksin government (2001–06) is not yet possible, there is little doubt that these “reforms” cut into Thailand’s socio-economic fundamentals—long treated as a taboo subject—and affect the core factors that have stabilized and integrated the nation. Undoubtedly, Thaksin’s growth strategies, various redistribution policies, and drastic rearrangements of vested interests (i.e. rents) enlarged the “economic pie.” But these also brought vast wealth to crony business factions, attracting serious complaints from groups that held opposing traditional vested interests. Since the coup d’état of 2006, the political system has failed to adjust to conflicts in a democratic fashion and the last 10 years have seen the actual democratic process itself continually undermined. Public conflicts between competing groups have become a daily scene, leading to both the military and the judiciary asserting political control, even as the bureaucracy and monarchy do not show any signs of being in full control of the situation.

Somboon Siriprachai’s posthumous book, Industrialization with a Weak State, develops his observations on and analyses of long-term economic development in post-war Thailand until 1990s. Adopting a critical stance toward standard development economic theory, it describes the Thai state as a “weak state,” one contrasted to the “strong state” typically found in East Asian countries. Within such a context, the book discusses the characteristics and shortcomings of Thailand as well as the prospective challenges that the Thai economy faces. While the period the book focuses on is a little out of date (pre–1990), the argument nevertheless contains many insights which remain relevant for Thailand’s present socio-economy.

The author, Professor Somboon Siriprachai, was a prominent Thai economist, who had long engaged in academic work on Thailand’s economic development in Thammasat University. Regrettably, he suddenly passed away in December 2008 while in Japan, on his way back home from a conference at Kyoto University, where he gave a talk based on one part of the manuscript that became this book, and this reviewer was his discussant. Carrying out his wishes, his friends in academia, Kaoru Sugihara, Pasuk Phongpaichit, and Chris Baker, edited his published journal papers and gathered them together in this book.

Owing to the nature of the publication process, this book is a collection of the author’s major journal papers, rather than a monograph. However, all chapters share a common concern: to shed light on the fundamental structure of the Thai economy. The seven chapters are divided into three parts. Chapter 1 presents an overview of the book and its basic questions. Chapter 2 focuses on export-led industrialization under the conditions of “land abundance”; chapter 3 on demographic change, land cultivation, and deforestation; and chapter 4 primarily on the inconsistency of development policy. The second half of the book, chapters 5 to 7, revisits the question of East Asian economic development. These chapters offer a critical overview of modern development economics and focus on the nature of the “state” as a policy authority in East Asia and Thailand by pointing out the limitations of the applicability of the East Asian miracle to Thailand.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the trajectory of the development stages that took place between the 1940s and the 1990s. These were: the state-owned-enterprise-based economy of the Phibun regime in the 1940s; the private capital-led economy with national development plans and the conservative macroeconomic management of the Sarit regime in the late 1950s to 1960s; industrialization with primary product export and import substitution in 1960s; gradual conversion toward export-led industrialization while coping with the global economic recession of the 1970s; and serious macroeconomic imbalance and its recovery in the early 1980s. The chapter critically interprets the late 1980s high growth era by referring to the depletion of natural resources, poverty in rural areas, corruption, and insufficient human capital investment.

The following three chapters consider the structure of Thai economic development from a historical and socio-economical point of view. Chapter 2 traces the process of economic development and industrialization with an emphasis on the keyword “land abundance.” Rich primary products and accommodated wage upward pressure, backed by “abundance of land,” were the key factors for economic growth. This meant that the bureaucracy was less concerned about how to effectively achieve industrialization than about how to sustain the system to exploit the surplus generated by the endowment condition. According to the author, these structures relate to an incomplete policy shift from import-substitution to export-led industrialization since the 1970s, the destruction of the natural environment, and worsening income disparity in the 1980s.

Chapter 3 discusses Thai demographics in relation to deforestation between 1850–1990, a theme that connects to the previous chapter’s discussion on “land abundance.” Following prominent population studies in Thailand by Skinner, Falkus, and Siamwalla, the author states that as early as 1960s, demographic transition was already occurring in Thailand. Population growth synchronized with agricultural growth that came about through conversion from forest into land for cultivation. As a result, population concentration and upward wage pressure in urban areas remained relatively moderate. This meant that Thailand’s industrialization largely depended on its initial conditions, and the contribution of industrialization to economic growth was limited until the 1990s.

Chapter 4 focuses on the various dimensions of a “weak state” and argues that the development policies adopted by the post-war Thai state were inconsistent and incomplete. The conversion from import substitution to export-led industrialization and agricultural land reform remained an incomplete project, generating urban-rural disparities that became serious in 1990s. The author argues that behind inconsistent policies, there existed patrimonial bureaucrats who failed to transform themselves into technocrats as well as other groups with vested interests.

The rest of the chapters aim to interpret Thai economic development through international comparison, particularly with East Asia, based on various general theories of economic development, and through existing empirical studies on Thailand’s economic growth. Chapter 5 seeks to identify the nature of the modern “developmental state,” cutting into the classical dispute over mercantilism versus trade liberalism during the absolute monarchy period in Western Europe. It concludes that policies under East Asian Developmentalism shared common ideologies with classical mercantilism.

Chapter 6 critically overviews both mainstream economics and relevant development economics, as descendants of liberalism, showing that the East Asian miracle was not a triumph of development economics, but entailed strong government intervention, one enabled only under the “developmental state” in East Asia. The author doubts the applicability of similar policies in Thailand which lacks such a “strong state.”

Lastly, Chapter 7 surveys existing empirical studies on Thailand’s economic growth and reveals the fact that, unexpectedly, post-war Thailand has sustained relatively high rates of technological progress (total factor productivity) among Asian countries, while agricultural productivity has remained low. Furthermore, in the manufacturing sector, the rate of technological progress declined in 1990s even under high growth led by foreign direct investment (FDI). The author identifies low investment in human capital and worsening income disparity as the reasons behind—as well as the results of—such productivity structures and these remain challenges for the future. Given such “technological inertia,” as Professor Somboon called it in the chapter title, such negative structures in Thai economy are a consequence of “land abundance” and a “weak state” (or a “predatory state”). In order to realize further sustainable growth, structural conversion from the exploitation of natural resources and cheap wages to new directions in technological progress is essential. This is, in fact, the core message of this book.

Again, partly due to the publication process, the author’s arguments overlap in places. The introductory chapter by Professor Pasuk Phongpaichit nicely summarizes the author’s main arguments, which center on the following key issues: characteristics of the state, economic policies, corruption, and income distribution. In effect, Pasuk’s introduction is not only an opening chapter, but also an excellent commentary that gives readers a clear understanding of Professor Somboon’s arguments.

However, as a reviewer, I would like to raise a few points. The author describes the Thai state as a “weak state” occupied by bureaucrats and groups with vested interests who have leeched off the environment’s rich surplus. But whether the state is “weak” or “strong” does not have to be seen as extrinsic or unchangeable. In addition, government intervention may not always be a necessary condition for technological progress. Among the East Asian examples, post-war Taiwan began as a country where the mutual interests of state and society did not coincide: autonomous innovation was achieved primarily within the private sector under conditions of repression and exploitation by the state. Support from the state in terms of technological progress such as government initiatives for Research and Development was, in a sense, a mere consequence of a state-side change.

While there is no doubt that bureaucrats and political actors in Thailand have not transformed the state into “strong” one until 1990s, we cannot deny that this may be a possibility in the near future. While the Thaksin government was a chimera of a predatory and interventionist state, in some aspects, Thaksin apparently tried to direct Thailand toward a “strong state.” This book seems to give many implicit suggestions as to the main reasons for the collapse of Thaksin’s attempt, and the subsequent emergence of serious social disturbances.

Covering the period before 1990s, the author is less appreciative of the contributions of FDI-driven industrialization. It is true that growth until the mid-1990s came about largely as a result of an increase in factor inputs, rather than improvement in productivity. Indeed, how to overcome the nature of the assembling industry and enhance high value-added in the manufacturing sector remains a vital policy agenda for the present-day economy. Therefore, to enhance investment in human capital is no doubt crucial. However, it is also a fact that the Thai economy in the 2000s has shown another possible side. After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, trade balance went from deficit to surplus with remarkable growth in financial assets, both in macroeconomic savings and foreign assets. Entering the 2010s, domestic private corporations have actively expanded and diversified their businesses, and in the process of enlargement they have been aggressively expanding business relationships with, or even been acquiring, Japanese and US companies with their now abundant cash flow.

In general, there are a few patterns in technological progress in relation to fund-raising channels. Technological progress by technology diffusion through FDI will hit its limits sooner or later. In the process of catching up with Japan and Korea, under strong government interference, the evaluation capabilities of banks played a major role in the acquisition of new technology. In Taiwan, however, the technological progress was realized mainly through mutual mergers and acquisitions (M&A) through self-financing by the companies. Lastly, as in North America, the most dynamic innovation in the world has been occurring through affluent risk money on the market. The current pattern in Thailand seems to resemble that of Taiwan’s experience. The future jump in technological progress may be achieved through technology acquisition by M&A activities even under persistently weak government intervention.

In sum, this book invites readers to stand in front of an entrance gate that poses questions about Thailand’s future prospects. Yet regrettably, it is silent in offering direct answers since it covers the earlier period prior to the 1990s and will never be updated. Instead of definitive answers, the book gives us many excellent insights drawn from economics, economic history, and political economy, insights that cut right and deeply into the question. This is where I believe the essential value of the book lies. Professor Somboon’s posthumous manuscript is an excellent academic work as well as a nice textbook on economic development in Thailand. Above all, however, the readers will be impressed by this book’s celebration of the life and career of one faithful economist who dealt clear-eyed and courageously with the economy of his home country.

Mieno Fumiharu 三重野文晴



Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

State and Uncivil Society in Thailand at the Temple of Preah Vihear
Puangthong R. Pawakapan
Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013, xiv+125p.; bibliography, index.

Preah Vihear: A Guide to the Thai-Cambodian Conflict and Its Solutions
Charnvit Kasetsiri, Pou Sothirak, and Pavin Chachavalpongpun
Bangkok: White Lotus, 2013, xiv+104p.; bibliography, no index.

In recent years, instead of being a place for peace, meditation, contemplation, and prayer, the ancient Khmer temple of Prasat Preah Vihear (Phra Wihan to the Thai) has become an object of political dispute and even military clashes between two ASEAN members: Thailand and Cambodia. The two short books under review are a welcome addition to the growing corpus of literature on the temple dispute which arose after the controversial decision by UNESCO in July 2008 to inscribe Preah Vihear on its World Heritage list. The author of the first volume, Puangthong R. Pawakapan, is Associate Professor in the International Relations Department of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science and best qualified to write on this subject as she has in the past conducted extensive research on Thai-Cambodian relations.1) The main purpose of this well-written booklet, however, is not only to provide a comprehensive overview of the historical background of the conflict, but also to analyze the actions, strategy, and objectives of the campaign of Thailand’s People’s Alliance for Democracy’s (PAD) to exploit the border conflict for its own anti-Thaksin agenda.

The PAD, also known as the Yellow Shirt movement, is seen in State and Uncivil Society in Thailand as the stakeholder mainly responsible for sowing the seeds of hatred between Thais and Cambodians and derailing the successful economic and political cooperation between the two countries between 2000–08. The PAD is portrayed as an ultra-nationalist social movement supported by various civic groups and institutions, mainly in the Thai capital Bangkok. In the first of four chapters the author tries to conceptualize the term “uncivil society” as an appropriate characterization of movements such as the PAD whose behavior and ideology run contrary to democratic principles. Puangthong argues that “the exclusion of certain organisations from the definition of civil society is theoretically untenable because all social movements and organisations, even the Ku Klux Klan, claim that their actions are right and legitimate” (p. 9). It is also a matter of fact that the same “civil movement” might be considered a progressive force when fighting communist regimes or other authoritarian dictatorships and viewed as reactionary when opposing a democratically elected government, “even though its confrontational tactics may have been the same all along” (p. 9). The author tries to overcome this contradiction by defining “uncivil society” as a sub-set of “civil society.” This argument is not fully convincing as even electoral democracies with a strong civil society are by no means immune to nationalism and may be pressured by public opinion in their respective countries to stage wars against neighboring states. As European history in the nineteenth and twentieth century amply demonstrates, liberal-civic democracies sometimes seem to be less inclined to preserve peace than certain autocratic regimes which appear to be more determined to keep chauvinistic masses at bay.

The chapter entitled “The Post-Cold War Regional Integration” is based on the premise that after the end of Cambodian conflict (Third Indochina War) in 1991, it was economic cooperation and exchange that fostered improved relations between Thailand and her Indochinese neighbors, including Cambodia. The author persuasively argues that Cambodia became an important market and investment area for the Thai economy. The cross-border trade between the two countries grew impressively between 1992 to 2008, with exports from Thailand exceeding imports from Cambodia by a factor of 10. However, it would be a misconception to believe that Cambodia was an economically much weaker neighbor, one remaining largely dependent on the cooperation and assistance of Thailand. In fact, any disruption of trade between Thailand and Cambodia would harm both sides. The anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh in January 2003, during which the Thai embassy was attacked and destroyed, were thus interpreted as a strong signal that Thai-Cambodian relations still lacked mutual trust and understanding. The burning of the Thai embassy provoked by an inaccurate newspaper report that a famous Thai actress claimed Thai ownership over Angkor was a very serious incident. It highlighted the dark side of Cambodian ultra-nationalism grounded in an inferiority complex of the Khmer vis-à-vis their more powerful Thai and Vietnamese neighbors. Many Khmer feel deeply ashamed by this chauvinistic outburst and were caught by surprise at how quickly the Thai government restored political and economic relations with Cambodia.

The anti-Thai riots of early 2003 did indeed not have a lasting effect on Thai-Cambodian relations as Phnom Penh and Bangkok had embarked on cooperation in many fields, including the Preah Vihear temple issue as Puangthong argues in the third chapter of her book. At the beginning of the last decade Cambodia and Thailand were seriously planning to inscribe the contested temple on the UNESCO World Heritage List. On June 7, 2000, the governments in Phnom Penh and Bangkok—the latter still under Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai of the Democrat Party—signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) “on the Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundary” which sought to pave the way for a solution of the Preah Vihear dispute and other unresolved border problems. A Joint Boundary Commission was set up for that purpose. From 2002 until 2007 there was an ongoing discussion between the two sides on whether Thailand should give her consent to Cambodia’s decision to nominate Prasat Preah Vihear as a Cambodian World Heritage site or whether the temple should be jointly nominated by Thailand and Cambodia. At a meeting in Bangkok on March 25, 2004 a joint committee agreed on a number of basic principles for a resolution that would solve all major problems related to developing the temple of Preah Vihear as a world heritage for humanity. Both sides agreed—at least implicitly—on a joint inscription of Preah Vihear on the UNESCO World Heritage List. A joint nomination made sense since parts of the wider temple complex, such as the Sa Trao pond, are either situated inside the disputed border area or even north of the Annex I Map line (p. 47f.).

Three years later, in talks held in 2007 and early 2008, the Cambodian government flatly rejected the idea of a joint nomination arguing that the temple was under the sole sovereignty of Cambodia and that Thailand should make a separate nomination for archaeological sites in areas under Thai sovereignty. How can this sudden change of mind be interpreted? Why did Hun Sen and Sok Anh decide to pursue no longer the idea of Preah Vihear as a transnational and trans-border joint heritage of Cambodia and Thailand? Puangthong speculates that Cambodia’s decision “was clearly based on the fact that the temple legally belong to Cambodia” (p. 48). She further speculates that the Cambodians feared a Thai “desire for Cambodian territory, particularly for this cultural site” (p. 49). Such fears are only understandable if we take into consideration the maximalist Cambodian legal standpoint arguing that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had already determined the location of the boundary in 1962 and that any Thai move to negotiate a boundary line deviating from the line marked on the Annex I Map should be considered as an unjustified claim of Cambodian territory. One may sympathize, even as a Thai scholar, with such a maximalist position which perceives any negotiations with Thailand on the border issue as just an opportunity for the Thai side to “accept reality,” in other words, to surrender to the legal position of Cambodia.

Though all Thai governments after 2008, notwithstanding their political orientation, insisted that the MoU of June 2000 did not compromise Thai legal claims on the disputed area in the neighborhood of the Preah Vihear temple, such a chain of arguments was grist for the mill of the nationalist forces in Thailand. The PAD campaign over the Preah Vihear temple dispute is discussed in the fourth and last chapter of Puangthong’s book. The author recalls the founding in early 2006 of the PAD as “a coalition of heterogeneous groups with diverse and even conflicting backgrounds and interests” ranging from “a network of grassroots and mass-based civil society organisations” (p. 57) to royalist, conservative, and nationalist groups, united only by the willingness to remove Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters from power. Given “Cambodia’s firm refusal” (p. 49) of a joint nomination, it is understandable that almost all Thai political actors became suspicious of Hun Sen’s ultimate objectives.

The strategy of the PAD network to use the Preah Vihear temple for stirring up nationalist sentiments is also discussed in Preah Vihear: A Guide to the Thai-Cambodian Conflict and Its Solution authored by the renowned Thai historian Charnvit Kasetsiri, former rector of Thammasat University, Pou Sothirak, a former Cambodian minister and diplomat, and the Thai political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun, now associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies. The authors argue that the PAD and their allies, the Democrat Party, “rejuvenated the worst aspects of historical relations between Thailand and Cambodia” (p. 26) through the following mechanism: First, the arousal of a sense of irredentist nationalism grounded in the discourse of “lost territories” which were once ceded to French and British colonialism. Second, the Thai taboo of “selling the country” (khai chat) was resurrected to demonize their political adversaries as national traitors. Finally, the PAD and their allies “reinvented the image of Cambodians as Thailand’s archrivals” (p. 28).

It seems that the main focus of the PAD propaganda was to defend Thai sovereignty over the disputed area of 4.6 square kilometers. If the Cambodian side started to build hotels, markets, police stations, and customs facilities, or even a casino in this zone, it could do so with the backing of the International Community. Moreover, the Samak government was accused of having secretly abandoned Thai sovereignty over Prasat Preah Vihear (including the disputed area) in exchange for economic concessions from the Hun Sen government to the Shinawatra Corporation in the coastal province of Koh Kong in southwestern Cambodia (p. 27). This accusation was put forward by several “insiders” like Kasit Phirom, a former close aide to Thaksin and Thai ambassador to Berlin and Washington. After the demise of the Somchai government in December 2008, Kasit became foreign minister of Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat-led coalition government. In his new position he pursued a more pragmatic policy vis-à-vis Cambodia, eventually becoming himself a scapegoat of PAD propaganda.

Although the authors of the two books are in general sympathetic towards the Samak and Somchai governments, Puangthong at least concedes that Samak made a “strategic mistake” when he appointed Nopphadon Patthama, Thaksin’s personal lawyer, as foreign minister, given Thaksin’s very close relations with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen (p. 62). Even Thaksin himself admitted, several years later, in a rare interview with the Bangkok Post in 2008 that Nopphadon “should not have supported Cambodia’s application,” concluding that “[f]rankly speaking, Thailand is at a disadvantage in this case.”2)

What are the prospects for solving the conflict on Preah Vihear, or Phra Wihan? Charnvit, Sothirak, and Pavin discuss in detail two different approaches towards a solution to the conflict. The bilateral approach would mean that Thailand and Cambodia demarcate their common border through a diplomatic process. Such a bilateral mechanism exists in the form of the above-mentioned Joint Boundary Commission which, however, was unable to complete the demarcation of the 803 kilometer long border between Thailand and Cambodia (p. 58). Fearing Thai military pressure and deeply frustrated because of the inconsistent positions of successive Thai governments over the last decade, Phnom Penh is clearly in favor of a multilateral approach to the border conflict. Against this background it is not surprising that the Cambodian government was tempted to use the registration of Preah Vihear as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to internationalize the conflict with Thailand and thus put pressure on the Thai government to yield to the Cambodian legal viewpoint. In 2011, Phnom Penh invoked the ICJ in The Hague to make a final and binding decision on the border in the vicinity of the Preah Vihear sector.

At the time when the two books under review were published, the ICJ had not yet ruled on the interpretation of the 1962 Judgment at the request of the Cambodian government. Puangthong made the reasonable prediction that a decision in favor of Cambodia, i.e. assigning the whole disputed area of 4.6 square kilometers to Cambodia, would certainly cause a public uproar in Thailand and result in serious border clashes (p. 87). Charnvit et al. come to a very similar conclusion (p. 89). Therefore, the court’s final decision announced on November 11, 2013 came to the relief of both Cambodia and Thailand as it did not leave a clear winner. The ICJ defined the whole promontory of Preah Vihear as the “vicinity” of the Preah Vihear temple which the 1962 verdict had declared as territory under Cambodian sovereignty. Cambodia can now safely claim roughly one quarter of the disputed area as her territory. The Buddhist temple, Wat Kaeo Sikkhakhirisawara, built shortly after 2000, as well as a nearby settlement inhabited mostly by the families of Cambodian soldiers, as well as a market, now dismantled, are all situated in this relatively small zone immediately to the west of the temple. The road which Phnom Penh built several years ago with Chinese help to link the temple with Cambodian territory also cuts across the promontory and has to be respected by Bangkok as territory under Cambodian sovereignty as well. This certainly satisfies Phnom Penh. However, the larger part of the disputed zone, lying further to the west and including the neighboring hill of Phnom Trap (Thai: Phu Makhüa), was considered by the ICJ as lying “outside the disputed area.”3) Therefore, the Thai government is now entitled to claim almost 3 quarters of the 4.6 square kilometers as territory under Thai sovereignty in any future bilateral negotiations on the delimitation of the border in the neighborhood of Preah Vihear.

It is not yet too late to have Prasat Preah Vihear inscribed as a joint Thai-Cambodian World Heritage of Cambodia and Thailand. The UNESCO decision of June 2008 still leaves this option open when stating that it recognizes “that Thailand has repeatedly expressed a desire to participate in a joint nomination of the Temple of Preah Vihear and its surrounding areas” and by considering “further that archaeological research is underway which could result in new significant discoveries that might enable consideration of a possible new transboundary nomination, that would require the consent of both Cambodia and Thailand.”4) The American anthropologist Helaine Silverman, an expert in heritage management and museum theory and practice, strongly supports the idea of a joint Cambodian-Thai management of Preah Vihear as a transborder World Heritage Site. She argues that, given the history of the conflict, UNESCO was adding fuel to the fire by allowing the temple to be inscribed as the sole heritage of only one nation-state. A solution acceptable to both countries in the long run would presuppose that the temple were conferred “a borderless status, assisting the two countries to prepare dual access routes to the site with appropriate passport control. The UNESCO flag and the flag of both countries would fly over the site” (Silverman 2011, 15). Given the temple’s architecture which shows a clear natural orientation towards the north and given the fact that the easiest and most convenient access to the temple is from the Thai side, a joint management of Preah Vihear still seems the best solution. The German lawyer Dr René Gralla has come forward with an ingenious idea proposing an Andorra-style solution for Preah Vihear. The whole disputed area of slightly less than five square kilometers would be proclaimed as the independent state of “Preah Vihear-Phra Wihan” ruled by two diarchs, namely the King of Cambodia and the King of Thailand, harboring a population of monks and local villagers from both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border, mostly ethnic Kui and Khmer, apart from some Lao and Thai. Such a mini-state could promote tourism, attract foreign investors, and finally become the symbol of eternal friendship between Thailand and Cambodia (Gralla and Grabowsky 2013). A dream? Perhaps, but one that should be tried.

Volker Grabowsky
Asien-Afrika-Institut of the Universität Hamburg


Gralla, René; and Grabowsky, Volker. 2013. Andorra-stlye Solution Beckons in Preah Vihear Row. Bangkok Post, September 24, 2013.

Puangthong Rungsawasdisab. 1995. War and Trade: Siamese Interventions in Cambodia, 1767–1851. PhD dissertation, University of Wollongong.

Silverman, Helaine. 2011. Border Wars: The Ongoing Temple Dispute between Thailand and Cambodia and UNESCO’s World Heritage List. International Journal of Heritage Studies 17(1): 1–21.

1) See, for example, Puangthong (1995).

2) “Thaksin warns of Thai friction over temple. History of disputed Preah Vihear area is in Cambodia’s favour, says former Prime Minister,” in Bangkok Post, March 11, 2012.

3) ICJ, “Request for interpretation of the judgment of 15 June 1962 in the case concerning the temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand),” November 11, 2013, section 98.

4) UNESCO convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, World Heritage Committee, Quebec City, Canada, July 2–10, 2008.


Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Veerayooth Kanchoochat

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

Diversifying Retail and Distribution in Thailand
Endo Gen
Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2013, xii+275p.

Once again, Thai studies need a determined Japanese researcher to unearth the puzzling research areas that are plagued by limited data, poor statistics, and mistaken presumptions. A comprehensive account of the retail and wholesale industry has been rare, despite this industry being Thailand’s second largest sector by constituent ratio of GDP and employment.

This book by Endo Gen provides a thorough understanding of Thailand’s retail, wholesale, and distribution systems. It gives a historical background of the business with a focus on the dynamics since the 1990s—the period that has unleashed the “modern trade,” such as cash-and-carry, hypermarkets, supermarkets, and convenience stores, throughout the country.

Chapters 1 and 2 present the historical background and characteristics of Thai retailing, which, until the 1980s, had been overwhelmed by small-scale grocery stores (cho huai) or the so-called shophouse, a one-story shop with a dwelling over the top. While there is no strong argument within these two chapters, I find them insightful for those who want to understand the evolution of the sector. In addition to the general structure, the author traces today’s major players, such as the Central Group and Saha Pat, back to their origins. Competition and coordination among them are addressed and put into contextual settings extremely well. The investment and consumption booms of the late 1980s led to the advent of new retail formats and fiercer competition. The succeeding chapters develop the arguments of the book, capturing the contemporary structure and situation of the industry.

Chapter 3 discusses the 1997 financial crisis and the massive influx of new retail formats introduced by multinational companies. The author conceptualizes post-1980s Thailand’s consumer market as a “mosaic structure” that possesses significant disparities among geographical areas and income strata. He then argues that this mosaic structure is the main explanation for why retail and distribution firms in Thailand must adopt diversification strategies (pp. 38–46) and why Bangkok-based and provincial department stores “competed to open new stores in provincial cities, which led to excessive competition” (p. 63).

Chapter 4 poses an important question: Have new retail formats really heralded a distribution revolution? As the 1997 financial crisis created the opportunities for new, foreign-led retailers, particularly hypermarkets which sell daily foods and necessities at lower prices, the change in the retail and distribution sector looks so immense that most observers would call it a “revolution.” Nonetheless, Endo argues that the revolution has yet to come. Things have been changed, for sure. From a long and complicated chain of distribution networks, the modern retail formats now deal directly with manufacturers, with an increased relative bargaining power of the former. The distribution and logistics systems have been improved, have greater efficiency, and are equipped with better information technology. Commercial practices, such as the payment systems, have been considerably modified, too.

Yet, given all the above changes, the author argues that we should not call it a revolution, for a number of reasons (pp. 128–129). To begin with, the biggest players in the market, that is, hypermarkets and cash-and-carry stores, have achieved growth mainly from expanding their number of stores. However, doing so is becoming increasingly difficult over time. The active expansion into provinces via smaller-size stores of these modern retailers has caused managerial problems in their logistics management. Another modern retail format, the supermarket, has also struggled to develop its own unique competitive advantage and has suffered managerial problems, low profitability, and high operating costs. Likewise, convenience stores have not succeeded in establishing themselves as an important retail format and have had no significant impact on the distribution system, as initially expected.

The book’s most profound findings are presented in Chapter 5. Among mass media and policymakers in Thailand, the conventional focus of the industry after 1997 has always been the struggle of traditional mom-and-pop stores vis-à-vis multinational retailers. In certain provinces, local retailers staged protests by provoking nationalist sentiment against the entry of multinationals. But Thai retailing has never been that simplistic and dichotomous, and the adaptive skills of local entrepreneurs should not be underestimated. Furthermore, from the demand side, previous analyses typically looked into the middle classes but overlooked the lower-income consumers, who in fact own the lion’s share of retail consumptions.

As Endo points out, the crisis has not bypassed wholesalers. Instead, it is provincial wholesalers who have emerged as critical players in the game after the dust settled. Amid the penetration of the multinationals, most traditional wholesalers (yi pua) in the provinces have adapted themselves sufficiently to maintain a firm grip on today’s retail and distribution system. In their respective provinces, the leading wholesalers “have converted their operations into new formats by implementing certain aspects of new retail formats’ management systems,” and therefore become what the author calls a “provincial-city-based, retail-cum-wholesale company” (p. 163). Such an adaptation also has a positive impact on the mom-and-pop stores by giving them “more channels to buy goods, which could make it easier to start a new business” (p. 137). As a result, the author makes a strong claim that we should not overstate the effects of modern trade on traditional stores: “While many stores did close down, enough stores opened to largely offset the loss. Thus, it seems that the impact of new retail formats varies” (p. 137). To support this claim, Endo digs deeper into the stories and generational change of provincial wholesalers such as Tang Ngee Soon in Udon Thani, Yongsanguan in Ubon Ratchathani, and Ekkaphap in Saraburi.

There are three comments I would make about this book. First, in general, Japan seems to be the point of reference throughout the book, but such a comparison unfolds in fits and starts. The insights and lessons from a comparative perspective could have been more illuminating if the author had made the comparison in a more constructive manner. Second, the question about whether Thailand has undergone a “distribution revolution” is a moot point. And I would think that the author refutes this hypothesis mainly because he contrasts it with the Japanese case. Given the changes the author mentioned (the direct deal between retailers and manufacturers, improved distribution and logistics systems, altered commercial practices, the hybrid format of wholesale-cum-retail stores), it could be counted as a revolution, especially by Thai standards and in comparison with what the sector looked like before (as depicted in Chapters 1 and 2). Meanwhile, the reasons the author raised to reject the revolution hypothesis (pp. 128–129) are, in essence, inefficiency at firm level, rather than the big picture of the sector. Dramatic changes have already been grounded in Thai retailing, yet the direction in which it has headed differs from the Japanese experience.

My final comment is about the provincial wholesalers. As the book elaborates, the provincial wholesalers have survived and flourished because they adopted certain features of modern trade, as well as managed to attain low-cost operations. This is true. But I would like to add cultural and geographical aspects to the issue. From my previous research (Veerayooth 2008), local retailers and wholesalers usually stay afloat because they know local people very well. To compete with megastores, either Bangkok-based or foreign, comparable prices are necessary, but not sufficient. The promotions and special campaigns have to be tailored to local custom. For example, they know what specific items should be sold as a package deal, and who are the folk singers they should invite, on the Buddhist Lent Day in their areas. Geography also helps. Many wholesalers, especially those located near the borderlines, are able to buy consumer goods from manufacturers in bulk, not to sell solely to Thai consumers, but to re-sell to the middlemen coming from neighboring countries. Big manufacturers acknowledge, and sometimes even encourage, this demeanor, even if it goes against their code of conduct, in order to boost their own monthly sales.

All in all, the key strengths of the book lie in the detailed survey and discerning analyses. The author has placed strenuous efforts into collecting and processing data from various sources, including the commemorative books from the funerals of business persons. This book is the product of industrious and committed research, with an inductive method of discovery that generates fresh findings and unconventional wisdom. The actual structure and situation of the industry has been uncovered as the author promises. It fills a significant gap in the field and will definitely be required reading for anyone interested in Thailand’s retail and distribution.

Veerayooth Kanchoochat วีระยุทธ กาญจน์ชูฉัตร
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Japan


Veerayooth Kanchoochat. 2008. Services, Servility, and Survival: The Accommodation of Big Retail. In Thai Capital after the 1997 Crisis, edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, pp. 85–104. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.


Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, AKAGAWA Natsuko

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

A Heritage of Ruins: The Ancient Sites of Southeast Asia and Their Conservation
William Chapman
Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013, 340p.

With this well presented book, William Chapman has provided a fascinating overview of the iconic heritage sites of Southeast Asia. It is, as the introduction and acknowledgments indicate, the outcome of the author’s many years of thorough research, and of reflection, conversations, practice, and accumulated knowledge in the field. The locations Chapman discusses will be familiar to all who have traveled or read the history of Southeast Asia, but perhaps few will have visited all of them. This makes the book, apart from anything else, a significant overview of these sites. But in the first place this is a book on the history of heritage practice.

Ruins have long been the iconic markers of antiquity, empire, and nationhood since the nineteenth century, and through scholarly and popular literature, textbooks and nationalist propaganda, tourism and documentaries, the “ruins of Southeast Asia” featured in this book have become recognized globally as significant heritage sites. As the reader would expect then, represented here are the temple complexes of Prambanan and Borobudur in Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Khorat Plateu temples in Thailand, My Son in Vietnam, Vat Phu in Laos, Pagan in Burma, and Lembah Bujang in Malaysia. Other sites, notably the Prasat Preah Vihear temple complex, currently the center of conflicting claims by Thailand and Cambodia, are discussed in passing. The main purpose of A Heritage of Ruins, aside from presenting an account of their origins is, as the subtitle indicates, to review how they have been conserved since their discovery as “ruins,” to become essential elements in national and world heritage.

In five substantive chapters, the book provides a “history of heritage practice” for each of these ancient sites. The reader is thus invited to compare different colonial conservation practices and their legacy for post-colonial nations, as well as to compare contemporary heritage practices and the uses of heritage under different political regimes. When it comes to the present, Chapman shows how the safeguarding of these “ruins” has become a focus of international interest, cooperation, and of increasingly uniform practices.

The title of this finely produced book will catch the eye of many readers, and will no doubt also raise some questions. As Chapman indicates, in the nineteenth century “ruins” came to form a central theme in the nostalgic remembrance of things past. Ruins had long formed the imaginary of artists and poets, particularly in the British tradition, and with increased travel, they became the destination for new generations of well-heeled tourists, firstly within Europe but increasingly also in Europe’s empires abroad. Here they played a role in bolstering the justification for European imperialism, as representing literally the ruins of the past empires of Asia now superseded by superior modern European ones. Yet, as Chapman’s account shows, the colonial conservation practices that developed in the course of the nineteenth century safeguarded, and in some cases salvaged, these Southeast Asian ruins as national monuments for future post-colonial nations. As Chapman’s succinct overview of the histories of each of these sites demonstrates, many of today’s conservation practices and the “meanings” given to heritage have emerged from these past practices. For post-World War II modern nations of Southeast Asia, these ancient sites, whose presence has over the course of the previous century become firmly established in the Western imagination, provided immediate and imposing, internationally recognizable symbols of nationhood.

While necessarily concise, the histories Chapman provides in five country-focused chapters present an invaluable overview for understanding the background of heritage practice in Southeast Asia that will be useful to students of heritage and equally informative for the diligent traveler and the interested general reader. For most readers, the current state of heritage practice which forms the final section of each chapter will be of particular interest. Building on these individual accounts, the book’s two concluding chapters offer a broader discussion of the state of heritage in Southeast Asia today, as this pertains not only to the particular sites in question, but briefly in a final chapter, also with regard to heritage practice in general.

In the penultimate chapter, Chapman provides brief insightful commentaries on a range of practical issues that arise from contemporary practices and circumstances related to these well-visited sites. Emphasizing the interconnection between heritage and tourism, a perspective that permeates the whole volume, Chapman points to the tension between local and foreign tourism in their “use” of these heritage sites, and between the historical value of the sites and the growing dependence upon them as income-earning enterprises. This tends to point to conflicting messages for heritage practitioners. While on the one hand, Chapman appears to concur with the suggestion that site managers “have to fight for market share” of the tourist dollar by bringing “fresh attractions to their venues” (p. 230), elsewhere he argues strongly that the historical “spiritual links” adhering to these must be safeguarded. These links often reach back to older traditions that defy contemporary religious boundaries, political ideologies, and modern preoccupations. Underlying this discussion is the potential conflict between the interests of different stakeholders to which the future of these sites are beholden.

In a final brief chapter Chapman in a sense brings the narrative of this book full circle. These ancient ruins, once plucked from obscurity by imperial endeavor to become the focus of international tourism and scientific research, now need to be seen as “part of a shared past,” as important elements of a global heritage whose on-going conservation concerns us all.

This is a useful book in many respects. While full of history, each chapter follows a consistent, forward framework. For the uninitiated in heritage questions, the book requires little technical pre-knowledge yet introduces the reader to real and contemporary questions facing site managers and heritage practitioners, national governments and world bodies. With its rich history and thought provoking discussion, these issues should also concern the conscientious traveler when he or she next visits one of these awe-inspiring edifices of human civilization.

Akagawa Natsuko 赤川夏子
School of Social Sciences, The University of Western Australia


Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Cheow-Thia CHAN

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3

Sinophone Malaysian Literature: Not Made in China
Alison M. Groppe
Amherst: Cambria Press, 2013, x+325p.

Studies of the Chinese overseas have devoted substantial attention to Southeast Asia owing to deep historical connections forged by the overwhelming majority of Chinese migrants to the region. While historical and ethnographic approaches are common modes of inquiries, analyses of literary writings are seldom featured in the relevant scholarship (Liu 2006). From the perspective of modern Chinese literary studies in the English language academe, however, it is Southeast Asia that is an unfamiliar parameter of research. With recent calls by scholars to pay greater attention to “expressive documents” about Chinese migration in order to probe the Chineseness of displaced memories and desires, or to advocate a strategic focus on creative writings for exploring ambivalent Chinese sentiments in different world regions, the two fields have been set up for a productive dialogue and are currently experiencing exciting transformations (Wang 2007; Shih 2013).

Participating in the ongoing paradigm shift toward a global conception of Chinese literature and culture, Alison M. Groppe’s well-researched Sinophone Malaysian Literature: Not Made in China offers an excellent overview not only of salient works from a fascinating corpus that has thus far eluded English-language scholarship, but also of the lineage of approaches critical for grasping the larger ramifications arising from its anomalous status as “sectional literature” in Malaysia, where only literary works written in the national language of Malay are recognized as “national literature” (pp. 2, 282). The book leverages Malaysia for its unique insights about the adaptive experiences of China-origin people who account for a minority yet politically significant community residing outside the mainland Chinese state, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Broadly speaking, Groppe explores the question of what it means “to be of Chinese descent and to be Chinese-speaking outside of China” (p. 25) primarily through examining modes of literary representations Malaysian-born writers employ to negotiate and express their layered ethnic and national identities in postcolonial Malaysia. In its focus on Malaysia as a vibrant location beyond China’s geopolitical borders that has nurtured an active contingent of innovative writers, the monograph joins E. K. Tan’s Rethinking Chineseness: Translational Sinophone Identities in the Nanyang Literary World (also published by Cambria Press in 2013) in ushering Southeast Asia into the horizon of modern Chinese literary studies (p. 283).

Chapter 1 maps the critical concepts that undergird Groppe’s ensuing interpretation of the complicated and multifarious relationships across the locales of China, Taiwan, and Malaysia that a compelling repertoire of Chinese-language narratives contemplates. Of crucial utility to Groppe is the notion of the Sinophone as “a network of places of cultural production” which, in her discourse, follows the coinage and explication by Shu-mei Shih (2013) who foregrounds its non-China and Sinitic traits. Groppe points out how Mandarin functions as the medium of Chinese education and mass media for most of the twentieth century in Malaysia, where it co-exists with other Sinitic topolects including Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, and Hainanese that arrived in tandem with Chinese migrants from China’s southern provinces. At the same time that Sinophone Malaysian literature (hereafter SML) gives prominence to both the geographical origin of the writers and the linguistic medium of their works (pp. 5, 9–15), the book also draws upon the ideas of other interlocutors, such as Salman Rushdie, James Clifford, and Chow Tse-Tsung, to suggest an eclectic identification process evinced by migrant writers. Inspired also by Stuart Hall’s processual perspective on identity, Groppe ultimately stakes her overarching claim that Sinophone Malaysian fiction should be valued for its ability to represent a distinctive “process of becoming rather than being” in the authorial subjects’ self-reflexive search for suitable Chinese cultural identities (p. 22) enmeshed with local histories.

Chapter 2 surveys the cultural politics affecting the Malaysian field of Chinese literary production. Groppe contends, vis-a-vis literature written in creolized Baba Malay, English, and classical Chinese, that the self-conscious mediation of Chinese identities is more evident in the body of work initiated by the use of vernacular Chinese incubated by local newspaper supplements and Chinese language education for creative writings in early twentieth century (p. 29). By synthesizing critical ideas distilled from the scholarship of Fang Xiu, Tee Kim Tong, and Sharon Carstens, among others, she skillfully interweaves political milestones and literary development in British Malaya and postcolonial Malaysia to depict the broader challenges the Chinese community faces in advocating its ethnic cultural identification as a legitimate part of the hitherto Malay-centric national culture. Readers will become acquainted with literary polemics pertaining to issues about distinctive aesthetics, appropriation of traditional cultural symbols, canonization etc. that collectively refract an anxiety over the local creation of an autonomous subjectivity for SML. In this regard, as well as in light of her overall thrust to avoid privileging any particular genealogical bonds with Malaysia in the realm of Chinese cultural production, Groppe appears more sympathetic toward local efforts in the Southeast Asian state when she stresses that SML written and published in Taiwan “should not be taken as representing the whole or even necessarily the best of Sinophone Malaysian literature’s past, present and future” (p. 52), despite its significant and conspicuous accomplishment in achieving literary distinction beyond the Malaysian shores.

Chapter 3 delves into the complex imbrication of language, place, and identity. Groppe relates the central predicament of authors to “the challenges of crafting their literary language in the northern-based topolect of Mandarin while writing of and within the Sinophone Southeast Asian (Nanyang) environment” (p. 58), a milieu that uses a variety of Sinitic topolects from southern China in everyday life. She parses the problematic through the discourse of the contemporary critic and writer Ng Kim Chew, focusing in particular his distinction between zhongwen and huawen—discrepant terms for the Chinese written language—that allows him to argue for two types of literary language, indicative of a China/Mandarin-oriented and a local Malaysian Chinese cultural identification respectively. Following Ng’s analytic, Groppe traces the historical contours of different formulations through which Sinophone Malayan and Malaysian authors have endeavored to foster a distinct literary voice through “a strategy of language differentiation” (p. 60) that bears out different shades of Chinese cultural identity. Whereas the earlier writers and critics were inclined to view literary language as a tool for accurate sociolinguistic representation, Ng, who is equipped with wider exposure to modernist models from China and Taiwan, is committed to harnessing topolectal colloquialism for innovation in literary aesthetics and reflections on marginality (p. 90). As Groppe astutely points out, despite great disparities in attitudinal and practical orientation, both sides sought the same recourse to spoken language as the favored cultural resource for fashioning a unique literary language for SML (pp. 72–73, 79–80, 86, 96). The final part of the chapter instantiates Stuart Hall’s sustained influence on Groppe’s argument, when she maintains the relevance of the notion of “minor literature” coined by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in light of Ronald Bogue’s characterization of it as a creative process and manner of literary writing rather than a niche typology of literary output.

The remaining chapters feature a series of author and thematic studies. It is to Groppe’s credit that she has incorporated into her discussion figures such as Li Tianbao (Chapter 5) and Li Zishu (Chapter 7) whose creative orientations differ from that of a select group of Sinophone Malaysian writers who have been recruited thus far to illustrate the theoretical underpinnings of Sinophone studies centered on a critique of Sinocentrism. The pioneering nature of the monograph necessitates that these chapters must furnish substantial introductions to local sociopolitical circumstances, writers’ personal trajectories, and plot synopses. Extending an approach from the previous chapter, Groppe continues to couple SML with critical concepts to accentuate its situated nature in the making of modern Chinese cultural identities in a globalizing world. In Chapter 4, Linda Hutcheon’s “postmodern parody” is appropriated to read Ng Kim Chew’s satirical tales, unified by a trope of quest revolving around a missing eminent author from China, the fascinating plots of which intimate the difficult cultivation of literary autonomy for Sinophone Malaysia due to the enduring influence of mainland Chinese writing traditions. Expanding the historical purview of Chua Beng Huat’s formulation regarding “pop culture China,” Chapter 5 pairs the author Li Tianbao with the Sarawak-born director Tsai Ming-liang to contend that, by referencing music and films from Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan from the earlier decades of the twentieth century, the aesthetic design of their works testifies to the well-established traffic of imagination, production, and consumption of Sinophone cultural products, as well as demonstrates the range of Malaysia’s discursive and sentimental affiliations to multiple nodes in a network driven by an economy of popular culture. In Chapter 6, Svetlana Boym’s notion of “reflective nostalgia” that underscores a critical self-reflexive element in the enactment of individual memories offers Groppe a conceptual launch pad for interpreting Li Yongping’s narrative recollections about his hometown in Kuching. The autobiographical effect, the trope of displaced wandering in urban Taipei, where the protagonist shares his remembrances about Borneo through conversation, essentially becomes in Li’s work, a coded style of introspection that negotiates the vexatious issues of home and diaspora, self-identity, and ethnic cultural identification. As Groppe rightly elucidates, Li’s diasporic identity formation carries other anti-hegemonic valences evolved within a colonial setting that are belied by his Sinophilic image (pp. 203, 206). Public memory becomes the more encompassing rubric in Chapter 7 that covers works by Ng Kim Chew, Li Yongping, Zhang Guixing, and Li Zishu. Groppe treats their fictional writings that reflect upon the Malayan communist insurrections from late 1940s to 1960s as emblematic artifacts of what John Bodnar has termed “vernacular culture,” a folk configuration of diversity committed to expressing the affective dimension of social realities as experienced by ordinary individuals, in contradistinction to the normative slant of official articulations (pp. 235–236).

While the monograph predominantly addresses fictional works read in the light of Sinophone theory, the conclusion briefly reverses the interpretive method by exploring how Sinophone Malaysian literary production can problematize the concerns of the Sinophone. Departing from existing deployments of the Sinophone concept that either includes or excludes China, Groppe reiterates the unique role Malaysia can play in reminding Sinophone theory to stay flexible, open-minded, and sensitive to the nuances of difference present in local history and literary arts arising from connectivity on multiple scales (pp. 280–281, 287–288). What deserves even greater appreciation is how she thoughtfully references “Why Sinophone Malaysian Literature?”—the profoundly influential 1993 essay by Lim Kien Ket, an important critical voice that has been conspicuously elided from the current spotlight on Malaysian Chinese literary production in English language scholarship. Responding to the query in the title of Lim’s essay, she puts forth the value of studying SML’s “transnational, traveling and even translingual” profile, as well as suggests its heuristic value for theorizing cultural relations between mainland China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia (pp. 282–283).

Overall, with its comprehensive coverage, focused treatment, and lucid exposition, Sinophone Malaysian Literature marks a key reference volume in the English language on the topic. Not only does it succeed in pluralizing the scholarship on the Chinese overseas and modern Chinese literature, it also urges deeper dialogue with other fields of knowledge such as human geography and Southeast Asian Studies. It could be productive, for instance, to bring in Li Yongping’s professed ambivalence over the classification of his works as “Sinophone Malaysian literature” (Chen and Mayer 1998), given that he grew up in colonial Sarawak and left North Borneo for Taiwan very soon after the colony joined the new political formation of Malaysia. Whether it is the geopolitical “Malaysia” denoting a national space of interpellation or Borneo as a native landscape for embodied dwelling that carries greater import for Li in his reconciliatory effort with his own ambiguous Chinese identity becomes a question that Groppe subtly broaches and invites deeper reflection (pp. 249, 278n5). In addition, Tee Kim Tong’s thesis about “interference” from China’s New Literature movement in early twentieth century (pp. 28, 285) and Groppe’s delineation of the writers’ conscious strategy of “linguistic adaption” (p. 72) to suture spoken and literary language both suggest an underlying Sinophone ecology in situ. Echoing the long-standing interest in the construction of historical agency through processes such as “domestication” and “vernacularization” in Southeast Asian historiography (Reynolds 1995), such perspectives that assert local will and inventiveness when engaging foreign elements shore up peripheral avenues of research which now seem well worth pursuing. What are the other linguistic and literary modalities of artistic agency in Malaya/Malaysia over the past two centuries? How should one re-evaluate the historical conditions of co-existing or competing artistic practices bound to discrepant ideas and feelings of being Chinese? It is worthwhile to note that history and literature might view the discursive trope of “localization” through different optics, perceiving the process as either one of absorption of foreign influence, or one engaged in adaptation to new cultural contexts. Inquiries into overlapping or abutting configurations of Baba Malay literature, classical Chinese literature, and Anglophone literature that are regrettably less developed in Groppe’s discourse, then, hold great potential in developing a thicker biography of how the Sinophone comes to perform the local and becomes entangled with cultural modernity in the region. These issues notwithstanding, her laudable book-length study has laid a solid foundation upon which scholars can investigate further to yield fresher insights about the uneasy making of modern Sinophone Southeast Asian subjects and their hybrid cultural identities.

Cheow-Thia Chan 曾昭程
Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, Yale University


Chen, Elaine; and Mayer, David, tr. Outsider in Taipei—Li Yung-ping. Taiwan Panorama, July 1998, http://web.mit.edu/ccw/li-yongping/files/Interview%20with%20Taiwan%20Parnorama.pdf (accessed May 22, 2014).

Liu, Hong, ed. 2006. The Chinese Overseas. 4 vols. London and New York: Routledge.

Reynolds, Craig J. 1995. A New Look at Old Southeast Asia. The Journal of Asian Studies 54: 419–446.

Shih, Shu-mei. 2013. Introduction: What is Sinophone Studies? In Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader, edited by Shu-mei Shih, Chien-hsin Tsai, and Brian Bernards, pp. 1–16. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tan, E. K. 2013. Rethinking Chineseness: Translational Sinophone Identities in the Nanyang Literary World. Amherst: Cambria Press.

Wang, Gungwu. 2007. Mixing Memory and Desire: Tracking the Migrant Cycles. In Chinese Overseas: Migration, Research and Documentation, edited by Chee Beng Tan, Colin Storey, and Julia Zimmerman, pp. 3–20. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.


Vol. 3, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Keith W. TAYLOR

Contents>> Vol. 3, No. 3



Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946)
David G. Marr
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013, xix+721p.

David Marr’s scholarship, which has spanned almost half a century, has had a great influence upon the direction of Vietnamese studies. We are all in his debt for showing what can be done by careful archival research and for making his findings accessible to people interested in Vietnam. His books have become the foundation of scholarship on modern Vietnamese history in the English language and have had a great influence upon work published in all other languages as well, including Vietnamese. Whatever the criticisms that might be made of his work, including mine in this review, they take nothing away from his monumental achievement in bringing historical knowledge about the modern Vietnamese into readable books.

Marr’s first monograph, Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885–1925 (1971) was written in wartime with an agenda of asserting a theme of heroic, albeit unsuccessful, Vietnamese resistance to French colonialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to explain why US policy was doomed, thus providing a scholarly blessing to the anti-war viewpoint of that time; it was suffused with an approbation of a certain kind of nationalism as a legitimizing historical force, which was a dominant academic perspective in the 1960s and 1970s. As Marr states in his Preface (p. xv), his “fundamental assumption . . . is that one cannot understand resistance efforts in Vietnam in more recent times without going back at least to 1885.” The concept of “resistance” is important in all of Marr’s books, which to him means resistance to the non-revolutionary mainstream of Vietnamese nationalism.

Marr’s second book, Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920–1945 (1981), revealed the lively intellectual life of educated Vietnamese during the late French colonial period. It provided inspiration for a generation of young scholars of modern Vietnamese history that came of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it has proven to be the most influential of Marr’s books.

In his last two books, Marr has focused on what he sees as the centerpiece of modern Vietnamese history, the August Revolution of 1945. In Vietnam 1945 (1995) he takes readers through the events leading up to the August Revolution and the declaration of independence announced in Hanoi on September 2, 1945. Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946), according to Marr in his Preface (p. xv), “focuses on events of the next sixteen months, when Vietnam’s future course was largely determined.” This statement comes immediately after Marr notes the difference between the August Revolution in Hanoi and in Saigon: “one orderly, one anarchic, [which] showed how the popular upheavals of August could propel Vietnam in starkly different directions.” Here we find an implicit contradiction between north and south going in “starkly different directions” while there is but one “future course” that was “largely determined” for “Vietnam”; the implication is that the south had fallen out of the logic governing Vietnamese history.

The strength of this book is the depth of detail with which it describes how state and party structures were built from the enthusiasm of the August Revolution in northern Vietnam during 1945 and 1946. However, Marr presents this structure as the predetermined “future course” of “Vietnam.” He has no discernible interest in the many Vietnamese who did not agree with this future course and were prepared to resist it, for they, from Marr’s perspective, did not represent “Vietnam,” being dupes, wittingly or not, of foreign powers.

Marr’s hardening of focus from “Vietnamese” in his first two books to “Vietnam” in his last two books suggests a bias in legitimizing a particular scheme of state formation. I do not mean to imply that there is anything objectionable about this, but it cannot but be obvious that the general direction of this interpretive strategy is to scrape away a large number of Vietnamese from the bailiwick of “Vietnam,” or, at least, to render them into some kind of lessor category of membership in the thing called “Vietnam.”

Marr appears to address this issue on the last page of his Epilogue, where he wrote;

From the point of view of many Vietnamese, the pro-American Republic of Vietnam was the insurgent threat, not the DRV or the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam. No CIA-initiated program, be it “civic action,” “census grievance,” “counterterror,” or “political action,” managed to overcome this liability. Washington then escalated to search-and-destroy operations, forced urbanization, and bombing the north, greatly increasing the human toll but not reversing the underlying political dynamics. (p. 578)

In this thumb-nail narrative of the 1960s, Marr’s “many Vietnamese” represent “the underlying political dynamics” that no amount of CIA and Washington policies could overcome, putting us back into the framework of Marr’s first book. Marr is not interested in the “many Vietnamese” who resisted the vision that the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam)/National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam had for the future of their country; he denies them any legitimate right to have a voice about how to organize the state. For Marr, any Vietnamese who oppose his “many Vietnamese” are simply an “insurgent threat” to his “Vietnam”; they are “pro-American” in a sense that Marr neglects to compare with the pro-Soviet or pro-PRC “many Vietnamese” of his “Vietnam.” He denies his “pro-American” non-many Vietnamese any agency, attributing his scare quoted phrases to foreign meddlers. At most, this is an exuberant view of “underlying political dynamics” in a determinist version of history. At least, this is a one-sided, exclusionary view of the Vietnamese.

The degree to which this book is based on archival materials is remarkable and praiseworthy, which for some may also be a limitation in the sense that it tends to read like a transcription of research notes. Aside from scattered comments, there is little analytical development, nor is there a chronological narrative enabling a sense of the actual flow and logic of events as they happened; what we have is a topical organization of archival debris that has survived from events, along with an implication that this allows us to see how a structure of state authority was built in the wake of a revolution.

Many passages are a survey of archival materials on a particular topic. For example, the section entitled “Importing Marxism-Leninism” (pp. 490–492) provides no explanation of the significance of the topic and ends abruptly with a non sequitur. This is typical of many sections in the book. Other passages are a miscellaneous accumulation of bits and pieces of information gleaned from the archives. It is a pleasure for people like myself to savor these details, but for students or general readers who lack a mental context for appreciating the author’s prowess as an archivist it may come across as a jumble.

A strength of this format, as others have noted, is that it suggests a contingency of events beyond the guidance or control of the communist leadership, which goes against the grain of a previous widespread assumption, nurtured by ICP (Indochinese Communist Party) historians, that the August Revolution and its sequel was the result of an almost omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent group of men led by Ho Chi Minh. Yet, one aspect of the book is the degree to which Marr appears to buy into Ho Chi Minh’s cult of “Uncle Ho.”

On page 265, Marr says “Ho’s subsequent actions” following his return from France in October 1946 “suggest that he retained a multilateral view of the world until 1949.” Earlier in the same paragraph Marr says that any retention of a multilateral view of the world was purely tactical. The “subsequent actions” are not cited or explained. Mention of the year 1949 implies that once the Chinese communists arrived on the Vietnamese border it was they who set the agenda of the Vietnamese revolution and forced Ho Chi Minh out of his “multilateral view.”

Similarly, on page 453, Marr mentions “certain operational advantages” in dissolving the ICP, then follows this up with: “Beyond that, I doubt that Ho wanted an ICP dictatorship anytime soon.” Marr’s doubt about what Ho may or may not have wanted “any time soon” is obscure if not naïve.

This solicitous care for nurturing a benevolent image for Uncle Ho is extended to the ICP leadership more generally on page 497, describing a time in late 1946: “The most senior members of the ICP did not believe in proletarian dictatorship for Vietnam any time soon.” The twice-repeated “any time soon” formula lacks clarity.

On the next page (p. 498), Marr goes even further to say “Before 1945, the ICP might be compared with the very early Christian church, constantly under threat, necessarily clandestine.” This remarkable “might be” comparison reveals a neglect of the ICP’s international connections and both actual and potential sources of external support, something unavailable to “the very early Christian church.” Where Marr is going with his comparison, his suggestion, his doubt, his any-time-soon becomes apparent at the end of the paragraph: “Along the way, Truong Chinh became a separate pole of power from President Ho Chi Minh” (p. 498). What this actually means is vague, but it strongly implies that Truong Chinh was as much or more in the driver’s seat of the state as was Ho Chi Minh and thus shared or even bore most responsibility for unsavory aspects of the Vietnamese revolutionary path. The idea of Truong Chinh being the scapegoat taking away any possible sins that might accrue to Uncle Ho is not new, but it has yet to be proven and Marr provides no evidence for it, being content to simply say that it is something that happened “along the way.” Without evidence it can be no more than an effort to keep a clean slate for Uncle Ho.

On page 533, Marr makes an important and revealing statement in reference to DRV calculations of literacy instruction in 1946: “This sort of pseudo-scientific precision with big numbers became common in the DRV, sometimes making it impossible for decision makers to distinguish wish from reality.” Here, the archivist’s suspicion of big precise numbers opens a small ray of light upon dissonance between the wishes of his many Vietnamese and the reality they inhabited. Yet, the vague plural expression “decision makers,” given the context of the book, allows Marr to spread responsibility for the unrealistic policies, the murders, and the acts of injustice committed by revolutionaries, to all levels of decision-making, down to the local self-appointed operatives who were out of the ICP’s control. Marr does not shy away from the bloody-mindedness of many who followed the revolution, but he implies that it still represented a more legitimate “Vietnam” than any other that he can imagine.

Nevertheless, this is a good book, full of information to delight specialists of modern Vietnamese history. Marr’s work during the past half-century has transformed the study of Vietnamese history, showing that the Vietnamese have participated in the modern world with the full force of their aspirations for betterment. His years spent in the archives have not been in vain. His books are a great benefit for other scholars, and this book brings us into the details of government activity in the DRV during 1945 and 1946 as no other scholar has been able to do.

Keith W. Taylor
Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University