Daily Archives: August 29, 2015

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Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Mario I. LÓPEZ

Born Out of Place: Migrant Mothers and the Politics of International Labor
Nicole Constable
Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014, xvii+259p.

Scholars have theoretically couched late twentieth century and early twenty-first century human migration in terms of metaphors that invoke global fluidity, risk, uncertainty, and the dismantling of previous forms of social relations. Migrants, many of whom remain nameless, are often vilified, lambasted, and treated as second-class citizens along with their children. The label “migrant” often denotes persons who come from outside the body politic and it simultaneously provokes societies to demonize foreignness, associating it with contamination, risk, and anxiety. In Southeast Asia, both the Philippines and Indonesia, have intense histories of migration within the region (and beyond it) to cater to the need for flexible workers. Both nations have sent nurses, care workers, nannies, and domestic workers to Taiwan (Lan 2006), the U.S. (Rodriguez 2010), Europe, and other parts of the world where labor is required to fill gaps in the workforce. Nicole Constable’s book provides a timely addition to the literature on migrants workers living overseas. It offers a very welcome and sensitive ethnography based on her many years of fieldwork in Hong Kong (HK) complimenting other recent ethnographic works that have been carried out (Matthews 2011; Knowles and Harper 2009). It focuses on migrant workers’ everyday experiences and importantly, draws out not only the voices of migrant mothers and men, but also those of the children, an often-neglected group in migration literature.

The book focuses on three issues. Firstly, temporary workers to HK enter as workers (both in regards to their contracts and the obligations placed upon them by states, brokers, and other institutions) but they are never only workers. Secondly, legal frameworks, laws, and policies implemented to regulate, control, and manage migrants movement often fail in their aims. And thirdly migrants, especially those who are single mothers, enter into a migratory cycle of atonement, a “self-perpetuating, precarious pattern of migration that is often the only route to escape the shame that single motherhood brings to them and their families” (p. xiii). In effect, Constable questions the very heart of the system that controls migrant’s movement and aims to critique current policies in not just HK, but in other regions of the world where similar policies are in place.

Chapter one, “A very tiny problem,” presents the overall thesis of the book and takes a sensitive gendered approach toward the issue of migrant mothers in HK, their reasons to overstay and the implications of doing so. Predominately (but not exclusively) focusing on mothers who work in HK and give birth to children “overseas” as opposed to those who are “left behind,” Constable locates some of their experiences in “zones of social abandonment” while reminding us of the plethora of distinctions that are used to categorize migrant workers. Modifying Giorgio Agamben’s notion of “bare life,” an effect of state power that strips life of any political significance and curtails it, Constable problematizes clear-cut distinctions to scrutinize the ambiguities of the position of migrants in HK. Chapter two, “Ethnography and everyday life” offers an overview of the book’s ethnographic approach interweaving both methodology and interviews with migrant women in HK, an approach that continues throughout the book. This is done by contextualizing her approach within two dominant streams in migration studies: one that looks at exploitation and abuse of migrant workers and another that focuses on migration as a resource (p. 23). Constable takes the approach of an engaged humanist (p. 24) with an open agenda to contribute to discussions on social justice for migrant workers. She also emphasizes that she was not a “detached interviewer” (p. 55); as a feminist-ethnographer-activist she juxtaposes the creative ways in which migrants work within and utilize the structures that oppress them as well as the risks they face such as giving birth, illegal abortions, rape, sex work, and domestic violence.

Both chapters three and four ethnographically engage with the experiences of male and female migrants. Through a combined reading, the strengths of these two chapters present a complicated ecology of migrant life and preoccupations in HK. An underlying current in these chapters is a critique of those policies and employment practices in both sending and receiving nations which promote overstaying and illegality, with brokers and state agencies regulating, restricting, or corralling the movement of migrant workers as an expendable and cheaply employable underclass. These structural state sponsored practices weigh down on everyday life choices and the strategies that migrants employ when forced to commit illegality.1) What these two chapters underscore is how residence in HK is structured by the outsourcing of domesticity as a rising Chinese middle-class relies on migrants for the gendered roles of caring for children, elderly, and household chores. Yet simultaneously, we are reminded of the unpredictable consequences of globalization that brings together people from different regions with their histories and trajectories tied to the city’s colonial past. Interestingly, Constable also draws our attention to men’s subjectivities and discusses “trading up”; how they move from relationships with foreign domestic workers (FDWs) to those with HK residents who ultimately offer them the opportunity to legally legitimize residency through marriage. This extends our understanding of Constable’s previous work on upward female marriage mobility (global hypergamy) and asks for more research to be done on how men strategically “marry up” to legitimize their residence: negotiating their way from precarity to privilege.

Chapter five deals with the intimate politics of sex and babies. HK functions as a liminal space where social rules and expectations that are familiar to FDWs in their home countries become restructured by their needs, those of their employers, their partners, and the legal structures that they confront. It offers penetrating insights into how women’s sense of agency changes as they negotiate the ways in which their morals are challenged overseas; how sexual norms are relaxed and enforced (in particular by religious teachings); how reputation, ideas of chastity, condom use, and abortions are understood and experienced; and how these are policed. Maternity provisions are legally in place for migrant workers yet the whole system is geared toward managing and disciplining migrant workers through pregnancy tests and contractual agreements to not get pregnant with the constant fear of dismissal (p. 143). Constable drives home the pressures that are placed on women from the conflicting messages they receive both in HK and from their countries of origin. The very conditions they are expected to obey literally inscribe themselves into everyday practices resulting in women strategically creating viable solutions under conditions of duress. The concluding section of chapter five is vividly painful as Constable shares a personal story of one Indonesian migrant worker who miscarries on a toilet and is taken to hospital. Her home was treated as a “crime scene.” A doctor insists it is an “abortion” until blood and urine tests are taken to confirm no abortive drugs were used; an ambulance attendant (male) consoles her, saying she will have more children as she is “beautiful” (p. 153). Agambem’s notion of bare life is driven home when some migrants who work in HK are inscribed by a logic of control over their bodies and the attitudes of others towards them as second class temporary laborers.

Chapter six deals with citizenship, the system of visas and the legal means by which female migrants pursue claims to right of abode whereas chapter seven homes in on the precarious conditions of asylum seekers and over stayers. Drawing out the implications of the ways in which the law can regulate stay in HK, Constable highlights the complexity of how the law is applied to FDWs. Migrants can normalize their statuses through marriage to a HK resident however, this option is not available to the majority. Many overstay and apply for asylum or file torture claims. As such migrants’ status varies from the most to least privileged in terms of resident status (p. 157). What Constable does make clear is that the law is wielded as a tool of the state to enforce, regulate, and patrol the status of migrant workers. Workers are perceived as contractually based short-term laborers who are, at every legal turn, excluded or dissuaded from becoming “legitimized” HK long-term residents. This dissuasion is also bolstered by the state determining the very constitution of the family as an individual unit and then as a part of the broader body politic in the territory.2) Although there have been challenges at the highest level to legitimize the status of FDWs with some successes, the general consensus has been to legally justify exclusion and draw lines over who has the right to be part of the body politic.3) Chapter seven focuses on how migrants pursue stay in HK through refugee and torture claims as asylum seekers. In particular, the chapter shows how making claims operates as a way to buy time as a repertoire of practices to extend stay in HK. By focusing on the range of choices and tactics—both legal and economic—used to extend time, this chapter illustrates “the spectrum of skill” (p. 193) that migrants have at their disposal. These include applying their knowledge of the law to pursue paternity claims (and the possible of entitlement to residency and child maintenance) (p. 212), ways of making/saving money during periods where claims are being processed, or by overstaying.

The final chapter comes back to the beginning to pull together the threads that link to the “migratory cycle of atonement,” following up on women who had returned to their respective countries. It offers by way of conclusion a critique of how migrant worker’s lives are tied to laws, policies, enactments, and provisions that curtail their freedoms and opportunities. These policies are in HK’s case especially harsh. Upward class mobility in HK—and in other parts of the region—has meant that many aspects of “traditional” labor are outsourced. Yet, it is not just migrants but their children and families back home who bear the brunt of the modern exclusionary and regulatory force of discrimination. This compels migrants to use their wits, skills, and tactics in an every day modern battlefield that is concealed at the heart of modern day migration.

HK is faced with the dilemma of a low fertility rate and anticipated labor shortages yet outsiders, particular those from surrounding Asian countries, remain outsiders. Constable has shown an ethnographer’s commitment and passion to draw out migrant’s precarity and the strategies they employ in tackling a system stacked up against them. However, there is a minor concern. One is a lack of focus on migrant’s relationship to their religious traditions. The book primarily focuses on Filipinas and Indonesian migrant workers. Both Islam and Roman Catholicism espouse different levels of religious education from the family through to religious institutions. This book would have merited more from threading in the different ways both Islam and Roman Catholicism are perceived at an everyday level in migrant’s lives. How do ideas of piousness and chastity, sexual religious identities, and attitudes towards contraception and birth outside of wedlock change overseas? What pressure do religious institutions exert on migrants and how do their internal understandings play out in their everyday life? In what ways does a “modern” and “cosmopolitan” HK free women or reorient their religious selves? Bearing down on these questions would have fleshed out the undercurrent that flows through the chapters. Aside from this minor weakness, the complex narratives along with discerning analysis mean that scholars will benefit from this detailed case study to see how states manage the fault lines of twenty-first century migration and how migrants live out their lives along them.

Mario I. López


Knowles, Caroline; and Harper, Douglas. 2009. Hong Kong: Migrant Lives, Landscapes, and Journeys. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lan, Pei-Chia. 2006. Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan. Durham: Duke University Press.

Matthews, Gordon. 2011. Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rodriguez, Robyn Magalit. 2010. Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

1) Since 1987, the new conditions of stay, known as the “two-week rule” mean that on termination of a contract, domestic workers have to return home if they have not found alternative employment. This inevitability forces some workers to overstay therefore become illegal migrants.

2) Exclusion and dissuasion also extends to Mainland Chinese who are also discriminated against on a different level.

3) See for example the cases of Evangeline Banao Vallejos and Daniel and Irene Raboy Domingo vs Commissioner of Registration to secure right of abode (see Constable pp. 173–178).


Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Richard T. CHU

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and beyond the Philippines
Caroline S. Hau
Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2014, ix+379p.

Close observers of Philippine politics and society might have recently come across two newsworthy stories of the year 2014: One was Forbes magazine’s list of the 50 richest Filipinos (Brown 2014). A cursory look at the list would reveal that at least half of the individuals listed are Filipinos of Chinese or mixed Chinese descent. Another is a major daily newspaper’s ranking of China “bullying” the Philippines over the disputed reefs in the “West Philippine Sea” (from the vantage point of the Philippines; “South China Seas” for China) as the second most “raging” event of the year (Inquirer.net 2014). As an ethnic minority in the Philippines, the Chinese in the Philippines have not been subjected—at least in the last half-century—to the same pogrom that the Chinese in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia have experienced, especially those in Malaysia and Indonesia. Nevertheless, their ubiquity in Philippine society, especially in their participation in the Philippine economy, makes them vulnerable to the vicissitudes of geo-political or domestic/regional politics. As tensions between the Philippines and China rise over the ownership of the reefs, the Chinese in the Philippines have been accused of showing more loyalty to China than the Philippines. While many Chinese in the Philippines are already Filipino citizens, or have lived in the country for several generations, they are still seen by many Filipinos as an “Other.” Caroline Hau’s The Chinese Question could not have come at a better time when contemporary issues regarding the ethnic relations between the Chinese in the Philippines and the Filipinos, as well as the political and economic relationship between the Philippines and China are being strained due to the political tension over the Scarborough Shoal. Its publication provides readers with an alternative perspective to the Chinese question in the Philippines and in the region.

Through a close reading of “texts” (e.g. films, novels), the book seeks to analyze how the ethnic signifiers “Chinese” and “Chinese mestizo” (and in a related manner, “Filipino”) have changed since Philippine independence in 1946; how different actors engaged in the construction or reinvention of such terms; and what geopolitical events, local conditions, and other factors helped shape the discourses surrounding the “Chinese [and Chinese mestizo] question.”

Chapter One focuses on the 1950s, and describes the conundrum by which people of mixed Chinese-Filipino heritage, known as Chinese mestizos, faced vis-à-vis the citizenship policy of the Philippines, a policy based on the principle of using “blood” to determine national belonging (jus sanguinis). Since the Americans colonized the Philippines in the late nineteenth century, the Spanish colonial ethno-legal category of (Chinese) “mestizo” had disappeared. With the construction in the twentieth century of hardened boundaries between who was considered “Filipino” and who was “Chinese,” Chinese mestizos found themselves having to negotiate their bicultural identifications. This can be seen in the characters of the novel The Sultanate, particularly in the Chinese mestizo Ric, who, in wanting to prove his loyalty to the Philippines, acts as an informer of Chinese communists. However, because of his “mestizoness,” he can never earn the trust of either other Chinese (who think that he is betraying his own people) or Filipinos (who think Ric is not Filipino). Despite this, the characters still choose to give their loyalty to a country that continues to treat them as an “Other.” Ultimately then, the novel “seeks to define citizenship in ways that go beyond the ascriptive, involuntary aspects of membership in a national community by birth or blood” (p. 85).

As an ally of the “free” world in the 1950s, the Philippines participated in containing communism in Asia. The celebrated case of the arrest and deportation of the Yuyitung brothers, suspected of being communists, opens Chapter Two. During the Cold War era, the question of most countries with a sizable number of Chinese, including the Philippines, was how to protect its citizens from the communist “threat.” But in the 1970s, the relationship of these countries with China thawed. Furthermore, these countries began to view the “Chinese” not as a threat. Their “Chinese question” turned to how to integrate the Chinese into the national polity, i.e., allowing people of different “cultural” backgrounds to live together in one state without losing the uniqueness of each group. In the Philippines, Marcos implemented the mass naturalization law in 1975, allowing the Chinese to finally become citizens. Hence, movies like Dragnet and Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? (This is How We Were, How Are You Doing Now?) portray the Chinese in a more positive light, veering away from earlier movies that tend to associate the Chinese characters with greed and corruption. However, the image of the Chinese “as alien and capitalist” persists in the “Filipino nationalist imagination” (p. 128), as can be seen in Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Light). This is the conundrum that has always faced the Chinese in the Philippines (as well as in other countries): the association of the Chinese with capital.

Hau examines the conflation of (Chinese) ethnicity and class in the Philippines by focusing on the spate of kidnappings that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Chapter Three discusses how the kidnappings enforce the stereotype that the Chinese are wealthy people. Historically, the Philippine government has treated the Chinese as a form of commodity. For instance, it has made acquiring citizenship difficult, charging the Chinese exorbitant fees to acquire it. As a result, the connection between the Chinese and money is reinforced. How the kidnappings highlight this tension between citizenship, class, and ethnicity can be seen in Charlson Ong’s fictional story of a Chinese family whose daughter died during a botched attempt to rescue her from her kidnappers. Civic organizations such as Kaisa para sa Kaunlaran, whose membership consists mostly of Chinese Filipinos, use the logic of citizenship to advocate justice for the “Chinese” kidnap victims. However, Kaisa faces the challenge of dealing with this issue without appearing to be only interested in protecting the “Chinese” (p. 159). Hau argues that a political solution to the kidnaping menace may not be effective unless it is a call to obtain justice for everyone, including Filipinos.

Chapter Four covers the period from World War II to the present, and deals with the “revolutionary cosmopolitanism” of Chinese communists. It analyzes how this kind of cosmopolitanism forces us to rethink notions of nation-ness and national belonging; and how Chinese leftist groups such as the Wha Chi were fitted either within a “nationalist narrative of liberation and/or socialist-regional narrative of amity and cooperation” (p. 179). Specifically, the chapter focuses on guiqiao (returned “overseas Chinese”) authors Du Ai and his partner Lin Bin; the anti-Japanese guerilla organization in the Philippines, the Wha Chi; and Du Ai’s novel memorializing the experiences of the Wha Chi. Du Ai’s novel Fengyu Taipingyang (Pacific Storms), although partly autobiographic, points to “a degree of interdependence and intimacy between Wha Chi guerrillas and their Filipino counterparts that is unequaled by any existing account of Chinese-Philippine relations” (p. 185). The novel includes interactions of members of the movement with communists from China, Russia, and countries from Southeast Asia, suggesting an alternative to the nation-based notion of “community” (as constituting members with a common “origin”), to a one that is based on a common destiny, though such membership, consisting of a heterogeneous group of people and created through the bonds of shared lives and experiences, also runs the risks of “betrayal and rejection” (pp. 189–190). Such “revolutionary cosmopolitanism” as exhibited by the characters in the novel “highlights the fact that nationalism is not always or necessarily about boundedness, exclusivity, rivalry, and enmity, but possesses the capacity for openness, linkages, dialogue, bridges, networks, mutuality, reciprocity, complementarity, and friendship” (p. 198). And yet, we see that even the Wha Chi guerillas are constantly being re-imagined by different actors, including the Philippine government, which, in its national goal of integrating the Chinese within the national polity, issued stamps in 1992 featuring different guerilla groups in World War II, including the Wha Chi. Hau points out that many members of the Wha Chi were in fact, non-Filipino citizens.

The next chapter segues into a discussion of the “Chinese question” in the last three decades. In this chapter, Hau demonstrates how a “regional” approach to the study of the Chinese complicates notions of “Chineseness” often couched in “national” and territorially-bound terms. Focusing on the popularity of Chinese-character driven movies in the Philippines (the Mano Po movies, Crying Ladies) and other similar movies or television shows in Southeast Asia, the chapter shows how the “Chinese question” is better understood within the “specific geopolitical, social, economic, and cultural configurations that have taken root within the historical context of nation-building, capitalist transformation, and the American-mediated regional system in Asia” (p. 241). Such configurations include the rise of China as a regional (and global) power and the success stories of “tiger” economies in East/Southeast Asia (at least until the Asian financial crisis of 1997), and nationalist efforts (supported by some members of the academia) to attribute the success of these economies to “Chinese/Confucian” values and other “Chinese” characteristics. Hence, the movie producers or scriptwriters of such shows tap into such discourses and capitalize the Chinese’ regional connections as well as “ethnicity” to forward their own integrationist agenda. For instance, the first Mano Po movie plays on the Tsinoy (referring to Chinese Filipinos) identities of the characters to demonstrate that due to their hybridity of being both “Tsino” (Chinese) and “Pinoy” (Filipino), Tsinoys are constitutively part of Filipino society, identity, and culture, and that their loyalties lie with the Philippines. Vera, the main character of the movie, decides to stay in the Philippines and not migrate to another country even after her family went through the personal tragedy of a family member being kidnapped. But despite some “success” in attempts by certain sectors in Philippine society to push for the integrationist agenda when it comes to the Philippines’ “Chinese question,” the continuing economic inequality and social injustices in the country, coupled with the consistent association of the Chinese with capital, complicate such efforts.

Chapter Six deals with how “families” highlight the complexity and challenges of identity construction or reinvention within the socio-economic and political context of the nation and region. As China becomes a global power, to be “Chinese” presently carries a degree of social status, leading some elite creolized families in Southeast Asia—including those in the Philippines—to reclaim Chineseness in their heritage. Intermarriages between Chinese and natives are also becoming more commonplace. However, in the Philippines, the increasing blurring of boundaries between what is “Filipino” and what is “Chinese” carries with it some problems. For instance, many Chinese elite families still practice endogamy (p. 259), thereby maintaining the boundaries between the Chinese and the Filipinos. Furthermore, the increased interaction between Chinese elites in the Philippines and those in China or elsewhere, whether through business or personal ties, can be “fraught with ambivalence,” since such couplings have sometimes resulted in political scandals involving graft and corruption (p. 263). Finally, “Chinese” families continue to experience discrimination and injustices, despite having become “Filipino” by citizenship. Such “fraught relationship between family and nation” is explored in Charlson Ong’s Embarrassment of Riches, where the main protagonist Jeffrey, a Chinese mestizo who grew up in an outpost of the Philippines named Victorianas, ends up in exile in the Philippines. However, despite being denied citizenship, Jeffrey continues to profess loyalty to the Philippines. Hence, the novel also “asks Filipino readers to experience what it would be like to learn to love a place where one ‘lives’, even when one is unwanted,” an experience, in the age of “large-scale Filipino international migration . . . is no longer unimaginable, but rather, commonplace for Chinese and Filipinos alike” (p. 278).

In the concluding chapter, Hau challenges the ideal of “China” as the site of “Chinese” identification, for she demonstrates that in the last century or so, notions of “racial nationalism” espoused by Chinese nationalists have been influenced by Japanese and British ideas. Furthermore, other countries have invented their own concepts of “Chineseness” from within and/or from the region other than China. Even within China itself, “centripetal” and “centrifugal” forces continue to “territorializ(e) and de/reterritorializ(e) China and Chineseness” (p. 309). The contestations of what it means to be “Chinese” can be seen in the two “Chinese” movies Hero and 2046. In Hero, the movie producers attempt to “reterritorialize” Chineseness by casting famous Chinese actors from different countries to appear in the movie and speak Mandarin even while this is not the actors’ first language. On the other hand, in 2046, the characters spoke in different languages to each other, thus “decentering” Mandarin (and by extension, China) as the locus of “Chinese” identification. Hau sums up the chapter, and the whole book, by reiterating the aim of the book, i.e., to point to the reader how the “Chinese Question” can be more broadly understood by analyzing not only attempts by dominant groups to reterritorialize and deterritorialize “China” and “Chineseness” to localize the Chinese and their descendants, but also the efforts of the latter to negotiate the efforts of the former in order to “claim, and base their actions on, commonalities and/or differences with Southeast Asians, other ‘Chinese’, and others” (p. 315).

Astutely and incisively written, Hau’s The Chinese Question indeed raises important questions. Among these are: How can the Chinese in the Philippines find “acceptance” in the Philippines? How do Filipinos perceive the Chinese Filipinos vis-à-vis China’s “bullying” tactics in relation to the Scarborough Shoal? How does one treat the “Chinese question” in the Philippines without resorting to a narrow sense of nationalism? But more importantly, the book poses the question to its readers: How does hegemony work within the specific context of the Philippines and the East Asian/Southeast Asian region and in relation to the “Chinese question”? Not one to condone instances of injustices or oppression, both inflicted by others upon the Chinese and by the Chinese upon others, including other Chinese, the author, however, does not propose to offer neat and pat solutions to the questions she raises. Instead, she challenges the reader to understand the “processes” by which “China” and “Chineseness” are constructed/reconstructed, invented/reinvented, negotiated/renegotiated by different actors, and what “capacities, effects, possibilities, and limits structure these processes” as well as the lives of the Chinese and their descendants (p. 315). Hau’s magnificent work grants agency to historical actors and offers its readers a “template” (one that examines the interplay of “ethnicity,” “nation,” and “region”) with which to approach the “Chinese question,” especially in the Philippines—an approach that understands and questions power, fights it when it engenders injustice and oppression, accords respect to differences, and continues to engage it through theoria and praxis. Moreover, Hau’s work is unique from other influential studies on the “Chinese question” (e.g. McKeown 2001; Ong and Nonini 1997; Siu 2005) on two counts. First, geographically, it focuses specifically on the Philippines and East/Southeast Asia, an important area in the field of Chinese diasporic studies that merits further scholarly attention. Second, by demonstrating how China’s own “Chinese question” is being contested and negotiated, and influenced by “non-Chinese” and other nations in the region, it brings the “Chinese question” to a level that does not privilege “China” and marks it solely as the locus of “Chinese” identification. While, as the author points out, such approaches are not novel, the contribution of the book lies in identifying what “patterns of difference” are “historically identified and lived as ‘Chinese’ in China, Southeast Asia, and beyond” (p. 312), that would help explain, for instance, how and why the Chinese in the Philippines (and in the region) have been historically identified with capital, and how they would respond (in different ways) to the dispute in Scarborough Shoal.

As an academic book, The Chinese Question is pathbreaking. As a political work, it is radical.

Richard T. Chu
Department of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Brown, Abram. 2014. Philippines’ 50 Richest. Forbes, August 27, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/philippines-billionaires/ (accessed February 9, 2015).

Inquirer.net. 2014. Inquirer #BestOfSeven 2014 Yearend Special. December 27, 2014, http://www.inquirer.net/west-philippine-sea/articles?nav=659578&chan=10 (accessed February 9, 2015).

McKeown, Adam. 2001. Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change: Peru, Chicago, Hawaii, 1900–1936. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Ong, Aihwa; and Nonini, Donald Macon, eds. 1997. Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism. London and New York: Routledge.

Siu, Lok C. D. 2005. Memories of a Future Home: Diasporic Citizenship of Chinese in Panama. Stanford: Stanford University Press.



Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years
Susan F. Quimpo and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo
Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2012, 468p.

In recent years, there have been a number of publications which reflect on the troubled history of the Philippines during the Marcos years, a period from 1965–86 characterized as a fascist dictatorial revolution presumed to emanate from the center. It was contested by rebellious movements from the Marxist-influenced Left and Moro secessionism and a traditional reformist elite displaced by a different patronage politics of supporting national leaders in exchange for exclusive business contracts, unrestrained local dominion, and nepotistic appointments to government positions (see de Dios et al. 1988). While writings published in the years immediately after the downfall of Marcos sprang from journalistic coverage and generally focused on the political, socio-economic, and religious state of the nation (Allarey-Mercado 1986; Project 28 Days 1986; Burton 1989; de Dios et al. 1988; Thompson 1996), books released in the last several years have dealt with the more personal dimensions of the anti-Marcos struggle. They share individual political involvement (Segovia 2008; Vizmanos 2003; Abreu 2009), gather thought-provoking perspectives on the experiences of activists during those tumultuous times (Llanes 2012; Maglipon 2012), and creatively reflect on those experiences (Cimatu and Tolentino 2010). Such works are much needed contributions to creating a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the period. Subversive Lives offers different insights in considering the state and revolution of the time. Written by an unusual brood of activist children, it is a collective familial take on the profound changes which the “larger” realms of society and politics have wrought on a family. The book views governmental authoritarianism and the social revolution it kindled through the collective eyes of the Quimpos, a middle-class family based in Metro Manila who struggled against an iniquitous social order and, eventually, the alternatives to it.

The memoir begins by sharing the family life of the Quimpos. Although scions of relatively wealthy and ilustrado (enlightened, i.e. educated) background, Ishmael de los Reyes Quimpo and Esperanza Evangelista Ferrer moved down to the middle class and labored hard to give a comfortable life for their kids. Because of Ishmael’s transfer of job assignment and crucial medical attention to one polio-stricken son, the Quimpos had to move from Iloilo province in the central Philippines to the capital, Manila, and there raise all 10 of their kids (Lys, Norman, Emilie, Caren, Lillian, Nathan, Jan, Ryan, Jun, and Susan), vowing to provide them with the best education available. At first, the children became involved in organizations that actively addressed social ills, reform-inspired student councils, and Catholic organizations. Later on, they became involved with revolution-oriented social movements. One by one, 7 of the 10 became activists, leading them to become distant from their strict and conflict-averse family. They hid their involvement from their parents to no avail.

As a first-hand account of their engagements in social transformation, the anthology is remarkable in sharing the intense personal crises each of the siblings experienced as they wrestled with personal ambitions and guilt over their parents’ sacrifices in order to give them a much better life. They were not only turning against the status quo in Philippine society, but also the deeply-entrenched traditionalist values of their families. One may also ask whether the children’s progressive and revolutionary stances which impelled them to commit to radical work were also not a creation of their parents’ hard work—honesty, fairness, and diligence inculcated inside the home and service to others learned in school. The memoir also highlights the postwar phenomenon of the “boom generation” of youngsters who had better lives than what their parents enjoyed, who benefited from an expanding educational system, and were exposed to decolonization and subaltern struggles (See Gitlin 2003). Furthermore, the “novelty” of radical student movements beckoned the youth to wage transformative struggles that unavoidably put them on a collision course with their parents.

Readers unfamiliar with Philippine radical history will benefit from seeing how individual personal narratives track the contours of the national democratic revolutionary movement that, by the 1980s, had grown into the single most formidable enemy of the dictatorship. We observe how the movement benefited from, even as it developed, the personal capacities of its members in “the parliament of the streets,” among farmers in the countryside, students and workers in urban areas, and the cultural field of literary and artistic productions. Nathan played a role in the party’s controversial project of procuring arms from China, led political-military campaigns in the country’s second largest island, and entered the arena of complicated international liaison work. Ryan helped in organizing farmers in the Bicol region and went into overseas revolutionary work in France. Norman participated in work among the religious. There are many details that appear trivial but are nonetheless deeply moving. Emilie and Susan’s efforts to reclaim the body of their brother Jun who was killed by a comrade resisting disciplinary actions tell of bureaucratic red tape and military cover-up of a heinous crime. Nathan’s prison experience shows the dignified campaign of captive revolutionaries even in isolation. The romance between Jun and his wife Tina is recollected through love letters in the rebel zones, revealing with sympathy the convolutions of the deeply personal and the ruggedly political dimensions of revolutionary commitment, such as the predicaments of choosing whether to work in the city or countryside and the pains of being separated from families and partners. Songs, poems, and photographs render palpable the intimacy of real people waging real struggles to change their realities. They also reveal new forms of human associations, transcending kith and kin, which revolutionaries imagine and create. Newspaper clippings highlight the extent to which the movement had inserted itself into the national body politic, with its amazing military, political, and social operations. All of these primary sources tell profound transformations in both person and society more than what sources can ever inform.

We also see how the authors have redefined their commitment as their different communist organizations encountered new challenges and suffered grievous setbacks in many campaigns. Ryan shares his disagreement with the party leadership over relations with other strains of the global Left and the general conduct of international work. Nathan discloses the intense argument over the movement’s participation or boycott of the 1986 snap presidential elections when the crisis of the Marcos dictatorship was at its most acute point. He also battles with comrades over the contentious political-military campaigns characterized by massive welgang bayan (people’s strike) combined with audacious assassinations and large-scale rebel offensives. Susan was very vocal in questioning the party’s “lead role.” At the point where everything becomes too partisan for the reader’s comfort (if comfort is at all possible given the book’s subject) the student of history reading the lives of these activists arrives at a bind: who/what is “correct” and who/what is “wrong” in their debates on revolutionary ideologies and practices? And since there are authorial claims on proper ends of struggles, who was on the “right” side of history? The presumed reader is the general public, those who are interested in knowing the lives of those who fought the dictatorship but have yet to be recognized for their heroism. For activist readers, their judgment largely depends on present political involvement, on which side one is pursuing the struggle, sides and struggles whose validity and correctness are yet to be settled in the plural and continuing revolutions that are waged by contending protagonists. Lualhati Milan Abreu’s own memoir (2009) provides a critical counterpoint to the intense ideological and personal debates within the underground movement. The Quimpos’ and Abreu’s recollections of their experiences only show that such revolutionary past cannot be objectively recovered. Revolutionaries who waged war to change the objective conditions of society are precisely subjective beings whose memories of the revolution are far from being complete and definitive.

The collective autobiography raises a lot of serious questions on the relations of the individual, family, class, and even intellect to the state and revolution. A salient starting point for all of these questions is that they are ineluctably seen through a middle-class intellectual optic, significantly highlighting the impressive role of intellectuals in social transformation (not only interpreting the world but changing it, as famously said by Karl Marx). While it reminds us that no revolution will have a prospect of success without the intellectual class siding with—and leading—it, the memoir also forces us to realize how intellectuals can lose control of the revolution when the movement becomes popular (taking deep root among the non-intellectual masses and reaching the non-metropolitan ends of the archipelago) and generates its “organic intellectuals.” Should they now abhor the revolution that their prodigious intellectual and mass-organizing work helped to produce, similar to nineteenth century ilustrados who repudiated and denigrated the anticolonial revolution that their writings had solemnly formulated and prophesied? There is also the sense of superciliousness, stemming from the belief that their own moment in history, this “synchronization of individual time and historical time” (Aguilar et al. 2011, 131), was the time of revolution and everything that follows marks a “fall” from revolutionary esteem, pushing one (or all) of the authors to wonder why the youth of today still join the revolutionary armed struggle and “die young” (p. 453). Such martyrdom of youth exemplified by Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño is perhaps a reclaiming of not only an unfinished revolution but also an ongoing history and points to a struggle that far exceeds the hopes and errors of yesteryears. Failing to fulfill the “obliged affections” and “affective obligations” of the “family spirit” (Bourdieu 1998, 68) when they were at the height of their commitment, “retired subversives” return to this family when their revolutionary endeavors come to an end. A “teleological shelter, however frail, against the remorselessness of history” (Berger and Mohr 1982, 105), their family is still where their hearts are. Can it be that because communism wreaked havoc on conventional social formations such as the family, it has been proscribed from the official discourses of nationalism, in the sense that the Filipino nation is assumed to be composed of bourgeois, Roman Catholic, and patriarchal families? The specter of communism mercilessly haunts Philippine nationalism.

As the revolution is continually being waged, and questioned as it is being waged, the breadth of scope and depth of focus achieved by the Quimpos in this memoir set the standard for future biographies of socio-political involvement. The Quimpo siblings rightly call on other families to write their own memoirs. So now, other narratives need to be told; other closures ought to be reopened.

JPaul S. Manzanilla
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore


Abreu, Lualhati Milan. 2009. Agaw-dilim, Agaw-liwanag [Dusk/Nightfall]. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Aguilar, Filomeno; Hau, Caroline; Rafael, Vicente; and Tadem, Teresa. 2011. Benedict Anderson, Comparatively Speaking: On Area Studies, Theory, and “Gentlemanly” Polemics. Philippine Studies 59 (1): 107–139.

Allarey-Mercado, Monina. 1986. People Power: An Eyewitness History, the Philippine Revolution of 1986. Manila: James B. Reuter, S. J. Foundation.

Berger, John; and Mohr, Jean. 1982. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon Books.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. The Family Spirit. In Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, pp. 64–74. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Burton, Sandra. 1989. Impossible Dream: The Marcoses, the Aquinos, and the Unfinished Revolution. New York: Warner Books, Inc.

Cimatu, Frank; and Tolentino, Roland B., eds. 2010. Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies. Manila: Anvil Publishing.

de Dios, Aurora Javate; Daroy, Petronilo Bn.; and Kalaw-Tirol, Lorna, eds. 1988. Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power. Manila: Conspectus.

Gitlin, Todd. 2003. Letters to a Young Activist. New York: Basic Books.

Llanes, Ferdinand C., ed. 2012. Tibak Rising: Activism in the Days of Martial Law. Manila: Anvil Publishing.

Maglipon, Jo-Ann Q., ed. 2012. Not on Our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened, We Were There. Taguig City: LEADS-CEGP.

Project 28 Days. 1986. Bayan Ko! Images of the Philippine Revolt. Hong Kong: Project 28 Days, Ltd.

Segovia, Raul. 2008. Inside the Mass Movement: A Political Memoir. Manila: Anvil Publishing.

Thompson, Mark. 1996. The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines. Quezon City: New Day Publishers.

Vizmanos, Danilo P. 2003. Martial Law Diary and Other Papers. Quezon City: Ken Incorporated.


Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Michael D. PANTE

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Cars, Conduits, and Kampongs: The Modernization of the Indonesian City, 1920–1960
Freek Colombijn and Joost Coté, eds.
Leiden: Brill, 2015, 351p.

Cars, Conduits, and Kampongs: The Modernization of the Indonesian City, 1920–1960 is a commendable collection of essays that present modernization and the city not as ahistorical ideal-types but as dynamic concepts that changed as colonial cities became postcolonial urban nodes. The diachronic approach goes in tandem with the variations in the authors’ chosen urban areas, revealing that even within a single nation-state differences in perceptions of modernity exist. Nonetheless, comparability rather than divergence across space and continuity rather than rupture through time define this work.

Freek Colombijn and Joost Coté’s introductory essay, “Modernization of the Indonesian City, 1920–1960,” alerts readers to the book’s fresh insights about the relationship between technological advancements and modernization, especially in the context of a colonial city. They point to the necessity of considering the degree of novelty of an innovation and the varying responses among the colonized toward them. Of course in early-twentieth-century Indonesia, novelty often refers to the Western character of innovation and the values usually attached to it, such as progress, rationality, and science. Easily juxtaposed against this notion of modernity is the way of life of the colonized, best exemplified by the kampong, the “obvious antithesis to modernity” (p. 4). Colonizers almost always understood the kampong in terms of what it lacked—whether it was sanitation, order, housing—and consequently regarded Western technology as the necessary remedy. Previous studies on Western colonialism have already argued that such an understanding of technological diffusion provided the justification for social engineering projects that were ostensibly designed to uplift but eventually appropriated by the colonized. This book, however, takes this argument even further by extending the temporal scope so as to include Japanese colonialism, the Revolutionary period, and the early years of the Republic and showing that these drastic political changes were not enough to alter the urban landscape and modernization process that Dutch colonialism set in motion. Not only had bureaucrats of the postcolonial state “internalized the dream of modernization” (p. 9), but more importantly the reality of social boundaries and inequalities produced by modernity survived the end of colonialism.

To understand the logic behind this continuity one has to analyze the responses of the colonized toward technological innovation. The responses varied, but the editors stress the selectivity, rather than passivity, of ordinary city dwellers toward modernity. For Colombijn and Coté, conscious consumption was crucial in how Western-derived modernity persisted into the postcolonial period. The agency of the colonized enabled the “counter-colonial process of defining an alternative modernity, one that the subaltern residents of the cities could own. This alternative modernity did not reject the fundamental ingredients of modernity . . . but challenged the assumption of exclusive ownership” (p. 11). Save for the introduction, the chapters of the book are divided into three sections based on the type of responses from the colonized: 1) “State Impositions and Passive Acceptance”; 2) “Partial Accommodation”; and, 3) “Selective Appropriation.”

The three chapters in the first section “take a big picture approach, stretching their view across the twentieth century” (p. 16) to see how modernization played out in both colonial and postcolonial contexts. Saki Murakami’s “Call for Doctors! Uneven Medical Provision and the Modernization of State Health Care during the Decolonization of Indonesia, 1930s–1950s” looks at how the Sukarno administration, in its objective to present the republic as the total opposite of Dutch colonial rule, tried to support rural healthcare through more geographically dispersed assignments for doctors. Unfortunately, the program ended as a disaster due to the lack of manpower and the failure of the legislators to consider the complex demands of the medical profession. In “(Post)Colonial Pipes: Urban Water Supply in Colonial and Contemporary Jakarta” Michelle Kooy and Karen Bakker use a postcolonial framework to show the fragmented geography of Jakarta’s water supply. This fragmented geography is caused by the differences among the city’s population in terms of access, a situation that is rooted in the city’s colonial infrastructure and discourse, and sadly remains true to this day. The trajectory of colonial origins leading to postcolonial appropriation that is evident in the first two essays is also present in Pauline K. M. van Roosmalen’s “Netherlands Indies Town Planning: An Agent of Modernization (1905–1957).” The author looks at the increasing awareness of the Indonesian population to town planning concepts that originated from Dutch planners, facilitated by the actual implementation of urban plans and even mass media. Increased participation of non-Europeans in the planning process made town planning an agent of modernization.

The second section emphasizes local response and resistance more than the previous one, which focused on the top-down character of the innovation-reaction plot. The issues of housing and the kampongs set the common ground for this group of essays. Hans Versnel and Colombijn’s “Rückert and Hoesni Thamrin: Bureaucrat and Politician in Colonial Kampong Improvement” compares the careers of two colonial-era civil servants who were active in the kampong improvement campaign. Though one was the administrator type and the other more of a politician, their perspectives regarding the modern Indonesian city and the kampong question were remarkably similar. In “Kotabaru and the Housing Estate as Bulwark against the Indigenization of Colonial Java” Farabi Fakih traces the development of housing projects in Yogyakarta and how these estates helped mold the modern Javanese conceptualization of domestic space. Fakih then extends the narrative into the postcolonial era to illustrate how colonial-era notions have remained influential in residential patterns. Continuity of colonial knowledge is also the thesis of Radjimo Sastro Wijono’s “Public Housing in Semarang and the Modernization of Kampongs, 1930–1960.” Wijono’s assessment is unequivocal: “Consequently, in the process of decolonization, architecture and town planning in Indonesia, as elsewhere in South-East Asia, continued to be largely inspired by such Western models without any significant reference to national (traditional) architecture” (p. 173). Gustaaf Reerink goes deeper into the kampong question by focusing on the specific neighborhood of Taman Sari in Bandung, whose urbanization was largely a product of its relative autonomy from the state. Reerink’s essay, “From Autonomous Village to ‘Informal Slum’: Kampong Development and State Control in Bandung (1930–1960),” contends that neither the colonial nor the postcolonial state gained “effective control” over the kampongs of Bandung to subject the residents to their respective policies. Arjan Veering’s “Breaking the Boundaries: The Uniekampong and Modernization of Dock Labour In Tanjung Priok, Batavia (1917–1949)” foregrounds the Uniekampong in Tanjung Priok, a housing project for port workers living in less-than-ideal downtown kampongs, as a tool for colonial modernity to proletarianize the laborers. The plan did not work, however, because the laborers did not support to the endeavor as they tried to maintain having alternative sources of income through traditional cyclical migration.

The last section presents cases of “selective appropriation,” although the introductory chapter fails to elaborate on this phrase, which I think is a major reason why the overarching theme of this set seems the weakest among the three. Nonetheless, individually the final four essays in this section are just as insightful as the earlier ones. While the other chapters were not explicit in using class analysis, Johny A. Khusyairi and Colombijn’s “Moving at a Different Velocity: The Modernization of Transportation and Social Differentiation in Surabaya in the 1920s” is straightforward in stating that class has more analytical weight than ethnicity/race in understanding modernization, as reflected in the motorization of Surabaya’s transport system. In “The Two alun-alun of Malang (1930–1960),” Purnawan Basundoro presents Malang as a crucial case study due to the fact that it had two alun-alun, or town square, rather than just one. The meaning of Malang’s alun-alun underwent changes as Indonesia’s political landscape evolved through time, from Dutch colonialism to the period of independence. The importance of the oil industry as a symbol of modernity is the topic of Ida Liana Tanjung’s “The Indonesianization of the Symbols of Modernity in Plaju (Palembang), 1930s–1960s.” On the one hand, oil made Plaju a modern town, not to mention a signifier of European economic might, because of the facilities built for its extraction. On the other hand, Plaju’s isolation from the constellation of Indonesian cities (it is worth mentioning that Plaju is the only city outside of Java that is tackled in this book) delayed the process of Indonesianization in this town after 1945. Finally, Sarkawi B. Husain’s “Chinese Cemeteries as a Symbol of Sacred Space: Control, Conflict, and Negotiation in Surabaya” presents the precarious state of Chinese cemeteries in Surabaya vis-à-vis the pressure of modernization. While the postcolonial state viewed the cemeteries as anathema to its version of modernity, Surabaya’s rapidly growing urban population, as evinced by the increasing number of cases of informal settlers encroaching on cemetery spaces, exacerbated the pressure on urban space and the tensions among stakeholders fighting over it.

Ideally, in a multi-authored edited volume the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately certain weak points diminish the overall impact of the book. One of the book’s shortcomings is the lack of an adequate assessment of significant events and personalities that recur chapter after chapter. The introduction could have revisited the Ethical Policy, the colonial paradigm initiated in 1901 to supposedly promote the welfare of the colonized over the profit motive, or the lesser-known 1903 Decentralization Act, a law designed to encourage local autonomy and a clear offshoot of the Ethical Policy, to reappraise their significance in the formation of modern Indonesia given that these policies are constantly referenced in the individual essays. What about urban reformers like Thomas Karsten or H. F. Tillema or urban-based technocrats involved in healthcare, urban planning, and housing policies? The editors have missed a great opportunity to contribute to scholarship by expounding on the contributions of these personalities who are relegated to minor roles, if at all mentioned, in traditional historical accounts that privilege the nation-state. Another major weakness is the uneven quality of the chapters in terms of sticking to the theme. Not all essays followed the set temporal scope. For instance, in some essays the postcolonial period seems more of an afterthought (such as in Wijono’s) or even entirely neglected (such as in Khusyairi and Colombijn’s).

Nevertheless, the book is still laudable for forcing us to question the artificiality of boundaries separating the colonial and postcolonial periods, especially when dealing with urban history or even social history in general. Southeast Asianists stand to benefit from the new perspectives that the authors offer regarding how technology and society interact in colonial cities.

Michael D. Pante
Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University


Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Danny MARKS

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Living with Risk: Precarity and Bangkok’s Urban Poor
Tamaki Endo
Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2014, 360p.

Given the paucity of books and articles written about the day-to-day living of the poor and the informal economy in Bangkok, this book is a welcome addition. It offers readers a solid understanding of the contemporary urban lower class, revealing the homogeneity and stratification within this class. In particular, it investigates their daily survival strategies and responses to various risks, focusing on issues related to residence and occupation. It also examines whether upward mobility occurs within this group and what upward mobility means for members of this group.

The structure of the book makes it obvious that this book is Endo’s doctoral thesis. Consequently, the first chapter is her literature review. She discusses various useful topics related to the urban lower class, including the informal economy debate, frameworks to capture the internal structure of cities, the risk response processes of the urban lower class, the place and organization units of their strategy for survival, and the life course analysis method. While these topics themselves are interesting, the overall chapter is disjointed: there is no strong thread or broader argument tying the various topics together and it is not clear what gaps in the literature this book is addressing.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the Thai government’s policies toward the urban poor, particularly the development of slum-related policies. Endo’s main critique of these policies is that they are premised on a linear notion of modernization. As a result, they failed to address the needs of urban lower class. While the author briefly mentions the Community Organization Development Institute (CODI), a government agency seeking to help urban slum communities upgrade their communities, the chapter would have been stronger if she had discussed the merits and drawbacks of the organization’s slum-upgrading Baan Mankong project in this chapter. The project seeks to improve the financial capacity, social capital, and land tenure security of slum-dwellers.

In Chapter 3, Endo outlines her field survey and the case study communities. This chapter provides background information about their response to risks. Chapter 4 delves into the occupation dynamics of the case study communities. The author classifies their occupations, and then, using this data, sketches occupational profiles of the two communities. She finds not only that educational barriers unsurprisingly determine the range of occupational choices but also that each individual’s occupational profile is constructed historically, based on individual preferences and changing external conditions. Chapter 5 details day-to-day life in the communities, including the process of constructing housing, creation of living space, and the function of communities as residential spaces. It describes how individual residences have been transformed into residential spaces and jointly these spaces form communities.

Chapters 6 and 7 jointly investigate a fire in one community, looking at responses in terms of residence (Chapter 6) and occupation, particularly among the self-employed (Chapter 7). The response of the community challenged the notion that migrants will return to the rural communities or origin when faced with adversity or risks. Rather, they decided to recreate their community near their original site. The state’s poor management of the restoration process adversely affected the community, forcing them to stay long in shoddy, temporary housing. Chapter 7 shows that the fire severely hurt the livelihoods of self-employed workers, who lost their productions as well as the space they used to sell their goods. The fire hurt female workers and the elderly the most. Overall, many in the community were forced to enter a lower employment group and as a result, overall welfare standards dropped.

Chapter 8 analyzes female occupational paths and class disparities, focusing on the experiences of women in slum communities. From the late 1980s onward, many women were forced out of factories, particularly if they were middle-aged or the elderly. Many of them became self-employed and their type of self-employment depends on their resources and household conditions. It is clear from arguments made in previous chapters and this chapter that a large gender disparity exists in terms of occupational opportunities for women.

Overall, this book has a number of strengths. First, the empirical data is very thorough, well-classified, and detailed. The charts and tables in the book are easy to read and interpret. This clearly shows that the author has spent considerable time and energy in collecting and sorting through the data which should be useful to future researchers investigating similar issues. Second, the book does a good job of fulfilling one of its primary aims: showing disparities within the urban poor which have arisen due to a number of factors: gender, age, educational level, family conditions, and large macro-economic forces. It supports this argument by using both quantitative and qualitative data. The author colorfully recounts the life stories of some of the people she interviewed, especially in the book’s vignettes. Third, the book nicely captures how market forces push urban dwellers to live in areas at risk, such as after a fire. She uses data to show that rental price are high and so are land prices. Consequently, those whose houses were destroyed by the fire were forced to continue to live in slum areas. Last, the vignette, “Community Development: Conflict and Existing Realities” (pp. 184–190) is fascinating. Complimenting Elinoff’s work (2014), it reveals some additional insights into the problems of slum communities working with CODI’s Baan Mankong project, such as an overly heavy work burden placed upon a few individuals in the community, numerous project delays, inflexibility regarding payment schedules, and an insufficient number of CODI staff.

However, the book is not without its weaknesses. One glaring shortcoming is the poor quality of the writing. The book is littered with confusing or grammatically incorrect sentences such as “macroscopical tides of change have hit the work and living spaces of this urban lower class” (p. 6), and long-winding ones such as “Securing initial investment funds and acquiring skills are essential to entering a high productivity occupation, but the scale of resources available is determined naturally based on the limitations imposed by individual and household conditions” (p. 235).

Another problem is that while the book is filled with valuable nuggets of information and insights about the urban lower class, together the book has no coherent broader argument and does not clearly tie these nuggets and insights together to form a bigger picture of socio-economic dynamics within urban slum communities. The conclusion does not cohesively bring together the chapters and answer how these communities respond to risks. Further, the conclusion could have been strengthened by suggesting some policy implications that arise from the findings. Endo does a good job critiquing some of the Thai government’s policies affecting slum communities but disappointingly does not suggest anything new at the end. This suggestion is related to a broader critique of the book. It is unclear what the book is saying that is new to the literature that analyzes the urban lower class—scholars before have showed that disparity exists within this class. Also, the author does not answer the questions of what is unique about the lower class in Bangkok and whether one should expect to see similar trends worldwide or in Asia-Pacific.

In addition, while the author commendably seeks to gain a “more holistic understanding of the lives” of the urban lower class as well as their “encounters with risk and the risk response process” (p. 16), there seems to be gaps in the understanding presented in this book. First, how can this discussion be holistic if there is nothing mentioned of political tactics and strategies taken by the urban lower class? For example, in my own research, a restaurant owner in a slum community in Don Muang district in northern Bangkok has acquired the most amount of capital in the community in terms of housing and occupation and is resisting the implementation of the Baan Mankong project because he does not want to share his capital with those who have less than him. Further, the urban lower class has responded to risks through its choice of community, district, and national leaders in elections, protesting against floods, and its participation or lack thereof in Baan Mankong projects. Therefore a discussion of the political strategies these community members have undertaken would complement this research. Second, although this book was published in 2014, the author mentions that fires are one of the biggest risks to communities but fails to mention the 2011 floods which severely hurt the livelihoods of the urban poor in Bangkok (and led to deaths of many) and which, I would argue, were a bigger setback than the fires were. Last, the author presents only economic data but never asks the communities about their own perceptions of risk—perhaps fire and economic lay-offs are not the biggest risks. Some more ethnographic data therefore would have also strengthened her data.

Despite these shortcomings, this book is nonetheless a useful contribution to the literature on the urban lower class in Southeast Asia. It valuably shows the connection between residence and occupation and reveals the differences within the class and some of the drivers of these differences. I recommend it as a good introduction to those interested in learning more about the daily lives of the urban lower class and the dynamics of the informal economy in cities in Southeast Asia.

Danny Marks
School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney


Elinoff, Eli. 2014. Sufficient Citizens: Moderation and the Politics of Sustainable Development in Thailand. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 37(1): 89–108.


Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Meredith L. WEISS

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

Traditionalism and the Ascendancy of the Malay Ruling Class in Colonial Malaya
Donna J. Amoroso
Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre; Singapore: NUS Press, 2014, 276p.

The recently concluded November 2014 United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) General Assembly saw strident calls for other Malaysian communities to respect and honor the superior position of Malays and Islam in the country; for the unity of all Malays under UMNO, as their representative and protector; and for stronger safeguards to prevent slurs against Malaysia’s revered sultans. From the cheers (or virtual sighs of resignation) with which the press and public met these appeals, one might think such discourse had always been the norm in Malaysia. Yet as Donna Amoroso’s insightful study reveals, in fact, no part of the order UMNO leaders invoke is inevitable or even all that deep-rooted. Rather, the position of the sultans, the multiracial balance of population and power, and the relative prominence of UMNO itself reflect colonial patterns and anticolonial struggles more than age-old attributes of a unified Malay public.

Published, sadly, only posthumously, Amoroso’s convincing and readable Traditionalism and the Ascendancy of the Malay Ruling Class in Colonial Malaya takes us back to the early days of British colonialism, locating the roots of Malaysia’s fundamentally conservative political order in patterns of indirect rule. Amoroso details the British elevation of what she terms “traditionalism,” or “the conscious selection of appropriate ritual and idiom and the reconstruction of Malay culture along lines that were compatible with colonial rule” (p. 52). Traditionalism involved, on the one hand, the selective restoration of Malay culture and on the other, the creation of new norms and structures, to facilitate far-reaching changes. The result was both legitimation of British power and the aggrandizement of the Malay ruling class. Reified in the first key political transition, from Malay to British rule, then reaffirmed, with some adjustments, as colonial rule gave way to self-rule after World War II, the dominance of the Malay rulers over a presumed-feudalistic Malay populace has become iconic as a trope of Malay politics.

Amoroso begins where the conventional wisdom tends to assume the story starts: with depictions of Malays as “backwards” and “feudal,” needing and expecting, as former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad declared in his path-forging The Malay Dilemma, special assistance and paternalistic leaders. Such a formulation was as useful for Mahathir as it was for the British before him—and just as much a construction. Aiming both to disguise the extent of their intervention and to stabilize Malay society, while also economizing by working through preexisting structures, the British propped up a set of Malay rulers as heads of homogenized, territorially-fixed Malay states. The rulers enjoyed pomp and regular payments; the British gained the appearance of ruling with, rather than just through, these figures of “traditional” local authority as they consolidated their control through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A stratum of aristocratic “chiefs,” meanwhile, served to link the British with the people, enabling the former to gauge popular reactions to reforms proposed, as well as to ensure some level of continuity in local administration.

British ideas about the nature and function of government—in particular, norms of “good government,” defined largely in terms of opening the state to, and developing the legal and physical infrastructure to support, capitalism—concatenated with their concern for the “traditional,” including an orientalist vision of exotic rites and a conveniently deferential mass public. That pairing required a fairly uniform set of states, with a fairly standardized, mutually exclusive authority structure, premised on control of demarcated territory rather than just of manpower. Yet the colonial authorities’ aim was economic, political, and demographic transformation, extending to the importation of thousands of laborers from China and India, while preserving a Malay society that was “overwhelmingly rural, politically docile and deferential to traditional aristocracies and royalties” (p. 4). This pattern of indirect rule rendered the British the apparent guardian of Malay interests, not least against increasing numbers of resident non-Malay workers—despite the fact that the British were largely responsible for the presence of those others within Malay lands.

As independence came to seem imminent, both the rulers and the class of aristocratic administrators needed to take over that mantle of protector. Malay elites’ complicity with Japanese occupying forces during World War II left the British dubious of their reliability; however, the latter’s Malayan Union plan for self-government would grant liberal citizenship to the non-Malays who had been their wartime allies and essentially strip the Malay rulers of their authority. While the story of UMNO’s founding in the crucible of opposition to the Malayan Union is part of party lore, Amoroso’s detailing of the specific machinations of the rulers and the aristocracy—allied for strategic purposes, but differently positioned—and the ways in which the late colonial era shaped their conservatism sheds new light on a foundational period in Malaysian history.

This process of entrenchment and preservation of a fixed set of largely compliant rulers, undergirded by what Chandra Muzaffar has labeled “administocrats” (civil servants in the colonial government, turned founders and leading lights of UMNO) served to equate bangsa (ethnic group) with kebangsaan (nationalism): these elites self-servingly framed survival of the Malays in their own land as intertwined with the identity and supremacy of the Malay ruling class. The British kept the Malay masses poorly educated, apart from an elite stratum educated in English starting early in the twentieth century at the Malay College at Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), just enough to serve as the lowest (yet still socially prestigious) echelon of government. This layer complemented that of the rulers at the top, without being equipped to pose a challenge to the British district officers in the middle. Malay rulers deemed ill-suited to the new order, the British bought off with pensions; others, while still regarded as inferior in character and capacity to their British overlords, received a regular allowance that “recognised a recipient’s position in society and guaranteed his correct behaviour in political life,” thus serving “to foster active cooperation with British rule” (p. 42). In other words, the Malay ruling class lost real power with the advent of a colonial order, but gained status, wealth, and stability, celebrated through ceremonies and symbols. Meanwhile, the rulers’ perhaps unwitting role as “frontmen” for the colonial state (p. 97) effectively thwarted criticism of the British.

Even so, by the 1920s–30s, rising Malay literacy and a burgeoning press, urbanization and interaction across ethnic lines, increasingly active associational life, ties with counterparts in Indonesia and elsewhere, the disruption and dislocation of economic changes, and especially the Japanese interregnum threatened that balance. The very sense of the “Malay state” and “Malay people” crystallized during that late colonial period, in part through British action, and in part through the contest between UMNO and its more radical adversaries, especially in the Partai Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM, Malay Nationalist Party of Malaya). Critical voices argued that the rulers should be less self-absorbed and docile, and should instead play a more active role in advancing Malay educational and economic progress, as well as working toward independence. Not least given British proscriptions, overtly “political” interventions were slow to develop prewar; part of the signal importance of the wartime occupation was the Japanese’s freeing and even training of nationalist interests. While the British Military Administration that followed restored key aspects of the status quo ante, the British failure to protect the Malays during the war, and of the Malay rulers, to do so after (amidst ethnic violence, communist insurgency, and unfavorable British schemes) lent grist to serious challenges, even as international norms and local plans left the British limited space for censorship or outright repression.

Ultimately, though, UMNO and the rulers together won out, with their assertion that bangsa Melayu required preservation of “tradition.” Conservatives propagated this message through a new style of mass politics, borrowed from the left and radical nationalists, and performed in media, rallies, speeches, and symbols. Maintenance of the ruling class trumped a more anticolonial nationalist response, as the “political struggle against the Malayan Union had transformed the Malay rulers into symbols of the new nation” (p. 164)—and peninsular Malaya into a unified nation, rather than a network of single states—no matter the rulers’ own initial complicity, in signing treaties with the British (later foresworn) to enable the Malayan Union’s enactment.

Amoroso’s account is well-supported and plausible. Still, the historical record leaves stronger evidence of British aspirations and actions than of their erstwhile subjects’ reasoning. She relies largely on British colonial sources and archives, albeit including letters form Malay rulers, reported conversations with the latter, and interviews. However, most evidence comes through the lens of “Anglo-Malay encounters” (p. 18), and as perceived or retold by the Anglo side of that conversation. The Malay masses here are largely mute followers—apart from a surge of mass political participation in the 1940s–50s, when they still acted seemingly en bloc. Furthermore, for the most part, Amoroso can only read the Malay rulers’ own reasoning from their actions or British reports of the same. The account would be more convincing still were she able to include more first-hand discussions, at least from the rulers or aristocracy themselves. As it stands, the closest her retelling comes to such a perspective is probably in her discussion of early nationalist periodicals, UMNO proceedings, and more radical nationalist statements. I suspect the fault lies more in what sources are available than in Amoroso’s sleuthing.

The publication of this long-awaited book—adapted from Amoroso’s doctoral dissertation at Cornell University—contributes to our knowledge of Malay political and social history, and at a time when discussion of the Malay rulers and their stature is especially keen (notwithstanding how out-of-sync lèse-majesté laws would be with Malay history, as detailed here). More broadly, the work serves to illuminate the actual workings of indirect rule: how and why colonial authorities worked with, and altered, extant structures and patterns of authority, and the implications of those adaptations for anticolonial struggles and postcolonial development. As such, the work will be of interest to scholars not just of Malaysia, but of British and other European colonial projects more broadly—and it is written in such a way as to be accessible and useful to both a specialist and interested non-specialist audience. With this volume, Donna Amoroso adds to her already considerable academic legacy—including, of course, the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, which she was instrumental in founding.

Meredith L. Weiss
University at Albany, State University of New York


Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, HIRAGA Midori

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia: A Transnational Perspective
Oliver Pye and Jayati Bhattacharya, eds.
Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Publishing, 2013, xxi+283p.

This book of 12 chapters demonstrates the effects of rapidly growing palm oil industry in Southeast Asia from a variety of angles: geographically (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Europe); that of the background of authors (academics, industry, policy analysis, and NGOs from Asian and European countries); and at different levels (from local to transnational). This book arose out of a workshop “the Palm Oil Controversy in Transnational Perspective” that was held in Singapore, March 2–4, 2009.

The first part of the book describes the development of palm oil industries in each country of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Chapter 2 is about Malaysia, in which Teoh Cheng Hai explains the transnational and national development of the plantation industry of Malaysia. It discusses 1) the transnational phase brought about by European companies, especially the UK, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for rubber, palm oil, and others; and 2) a national phase where foreign ownership and head offices were transferred to Malaysia from the 1970s leading to the growth of Malaysian companies in the 1980s; and finally 3) a new transnational phase in which now developed Malaysian corporations expanding both upstream, especially in Indonesia, and downstream, especially in Europe, as well as the emergence of mega palm oil transnational corporations like Sime Darby Bhd. and Wilmar International Ltd. (figure 2.1 in p. 23). Through these phases, Malaysian corporations developed and have now become strategic players in Southeast Asia’s palm oil industry. Chapter 3 deals with Indonesia. The author, Norman Jiwan, explains the political ecology of the Indonesian palm oil industry since it was imported by Dutch colonialists in 1848, and large scale and commercial plantation development that started in 1911. Key players in the Indonesian palm oil industry also shifted from the national to transnational. After independence, Sukarno nationalized foreign plantation companies, and the state fostered palm oil industry expansion in Indonesia. Industry was significantly liberalized during and after the Asian financial crisis, with the involvement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as through foreign investment (especially by Malaysian corporations), and the state allowing maximum foreign ownership in both domestic and foreign investments with the Investment Act. Indonesian states, as well as the UK, Netherlands, and Malaysia, cooperated setting up and “enabling policy frameworks for biomass and biofuels production” (pp. 52–55). The author concludes that through these national and transnational developments, “the palm oil political economy system fails to deliver economic prosperity to the people working in the industry on the ground” (p. 50). Chapter 4 deals with Indonesia, through a case study from Riau. Junji Nagata and Sachiho W. Arai mark out the directions of change in “indigenization” and “from external expansion to internal expansion” in the local oil palm industry. Chapter 5 turns to the Philippines, a country strongly promoting palm oil though smaller in scale when compared to Malaysia and Indonesia. The Philippine government adopted a pro-palm oil policy, and Mary Luz Menguita-Feranil argues that “transnational investment from Malaysia is a key factor” and that “palm oil investment has received a new boost through the biofuels policies of the government” (p. 97).

The second part of the book shifts the focus to labor migration in the context of palm oil industry. In Chapter 6, Johan Saravanamuttu discusses how Malaysia has become the largest “importer” of foreign migrant labor in Southeast Asia and suggests that migrant labor in Malaysia is a “flexible labour regime” (p. 137). Saravanamuttu describes the differences in plantation labor in the colonial era which mainly grew rubber through Indian workers using merchant capital in the form of trading agencies. Present day plantations mainly grow oil palm with Indonesian workers. He also describes differences in worker composition in oil palm plantation and downstream palm oil refinery industries. In Chapter 7, Fadzilah Majid Cooke and Dayang Suria Mulia examine the process of demonizing migrants as “others” through a case study of oil palm in Sabah, East Malaysia. In Chapter 8, Dewi Oetami uses the examples of the “Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega Project” by Indonesia and China, and the “Heart of Borneo” by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Brunei to argue that the contradictions between development and conservation can be reconciled by giving local communities more of a say in which palm oil plantation are developed. She points out that “poverty amongst the plasma farmers is structural” (p. 171).

The third part of the book focuses on transnational environmental activism, mainly between Europe and Southeast Asia. Oliver Pye, in Chapter 9, describes and compares the effects of the “boomerang campaign strategy” between Europe and Southeast Asia. He compares boomerang strategies and their effects on previous logging campaigns and the current ones. Even within a campaign on palm oil, he argues there are differences; that the formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is led by international NGOs (INGOs) on one hand, and the call for a moratorium on biofuel target in the EU is mainly led by transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) along with transnational advocacy networks (TANs) on the other. Joana Chiavari introduces and examines the EU biofuel policies and their implications for Southeast Asia in Chapter 10, from their development and sustainability criteria, and how EU biofuel policies omitted social impact in their criteria. In Chapter 11, Eric Wakker of Aidenvironment introduces the analytic framework RETRAC (resource trade cycle analysis), on natural resource-based products and commodities, including palm oil. They aim to help NGOs in producer countries understand “how the environmental degradation and social injustice experienced by them is connected to consumer markets serviced by international traders, retailers, bankers, and investors” (p. 224). Patrick Anderson in Chapter 12 focuses on indigenous peoples in Indonesia arguing that although the rights of indigenous peoples to control developments on their customary lands were confirmed in 2007 by the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Indonesian Government claims that all Indonesians are indigenous and therefore there are no indigenous people in Indonesia, and that the state has the right to manage all natural resources for the benefit of the nation.

However, there are a few weaknesses in this volume. The preface of the book itself admits that “the collection of articles here cannot offer a comprehensive discussion of the subject and that it leaves many gaps” (p. xiii). The focus of this book shifts from land grabbing to environmental issues to social issues, so more integrated discussion on the controversy is yet to be expected to future works. The book also mainly focuses on the relationship between EU and Southeast Asia, but more dynamic multi-layered relationships among Asian countries and actors over palm oil are yet to be discussed.

What is lacking is a comprehensive discussion on the so-called “palm oil controversy,” although this is the main title of this volume. At the very beginning, the forward states the issues of “palm oil controversy” discussed in this book relate to so-called “land grabbing,” and anticipates such discussions from the book because “Southeast Asia also shows a more complex and wider range of global land grabbing than what the dominant albeit Africa-focused literature would show” (p. x). This focus, however, blurs in the rest of the book. Jiwan summarized palm oil controversy in Chapter 3 as the following: a controversy with environmental consequences (p. 59); a second controversy with negative social impacts, including a loss of means of income because of local environmental damage, human right violation, and labor conditions (p. 65). The first is assumed rather than discussed in the book, and the contradiction of environmentally positive effects expected from biodiesel made from palm oil and environmentally negative effects caused by the expansion of oil palm plantation is little discussed. Discussion on the second controversy on social impacts can be found partly in the second part of the book among the chapters on labor migration in palm oil industry, but are not greatly related to the current global land grabbing issues.

Another weakness is the “transnational perspective” which is also stated in the book title. The “transnational” discussions in this book are rather limited to the relationship between Europe and Malaysia/Indonesia, or relationships between Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries, mainly Indonesia. There are some references to China and India as the world largest palm oil importers—more than EU—but transnational perspective with these Asian countries are not taken any further. China and India can be just as strong drivers as EU, or even stronger and they consume more palm oil for food than they use for biofuel. For example, when the EU imported 6,781 (1,000 metric tons) of palm oil in 2012/13, China and India imported 6,589 and 8,308 respectively. Industrial domestic consumption, which includes palm oil used for producing processed foods as well as non-food products and biofuels, is still less than that used even in EU (2,900 compared to 3,380 in 2012/13). In the case of India, industrial domestic consumption is 325 compared to food use domestic consumption of 7,900 (USDA 2014). Behind the rapid increase of palm oil import and consumption in China and India are suspected structural transformations of the agriculture and food industry: facilitated by trade liberalization and deregulation in these countries (Hiraga 2015). In addition to that, China, India, and other Southeast Asian countries are intertwined at a regional, national, to local level, as well as at a human level through workers and overseas Chinese and Indian networks. This kind of multi-layered dynamic needs to be considered in the context of a transnational Southeast Asia for any further research that is conducted into palm oil in future works.

Hiraga Midori 平賀 緑
Graduate School of Economics, Kyoto University


Hiraga, Midori. 2015. Sucked into the Global Vegetable Oil Complex: Structural Changes in Vegetable Oil Supply Chains in China and India, Compared with the Precedents in Japan. In Food Security and Food Safety for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Soraj Hongladarom, pp. 179–194. Singapore: Springer.

USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Foreign Agricultural Service. 2014. Production, Supply and Distribution Online, http://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdQuery.aspx, accessed October 12, 2014.


Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, John N. MIKSIC

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

The Golden Lands: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam (Architecture of the Buddhist World)
Vikram Lall
Kuala Lumpur: JF Publishing, 2014, 280p.

This is a large-format (335×260 mm) book with a hard cover, printed on glossy art-quality paper, and contains numerous color photographs by professional photographers as well as sophisticated maps and other graphics. It is thus in danger of being lumped with coffee-table books.

The author is a practicing architect based in Delhi. According to his Linkedin description, the book is the first of a series which is planned to consist of six volumes on the architecture of the Buddhist world, (not specifically “Buddhist architecture,”) employing an interdisciplinary perspective including architecture, history, religion, and philosophy. The company with which he is associated, Lall and Associates (established in 1969) has obtained commissions for a wide range of projects, in the fields of urban planning and design, education (22 schools), hospitality and tourism, residential, offices, transport, industry, and medicine, in addition to institutional and religious buildings. In the latter category are a Japanese temple at Bodhgaya (one of the eight places where Buddha’s relics were originally interred), and the Buddha Smriti Park, Patna.1) The firm’s client list reads like a who’s who of corporate and official India: The Hindustan Times, Tata Power, the United Nations, the governments of Bihar and Sikkim, State Bank of India, Indian Railways, etc.

One of the clients on the list which is relevant to this topic is the Nalanda Educational Society. Vikram Lall’s architectual study of Nalanda has been published by the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. An interesting project listed under “scientific study/research papers” on his website is “Schematic conjecture of the ancient city of Pataliputra (327 BC) through historical & archaeological study—developed a scale model of the conjecture that is displayed at the museum at Patna, 1997.”

The book is organized by country; chapters are devoted to Myanmar (50 pages), Vietnam (38 pages), Indonesia (32 pages), Cambodia (32 pages), Thailand (51 pages), and Laos (44 pages). The book opens with a section which develops a theoretical framework (23 pages). The Myanmar section focuses on 19 monuments, including the Bupaya, which is the oldest in the book (third century). Ten monuments in Vietnam, 8 in Indonesia, 9 in Cambodia, 10 in Thailand, and 8 in Laos are listed in a chronology of selected Buddhist monuments on pages 6–7.

The preface (p. 9) which introduces the series of six books, acknowledges that the terms “Buddhist” and “architecture” have no generally accepted meanings. The preface asserts that the architecture of buildings associated with Buddhist worship has been neglected in comparison with the amount of study devoted to other aspects of Buddhism. It also states that the buildings devoted to Buddhist activity are highly diverse, because Buddhism spread over a large part of the ancient world before declining in popularity in some areas such as India. The diversity of Buddhist architecture can also be connected to the different symbolic and functional roles played by various types of structures, which together formed a network of meanings. Future books in the series will be devoted to “the Heavenly Lands” (China, Japan, and Korea), the “Ancient Lands” (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), the “Mountain Lands” (the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau), the “Hidden Lands” (central Asia, Mongolia, and the Silk Road), and the “Modern Lands” (contemporary Buddhist architecture).

The author is more interested in “collective development” than in individual monuments. Thus each country section begins with a general overview, and ends with a discussion of a few selected structures. Given the broad span of Buddhism’s distribution in Southeast Asia, the region’s renowned cultural diversity, and Buddhism’s tolerance of local tradition, it is interesting to note the strong continuity in the use of certain architectural forms and decorative motifs over the six countries discussed here. The history of Buddhist development in Indonesia is shorter, since most of the archipelago nation converted to Islam between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, but it is no less rich in interest; despite the religion’s limited lifespan there compared to the rest of the region, Indonesians were the creators of some of the most original and complex Buddhist monuments in the whole of the Buddhist world.

As in India, the caitya-grihas, buildings meant to shelter images of Buddha, in Southeast Asia were similar in many ways to those used in Brahminical worship. The Vajrasana or stone seat on which Buddha attained enlightenment survived as an icon in Java into the Islamic period; in Javanese palaces of the early twentieth century, such stone seats were still used during coronations. The image of the ruler as an ascetic who could constantly renew and increased his power by meditation also survived into the late twentieth century. The stupa form seems to have appeared in west Java by 500 CE, though only foundations of them have survived. The ground plans of early Southeast Asian monasteries or Buddhist complexes are not well understood, due to the disappearance of all structures built of wood.

One unfortunate aspect of the book is its assumption that Buddhism was spread by Indians who came to Southeast Asia. Archaeological and historical research has not revealed any evidence of early Indian ships reaching this region, although individual Indian travelers certainly did. In the seventh century the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Yiqing explicitly notes that he sailed on ships belonging to the ruler of the south Sumatran kingdom of Srivijaya from China to Southeast Asia, thence to India, and back again (Takakusu 1896). Yiqing also praised the huge monastery of Srivijaya and the standard of instruction in Sanskrit available there. Rather than constituting an example of “cultural colonization of the region by India” (p. 33), it is preferable to view the essence of the interaction between Southeast Asia and South Asia (in which Sri Lanka played a major role) as one of voluntary appropriation by Southeast Asians rather than imposition of cultural traits on a lower culture by a superior one. This is a minor flaw, since the author does not attempt to deal in detail with the process of transmission of architectural ideas, but in a book which gave greater emphasis to the mechanism of communication, this would be a major issue.

A second problem is the acceptance of the old assumption that the idea of divine kingship in Southeast Asia came from India. As Hermann Kulke (Kulke 1978) and other historians have noted, in India the institution of kingship was viewed as divinely inspired, but kings were not considered to be incarnations of Brahminical deities or Buddha. The origin of the concept of kings who were “detached portions” of Siva, and later bodhisattvas, or both, can be traced to the tenth century, not earlier. This too has important implications for the interpretation of the involvement of Buddhism and royalty in early Southeast Asia. These constitute the pitfalls which often confront the expert from one subject who endeavors to incorporate data from an unfamiliar discipline.

One of the book’s main attractions is its original architectural drawings. These include models of wooden buildings as well as stone facades. The book’s main contribution consists of the numerous sketches, including cutaway drawings and plans of different stages of construction of Buddhist structures. The reader should focus on the sections on “Architectural Characteristics” and the accompanying descriptions of the forms used while reading the historical accounts with caution. There are also some errors in the captions to the photographs; for example on page 136 the structure in the photograph at upper left, known as Bajang Ratu, is a gateway or gapura, not a stupa. On page 160 the map of Cambodia includes the site of Oe-èo in the far southeastern corner; this site actually lies in Vietnam.

One could take issue with the choice of structures to include in “Selected Examples” sections of the book. For instance the Shwedagon in Yangon is only represented by a single drawing. Given the vastness of the topic, however, even a 280-page-long book cannot include all the important Buddhist structures in Southeast Asia.

Aside from the lapses in the historical section, the book is beautifully produced. Architectural historians will find much of interest in it, and will not doubt be eager to see the rest of the volumes in the projected series.

John N. Miksic
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore


Kulke, Hermann. 1978. The Devarāja Cult. Translated from the German by I. W. Mabbett with an Introduction by the author and Notes on the translation of Khmer terms by J. M. Jacob. Data Paper Number 108. Ithaca, New York: Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University.

Takakusu, J., trans. 1896. A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago (AD 671–695) by I-Tsing. Oxford: Clarendon.

1) http://www.lallassociates.com, accessed 28 November 2014


Vol. 4, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Chiara FORMICHI

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2

The Buddha on Mecca’s Verandah: Encounters, Mobilities, and Histories along the Malaysian-Thai Border
Irving Chan Johnson
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012, 223p.

“One’s identity . . . is never static” (p. ix). Irving Chan Johnson’s The Buddha on Mecca’s Verandah goes deep into anthropological “thick description” to highlight how “messy” collective identities along the northeastern Malaysia-Thai border are. Focusing on ideas of fluidity and movement Johnson identifies the border as a space for exchanges—commercial, cultural, political—rather than as an imprisoning parameter. It is on these foundations that The Buddha on Mecca’s Verandah addresses the question of Thai ethnics’ marginality in Kelantan through the lens of “interactive experiences that encounters across the boundaries bring about” (p. xiv).

The book unfolds thematically, as Johnson identifies five analytical categories, each investigated in a substantial chapter. These are themselves subdivided in multiple snapshots illustrating the life of Ban Bor On and its villagers. This is the product of 18 months of fieldwork, but it is also much more than that. Johnson has been visiting Ban Bor On since 1979, as this is his own mother’s birth-place. The author thus straddles between being an anthropologist (outsider) and doing research “among friends [and] relations” (insider) (p. ix). Johnson’s insider’s knowledge, writing style, and approach make Ban Bor On and its actors come to life from the book’s pages, but as “the voices of Kelantan’s Thai villagers ring out loud and clear” (p. xiii), the reader is often left wanting to hear more from the anthropologist’s own voice.

Most problematic is Johnson’s overly positive assessment of inter-ethnic relations in Kelantan and Malaysia more generally (e.g. pp. 109–118). To illustrate a specific example, I might refer to the sustained characterization of Kelantan as a place where Muslim-Buddhist relations are friendly and cordial, versus the Thai South—omnipresent throughout the narrative as Kelantan’s counterpart across the border—which emerges as a hotbed of Muslim extremism and violence that terrorizes the local Buddhist population as much as Kelantan’s Thais. Whilst the realities of the Malaysian northern province are highly nuanced, as its Thai population’s marginality is illustrated through multiple lenses, the Thai South is consistently painted in broad brushes.

After an Introduction that sets the stage of Thai marginality in its historical and post-colonial context, Chapter 1 begins the exploration of Ban Bor On from its inception. Titled “Places,” this chapter addresses local narratives of origin and migration, as Johnson reports “everyday histories . . . [that] referred to traditional and contemporary patterns of movement and non-movement that had been shaped by a changing border and a shifting cartography” (p. 27). This chapter thus takes “roads” as the conduit of identity expression: it is on the road that the Thais (and their dogs and pigs) encounter the Malays; it is thanks to British-built roads that the Thais can travel back and forth into Siam/Thailand to maintain ancestral networks and advance commercial enterprises; it is the local roads that shape temples’ “sacred geography” (p. 42) demarcating where monks should be seeking alms and hosting ordination parades.

Chapter 2, “Gaps,” addresses heads-on the most compelling of problems; how can Kelantan Thais shape their identity as independent from Thailand’s own (p. 55)? Despite the fact that the chapter seems to lose its thread at different points—or maybe the development of the argument is not too clearly signposted, a recurrent problem throughout the book—Johnson clearly illustrates how this subsection of the population struggles to define itself. During the British period they were labeled as “Siamese” despite their being from Kelantan (p. 62); in the 1950s ethnic parameters became more subjective, with each villager being assessed individually based on their name (to the point that a new-born Thai girl was classified as Punjabi: “Valerie Mei-Ling must have sounded Punjabi to the Malay clerk at the registrar of births office” [p. 65]); in more recent year, they have become closer to the bumiputras (“sons of the soil”), enjoying some of their same benefits (pp. 67–68). As the British saw Kelantanese Thais as Siamese, similarly Thailand has since the 1950s attempted to shape Thainess across the border. As per Johnson’s assessment of these efforts, “Thailand could enter the temple through its standard Thai-speaking representatives, but it was prevented from monopolizing the meaning of Thainess for the Kelantanese” (p. 81).

“Forms,” the third chapter, continues to reflect on the issue of identity and border-crossing now from the perspective of external projection, analyzing the construction and style of Kelantan’s Thai statues and temples. Wat Bot Ngam is a Thai temple in the (Chinese) village of Kampung Kulim. Built in the mid-1960s, from staring at its facade one “could easily mistake it for a temple in Bangkok” (p. 86). Tucked into the temple is also a statue of Thailand’s national deity, Phra Sayam Thewathiraj. Along with many other “Thai-type” structures built in the 1960s–70s (pp. 90–91), a newer phenomenon is the inclusion of “Sinic representations with little or no Thai artistic accents.” Johnson suggests that “the materiality of the statues and buildings mediate between local Thai social actors, Chinese economic players and the Malaysian state” (p. 91), reflecting the marginality of the local Thais. Although in a not-so-linear fashion, Johnson unpacks this reflection pointing at the surge in Chinese statues as an attempt at diffusing concerns over local forms of Thai expressivity that were seen as offensive by the Malay majority (p. 97). The fact that “Chinese religious tourism in Kelantan began to boom” (p. 94) also seems to have boosted this style.

Chapter 4, “Circuits,” places Kelantan’s Thai villages at the geo-political intersection of Thailand and Malaysia. Johnson starts off with some villagers’ nostalgic remarks on how little interested the current Sultan is in his loyal Thai population—“Ban Bor On’s residents had gathered along the road in eager anticipation of catching a glimpse of their ruler . . . but the sultan’s motorcade zipped past the assembled crowd without pomp or ceremony” (p. 120)—and how much of a “people’s King” King Bhumipol Adulyadej was instead in Thailand. The chapter unfolds to address how Kelantan Thais submit to a double sovereignty. In 1902—hence before the Treaty of London—Siam had reasserted its sovereignty over Patani and Kelantan as well as made the king “de facto head of the Thai monkhood” (p. 127); a century later, Kelantan is still fully plugged into Thailand’s sphere through “their exposure to the Thai monarchy’s media cult” and the diffusion of television (p. 121; again on p. 170). Yet, political patronage is a different matter as Kelantan is now ruled by the Islamist Partai Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), leading “Kelantan’s monkhood [to] negotiate the ‘gaps’ between the encounters of two powerful figures—one Thai and Buddhist, the other Malay and Muslim” (p. 135). The conclusion to this chapter points to the duality between a strong “Thai cultural identity” and an “unquestionably patriotic [attitude] to [their] birth country, Malaysia” (p. 147).

The fifth chapter, titled “Dreams,” points however in a different direction as it investigates the spread of a Buddhist modernist group in Kelantan, the Dhammakaya Foundation, which trod the path of the 1902 Sangha Act and 1960s unification policies run in North-eastern and Southern Thailand (Thammathut project), which ultimately rested on the association of “being Thai with being Buddhist, and [that] Buddhism was what held the nation together” (p. 148). The presence of Thammathut monks, sent to “correct” localized Buddhist practices “allowed Ban Bor On villagers to feel that they were a part of a larger Thai Buddhist moral polity, reducing feelings of social and ethnic marginalization as a cultural minority in a Muslim state” (p. 151). Johnson labels the Thammathut project as “politically non-threatening” (p. 154), but it is difficult—at least for a Southeast Asianist who focuses on Islam—to not see this project as a mirror image of the much feared and condemned Wahhabi expansion started in the 1970s, and more generally the orthodoxization of Muslims in Southern Thailand, which in this book is consistently branded as a terrorist threat.

The Buddha on Mecca’s Verandah is a captivating narrative of how a marginalized minority inhabiting the complex reality of a borderland area manages its cultural and political identity. It is unfortunate that Johnson opted to not engage with the reality across the border, as a more nuanced understanding of Muslim-Buddhist/Malay-Thai relations in the Thai South would have further enriched his perspective on the Malay North, but maybe that will be addressed in his future work. This book presents the results of a much-needed investigation that further contributes to our understanding of inter-ethnic relations in Malaysia, Thailand’s own religious politics, and the legacy of British colonialism in Southeast Asia to mention just a few. More generally it is a welcome addition to the literature on ethno-religious diversity, borderland histories, and identity construction.

Chiara Formichi
Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University



Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 2



Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia
Eve Monique Zucker
Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013, 256p.

Eve Zucker’s book, Forest of Struggle is an important contribution to the literature on societies in the aftermath of extreme violence and specifically to the study of Cambodian society since the Khmer Rouge era. The book is ethnography, but not in the classical style of a snapshot in time of a single village; it tells the story of two villages, set on the margins of Khmer society, on the “edge of the forest.” It belongs in a category with such important books as Linda Green’s Fear as a Way of Life (about Guatemala) on the one hand, and Anna Tsing’s In the Realm of the Diamond Queen on the other—stories of violence, fear, and displacement, but told from a local grounding. Zucker describes other studies of “social memory” as arguing that violence continues to influence the present as people “reinterpret their memories in efforts to cope with the violence of their past” (p. 11); but she would expand this discussion to include issues of morality and the remaking of the moral and social order. The memories she focuses on are primarily collective and are shaped by local history, including the way that local stories are re-told, and how these stories are tied to features of the landscape.

The area of Cambodia where Zucker conducted research, the two communes she calls Prei Phnom and Doung Srae, are up against the mountains, an area viewed by lowlanders, the French colonial authorities, and subsequent state governments, as a haven for bandits and rebels. The Khmer Issarak (including the “White Khmer”) and Vietnamese anti-French forces used the area as a base in the 1940s and 50s, and the community was divided between those who sought protection from these groups higher up the mountains, and those who went down to seek safety in the government controlled areas. This pattern would be repeated; in 1970 the Khmer Rouge arrived and many people fled with them to the forest. Many of the men from the area fought with the Khmer Rouge against the Lon Nol regime between 1970 and 1975. Others again descended to the plains and fought on the government side. During this period, people informed on one another; Lon Nol forces assumed everyone in the area were Khmer Rouge, but the Khmer Rouge accused people of being “White Khmer” under Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey. In Prei Phnom commune these accusations and killings were so rampant that most of the adult males were murdered. Zucker eventually learns the “public secret” that the villagers live with the memories of this internal betrayal, and that overwhelmingly they blame one man who was the village headman at that time.

Perhaps the best chapter is the one on “Trust and Distrust”; while Zucker is told when she arrives in the village that everyone “loves one another” she also hears people habitually say that they do not trust people and situations. Zucker reviews theoretical work on the concept of trust, including importantly that of Giddens and Appadurai, and the limited comparative work on the topic in Southeast Asia. An obsession with seeking out internal enemies was central to Khmer Rouge ideology, Zucker discusses the effect constant surveillance and accusations had on families and other social groups. She writes: “In the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy, the distrust was sustained, rationalized and reproduced, creating a warped logic whose logical conclusion could only be total annihilation” (p. 54). The destruction of social institutions, from the local temple to kinship groups, that characterized the Khmer Rouge period sadly does not end for the residents of this area after 1979. Instead during the second civil war that follows, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) and Vietnamese forces still distrust the survivors, as do the Khmer Rouge. For another 20 years people remain insecure; while an accusation is no longer cause for automatic execution, people were accused and killed for other reasons, including “sorcery.” Like the Khmer Rouge logic of destroying “bad elements,” the label sorcerer—as a kind of outcast—justifies the killings. Citing Appadurai, Zucker writes that “violence fixes otherwise murky identities and creates a sense of order” (p. 63). Even up to the present day, the fact that a black market trade in forest products continues through the area maintains a heightened sense of distrust, particularly of strangers and representatives of state authority. Zucker places herself within the text, as another initially distrusted outsider; but uses her gradual acceptance in the community as one tool for exploring the reformulation of social trust in the community.

Zucker devotes two full chapters to Ta Kam, the former village headman accused by his fellow villagers of betraying their relatives to the Khmer Rouge and thus causing their deaths. The kindly looking, grandfather figure who now serves as a Buddhist lay officiant at a temple in the other commune, presents himself as a passive victim of circumstances. But his fellows see his actions as self-serving, designed to distinguish himself in the warped context where finding and killing enemies was the path to advancement. Zucker observes that while Ta Kam is blamed, his family is not and in fact his daughter enjoys warm social relations—even though the wider social pattern in Khmer society is to see relatives as also to blame, or as risks since they may seek revenge (the Khmer Rouge killed entire families in line with this logic). Instead, here Zucker contends that by placing the blame only on Ta Kam, the villagers, (many of whom are also his relatives by marriage or blood,) allow for healing. The continual search for who to blame is shut down by placing the blame squarely on one person.

Further, Ta Kam himself is not seen as innately wicked or evil, but as a person who performed immoral acts. He is discussed as amoral, or morally ignorant; he lacked the ability to tell right from wrong. Zucker links this to the modern Buddhist notion of Satisampajania, the ability of moral discernment. Zucker then sets this discussion of understanding Ta Kam’s motivations within the wider literature on the concepts of face, patronage, merit, and sacrifice. Ta Kam gained face, demonstrated competence, provided services in exchange for protection by offering up his fellows. Now pious late in life, he seeks to gain merit to improve his next life, as elders often do. No one in the village seeks revenge by killing Ta Kam; instead they shun him socially and thereby erase him and his wrong doings. Zucker writes, “Since he is not the only one of his generation guilty of crimes, it is therefore the wrongdoings of the generation as a whole that have the potential to be forgotten” (p. 113).

Zucker continues with chapters on the distinction between “wild” and “civil” and processes of creating and sustaining communities; and on mountains and memory about how moral stories are embedded into features of the landscape. These stories, multiple and conflicting, tell of earlier ideal times when people were honest and “clear” and therefore capable of seeing magical secrets in the forest. She writes that communities tell their histories through collective narratives wherein re-ordering takes place. The story villagers tell about an invasion by the Thai more than a century ago is repeated, the patterns of its telling echo in the way that Khmer Rouge era stories are told. The stories are recast to “reflect current interests and predicaments”—told differently across the two communes and by different individuals.

And finally, in the chapter “Bon Dalien,” Zucker tells of seeing a sense of community spirit that she would not have believed existed in Prei Phnom play out in the organization and enactment of this village festival. She uses this event to address the issue in the literature on Cambodia on whether social relations from the prewar years remain “atomized” or destroyed, or whether they have been reconstituted. Her findings suggest that a community’s ability to reconstitute itself in the aftermath of violence “will depend on its particular socio-historical past—prior to, during and after the violence” (p. 152). In Prei Phnom commune the aftermath of the festival did not yield a “heightened sense of solidarity” but rather “emptiness” (p. 167). Zucker does not accept either the notion that social relations have recovered nor the over simplistic idea that they have been destroyed. The festival serves at least partly to help negate the destruction of people and their traditions by offering a “counter-memory” that may well help to “ease the residual fear and distrust” (p. 170).

In a short epilogue, Zucker raises the issue of the possible effects of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal on these issues and processes, since the very Western goal of the tribunal is to establish an official “memory” that will be accepted as a single “truth.” She also finds that in 2010 Ta Kam is increasingly accepted in the village as a younger generation is growing up knowing him only as the grandfatherly Buddhist elder.

The shortcomings of the book are few. Zucker might have engaged more with the literature on memory from the Holocaust, including whether certain kinds of trust and ideas of security can ever be restored. The book would be very useful in a range of different courses. I teach a Mainland Southeast Asia course that uses a selection of ethnographies from across a 50-year period to teach the history of the region as well as this genre. Zucker’s book offers insight into yet another stage in the development of the ethnography, “village” life without a fixed or reified set of customs, lived on the margins of the wider culture and set within a historical context not of stability, but of conflict and suffering. The book could be used in courses on violence and social memory, on conflict resolution, and on life in contemporary Southeast Asia. Like most excellent anthropological studies, Zucker’s work teaches us significant lessons about what it means to be human.

Judy Ledgerwood
Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University


Green, Linda. 1999. Fear as a Way of Life: Mayan Widows in Rural Guatemala. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 1993. In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-Way Place. Princeton: Princeton University Press.