Daily Archives: May 11, 2016

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Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Nathan BADENOCH

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Red Stamps and Gold Stars: Fieldwork Dilemmas in Upland Socialist Asia
Sarah Turner, ed.
Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2013, 320p.

One of the most striking changes observed while working in the uplands of Laos over the past decade is the rapid growth in the number of tourists, as ecotourism and minority cultural experiences become increasingly popular. The opening of these areas to tourism seems to indicate that a significant barrier has been removed in the socialist countries of mainland Southeast Asia. Recognition of the cash income that can be derived from tourism has certainly made the region’s landscapes and people more accessible to those who are interested. With political stability and economic opening, researchers’ access to these regions has also become easier over the decades. However, as Red Stamps and Gold Stars: Fieldwork Dilemmas in Upland Socialist Asia illustrates, the challenges to conducting ethnographic research in this region remain formidable.

This volume’s most valuable contribution is the way it unfolds and then fills in the framework of "dilemma." The chapters are a rich selection of the many difficulties that ethnography faces in this region, although the authors come at their studies from primarily anthropology and geography. In addition to the well-known problems associated with spending extended time in places that are difficult to travel to and lack many of the basics that are taken for granted in researchers’ home countries, at the center of these personal stories is the political minefield that one must navigate in order to get approval for, carry out, and maintain relationships within, field-based research within the socialist administrative structures of Vietnam, China, and Laos. Here, the uplands means minorities, and this immediately puts us in a politically sensitive landscape of extreme complexity. Not only is it difficult for researchers to get there and do their work, but also it is risky and dangerous for local people, including both villagers and government officials, to participate in the telling of local stories and writing of ethnography.

Relationships with government officials come out in all stories. In different ways, we learn how "government" quickly loses its salience when we start to approach the field, as the Communist Party and the line ministries often tell us very different things. These two hands of "the government" frequently do not know what each other is doing, perhaps pointing to an inherent tension between the red stamp and the gold star. Indeed, the fact that there is never one monolithic government cannot be emphasized enough in these countries.

Neither is the boundary between government and citizen obvious or reliable. Arriving in the village, our informants often become our friends, and may also be official representatives of some part of officialdom. The way we perceive our roles and responsibilities, across the personal and professional divide, is a source of ongoing stress. The chapters of this book offer new insights on the old question of how one embeds oneself in a community, striving to observe from as close a vantage point as possible, yet struggles to maintain some sort of objectivity in those observations.

The 15 chapters of fieldwork dilemma are organized into three sections, which provide an introduction to the book’s approach, an engaging body of case study reflections, and final discussion of the positionality project in this specific region. In Part 1 "Heading to the Field," Sarah Turner sets the stage with "Dilemmas and Detours: Fieldwork with Ethnic Minorities in Upland Southwest China, Vietnam, and Laos," introducing us to tradition of reflexive discussion of the position of the field researcher that has grown and deepened since the 1980s. Jean Michaud then provides a review of minority policies in the three countries in "Comrades of Minority Policy in China, Vietnam, and Laos," taking us through the pre-Socialist, core-Socialist, and reform eras. These chapters are effective in setting the stage for the coming chapters.

Part 2, "Red Stamps and Gold Stars," consisting of 10 chapters, is a fascinating collage highlighting the diverse range of perspectives that a researcher’s positionality may project. Stéphane Gros reflects on learning from mistakes in "Blunders in the Field: An Ethnographic Situation among the Drung People in Southwest China," having inadvertently "produced an event" in the research community, underscoring how local power dynamics are situated in history, units of social organization, and pre-existing internal tensions. This "blunder" also shows how the researcher can become a resource for local people within these social dynamics. Magnus Fiskesjö writes about decisions the researcher makes in "Gifts and Debts: The Morality of Fieldwork in the Wa Lands on the China-Burma Frontier" in engaging with local social institutions, and the implications that must be dealt with as a result. In addition to his discussion of joining drinking bouts as "participant intoxification," he raises other seemingly mundane but highly enlightening experiences, such as how local people "bore" intrusive officials out of the community by providing short, uninformative answers to questions, not offering welcome meals and other subtle means avoidance.

What we bring to the field, for example our young children, has direct impacts on how we are perceived by local people. Candice Cornet explores how her role of mother was highly relevant for establishing relationships with the women of the village in "The Fun and Games of Taking Children to the Field in Guizhou, China." We also bring the baggage of recent history. Jennifer Sowerwine explains her American experience with national identity politics while doing ethnography in Vietnam in "Socialist Rules and Postwar Politics: Reflections on Nationality and Fieldwork among the Yao in Northern Vietnam." Interestingly, gaining competence in a minority language may raise red flags with government authorities. Learning languages inevitably means that friendships are deepened, and the field becomes an emotional place, where the obligations of intimacy push against politically constrained space. Christine Bonnin follows these relationships in "Doing Fieldwork and Making Friends in Upland Northern Vietnam: Entanglements of the Professional, Personal, and Political" through the questions of how engaging in research should or should not aim for political and ideological change.

Frustrating as the permissions required for fieldwork can be, the process of obtaining them can give us valuable insights on how the state works, and in this case how the state sees minorities within the national framework. As Pierre Petit recounts in "The Backstage of Ethnography as Ethnography of the State: Coping with Officials in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic," researchers establish relationships with officials as they pursue the necessary paperwork, and this intimacy shines important light on the more subtle and practical matters of making the system work. Indeed, the researcher’s experience with the state is not defined by ideology alone. Moreover, it is often unpredictable. Karen McAllister’s chapter "Marginality in the Margins: Serendipity, Gatekeepers, and Gendered Positionalities in Fieldwork among the Khmu in Northern Laos" tells how state gate-keepers may in fact open doors, just as research assistants may be making official reports on the research.

Working in the uplands means dealing in politically sensitive social issues, for example shifting cultivation. As we are aware of the importance of socio-economic and political contexts for such issues, we often gravitate to a comparative perspective. Janet C. Sturgeon in "Field Research on the Margins of China and Thailand," reflects on the complexities and dramas of a full-blown, transnational comparative study. The researcher may find herself between opposing political views within the community she is researching, as well. Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy in "Easier in Exile? Comparative Observations on Doing Research among Tibetans in Lhasa and Dharamsala" considers approaches to official and unofficial research, as she immersed herself in the seemingly "safe" topic of Tibetan folklore. At the end of this section, in "The Silenced Research Assistant Speaks Her Mind," Sarah Turner helps give voice to the research assistant, who is of course also steeped in a complex web of relationships and power dynamics, and views the researcher’s participant observation through a very different lens.

The final section, "Post-Fieldwork," is comprised of three chapters, each engaging in markedly differing narratives to put the foregoing chapters in a broader timeframe. The researcher will leave the field, but the informants, friends, and officials that work with the researcher carry on life in "the field." Oscar Salemink in "Between Engagement and Abuse: Reflections on the ‘Field’ of Anthropology and the Power of Ethnography" provides insights on how research findings may be used for unintended purposes, by unintended audiences, with dangerous implications for collaborators. His chapter describes his strategy of anonymization and the further step of engagement with policy makers. Managed skillfully, the relationships formed in the field may endure, even forming the basis for long-term cooperation. Stevan Harrell and Li Xingxing’s contribution in "Textual Desert—Emotional Oasis: An Unconventional Confessional Dialogue on Field Experience" is a conversation, taking the form of texts written separately by the authors in Chinese, in which they discuss how their decade-plus of work has been hindered by a blockage preventing the publication of their findings. Exploring their doubts about their authority over the material and their emotional connections to the researcher village, they place their hopes in a "re-humanized framework" to enable them eventually to publish their work. Finally, Sarah Turner in "Red Stamps and Gold Stars on the Margins" recounts the book’s contribution to understanding minorities and everyday politics, state surveillance and trust, and the special ethical dilemmas that researchers face when they work with ethnic minorities in authoritarian, socialist countries.

By the end of the book, the intent of the ethnographer’s reflections is clear. The reader is left with much food for further thought, especially if he or she is directly involved in this type of field-based research. Yet, one is left with the sense that the researchers are primarily talking to each other, using the shared terminology, frameworks, and analytical methods that they use when writing their own ethnographies. In fact, the narratives seem strangely comfortable, even as they discuss the awkward details of creating, managing, and maintaining relationships in the field. But how familiar is this project to people from other disciplines who may spend time in the field and interact with people in villages, towns, cities, and government offices, perhaps in different modes of operation and collaboration? Another question remaining after reading this book is how to continue to draw out the critical voices of local collaborators—informants, guides, translators, gate-keepers, officials, and maybe even the people who simply observe the ethnographer’s work from a nearby porch. The challenge for this discussion will be to ensure that it is always firmly situated outside of the anthropologist’s comfort zone.

This book brings honest, critical, and nuanced perspectives to the project of reflexive thinking on the processes and implications of doing ethnography. Because the state is so ubiquitous in Vietnam, China, and Laos, this book provides multiple windows on how complex, subtle, yet powerful that state presence is. The authors’ narratives of their relationships with officials, informants, assistants, community leaders, with whom they have often developed intimate and emotional ties, capture the special complexities of their positionality. These stories will be extremely helpful for young researchers trying to prepare for the unpreparable, as well as experienced fieldworkers who face similar administrative, emotional, and ethical dilemmas in their ethnographic lives.

Nathan Badenoch



Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation
Shane Strate
Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015, xii+253p.

The notion of the winners being the ones who write history does not always ring true in the case of Thailand. In Thai historiography, loss and humiliation have also found their way into service as a predominant ideological foundation backing up various state strategies, from the preservation of certain political regimes, the creation of faces of the enemy, to the need to construct the nation’s identity. The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation by Shane Strate discusses the pertinent topic of how national humiliation has been politically exploited, and thus became politically useful, in supporting ethnic chauvinism and military expansion, and in the modern day, ironically, the glorification of Thai monarchs, even when it distastefully reveals the vulnerabilities of the Thai state.

In August 2015, the military government of General Prayuth Chan-ocha completed its mission to resurrect the glorious days of Siam’s past kings. The "Rajapakdi Park" (Rajapakdi means "loyalty to the monarchy") houses giant statues of seven Siamese kings from all four dynasties—Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Thonburi, and Rattanakosin. This is a project eerily similar to that seen in the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw, which showcases the three great kings of Burma—Anawratha, Bayinnaung, and Alaungpaya—supposedly serving to legitimize the then military government of General Than Shwe. Undoubtedly, the Rajapakdi Park is designed primarily for a similar purpose: injecting a sense of royal loyalty at the time when Thailand is once again in the custody of a military regime.

Refreshing the magnificent past of Siamese kings is not merely about celebrating Siam, or Thailand, as a great nation with uninterrupted independence. As emphasized in Strate’s book, "National Humiliation discourse" has re-emerged alongside the well-known "Royal-Nationalist ideology" as a dogmatic tool to sponsor a form of anti-Western imperialism. Whereas the Royal-Nationalist ideology stresses the widely known argument of Thailand being the only nation in Southeast Asia not to be colonized by Western powers, the National Humiliation discourse unveils the dark side of Thai relations with the West, through unfair treaties, extraterritoriality, trade imbalances, and territorial loss. The West was assigned as the "evil other" harboring ill intention to disparage the Siamese national pride. But as history tells it, Siam, either under the absolute monarchy or military rule, has continued to overcome obstacles and threats posed by the evil other. Strate calls it a tragic heroism characterized by suffering and foreign oppression (p. 43).

Strate elaborates precisely on how the National Humiliation discourse has been discursively used to achieve specific agendas of the Siamese state. There were benefits in depicting Siam as a vulnerable state surrounded by big and small enemies in the region. The book focuses mainly on two periods: Siam under the absolute monarchy during the peak of colonialism and Thailand under the military regime at the turn of the Second World War, including its aftermath. Through these different periods, Siam, while selectively adopting some Western elements, such as its modernity and concept of sovereignty, openly detested its imperialist bullying that paved the way for Siamese heroes to emerge. In other words, national tragedies gave birth to national heroes. But these same national tragedies also allowed such heroes to hold on tightly to their rule, perhaps no less brutal than the bullying West.

Whichever themes one choose to examine—Royal-Nationalist or National Humiliation discourses—they are used to primarily defend the political interests of the Thai elites. For example, following the Thai invasion of French Indochina in 1941, as Strate explains, the Thai aggression was not the result of Japanese prodding, but it was "born out of the military regime’s (of Phibul Songkhram) search for political legitimacy" (p. 41). In the process, successive regimes exerted different tactics in highlighting the plights of the nation, not just to legitimize anti-Western policy, but also to arouse public sentiment against Western colonialists. Strate investigates in great detail each of these tactics, from Siam’s unequal treaties with the West (among them the Bowring Treaty of 1855), the extraterritorial rights enjoyed by Westerners in Siam (1883–1907), and the loss of supposed Siamese territories, particularly to the French. The author locates the heart of the matter in the Pak Nam incident in 1893 which saw the French fleets attempt to block the Chao Phraya River should Siam not renounce its claim to the left bank of the Mekong. But as Strate argues, the Franco-Siamese crisis was not just reflecting the reality that came out of the power politics at the time; rather, it served as a type of chosen trauma—a historical grievance that is the inheritance of every Thai person (p. 11).

For the Thai public, such unequal treaties, and eventually the loss of the supposed Thai territories to Western powers, were unbearably humiliating. They became unforgettable traumatic memories and deep scars within the nation. But Strate also contests such a one-sided view by proposing a reinterpretation of both the unequal treaties with the West and the loss of Thai territories. For example, as argued by Strate, the Bowring Treaty enhanced King Mongkut’s position and created a new basis of political legitimacy. "It was proof that the monarchy could preserve Siamese independence by negotiating with Western powers while adapting their technology and practices to local culture" (p. 28). And surely, the loss of the supposed Thai territories also had its usefulness. Strate quotes Thongchai Winichakul who asserts that the loss of territories invented a geo-body of Siam that never existed and projected it into the past (p. 46). In other words, the loss brought about a physical gain for the nation in the past.

The portrayal of Siam’s passivity, in turn, acted to justify its aggressive policies, as a sort of revenge against the evil West, through the harassment of Catholics in Thailand in the 1940s, and the Thai-endorsed Pan-Asianism during the Second World War with its alignment with Japan. The Catholics were labeled the "fifth column" and subject to all manner of persecution (p. 64). They were painted as the vestiges of French colonialism, the root cause of Siam’s humiliation. Meanwhile, in entering into an alliance with Japan, Siam expected to make use of that alliance to strengthen its authoritarianism at home by identifying itself as part of a greater Asia, led by Japan, in defying the international order set by the Europeans centuries earlier. In so doing, Thailand constructed its new identity based on regionalism. Pan-Asianism with Japan permitted the Thai government to express its sense of nationhood at a regional level. Pan-Asianism was also built principally on Thailand’s National Humiliation discourse. But it was another kind of discourse, which stressed specifically how to move away from such humiliation and stand up against the old order. It became a Thai way of introducing a new hierarchical system that would rank Asia as sophisticated (if not more so) compared with the West (p. 111).

Throughout the Cold War period, the binary Royal-Nationalist and National Humiliation narratives continued to influence Thailand’s foreign policy, which was driven mainly by domestic political purposes. In this era, one conflict came to redefine the issue of National Humiliation: the Preah Vihear temple. For many decades, the conflict over the ownership of the Preah Vihear (known in Thai as Prasat Phra Wihan), has prevented an improvement in Thai-Cambodian ties. In 1962, the two countries took their conflict to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which in the end ruled in favor of Cambodia. Since then, the loss of Preah Vihear has been a determinant factor in the aggressive Thai policy towards Cambodia, justified by a repeated National Humiliation narrative. Thailand supposedly lost the temple to the French, regained it with Japan’s help, and now lost it again to a weaker neighbor, Cambodia. The lost territory discourse was a part of Thai nationalism shaped by the sacredness and vulnerability of territorial integrity, one that is permanently threatened by both internal and external enemies. In 2008, the crisis re-erupted after Thailand offered to support Cambodia’s bid to have the temple listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) spotted an opportunity to exploit the issue to undermine the Samak Sundaravej government, which was backed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The PAD accused the Samak government of betraying the motherland in trading Thai support for the personal benefit of Thaksin in Cambodia. Particularly, the PAD alleged that the government was willing to sacrifice both the temple and the 4.6 square kilometers area in the vicinity of the temple. Suddenly, the lost territory discourse was brought back into play. And as a consequence, not only was the Thai government under fierce attack, but Thailand decided to declare war with Cambodia, which lasted until the year 2011.

I found this book intellectually stimulating. It is easy to read, although it engages in a number of complicated narratives, which require a solid understanding of Thailand’s historical past. My main criticism however, is twofold. First, the author could have brought out more clearly the urge of the Thai state, in exploiting the Royal-Nationalist narrative and National Humiliation ideology, to aid its process of national identity-making. It is true that at the crux of the National Humiliation ideology was the desperate attempt of Thai elites to preserve its political interests based on national weaknesses and vulnerabilities. But this was the same process through which the Thai elites wanted to identify themselves differently from the West. The Siamese lamb versus the French wolf is another way of creating "We versus Them," even when this may serve the same agenda of defending the elites’ power position. Second, the book does not address the issue of Siam being a bellicose victor in wars with its neighbors. The Thai historical textbook traditionally omits this aspect of Siam bullying nearby kingdoms, such as in the sacking of Angkor in 1431—an event that may help boost the Royal-Nationalist narrative but inevitably casts Siam as a devilish villain. Although Strate’s book deals mainly with Siam’s ties with the West, Siam’s complex relationship with neighboring kingdoms, particularly from the perspective of it being an aggressor, may shed light on how the National Humiliation discourse can become disturbingly hollow, discursive, and self-serving.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun ปวิน ชัชวาลพงศ์พันธ์


Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Kevin HEWISON

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Party System Institutionalization in Asia: Democracies, Autocracies, and the Shadows of the Past
Allen Hicken and Erik Martinez Kuhonta, eds.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015, xviii+355p.

In pluralist and conservative perspectives, political parties in democracies are important as essential representative links between citizens and the state. In these perspectives, political parties provide a means of collecting, interpreting, and channeling citizen’s interests into the political system. Where they fail, democracy is threatened. Yet parties may also be important for authoritarian regimes as many of these hold elections. Authoritarian leaders may also use parties to mobilize people in support of the regime. By all accounts, then, parties are politically significant. That being the case, understanding party and party system institutionalization allows for analytical distinctions to be drawn between regimes, sometimes being used as a proxy measure of political development.

Allen Hicken and Erik Martinez Kuhonta take on party and party system institutionalization in an ambitious and rich collection of 12 country case studies and two theoretical chapters. With an analytical lens focused on Asia, the editors begin by challenging the abovementioned presumed link between democracy and the institutionalization of political parties and/or party systems (pp. 4, 17). They define institutionalized parties as "coherent, adaptable, and complex institutions" that channel citizen demands and hold government accountable (p. 3), and they consider nondemocratic regimes as "particularly important in shaping party system institutionalization" (p. 4). It is because it "provides a sharp contrast" that they see Asia as a useful testing ground for assumptions about institutionalization (p. 4).

The Asian cases presented in the collection suggest several conclusions to the editors. First, that more elections do not necessarily mean enhanced institutionalization (pp. 11–12). Second, they consider the cases in the collection do not suggest any "straightforward general relationship of macro political institutions . . . with institutionalization" (p. 12). Third, they conclude that the assumed relationship between fractionalization and party and political volatility is much more mixed for the Asian cases (pp. 12–13). Fourth, they found that parties that institutionalized earlier tend to have greater longevity and higher institutionalization than parties that were formed later. While this might seem like a tautology, the institutionalist claim is that "path dependence" is critical (p. 13). Fifth, the Asian cases tend to suggest that institutionalization has been greatest where authoritarian "legacies" are strongest (p. 14). This leads to the "somewhat . . . troubling conclusion" that authoritarian antecedents are important (pp. 15–16). These points suggest a need for a reconsideration of party and party system institutionalization to account for the findings on authoritarianism and party system institutionalization (p. 17). These conclusions are taken up in the final, reflective chapter 14, by Scott Mainwaring.

Each of the country cases is crafted by area and country specialists. This might seem logical, and yet it is of some significance when considering the nature of political science research in recent years. Hicken and Kuhonta were both involved in the production of Southeast Asia in Political Science: Theory, Region, and Qualitative Analysis (Kuhonta et al. 2008), which made a case for area expertise in a discipline that was increasingly dominated by big, comparative, statistics-driven studies. In many ways, this book is meant to demonstrate the insights and learning that are achieved when country specialists bring their in-depth knowledge to bear on a "big" political science question, in this case, party system institutionalization. The overall result is a set of thoughtful and insightful studies influenced by historical institutionalist perspectives that, as noted above, suggest conclusions that might not have been seen if each of the cases had been quantified and manipulated in a large multi-country study.

More than this, each chapter also reflects on shortcomings in the theoretical literature on and conceptualization of party and party system institutionalization. Indeed, in the first country case, on Malaysia, Meredith Weiss points out that the country’s political parties bear all the hallmarks of institutionalization, including considerable competition between parties (p. 25). Yet knowing this tells us remarkably little about the forces that shape Malaysian politics. It is remarkable that, for several decades, competitive parties have persisted, yet post-colonial Malaysia has seen no opposition party win an election. The constraints placed on opposition lead Weiss to a call for the deinstitutionalization of parties, seeing institutionalization as an obstacle for democratic development (pp. 26, 45).

Likewise, when Netina Tan looks at Singapore in chapter 3, she sees nothing but People’s Action Party (PAP) domination. As a result, her focus is on internal structures of the party and its leadership succession. So hegemonic is the PAP that its "institutionalization" squeezes out other parties to the extent that they become irrelevant to the analysis of party institutionalization. Opposition parties have been unable to institutionalize but this observation is trite without recognizing that their lack of institutionalization and processes of deinstitutionalization have been PAP strategy. The PAP’s longevity also allows it to monopolize the state apparatus and manage the law (p. 55).

In limiting dissent and constraining and controlling competition, the PAP has similarities with the communist parties of Vietnam (chapter 6 by Tuong Vu) and China (chapter 7 by Yongnian Zheng). While Vietnam and China are single-party dictatorships, in terms of organizational structure, recruitment, repression, and party institutionalization, the commonalities with the PAP are strong, prompting both Vu and Tan to draw on theoretical concerns first developed by Samuel Huntington. Zheng might easily have drawn on Huntington as well, but prefers to focus on claims that the party has "hegemonized" and institutionalized while managing to accommodate elements of "rising civil society" (pp. 183–185) and still holding onto power (p. 166). These processes, Zheng suggests, make China an evolving political system that is different from the West (p. 185), but shows "strong parallels" with other Asian cases with dominant parties, mentioning Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan (p. 168). On Vietnam, Vu considers this variety of single-party accommodation as a struggle to maintain party dominance while also deinstitutionalizing and liberalizing (pp. 142, 158).

Zheng mentions Taiwan as a comparator for China, perhaps thinking of the period of Nationalist/Kuomintang dictatorship. Yet Taiwan is different in that it has achieved a competitive two-party system. In chapter 5, Tun-jen Cheng and Yung-min Hsu explain this process while also observing that this results in challenges, warning that the "highly institutionalized party system seems to have reinforced political polarization . . ." (p. 109). Other examples of recent democratization are discussed in the book. In chapter 11, Joseph Wong hails South Korea as an economic and political success story while noting that there have been and remain challenges for democratization. Not least, the party system is said to remain "uninstitutionalized" (p. 261) and with voters exhibiting little loyalty to parties. Indonesia (chapter 10, by Paige Johnson Tan) is usually considered to be one of the electoral democratization success stories despite a lack of institutionalization (p. 236). The Philippines (chapter 13, by Hicken), has a long history of parties and elections, yet is considered "under-institutionalized," and subject to elite domination, poor governance, and public disillusionment. Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia might have problems, yet each has had some democratic successes. Less successful in these terms is Cambodia, discussed by Sorpong Peou (chapter 9), who says that "democratic institutionalization . . . has now given way to authoritarian institutionalization" (p. 232).

The two countries usually identified as resilient and long-standing democracies are Japan and India. Writing on Japan, Kenneth Mori McElwain (chapter 4) emphasizes changes over the long history of political parties in the country. He suggests that party program differences are becoming more significant for voters, meaning that personalism is being reduced. Despite this, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party has held power for all but two relatively brief periods since 1955, suggesting that it has successfully adapted to the changes over the post-War period. Chapter 8 on India by Csaba Nikolenyi begins by engaging in a little debate with the editors. Nikolenyi argues that authoritarianism in India resulted in deinstitutionalization for the leading party; voters are losing confidence in parties; and that India’s voting system and anti-defection rules has seen decreased electoral volatility despite an increased number of parties.

The perennial failure in this set of countries—in terms of party and party system institutionalization and democratization—is Thailand, as discussed by Kuhonta (chapter 12). In May 2014, Thailand reverted to a military dictatorship for the second time since 2005. Thailand’s 12th successful coup saw it developing its 20th constitution since 1932. In this context, it is hardly surprising that Kuhonta refers to Thailand’s political parties as "feckless." Oddly, military intervention is only considered one of five possible explanations for low institutionalization, with Kuhonta favoring an explanation that sees parties as failing to entrench social cleavages in the party system (pp. 281–282). He locates the "critical junctures" that have allowed the control of parties by elites. Examining the 1930s and immediate post-World War II periods, Kuhonta explains that parties have been dominated by "personalism, factionalism, and feckless organizations" (p. 283).

With such a divergence of experience across the Asian cases, Mainwaring’s concluding chapter should be a welcome addition to the collection. However, his conclusion that the main differences in the cases are between competitive, hegemonic, and party-state systems (p. 328) left this reader underwhelmed. While he reasserts the significance of studying party institutionalization, this reader was struck by some of Hicken’s words at the end of his chapter on the Philippines: "Why should we care about the level of institutionalization? We can observe differences in the level of institutionalization from country to country, but does it really matter for things we ultimately care about?"

Hicken’s answer is that it does matter, for democratic consolidation and good governance (p. 324). After reading this collection, however, I am not so easily convinced. Institutionalists study institutions with such intensity that they sometimes risk losing sight of the societies that give rise to the institutions they scrutinize. This risks missing the ways in which institutions are structured and their relationships with each other. While this is not a criticism of all of the country cases in this collection, it is true that there are too few references to institutions as sites of political struggles. The power of oligarchs and elites are mentioned in several papers and some authors do consider social cleavages, historical trajectories, and critical junctures. Yet the notion that institutions are sites of intense struggle and are shaped by conflicts over social, political, and economic power is curiously lost in discussions of institutionalization.

That basic criticism aside, the country studies of political parties in the Asian region will be useful for readers, especially as there is a theoretical coherence to the chapters, unusual in an edited collection. This adds weight to the idea that country expertise is invaluable when dealing with socially-embedded institutions. The theoretical chapters are likely to be of great interest to party institutionalization aficionados while adding Asian cases to a theoretical literature dominated by Europe and Latin America is as necessary as it is welcome.

Kevin Hewison
Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya


Kuhonta, Erik Martinez; Slater, Dan; and Vu, Tuong, eds. 2008. Southeast Asia in Political Science: Theory, Region, and Qualitative Analysis. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Tony C. LEE

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Yimin guiji he lisan lunshu: Xinma huaren zuqun de zhongceng mailuo 移民轨迹和离散论述―新马华人族群的重层脉络 [Migration trajectories and diasporic discourses: Multiples contexts of ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia]
Yow Cheun Hoe 游俊豪
Shanghai: Sanlian Publishing Company, 2014, ii+243p.

The Chinese word "Huaren" has been used to refer broadly to Chinese people outside of China, but there is little consensus on the details of the term’s definition. FitzGerald (1965) employed the term "the third China," whereas Alexander (1973) called them "the invisible China"; Heidhues (1974) perceived them to be "minorities," but Purcell (1980) continued to write of them as "the Chinese." Recently, scholars in the field seem to prefer the phrase "ethnic Chinese" in order to better reflect the "outside-in" nature1) of these Southeast Asians with their origins in China.2) The scientific community’s lack of consensus over the definition of the "ethnic Chinese" confirms one belief—namely, that the identity of ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia entails a complex composition. To trace the origin and the impact of such an identity requires multilevel analysis, and that is what the author of this book intends to achieve.

Focusing on the cases of Malaysia and Singapore, Yow Cheun Hoe (游俊豪) discusses the anxiety of the ethnic Chinese in their search for identity: on one hand, the original inhabitants in the two countries push the ethnic Chinese to the margins of the out-group; on the other hand, the ethnic Chinese deny considering themselves as China Chinese. At first glance, this thesis is by no means novel; nevertheless, the author justifies the book’s existence by proposing a new approach to interpret the situation of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. He compares ethnic Chinese migration trajectories with their diasporic discourses with the aim of elucidating the ethnic Chinese "inner self" and their impact on the society in which they live.

This book is divided into three parts. Part One revisits ethnic Chinese diasporic experiences at a national level. The author scrutinizes the migration trajectories of ethnic Chinese from three perspectives—family, race, and nation. The analysis reveals that ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore manifest different patterns of diasporic experience. Decades after their immigration, the Chinese in Malaysia experience difficulty as members of a social minority; even after establishing themselves in their host country (Chapter Two), these wanderers still seek an identity. By contrast, even though the Chinese in Singapore encounter structural problems when integrating into Singaporean society, their existence obliges the government to implement economic or even legal reforms in order to achieve a harmonious society (Chapter Three). To illustrate these experiences, the author opts for an unusual approach: Chapter Four evokes the migration trajectories of two representative figures in Singapore—Tan Kah Kee (1874–1967) and Lee Kong Chiang (1893–1967)—whereas Chapter Five probes the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of cultural signals transmitted by Nanyang University (1955–80) as a way of reflecting the transformation of ethnic Chinese people in an evolving society.

Part Two of the book discusses ethnic Chinese connections with China. This is illustrated by the behavior of emigrant communities (qiaoxian) vis-à-vis Fanyu and Xinyi—two townships in the province of Guangdong from which many ethnic Chinese emigrants originated. Fanyu and Xinyi are evoked and compared because they tell different stories with respect to ethnic Chinese contribution and solidarity with their home-towns. In this regard, Fanyu benefits far more from emotional and material returns by its emigrants than Xinyi does. Opposed to traditional views, the author argues that ethnic Chinese attachment to China is not simply driven by kinship; rather, it is a blend of nostalgia, the structures and processes of the host nation, and economic development (p. 71). This is to say that the study of ethnic Chinese attachment to the home country should take both emotional and material incentives into account. Eventually, the rise and fall of emigrant communities may be subject to the pressure of those incentives. These dynamics might in turn reshape the behavior of ethnic Chinese in their (new) home country.

Part Three advances the discussion of ethnic Chinese beyond any physical boundaries by reviewing diasporic discourses in Chinese writings in Malaysia and Singapore. The author is convinced that these Chinese writings are worth probing because diasporic writers’ narratives highlight the collective memory of the ethnic Chinese. It is memory which sketches how ethnic Chinese have responded to alien social structures and to their positions within them; it is memory which cries out for empathy, anxiety, resistance, and repression (p. 153). Generally, Malaysian Chinese literatures touch on four issues—the question of Chineseness, the polysystem theory, the Malaysian-Singaporean relationship, and sinophone literature. The book shows that these works go beyond literary description and reach into the fields of history, sociology, and cultural studies.

Nevertheless, some aspects of this book can be confusing. For instance, if Chapters Three and Four help us to comprehend the situation of ethnic Chinese people from both human and institutional perspectives, the author seems to focus exclusively on the case of Singapore and to leave the case of Malaysia behind. Moreover, it is arguable whether the experiences of Tan Kah Kee and Lee Kong Chiang, notwithstanding their historical importance, can best reflect the "new" immigrants from China in the post-colonial period. The book, although brief, addresses the situation of ethnic Chinese in two countries. Readers might sometimes be uncertain as to which country is being discussed as they turn from one chapter to the next. I suspect that readers would appreciate the book more if the chapter arrangement had been more lucid. Regardless of that, the book offers new perspectives in the study of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. The author does not merely follow the old discourses in a well-studied subject; instead, he updates relevant information, raises new questions, proposes new explanations, and even presents new knowledge about a neglected topic, notably when it comes to emigrant communities and to Chinese writings in Malaysia and Singapore. I suggest that this book might well complement the classics of ethnic Chinese written by reputed predecessors such as Wang Gungwu (1992).

Tony C. Lee 李智琦
Center for Global Politics, Freie Universität Berlin


Alexander, Garth. 1973. The Invisible China: The Overseas Chinese and the Politics of Southeast Asia. New York: Macmillan.

FitzGerald, Charles P. 1965. The Third China: The Chinese Communities in South-East Asia. Melbourne: F. W. Cheshire.

Heidhues, Mary F. S. 1974. Southeast Asia’s Chinese Minorities. Melbourne: Longman.

Purcell, Victor. 1980. The Chinese in Southeast Asia. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Suryadinata, Leo. 1997. Ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia: Overseas Chinese, Chinese Overseas or Southeast Asians? In Ethnic Chinese as Southeast Asians, edited by Leo Suryadinata, pp. 1–24. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Wang Gungwu. 1992. Community and Nation: China, Southeast Asia and Australia. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin Ltd.

1) The so-called "outside-in" effect refers to the identification of ethnic Chinese Southeast-Asians as outsiders.

2) For further discussion of the terms used to refer to ethnic Chinese, see Suryadinata (1997); Wang (1992, 1–10).


Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Pierre BROCHEUX

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Les Oracles du Cao Đài: Étude d’un mouvement religieux vietnamien et de ses réseaux [The Cao Dai oracles: Essay on a Vietnamese religious movement and its networks]
Jérémy Jammes
Paris: Les Indes savantes, 2014, 614p.

This book, which I would describe as monumental, is the adaptation of an academic dissertation. It distinguishes itself from previous work (French and Anglo-American) on the subject because it does not situate that subject in a single isolated perspective: neither that of ethnology nor that of historical sociology. With this book, Jérémy Jammes has responded to the archaeologist Bernard Philippe Groslier, who in 1960 called for a necessary alliance between history and ethnology in the study of Asian countries (Groslier 1960), and he has done so by linking, and even closely intertwining, the ethnological approach with the historical.

The author identifies and highlights three vectors of Caodaism: the historical vector, by inscribing the phenomenon in several religious traditions of the beginning of the twentieth century: a matrix of Sino-Viêt mediums (phoenix writing or fuluan 扶鸞) (Do 2003) combined with French-Viêt spiritualism, Freemasonry, and Theosophy; the sociological vector, by describing and analyzing the socio-professional environments (the urban and rural bourgeoisie of southern Vietnam) from which Caodaism originated, as well as the networks of kinship and patronage (somehow nepotistic) that it wove or reinforced in order to take root and spread; finally, the author does not neglect the political vector, in particular French colonial domination and the post-independence period.

Far from contenting himself with an analytical description of Caodaist beliefs and faith, Jammes seeks to grasp their meaning: the affirmation of an original identity while simultaneously claiming equality with the colonial masters. This led the founders, the clergy, and the faithful (whose number swelled to the hundreds of thousands in the aftermath of World War II) to follow the Catholic model with regard to ecclesial organization. These initial goals of the new religion’s promoters lent Caodaism a subversive character that made its actors sensitive to the temptation of political engagement—first against the French colonization, then against the communist hegemony within national resistance and today within the reunified nation and state.

Jammes does not limit his historical investigation to the past; he continues it in a history of the present day of the Caodaist religion, a history that has unfolded in time (since 1975) and in the space of communities that were born out of the dispersion following the Vietnam War—in France, the United States, and Australia. He observes that this expansion was accompanied by an aggiornamento, with the Cao Dai religion emerging refined or renewed from all the trials (bans, persecution, and repression). It cast off its spectacular apparatus of worship to place greater importance on meditation than on oracular spirit-mediumship séances. This process has been characterized by a tension between the aspiration for unity and a continued tendency for fission, a tension between the ambition to be a marker of identity (a national religion) and that of acquiring universal scope through missionary activity.

Finally, to take up the appellation of "politico-religious sect" that was popularized by French authors during and since the Franco-Vietnamese War (1945–54), and then in a jiffy borrowed by US scholars and journalists for the next two decades, Jammes demonstrates that Caodaism is a hybrid form, a sect-church alloy. He also convincingly demonstrates that Caodaism is the result of two hitherto underestimated inspirations: that of redemptive Chinese societies (which leads to social commitment for the sake of a universalist modernity) (Goossaert and Palmer 2011) and that of the nineteenth century Western occultist movements (Theosophy, Freemasonry, the spiritualism of Allan Kardec). The millenarian aspect of Caodaism becomes evident in the proclamation of the arrival of a universal god and not that of a Buddha Maitreya.

This book clarifies the ambiguity of the colonial moment, which cannot be reduced to mere economic predation, political humiliation, or the "cataclysmic" clash of cultures. The colonization of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries established spaces of interactions and transactions where the ones being ruled proved to be actors who demonstrated their ability to adapt and evolve. Caodaism illustrates what the historian André Nouschi calls "returned weapons" (Nouschi 2005). At the same time, Caodaism established itself on land that had been occupied until the end of the 1920s by the European missionary Church and the Catholic religion, with the goal of competing with them.

This book is the culmination of long and patient fieldwork. The investigation led the author to stay in a Caodaist community in Vietnam, which, in the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, was quite a feat, given the political context. He conducted numerous interviews on site and overseas (Cambodia, USA, France, Canada). This field research provided him with material that he could compare against archival data (eyewitness accounts as well as administrative and police reports), journalistic sources, and religious texts (the canon, exegeses, and autobiographies). In the work of Jammes, the empirical side goes hand in hand with—and is tested against—theoretical references (in particular Max Weber, Michael Taussig [1993], and Jean-Pierre Laurant [1992]). I consider this remarkable work to be a masterpiece in the domains of Vietnamese studies and Asian religions.

Pierre Brocheux
University Paris-Diderot


Do, Thien. 2003. Vietnamese Supernaturalism: Views from the Southern Region. London: Routledge Curzon.

Goossaert, Vincent; and Palmer, David A. 2011. The Religious Question in Modern China. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Groslier, Bernard Philippe. 1960. Indochine: Carrefour des arts [Indochina: Arts at the crossroads]. Paris: Albin Michel.

Laurant, Jean-Pierre. 1992. L’ésotérisme chrétien en France au XIXe siècle [Christian Esotericism in France in the nineteenth century]. Lausanne: Éditions l’Âge d’Homme.

Nouschi, André. 2005. Les armes retournées: Colonisation et décolonisation françaises [Returned weapons: French colonization and decolonization]. Paris: Belin.

Taussig, Michael. 1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York: Routledge.



Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

The End of Personal Rule in Indonesia: Golkar and the Transformation of the Suharto Regime
Masuhara Ayako
Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, 2015, xviii+286p.

In the revised version of her doctoral dissertation, Ayako Masuhara offers a fine-grained analysis of the collapse of President Suharto’s New Order regime (1965–98). The author brings out the paradox that despite Suharto enjoying political patronage from the ruling Golkar party, the party made a 180-degree turn, a measure backed by the parliament and the fragmented reformist forces that compelled the President to resign. In a succinctly written introduction, Masuhara states her argument by throwing down a gauntlet before those political analysts who characterize the Suharto regime as a "sultanistic regime" (Aspinall 2005). Instead, she argues that the New Order regime was a "co-opting-style personal rule" in which the Golkar party accommodated political opponents (pp. 3, 15).

Chapter 1 contextualizes the New Order regime within the broader context of Indonesian and area studies. She categorizes personal rule into four types based on the level of state surveillance and violence within the broader framework of comparative politics with examples from different countries: (i) isolated type, (ii) terrorizing type, (iii) dividing type, and (iv) co-opting type. Masuhara conceptualizes the Golkar party as a political space where vast number of Indonesian social elites competed against each other, paving the way for the rise of soft-liners within the New Order regime that eventually undermined the authority of Suharto. Chapter 2 comprehensively describes how the Suharto regime, as an example of a co-opting type of personal rule, ran the country based on political and economic patronage and violent oppression whereas Chapters 3, 4, and 5 collectively describe how the Golkar established and structured itself as the ruling party during the New Order. In Chapter 6, Masuhara argues that the more Golkar became independent from the Indonesian Armed Forces, the more heavily it had to depend on Suharto, and this reliance eroded the autonomy of the party by the late 1980s. In Chapter 7, Masuhara observes that due to the preference accorded to Suharto’s children in the allocation of political posts within the Golkar, former student activists and Islamic group members within the party were sidelined, leading to a rift within the Suharto regime. Furthermore, the Asian Currency Crisis that began in July 1998 and led to the depreciation of the rupiah only served to expose the differences between the Minister of Finance Mar’ie Muhammad and the President (pp. 190–191).

The conclusion contains one substantial claim by Masuhara that the Suharto regime concluded in a packed transition, that refers to multilateral negotiation between the political elites from the authoritarian regime and the democratic opposition that leads to a compromise (p. 235). From the very beginning of the reformist movement in Indonesia, reformist forces tried to influence the New Order elites through dialogue and negotiation, in an attempt to avoid confrontation. By adopting the strategy of not making Suharto lose his face, the reformist forces won many New Order elites to their side, facilitating a smooth transfer of power.

Masuhara succeeds in answering the question of how the New Order era sought to achieve a delicate balance between personal rule of Suharto and national interest. Every chapter of the monograph is provided with a roadmap and a concise summary of the argument. But the book is not without its shortcomings. I found the author’s interpretation of pembangunan (development) problematic. During the earlier Sukarno era pembangunan stood for multiple possibilities such as national reconstruction and enhancing Indonesia’s respectability on the world stage whereas during the Suharto era pembangunan was narrowly associated with economic development. It would be erroneous to state that Suharto introduced pembangunan to depoliticize a public politicized during the Sukarno era and make them focus on the development targeted by the state (p. 10). The writing style is not always engaging. There are repetition and grammar issues throughout the monograph that make it difficult for the reader to follow the narrative. For example, "The reformist forces led by students and intellectuals started the reformist movement in pursuit of the reform of the political system to overcome the economic crisis" (p. 235). Masuhara’s cast of characters is large but she fails to introduce them at the very beginning of Chapter 3, or the role they played in power brokering. Also largely missing from her narrative is the role played by the then Vice President B. J. Habibie in making decisive choices towards the end of the New Order.

The monograph demonstrates the ability to ask the right kind of questions. The systematic categorization of the four types of "personal rule" and situating the nature of the Suharto regime within the perspective of comparative politics enable readers to grasp the uniqueness of political transition in Indonesia in the late 1990s. The End of Personal Rule in Indonesia is an indispensable book for historians and political analysts working on change of regimes.

Vivek Neelakantan
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras


Aspinall, Edward. 2005. Opposing Suharto: Compromise, Resistance, and Regime Change in Indonesia. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Gerard SASGES

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Voices from the Second Republic of South Vietnam (1967–1975)
K. W. Taylor, ed.
Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University, 2015, 180p.

"Four decades removed from the fall of Saigon, now is perhaps the right time to revisit the Vietnam conflict, for no longer pressing is the impulse to assign blame, discredit others, or find excuses" (p. 159). So begins Lan Lu’s contribution to the collection Voices from the Second Republic of South Vietnam (1967–1975). Edited by Keith Taylor, it consists of chapters by 10 different contributors, each of whom played a role in the administrative, political, and military milieu of the Republic of Vietnam based in Saigon from 1955 to 1975.

The collection can be situated in two different contexts. One is the growing interest in the Republic of Vietnam and the efforts of scholars to develop more nuanced accounts of the Second Indochina War that situate the struggle in local as well as global contexts and highlight the agency and ideologies of participants on all sides. Key works in this emerging body of scholarship include Ed Miller’s (2013) and Philip Catton’s (2002) works on Ngo Dinh Diem and Nu-Anh Tran’s work on nationalism in the First Vietnamese Republic (2006). An equally important context is the scholarly trajectory of Keith Taylor, Professor in Cornell’s Department of Asian Studies and a renowned historian of Vietnam. In a very personal account published in 2004, Taylor described how over the course of his career he came to contest the "three axioms in the dominant interpretation of the U.S.-Vietnam War," namely that the government in Saigon was illegitimate, that the U.S. had no grounds to be involved in Vietnamese affairs, and that the fall of the Republic of Vietnam was inevitable (Taylor 2004).1) Together with his A History of the Vietnamese (Taylor 2013), the present volume can be seen as part of the exposition of Taylor’s theses that the Vietnamese are characterized by a fundamental North-South division, that their history is driven not by nationalism or resistance to "foreign aggression," but rather an inescapable connection to the Chinese political world, and that the struggle of Vietnamese and their allies to create and sustain a non-Communist Vietnamese government after 1945 was a just one (ibid., 620–626).

It is an uneven collection, with entries ranging from Bui Diem’s 5-page "A Vietnamese Perspective on US Involvement," to Tran Quang Minh’s 49-page "A Decade of Public Service." The text could have benefitted from closer editing that would have tightened up some chapters and avoided such things as flights in "beach craft" [sic. Beechcraft] airplanes (p. 27). In some places, contributors attempt to gloss 2,000 years of history in a few pages; in others, they veer into questionable attempts to refute commonly-held beliefs about the nature of the regime, as in Nguyen Ngoc Bich’s description of the so-called "Tiger Cages" used for solitary confinement in the prison at Con Son island (p. 34).

Nevertheless, the accounts provide important insights into life under the Second Republic, reminding us it was a functioning regime attempting to create institutions, build capacity, and carry on the day-to-day operations of governments everywhere. Over the course of the 1960s and early 70s, the Republic came to be shaped by a new generation of highly trained and motivated young officials and activists. As Tran Quang Minh explains, "The Vietnam War was not all about killing and maiming, battles lost and won, and American and Vietnamese frustrations. . . . It was for us very much about building a nation and changing lives, about social revolution, rural reconstruction, agricultural development, economic improvement, and building a happy future for our children" (p. 87).

Moreover, this new generation achieved results that are often ignored. Programs like the Land To The Tiller Program (LTTTP), the Accelerated Miracle Rice Production Program (AMRPP), and the National Food Administration (NFA), detailed in Tran Quang Minh’s chapter "A Decade of Public Service," created millions of new smallholders in the Vietnamese countryside and reintroduced market mechanisms, contributing to an increase in food production so that after years of wartime shortages by 1974 the country was once again largely self-sufficient. Nguyen Duc Cuong points to the combination of planning and good fortune that saw the discovery of oil off the Vietnamese coast and the first moves towards its exploitation beginning in 1973. Their accounts also unintentionally shed light on important ecological changes driven by developments like mechanization, the introduction of hybrid rice varieties, the growing dependence on artificial fertilizer, and the construction of Vietnam’s first pesticide factories. Taken together, the book’s chapters make it clear that much of Vietnam’s economic recovery—and ecological change—beginning in the 1980s was based on the achievements of the Second Republic.

Nevertheless, frequent references to inflation, red tape, entrenched bureaucracies, corruption, and waste all underline the magnitude of the challenges the regime faced and help to temper the uniformly positive image of the Republic that emerges from some chapters. In his chapter "From the First to the Second Republic," Phan Quang Tue makes it clear that despite a veneer of democratic institutions, "the entire system was under the control of the military establishment" (p. 123). It was a military establishment, moreover, that did not flinch from attempting the assassination of opponents like Tue’s father. While in this respect the Second Republic differed little from contemporary regimes in places like Thailand, Taiwan, or the Republic of Korea, it does remind us of the need to distinguish between men like Tue who struggled to build a more democratic Republic of Vietnam, and others, including many at the highest levels of the regime, who did not.

In his chapter, Phan Quang Tue points to both the potential and the limitations of this kind of oral history project. He compares the collection to Kurosawa’s Rashomon, "a fascinating account of the effect of subjective perception on recollection by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts" (p. 118). In this sense, it is a fittingly democratic volume that mirrors the editor’s larger argument about the regime itself. It is also the basis of the collection’s greatest value: the way it brings together a range of divergent and often unexpected accounts, shedding new light on the Republic of Vietnam at the same time it suggests topics for future research.

Gerard Sasges
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore


Buzzanco, Robert. 2005. How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love Vietnam and Iraq. Counterpunch, April 16. http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/04/16/how-i-learned-to-quit-worrying-and-love-vietnam-and-iraq/, accessed January 28, 2016.

Catton, Philip E. 2002. Diem’s Final Failure: Prelude to America’s War in Vietnam. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Miller, Edward. 2013. Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Taylor, K. W. 2013. A History of the Vietnamese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

―. 2004. How I Began to Teach about the Vietnam War. Special Issue, Michigan Quarterly Review 43(4). Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.act2080.0043.420.

Tran, Nu-Anh. 2006. South Vietnamese Identity, American Intervention, and the Newspaper Chinh Luan [Political Discussion], 1965–1969. Journal of Vietnamese Studies 1(1–2): 169–209.

1) Coming as it did in the context of US intervention in Iraq, Taylor’s article sparked a highly charged reply by the scholar Robert Buzzanco (Buzzanco 2005), with their exchange coming to be known in the field as the "Taylor-Buzzanco Debate".


Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Michael G. VANN

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Identity and Pleasure: The Politics of Indonesian Screen Culture
Ariel Heryanto
Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2014, xiv+246p.

At the risk of rehashing the old orientalist clichés we must acknowledge that contemporary Indonesia can be a bewildering place. This holds true both for outside observers and for Indonesians engaged in fashioning the practice of daily life. During my daily motorcycle commute to Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta (Jogja) in 2012–13, the massive billboards at major intersections never ceased to fascinate me and make me question what I thought I knew about Indonesia. Advertisements for self-help seminars by Muslim televangelists competed with images of Korean boy bands; Coca-Cola offered itself as the perfect drink for breaking the Ramadan fast; an appliance store suggested buying a refrigerator to celebrate Kartini Day (a national holiday honoring a Javanese princess who promoted education for women); and portraits of political candidates in stock poses blocked the view of Monjali, a massive monument left-over from Suharto’s authoritarian New Order which now housed a nightly display of Hello-Kitty-themed paper lanterns. In March 2013, after a bar fight led to the murder of an off duty solider and a commando squad broke into the prison and executed the suspects, banners applauding Kopassus (the elite army special forces) and denouncing preman (street thugs) mysteriously appeared at these intersections. I was constantly amazed by what one saw on the street of Jogja. Fortunately, Ariel Heryanto’s latest book offers wide-ranging and insightful analysis into Indonesian political culture and cultural politics since the fall of Suharto in 1998. Identity and Pleasure: The Politics of Indonesian Screen Culture is a brilliant study of the diverse and seemingly contradictory forces at play in the world’s fourth largest nation-state. This ethnography of urban Indonesian youth and mid-career professionals explains that what I witnessed in the streets of Jogja were public manifestations over the struggle for identity. Heryanto delves into the ways in which his subjects actively negotiate consumerism, Islamicization, social media, and the violent legacy of authoritarianism.

While an important book, Identity and Pleasure: The Politics of Indonesian Screen Culture will frustrate some readers. Despite the title, Heryanto is very clear that the book is not a history of Indonesian cinema. Nor is it an encyclopedic account of Indonesian television and film. Rather, the book uses screen culture (television, film, and social media) as a prism to explore post-New Order identity politics. Heryanto analyzes certain films, certain televisions shows, and certain aspects of social media to understand the ways in which certain Indonesians are actively engaged in the construction of their own identity. That his study discusses "certain Indonesians" is seen in his clear focus on urban middle-class young people and mid-career professionals (what Americans used to call "Yuppies": young upwardly mobile urban professionals) in several Javanese cites, including Jakarta, Surabaya, Semarang, Bandung, and Malang. Thus, this is not a study of all elements of Indonesian society, only of a privileged subset. Heryanto states that his analysis is narrowly qualitative rather then broadly quantitative. But the author’s admittedly tight focus does not diminish the work’s larger significance. Indeed, this may be one of the most useful contributions to the understanding contemporary Indonesia, comparable to John Pemberton’s history of the present, On the Subject of "Java," which probed the New Order in the mid-1980s (Pemberton 1994). Perhaps the most striking feature of Identity and Pleasure is Heryanto’s ability to find meaning in seemingly trivial and mundane aspects of popular culture.

At times Heryanto’s description of Indonesian cultural politics can seem pessimistic. Cynical politicians use Islam to garner support from pious voters and Muslim televangelists seem more preoccupied with promoting a path to material wealth than spiritual salvation. If terrorist attacks are rare, the violent thuggery of the preman (gangsters) permeates many aspects of urban life from presidential elections to public parking rackets. He suggests that the nation may never be able to come to terms with the bloody history of over three decades of authoritarian rule, human rights abuses, and rampant corruption. Heryanto calls attention to rampant sinophobia, yet acknowledges it is no longer state policy as under Suharto. He repeatedly states that social media, rather than liberating or empowering the average Indonesian, is furthering social atomization and making communication increasing artificial and superficial. He concludes the book by revealing that "[t]he underside of the politics of identity and pleasure are plight, predicament, and pain" (p. 209).

Identity and Pleasure contains eight chapters. In the opening chapter Heryanto sets up his theoretical framework, states his arguments, and defines his parameters. He holds that the social group he is studying is actively engaged in both negotiating and transforming established and traditional identities with the new freedoms of consumer capitalism and potential liberation of web-based social media. The title refers to both the debate over identity and the pleasures of popular culture. The second and third chapters consider Islamic cultural politics. Heryanto argues for the analytic (not descriptive) model of Post-Islamism for contemporary Indonesia, a model which can include conflict, dissent, and disagreement within the Muslim world. He notes the ways in which politicians, self-help speakers, and filmmakers use Islam for their own purposes. In his discussion of Islamic themed films, Heryanto explains the unprecedented success of the 2008 Ayat-Ayat Cinta [Verses of love] as stemming from its depiction of young, hip, and fashionable Muslims. The film and several others that followed demonstrate the ways in which young urban Indonesians are actively engaged in shaping their own identities as both Islamic and modern. Chapters four and five both analyze the difficulties, if not failures, of coming to terms with the violence of 1965. Heryanto persuasively argues that the New Order’s silencing of critical voices has effectively destroyed both popular understanding and meaningful historiography of the destruction of the PKI and subsequent reign of terror. These chapters demonstrate how Suharto’s silencing of non-New Order narratives of 1965 has made it impossible to have a meaningful discussion about the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Indeed, with few people understanding the meaning of the word "Communist" as anything other than a catch-all term for evil, Indonesian political discourse even lacks a terminology to discuss these foundational events. Heryanto charts how New Order screen culture, with its bloody propaganda films, has tainted post-authoritarian Indonesia. He also notes the historic importance of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012), hoping that this documentary might create the conditions to speak of the events of 1965. Chapter six looks at another silencing, that of the role of ethnic Chinese in the film industry. Once again, contemporary Indonesia has trouble escaping the legacy of Suharto’s sinophobic policies. Chapter seven posits the recent K-Pop craze as an avenue for young Muslim women to express agency in public spaces. Heryanto discusses the obsession with Korean soap operas and boy bands (subjects which some scholars might dismiss as trivial and faddish) with the same critical insight he applies to independent filmmakers probing human rights abuses. The final chapter argues that screen culture and reality television shows helped to create the phenomenon of "celebrity candidates" in the 2009 elections. With politicians such as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appearing on Indonesian Idol and releasing recordings of his music and local candidates becoming famous for outrageous stunts, Heryanto demonstrates the blurring of the line between politics and entertainment. The 209-page book lacks a formal conclusion.

While a brilliant book, Identity and Pleasure is not without its shortcomings. Specialists made be frustrated with the interdisciplinary nature of this collection of essays. Writing in several different registers, which make sense in the context of each chapter, the book as a whole does lack methodological depth and rigor. Sociologists, cultural anthropologists, and social psychologists may agree with Heryanto’s theory that as an orally-oriented culture Indonesia has a unique relationship with social media, but this position is merely stated rather than proven with detailed primary or secondary evidence. Elsewhere discussions of research as a participant-observer seem anecdotal and lack evidence of broad social research. One of the most striking shortcomings is in the discussion of the Chinese and the film industry. Heryanto persuasively shows the importance of ethnic Chinese in Indonesian cinema as producers and actors and contrasts this with the shocking lack of significant Chinese characters in these films. While his linkage of this silence with the New Order’s sinophobia is excellent, he fails to make the obvious comparison with the history of American Jews; a vilified minority who were well represented in the Hollywood studio system and as actors who adopted non-Jewish names. This curious missed opportunity does not invalidate the chapter’s argument but it left this reviewer unsatisfied.

Much of Identity and Pleasure‘s genius lies in Herytano’s willingness to take the seemingly trivial as serious evidence. This allows him to read significant meaning into flash mobs, cover dances, and adolescent crushes on K-Pop idols, as well as the work of human rights activists, independent filmmakers, and national political figures. Furthermore, such an approach shows his respect for the young urban Javanese that make up the subject of his research. With strong use of selected theory, ranging from Ernst Renan to Marshall McLuhan to the ever-present Benedict Anderson, Heryanto situates these essays in the wider discussions of media studies and the politics of nationalism. Identity and Pleasure will be of use to scholars of Indonesia as well as the politics of popular culture in Southeast Asia as a whole. This reviewer found it essential for unraveling some of the daily mysteries of the contemporary Indonesian city.

Michael G. Vann
Department of History/Asian Studies, Sacramento State University


Pemberton, John. 1994. On the Subject of "Java." Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Hsin-Huang Michael HSIAO

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

The Historical Construction of Southeast Asian Studies: Korea and Beyond
Park Seung Woo and Victor T. King, eds.
Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013, xviii+468p.

Before this important edited volume by Park and King was published, I had the pleasure to be invited to endorse it. I wrote the following message, "At a time when Southeast Asian Studies is declining in North America and Europe, this book serves to remind us of the fresh, constructive, and encouraging view of the field from Asia. On behalf of Taiwan’s Southeast Asian research community, I sincerely congratulate Professors Park and King for making such a great and timely contribution to the making of Southeast Asian Studies in Asia."

After having reviewed the whole text once again, I am further convinced that this collective effort made by Korean Southeast Asian scholars and other selected contributors from Australia, the Netherlands, and United Kingdom should be modeled in other Asian countries so as to re-energize and to transform current Southeast Asian studies into a truly new global form of scholarship. Such a paradigm shift is simple: Southeast Asian studies is no longer a field monopolized by Western academics. It is a free and open frontier for rising Southeast Asian scholars to study their own societies and for other Asian researchers studying their neighboring countries. It should also be a fertile land for both Asian (insider) and non-Asian (outsider) theorists to engage in substantive dialogues and discourses to hopefully create more authentic, indigenous, and ground-making knowledge about Southeast Asia. To push further, one can even envision the potential yet significant contribution of a solid and theoretically minded area studies, including a Southeast Asian studies that can lead to a "truly globalized" humanities and social science in the future.

I am not sure if the editors and authors had the above in mind, but certainly the fruitful discussions presented in this volume of institutional developments and the contributions to Southeast Asian studies in South Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, Vietnam, United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and the Netherlands, shed light on the above inspiration and vision.

With the exception of the three chapters on United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia that are written by scholars based in those nations, the other six cases dealing with the development of Southeast Asian studies are all written through Korean scholars’ observations and interpretations. It is a unique feature of this book, but it also raises a question. Why is it that only three countries are tackled by their own scholars?

Though the region’s definition has always been an issue, I tend to agree with the editors not to problematize this particular matter too much. Rather, they have raised a few significant and substantive issues that remain unsolved as a way to draw out some constructive conclusions.

The first one is area studies versus disciplinary research. The various related chapters that focus on Southeast Asian studies in the countries covered are in fact a random mix of multi-disciplinary or single disciplinary perspectives on either regional studies or research dealing with individual countries. No specific rationale is provided on the different cases under review and may be due to accidental reasons that inform research motivations, available funding, and individual scholars’ academic training. However, we can observe that in Southeast Asia studying one’s own country is the primary mode that constitutes the core of Southeast Asian studies by insiders. Outside the region, however, we can observe a more logical colonial historical legacy, one with strategic concerns or preoccupied theoretical explanations that take up the focus of some specific national studies instead of others. That can be found in the concentration of Indonesian studies in Australia and the Netherlands, research on Singapore and Malaysia in the United Kingdom, and in recent years, the cross-boundary approach en vogue in the United States.

I can understand why this edited volume has no intention to offer specific solutions to the debates listed above, but it would have been more useful for readers if a more solid assessment of the major accomplishments made by either descriptive-historical area studies in one country or any innovative theorizing achieved in another country were provided in the chapters. In the case of Taiwan, which is not covered in this volume, all the above debatable issues are also prevalent within the Southeast Asian studies community. One pragmatic strategy adopted there from the inception of Southeast Asian studies was to match the specified subject matter with a relevant discipline and keep ongoing theoretical discourses in mind. This may constitute a point of reference for future discussions that engage with the issue of "what area studies is or means by discipline."

The second issue is what happens when Northeast Asia meets Southeast Asia in Southeast Asian studies? As is also quite clearly revealed from the three chapters on Japan, South Korea, and China, it has become an emerging trend for East Asian scholars to engage in area studies of various kinds in Southeast Asia countries. This involves not just individual research activities, but rather more institutionalized and collaborative endeavors in the making. The three chapters have done a fair job in depicting respective histories and their different institutional features of Southeast Asian studies in these three East Asian countries. Readers are informed of the different historical backgrounds and motivations as well as the academic rationale behind the recent enterprises of Southeast Asian studies in each country. These range, for example, from the historical legacy and the remaking of a Japanese national image, business and economic opportunities for South Korea, and China’s need to become an aggressive rising power. Though uneven, the three chapters provide a useful primer on the names of scholars, institutions, and centers in this field as well as tables and figures of what has been achieved in relation to Southeast Asia.

The chapter on China points out a biased Sino-centric perspective toward Southeast Asia in Chinese scholarship. This is dictated by a Chinese governmentality and its preoccupation with outdated "blood connections" in researching the overseas Chinese in the region. The chapter on Japan, though overly one-sided with a focus on the study of Southeast Asian history, also comments on the lack of translation of the major Japanese works into English language with many inadequately known to the non-Japanese speaking academics. The chapter on South Korea further raises the serious problem of the under-recognition of Southeast Asian studies by the wider academic community as a unique and independent discipline. Besides the Chinese problem which is an exceptionally political and ideological one, the problems presented by the Japanese and Korean cases are actually quite common and Taiwan is also no exception.

The editors and the chapter authors seem not to be inspired to go deeper and tackle the following important questions. What advantages and disadvantages exist for Northeast Asian scholars to engage in Southeast Asian studies? Have they truly made new discoveries that have been appreciated by local Southeast Asian academics in the same area of research? Are there any differences in the ways and approaches that Northeast Asian scholar employ toward studying Southeast Asia that differ from those employed by Western researchers in previous years? What are the best ways for Southeast Asian and Northeast Asian scholars to collaborate and to learn from each other to advance scholarship in Southeast Asian studies? Finally and collectively, in which direction should we move in order to develop a new Southeast Asian scholarship that reflects a shift to a more autonomous Asian paradigm of Southeast Asian studies?

Though this current volume does not answer all issues I raise, after having read the book with great interest, I believe it is, nonetheless, a very useful contribution to a new and better understanding of the state of the field of Southeast Asian studies today. As stated at the beginning, it marks a good beginning for a new scholarship of Asian studies of Southeast Asia. I certainly recommend all serious readers in this field to read it and to make an intelligent comparison with previous field review volumes.

Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao 蕭新煌
Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica


Vol. 5, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Victor T. KING

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1



Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia: Magic and Modernity
Volker Gottowik, ed.
Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014, 338p.

This edited volume is an integrated and carefully edited collection of informed and ethnographically rich chapters on the relationships between religion and modernity. For me the strength of the volume rests in its detailed ethnographies of spirituality and ritual action. The several chapters emerged from a "scientific network" of early career researchers focusing on the theme of "Religious Dynamics in Southeast Asia." It was supported initially by the German Research Foundation over a period of four years, and then from 2011 the project was continued, expanded, and translated into a "competence network" financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The book gives expression to the scholarly work undertaken by primarily German-based researchers from the universities of Frankfurt am Main (Birgit Bräuchler, Volker Gottowik), Freiburg (Melanie V. Nertz, Judith Schlehe), Göttingen (Peter J. Bräunlein, Paul Christensen, Michael Dickhardt), Heidelberg (Susanne Rodemeier, Guido Sprenger), and the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg (Annette Hornbacher), along with the coordinator of the BMBF-funded network, Karin Klenke, Thomas A. Reuter at the University of Melbourne, and Martin Slama at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

The research, in part at least, refers back to the pioneering Weberian-inspired studies of Clifford Geertz on Java and Bali and his conceptualization of religion as a "cultural system," and appropriately in a German context, to Max Weber’s masterpieces in the sociology of religion. In this connection Volker Gottowik’s book grapples with a major issue which engaged Geertz and Weber and that is the relationship and interaction between religion and modernity. These issues were taken up in various conceptually differentiated ways by Talal Asad in his Genealogies of Religion (1993), and in an Indonesian context by among others Andrew Beatty (1999), John R. Bowen (2003), Robert W. Hefner (1985), Webb Keane (1997), and Mark R. Woodward (1989; 2011). The volume investigates "the specific forms that modernity is assuming in Southeast Asia through creative adaptations, which pertain not least to religion" (p. 13), but it confirms that the West is a "symbol" but not a "model" of modernity (p. 172).

All the chapters, in various intriguing ways, examine the religious or spiritual responses to the processes which are generating "multiple," "plural," "regional," "parallel," or "other" modernities and in particular the reactions to generalized processes of commodification, secularization, rationalization, homogenization, and standardization. There is also a clear concern with the exercise of agency and the forms and patterns of interaction between the human and the non-human or supernatural world.

The volume demonstrates in ample ethnographic detail that there has been a range of spiritual responses in Southeast Asia which engage with, resist, negotiate, and transform the Weberian modernization-religion prospectus; these counterpoints embrace what the volume collectively refers to as "magic" covering such beliefs and practices as witchcraft, sorcery, possession, trance, "faith-healing," and ancestor and spirit worship. These "magical" responses give expression to ambiguity, but also serve to subvert and resist the processes of modernization (p. 22); they also act to defend, reinterpret, rejuvenate, and revitalize what is referred to, perhaps somewhat misleadingly, as "tradition." In addition to magic the other set of responses to modernization are embodied in variants of Islamic reformism which perceives modernity as "multilayered, contradictory and contested" (p. 26). Several of the chapters also examine the ways in which the state intervenes in and attempts to control and direct religious life.

The book is organized into three sections entitled "Modern Spirits," "Modern Muslims," and "Modern Traditions"; "modern traditions" is an oxymoron of significant proportions and the subject matter is probably better captured in Eric Hobsbawm’s and Terence Ranger’s concept of "invented tradition" (1983). With regard to "modern Muslims" we have to address the phenomenon of radical or fundamentalist Islam and its engagement with modernity; is it "modern"? Even the concept of "modern spirits" is problematical and connects both with modernity and a reinvented tradition in a spectrum of rituals and beliefs which include Philippine passion rituals, self-crucifixion and self-flagellation, Indonesian horse rituals and Rmeet (Lamet) rituals addressing ancestor spirits, and house, village, sky, and forest spirits.

Much of the detailed case material is taken from Muslim Indonesia and especially Java, with some examination of Balinese Hinduism, as well as Christianity in Sumatra and Maluku, and religious transformations in Vietnam and Laos. It is unfortunate that there is very little attention to Theravada Buddhism. Moreover in a volume on the current ideational and active dimensions of religion there are no chapters provided by researchers from Southeast Asia. Had locally-based and -derived field research been included might there have been different conceptualizations of the interaction between religion and modernity and the ways in which tradition is reconstructed and invented? Interestingly in the preface to the volume which outlines the research project and its inputs only one Southeast Asian researcher is mentioned, Goh Beng Lan, a Malaysian anthropologist now based in Singapore. One wonders why there was not a greater level of scholarly exchange between European and Southeast Asian researchers.

Finally, it seems not altogether surprising that in periods of rapid social, cultural, economic, and political change, the human search for meaning and reassurance turns to the spiritual, to domains that are not within the reach of the market and the production of commodities. Nor is it a great surprise that "familiarity with rational-scientific explanations does not necessarily imply the refutation of religious and spiritual interpretations and experiences" (p. 65). Yet the juxtaposition of the twin concepts of magic and modernity does provide a framework which generates some interesting ideas and findings in the examination of the dynamics of religions in Southeast Asia.

Victor T. King
Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University


Asad, Talal. 1993. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Beatty, Andrew. 1999. Varieties of Javanese Religion: An Anthropological Account. Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bowen, John R. 2003. Islam, Law and Equality in Indonesia: An Anthropology of Public Reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hefner, Robert W. 1985. Hindu Javanese: Tengger Tradition and Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hobsbawm, Eric; and Ranger, Terence. 1983. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Keane, Webb. 1997. Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Woodward, Mark R. 2011. Java, Indonesia and Islam. Dordrecht: Springer.

―. 1989. Islam in Java: Normative Piety and Mysticism in the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.