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Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Kosal PATH

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

Brothers in Arms: Chinese Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979
Andrew Mertha
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014, 192p.

Andrew Mertha’s book, Brothers in Arms: Chinese Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979, not only provides historical insight into the bureaucratic structure of China’s aid to its client state, i.e. Democratic Kampuchea (DK) between 1975 and 1979, but also explicates the causal effect of the fragmented Chinese and DK bureaucratic institutions, the variation of which determines the degree of China’s ability to assert influence over DK. The main contribution of this book rests on two major breakthroughs. First, Mertha’s access to a variety of high-quality archival sources in Cambodia, combined with extensive interviews with former Chinese and Khmer Rouge officials and cadres, illuminates new details on this important subject. Second, his method of structured, focused comparison is rigorous and cutting-edge social science; he meticulously constructs descriptive accounts of and systematically traces the variation of bureaucratic-institutional fragmentation/integrity and its corresponding difference in the outcomes (i.e. China’s ability to influence DK). He does through three empirical cases, namely military aid, economic aid, and trade in chapters 4–6.

This book answers the following question: why was a powerful China unable to influence its far weaker and ostensibly dependent and client state Cambodia? Grounded in Graham Allison’s “bureaucratic politics” level of analysis of foreign policy decision-making, Mertha focuses on inter-ministerial competition and bureaucratic-institutional infighting and fragmentation in China and DK as the main units of analysis (chapters 2–3). The central argument in this book is that the varied degree of fragmentation of bureaucratic institutions in China and DK as they interacted with each other at the implementation stage of China’s aid policy explains the corresponding degree of China’s ability to exert influence over DK during the period 1975–79 (p. 9). Before delving into the structured, focused comparison of the three empirical case studies, Mertha asserts that both regimes in Beijing and Phnom Penh share at least three common attributes, namely the Leninist single-party state, significant rural development, and power in the standing committee of the Party. However, he makes the case that the degree of institutional integrity varies significantly because of differences in the ways in which individual bureaucrats navigated the two institutional environments in China and DK. As Mertha summed up, “both countries suffered from subversions of the formal institutional structure, whether fragmented, as in China, or fluid as in DK” (pp. 11–12). Thus, to Mertha, the fragmentation of bureaucratic institutions in both countries is the most important explanatory variable of China’s ability to influence the DK during this period. In the three empirical cases (chapters 4–6), the main causal inference from the three case studies can be summarized in the table below:



In the case of Kraing Leav military airport, China’s influence was severely limited by a political and military stalemate as the then-DK Defense Minister Son Sen, with strong backing of Pol Pot, was able to push back China’s assertion of its influence by dictating its preference for the location and the content of the agreement (pp. 87–89). Although the Chinese Military Attaché at the Chinese Embassy was under a “clear command-and-control” authority structure of the Chinese military (p. 91), it was “unable to influence DK in the implementation of China’s military aid policy (p. 97). In the case of the Kampong Som petroleum refinery project, the fragmentation of China’s vast network of bureaucratic institutions that oversaw energy and petroleum severely limited China’s ability to exert its influence over DK’s energy sector which would potentially lock down DK’s dependence on China’s crude oil in the long term. The Chinese could not shape DK’s energy policy even when the relevant DK authority was in disarray (pp. 108–109). However, in the case of the DK’s foreign trade development, China was able to assert enormous and lasting influence over DK trade and commerce institutions because the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, and Ministry of Communications were able to overcome bureaucratic infighting. This, he further argues, is because the DK Ministry of Commerce was “institutionally complex and fragmented” but still a viable partner for Chinese counterparts (pp. 120, 125). Mertha asserts that this is the only area where China was able to exert significant influence over DK in this highly asymmetrical relationship.

This book is not without its shortcomings. I will highlight two issues. First, by privileging the causal role of bureaucratic politics as the key theoretical framework for this study, Mertha brushes aside the role of top decision-makers in shaping policy outcomes (pp. 16–19), and more importantly argues that there was no notable difference between the leftists and pragmatists in Beijing when it came to China’s DK policy. Both ignored the “negative externality” of their policy on human suffering in Cambodia and prioritized China’s ideological and strategic interests in Cambodia during this period (pp. 17–18). This assumption is somewhat problematic because the change of leadership in Beijing in July 1977 had a significant impact on the direction of China’s overall foreign aid policy. When Deng Xiaoping was at the helm in Beijing in late 1977, he immediately began to restore China’s economic health, which had been severely damaged by the Cultural Revolution in 1966–76 (Teiwes and Sun 2007). This raises an important question: what did pragmatists like Deng and his allies in Beijing want from DK after 1977? This leadership change had a significant impact on China’s management of foreign aid and Chinese bureaucratic institutions that handled China’s aid to the DK. Deng and his economics-minded allies, especially Vice-Premier Li Xiannian, aggressively pushed to manage China’s economy in general and in particular, cut down on waste in China’s material aid overseas. This was a major shift from Mao Zedong’s “give whatever the Vietnamese ally requested” during the Vietnam War, 1965–73. In fact, economics-minded leaders like Vice-Premier Li Xiannian and Foreign Trade Minister Li Qiang were extremely displeased with the mismanagement and waste of Chinese material aid in North Vietnam as early as 1973 (see Path 2011). Hence there was a sobering lesson and strong sense of “generosity” fatigue in Beijing as they moved to aid DK after 1975.

The shift described above most likely had a direct impact on the configuration of China’s aid to DK, as discussed in Mertha’s three empirical cases covering the period of China’s aid to the DK during 1975 and 1978. In the eyes of the pragmatists like Deng Xiaoping, Pol Pot’s anti-Vietnamese stance and his war against Vietnam obviously served Deng’s desire to stage a punitive war against Vietnam. But the scope of Cambodia’s post-1975 nation-building under the Pol Pot genocidal regime (pp. 5–53) also presented a huge economic burden for China (pp. 50–53). To reduce Cambodia’s reliance on Chinese aid, Beijing needed to help Cambodia stand on its feet and the development of DK foreign trade and commerce was the next logical step forward. Interestingly, in this book Chinese reports from Phnom Penh back to Beijing in 1977–78 are riddled with a litany of complaints about Cambodia’s misuse and waste of equipment and material aid, and the severe lack of skilled workers, professionalism, and capable leadership (for instance, see pp. 104–111 in chapter 5). It is likely that for the pragmatists, the economic cost of propping up a failed state like Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime outweighed the expected gain in terms of political influence. The extent to which a new leader like Deng Xiaoping ordered the bureaucrats to cut down on the misuse and waste of Chinese material aid somewhat undercuts the centrality of Mertha’s “bureaucratic politics” argument.

Second, although this book provides new insight into the scope of China’s aid to the DK, the exact size of that aid remains unknown. For instance, the figures for economic and military aid documented in this book (pp. 80–82) are “China’s pledges of aid” and we still do not how much of that was actually delivered to the Khmer Rouge. In short, the exact scope and size of China’s aid to the DK remains a subject for further research. As Mertha suggested, access to Chinese sources on this topic would provide a fuller picture.

This book is the first to provide such insightful details on China’s aid to the DK between 1975 and 1978, but certainly not the last one on this subject. To historians, this book is certainly a major breakthrough in the history of China’s aid to the DK. But as a political scientist, Mertha’s central aim in this book is the generalizability and applicability of the findings in this particular case to China’s foreign aid decision-making at present. The last chapter (chapter 7) of this book lays claim to its important relevance to the bureaucratic-institutional level of analysis of China’s foreign aid policy today. This book is a useful resource for students of China’s foreign aid policy.

Kosal Path
Brooklyn College, City University of New York


Allison, Graham. 1969. Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis. American Political Science Review 63: 689–718.

Path, Kosal. 2011. Economic Factor in the Sino-Vietnamese Split: An Analysis of Vietnamese Archival Sources. Cold War History 11(4): 519–555.

Teiwes, Frederick; and Sun, Warren. 2007. The End of the Maoist Era: Chinese Politics during the Twilight of the Cultural Revolution, 1972–1976. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Woonkyung YEO

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

To Nation by Revolution: Indonesia in the 20th Century
Anthony Reid
Singapore: NUS Press, 2011, 348p.

To Nation by Revolution is a collection of articles written by Anthony Reid, who has been praised not only for his seminal book Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, but also for important works on diverse themes that have been critical in the formation of Indonesia. At first glance, the book looks quite disoriented: the 12 chapters were written over a quite long time span, and the topics of the chapters appear to be rather fragmented. However, reading through the entire book, readers find that these seemingly fragmented chapters are interconnected through the mediating role of the “Revolution” and sociopolitical transformations linked to it.

Reid sees the Indonesian Revolution as more analogous to the French Revolution than to the Russian Revolution and in this book the term is used to represent a kind of political phenomenon. However, the Revolution is not confined to the “Revolusi,” Indonesian struggle (1945–49) for independence against the Dutch. As Reid himself states, this book is rather about the “manner in which Indonesia entered the modern community of nation-states, through political revolution” (p. viii). In light of this perspective, the Revolution here does not merely denote political changes, but also connotes sociocultural transformations Indonesians have experienced for a longer period of time beyond the 1940s.

The themes of the chapters testify to the wide thematic scope of the Revolution, and of the changes resulting in and from the Revolution. The majority of the chapters analyze topics directly or indirectly related to the Revolusi (1945–49) and adjacent time period. Yet some chapters deal with themes, temporally or thematically far away from the Revolusi. The most interesting cases are chapter 2 (“The Late Death of Slavery”), chapter 3 (“From Betel to Tobacco”), and chapter 12 (“Chinese and the State”). These issues appear to have nothing to do with other chapters on political changes in Indonesia in the mid-twentieth century. They are, however, not unrelated to others in that they explore transformations that led to a break with past tradition in Indonesian society. Subsequently, these paved the way for the “Revolution” and the emergence of a nation-state, baptized with a new zeitgeist such as modern knowledge and new political system. Yet, the Revolusi in the 1940s did not come without any preliminary symptoms: “revolutionary” social transformations in the colonial period such as the abolition of slavery and the replacement of betel by tobacco were among those factors that contributed to the political revolution in the mid-twentieth century.

In this regard, I think that chapter 5 (“Merdeka: The Indonesian Key to Freedom”) is pivotal in linking the two seemingly unrelated phenomena—sociocultural transformations (chapters 2 and 3) and political changes—analyzed in other chapters. Merdeka, originating from Sanskrit maharddika (eminent, wise, illustrious), came to legally mean non-slave status in Malay, and, with the introduction of the Western political concept, it came to take on the meaning of “freedom” and functioned as a key political term in anticolonial movements (pp. 107, 116). In the context of the Revolusi, Merdeka signified the ultimate freedom: independence (p. 120). Thus, considering the etymological history of the term Merdeka, research on the Indonesian Revolution should also pay attention to diverse social reforms (such as land reforms and labor movements) against the backdrop of political upheaval. The inclusion of chapter 9 (“Gestapu”) can be understood in this light: to Reid, the coup in October 1965 and the subsequent birth of an authoritarian state was not just a tragic political event: by eliminating social aspects of Merdeka and making it completely a political independence, the New Order brought about the decline or demise of the Revolution that Indonesians (and probably Reid) have envisioned.

Another interesting point is the time span of the publication dates of the chapters: almost 40 years. The oldest one (chapter 9) was published in 1968, while the most recent one (chapter 11 “Why not Federalism”) came out in 2007. This temporal gap between chapters may raise skepticism on the coherence of the entire book. At the same time, however, it is one of the merits this kind of compilation can produce: reading this book provides an opportunity to trace the diversity and changes over many years in Reid’s scholarly interests in contemporary Indonesia. These factors make the publication of this collection of diverse articles more plausible. As the author points out, each chapter exhibits his perspectives and scholarly debates in the period when they were written, so it is understandable that he deliberately meant to leave the articles as unmodified as possible. This is particularly positive in that the book provides other scholars of modern Indonesia with room for (re)interpretation of what has been written by one of the most prominent trailblazers in the field.

However, this book also contains weaknesses, some of which ironically come from the above-mentioned merits. First, primarily because of his intention to keep the articles as unchanged as possible, there is inevitable redundancy in some parts of the book. For example, while chapter 7 (“The Japanese Impact”) investigates the Japanese Occupation period (1942–45) in detail, parts of chapters 1 and 8 also cover the period. A slight streamlining of some chapters might have made the book more compact and cohesive. The most regrettable point is that the book does not include a newly-written introduction. To some extent, chapter 1 (“Indonesia: Revolution without Socialism”) plays its part as an introductory chapter. However, it would have been much better if it had included Reid’s own reflection (if not evaluation) of his research and perspectives on Indonesian society over the past four decades. I agree that the publication of this book is justifiable in that it would benefit Indonesianists by bringing together the scattered writings of the author (p. viii). However, I believe that a new (introductory) chapter reflecting his current interpretation of the (concept and scope of) Revolution would have given more scholarly legitimacy for the publication of this book.

Despite these minor weaknesses, To Nation by Revolution is still a good read, filled with useful information and (still) provocative insights. By welding a social history point of view in analyzing political issues and events, this book (and each chapter) problematizes the definition and significance of the Revolution. By doing so, it provides diverse angles to look at Indonesian society in the twentieth century.

Woonkyung Yeo 여운경
Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, Seoul National University

Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Kai CHEN

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Theravada Buddhist Countries
Scott A. Hipsher
London: Routledge, 2010, 207p.

Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar: Cultural Narratives, Colonial Legacies, and Civil Society
Juliane Schober
Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2011, 248p.

An image come to mind when talking about Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia: devout monks who dwell in the remote wilderness or forest dwellings and care no more about the secular world. Business Practices in Southeast Asia by Scott A. Hipsher and Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar by Juliane Schober succeed in re-examining something we think we know about the Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia (i.e., Cambodia. Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand), and providing readers with a better understanding of the four countries in which Theravada Buddhism has significant economic and political power.

Business Practices in Southeast Asia explores the cultural features that are influenced by Theravada Buddhism in entrepreneurial behavior and business practice in these four countries. This book has 12 chapters. Chapters 1–2 overview Theravada Buddhists and the impact of Theravada Buddhism in the four countries. In Hipsher’s words, Theravada Buddhism does “bind the nations together in a way that makes this a distinctly recognizable region” (Hipsher, p. 16). Chapters 3–6 successively examine the extent to which companies in the four countries are influenced by Theravada Buddhism. Chapters 7–10 explore features of companies in Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia, such as business strategies, tactical management, marketing, finance, labor relations, and so on. In the final two chapters, Hipsher stresses the interconnections that exist between secular politics and Theravada Buddhism, and then predicts future trends. In the words of Hipsher, companies in the four countries of Theravada Buddhism will “continue to be influenced by Theravada Buddhist values,” while “increasingly use globally available technology” (Hipsher, p. 179).

The most significant contribution of this book is that it reveals five distinctive features in the Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhist societies: (1) they are hierarchical, but paternalistic; (2) flexible; (3) possess a low level of control; (4) practice moderation and pragmatism (taking the middle path); and (5) focus on the individual (Hipsher, p. 30).

In the view of Hipsher, in contrast with impersonal strategic management in the West (e.g., human resource management and labor relations), many companies in the Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia are family owned; in other words, “there is no separation between ownership and management” (Hipsher, p. 48). Hipsher concludes that these local companies are more personalized, relationship-oriented, and less bureaucratic, in contrast with those in the West. However, with non-core operational business practices (e.g., accounting, billing, and shipping), there is a higher level of convergence with international practices.

Theravada Buddhists believe that souls transmigrate and kamma gained in precious lives determines the social order in the present. Therefore, Theravada Buddhists generally accept the legitimacy of rulers and employers, because they assumed the individuals “earned a significant amount of kamma in previous lives” (Hipsher, p. 151). So it’s not surprising that companies in these societies are characterized by patron-client relations and values that follow a “middle path.”

Patron-client relations are common throughout Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia. Within these relations, employees believing in kamma “readily accept differences in power and wealth” (Hipsher, p. 125). At the same time, the patron (employer) does provide “both tangible and intangible benefits to one’s clients in order to retain their respect and loyalty” (Hipsher, p. 120), such as preferring personal relations in hiring and training employees.

According to the “middle path” value of Theravada Buddhism, “success is important but does not necessarily mean unlimited growth and expansion” (Hipsher, p. 77). In daily practice, the “middle path” means “to be serious in one’s work and studies, but not too serious, and to ensure one also enjoys ones’ life” (Hipsher, p. 27). Following this value, most Buddhist employees prioritize low-stress workplace, rather than pursuing material possessions.

Alongside Hipsher’s thought-provoking book, Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar by Juliane Schober focuses on the “conjunctures” between Theravada Buddhism and secular politics in Myanmar from pre-colonial seventeenth to early twenty-first century. An attached chronology and exhaustive notes improve the readability of this book to some degree.

Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar has eight chapters. The first two chapters contextualize the conjunctures between Buddhism and different realms in the pre-colonial (including the three Anglo-Burmese Wars) and colonial eras, while highlighting the construction of Buddhist rationalism as an essential push factor that relied on and used Buddhism moral and political leverage to challenge the government.

Based on personal fieldwork in Myanmar since 1980, Schober’s core argument is to question the Weberian narrative of “otherworldly” Buddhism (Schober, p. 10). In her opinion, “Buddhist public acts performed by monks and laity in Buddhist societies are simultaneously—and necessarily—political and religious” (Schober, p. 20). In addition, Schober discovers a lesser-known fact: the Sangha has not been uniform for a long time. Due to the decline of Buddhist education and different attitudes toward politics, in the mid-nineteenth century, the Sangha experienced fragmentation, leading to many factions developing different attitudes toward the politicization of religion. It’s not surprising that some Buddhists factions were employed by modern domestic movements to “resist the power of the state” (Schober, p. 14), while other Buddhists factions provided the State Law and Order Restoration Council (1988–97) with legitimacy through religious means. In the early twentieth century, the Young Men’s Buddhist Association was initially supported by the colonial government. This is obviously contrary to the Weberian description of Buddhism as otherworldly.

Chapter 3 contextualizes the colonial reaction toward Buddhism. In the case of Buddhist education, colonial education itself hastened the decline of Buddhist education, which no longer retained its “privileged status it commanded prior to the British presence” (Schober, p. 13). Though successive governments allowed monasteries to offer basic education, coverage was limited in rural areas.

Chapters 4–5 highlight how since the early 1900s, some lay Buddhist associations tried to change traditional Buddhist practices and develop Buddhist nationalism, specifically elite lay organizations such as the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) that advocated “civil Buddhism under colonial domination” (Schober, p. 72).

In the pro-colonial era, successive governments (e.g., U Nu Government in the years 1948 to 1962, Ne Win Government in the years 1962 to 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council [1988–97], and the State Peace and Development Council [1997–2010]) tried to control the monastic community (particularly the Buddhist Sangha), its doctrines, and its social influence. For example, they championed Buddhist nationalism to consolidate their legitimacy in ruling Myanmar. As a result of this, many young monks were mobilized, but many members of the Sangha remained silent.

In Chapters 6–7, Schober analyzes the political realities to show how “the legitimation political authority remains entrenched in the political divisions” (Schober, p. 117). In the case of the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007, the struggles between the Sangha and the military regime revealed conflicting visions of moral authority held by the monks. Many participated in the government’s “administrative structures in a perfunctory way” (Schober, p. 108). At the same time, some “provided logistical support for widespread anti-government mobilization, relayed information through an internal monastic network, and even stepped up to administer some judicial and civil infrastructure” (Schober, p. 107).

Chapter 8 concludes by predicting the direction of future conjunctures between the Sangha and secular politics. As Schober concludes, partnership between the Sangha and the state might maintain an “overwhelming social and political synergies,” while “their mutual contestations certainly harbor the potential for divisive conflicts” (Schober, p. 145).

Both Business Practices in Southeast Asia and Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar provide valuable insights into the changes that Theravada Buddhism has wrought on both local politics and economy. Both books recognize that at present, several issues will remain unresolved. For instance, Schober believes that Buddhism has become “a really accessible source of power for supporters of the state as well as for those who contest, implicitly or overtly, the authority of the security of the secular state” (Schober, pp. 141–142). In the opinion of Hipsher, due to business practices, outsiders in family-owned companies have limited opportunities for advancement, which often results in leaving their employers and seeking out better opportunities.

There is a common omission in the two books. Both show little concern about Buddhists’ involvement in violence. In Hipsher’s book, Buddhists’ involvement in violence deviates from their believes in kamma and “middle way” values. In Schober’s book, Buddhists’ involvement in violence should be regarded as another expression of monastic resistance to the state. At present, Buddhist extremism is thriving in Myanmar, which is engaging in violence against Muslims. Radical Buddhist monks have been accused of spreading hate speech and fueling sectarian violence as was evident when the country was ravaged by anti-Muslim violence in 2012 and 2013, violence that left more than 200 people dead and tens of thousands homeless, mostly Muslims (Radio Free Asia 2014). In March 2014, Buddhist mobs even attacked international aid agencies over perceived pro-Rohingya bias, triggering a mass humanitarian withdrawal from Rakhine State (Integrated Regional Information Networks 2014). If the authors would consider Buddhists’ involvement in violence, their arguments and predictions on the future trend will be more inclusive.

Rich in insights and elegant in presentation, both books are well documented and thoroughly researched. They represent a welcome and original contribution to the study of Theravada Buddhism, and offer new directions for future research. They are to be highly recommended to researchers, students, and practitioners alike who seek to gain both stimulating theoretical and more practical insights into Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia.

Kai Chen 陈锴
College of Public Administration, Zhejiang University, China


Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). 2014. Grassroots Moves to Quell Myanmar’s Communal Violence. July 15, 2014, available at: (accessed September 25, 2014).

Radio Free Asia. 2014. Myanmar Buddhist Monks Launch Group for ‘Defending Religion’. January 15, 2014, available at: (accessed September 25, 2014).

Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, LOH Kah Seng

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

The Ruling Elite of Singapore: Networks of Power and Influence
Michael D. Barr
London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014, 200p.

Michael Barr’s research on the recent political history of Singapore has not generally been well-received by Singaporean academics, to say the least. This is not surprising: Barr roundly dispatches meritocracy and multiculturalism, two basic building blocks of the Singaporean psyche, and finds instead elitism and Chinese dominance, which he traces to the work of one man, former long-serving prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. Independent-minded Singaporean scholars tend to avoid attributing all things on the tiny island to one individual and to find nuances in their study of postcolonial Singapore (Hong 2002).

In his latest book, Barr sets out to map the networks of power in Singapore from the 1960s to the present. In his idea of networks, political leaders are less actors unto themselves, whose personal ambition and command of power may change the course of history, than hirelings of Lee who fulfilled his vision for piloting the city-state’s course. The networks of elitism and Chinese dominance produce a stable authoritarianism. In this sense, the book expands on Barr’s first book (2000) on Lee’s psychological make-up and the second (co-authored, 2008) on the making of Singapore as Lee envisaged. In the beginning of The Ruling Elite of Singapore, Barr cites from Lee’s memorable speech in 1966 that Singapore’s survival depended on 150 people (p. 1).

The book is mainly descriptive. The first two chapters introduce the approach and argument before substantive discussions are made in the next three chapters. In Chapter 3, Barr charts the creation of an English-educated elite from the 1950s to the 1970s by a select group of People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders, among whom Lee was only the first among equals. While rival groups were crushed or co-opted in the process, Chapter 4 highlights a turning point in the 1980s when Lee attained sole power and could dictate the type of ruling elite to be recruited. Chapter 5 lays out the key aspects of Lee’s policy: the increasing emphasis on Chinese elites and elite schools, with adverse consequences for social mobility, and on male military scholarship-holders. The classic product of this process was Lee’s son, current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, also a “retired” brigadier-general and the “uber Singaporean” (p. 91).

The last three chapters of the book are generally weaker and less interesting. Chapter 6 discusses the impact of the 2011 elections on the elites: a few lost their titles but this was hardly the “bloodbath” that Barr suggested (p. 103). The last chapter predicts that even without the elder Lee, Lee Hsien Loong’s position is likely to be secure in the near future. At least Chapter 7 in between is useful in pointing out some of the failings of elite rule in Singapore and the need for a transparent government.

The weaknesses of the book are apparent. As Barr himself admits, it is difficult for scholars to penetrate the walls of secrecy that enclose Singapore’s elite makers and gatekeepers (such as the work of the little-known Directorship and Consultancy Appointments Council). Barr relies mainly on official speeches and statements and on interviews with people who were part of the system. The sample of interviews, many of which are understandably anonymous, is small; what they say is important, but probably more in unraveling the claustrophobic worlds of Singaporean elites (and critics) than in depicting networks of power.

Aside from a tendency to exaggerate (e.g. Goh Chok Tong’s “quasi-coup” against Lee Kuan Yew in the 1990s, p. 59), Barr deserves much credit for his sustained research into closed-off areas of Singapore history, where archival sources are limited and interviews are inflected by the experience of living under an authoritarian regime. There are important questions that Barr could have addressed in his book. For example, were all the selected elites content to play their role as handmaidens of Lee’s Singapore? Goh’s efforts to assert his independence, though trivial in comparison with political fractures in democratic and post-authoritarian countries, and the occasional conversion of a former senior civil servant to an opposition party candidate suggest that elite formation was a more fraught and unpredictable process than Barr indicated.

The book also does not explore the policy and social ramifications of the elitism. Did the recruitment of an ethnic Chinese, military-type leader affect government policy since the 1980s? In his second book, Barr examined elitism and Chinese ethnocentrism as played out in Singapore’s educational system, but there is very little discussion of their impact on government policy and their social effects in The Ruling Elite of Singapore. The book feels incomplete; one hopes that Barr would provide some answers in his subsequent research.

In focusing on elitism, Barr has tackled an important and difficult subject. As he rightly notes, it is disturbing that the population has generally internalized the elitist ethos alongside their acceptance of meritocracy and multiculturalism: Singaporeans desire to succeed as part of the elite as long as it is based on endeavor and merit, no matter one’s ethnic background. However, while elitism may be dominant, it is not hegemonic. There is substantial work on the social history of Singapore that suggests that people have ways of mediating, reinterpreting, or critiquing official policy beneath the outward appearance of acquiescence (Loh 2013; Yeoh 2003; Kong and Yeoh 2003). This is possibly a way to write a more comprehensive history of elitism in Singapore that departs from Lee Kuan Yew without rejecting his considerable role.

Loh Kah Seng 罗家成
Institute for East Asian Studies, Sogang University


Barr, Michael D. 2000. Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs behind the Man. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.

Barr, Michael D.; and Skrbiš, Zlatko. 2008. Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

Hong, Lysa. 2002. The Lee Kuan Yew Story as Singapore’s History. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 33(3): 545–557.

Kong, Lily; and Yeoh, Brenda S. A. 2003. The Politics of Landscapes in Singapore: Constructions of “Nation.” Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Loh, Kah Seng. 2013. Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press and Asian Studies of Australia Association Southeast Asia Series.

Yeoh, Brenda S. A. 2003. Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment. 2nd ed. Singapore: NUS Press.

Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, CHIN Hsuen Wei

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

Rethinking Chineseness: Translational Sinophone Identities in the Nanyang Literary World
E. K. Tan
Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2013, xii+260p.

In Southeast Asian studies, a gap often exists between social science and humanities scholarship. This divide has arisen due to differing research methodologies, methods, approaches, materials, issues, and perspectives. In this sense, E. K. Tan’s Rethinking Chineseness: Translational Sinophone Identities in the Nanyang Literary World deftly bridges the divide as it copes with an issue, Chineseness, which is a common interest of scholars in both spheres. The underlying critical concept of “Sinophone” has widened the research horizons of literature and Chinese studies, and also been increasingly accepted in fields like comparative literary studies, Southeast Asian studies, cultural studies, diaspora studies, anthropology, and sociology. By focusing on two writers from Malaysia and one from Singapore (all who write in different languages), the text juxtaposes influential theories of Chineseness with Sinophone theories to persuasively negotiate the current value of Chineseness as an identification marker of Sinophone communities. Using both the Sinophone and Anglophone literary works and associated cultural practices of these three writers as evidence, Rethinking Chineseness uncovers a Sinophone identity that is always transitional and open for (re)construction.

Sinophone studies place key focus on identities of Chinese-descent communities across the world and related representations of everyday local life experiences. While existing works in the field do respond to such crucial issues to a certain extent, Rethinking Chineseness is comparably outstanding for its substantial combing and correlation of interdisciplinary theories, such as those of Ien Ang, Rey Chow, Allen Chun, Shih Shu-mei, Tu Wei-ming, Wang Gungwu, Wang Ling-chi, Chow Kai-Wing, Tan Chee-Beng, Jing Tsu, Stuart Hall, Aihwa Ong, Donald M. Nonini, Chen Kuan-hsing, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari. This meticulous study potently justifies its research rationale and repeatedly enhances the conversing space of the studied topic with insights from other fields. Indeed, Rethinking Chineseness astutely weaves a thought-provoking dialogue with the above-mentioned scholars into literary textual and historical contextual analysis to deploy convincing argumentation throughout the book.

To Tan, who is basically a literary scholar, literary imaginaries are products of social realities and manifestations of Sinophone community dialogues with nation-state narratives. In this view, Sinophone subjects frequently mobilize imaginaries to navigate certain demarcating discourses like the universal hegemony of Chinese culture and Chineseness; these imaginaries hence move beyond nationality and ethnicity to differentiate what is Chinese and what is not in the historical and social-political milieus of the Sinophone community. In other words, the writing and deployment of imaginaries is a conscious practice in the cultural politics of identification. It provides a way for Sinophone subjects and communities to express agency and escape from imposed forms of identification. This dynamic legitimatizes the investigation into the Sinophone subjects’ perception of desires and memories as “Chinese” or local through analyzing and evaluating their literary imaginaries. With this basic foundation, Rethinking Chineseness extensively examines expressive works like novels, war narratives, and plays to find out how Sinophone subjects and the following generation of these sojourners reconstruct and articulate their memories, desires, dreams, hopes, and longings when they reinvent their ethnic culture in different stages of migration (p. 38).

In chapter 1, “Filling in the Blanks: War and the Inscription of a Sinophone Malayan Identity,” Tan scrutinizes Malaysian-born writer Vyvyane Loh’s English-language novel, Breaking the Tongue (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), a coming-of-age story of an anglicized Peranakan boy, Claude Lim, whose life in British Malaya is disrupted by the Japanese occupation during World War II. Tan analyzes how the protagonist searches and reconstructs his local identity through personal and collective memories after spiritually struggling due to war trauma, restricted acquaintance with cultural heritage and identity uncertainties—i.e. the “blanks” suggested in the chapter title—as well as the experience of tongue mutilation, a symbolic detachment and break from the familiarity that is meaning-corrupted and repressive to the formation of an autonomous self. Tan employs this novel to suggest that nothing can impede the negotiation of a Sinophone subjectivity within the local circumstance (p. 43).

By exploring Malaysian writer Chang Kuei-hsing’s Sinophone novel Elephant Herd (Qun xiang, Taipei: Shibao wenhua chuban, 1998) in chapter 2, “Prosthesizing an Origin: Metanarratives and the Making of Sinophone Malaysian Myths,” Tan explicates how the protagonist, whose ethnic longing and local identity are obscured by his limited knowledge of China and immigrant history, reconstructs his identity by transforming Borneo into a realistic space of cultural and national identification (p. 162). Tan emphasizes that the artificial myths fabricated in such a fiction reflect the narrative strategies of Chang’s Sinophone writing as minor literature. Chang frequently engages metanarratives (metahistory and metafiction) and ultimately alters the structural representation of the genre by using the Sinophone Malaysian experience and the poetic language of the Chinese tradition to delineate a unique literary form of local content and aesthetics. Such a language of inventiveness suggests that Chineseness as a designator of Chinese identity has evolved into a floating signifier. Indeed, Tan contends that Sinophone writing is far more than a mere documentation of homelessness and exile, as Sinophone Malaysian writers’ creolized environment and distinct historical experience enable them to convert the geographical homeland into a linguistic sign. To them, the choice of Sinophone writing is intended to create linguistic fluidity for constructing a sense of belonging (p. 164).

In chapter 3, “Transcending Multiracialism: Open Culture and the Making of a Sinophone Singaporean Identity,” Tan features Singaporean playwright Kuo Pao Kun’s notion of open culture. By examining two multilingual plays of Kuo, Tan expounds on Sinophone attempts to promote a common cultural identity that celebrates the intermingling of past and present as well as the local and global in an effort to transcend the cultural, linguistic, and racial compartmentalization formed by Singapore’s bilingual policy. Tan details the quest of a common culture embracing diversity, difference, and openness through discussion of Mama Looking for Her Cat (1998) and Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral (1995). Utilizing examples like Zheng He’s journey and a carnivalesque market scene, Tan proposes that the open culture allows culturally orphaned Singaporeans to re-root and re-route their cultural parentage by actively mingling their lived experience, history, and memory. Such an invention of culture and identification exposes Singaporeans to a new option for a localized cultural heritage of their own (p. 210).

By demonstrating different dimensions of cultural translation, the introductory chapter and the three long core chapters collectively elucidate how the experience and mentality of Chinese emigrants and their descendants transition from a hope to “return,” to a desire for a sense of belonging, to an eventual ability to creatively articulate difference and connection. This progression is usually represented in discourse as “overseas Chinese,” “Chinese diaspora,” and “Sinophone,” respectively. Tan thus cogently argues that Sinophone identities are translational, i.e. both relational and translatable, as they are formed by the coexistence of national, regional, ethnic, and local identities (p. 18). Sinophone communities, Tan underscores, assume and integrate traits from other cultures to build and rebuild their distinguishing Sinophone characteristics and thus recreate their ancestral culture (p. 41). Although resonant with previous concepts like Aihwa Ong’s “flexible identities” and Tan Chee Beng’s claim that there is no global Chinese identity, Tan goes further by critically rethinking the instrumentality of Chineseness as an effective theoretical category, especially in terms of its availability in the local context. He hence alters Chineseness to a linguistic symbol that continuously produces new meaning. In contrast to the theory of the diaspora first defined in the context of the Jewish community that focuses mainly on the notion of “returning to the original homeland,” Rethinking Chineseness reveals the mental experience of “not returning to the imaginary homeland” of diaspora Chinese.

The book is significantly contributive in its scrupulous theoretical mapping of Sinophone genealogy and its detailed close-readings of the selected literary texts and practices. It skillfully investigates three writers of different generations and backgrounds, a cross-boundaries research perspective that uses impressive conceptualization and sufficient contextualization to essentially strike at the core of Sinophone notions and concerns. Although its approach is primarily rooted in literature and cultural studies, it is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in Southeast Asian studies, area studies, or Chinese studies.

Chin Hsuen Wei 陳雪薇
Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore

Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Agus Suwignyo

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

In Search of Middle Indonesia: Middle Classes in Provincial Towns
Gerry van Klinken and Ward Berenschot, eds.
Leiden: KITLV Press; Boston: Brill, 2014, xvi+242p.

In 2012, the Indonesian Daily Kompas conducted a survey aiming to calculate the actual number and define the characteristics of what it called “the middle class cohort” of the country’s population. Involving 2,550 people above 17 years of age who lived in the cities of Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, and Medan, the survey employed the World Bank criteria of education level, occupation, and purchasing power parity (PPP) to determine the class categories of the respondents. The survey result shows that 1% of the respondents belonged to the upper class, 3.6% to upper middle class, 50.2% to middle class, 39.6% to lower middle class, and 5.6% to the lower class. In the World Bank criteria this means that the surveyed cohort groups, successively, earned and lived on more than US$20 per day, between US$10 and 20, between US$4 and 10, between US$2 and 4, and less than US$2. This result echoes the World Bank’s own survey earlier that year as quoted by the Daily Kompas, in which 56.5% of the entire Indonesian population of 237 million in 2012—thus forming an actual number of 134 million people—is seen as belonging to the middle class category. Kompas and the World Bank surveys represent analyses of the socio-economic diversification of the Indonesian population over the past five years, which generally depicted a growing middle class. Whereas the criteria used for the grouping of the surveyed respondents perform an established standard of income and expenditure method typical of economists, they do not satisfy other scholars who work on the social, anthropological, and political aspects of demographic population. This edited volume, In Search of Middle Indonesia, is an attempt to break these established criteria and definition of “middle class” and to offer an alternative to studying this paradigmatic term and phenomenon.

In Search of Middle Indonesia explores the expanding middle class in Indonesia not by measuring people’s consumption but by raising “more relational, political questions” (p. 2). Its basic premise is that “class is not essentially a question of income or expenditure categories; it is a political concept, intended to explain why differences remain between the behavior of rich and poor people over matters of common goods” (p. 2). The authors in this book agree on the statement that “the possession of consumer durables says nothing about new political commitments” and that “simply reducing the income threshold to the poverty limit and calling everyone above that ‘middle class’ begs many analytical questions about political action” (p. 3). While it does not abandon the income and expenditure methodology, this book employs an ethnological approach to find answers to its prime question “Why is Middle Indonesia so influential, locally and in Indonesia as a whole, though it is neither particularly rich nor particularly central in geographic terms?” (p. 8). This book thus examines “middle class” in terms of agencies and their characteristics of behaviors and seeks to clarify the motives that prompt such behaviors by exploring ethnological rather than statistic data.

In Search of Middle Indonesia is organized around three theoretical concepts, namely class, the State, and everyday culture, each of which consists of three individual studies. Three of the chapters concerning Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara emphasize previous studies some of the authors have done on this provincial town (see authors’ biographies pp. vii–ix). Other studies focus on what the authors consider “middle towns,” mostly provincial capitals. It has to be noted that the selection of the geographical locality of these studies reflects the authors’ shared consciousness of two points: the importance of a non-Java centric approach and the centrality of non-metropolitan urban lives in the making of Indonesia’s middle class.

In the first part of the book, about class, Ben White overviews the concept of Middle Indonesia based on Clifford Geertz’s “intermediate town” (1963) and Robert and Helen Lynd’s “Middletown” (1929; 1937). For this he presents a reflection on the theoretical implications that these concepts bring about in any understanding of the changes of the Indonesian people, society, and State today. Next, Nicolaas Warouw examines class relations among manufacturer workers in the towns of Cilegon and Pekalongan while suggesting the re-positioning of “citizens back in the ‘social contract’ with the state” (p. 67). Jan Newberry examines the structure of mobility in a kampong located in a suburb of Yogyakarta in order to understand “the middle class from below” (p. 71).

The second part of the book, on the State, presents Sylvia Tidey’s observation on the social segmentation and competition for resources in the town of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. Tidey argues that in today’s Kupang, ethnicity is a major factor that explains why social segmentation and competition for resources have increased and how they are constructed in daily life. Wenty Marina Minza, also in the second part, discusses the work aspirations of youth in the town of Pontianak, West Kalimantan. Like Tidey, Minza points out the important role ethnicity plays, in her case, in the youth’s orientation for jobs. She elaborates the fact that non-ethnic Chinese youth in Pontianak mostly desire the status of government employee (Pegawai Negeri Sipil, PNS). Meanwhile, Amalinda Savirani evaluates the post-Soeharto economic reforms and their impact on the “way the construction sector operates” in the town of Pekalongan in the north coast of Central Java. Savirani shows how strong ties between local politicians and contractors had not disappeared in post-Soeharto Pekalongan although the latter had lost considerable power over the system of contract distribution (p. 134).

Part three begins with Cornelis Lay’s autobiographic reflection on his hometown now and then, Kupang. Lay witnesses the changes that have taken place in Kupang as he grew up and feels he has become “part of the complex yet paradoxically simple matrix of events taking placing in that space” (p. 169). Then, there is Noorhaidi Hasan who discusses the changing role of Islam in the Central Java’s Kebumen and South Kalimantan’s Martapura. Hasan puts forward the thesis that the rise of the global resurgence concerning Islam that has followed the 9/11 events in the US has stimulated the growing consciousness of Islamic religious identity, social status, and life style among the Indonesian middle class in the two towns. The last chapter of this volume is Joseph Errington’s analysis of linguistic dynamics, again, in Kupang that he claims to have reflected “the broader process of geo-social integration and class formation in Indonesia at large” (p. 219).

Generally speaking, this book attempts to offer an alternative to the commonly accepted concept of “middle class” on three points. Firstly, even with income and expenditure criteria, the number of the middle class in Indonesia today has multiplied so drastically that it exceeds any existing assumption scholars have traditionally argued. The common assumption is that the Indonesian middle class has fallen to a relatively small number and comprises a very tiny elite percentage of the population. For example, in his seminal work The Emergence of the Modern Indonesian Elite (1960, republished 1984), Robert van Niel says that in 1900, out of a population of 27 million inhabitants in Java and Madura, 2% compromised the middle class. This then went up to about 7% of an Indonesian population of 60 million people in 1942 (ibid.). Meanwhile, although “scholars and politicians alike routinely said the middle class made up around 10% of the population,” in 1985 economic historian Howard Dick, as cited in the book being reviewed here, claims a middle class figure of 16.6% out of the total Indonesian population (p. 3). All these claims are however, being refuted. As this book argues, in Indonesia today “many more people than [previously assumed] have become consumers” and “recognizably [their] political behavior has changed.” Although this book does not provide numbers of its own as to suggest what it presumes to be the new estimated figure of the Indonesian middle class today, the results of both the Kompas and the World Bank surveys cited earlier do confirm the premise of an expanding Indonesian middle class that this book attempts to examine.

Secondly, unlike many other studies, which traditionally identify the middle-class phenomenon of metropolitan cities, this book deliberately selects Indonesian provincial towns as geographical localities in which the middle class question is paradigmatically situated. The logic underlining the selection is both political and theoretical. The authors of this book believe that after 1998 “the strong push for decentralization amidst the democratization that followed did not come from the national elite, but from a much broader provincial classes” (p. 2). There emerged a push for spatial dimension in politics. One of the sources for this push was “not the globalized metropolis, but the provincial towns—a place that foreign researchers rarely visit” (p. 6). In the context of provincial towns, the self-employed medium scale entrepreneurs, the private and public sector clerks, the teachers and the youths, although sharing global consumerist aspirations, were only “partly assimilated with the national bourgeoisie” (p. 6), and had a less secure income than their metropolis counterparts. Yet, this intermediary group holds control over their towns that becomes a power blow to the grip of the national politics given the local autonomy and decentralization.

Thirdly, the book offers a “non-quantitative” definition of the taken-for-granted concept of “middle class” and a way of studying it. The authors of this book understand provincial towns as an intermediary between the highly dynamic, global looking urban life and the relatively quiet life in rural localities. Although the physical space studied in this book covers geographical spaces of provincial towns, Middle Indonesia is referred to more as a paradigm than as an operational framework. “The middle class” of the Middle Indonesia cohort is thus meant as an imaginary locality which, while bridging the political and economic gaps between metropolis and periphery, drives the course of power relationships between the two. This theoretical framework constitutes one of the fresh, or refreshing insights that the book offers to understand Indonesia’s present day middle class.

Although the Introduction of this book conveys a theoretical framework that binds tightly the chapters as an entirety, the three themes that it attempts to use in the organization, i.e. class, the State, and everyday culture, seem to be loosely presented. Readers might wonder how the ethnographic details of the individual chapters are related to each other to frame the paradigmatic inter-relation of the class, the State, and the everyday culture upon which they are categorized. For the latter to be present, it seems that the book requires a concluding chapter, which is absent. This being said, given its title “In Search” of Middle Indonesia, this book is missing, to a large extent, the historical perspective that might be useful for situating the ethnographic data either in its entirety or in the individual chapters.

Last but not least, reading this book in the context of the post-parliamentary and presidential election of 2014, it is worth noting one more point. The local government election bill recently passed by the Indonesian Parliament (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) has cancelled the popular direct vote system of the election of local governments (governors, mayors, and regents) that has been effective since 1999 and brings it back to the representative vote system by Local Parliaments (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah, DPRD) like in the New Order. Whether the re-centralized, albeit local, election system will influence the dynamics and political commitment of the middle class in provincial towns is yet to be seen. It is not the task of this book to answer this. Yet, by emphasizing the role of politics in the construction of the middle class in provincial towns, this book sounds to me a bit too optimistic about the future of decentralization and democracy in Indonesia. It is very likely that the new bill, unless it is revoked before the local election rounds starting in 2015, will soon lead to a return of oligarchy in which elite-dominated political parties will put to an end the dynamic and energetic courses of life the middle class has lived in provincial towns over the past 10 years.

Agus Suwignyo
Department of History, Gadjah Mada University


Bambang Setiawan. Siapa Kelas Menengah Indonesia? [Who is the Indonesian middle class?]., accessed on October 5, 2014.

―. Kelas Menengah Indonesia Konsumtif dan Intoleran [The middle class: Consumptive and intolerant]., accessed on October 5, 2014.

Niel, Robert van. 1960. The Emergence of the Modern Indonesian Elite. The Hague: W. van Hoeve. Re-published: 1984, Dordrecht and Cinnaminson: Foris Publications.


Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

Dreaming of Money in Ho Chi Minh City
Allison J. Truitt
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013, xii+193p.

The scholarly study of banknotes (notaphily) is not a new phenomenon. But it did not take systematic modern form until the 1920s. (Ironically, it emerged under the Weimar Republic just as Germany was entering a three-year period of hyperinflation.) Since then, the number of numismatic associations has grown considerably, as have specialized publications. Banknote News is one relevant example. Banknote News issues breaking stories about international paper and polymer money. Collectors are the primary audience, and the website contains hundreds of links to vendors for people who wish to purchase the bank notes they covet. One of the links directs collectors to the 2014 edition of The Banknote Book. It includes 205 stand-alone chapters, each of which can be purchased separately as a country-specific catalog. (The Vietnam chapter provides detailed information on notes the State Bank of Vietnam issued, but only from 1964 to present, color copies of them, as well as their current market valuations.) The four-volume set currently runs 2,554 pages and details more than 21,000 types and varieties of currency, some dating back centuries.

The global community of currency collectors and the desires that shape their relationships to different forms of money provides a useful entry point into Allison Truitt’s fascinating book, Dreaming of Money in Ho Chi Minh City. Truitt is similarly interested in state-issued currencies, especially with regard to how people conceptualize the interplay of their material and symbolic properties. But her interests do not end there. The ethnographic focus of the book is instead upon interpersonal relations, as mediated by different currencies (primarily coins, paper, and gold), which she dubs “monetary pluralism” (pp. 149–150).

The author’s attention to interpersonal relations enables her to raise new questions about the cultural politics of identity in Vietnam’s economic capital, Ho Chi Minh City, which she rightfully acknowledges is not always representative of the country as a whole. Nevertheless, the central questions around which the book is organized are not specific to it. The questions are applicable everywhere, and I reproduce them here for this reason. First, she asks, “Can people exert control over state-sponsored infrastructures such as territorial currencies?” Second, “How do we come to have faith in the currency we handle?” Third, “How do people personalize money so that it becomes a vehicle for expressing qualities other than exchange value?” And, finally, “What happens when those efforts fail?” (pp. 3–4).

The author describes how ordinary people—butchers, unlicensed money changers, small shop owners, street traders, lottery ticket purchasers, and so on—responded to the above questions over the course of six chapters. The first chapter provides a historical account of the “problem” competing currencies (Indochinese piasters, revolutionary-era financial notes, U.S. dollars, gold bars, and demonetized national currency) posed for people living in the south during the twentieth century. Chapter two features the rise of consumer culture, a process that began during the mid-1990s when a series of reforms known as “Renovation”(Doi moi) accelerated the shift from a centralized command-and-control economy to a decentralized marked-based one. Truitt’s insights into what this process looked like at the household-level lays the foundation for chapter three. It features the methods prosperous households used to hide their growing wealth and to maintain its value in the face of mounting inflation, a consequence of the country’s gradual reintegration into global financial markets. Chapter four reorients the reader’s attention to the role “fictive” currencies, such as “spirit” money (tien ma), play in Vietnamese ritual life. Particular emphasis is placed upon how “subjective” debts rather than “contractual” debts are (re-)produced through social interactions, and the complicated ways they link people over time and across territorial spaces. Chapter five, though very brief, presents an intriguing discussion of how Vietnamese assess the quality of cash with regard to its physical “appearance, feel, even its denomination” (p. 107). These assessments shape everyday interactions with others due to the prevalence of counterfeit notes, the frequency with which people reject bills that are either too worn or too large to make change, as well as the challenges banks face in terms of enrolling customers in what is still a predominantly cash-and-carry society. The final chapter features the strategies people employ to transform little money into big money through a range of illicit activities, most commonly by: participating in underground lotteries, speculating on land-use certificates (buying and selling land is still illegal), and investing in over-the-counter markets rather than the stock exchange to avoid state controls created to limit price fluctuations.

The resurgence of interest in the anthropology of money began several years ago. This book, with its insightful discussion of money and the role it plays in shaping new subjectivities, is a welcome contribution to this literature. According to one of the leading figures in this field, Bill Maurer, scholarship on this topic typically falls into one of three broad categories: the large-scale transformations of economic systems; the relationship between quantification and commensuration; and the materiality and fictions of finance (2006). Truitt’s book intersects with all three subfields, and it demonstrates what can be gained by working across their boundaries in addition to within them. For example, she challenges simple, linear assumptions about the ascendancy of neoliberalism in Vietnam following decades of state socialism. Her findings instead show that the “transition” from one economic regime to another has not replaced prior relationships to money and value, some of which date back to the colonial period. Instead, these relationships continue to coexist—in ways that are harmonious at some moments and contradictory at others. Similarly, her field data demonstrates that the “gift economy” still flourishes despite the increasing commodification of everyday life. It does so, she elaborates, precisely because the perpetuation of “subjective” debts (on), i.e. social and moral obligations, is always asymmetrical and thus incommensurate in nature, which paradoxically strengthens rather than weakens social ties. Finally, she explains why speculative economies are not limited to the financial sector, but crucially shape the accumulation of religious merit, especially among women, as well.

The book contains many more insights into economic beliefs, values, and practices among Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh City. The author does not always adequately explain their broader significance, however. For instance, there is little discussion of the theoretical literature on the anthropology of money, including ethnographic studies conducted in post-communist Europe and post-socialist Asia, many of them at the same time as her field research (see, e.g.: Mandel and Humphrey 2002; Ngai 2003; Ledeneva 2008; Rofel 2012). Admittedly, the book is written for the educated readers, not simply specialists. Nevertheless, these studies also examine how culturally inflected understandings of “national integrity, political authority, and membership in a globalizing world” (p. 3), to borrow her phrasing, are reflected in and shaped by the ways people talk about and use money. Some discussion of this literature, to highlight where patterns converge and where they do not, would open up greater space for comparative work, which is very much needed in this subfield.

The sheer number of ethnographic vignettes in each chapter is not always an asset either. The stories are rich in detail, and the author is able to convey what they mean, often in a highly in a nuanced manner, to the reader. But the chapters are thematically organized, not analytically driven. Consequently, the chapters can come across as a loosely linked series of “snapshots” into people’s lives, which obscure in the process the book’s theoretical contributions to debates in the literature.

The author conducted the bulk of the field research during 2001–02, supplementing it with a second trip in 2007. Based on this reviewer’s experience, the author’s analysis remains accurate. But the length of time that has passed raises an important question, which the brief epilogue does not sufficiently address. What changes have occurred since then? Attitudes about official corruption have undergone a noticeable shift, for example. There has been a steady increase in the percentage of people who purchase health and accident insurance as a hedge against the unknown rather than accepting such events as “fate.” And, the numbers of Vietnamese who participate in leisure activities, such as tourism at home and abroad, have exploded along with the rise in household incomes. All of these trends affect how people in Ho Chi Minh City think, feel, and use money today and, in turn, how they interact with one another on an everyday basis. Such trends are noteworthy, and they deserve further study.

Despite these modest shortcomings, Truitt’s book has laid a strong foundation for future research in this area. Scholars will find the book to be a valuable resource, as well as an excellent text for undergraduate courses. So, too, will general readers, particularly those interested in the complex lives of money in other cultural contexts.

Ken MacLean
Department of International Development and Social Change, Clark University


Ledeneva, Alena. 2008. Blat and Guanxi: Informal Practices in Russia and China. Comparative Studies in Society and History 50(1): 118–144.

Mandel, Ruth; and Humphrey, Caroline. 2002. Markets and Moralities: Ethnographies of Post-Socialism. Oxford: Berg.

Maurer, Bill. 2006. The Anthropology of Money. Annual Review of Anthropology 35: 5–36.

Ngai, Pun. 2003. Subsumption or Consumption: The Phantom of Consumer Revolution in “Globalizing” China. Cultural Anthropology 18(4): 469–492.

Rofel, Lisa. 2012. The Traffic in Money Boys. Positions 18(2): 425–458.

Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, IMAMURA Masao

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

Being and Becoming Kachin: Histories Beyond the State in the Borderworlds of Burma
Mandy Sadan
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, 470p.

Over the past 15 years, Mandy Sadan has single-handedly launched new historical scholarship on the Kachin people. The Kachin, a group of highlanders who mostly reside in the northern region of Myanmar, had long been widely known among academics, thanks to Edmund Leach’s 1954 classic Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure. The lack of access to Myanmar, however, has meant that until very recently scholarly discussions were often more about Leach and his theory than about the Kachin people themselves. Sadan, an English historian, has introduced an entirely new set of historical studies from a resolutely empirical perspective. The much-anticipated monograph, Being and Becoming Kachin: Histories Beyond the State in the Borderworlds of Burma, brings together the fruits of her scholarship, including a surprisingly large amount of findings that have not been published before. This publication is certainly a cause for celebration, especially because it is rare that such a thick monograph exclusively focused on one ethnic minority group is published at all nowadays.1) With this monograph, Sadan has again raised the standard of Kachin scholarship to a new level. Students of Kachin studies will be indebted to this book for decades to come.

Being and Becoming Kachin is not an accessible book, however. Sadan herself admits in her Introduction that “the primary concern of this book is to explore the historical, ongoing, lived complexities” (p. 20) and as such her determination to do justice to the “complexities” of the subject has made the book exceptionally long.2) She uses the word “complex” often—too often, in my opinion—to characterize the subject matter in order to justify the length of this 512-page tome. It is not available as an e-book, and the price of this book is unforgiving. As a result, it is unlikely to be widely available, especially in Southeast Asia. Aware of these concerns, Sadan has created a very impressive accompanying website (, which presents not only chapter-by-chapter summaries but also extremely rare archival materials in digital formats. The website is a truly commendable effort, which should inspire many other scholars.

In this review, I will not perform the conventional task of offering chapter-by-chapter summaries, mainly because we can easily find excellent summaries on the Internet.3) Rather, I will treat this monumental book as the culmination of Sadan’s distinguished scholarship and raise a few broad questions about her method. I will therefore refer not only to Being and Becoming Kachin but also to some of Sadan’s earlier studies. I will first highlight what I consider to be the book’s most original and promising contributions, and then move on to address methodological and historiographical issues. Calling into question her strong faith in secular historiography and textual positivism, I will argue that the historical narratives that are produced and consumed among the Kachin people themselves deserve more scholar attention. My contention is that the Kachin self-representations, which are replete with Christian evangelical rhetoric today, are a worthy object of sustained inquiry.

One of the most important contributions of Being and Becoming Kachin is the spatial scope with which Sadan reframes the geography of “Kachin.” Her study broadens the geographical scope of “Kachin” by consistently including the adjacent areas of Jinghpaw-speaking communities: “Singpho” area of northeast India and the “Jingpo” area of southwest China.4) Refusing to treat the Kachin space as a periphery of a nation-state, she treats this region as one integral area. This geographical perspective was always latent in her scholarship, but in this book it is explicitly articulated and substantiated throughout the book. While ethnicity was the primary focus in her previous studies, she emphasizes this geographical framing in this monograph. Although I am not convinced that the terminology of “borderworld” serves her purpose well, it is a refreshing approach, which distinguishes Being and Becoming Kachin from almost all other studies that bear the word “Kachin,” including Sadan’s earlier work.5)

Being and Becoming Kachin particularly shines where it uncovers little-known historical events in northeast India, starting from the encounter between the Singpho and the British East India Company in 1824. Sadan skillfully relates these events to the greater “Kachin” geography. On the China side too, she identifies a number of relevant events in Yunnan (and beyond) and brings to light historical linkages across the border. One such event is the so-called Panthay Rebellion, whose impacts on the Myanmar side have hardly been explored before (pp. 143–146).6)

While Sadan explores both the Indian and Chinese sides, the strength of the book is the former. Her meticulous reading of British archival documents is unparalleled and breathtaking. As Fiskesjö (2014) has pointed out in his review, however, the voluminous Chinese-language sources are not covered as comprehensively. It would be unfair, however, to expect Sadan to cover the Chinese-language literature on top of everything else she has already unearthed and presented. It suffices to say that thanks to her pioneering work, we are now able to identify more clearly than ever the gaps to be filled by other scholars.7) Being and Becoming Kachin brings to light a vast amount of archival sources in more than 1,500 footnotes. (It is hoped that the book will be eventually made available on a searchable, digital format.)8)

In Sadan’s view, upland Southeast Asia has been poorly served by academics, who fail to back up their arguments with verifiable empirical references. She names in particular three studies: Political Systems of Highland Burma by Edmund Leach, System, Structure, and Contradiction by Jonathan Friedman, and The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott, arguing that these works, although thought-provoking, are not sufficiently grounded in historical evidence. In the section titled “Kachin history and the problem of anthropology,” Sadan argues that for these scholars “the concern was to develop totaling, ahistorical . . . interpretations” (p. 15).9) She demands that a scholar provide the reader with references so that the study can “be tested and critiqued properly” (Sadan in Farrelly et al. 2014, 479).

Modern academic scholarship is, in George Stocking’s words, “not search but re-search.”10) Being and Becoming Kachin exemplifies this “re-search” principle of modern academic scholarship. Sadan’s insistence on this “re-search” principle, however, raises certain methodological and historiographical questions. To put it simply, is this an adequate mode of inquiry if we want to understand how the Kachin themselves view their history? How should we seek to understand and engage with the historical accounts produced and consumed by the Kachin people themselves, which do not follow the academic conventions? How should we analyze their religious and mythical narratives, which do not adhere to the standard scholarly practice? In fact, Sadan does not address these questions herself. She has been dismissive towards the historical narratives that circulate among the Kachin themselves.

Sadan has repeatedly expressed dismay that Kachin self-representations are dominated by Christian evangelism and that they are reductive, essentializing, and dogmatic as a result. In her 2007 paper, “Constructing and Contesting the Category ‘Kachin’ in the Colonial and Post-colonial Burmese State,” she wrote: “it has been very hard to challenge, refute, renegotiate or decolonize the constructions of traditional Kachin morality and society that are perpetuated by the Kachin institutional churches,” calling for a secular history of Kachin resistance against Christianity (2007, 52–53). In Being and Becoming Kachin too, she observes that the influential Christian evangelism has made “the secular appraisal of the Kachin past . . . difficult” (p. 403). From her point of view, the problem is that “the Kachin people lack an adequately researched secular history” (2007, 65–66), and that “Kachin elites . . . lack the secular academic training in historical and anthropological disciplines that would enable them to translate . . . into more globally understood conventions” (2010, 147). Her insistent demand reminds me of the observation made by Webb Keane in his paper “Secularism as a Moral Narrative of Modernity”: “secularity often presents in compulsory terms, even as an ethical demand” (Keane 2013, 159). It appears that Sadan is disturbed by the “morally and politically troubling anachronisms, premoderns or anti-moderns” of the Kachin (ibid., 162).11) I wish Sadan had reflected more on her own reactions and spared more thoughts as to why secular historiography has to be so privileged.

In Being and Becoming Kachin, Sadan engages with the issue of Kachin Christianity at length for the first time, devoting a whole chapter titled “Virtue” to it. The primary concern of this chapter is to dismantle the popular teleological narrative enjoyed by Kachin Christians. According to this narrative, the Kachin embraced Christianity during the colonial era and the religious conversion unavoidably led to a war against the oppressive state. Sadan analyzes archival data to show that the Kachin conversion actually took place not before but during the insurgency. This is certainly an important and necessary corrective. Sadan’s refutation of the evangelical account, however, leaves what seems to me a larger question untouched: why does the evangelical narrative appeal so strongly to the Kachin, despite the factual inaccuracies that could be pointed out rather easily? Is it conceivable that the evangelical narrative spreads because it is able to gloss historical facts as a simple, reductionist, essentializing story? Sadan herself admits that “Christianity is a useful resource for unifying discourses of historical experience among a diverse set of communities,” but this particular kind of discursive resourcefulness needs to be analyzed more specifically (p. 463).

In pursuing these questions about a variety of narratives, I find it helpful to consult Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania by Liisa Malkki.12) When Malkki arrived at a refugee camp in Tanzania, she found that the refugees were constantly telling historical stories among themselves: “Unexpectedly, [the camp] turned out to be a site that was enabling and nurturing an elaborate and self-conscious historicity among its refugee inhabitants” (Malkki 1995, 52–53). She found out that the historical narratives told by the refugees “went beyond merely recording events. It represented not only a description of the past, nor even merely an evaluation of the past, but a subversive recasting and reinterpretation of it in fundamental moral terms. In this sense, it cannot be accurately described as either history or myth. It was what can be called a mythico-history.” Malkki’s insights remind us that people everywhere create quasi-historical narratives but that they are typically mythical and religious. These mythical narratives need to be taken seriously because they often reveal how a community shares situated knowledge and moral visions. Following Malkki, it is worth asking what kind of mythico-histories are being created by the Kachin. I realize that the questions I am raising here are more anthropological than historical. But studying a people like the Kachin makes us understand that the two are inseparably intertwined.13) A methodological implication of this inseparability between history and anthropology is that ethnographic evidence might come to play a central role in writing a Kachin history and investigating the Kachin historiography.

It should be noted that Sadan too presents ethnographic descriptions and relies on unrecorded conversations in Being and Becoming Kachin. In the chapter on Christianity, for example, she assesses the impacts of the missionaries on the Kachin view of history and offers the following in a footnote: “These comments are based on extended conversations . . . in a variety of settings, especially during the period 1996–9” (p. 365). These “extended conversations” surely fail to meet the “re-search” principle, as they are impossible to trace and verify. This is obviously a common issue for those of us who try to learn from speaking with ordinary people during long fieldwork. Studying a people like the Kachin thus challenges our own conventions.

In Being and Becoming Kachin, Sadan convincingly repudiates the erroneous view (espoused by scholars like Robert Taylor) that the upland peoples like Kachin were “essentially deluded supporters of [the British] oppressive order” and “politically unsophisticated” (p. 260). When it comes to the Kachin’s religious behavior, however, she appears to uphold a similarly unfounded view, implying that the Kachin are ultimately deluded supporters of an oppressive order and that they are not sufficiently sophisticated to “decolonize” themselves. For all the groundbreaking work Sadan has done, she appears to too hastily dismiss the Kachin subjectivity when it comes to their encounter with Christianity. To suggest, even implicitly, that “the Kachin have been misled by colonial officials and foreign missions” (2007, 53) and that they remain unaware of this deceit today is quite antithetical to her scholarship, which has been skillfully uncovering the Kachin-centric perspectives.

Perhaps it is worth recalling that these questions of subjectivity have been raised among historians of Southeast Asia too. Many years ago, David Wyatt urged us to think about “what was happening inside people’s heads” (Wyatt 1997, 689). Commenting on Victor Lieberman’s “externalist approach,” Wyatt wrote that it is “necessary and useful,” but he also suggested that historians also investigate “internal” change—how people’s views and perspectives changed over time.” Such a goal would require us to engage with the historical accounts that are appreciated by the studied people themselves. We would like to know better how the Kachin people talk about their history among themselves as they endeavor to make sense of their present predicament and to envision their collective future. In order for us to write a Kachin history, it seems necessary that we seek to understand the “method” of the Kachin historial narratives, however erroneous they are from the empirical positivist perspective.

Rather than framing Christianity with the binary of domination and resistance, it might be more useful to investigate the Christianization as a historical and ongoing process with many unexpected twists and turns. Such an approach would make us more cautious towards the view that Christianization is a one-way street of colonial domination. In her studies of South Africa, Jean Comaroff has stressed how “Christianity was inseparable from the whole logic of the way colonialism had been made and was then being unmade” (quoted in D. K. Kim 2010, italics added). An example of this unmaking can be found in the formation of the African National Congress in South Africa; the founders came out of the African Independent Churches, “whose leader had taken the Bible—which had entered the community as a colonizing, civilizing text—and read another message out of it.” For our purpose here, it is worth recalling that the founders of the Kachin Independence Army were Baptists. Comaroff also urges us to observe how Christianity itself changes as it travels, asking: “Is Africa becoming Christianized or was Christianity becoming Africanized?” (ibid.). A similar question can be raised for the Kachin context: while the Kachin are Christianized, isn’t Christianity also Kachin-ized at the same time?

If we take the Christianization as a historical process in which the evangelical rhetoric has been slowly yet steadily adopted and modified among the Kachin, then many new historical questions emerge. What aspects of the evangelical rhetoric did the Kachin first come to adopt? Has the evangelical rhetoric been uniformly shared among various ethno-linguistic groups and across various denominations within the “Kachin?” How do the non-Christian Kachin in China and India view the ethno-nationalist narrative? How does the Kachin military use the evangelical ethno-nationalist narratives without alienating its non-Christian members? How do Kachin evangelical Christians solve contradictory narratives?

I have taken this opportunity to write much more than a conventional book review and raise a number of questions here, because Kachin studies is entering a new phase, thanks to Sadan’s path-breaking work. Asking these questions was unthinkable 15 years ago. For those of us who follow the paths she has opened up, it is necessary to engage even more deeply than ever with methodological questions. It is Sadan herself who identifies method as “the greatest problem” in Being and Becoming Kachin (p. 26).

Imamura Masao 今村真央


Appadurai, Arjun. 2000. Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination. Public Culture 12(1): 1–19.

Asad, Talal. 1990. Multiculturalism and British Identity in the Wake of the Rushdie Affair. Politics and Society 18(4): 455–480.

Farrelly, Nicholas. 2012. Spatial Control and Symbolic Politics at the Intersection of China, India and Burma. PhD thesis, Oxford University.

Farrelly, Nicholas; Maran, La Raw; and Sadan, Mandy. 2014. Sojourn Symposium Review of Being and Becoming Kachin: Histories Beyond the State in the Borderworlds of Burma by Mandy Sadan (OUP 2013). Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 29(2): 467–482.

Fiskesjö, Magnus. 2014. Review of Being and Becoming Kachin. New Mandala, accessed December 18, 2014,

Forbes, Andrew D. W. 1988. History of Panglong, 1875–1900: A “Panthay” (Chinese Muslim) Settlement in the Burmese Wa States. The Muslim World 78(1): 38–50.

―. 1986. The ‘Panthay’ (Yunnanese Chinese) Muslims of Burma. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 7(2): 384–394.

Friedman, Jonathan. 2000. System, Structure, and Contradiction: The Evolution of ‘Asiatic’ Social Formations. 2nd ed. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press.

Harding, Susan Friend. 2000. The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

―. 1987. Convicted by the Holy Spirit: The Rhetoric of Fundamental Baptist Conversion. American Ethnologist 14(1): 167–181.

Ho, Tsui-Ping. 1997. Exchange, Person and Hierarchy: Rethinking the Kachin. PhD thesis, University of Virginia.

Keane, Webb. 2013. Secularism as a Moral Narrative of Modernity. Transit: Europäische Revue 43: 159–170.

Kim, David Kyuman. 2010. God Was on Everybody’s Side: A Conversation with Jean Comaroff. The Immanent Frame, accessed January 21, 2015,

Leach, Edmund Ronald. [1954] 1968. Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure. Boston: Beacon Press.

Malkki, Liisa H. 1995. Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sadan, Mandy. 2010. Syphilis and the Kachin Regeneration Campaign, 1937–1938. Journal of Burma Studies 14(1): 115–149.

―. 2007. Constructing and Contesting the Category ‘Kachin’ in the Colonial and Post-colonial Burmese State. In Exploring Ethnic Diversity in Burma, edited by Mikael Gravers, pp. 34–76. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

Scott, James C. 2013. Review of Disturbing History: Resistance in Early Colonial Fiji, by Robert Nicole. The Journal of Pacific History 48(3): 340–341.

―. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Tagliacozzo, Eric; and Willford, Andrew. 2009. Clio/Anthropos: Exploring the Boundaries between History and Anthropology. Stanford University Press.

Walker, Anthony R. 2003. Merit and Millennium: Routine and Crisis in the Ritual Lives of the Lahu People. New Delhi: Hindustan Pub. Corp.

Wang, Zhusheng. 1997. The Jingpo: Kachin of the Yunnan Plateau. Tempe, AZ: Program for Southeast Asian Studies.

Wyatt, David K. 1997. Southeast Asia ‘Inside Out,’ 1300–1800: A Perspective from the Interior. Modern Asian Studies 31(3): 689–709.

1) An obvious exception is Anthony Walker’s immense study, Merit and Millennium, a 900-page study of the Lahu in Thailand and China.

2) In a post-publication forum in Sojourn, Sadan has stressed again that Being and Becoming Kachin is “ultimately attempting to achieve . . . a recognition of the depth and complexity of the [Kachin] history” (Farrelly et al. 2014, 479).

3) Magnus Fiskesjö (2014) has also written an excellent summary for each chapter in his engaging review, which is available online. Sadan herself offers a summary on the accompanying website:, accessed January 15, 2015.

4) The Jinghpaw (Jingpho) language is the lingua franca among the Kachin people. Jinghpaw is spelled in various ways—“Singpho” in India and usually “Jingpo” in China.

5) The only exception I am aware of is the work by Nicholas Farrelly, whose unpublished 2010 dissertation examines the “Kachin” in the three countries. Farrelly has written a review of Being and Becoming Kachin (Farrelly et al. 2014).

6) A rare exception here is the work by Andrew Forbes. See Forbes (1986; 1988). It should be mentioned that the Panthay Rebellion is usually called the Du Wenxiu Rebellion in China.

7) There have been excellent studies on Jinghpo and Zaiwa in Yunnan, most notably by Wang Zhusheng (1997) and Ho Tsui-Ping (1997), but to date no-one has conducted a substantive historical and ethnographic research on the cross-border dynamics.

8) Sadan herself seems to defend the paper format when she says that the “materiality of the book is significant” (Sadan in Farrelly et al. 2014, 477). But by “materiality” she actually means the length of the book.

9) Sadan has reiterated this point in the post-publication forum by saying that her book was “definitely a reaction to this kind of Kachin imaginary”—the kind of imaginary entertained by scholars like Leach and Scott (Sadan in Farrelly et al. 2014, 479).

10) Quoted in Appadurai (2000, 11).

11) For a penetrating analysis of this moral disturbance, see Talal Asad’s essay on the British reaction to the Rushdie Affair (Asad 1990).

12) Another useful study here is Susan Harding’s study of the rhetoric of Christian conversion. See Harding (1987; 2000).

13) As James Scott has noted: “no historian ought to be allowed to walk out the door in the morning without being strapped to an anthropologist who can recover the rich texture of human action and understanding” (2013, 341). For a set of insights into the relationship between history and anthropology, see Tagliocozzo and Willford (2009).

Vol. 4, No. 1, BOOK REVIEWS, Janet Alison HOSKINS

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

Sounding Out Heritage: Cultural Politics and the Social Practice of Quan Họ Folk Song in Northern Vietnam
Lauren Meeker
Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013, 192p.

Sounding Out Heritage is an exceptionally appealing and well-designed book, from its colorful cover to its smoothly presented theoretical arguments and its detailed ethnography of the “modernity” of traditional Vietnamese folk songs. Quan họ folk songs come from the Bấc Ninh province of northern Vietnam, and—as the author documents in great detail—they have already been the focus of intense efforts to conserve them, record them, verify their authenticity, and in 2009 to inscribe them as elements of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But Meeker is the first non-Vietnamese author to take this “soundscape” seriously and to ask how this once remote village-based style of singing has become an important part of modern Vietnamese cultural politics.

Her argument also addresses issues of how cultural heritage is related to material exchange, how it is realized and modified by different forms of performance, and what sentiments it may evoke in its singers and their audience. The new “cultural market” which has emerged in Post-renovation Vietnam has brought reclusive older women singers out onto the public stage, and it has re-valorized an intimate form of singing as a “living treasure,” linking the present market economy to a long history of musical connections between the village and the court.

In twenty-first century Hanoi, the nostalgic and romanticized countryside has been represented as the seat of cultural authenticity. Following the August Revolution of 1945, rural folk songs began to emerge as a tradition that had escaped the contaminations of colonial oppression and could be both heart-warming and progressive. Musical nationalism developed both as a way of ritualizing optimism (“the sound of singing drowns out the sounds of the bombs”) and as an affirmation of what was most distinct about the Vietnamese as a people. Correcting some songs to make their lyrics more “patriotic” brought them into line with socialist goals, and emphasized sustaining the social collectivity more than individualized sentiments of love or loss.

Quan họ is an embodied practice, with its own etiquette, forms of address, and ritual protocol. The songs were sung at temple festivals to worship local deities, so they were part of the “world of superstition” condemned by nationalist campagians in the 1950s, but since 1965 they have resurfaced as part of the “indigenous foundations” of the nation, inscribed with communal ideals and moral values. A “mythology of interruption” asserted that this practice had vanished, and while villagers may have remembered things a bit differently, the idea that quan họ had to be “restored” allowed for a new, officially sanctioned, and nationally recognized form to appear (pp. 71–72). In this nuanced way, Meeker shows that she can “read against the grain” of some of the accounts written by Hanoi academics, and she uses the local knowledge gained from elderly female singers to complicate the “quan họ movement” ideology.

She also documents the fact that many Bắc Ninh singers feel uncomfortable about the way control over the representation and narration of these songs has been whisked away to Hanoi once quan họ was recognized as a “national heritage” in 1990. An alternative origin story, told by an older woman, presents the oldest songs as having been inscribed on a strip of yellow silk that was “taken away by the center.” Certain stories, like this one, have become inaudible in the face of a national heritage movement that authorizes some local voices and silences others.

Quan họ is performed by pairs of men and women who address each other as equals (em) in a village context, and they exchange tender sentiments. In staged and televised performances, in contrast, male and female singers use the hierarchical terms anh (for the man) and em (for the woman), introducing an age and gender hierarchy seen as appropriate for romantic love, and especially the intense yearnings for an unattainable beloved. Disembedded from the social relations of local life, the “modern” formats of stage shows and competitions cannot reproduce the intimacy, egalitarianism, and sense of shared creation of earlier quan họ performances.

At UNESCO-sponsored quan họ clubs in ancient temples, new electronic microphones are used to amplify the singing out to a wider audience, just as urban Vietnamese can come to visit village festivals to “hear” their traditions. Instead of being sung in dark and crowded temples, many of these “modern” songs are now performed with microphones on dragon-shaped boats, floating in a picturesque pond that evokes the timeless and organic natural world. Although none of this new staging is actually “traditional,” it often “feels more natural” to spectators, who have their own notions of authenticity. Participants learn to tune in to the ways in which their practice of a particular local form is part of a larger, diverse national culture.

The larger theoretical issues that Meeker’s study addresses concern the ways a local practice can be defined and re-framed as cultural heritage, and what the consequences of this “heritagisation” (to borrow a term from Endres [2011]) might be. Specifically, she argues that songs are seen as representing sentiments (tình cảm), but there are differing conceptions of how sentiment is embodied and enacted. Revolutionary ideologists after 1945 wanted to root this musical practice in an essential Vietnamese character, which was both communal and egalitarian. Village quan họ singers, on the other hand, lived their singing as rooted in the body and in social interaction. The emotions evoked by the songs should be expressed in actions which are morally, socially, and politically appropriate. Negotiations about how to do so (and who gets to make those decisions) are traced out in each of her chapters.

When local culture becomes a UNESCO certified Intangible Cultural Heritage it needs to be mapped in relation to an identifiable standard. Meeker argues that the “culturalist discourse” of the heritage paradigm can become as totalizing and influential as earlier Marxist evolutionary models that saw temple singing as “primitive superstition.” Older women officially designated as “masters of folklore” (nghệ nhân) can qualify for state support if they were trained before 1945. But this enshrining of 1945 as an official “sign or brand of Vietnamese cultural authenticity” (p. 148) feels arbitrary to village singers, even though they are also very concerned about losing elements of their culture and protecting what they see as “authentic.” Although anthropologists have critiqued the idea of the authentic as an essentialization of what is in fact a cultural construction, it is a concept that remains meaningful for quan họ singers, as well as for academic folklorists and for government heritage policy.

It is unfortunate that Meeker’s monograph, which deals so extensively with the impact of hearing quan họ songs, does not come with any recordings of actual performances. (In contrast, Barley Norton’s somewhat similar 2009 study of chầu văn songs, Songs for the Spirits: Music and Mediumship in Modern Vietnam came with a DVD showing both village and commercialized performances.) But Lauren Meeker has also worked on several films, and it is strange that the book does not ever refer to these films or provide information about their distributors. In my opinion her book should be taught in combination with the viewing of these films. She worked with Jayasinhji Jhala to make Drums on the Red River in 2007 (in collaboration with the Vietnamese Institute for Culture and Art Studies), and has reflected on this collaborative process in a very interesting co-authored article (Meeker and Jhala 2013). The film documents a festival in northern Vietnam where quan họ songs are performed, and it is presented in a “conversational style” in which participants narrate their own experiences to the camera.

Lauren Meeker has recently finished another documentary titled Singing Sentiment (2014). It provides a detailed portrait of the practice of quan họ singing as perceived by one older woman, Bà Vân, her daughters, and various other figures in the community. It provides a more personal perspective on the arguments presented in the book Sounding Out Heritage. And of course it allows us to actually see and hear the songs as they are performed in the home, at the temple, and in the context of village festivals. The ceremony that closes the film, full of dark robed ladies, and disciplined ritualism, provided me with the most vivid glimpse of a northern Vietnamese festival that I have seen. The mixture of “gaiety and gravitas” as the effigy of the village god is brought to make a formal visit to the deity, is rendered through details of costume, protocol, and propriety.

Meeker has integrated visual and written forms of presentation quite skillfully, so that the two complement each other but do not overlap. Sounding Out Heritage contrasts the social practice of singing these songs in an everyday village setting with their display as a form of “folk culture” and national heritage. By showing how cultural heritage is negotiated and constituted from the center, it provides us with a deeper understanding of the differences between these standardized performances (full of colorful costumes and mimed gestures) and the intimate, everyday life of the songs as embedded within social relations. Both the book and the films show a remarkable mastery of Vietnamese sources and the finer points of Vietnamese etiquette, as well as a compassionate perspective on a rapidly changing society. Using the book and one of the films together would work very well for undergraduate courses in Asian studies, ethnomusicology, gender studies, and anthropology. The two would also work well in graduate courses dealing with these topics, as well as ethnographic methods, “shared anthropology,” and the contested field of visual anthropology.

Janet Alison Hoskins
Anthropology and Religion Department, University of Southern California


Endres, Kristin. 2011. Performing the Divine: Mediums, Markets and Modernity in Urban Vietnam. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

Meeker, Lauren. 2014. Singing Sentiment. Color DVD, 43 minutes. Berkeley: Berkeley Media LLC.

Meeker, Lauren; and Jhala, Jayasinhji. 2013. Drums on the Red River: The Making of a Vietnamese Ethnographic Film. Visual Anthropology 26(3): 247–265.

Norton, Barley. 2009. Songs for the Spirits: Music and Mediumship in Modern Vietnam. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Phuong, Lan; and Jhala, Jayasinhji; Hoang, Son; and Meeker, Lauren. 2010. Drums on the Red River. Color DVD, 73 minutes. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.


Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1



Exploration and Irony in Studies of Siam over Forty Years
Benedict R. O’G. Anderson
Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 2014, 166p.

Professor Crocodile Who Blocks the Canal

Helpfully compiled and arranged both chronologically and thematically in one volume, the various essays, articles, and reviews that make up this book reflect the wonderful skepticism, relentless questioning, daring iconoclasm, contrarian perspective, critical intelligence, penetrating insight, mordant humor, wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge of the country, its people and beyond, and above all, the tender and deeply-felt love and care which Professor Ben Anderson, the world-renowned doyen of nationalism and Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University, has consistently brought to the study of Siam/Thailand over the past 40 years. Like “Jorakhe khwang khlong” or a crocodile who blocks the canal (and thereby obstructing the smooth flow of the canal traffic) in a traditional Thai saying, this body of his work was indeed widely recognized as a paradigmatic watershed in Thai studies that has altered and shifted the hitherto dominant, conservative, elitist, state-centric, royal-nationalist mainstream to an inundation of revisionist counter-streams and sub-streams since the 1990s.

I first encountered Khruu Ben’s (or Teacher Ben as he likes to be called) path-breaking, seminal literature review essay “Studies of the Thai State: The State of Thai Studies” (first published in 1978, Chapter 1 of this volume) shortly after I left the communist-led maquis in northeastern Thailand in the early 1980s when I was asked to translate it into Thai by the editor of Pajarayasan Magazine, an independent intellectual periodical under the patronage of Sulak Sivaraksa, a well-known conservative Buddhist intellectual who happened to be one of the two commentators of this essay when it was first publicly presented. Still fresh from the jungle and blinkered by the rigid Maoist ideological frame of reference, I could hardly fathom the ground-shaking impact of its message, which attempted to overhaul in toto the axiomatic foundations of Thai studies as practiced up till then by both Western scholars and their Thai official nationalist counterparts. Argued defiantly, systematically, solidly, and meticulously, the review essay contains Ben’s central revisionist vision of modern Thai history that has proven to be most thought-provoking, stood the test of time, and rendered it an indispensable item in any serious reading list on modern Thai politics in the past four decades. This central vision was subsequently expanded upon and developed further in other writings of his also included in this volume. Let me lay it out point-by-point here as briefly and succinctly as I can for the readers’ benefit.


1. In order to properly understand the essence and trajectory of modern Thai history, it is imperative to conceptually separate the Thai nation from its monarchy. Not only are the two non-identical and not only do they have different interests, but in many cases their interests also clash (p. 21).

2. The state built by the Jakri dynasty during the reigns of King Rama V to VII (A.D. 1868–1935) was by no means a modern nation-state but an absolutist dynastic auto-colonial one that carried out modernization in some aspects to a certain degree but delayed and/or obstructed it in others, particularly those that were related to the vested interest and position of the monarchy itself. Hence, the rise of the Siamese absolutist state did not amount to the successful building of a modern nation-state. On the contrary, it hindered the latter alongside the coming of Siamese nationhood (pp. 28, 34).

3. In contrast with erstwhile European absolutist states, the Siamese one was too short-lived (lasting about 40 years from 1892–1932), and the reach and effects of its power were too shallow. Since it had not transformed Thai society and economy widely and profoundly enough, the political reaction that finally came about in the form of a constitutionalist putsch, staged by the self-styled People’s Party of junior military officers and government officials, was merely “the partial, mystified revolt . . . of absolutism’s own engine, the functionalized bureaucracy” (p. 39), with very limited dynamic for revolutionary change. It fell far short of a real popular revolution, with only superficial and intermittent mass mobilization and participation, wholly inadequate for a radical overhaul of the Thai state and society (pp. 39–40).

4. The various well-known symptoms of political and administrative malaise of the Thai bureaucratic polity (à la the late Fred W. Riggs in his Thailand: The Modernization of a Bureaucratic Polity, 1966), namely chronic political instability, inefficiency, lack of coordination, corruption, favoritism, factionalism, formalism, unresponsiveness to extra-bureaucratic/popular demands, etc., resulted from the protracted, laggard, and incomplete transition from the not completely extinct absolutist state to the oft-aborted, stillborn popular nation-state (p. 40).

5. The Thai bureaucratic polity was similar to the old absolutist state in the sense that, devoid of popular representation and political accountability, it also tended to be a moi-state i.e. serving the interests of the state and its bureaucratic rulers themselves. And yet, with the supposedly divine absolute monarchs irreversibly replaced by usually profane commoner military strongmen-cum-bureaucrats, the bureaucratic polity fatally lacked the traditional supernatural/sacred legitimacy of the ancien regime. Unable to avail themselves of the legal-rational legitimacy of a modern elective democracy “which corresponds to the facts of effective control” (to quote Riggs) either, the military-bureaucratic elite had no choice but to seek a symbiotic modus vivendi with the surviving monarchy in which the latter served as the national palladium that lent royal-nationalist legitimacy to the former in exchange for armed protection of its security, untouchable status, ideological hegemony, and material interests (pp. 67–69).

6. Hence a frequent and facile lapse of the Thai bureaucratic polity into military absolutist dictatorship such as the one under Field Marshal Sarit-Thanom-Prapart from 1958 to 1973 which was duly blessed by the royal palladium. And with the plentiful military and economic aid, support and investment of the U.S. and its anti-communist allies, plus the technocrat-planned and directed market-led socio-economic development, the said military absolutist dictatorship had indeed achieved what the Jakri absolute monarchy of yore failed to do i.e. a rapid, extensive, and profound wholesale transformation of the Thai economy and society in less than two decades. Most significantly were the continuing migration of millions upon millions of poor and landless peasants into Bangkok and other regional urban centers in search of work, further education, and a better life together with the rise and/or huge expansion of various bourgeois strata in the city and countryside. When it finally emerged in October 1973, the political reaction to the stagnant, corrupt, unchanging, and intransigent military regime took the form of an unprecedented, largely spontaneous, mass uprising of half a million student-led demonstrators in downtown Bangkok, which Ben memorably called “Siam’s 1789” (p. 107). It opened the way to the rise of Thailand’s first popular nationalist movement (pp. 47–76).

7. If one looks at it through the optic of the political rise of the Thai bourgeoisie, the 1970s and 1980s witnessed the gradual and cumulative consolidation of bourgeois political power through an elective parliament amidst the decline and final collapse of the radical popular movement led by the communist armed rural insurgency on the one hand, and the terminal decay of bureaucratic polity along with the eventual retreat back to the barracks of the military on the other. Ironically, no matter how corrupt and murderous it was, the progress of bourgeois parliamentary regime became an inevitable trend that at long last was turning the page to a new chapter of Thai political history, or so it seemed especially after another successful popular uprising against military dictatorship in May 1992 (pp. 101–127).


It is the above-synopsized central vision of Ben as contained in this book that has inspired, framed, and deeply influenced various subsequent landmarks in Thai studies in the past four decades, ranging from Dr. Seksan Prasertkul’s Marxist-revisionist works on the economic dependency of the Siamese absolutist dynastic state and the anti-Western stance of the local immigrant Chinese entrepreneurs, and the current crisis of the Thai nation-state under economic globalization, Professor Thongchai Winichakul’s pioneering works on the mapping of Siam and the rise and development of royal-nationalism, to Professor Nidhi Aeusrivongse’s works on the Siamese absolutist state and the Thai official imagined community, for instance.

And yet, as the publication dates of his writings in this book indicate, there was a long hiatus of 18 years (from 1993 to 2011) during which Ben, having retired from active teaching at Cornell with no new Thai students under his supervision and engaged in other projects on post-Suharto Indonesia, global anarchism, nationalisms in the East, etc., had not published any serious work that focuses on Thai politics and history per se. Besides, it was a period in which tremendous, far-reaching changes had happened to the country, namely, the apogee and decline of royal hegemony and the network monarchy, the so-called Tomyamkung East Asian economic crisis of 1997, the emergence of the middle-income peasant, national majority electorate and local political society in the countryside, the rise and fall of the multi-billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra’s elected capitalist authoritarian regime from 2001 to 2006, the resumption of ferocious Muslim secessionist insurgency in the deep South since 2004, the military coup of 2006, and a series of alternate violent mass mobilizations and revolts against the existing governments—the so-called “color wars” between the anti-Thaksin royalist Yellow Shirts and the pro-Thaksin democratic Red Shirts—that has oft-times rendered the country almost ungovernable, cost over a hundred deaths and thousands of injuries so far, and remained intractable if dormant till the present. These new developments, somewhat beyond the scope of Ben’s central vision, have been effectively and illuminatingly dealt with by such recent important works as Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker’s Thaksin (2004), Andrew Walker’s Thailand’s Political Peasants: Power in the Modern Rural Economy (2012), People Information Center’s Truth for Justice: The April-May 2010 Crackdown (in Thai, 2012), and Apichat Satitniramai et al.’s, Re-examining the Political Landscape of Thailand (in Thai, 2013).

Ben’s intellectual return to Thailand (Chapters 6–9 of the book) focuses instead on the contemporary cultural and artistic scene, providing subtle and sensitive, learned and comparative, incisive and eye-opening critical analyses not only of the wonderful works of such world-renowned Thai film directors as Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Anocha Suwichakornpong, but more importantly of the current cultural political mentality of the dominant largely Sino-Thai urban bourgeoisie, who, being culturally and ethnically removed and isolated from both their rural fellow countrymen and the Western intelligentsia, are blindly following and aping the withered octo-and-nonagenarian non-majoritarian royal-nationalist military-bureaucratic elite. It is only with these insights into the consciousness of this class that one can begin to understand the latest, 13th military coup of the country earlier this year and what future may lie ahead for retrojected Thainess and Thailand.

Kasian Tejapira เกษียร เตชะพีระ
Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University


Apichat Satitniramai อภิชาต สถิตนิรามัย; Yukti Mukdawijitra ยุกติ มุกดาวิจิตร; and Niti Pawakapan นิติ ภวัครพันธุ์. 2013. Thobthuan phumithas kanmeuang Thai ทบทวนภูมิทัศน์การเมืองไทย [Re-examining the political landscape of Thailand]. Bangkok: Thailand Universities Healthy Public Policy. Thai Health Promotion Foundation (Thai Health).

Pasuk Phongpaichit; and Baker, Chris. 2004. Thaksin. Washington: University of Washington Press.

People Information Center [ศูนย์ข้อมูลประชาชนผู้ได้รับผลกระทบจากการสลายการชุมนุมกรณี เม.ย.-พ.ค. 53 (ศปช.)]. 2012. Khwamjing pheua khwamyutitham: Hetkan lae phonkrathob jak kansalai kanchumnum mesa-phreutsapha ความจริงเพื่อความยุติธรรม: เหตุการณ์ และผลกระทบจากการสลายการชุมนุมเมษา-พฤษภา 53 [Truth for justice: The April–May 2010 crackdown]. Bangkok: People Information Center.

Walker, Andrew. 2012. Thailand’s Political Peasants: Power in the Modern Rural Economy. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.

Vol. 4, No. 1, Claudio

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

The Anti-Communist Third World: Carlos Romulo and the Other Bandung

Lisandro E. Claudio*

* Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, 46 Shimoadachi-cho, Yoshida Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan; Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University, 3rd Floor Leong Hall, Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108, Philippines

e-mails: lclaudio[at]; lclaudio[at]

This article revisits the Bandung Conference and Third Worldism through an intellectual history of the Filipino diplomat and intellectual Carlos P. Romulo. By examining Romulo’s work during, before, and after Bandung, it argues that Third Worldism must be understood in its original sense—as a negation not only of Western imperialism but also of Soviet Communism. In examining the anti-Communist undercurrent of Bandung, the article hopes to recover a vision of the Third World that opposed various forms of totalitarianism. Although anti-Communism is usually associated with the fascism of McCarthyism, I contend that Romulo’s liberal, Asianist anti-Communism forms a normative vision for a more equitable world order.

Keywords: anti-Communism, Bandung, Third World, Carlos P. Romulo, Cold War, Philippines, diplomacy

For many, Third Worldism was simply an opposition to Western colonialism, which is hardly surprising. Most of the countries that gathered at the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, were former colonies of the West; and many of the leading lights of that event, from Indonesia’s Sukarno to Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, were prominent critics of Western colonialism and neocolonialism.1) However, it is inadequate to focus only on the anti-Western rhetoric of Third Worldism, for the concept involved the charting of a road independent of two systems: Western imperialism and Soviet Communism. Despite this, contemporary historiography largely ignores Third Worldism’s challenge to the Communist “Second World”—a tendency pronounced in both general twentieth-century histories and contemporary revaluations of Bandung. “The Bandung philosophy,” writes the conservative twentieth-century historian Paul Johnson (2000, 489–490), “was for the new nations to create their own industrial bases as fast as possible, making themselves independent of ‘imperialism,’” which, for Johnson, is a negation of the West. The progressive historian of Marxism David Priestland (2009, 374) acknowledges that the Bandung participants saw themselves as independent of the Western First World and the Communist Second World, but ultimately concludes that “The conference agreed on the need to escape economic dependence on the First World. . . .”

In a volume examining the legacies of Bandung, Christopher J. Lee (2010, 10) writes that the Bandung participants based their solidarity on a “shared history of Western aggression.” In a chapter from the same volume, Michael Adas (2010) views Bandung’s Afro-Asia solidarity as an “assault” on the West’s civilizing mission. Elsewhere, Lee (2009, 82) notes, “The historical importance of Bandung is that it points to the inter-connected world created by western imperialism and anti-colonial resistance. . . .” In these studies, the Second World, if mentioned at all, is a mere afterthought. It is thus unsurprising for Roland Burke (2006, 949) to observe that in Bandung historiography, “few studies devote much attention to those aspects of the conference outside the categories of colonialism, the politics of Afro-Asian solidarity, and the evolution of non-aligned movement [sic].”

While anti-Western interpretations of Bandung are not entirely incorrect, they are also incomplete, revealing how contemporary postcolonial theory may create a tunnel vision that places Third Worldism in a binary relationship with Western colonialism.2) In contrast to these one-sided studies, Pang Yang Huei (2009, 83) posits a “fractured” approach to the history of Bandung, emphasizing that the success of the conference lay in preventing both the United States and Russia “from creating monolithic blocs.” From this perspective, the conference curbed the power of both systems by creating independent geopolitical solidarities. The political threads competing in Bandung were multifaceted; thus, the conference cannot be reduced to singular narratives, such as its being an assault on the West.

Certainly the critique of Western imperialism was more refined in Bandung as this had been—and still is—the primary locus of postcolonial nationalism. However, I hope to show that anti-Communism, the “other Bandung,” was an incipient and radical discourse that cannot be ignored, especially if one wants to capture the textured Third Worldism that began to emerge in Bandung. Third Worldism’s twin negation of the First World and the Second World was not mere rhetoric. The Third World was in many ways the first of the many “third ways” of the twentieth century, much like the resurgent European Social Democracy of the immediate postwar period, which was both anti-fascist and anti-Soviet. There is, as such, a need to grapple with a hitherto unacknowledged ideological current that informed the rhetoric of the Third World: anti-Communism (which I define, narrowly, as opposition to Leninist Bolshevism).3) Given the McCarthyite brush that has tainted criticisms of Communism, it is difficult to confront the latent and, at times, explicit anti-Communism of the Bandung Conference and Third Worldism. To excavate the anti-Communist genealogy of Third Worldism, however, does not necessarily entail playing fire with reactionary politics. On the contrary, beyond providing a fuller historical account, this allows progressive scholars to examine the antitotalitarian potentialities embedded in Third Worldism.

A more holistic understanding of Third Worldism requires an unpacking of its anti-Communist underside. To this extent, I examine the writings of the Filipino diplomat and public intellectual Carlos P. Romulo, a leading figure in the Bandung Conference and vocal exponent of Third Worldism. While the fulcrum of my analysis is Bandung, I also attend to the ideas that radiated into global intellectual debates in its wake. Romulo, both before and after Bandung, wrote eloquently against Western colonialism and Soviet Communism, and for this he was duly acknowledged as a leading voice of the Third World. I contend that Romulo should be understood as an Asian equivalent of European pre-McCarthyite critics of Communism, locating him within a global intellectual history of liberal anti-Communism. I posit what may seem like an oxymoron for contemporary readers: that Romulo represented a progressive anti-Communism, which, while condemning Leninist strategy and ideology, did not reject certain principles of socialism such as economic planning. More important, this anti-Communism spurned the witch hunts and repressive policies of McCarthyism, criticizing the latter for merely replicating the terror tactics of Communists.

Concomitantly, I contend that Romulo’s anti-Communism forms part of an Asianist worldview. It was an approach to postcolonial politics that saw in Asian solidarity a means to transcend the aggressive international posturing of international Communism and the more established Western imperialism. For Romulo, Asianism was a mutable project, able to absorb foreign principles such as liberalism while remaining grounded on the concerns of largely postcolonial societies.

Beyond documenting a forgotten intellectual history, I seek to examine Romulo’s thoughts as constitutive of a normative vision for the Third World. This vision remains important today despite the collapse of the Cold War’s tripartite division of the world. Many states of the contemporary Global South remain caught between reactionary imperial formations from above (the IMF, the WTO, etc.) and repressive revolutionary movements from below. Romulo’s own country, the Philippines, is threatened by both neoliberal policy (see Bello et al. 2006) and a Maoist Communist movement that has not only refused to repudiate Stalinism (see Liwanag 1992)4) but has also committed atrocious acts of violence against its own members and other leftists (see Abinales 2008; Garcia 2001).5)

In many respects, this article advances and complements the work of Augusto Espiritu (2006, 177), who has previously argued that “Romulo’s ostensibly nationalist, anticolonial, and antiracist views, and his simultaneous hostility to communism and enthusiasm for the free market—which has proved more enduring than socialist visions of the Third World—need to be seriously reread and reexamined, both for their pitfalls as well as for the critical perspectives they raise.” Despite his sympathy for Romulo, however, Espiritu dismisses the diplomat’s anti-Communism as part of a “transcript that American empire” had “written for him” (ibid., 179). In what follows, I hope to show that Romulo’s anti-Communism was more than an imperial script. I propose to interpret it instead as an integral element of a coherent, liberal worldview that opposed various forms of domination. Rather than simply being a form of Americanism, Romulo’s anti-Communism reflected a deeply rooted Asianist perspective, critical of foreign intervention in Asian affairs.

Liberal Anti-Communism

A progressive anti-Communism was invigorated amid increasing evidence of atrocities committed by the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, Red China. This thinking emanated from Western—mostly European—intellectuals beginning in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but it radiated outward and shaped mid-twentieth century global debates.6) Romulo articulated an antitotalitarian opposition to Communism that mirrored these debates. A brief intellectual history of postwar liberal anti-Communism during and after Bandung, thus, helps set his opposition to Communism in context.

Non-fascist opposition to Communism arose almost directly after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.7) Unlike the McCarthyism of the United States in the 1950s, this opposition began with leftists. As early as 1920, for example, Leon Blum, chair of the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO, or French Section of the Workers’ International), opposed participation in Lenin’s Communist International. Blum argued that Bolshevism was the “first time in the history of socialism” when “terrorism is not merely a final recourse, not an extreme measure of public safety to be imposed on bourgeois resistance, not as a vital necessity for the revolution, but as a means of government” (quoted in Judt 1998, 67). For Blum, it was the Communists’ “emphasis on dictatorial terror” that distinguished them from socialists (ibid.).

The common defense of Communism—the one most constantly forwarded by Trotskyites—is premised on the claim that Stalin betrayed the noble vision of Lenin.8) However, Blum’s argument reveals that the violence of the USSR can be traced to its foundation. Prisons for political prisoners arrested by an unaccountable secret police (Lenin’s Cheka, which would eventually become the NKVD) were the brainchild of Lenin. Under Lenin, the Cheka would administer the various gulags that would become emblematic of the USSR’s systematic terror. In the early 1920s, socialists in the USSR relaunched a prison aid organization called the Political Red Cross. Prior to 1917, the organization had publicized and lobbied against the imprisonment of socialists under the Czar. With Lenin’s regime imprisoning the same socialists under similar conditions, the organization was resurrected and became integral in publicizing the crimes of the Leninist regime (Applebaum 2003, 14). Thus, the socialists sidelined by Lenin may be considered progenitors of non-fascist anti-Communism.

Lenin designed the totalitarian system of governance that Communist Parties the world over would inherit, and much of liberal anti-Communism has been a reaction to the all-encompassing dogma of the Leninist vanguard party—a party that seeks to be the vehicle of History and ultimate representative of the proletariat. The critiques of systems such as Lenin’s would eventually fall under the blanket term “antitotalitarian thought.” The characteristic of totalitarianism, as the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski (2008, 762) notes, can be found in “such formulas as Lenin’s: people may be executed for views that may ‘objectively serve the interests of the bourgeoisie.’” Under this system, there is neither law nor a set criminal code, only what the Party deems objectively errant at a given moment. The Leninist Party’s ability to determine counterrevolutionary guilt, based on the whims of its central authority, was the basis of the arbitrary justice system that informed the show trials of Stalin. Noting this inherent violence of Leninism and its inextricable connection to Stalinism, George Orwell (2002, 111) remarked in 1939:

It is probably a good thing for Lenin’s reputation that he died so early. . . . The essential act is the rejection of democracy—that is, of the underlying values of democracy; once you have decided upon that Stalin—or something like [emphasis in original] Stalin—is already on the way.

Despite objections from leftists such as Blum and Orwell, the Bolshevik revolution would, until the 1940s, be treated as a victory not only of the Communists but of the majority of leftists from various tendencies. After 1917, Eric Hobsbawm (1996, 74) explains, “Bolshevism absorbed all other social-revolutionary traditions, or pushed them to the margins of radical movements.” The rise of fascism in Europe, moreover, created an enemy that allowed different leftists to unite either as Communists or as fellow travelers. During the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Communism became intimately associated with the anti-fascist cause, thus allowing Communists and fellow travelers to dismiss anti-Communists as fascists.9)

By the late 1930s, however, evidence of the show trials and purges, in which high-ranking opponents of Stalin were publicly forced to confess to bogus crimes against the revolution, had already leaked into the Western European press. In 1937, for instance, pro-Soviet French intellectuals were already on the defensive, arguing for the necessity of the “Inquisition” that was occurring in the USSR (Judt 2011, 102). A turning point for anti-Communism occurred in 1940, when the Hungarian ex-Communist journalist Arthur Koestler published the novel Darkness at Noon, dramatizing the imprisonment, torture, confession, and execution of Bolshevik leaders through its main character, Comrade Rubashov—an amalgam of revolution-era Bolshevik leaders purged by Stalin.10) Together with Orwell, Koestler would become one of the leading anti-Communist voices on the British Left (Koestler settled in the United Kingdom after World War II).

The thread uniting intellectuals such as Koestler and Orwell (along with other prominent liberal and socialist anti-Communists of the time such as Ignazio Silone, Raymond Aron, and Albert Camus) was their condemnation of the authoritarianism of both the far Left and the far Right. This was a distinctly postwar perspective, produced by these intellectuals’ engagement with two extremes that defined the century’s first decades. Koestler and Orwell, for instance, were as committed to resisting Generalissimo Franco’s fascism as Stalin’s Communism (Koestler served jail time in Spain, while Orwell fought with antifascist Trotskyites).

Anti-Communists such as Orwell and Koestler expanded their critiques of totalitarianism to denounce the repressiveness of all forms of imperialism. As Christopher Hitchens (2003, 27) notes, Orwell’s journalism from Paris immediately after the war, which criticized Charles de Gaulle’s extension of Vichy-era colonial policies in Indochina, stressed “what might be termed the ‘Third World’ dimension of the struggle against fascism.” At roughly the same time, Koestler, according to biographer Michael Scammell (2009, chap. 22, sec. 5, para. 7), was writing political essays, consistently examining “the way the Soviet system had evolved from a radical experiment in socialist revolution into a classic case of reactionary imperialism.” The categorization of the Soviet Union as imperialist would become a crucial debate in Bandung.

Despite the onset of the Cold War and the concomitant mainstreaming of McCarthyite anti-Communism, many intellectuals held the torch for liberal anti-Communism in Europe. The philosopher Bertrand Russell, who many times expressed sympathy for socialism and Marxism, nonetheless grew critical of Communism’s illiberalism as the Cold War deepened, bringing him closer to the likes of Koestler and Orwell in the immediate postwar years.11) In France, Albert Camus’s isolation from mainstream French intellectual life (which ultimately led to a break with his good friend Jean-Paul Sartre) was occasioned by his growing disillusionment with Communist revolutionary rhetoric. From 1945 until the late 1950s, he published philosophical essays condemning rhetoric that justified revolutionary violence in favor of a political Utopia (Judt 1998, 94–95). Viewed from the perspective of European Cold War-era intellectuals, therefore, anti-Communism takes on a new intellectual depth beyond simply the witch hunts in the United States.

The globalization of an initially European liberal anti-Communism occurred through the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), established in 1950 as a cultural front to resist Soviet propaganda. Older European intellectuals such as England’s Bertrand Russell and Italy’s Benedetto Croce gave the organization its gravitas, but its intellectual direction came primarily from young anti-Communists such as Koestler, Aron, Sidney Hook, and Silone (Judt 2005, chap. 7, sec. 4, para. 21). The CCF formally operated in 35 countries and sponsored cultural publications established to rally intellectuals, mostly on the Left, against Communism (ibid., chap. 7, sec. 4, para. 22).12) The CCF’s Office for Asian Affairs was run out of New Delhi, with Bombay newspaper editor Prabhakar Padhye serving as its Secretary (Office for Asian Affairs, Congress for Cultural Freedom 1955, 2). As Secretary, Padhye marketed and distributed CCF publications such as Stephen Spender’s literary and political review Encounter (ibid., 56) and set up regional conferences (ibid., 3). One such conference was held in Rangoon in 1955, with over 35 participants from various countries in South, Southeast, and East Asia (ibid., 3).13)

In the Philippines, Padhye recruited the journalist and fictionist F. Sionil Jose, who in June 1960 attended the CCF’s 10th anniversary in Berlin along with Raul Manglapus (Jose 2013)—a diplomat who had accompanied Romulo to Bandung five years earlier.14) Like the European anti-Communists of the CCF, Jose is an intellectual who has remained sympathetic to socialism and class politics while condemning the practices of Communist Parties.

With money from the CCF, Jose established the literary and political quarterly Solidarity, for which Romulo contributed articles. With the same money, he also set up the publishing house Solidaridad. The first book issued by the new publishing house was Romulo’s Identity and Change: Towards a National Definition in 1965.15) In 1970, Solidaridad published Romulo’s The Asian Mystique: A Clarification of Asia’s New Image. (These books, as I discuss below, are key texts in which Romulo discusses his nuanced approach to Communism.)16) At around the same time, in 1964, the entrepreneurial Jose also opened Solidaridad Bookstore in the Ermita district of Manila. Romulo was the guest of honor at the bookstore’s opening (ibid.).

There is no evidence that Romulo, like Jose and his subordinate Manglapus, ever became a member of the CCF. However, the closeness of Romulo to these figures and to endeavors financed by the CCF reveals that Romulo occupied an intellectual space similar to that of the Congress.

Romulo, the UN, and the Third Force

Carlos Peña Romulo is the most prominent diplomat in Philippine history. At the height of his political career, his aplomb was greater than that of some of the presidents he served. As noted by Gregorio Brillantes (2005, 94–95), a doyen of Philippine journalism and literature, Romulo did “more to enhance the country’s image abroad than any other Filipino in his time.”

Born in 1899 and educated at the University of the Philippines and Columbia University, he began his career as a journalist and publisher. During World War II, he served in the US Army as General Douglas MacArthur’s press officer, delivering lectures in the United States about the Pacific War. Under MacArthur, Romulo rose to the rank of colonel in 1942 and brigadier general in 1944 (University of the Philippines–Reserve Officers’ Training Corps n.d.).17) It was, however, after the war, as the Philippine chief diplomat to the United Nations, that Romulo became a prominent figure in global politics. From 1949 to 1950 he was president of the United Nations General Assembly, and he would remain a fixture in the United Nations until his retirement in 1984 (Espiritu 2005, 10). With the exception of a brief stint as president of the University of the Philippines from 1962 to 1968, Romulo devoted his postwar professional life to the foreign service, serving as Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Presidents Elipidio Quirino (1950–52), Diosdado Macapagal (1963–64), and Ferdinand Marcos (1968–84).18)

Viewed from the perspective of the unrelentingly nationalist Philippine Left,19) Romulo is an inconsequential figure, a pro-American glitch in the broader narrative of the Philippine nation. Very few left-wing intellectuals, especially those from the University of the Philippines—then, as now, a hotbed of anti-American nationalism—recall Romulo as a prominent Third Worldist. Commenting on his tenure as UP president, Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines, and his wife, Juliet de Lima, dismiss Romulo as a “chief agent of cultural agencies of the US government” (Sison and de Lima 2008, 54). Francisco Nemenzo (2013, interview with author), a prominent Marxist professor during Romulo’s term as university president (who would himself become UP president in the 1990s), claims that campus nationalists were barely cognizant of Romulo’s role in Bandung and ignored his claims of being an anticolonial intellectual. Nemenzo adds that progressives at the university viewed Romulo as a subpar intellectual who was more adept at sweet-talking the intelligentsia than producing relevant scholarly work. Reinforcing Romulo’s reputation as a pseudo-intellectual was the widespread belief that most of his writings had been penned by ghostwriters, whose egos the diplomat stroked as enticement to work for him.20) The Romulo that emerges is at best a dilettante opportunist, and at worst an embodiment of reaction.21)

Perhaps the outright dismissal of Romulo stems from the evolving and contradiction-ridden nature of his politics. Filipino leftists ignore Romulo not only because of his anti-Communism, but also because he was never as categorical about his geopolitical positions as the more prominent nationalists of the left-wing canon. The Maoist Communist Party and other leftists influenced by it, Patricio Abinales (2001, 193–228) notes, derived their categorical anti-Americanism from the nationalist and anti-American senator Claro M. Recto—Romulo’s political bête noire. As a result, the Philippine Left remembers Romulo as an opportunist and American lapdog, ignoring the various nuances in his positions that made him indeterminable and difficult to place within neat binaries such as anti-American/anti-Filipino, nationalist/American lapdog, or revolutionary/reactionary.

In what follows, I hope to show that it is precisely the evolving nature of Romulo’s thought that makes him crucial to an understanding of a concept such as the Third World, which is in itself a nuanced, contradiction-ridden, and evolving category. Romulo may not have been the most prominent delegate at Bandung based on historical accounts; other leaders such as Sukarno are certainly more prominent figures in global history. Nonetheless, Romulo represents a crucial strand in the plural narratives present at the conference. To reiterate Pang’s point, Bandung is best understood as containing a plurality of postcolonial positions, contradicting, intersecting, and mutually reinforcing.

A revisiting of Romulo’s legacy requires a different vista, a perspective broader than that of the domestic politics of postwar Philippines. In doing this, I neither seek to exonerate Romulo for his various dalliances with reaction nor do I aim to reconstruct him as a hero. Many times, he was, indeed, hopelessly pro-American, as when he allowed research that would benefit the US Army in Vietnam to be conducted at the UP (Nemenzo, interview with author, 2013).22) Moreover, Romulo’s lifelong commitment to liberalism was severely compromised when he became a loyal minister of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Nonetheless, Romulo was a genuine voice of the Third World and one of the most articulate exponents of the concept.

That the Filipino diplomat was a close US ally is a given. But in his UN career he made efforts to continually signal his affinity for former colonies. In votes where the main protagonists were the United States and Russia, Romulo naturally sided with the Americans. However, in votes that pitted “small nations” (a term Romulo used for the pre-Bandung Third World) against powerful ones, Romulo took the side of the former. In discussions about the wording of the UN Charter, for instance, the Big Powers wanted the Charter to state that non-self-governing nations should aspire only toward self-governance. Romulo led the delegates who wanted to insert the word “independence.” Big powers such as England, France, and Russia opposed Romulo and his allies, while the United States abstained from the vote. The Philippine proposal eventually won (Romulo 1986, 38–44).

In the case of the partition of Palestine to create the state of Israel, Romulo opposed the proposal, claiming that it was “repugnant to the valid nationalist aspirations of the people of Palestine” (ibid., 67). This was obviously a position contrary to the United States’. Manila, having been threatened with a withdrawal of aid, eventually ordered Romulo to support the formation of Israel. Romulo saw the actions of the United States as arm twisting, and until his death he maintained his views concerning the dangers of partition (ibid.).

Finally, Romulo contradicted the United States on the issue of veto power in the UN. According to Romulo, the leitmotif of his 38 years in the UN was the struggle to revise the UN Charter and to limit the veto power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. For his entire UN career, he was at loggerheads with the United States on the issue of the veto (ibid., 53). Even during his time as Marcos’s foreign minister, Romulo argued for a review of the charter to prevent the abuse of the veto. All these proposals were shot down by the United States (Romulo 1982, 6).

Crucially, even the United States did not view Romulo as its lapdog. A declassified CIA document from 1949 notes that “Although the Philippines generally supports US policy in the UN, there has been some deviation largely owing to Romulo’s championship of dependent peoples of Asia, for whom he has become a leading spokesperson” (Central Intelligence Agency 1949, 13). It was Romulo who began to craft an explicitly anticolonial foreign policy for the Philippines. Before Romulo, the document adds, “Philippine policy toward colonial peoples has [sic] been limited to expressions of sympathy for national aspirations. . . .” With Romulo at the helm of foreign policy, however, the Philippine delegation to the New Delhi conference on Indonesia in January 1949 played a leading role in pushing the UN to support Indonesian independence (ibid.).

Robert Trumbull (1949, E5), who served for more than three decades as a New York Times international political commentator, observed that the New Delhi conference—the first time Asian countries “had come together on a matter of common concern”—was a landmark moment that sent a message concerning Asia’s desire to “play a stronger role in international affairs.” This manifested in a call for a permanent pan-Asian organization—a Romulo proposal, which drew massive applause from the audience (The Washington Post 1949a, 1). Jawaharlal Nehru and Romulo, for Trumbull (1949, E5), were “two of the strongest figures” in the conference. A few days after the end of the proceedings, the two leaders delivered interviews that were “in contrast to the deliberately moderate tone of the conference itself.” Summarizing their statements, Trumbull noted that Nehru and Romulo “warned the West” that Asia’s peoples had “definite objectives” and were “determined to obtain these by concerted effort if necessary” (ibid.). One objective was economic independence: for Asian countries to cease being mere suppliers of raw materials to Western countries.

New Delhi foreshadowed Bandung. Even before he was elected president of the UN General Assembly, Romulo was already a prominent pan-Asianist who styled himself as a representative of formerly colonized peoples. In this regard, he was capable of criticizing his erstwhile superpower ally. In May 1949, for instance, Romulo and Chinese UN delegate Dr. Lee Wei-kuo condemned the United States for halting the delivery of Japanese reparations to wartime opponents (the United States was seeking to prioritize Japan’s economic recovery) (The Washington Post 1949b, 4). Romulo declared that he was “flabbergasted” by the decision and blamed the United States for paving the way for Japanese revanchism—the primary victim of which would be Asia (The New York Times 1949a, 2).

Romulo’s anti-Communist credentials allowed him to criticize US foreign policy without fear of being branded a Communist sympathizer. On March 2, 1950, for example, he sent a personal and confidential letter to US Secretary of State Dean Acheson condemning the United States’ decision to recognize Emperor Bao Dai’s government in Vietnam; he viewed Bao Dai as a puppet of French colonialism. In supporting Bao Dai simply because he was an anti-Communist, Romulo (1950, 2) wrote, the United States “may have unwittingly espoused even the demonstrated iniquity of colonial imperialism.” The decision, moreover, gave Communists “the enormous advantage of plausible and logical insistence on anti-Communism being pro-imperialism,” reinforcing the notion that only Communists were anti-imperialists (ibid., 3–4). Consistent with his self-aggrandizing style, Romulo, who viewed himself as a mediator between Asians and the West, declared that US policy in Vietnam would lead to “the virtual isolation of American policy from the sentiment of Asian countries” (ibid., 4). Most surprisingly, Romulo explained that Ho Chi Minh was a potentially independent Communist who “could make all sorts of trouble for Stalin” (ibid., 5). In the meeting with Acheson that followed, Romulo told the Secretary that Ho Chi Minh was a patriot who would refuse to simply become a tool of Mao or Stalin (Acheson 1950, 1). He advised Acheson to negotiate with Ho Chi Minh and suggested that France and the United States assure the Communist leader that Vietnam would gain independence (ibid., 2).

Romulo believed he spoke from a position of authority, because he claimed to know Ho Chi Minh personally. In a likely fabricated account, the diplomat said he met Ho Chi Minh in 1948 after a UN meeting in Paris (various accounts, however, state the Vietnamese revolutionary was in Vietnam in 1948, having last been in Paris in September 1946). Hearing that Ho Chi Minh was in the city, Romulo claims, he sought out the Vietnamese leader. They met in a “small bistro in a by-way in Paris” (Romulo 1986, 114) and spoke about Philippine history, with Ho Chi Minh discoursing fondly about General Emilio Aguinaldo’s struggle against Spanish and American colonizers. Romulo considered the Vietnamese leader to be a “true patriot” who was forced to seek assistance from the USSR only because the United States refused to support his anticolonial cause (ibid., 124).23) This story may be apocryphal, or Romulo (or his wife, Beth Day, who posthumously edited the book) may have confused the date. Nonetheless, Romulo’s praise for Ho Chi Minh reveals his sympathy for national liberation movements, despite their affiliation with Communism.

Romulo’s letter and subsequent meeting with Acheson revealed his prescience. He knew that Vietnam would not support a puppet regime. Moreover, the engagement with Acheson exhibited Romulo’s nuanced anti-Communism. For Romulo, anti-Communism was not to be viewed as an automatic endorsement of imperialism. To resist Communism, one had to acknowledge its appeal to anticolonial nationalism—a perspective Romulo gained through his advocacy for Asian independence. This perspective was not inconsistent with what Romulo had already said in public. The previous year, he had explained his vision for an anti-imperialist and anti-Communist Asia.

The person credited with coining the term “Third World” in its contemporary geopolitical sense is the French demographer Alfred Sauvy, who in 1952 compared former colonies to the “third estate” (the people) of the French Revolution (The Economist 2010). In a 1949 speech at the University of Chicago, however, Romulo had already used the term “third force” to describe Asia—“the most dynamic region in the world,” which was “interposed between the two great powers” (The New York Times 1949b, 16). A little over a week before he was elected president of the General Assembly, Romulo (1949, 13) had published a version of this Chicago speech in The New York Times. As in his conversation with Acheson, Romulo conceded that Communism appealed to colonized peoples, particularly in Indochina, where “the Communist party was identified with the nationalist struggle, first against the Japanese and later against the French.” For Romulo, “the methods and principles of communism have an appeal” for peoples who, by virtue of their colonial history, “may be led to believe that they have nothing to lose from aligning themselves with communism, which generously promises plenty for all and loudly professes its irreconcilable antagonism to the colonial system” (ibid., 68). It was in this context that Romulo would put forward liberalism and human rights as an alternative to the Communist system.

A few years before the conference, Romulo had already outlined the Asianist version of anti-Communism that he would take to Bandung. Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in 1952, Romulo (1953, 249) declared that the threat of Communism was more pronounced in Southeast Asia, because the region was in “a position of vital strategic importance to the whole free world.” Citing Lenin, who believed that “the road to Europe lies through Peiping and Calcutta,” Romulo argued that “Southeast Asia is the last remaining roadblock to Soviet hegemony in the whole of Asia” (ibid.). Foreshadowing the anti-imperial language of Bandung, he added, “The struggle against Communism and Soviet imperialism may well be won or lost in Southeast Asia” (ibid., 250). Romulo’s comments may sound exaggerated today, but it is important to recall that he made them in the context of the Korean War—a war he believed evidenced Soviet-Chinese aggression.

Romulo was right about his assessment of the Korean conflict. The most recent scholarship based on recently opened Soviet archives proves that Stalin, with Mao’s support, encouraged Kim Il-Sung’s invasion of South Korea in a reckless attempt to drag the United States into a protracted Asian conflict (Pantsov and Levine 2012, 383). Romulo was thus justified in going to Bandung with deep suspicions about the Chinese delegation. Indeed, Communism could threaten the stability of Asia, and Romulo would make this point eloquently during the conference.

The Anti-Communist Bandung

That the Philippines participated in the Bandung Conference is a function of Romulo’s view that the event would transcend the narrow anti-Western perspective that many had already associated with it even before its commencement. Indeed, even within the Philippines, President Ramon Magsaysay—a staunch US ally—was initially hesitant to send a delegation. It was, however, Romulo who convinced the pro-American president that the Philippines had a place in the conference (Molina 1961, 408).

In his oft-cited book The Meaning of Bandung, Romulo (1956) sets out to correct the popular perception that Bandung was simply a challenge to Western power. He begins by decrying how the US press prejudged the conference, noting the popular belief shortly before its commencement that it would degenerate “into an anti-Western political demonstration” (ibid., 5). In response to the misinterpretations of the Western press, Romulo’s goal was to outline Bandung’s “unpublicized nuances” in order that “its historical import and flavor may be better appreciated” (ibid., 6). He emphasized that the countries in the conference were not homogenously anti-Western, and that they reflected “different shades of political persuasion” (ibid.). Early on, Romulo was critical of the simple East vs. West binary that subtended interpretations of Bandung. Very few contemporary historians have listened to him.

The tendency to homogenize the Bandung narrative as anti-Western was not only the myopia of the pre-conference Western press. This narrow-minded interpretation is replicated in current Bandung historiography. For example, according to Burke (2006, 949–950), the focus on the anti-Western aspects of the conference has led scholars to ignore Bandung’s contribution to human rights discourse. He contends that studies easily assume that the anticolonial ethos of the conference translated into a critical attitude toward “Western” human rights. Burke demonstrates, however, that human rights discourse was essential to the vocabulary of Bandung, and that the latter’s debates mirrored those in the United Nations over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (ibid., 950–957). Of more importance for this article, Burke posits that criticism of the Soviet and Chinese governments, forwarded by conference delegates such as Romulo and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala, “raised arguments with important consequences for human rights and democracy” (ibid., 958). Simply stated, anti-Communism and human rights were intimately linked in the minds of some “Third World” strategists as early as 1949. In this regard, the Asia-Afro debates concerning Communist imperialism and totalitarianism foreshadowed intellectual shifts in Europe. As Tony Judt (2005, chap. 18, sec. 1) notes in the case of Western Europe, human rights discourse did not enter mainstream international discourse until the late 1980s, amid the discrediting of Communist totalitarianism.

In the conference, the anti-Communism of many of the delegates was immediately palpable. Initially, Chinese delegate Zhou Enlai forfeited his right to deliver an opening speech. “But as the addresses proceeded, and when some countries went out of their way to express their attitude to Communism,” recalls Kotelawala (1956, 181) in his memoirs, “Chou En-lai rose and said that he reserved his right to deliver an address of his own.” C.P. Fitzgerald (1955, 113), an Australian historian watching the proceedings, noticed a conciliatory Zhou, who claimed he was not in Bandung to promote Communist ideology. For Fitzgerald, Zhou’s speech represented a “marked change of attitude, if not policy” on the part of the Chinese premier. Kotelawala (1956, 181), on the other hand, claimed that Zhou’s comments were “satisfactory,” “but what was more satisfactory” was that Zhou “should have been forced to make them.” Zhou was placed on the defensive because of the pervasive anti-Communist sentiment at Bandung—a sentiment immediately perceptible to the Philippine press, though neglected in accounts from neutralist countries such as India.24) The leading weekly news magazine Philippines Free Press (1955, 69) began its report on the first two days of the conference as follows:

Outright anti-communist speeches were delivered at the opening of the Afro-Asian conference in Bandung, Indonesia, by Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fadhil Jamali, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mohammed Ali, the Philippines’ Carlos Romulo, and Thailand’s Foreign Minister Prince Wan Waithayakon. It was clear from the speeches the conference would not develop into a communist propaganda vehicle. For example, Ambassador Romulo, while criticizing Western colonialism past and present, warned that communist imperialism is today a great danger to the new nations in Asia and Africa.

The report added that Zhou was “surprisingly mild in his speech Tuesday” (ibid.).

The Free Press (ibid.) also declared that Romulo found the conference “more than reassuring,” because many countries shared the sentiments of the Philippines against “communist domination.” It added that Zhou, surprised by the turn of events, was “forced to sit back and listen to unsparing attacks against communism” (ibid.). It is in this context of hostility to Communism that we should situate Romulo’s (1956, 11) famous quip that Zhou “had taken a leaf from Dale Carnegie’s tome on How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

The opening speeches, however, would not be the last time Bandung delegates attacked Communism. In September 1955, writing for the local Philippine press, Romulo (1955, 34) recalled that one of the most dramatic parts of the conference was the “fight over communism and colonialism.” Serious debate went into the definition of colonialism to be placed in Bandung’s final communiqué. The communiqué is a pathbreaking document, which, beyond articulating the “Bandung spirit” of Asia-Afro solidarity, also allowed for a radical redefinition of colonialism. It condemned “colonialism in all its manifestations” and affirmed that “alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of human rights . . .” (Final Communiqué of the Asian-African Conference, Section D, Article 1). In his newspaper account (a clearer and more detailed account of the colonialism debate than The Spirit of Bandung), Romulo reported how the conference arrived at this definition.

The debate began when Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhamad Fadhil Jamali “opened up the heavy artillery against Soviet imperialism” (Romulo 1955, 34). However, “Powerful forces” (Zhou and the neutralist Nehru)25) wanted to block any reinterpretation of colonialism. For them, there was “only one form of colonialism—Western,” and “Nothing else counted” (ibid.). The Philippine delegation and a majority of the conference’s participants supported Jamali. Romulo narrates:

We took the position that the conference must condemn all colonialism, both overt and potential. We were opposed to every form of domination, subjugation, or the exploitation of peoples [emphasis mine]. Everyone present knew we referred to communism.

Powerful support came from Ceylon’s Prime Minister, Sir John Kotelawala, who with the caliber of a world leader could set aside restricted regional loyalties for a greater cause. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Fatin Rustu Zorlu also was a real fighter for democracy and so we were able to show the conference—meaning representatives of half of mankind—that we spoke for the security and interests of all. And all finally rallied to stand with us—condemning not only Western colonialism but colonialism “in its various forms.” (ibid.)

Perhaps no statement better encapsulates Romulo’s vision for a Third World that served as a dual negation of both the First and Second Worlds. It is a vision that, like those of the European anti-Communists discussed earlier, condemned all forms of domination and totalitarianism. Naturally, Romulo was delighted that his views received much support in the conference, particularly from Kotelawala, who until then was a known neutralist like Nehru (ibid.). In his speech, the prime minister asked the delegates to consider the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe (Kotelawala 1956, 187). “Are not these colonies as much as any of the colonial territories of Africa or Asia?” he asked. If the conference was united against colonialism, he added, “should it not be our duty to declare our opposition to Soviet colonialism as much as to Western imperialism?” (ibid., 188).26) Kotelawala thus affirmed Asia and Africa’s solidarity with the occupied peoples of countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia.27) Hearing Kotelawala’s remarks, Nehru and Zhou took umbrage,28) and the two issued a statement extolling the values of neutralism (Romulo 1956, 31). Nehru followed this up with a speech, which Romulo immediately refuted (ibid., 33).

Romulo’s response to Nehru is one of the most eloquent speeches of his career. First, he pointed out that the expansionist nature of global Communism was “not a charge made by non-Communist countries” but “the explicit declaration of international communism” (ibid., 188). Moreover, he noted that Communist Parties did not respect elections and merely used these for propaganda purposes (ibid., 82). And, echoing Blum’s comments on Leninist terror from 1919 (see above), he explained that Communism’s “schism with socialism is based upon the fact that Communists see violence as the sole means of achieving social reform” (ibid.).29) He then reminded the audience of the 1950 Chinese attack on South Korea, which was condemned by 50 countries at the UN (ibid., 83). Quoting statements from Chinese officials about the need to encourage and organize armed rebellions in other Asian countries, he argued that China had violated the non-aggression principles of the UN (ibid., 84–88). Peaceful coexistence with China, he believed, was impossible. In concluding the speech, he declared, “What we fear now is the new empire of communism on which we know the sun never rises. May your country India, Sir, never be caught by the encircling gloom” (ibid.). Once again, Romulo was prescient. Exactly five years after Bandung, after China had seized Indian border territory, Nehru called China’s methods “coercive” and labeled the Communists in India “a destructive opposition factor” (Nehru, interview with Frasser 1960).

Writing 30 years after Bandung in his memoirs—long after he and Nehru had become good friends—Romulo (1986, 139) recalled the debate in Bandung:

I warned Nehru in my debate with him that there would be an aggression against India from the North. He didn’t believe me. He said that I was wrong. That the Chinese were not aggressors and that we should speak of peace, brotherhood, neighborliness, and not make any statement about aggression. Yet, within four years, China attacked India’s borders.

Several years after that when I was invited to New Delhi by Nehru for a lecture series and I went to call on him, he was already ailing. As I entered his bedroom he said:

“General Romulo, how right you were at Bandung! And how wrong was I.”

Despite their eventual rapprochement, however, Romulo and Nehru in Bandung represented two differing perspectives on the ossifying Cold War. For much of the 1930s and 1940s, the Indian leader was an ardent student of Marxism. Even when he became critical of official Communism in the 1950s, when he criticized the religious dogmatism of Soviet leaders, he was never an outright anti-Communist and continued to admire certain aspects of Soviet socialism such as public education and health care (Martyshin 1989, 131–133). Like Romulo, however, Nehru held a position that was at the crossroads of multiple ideologies, reflecting a syncretic and flexible political worldview. For Orest Martyshin (ibid., 121), the three pillars of Nehru’s worldview were Western liberalism, ideas of national liberation, and Marxism. With the exception of Nehru’s more sympathetic approach to Marxism, therefore, Romulo and Nehru already had much common ground, even when they were each other’s interlocutors.

The Afterglow of Bandung

Upon returning from Bandung, Romulo (1955, 35) wrote of anti-Communism as a source of solidarity among many Afro-Asian nations. Summarizing the sentiments of the anti-Communists in the conference, he said:

We are anti-communist because we know communism endangers our liberties. That our position happens to be that of the United States or of most countries of the West, is only because the ideals of freedom as enshrined in the Magna Carta of England, the Declaration of Independence of the United States, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man by France, are universal.

Once again, Romulo posited the intimate relationship between human rights discourse, anticolonialism, and anti-Communism. In his mind, this was not a Western position but an Asianist one.

In the wake of the Bandung Conference, Romulo continued to articulate his views on the intimate connection between anti-Communism, anticolonialism, and human rights. And the CCF-funded Solidaridad Publishing House continued to make these writings available to a wide audience. Romulo’s dedication to human rights, anti-Communism, and anti-imperialism stemmed from a liberal commitment to freedom. He was a quintessential mid-century liberal, who, because of his liberalism, condemned colonialism. Ironically, this liberalism was cultivated through a life immersed in the West. Romulo’s anticolonialism and love for Western liberalism, however, are not contradictory. As Dipesh Chakrabarty (2012, 141) notes, the critical/discursive weapons of the colonized—liberalism and Marxism—were embedded in the very cultures of the imperial powers. Colonialism brought with it the seeds of its own demise.

It was in this regard that Romulo was both an advocate of Western liberal principles and an antagonist of Western colonialism. In Identity and Change, Romulo (1965, 69) explains:

Colonialism was a contradiction of moral principles in politics; in terms of the 20th century, colonialism was some kind of saurian moment remnant of the [sic] political evolution—a monster that failed to develop with other sub-species of the Western liberal tradition.

If Romulo loved the West, it was not only because he trusted Western democratic governments but also because he believed in the ideals that emanated from the West’s political history. These ideals, however, are not exclusive to any country, and Romulo could thus view his liberalism as an integral facet of his Asian identity.

In The Asian Mystique, Romulo (1970, 11) says that democracy, which he construed in its liberal sense, is not “a national property.” It is a concept that can “yield to the necessities of a particular social context” and can therefore be truly Asian. “Asians,” he explained, “deplore the readiness of America to claim as pro-American any of their leaders who affirm the democratic way of life.” Any Asian duplication of “Western life,” as such, would inevitably “be a forgery.” In the CCF-funded Solidarity, he notes that, like Jose Rizal and other Filipino nationalists of the nineteenth century, Filipinos need to be “cognizant of our social, political, and economic situation but without any timidity to study, confront, analyze and integrate into national intelligence the best values and aspects of other civilizations” (Romulo 1967, 36).

Romulo saw the future of Asian politics as open-ended, flexible, and provisional. Democracy would allow Asians to build their own unique political systems, which was not the case with Communism. In contrast, “totalitarian communism does not accept any deviation” and its adherents must be “in complete conformity with the official doctrine” (Rumulo 1970, 10). Indeed, pace the earlier reference to Kolakowski, Communism establishes objective class enemies who are lesser beings according to its tenets.30) Moreover, as the case of Eastern Europe proves, Communist governance is inflexible, hence the crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring. Unlike the strictures of Communism, Romulo (ibid.) argues, the “liberal imagination” is premised on “the principles of tolerance of differences.”

For Romulo, then, it was no surprise that many former colonies at Bandung would be anti-Communist. After all, who better to understand the trappings of a new form of colonialism than those previously colonized? Romulo (1965, 78) believed “It is foolish to think that, after fighting the Dutch, the British, the French colonial regimes, Asians will now accept willingly Communist totalitarianism.” Anti-Communism in Asia, then, was not so much pro-Western apologia but a properly Asianist and postcolonial position. It is not—contrary to Espiritu’s claim—an imperial script aped by US allies such as Romulo.

The dovetailing of anti-Communism with pan-Asianism is not without precedent. As Pankaj Mishra (2012, 246) notes, Japanese intellectuals in the 1930s often saw the Soviet Union and the United States as “Western” threats to China. This critique of Communism—part of the rhetorical arsenal of Chinese and Indian nationalists as well as pan-Islamists—was part of a broader pan-Asian polemic against Western modernity (ibid., 254). Romulo, a secularist,31) did not appropriate many of the spiritual underpinnings of this position (the first chapter of The Meaning of Bandung is titled “The Spiritual Offensive,” but it barely talks about religion or spirituality). Moreover, though a great admirer of Gandhi as a peaceful anticolonialist, Romulo was not disposed to extolling the values of spirituality over liberalism.32) Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that his vision of the Third World as a dual negation of Western colonialism and Soviet Communism has clear Asianist antecedents.

Since the twin bases of Romulo’s anti-Communism were liberalism and Asianism, it is unsurprising that he had a strong aversion to anti-Communism’s illiberal, American offshoot: McCarthyism. Like colonialism, McCarthyism betrayed the liberal principles Romulo held dear. For McCarthyites, he observed, “everything progressive, because it proposed change, was tagged as Communist subversion” (Romulo 1965, 83). Romulo worried that applied to international relations, McCarthyism would become a tool for neocolonialism. Speaking once more as an anticolonial Asianist, Romulo explained, “The communist danger became an excuse for intervention; the politics of fear became the politics of the West.” He added that McCarthyites did not understand Asian nationalism. Under the spell of this false philosophy, the West “failed to be discriminating,” and what they did not understand “tended to be propagandized as Communistic . . .” (ibid., 76).

Even later in his life, Romulo would brag about recognizing McCarthyism as a misguided, temporary fad (Romulo 1986, 141–142). Reflecting on his career in the United Nations, he recalls his admiration for UN Secretary General Trygve Lie, who was attacked by the Russians for allegedly being a US lapdog and by McCarthy for allegedly being a Soviet lapdog (ibid., 58). “Apparently the American public never appreciated the irony of an international servant who was simultaneously being vilified by Russia and the shameless Senator McCarthy,” he quipped (ibid., 59). Like the Third World, Lie was caught between First World America and Second World Russia. And like imperialists, Senator Joseph McCarthy did not understand the nuances of provisional alliances that emerged in international affairs.

Romulo’s liberal opposition to McCarthyism was strengthened by his international work, and he brought this attitude back to the Philippines. When Romulo assumed the presidency of the UP, one of his first acts was to take a strong stand against on-campus McCarthyism, seeking to end the witch hunts against student activists that had occurred during his predecessor’s term (Epistola 1985, 395). True to his human-rights liberalism, Romulo opposed all forms of extremism, oppression, and control of free speech.

Romulo’s refusal to crack down on student radicalism surprised many. The university’s Board of Regents had nominated him to serve as president believing that he would combat campus activism and Communism (ibid., 394). And yet, even Nemenzo—a staunch critic of Romulo—cannot recall a single crackdown on student radicals. Benjamin Muego (interview with author, 2013), Chair of the UP Student Council in the academic year 1984–85, likewise recalls a very permissive president. Muego, who was a champion debater like Romulo in his youth, developed a close fraternal relationship with the university president—a relationship that did not sour even when Muego became involved in radical politics.

In 1966, Muego became a charter member of Senator Lorenzo Tañada’s Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism—a broad nationalist coalition that included Sison and his fellow Communist militants (Muego himself was not a member of the Communist Party). And in July 1967, Muego, along with Sison, De Lima, and 13 others went to Communist China upon the invitation of the All China Youth Federation. As a member of MAN (an organization critical of Romulo) and a close ally of Sison’s Kabataang Makabayan, Muego became a prominent student activist. Despite this, he remained close to Romulo. Muego finds this striking in retrospect:

Given his [Romulo’s] background (if indeed he was an agent of US imperialism) and given the degree of supervision he had over us, he could have very easily said, “I want you to ease up, because it’s hurting my fundraising in the US.” He didn’t. And he knew what we were doing; the papers would carry our pictures with slogans, and burning effigies and flags.

Whenever Muego saw Romulo, the diplomat would simply give him a “fatherly slap on the back” and joke “make sure you’re behaving, okay?” And that was the end of it. In retrospect, Muego is surprised at how much anti-Americanism Romulo tolerated on campus given the amount of fund-raising he was doing in the United States.

Romulo, adept at the art of persuasion, did not need to repress. Muego, like Nemenzo, claims Romulo “co-opted” many progressive intellectuals—most of whom, he confirms, became ghostwriters for the university president. Unlike Nemenzo, however, Muego ascribes this co-optation to more than opportunism. He claims that intellectuals were attracted to Romulo’s genuine liberal humanism and his vision of creating a national university.33) For example, he explains that Romulo’s main speechwriter, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, who eventually became a close ally of Sison and the Communist Party, was “enamored” with Romulo because both men were true liberals. Similarly, Muego claims that nationalist intellectuals such as the historian and public intellectual Cesar Majul wrote speeches for Romulo not simply for career advancement, but because they saw in the president someone who valued intellectual work.

Although the influence of liberalism in the Philippines is not the topic of this article, it is important to note how liberalism, through its permissiveness, paved the way for the emergence of radical politics. One can hardly imagine, for instance, the blossoming of the radical nationalism that would inform the anti-Marcos movement without reference to the University of the Philippines. And had liberals such as Romulo and his protégé Salvador P. Lopez not led this university, nationalist dissent on campus would likely have been repressed. Romulo may have betrayed his liberal principles when he worked for Ferdinand Marcos, but Marcos’s downfall—one triggered by the work of nationalist militants—was already prefigured by the intellectual climate he helped nourish.34) Even Romulo’s morally bankrupt decision to support Marcos, however, must be understood in the broader context of his commitments as an internationalist and Asianist.

Building the Third World through a Dictator

The tragedy of Romulo’s career lay in his struggle to operationalize his vision for the Third World while the divisions of the Cold War intensified. As the tensions between the United States and the USSR deepened, it became more difficult to maintain a third way; states had to choose. On the part of the United States, its position of “preserving freedom” in postwar global politics metamorphosed into a paranoid policy of anti-Communist containment, which led it to support violent right-wing regimes such as the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Pinochet regime in Chile (at the expense of the democratically elected Allende), and Diem in Vietnam. Conversely, the Soviet strategy of financing national liberation movements (even as it crushed nationalist dissent in places such as Poland and Hungary) led many to champion the Communist cause. Fidel Castro’s Cuba, for instance, which initially attempted to curry favor from both the United States and the Soviet Union, quickly became a beneficiary of Khrushchev’s largesse and thus the Soviet Union’s ally—a replication of a decision made earlier by Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese revolution.

Even Nehru’s, Sukarno’s, Josip Broz Tito’s, and Kwame Nkrumah’s Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), founded in 1961 in the afterglow of Bandung, could not stay neutral for long. The movement fractured over the position of Castro’s Cuba to support the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was for this reason that Romulo, although sympathetic to Nehru and Sukarno, was always critical of the NAM (Romulo 1982, 28).

How did Romulo navigate the increasing divisions of the Cold War? As a bureaucrat, he could only do so much. Within the divisions of the Cold War, the Marcos regime in the Philippines quickly became one of the United States’ most prominent client regimes (see Bello et al. 1977; Bonner 1987) and a bedrock for containment in Southeast Asia. As someone who tied his fortunes to those of the state, Romulo had to operationalize his ideas under the ambit of a US-backed dictator. The endeavor was ultimately quixotic.

When asked why he thought Romulo supported Marcos even after the declaration of martial law in 1972, Muego speculated it was because Romulo refused to leave the public limelight. Phrased differently, Romulo did not want to end his career as a diplomat. Speaking to the journalist Brillantes (2005, 95) in 1984, a dying Romulo explained that he was primarily nonpartisan. “My main preoccupation,” he said, “has been foreign relations and not domestic partisan politics. It is with that overriding concern that I have served all the Presidents, from President Quezon to President Marcos.”35) This does not exonerate Romulo. As a member of Marcos’s cabinet, he would have been aware of the widespread repression during the dictatorship, especially after the declaration of martial law in 1972. He surely would have known of the persecution of student activists at the university he once led. It is, thus, unsurprising that Romulo’s break with his former protégé and successor as UP President, Lopez, was a result of the former’s collaboration with the dictator. In 1980 Lopez called Romulo’s life a “tragedy,” claiming that Marcos’s chief diplomat had turned his back on the principles he stood for, namely, “human rights,” “democracy,” and “press freedom” (Espiritu 2005, 41).

Despite the inadequacy of his defense of simply being a bureaucrat, Romulo’s statements nonetheless provide us with a glimpse into his thinking. His priority, above all, was the formation of the Third World. From the beginning of his diplomatic career, Romulo sought to construct a foreign policy grounded on the concerns of Asia and other decolonizing states. He took offense whenever someone cast doubt on his credentials as an Asianist. His famous debate with Nehru in Bandung, for example, was triggered when Nehru questioned the credibility of Asian leaders supporting the US-backed Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO, founded in Manila in 1954). According to Romulo (1986, 139), Nehru’s comments “got me,” which led to his extended rebuttal of the Indian leader. Romulo’s reputation as “America’s boy” was obviously a sensitive spot for him. And in his career after Bandung, he would attempt to distance himself from this image. More important, after Bandung he would continue his career as an advocate of the Third World. A post in the Marcos government allowed for this.

In the second of his two posthumously published memoirs, he recalled that Marcos was a “receptive and able ally” in his goal of forwarding an independent Philippine foreign policy. “We agreed that it was time for our former colony to distance itself from the towering shadow of its old patron, the United States” (Romulo 1988, 137). In the 1970s, the Philippines opened diplomatic relations with China and the Soviet Union, “independent of the US position” (ibid.). Romulo, in fact, claimed that Richard Nixon credited him with the idea of opening diplomatic relations between China and the United States in 1972 (Romulo 1986, 155).36) Though at no point did he retract his criticisms of Communism, Romulo began to espouse a more pragmatic approach to relations with Communist countries.

The shift to a more independent foreign policy reflected Romulo’s changing views in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At the time, he no longer believed that Asian nations could be divided between a non-aligned bloc and those, like the Philippines, that supported the United States. In a speech following the conferment of an honorary degree from the University of the East, an unusually humble Romulo (1969, 51) reflected on the changes in Philippine foreign policy since Bandung:

In recalling the events of the 1950’s, especially with reference to Bandung, I consider it one of the little ironies of our time—and I did not foresee it then when I clashed with Jawaharlal Nehru in the Bandung Conference—that the positions of India and the Philippines would somewhat change, one moving slightly to the other’s position. But this would be a story of the 1960’s after India was to suffer, as she did, the trauma of military aggression by Communist China, and the Philippines was to begin to realize the full implications of her one-sided policy.

He concluded that both India and the Philippines would likely “move nearer to each other, and to the rest of Asia, moving in the same direction” (ibid.).

What did Romulo’s shift in orientation mean in terms of concrete policy? Beyond opening ties with new states, it meant turning the United Nations into a venue for Asian and Third World solidarity. During a trip to India in 1969, Romulo drew attention to India and the Philippines’ joint support of policy recommendations from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) (The Indian Express 1969). At the time, UNCTAD was led by Raul Prebisch, one of the left-wing pioneers of dependency theory in economics, which called for the economic independence of peripheral countries in a world economic system.37) In India, Romulo rehearsed the ideas of left-wing Third Worldists, echoing UNCTAD’s critique of unfair tariff policies that protected First World markets from Third World goods (ibid.). He also congratulated the Indian government for nationalizing its banks in a bid for economic self-sufficiency (The Hindustan Times 1969).

Moreover, as Marcos’s foreign minister, Romulo participated in the formation of the ASEAN, which he viewed as “an Asian Third World grouping” (Romulo 1988, 153). One of ASEAN’s primary goals was ensuring “freedom from interference in the internal affairs of the countries of the area by outside Powers” (Romulo 1972, 9). Of course, ASEAN then was spearheaded by brutal domestic dictators such as Marcos and Suharto. But for Romulo, ASEAN was a concretization of his Asianist worldview. As a diplomat wedded to the nation-state, he saw developing world solidarity through the narrow lens of state-to-state relations. His notion of protecting states from external threats allowed him to justify dictatorial threats from within. Ironically, it was Romulo’s dedication to Third Worldism that made him a servant to a US-backed dictatorship. Close to his death, he wrote a final justification for his support of Marcos: “If only he would be judged by his conduct of foreign relations, Marcos would go down in history as an excellent leader of the Filipino people” (1988, 153). It was almost a plea for forgiveness.

Romulo eventually resigned from the Marcos administration in 1983. The assassination that year of oppositionist Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino triggered a political and economic crisis—one that would lead to the dictator’s ouster. The crisis gave Romulo an excuse to leave. After his final appearance at the UN in 1983, an ailing Romulo said he was “heartsick.” Speaking from a hospital bed in the United States, the 85-year-old admitted defeat: “For the first time in 37 years, I appeared before the United Nations with my head bowed in shame. . . . It was hard for me to explain. . . . I have done my best building up Philippine prestige abroad. That prestige has been destroyed” (quoted in Brillantes 2005, 89).


The broad, democratic Left shies away from anti-Communism by virtue of the position’s intimate association with reaction. Anti-anti-Communism—the equation of all criticisms of Leninism with fascism38)—has prevented a progressive reinterpretation of the phenomenon, thus allowing the terms of the discourse to be dictated by the modern-day heirs of McCarthy on the Right. Indeed, anti-Communism has a dark history, particularly in Southeast Asia.39) But, as with most ideological constellations, anti-Communism does not come in one strain. As I outlined earlier, opposition to Leninism began on the Left. A committed socialist like Blum, for instance, believed Bolsheviks had betrayed their socialist cause.

Romulo was not a man of the Left. Nonetheless, his views mirrored those of liberal and socialist anti-Communists—views that the statesman articulated in the language of Asian solidarity. That he was an anti-Communist is not as scandalous as a contemporary progressive might assume. Removed from the paranoia and propaganda of the Cold War, elements of Romulo’s anti-Communism would not be controversial in the context of the contemporary democratic Left. In the Philippines, for instance, progressive scholars publishing in progressive journals have replicated his criticisms of Communism’s inflexibility and its disdain for democratic structures such as free elections.40)

Romulo’s oeuvre, however, goes beyond merely proving that anti-Communism could transcend its fascist associations. In this article, I hope to have shown that liberal anti-Communism was essential to the birth of Third Worldism and the solidarities it produced. It is, thus, his unique synthesis of liberal antitotalitarianism and Asianism that makes Romulo an important figure in global intellectual history. That Romulo betrayed his ideals when he became a servant of the Marcos dictatorship does not negate the relevance of his ideas. His views constitute an alternative, if provisional, Asian modernity—one that undermines totalitarianism in all its forms.

Accepted: May 1, 2014


My thanks to Patricio Abinales, Caroline Hau, and Kate McGregor for commenting on this article and for their continued mentorship. I also acknowledge the feedback of my anonymous reviewers. All errors, naturally, are my own.


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1) For a general history of Bandung, see Mackie (2005). For a book that examines individuals who have been under-researched in Bandung, see McDougall and Finnane (2010).

2) The “postcolonial” reading of Bandung (common among American scholars), with its attendant focus on racial distinctions and the cultural matrices that inform these, can be traced to the beginning of Bandung historiography. The African American novelist Richard A. Wright’s 1956 first-person account The Color Curtain is, indeed, fodder for trendy, yet empirically barren, courses on race and postcolonial studies (largely en vogue in American academia). For an analysis and critique of Wright, see M’Baye (2009).

3) Anti-Communism, as such, refers to opposition to a specific political model that emerged in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution that split world socialism into the Social Democrats of the Second International and the Communists of Lenin’s Comintern (Third International). Anti-Communism here should not be taken as a critique of philosophical “communism” or abstract Marxist theory, but of the historical Leninist Communism, premised on the creation of vanguard parties composed of professional revolutionaries—a model implemented on vast swathes of the earth until the collapse of the USSR. (It has become common, in studies of Communism, to refer to “Big C” Communism.)

4) This article presents Stalin as genuine leader of the proletariat. It is part of a larger work called “Stand for Socialism against Modern Revisionism,” which Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Chairman Armando Liwanag (nom de guerre of CPP founding Chairman Jose Maria Sison) published during the “great rectification campaign” that purged the Party of all those who deviated from the Party’s original doctrines.

5) Naturally, scholars and activists in the Philippines have placed more emphasis on the power of international forces, as these are, indeed, more powerful than a fledgling Communist movement. However, the Communist Party itself reproduces this binary by claiming to be the vanguard against imperialism. In Romulo’s writings on anti-Communism, it is clear that criticizing the problem must come in tandem with criticizing so-called solutions. I have presented this dual rejection of Communism and elitism in the Philippines in a previous work (Claudio 2013a).

6) The history of European anti-Communism here is far from exhaustive. It does not, for example, include the diverse history of anarchist anti-Communism, which would include leaders such as Emma Goldman. These forms of anti-Communism do not resonate as clearly with Romulo’s work. What I have done, instead, is to summarize the history of European anti-Communism based on a pantheon of anti-Communist thinkers discussed by contemporary anti-Communist historians such as Tony Judt (1998; 2011) and François Furet (1999).

7) By non-fascist anti-Communism, I simply refer to the anti-Communism outside the ambit of Hitler and Mussolini.

8) A typical example of this is Ernst Mandel’s (1995) biography of Trotsky.

9) For an analysis of how Communism’s association with the anti-fascists blunted critiques of the Soviet Union and its allies, see Furet (1999).

10) Rubashov’s “manner of thinking,” notes Koestler (2005, 479), “was modeled on Nikolai Bukharin,” and “his personality and physical appearance a synthesis of Leon Trotsky and Karl Radek.” For Koestler’s own comparison of the fictional account of Darkness at Noon with the firsthand account of former head of Soviet intelligence General Walter Krivitsky, see the second volume of Koestler’s memoir, The Invisible Writing (2005, 483–488), first published in 1954.

11) See chapter 24 of Scammell’s 2009 biography of Koestler.

12) The CCF, as it is now widely known, was funded by the CIA, though its members did not know of this when they joined the congress. According to Judt (2005, chap. 7, sec. 4, para. 6), this fact is not as serious in retrospect, because writers such as Koestler, Aron, and Silone “did not need official American encouragement to take a hard line against Communism, and there is no evidence that their own critical views about the US itself were ever toned down or censored to suit the paymasters in Washington.” The same can be said of Filipino CCF member F. Sionil Jose, who is routinely accused in the Philippines of being a former CIA agent.

13) The proceedings for the conference do not state whether there were participants from the Philippines. This was, however, unlikely, because, as I show below, the first interaction of the CCF with Filipino intellectuals was in 1960.

14) Manglapus is a minor, but important, character in our story. He wrote the final communiqué’s section on cultural relations and was a close associate of Carlos P. Romulo. See Thompson (1956, 226–227).

15) Interview with F. Sionil Jose, Manila, March 1, 2013.

16) Naturally, because formal relations between Filipino intellectuals and the CCF began after Bandung, one cannot argue that the CCF directly influenced the anti-Communism of Filipinos in the conference. Nonetheless, the latter association of these intellectuals with the CCF points to the resonance between their thinking and that of liberal anti-Communists in Europe. People such as Manglapus and Jose would not have been recruited by the CCF had they been ideological opponents of the Congress. Moreover, as noted earlier, my concern here is not just Bandung itself but the anti-Communist Third World that Romulo articulated before and after it.

17) Numerous sources and interviews state that Romulo, until his death, insisted on being addressed as “general.”

18) See Espiritu (2005, 9–45) for an overview of Romulo’s career and intellectual history. For an account of Romulo’s retirement, see Brillantes’s (2005) intimate and eloquent portrait of an old, sickly Romulo, disgraced after his association with Marcos (89–98, “Delights and Difficulties of a Diplomat”).

19) See Claudio (2013b) for an analysis of the Philippine Left’s contradiction-laden relationship with nationalism.

20) Four anonymous sources who knew Romulo confirm that much of the diplomat’s writings in the mid-1960s was penned by the Marxist intellectual Petronilo Bn. Daroy—a close friend of Jose Maria Sison’s. Other ghostwriters mentioned by my sources include the nationalist historian Renato Constantino, Romulo’s protégé Salvador P. Lopez (who allegedly wrote Romulo’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book), and the historian Cesar Majul. Despite this, one source close to Daroy notes that Romulo’s ghostwriters wrote some of the material but many times also took dictation directly from Romulo. Moreover, the same source emphasizes, Romulo, a former journalist and literature instructor, edited all the works himself. Romulo’s books can thus be seen as reflecting his own views.

21) As Resil Mojares (2006), through his intellectual history of the nineteenth-century Hispanophile and pseudo-intellectual Pedro Paterno shows, serious intellectual histories of dilettante nationalists are revelatory of broad intellectual patterns.

22) Nemenzo was part of an independent review panel (the Committee to Review External Programs) on Romulo’s projects with US agencies and discovered that the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Hygiene had a US Navy-funded project studying mosquitoes that caused inflammation of the male genitals. This breed of mosquitoes could distinguish between Asians and Caucasians and infected only the latter. Nemenzo’s expose came after the coalition Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN) revealed that research on napalm had been conducted at the UP’s Los Baños campus.

23) Ho Chi Minh’s attraction to Communism was obviously more complex than this. It is, however, true that he did not start out as an enemy of the United States and that he was a nationalist before a Communist. For an introduction to Ho Chi Minh’s thinking, see Bello (2007).

24) See, for example, Appadorai (1955), which makes no mention of Zhou’s reaction to anti-Communist speeches.

25) Romulo singles out these two in The Meaning of Bandung. See Romulo (1956, 10).

26) The latest account of the crushing of Eastern Europe is Anne Applebaum’s (2012) magisterial Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945–1956.

27) The comparison is prescient, especially since, like Third World countries, the states of Eastern Europe would also launch resistance movements against a foreign occupier. It is thus apt to trace continuities between the struggles of Asian anticolonialists in Bandung and those of Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa. The latter too were “postcolonial” leaders.

28) There was a brief confrontation between Nehru and Kotelawala after the latter’s speech. Despite this, Kotelawala says he and Nehru remained “best friends” (Kotelawala 1956, 187).

29) The similarity here with Blum is crucial. Romulo did not condemn socialism as a whole and was cognizant of the broader history of socialism, whereby the issue of using terror as a political strategy became a crucial delineating line between the socialists of the Second International and the Communists of the Third.

30) This would explain, for instance, why the latest research on Red Army terror reveals that in 1920 alone, Lenin’s forces executed 50,000 White soldiers and their allies (see Scammell 2013, 12). To belong to the “wrong class,” of course, was life-threatening during the period of Mao’s red guards. The latest biography of Mao, which is the first to examine Soviet sources on the Great Helmsman, establishes that he rose to power within the Comintern as a firm supporter of Stalinism (see Pantsov and Levine 2012).

31) One of his top priorities when he became president of the UP was to promote secularism on campus (Epistola 1985, 395).

32) See Romulo (1964), which is a compilation of his 1964 Maulana Azad lectures in New Delhi. Interestingly, it was his interlocutor at Bandung, Nehru, who invited Romulo to deliver these lectures.

33) It was under Romulo’s term, for instance, that the UP established its Department of Filipino. During his term, Romulo also attempted to raise funds that would allow more local intellectuals to go to the United States for further education. Romulo’s intellectual contributions as university president cannot be tackled at length in this paper, but it is important to note that the “American Boy” in the country’s national university was able to distance himself from this caricature.

34) For an analysis of the connections between nationalist liberalism and the radical politics of the 1970s, see Abinales (2001), particularly the chapter “Filipino Marxism and the ‘National Question.’”

35) It was his main preoccupation, but he was not completely detached from partisan politics. He attempted to become the presidential nominee of the Liberal Party in the early 1950s.

36) The claim is difficult to verify. I cannot find evidence of Nixon either affirming or negating it.

37) For a discussion of dependency theory, the Third World, and the legacy of Prebisch’s UNCTAD, see Bello (2006, 32–58) and Connell (2007, 139–164).

38) According to Francois Furet (1999, 209–265), the ability of Communists to pass off their critics as fascists, or abetting fascism, was the legacy of Stalin’s united front policy during World War II. Communist propaganda, especially under the supervision of Willi Munzenberg (Communism’s Goebbels and one of the first mentors of future anti-Communist Arthur Koestler), turned the followers of Stalin into the ultimate symbols of anti-fascist resistance. Under this rubric, it became easy for Munzenberg to dismiss the Soviet Union’s critics as abettors of German and Italian fascism.

39) The 1965 mass murder of members of the Communist Party of Indonesia is the most egregious example. See Kammen and McGregor (2012) for the latest scholarship.

40) See, for example, Quimpo (2005) and Putzel (1996).

PDF: 05_Dr.Claudio

Vol. 4, No. 1, Yagura

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 1

Intergenerational Land Transfer in Rural Cambodia since the Late 1980s: Special Attention to the Effect of Labor Migration

Yagura Kenjiro*

* 矢倉研二郎, Faculty of Economics, Hannan University, 5-4-33 Amamihigashi Matsubara, Osaka 580-8502, Japan

e-mail: k-yagura[at]

Using primary data collected from three villages in Prey Veng and Pousat provinces, this study describes how land has been transferred from parents to children in rural Cambodia since the late 1980s. While equal division among all children is the most favored practice—thus further farm fragmentation is anticipated in the near future—parents with very small land endowment are unable to divide land equally among all their children and some children are unable to receive land from their parents. The expansion of migration opportunity has not caused fundamental changes in land transfer practices, but the premarital migration experience of children is negatively associated with land transfer, especially when children settle in the migration destination or marry a person from another province whom they met at the migration destination and move to their partner’s place of origin. The data indicate that, ­taking advantage of labor migration experience, children of land-poor parents choose to leave their home province and make a living without land. However, landless children are in a disadvantaged economic situation because they are also less likely to receive non-land assets from their parents and farmland from their spouse’s parents.

Keywords: land transfer, migration, family, marriage, Cambodia

I Introduction

Farmland under family farming is generally transferred from parents to their children in societies where the private ownership of land is established. While the way in which land is transferred intergenerationally varies according to societies and times, inheritance is basically classified into partible and impartible. In the former, parents’ land is divided among their children, while in the latter, land is given to only one heir. Scholars have argued that land inheritance rules exert an important influence on rural society and economy (Platteau and Baland 2001). How land is transferred between generations naturally affects agricultural production since it determines farm size (Ram et al. 1999) and brings about changes in land distribution and rural class structure (Khera 1973; Wiegandt 1977). It has also been found to shape family structure and social interaction among kin (Goldschmidt and Kunkel 1971; Khera 1972) and determine the rate and the timing of marriage (Emigh 1997) and birth rate (Habakkuk 1955). Furthermore, some scholars argue that land inheritance rules can influence the development of the manufacturing industry since it affects labor mobility from rural areas (ibid.; Wegge 1999).

Although the empirical data on intergenerational land transfer1) in Cambodia is scarce, partible transfer seems to have been common practice. For example, Ebihara (1971) found that in a village in Kandal province in the late 1950s, farmland was divided among children in a basically equal manner (ibid.). Land became collective property under the Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime and subsequently the People’s Republic of Kampuchea in the early 1980s, but was distributed among households after the dissolution of collective farming groups (krŏm samokki) in the 1980s. Since then, parents distribute land to their children. In fact, some studies show that children who got married after the land distribution of the 1980s received land from their parents (Amakawa 2001; Yagura 2005; Kobayashi 2007). However, these studies do not examine whether partible (and equitable) land transfer is still a common practice in rural Cambodia because they do not use data from the parents’ side.

In this regard, we must note that socio-economic changes experienced in rural Cambodia since the 1980s have had a considerable influence on land transfer practice. First, population is increasing rapidly while unexploited land is diminishing—in other words, land is becoming a scarce resource. In fact, while there remains untapped land in some regions, such as the northwestern and the northeastern provinces, there seems to be little land left for agricultural use in regions with a high population density such as the provinces surrounding Phnom Penh.2) On the other hand, the baby-boomers of the 1980s have started to get married in the first decade of the twenty-first century. According to custom, parents should give land to all these married children, yet this may not be possible where land is becoming scarce. Second, labor migration from rural areas is increasing, which can also be regarded as a response to land scarcity. Since the middle of the 1990s, the migration of rural youth to urban areas, especially Phnom Penh, has increased with the development of sectors such as the garment industry, construction, and commerce in urban areas. Increased opportunities to earn a living outside rural areas make farmland less necessary.

Both these changes ought to promote a transition from partible to impartible transfer of land. The change to impartible land transfer then raises the question of who will be deprived of access to land and how these landless children should make a living.

On the other hand, increasing employment opportunities in non-agricultural sectors may actually make it possible to sustain partible land transfer because the non-agricultural income can compensate for a small agricultural income (Platteau and Baland 2001). This means that the direction of the effects of labor migration on land transfer practice cannot be assumed a priori.

The objective of this study is to describe how land has been transferred from parents to children in rural Cambodia since the late 1980s. Special attention is placed on whether the practice of partible and equitable land transfer is giving way to unequal and impartible land transfer, and whether and how the increasing labor migration from rural areas affect the changes in land transfer practice. Because there is no nation-wide survey on intergenerational land transfer in Cambodia, this study uses data collected by the author in three villages of Prey Veng and Pousat provinces in 2009.

Examining changes in land transfer practice and the effect of rural out-migration is important because it provides us with clues to understand whether and how land distribution in Cambodian villages has changed in recent years as well as predict changes in land distribution in the near future.3) Land distribution itself is a fundamental factor deter­mining income distribution, prevalence of poverty, and production organization, as well as the efficiency of agriculture. But studying land distribution is beyond the scope of this study and will be left for further research.4) This paper is limited to the presentation of implications of changes in land distribution or stratum structure within a village, from the findings of an empirical analysis of intergenerational land transfer.

The organization of this paper is as follows. In the next section, after presenting factors determining intergenerational land transfer practice in general, I discuss expected changes in Cambodia since the 1980s. Section III describes sample villages and Section IV reveals the normative aspects of the equal division of land by presenting parents’ plan of land transfer. Section V describes the actual situation of intergenerational land transfer in the villages surveyed, with a focus on the extent to which equitable and partible land transfer is maintained and its relationship with parents’ land endowment. In addition, I estimate the degree to which children are unlikely to receive land from their parents based on the current land endowment of their parents. Section VI investigates the effect of the premarital migration experience of children on land transfer from their parents after their marriage. Section VII sheds light on the economic situation of married children who have not received land from their parents, by examining land transfer from their spouse’s parents as well as transfer of non-land assets from their own parents. In the last section, after summarizing the findings of the previous sections, I discuss possible effects of the recent trends in intergenerational land transfer on the stratum structure of rural society in Cambodia.

II Factors Determining the Mode of Intergenerational Land Transfer

As discussed above, there are two basic modes of intergenerational land transfer: partible and impartible. As long as the land is an indispensable asset and a major means of making a living in an agricultural society, partible transfer seems to be the natural choice and impartible transfer is adopted only in exceptional cases.

Based on previous studies, Platteau and Baland (2001) argued that impartible transfer is likely to be selected for the following reasons or under the following circumstances: (1) to save administrative costs of tax collection (in cases where tax is levied on land);5) (2) agricultural production has economies of scale; (3) to maintain patriarchal relations by not dividing symbolic assets; (4) there are rules to restrict membership at community level (for restrictive use of commons); (5) farm size becomes too small to be economically viable if land is divided among children (ibid.).

These circumstances are practically absent in Cambodian (Khmer) rural society and therefore partible transfer is more likely to be selected. First, tax has not been levied on the farmland of peasants. Second, traditional rice farming without mechanization is unlikely to benefit from economies of scale. Third, the Khmer family, as indicated by previous studies, is not characterized by patriarchal relationships (Ebihara 1971; ­Ledgerwood 1995; Takahashi 2001). Fourth, rules to restrict community membership are not known. Finally, population density is relatively low and unexploited land existed until recently.

Among these points, the first four are still relevant. Only the last point is less valid in rural Cambodia today, as the population continues to rise while the frontier has been diminishing since the 1980s. When farm size becomes too small, parents may stop ­giving land to all their children and cases of impartible transfer may increase.

On the other hand, labor migration from rural to urban areas or between rural areas has increased since the late 1990s in Cambodia. The increase in labor out-migration in recent years can facilitate the transition from partible transfer or equal division of land to impartible land transfer in two ways. First, as migration opportunities provide rural youth with the means to make a living without land, parents may not give land to mig­rating children and may decide to give only to children who stay in their native village. Second, the increase in youth labor migration can also affect the selection of a marital partner and the place of residence after marriage. At migration destinations, migrants meet other migrants of the opposite sex from diverse locations, who might emerge as prospective spouses. Therefore, an increasing number of youths might marry a person from a remote place (such as another province) and settle in the place of origin of their spouse, far from their home village. Parents might then not give land to these children because they cannot cultivate land in their home village.

As for the selection of marital partner, as Yagura (2012) indicates, migrating children who have little expectation of receiving land from their parents may consciously search for their partner at the migration destination because they have little incentive to return to their home village.

On the other hand, increasing opportunities of migration may preserve partible land transfer. As argued by Platteau and Baland (2001), abundant off-farm employment opportunities may actually sustain partible inheritance rule because small-scale farmers are able to make a living by combining off-farm income. This argument also holds true of migration opportunities. Furthermore, recent improvements in land productivity in Cambodian rice farming may contribute to sustaining partible land transfer by enhancing the viability of small-scale farmers.6)

Though changes in the economic environment can cause a shift in intergenerational land transfer practice, empirical studies also show that longstanding practices, especially the equal division of land, tend to persist even in the face of major socio-economic changes (Salamon 1980; Takeuchi 2000; Platteau and Baland 2001). Where the equal division of land is a longstanding custom, children may regard receiving land from their parents as their right; therefore changing this custom could entail much friction among family members.7) This fact cannot be ignored in analyzing land transfer practice in rural Cambodia, where the equal division of land has been common practice.

III Villages Surveyed

III-1 Outline of the Survey

Data used in this paper was collected through a field survey in August 2009. Using a questionnaire, members of the research group, consisting of Cambodian postgraduate and undergraduate students, college graduates as well as the author, conducted interviews in Khmer with heads of sample households or their spouses.

The survey was conducted in three villages, which we shall call S, K, and Y. Village S is located in Ba Phnom district, Prey Veng province. K is also part of Prey Veng province, but is located in Peam Ro district. Village Y is located in Bakan district, Pousat province (see Maps 1, 2, and 3).


Map 1 Prey Veng and Pousat Provinces

Source: Prepared by the author.



Map 2 Villages S and K

Source: Prepared by the author.



Map 3 Village Y

Source: Prepared by the author.


Before settling on the villages, I first chose as the survey area two provinces that have experienced a relatively large scale of population outflow in recent years.8) This condition is very important for studying the effect of out-migration on intergenerational land transfer. In addition, the two provinces have a different population density, which enables us to examine the effect of farm size. Farm size was expected to be larger in Pousat than in Prey Veng, where the population density is higher.

After choosing these two provinces, I conducted a preliminary survey in various parts of each province to select villages for the main survey. The three villages were eventually selected for the following reasons. First, a certain proportion of villagers in all three villages have experienced labor migration. Second, the three villages have different agricultural conditions. While all three have only rice fields (no upland fields), farmers in S and Y can grow rice only in the wet season while farmers in K can grow rice in both wet and dry seasons, thanks to a lake near the village that provides water even in dry seasons. The rice fields for the wet and dry seasons are, however, different (double cropping is not possible).

The difference between S and Y lies in farm size: on average, farmers in Y have much larger lands. We can examine the effect of land scarcity by comparing S and Y, and the effect of dry season farming (that is, the availability of employment in farming throughout the year) in K.

The number of households surveyed was 187 in S, 208 in K, and 179 in Y. We interviewed all the households in S and Y, except those whose heads were absent during the period of our survey. In K, we only visited the households in the southwestern part of the village so that the number of households surveyed would be about the same in all three villages. As such, statistics derived from whole sample have little bias without adjustment (that is, weighting according to the number of sample households in each village).

In the survey we collected information on land transfer to household heads and their spouse from the two sets of parents, as well as land transfer from the same household heads and their spouse, as parents, to their children. Information on the transfer to their children is used in this paper because it includes data on whether and how land is divided among children. In the following sections, “parents” refers to the head (and his/her spouse) of sample households, and “children” refers to children of the household head, unless otherwise noted.

III-2 History

According to villagers in the three villages, S and K existed even before the French colonial period. As for Y, its establishment dates back to at least the 1920s because a villager who was in his nineties was born in Y.

The continuity of village society before and after the era of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) seems strong in S and K. Under the DK era, some of villagers in S were assigned to reclaim land in Peam Chor district in the province. They were not relocated but commuted there from S. People in K were moved to the western part of the same commune to reclaim land just before the collapse of the regime, but they returned en masse once the regime fell. Villagers of Y were all relocated to Veal Veng district (the western part of Pousat province), but after the regime collapsed, most of them returned to Y, though some fled to the Thai border area. On the other hand, some people who had been relocated from Takeo and Kampot to the western part of the country settled in Y after the regime collapsed and did not return to their original provinces. Furthermore, some villagers had moved to Pousat from Takeo and Kampot on their own initiative even before 1975.

After the collapse of the DK regime, krŏm samokki were formed in all three villages.9) Farming was conducted under krŏm samokki for only one season (1979) in Y and for three seasons from 1979–81 in S and K. After the last farming season under krŏm samokki, farmland was divided among households.

Methods of land distribution differed according to villages. In S, each household received an area of wet season rice field based on the number of household members and their work capacity. Villagers were classified into three categories based on their work capacity: kâmlăng muoy (those who can plow rice fields), kâmlăng pi (those who can uproot and transplant rice seedlings), and kâmlăng bey (those who can only tend cattle; basically children). Allocation of rice field per person for each of these categories is 0.25, 0.20, and 0.15 hectares, respectively.

In K, each household received 0.13 hectares of wet season rice field and 0.10 hec­tares of dry season rice field per person, without taking into account members’ work capacity. As mentioned earlier, in K, wet season rice and dry season rice are grown in different fields. Nevertheless, some villagers told the author during the interview that villagers also reclaimed dry season rice fields by themselves.

In Y, rice fields cultivated by each krŏm were divided among the member households of that krŏm, and each household received a uniform area of land within a krŏm, irrespective of the number of household members. However, the area of rice field per household varied from one krŏm to another because each krŏm also reclaimed rice fields inde­pendently in 1979. This also indicates that a vast area of unexploited land in Y still remained in the early 1980s.

As for residential land (dey phoum), people in S and K basically occupied plots they had used before the DK era, though some households in S received residential land from the local authority. In Y, all households received a uniform size of residential land (30 meters by 80 meters) from the local authority.

III-3 Population

Comparison of the Population Census in 1998 with that in 2008 reveals demographic changes in the three villages. During this decade, both S and K experienced a large increase in the number of households (from 170 to 207 in S and from 295 to 369 in K), but the population of S increased only slightly (from 751 to 778) and the population of K even decreased (from 1,475 to 1,418). In Y, while almost no change was found in the number of households (from 182 to 186), the population decreased by as much as 10 percent (from 1,039 to 933). Population in these statistics do not include family members who were absent at the time of the census due to, for example, labor migration. Therefore, the population decrease during the decade indicates an increase in out-migration from these villages. In addition, it is highly likely that the fertility rate in these villages decreased in this decade, as is observed in national- and provincial-level data (Cambodia, National Institute of Statistics 2010a). As a result, average household size became smaller in all three villages. Even so, the number of households increased in S and K, probably because baby-boomers of the early 1980s married and established their own household during this period.

III-4 Agriculture

Table 1 shows the distribution of farmland at the time of the survey.10) In S and Y, almost all the farmland is wet season rice field, while in K, around half of the farmland is dry season rice field. Smallness of farm size in S is evident from the table. On the other hand, the larger the average farm size, the higher the landholding inequality among households.


Table 1 Land Distribution



Besides receiving land from the government as mentioned above, some acquired land through reclamation (especially in Y), and younger generations received land from their parents. Parents mostly give land to their child at the time of the child’s marriage or within a few years after the marriage. Land acquisition through purchase is also prevalent. Among households in which parents gave land to their children after 1979, 32 percent had purchased farmland before and 15 percent had sold the land since then. Land rental markets also exist. Among 574 sample households, 26 households rent out farmland and 56 households rent farmland in the last farming season.

Based on the estimate of village chiefs, yield of wet season rice (unhusked) is 1.5–2.0 ton/ha in S, 2.0 ton/ha in K, and 3.5 ton/ha in Y. Yield of dry season rice in K is 2.0–2.5 ton/ha. The village chief of S conjectured that rice yield in his village had been increasing in the last decade, while the chiefs of the other two villages did not think that the rice yield in their villages had increased.

Although farming in these villages still relies very much on manual labor and draft animals, farm machines such as power tillers ( yon), threshers, and harvesters have been gradually introduced in recent years in the villages surveyed, especially in K and Y.

III-5 Labor Migration

Table 2 shows the incidence of labor migration in the preceding 12 months by family members of the sample households. Labor migration refers to working outside the ­village, excluding cases in which workers commute from their own house in the village. In the table (and hereinafter), “husband” and “wife” refer to the household head and his/her spouse. In cases where household heads are currently unmarried (widows, ­widowers, and the divorced), they are also referred to as “husband” or “wife” according to their sex.


Table 2 Prevalence of Labor Migration in the Preceding 12 Months



Migration data of husbands and wives in Table 2 indicates that: husbands are more likely to migrate than wives; migration is more prevalent among younger generations than among older generations (except in village S); and prevalence of labor migration is higher where land endowment is smaller. Table 2 also shows that labor migration is more widespread among unmarried children than among their parents. Interestingly enough, inter-village differences in migration prevalence are much smaller among unmarried children. This suggests that labor migration has become widespread among rural youth irrespective of the land endowment of their villages.

Phnom Penh is the top destination of labor migration, accounting for around 80 percent of migrants’ destinations. Migrants from Y, however, are more likely to go to Thailand, probably because of its geographical closeness. A large portion of male migrants works as construction workers or motorbike taxi drivers, and female migrants work at garment factories.

Table 3 allows us to see whether labor migration has been increasing in recent years. It shows the premarital migration rate, or proportion of husbands and wives who experienced labor migration before marriage, by age group. In this table, only the data of husbands and wives who come from the villages surveyed are used so as to detect changes in the prevalence of labor migration from the three villages. Though this data is biased in the sense that it does not include those who have not returned to the village after emigrating from the village, it does inform on the basic trend of labor migration in the last decades.


Table 3 Premarital Migration Rate



As is evident from the table, the premarital migration rate is much higher among husbands and wives in their twenties and thirties. In particular, around half of the husbands in their twenties in all three villages experienced labor migration when they were single. While few of the wives in their forties or older have migrated before marriage, 20 to 40 percent of wives in their twenties have experienced labor migration. In S, the premarital migration rate is relatively high even among middle-aged husbands. In contrast, in Y, no husbands in their thirties or older experienced labor migration before marriage, but nearly half of the husbands in their twenties migrated when they were single.

The data indicate that labor migration used to be characteristic among males of ­villages with small land endowment like S, but it has become widespread in recent years among young people, irrespective of their gender and land endowment.

IV Parents’ Land Transfer Plan

IV-1 Inclination toward Partible and Equal Land Transfer

Before examining the actual situation of intergenerational land transfer in the three villages, this section shows parents’ plans for distributing land to their children.

In the interview, we asked household heads (or their spouse) who owned farmland at the time of the interview but had yet to give farmland to all their children, whether they planned to distribute land to all their children. Among 489 respondents who had more than one child, 84.5 percent answered “yes,” 7.4 percent “no,” and the rest (8.2 percent) responded “do not know.” There is no significant difference in the distribution of responses between the villages. Then, we asked those who answered “yes” to the question above whether they planned to give farmland to their all children in equal portions. Among 408 respondents, 93.4 percent answered “yes,” only 5.6 percent responded negatively, and 1 percent responded “do not know.” No significant difference was found between villages in this category as well. These responses indicate that most of the couples plan to divide their land equally among all their children.

We proceeded to ask those who indicated the equal division of land among children their reasons for doing so. The top answer was: “we should treat our children equally,” cited by 70 percent of the respondents. “In order not to cause dispute or envy among children” was the next most popular reason, cited by 13.8 percent of the respondents. These answers indicate that fear of dispute underlies parents’ inclination toward equal division, although I did not hear of actual cases of dispute related to land transfer. In addition, both parents and children seemed to regard receiving land equally from parents as children’s rights.

On the other hand, there are some differences according to generation. The older generations tended to answer “no” to the question of partible land transfer and equal land division. Among household heads in their sixties, 21 percent responded negatively to the question of giving land to all their children. To the question of equal division among children, 12 percent of those in their fifties and 10 percent of those in their sixties answered “no.” Such a tendency seems to reflect the difficult situation of some older parents who have only a small piece of land left and for whom buying land to give to their children (a practice adopted by affluent parents) is also difficult. On the other hand, as high a rate as 16 percent of household heads in their twenties answered “do not know” to the question of partible land transfer. This would reflect the fact that they need to decide on this question only some 20 years later and thus are still very uncertain about what to do.

IV-2 Relationship with Land Endowment

Next we examine the relationship between land transfer plan and farm size. How much land parents can give to their children depends very much on how much land parents own at present and the number of children yet to receive land. As an indicator of the availability of land to children, we define “transferrable land endowment” (TLE, hereinafter) as the area of farmland owned by parents at the time of the survey, divided by the number of their children aged below 40 (including both married and unmarried children) yet to receive land from them. The relationship between TLE and the land transfer plan is presented in Table 4. The denominator of TLE does not include children aged 40 or older because the older children are mostly married and have established their own households by the early 1980s, and hence would have received land from the local authority. Parents generally did not give land to these children.


Table 4 Parents’ Plan of Land Transfer to Their Children



As is evident from Table 4, parents with small land endowment (especially those with TLE<0.2 hectares) are more likely to plan to give land only to some of their children. Nevertheless, it is also noteworthy that around 75 percent of those with TLE<0.2 answered that they would give land to all their children. On the other hand, inclination toward equal division is just as strong among those who planned to give land to all their children regardless of their land endowment. This again indicates the normative aspect of the equal division of land.

The data presented above reveal that most parents want to divide land equally among their children because they feel that their children should be treated equally. This inclination is widely shared, even among those who have very limited land endowment, which suggests that further farm fragmentation is anticipated in the three villages in the near future.

V Land Transfer in Practice

V-1 Basic Situation of Land Transfer

Parents’ plans of land transfer presented in the previous section may merely reflect their wishes; whether they can do as they desire would depend on their socio-economic environment as well as their children’s life course. In this section, actual transfer of land from parents (household heads and their spouse) to their married children aged below 40 is examined. We only take into account land transfer to married children because giving land to unmarried children is very rare in the three villages (and probably in Cambodian villages in general). Children aged 40 or older are excluded for the same reason mentioned in the previous section. Our analysis focuses on the transfer of farmland because almost all children who received residential land from their parents also received farmland.11) In other words, residential land is not given to children as a substitute for farmland. For this reason, the term “land” refers to farmland (rice field) hereinafter unless otherwise mentioned.

Note that the land transfer situation presented here is not the final one in the sense that parents may give land in future to children who had yet to receive land at the time of the survey, especially children who had got married very recently.

Table 5 shows the proportion of married children aged below 40 who received land from their parents. As we can see, 79 percent of the children received land from their parents. The proportion of children receiving land is unrelated to land endowment of each village, as the proportion in K is lower than in S. Nevertheless, the average area of land given to children (the average derived from those who received land) is clearly proportional to the average farm size of the village; thus the differences between villages are very large.


Table 5 Land Transfer to Married Children under 40 Years of Age



Table 5 also shows that land is principally divided among children regardless of gender and birth order, which is consistent with the argument by Ebihara (1971) that there is little difference in land transfer according to gender. Though the eldest child tends to receive more land than average, the probability of receiving land is not especially high. The probability of receiving land is a little lower for the youngest child, but this is probably caused by the fact that the youngest children are more likely to live with their parents or their spouse’s parents.12) The proportion of those who received land is lower for those who married in recent years. This may reflect the fact that in some cases land is transferred from parents to children a few years after their marriage.

To check whether there is any change in land transfer practice, Fig. 1 shows the proportion of those who received land from their parents and the average size of farmland received according to the age group of children. We can observe that in all the three villages younger children are less likely to receive land.13) However, we may not conclude that the practice of partible transfer has been weakened because, as mentioned above, some younger children might not have received land yet because they had only just got married. Though the average size of land received tends to be smaller for the younger generation in Y, the average size of land received for each age group is falls within a very narrow range: around 0.2 hectares in S, 0.4 hectares in K, and 0.8 hectares in Y.



Fig. 1 Proportion of Those Who Received Farmland from Parents (%) and the Average Area of the Land Received

Notes: Data of married children under 40.

The size of land is the average of those who received land from parents.


V-2 Is Land Divided Equally among All Children?

In this subsection, in order to grasp the prevalence of partible and equitable land transfer, we check whether parents who have more than one married child aged below 40 gave land to all these married children. The data is presented in Table 6. As shown in the fifth column of the table, nearly two-thirds of parents gave land to all their married children aged under 40. The difference between villages is large, as only 53.2 percent of parents in K did so. The difference according to age is also significant. The proportion of those who have not given land to any of their married children under 40 is higher among the younger parents. Younger parents are unable to give land to their children probably because they themselves tend to have limited land; or because their children have only very recently got married (and thus will receive land from their parents in the near future).


Table 6 Land Transfer Practice from Parents to Married Children Aged under 40



The figures in the sixth and seventh columns of Table 6 reveal the prevalence of equal division. The sixth column shows that among those parents who gave land to all their married children under 40 (corresponding to 102 households), 73.5 percent distributed the land equally. The prevalence of equal division over the whole sample amounts to 47 percent (seventh column). We can also observe that equal division is less common for younger parents.

Overall, the data presented in Table 6 indicate that equal division of land is not implemented as much as parents might have wished, though the observed difference in the size of land between siblings may reflect an adjustment to the quality of land in some cases.

As in the case of parents’ plan of land transfer, their land endowment is assumed to affect the actual land transfer.14) But it is not parents’ current land endowment but the size of land owned before giving land to their children that determines whether and how they distribute this land. In addition, the number of children also matters. Therefore, we have constructed an indicator “original land endowment” (OLE), defined as the size of farmland owned by parents at the moment they give farmland to their child for the first time after having received land from the local authority in the 1980s, divided by the number of children aged below 40 (including both married and unmarried children). For parents who have not given land to any of their children, the size of farmland they currently own is used as the numerator. We examine the relationship between parents’ land endowment and the actual land transfer using this OLE.

As shown in Table 7, among married children under 40, the proportion of those who received land from their parents tends to increase with parents’ land endowment—except in village K. Table 7 also shows a more obvious positive relationship between OLE and the average size of land received by children, though the link is very weak in S.


Table 7 Receipt of Farmland from Parents by Married Children Aged below 40



The effect of parents’ land endowment on their land transfer practice is presented in the lower part of Table 6 (only for parents who have more than one married child aged below 40), which shows that a larger OLE is associated with higher probability of giving land to all their married children (the fifth column). Among those who gave land to all their married children, around 80 percent gave in equal size if OLE is less than 0.8 hec­tares. Interestingly, parents with OLE of 0.8 hectares or more are less likely to practice equal division. A possible reason for this is that even if they give a disproportionately larger piece of land to some of their children, they can still afford to give large areas of land to their other offspring because of their rich land endowment situation.

Though Table 6 shows that parents with small land endowment are less likely to give land to all their married children, it is noteworthy that half of the parents with OLE as small as less than 0.2 hectares, still gave land to all their children, and that 80 percent of them divided this land equally. This again suggests the durability of the practice of equal division. Let us now turn to some examples of parents who gave farmland to all their married children even though they owned very little land.

Household No. 150 in Y is a headed by a woman. The 60-year-old household head, whose husband is deceased, has five married children. She gave 0.18 hectares of rice field to each child and, as a result, was landless at the time of the survey. The eldest child (son, 29 years old), the second child (daughter, 26 years old), and the fourth child (son, 23 years old) each married a local introduced by their parents. Their partners also received land from their own parents. These children now live in the same commune or the same district and earn a living by farming without migration. The third child (daughter, 24 years old) married a man from Battambang province and also received farmland from her husband’s parents. This daughter lives with her mother but had also worked in Thailand with her husband as an agricultural wage laborer in the last 12 months. The fifth child (daughter, 21 years old) married a man she met from another district in the same province. The couple also worked in Thailand as agricultural wage laborers, using the house of the husband’s parents as their basic place of residence. The third and the fifth children migrated in the last 12 months as well, but stayed abroad for only one month, probably because of their seasonal agricultural wage laborer job at the destination. Therefore they also need farmland to make a living, and that is probably why their mother gave them land, even though the size of the land distributed is very small. Or, we could infer that equal division is possible thanks to migration opportunities, such that children can make a living even though land given from their parents is very small.

The second example is household No. 43 in S. It is a family of five composed of a couple and their three children. The eldest child (son, 22 years old) had worked in Phnom Penh as a construction worker for 1 month in the last 12 months, and the other two children (a daughter, 15 years old and a son, 10 years old) still go to school. Even though none of their children are married, the parents have already decided to give 0.15 hectares of farmland and one cow15) to each child. This case demonstrates the normative aspect of the equal division of land—parents decide to divide land equally among their children even when it is not clear at all what their children might become and where they might live in the future.

On the other hand, especially when land endowment is small, some parents decide not to give land (at least for the time being) to children who can make a living without land from their parents. Household No. 150 in K is an example. The parents currently own only 0.48 hectares of land. Among their three children (all sons), the first two are married. The parents gave land, albeit small (0.12 hectares), only to the eldest son, aged 38. This son married a woman from the same district when he was 22, and lives in his wife’s village (information on whether his wife received land from her parents is not available). His major occupation is farming, though he had also worked in Phnom Penh as a construction worker for 1 month in the last 12 months. The second son (28 years old) married a childhood friend from K. Though he has not received land from his parents, his wife received land from her parents. The couple resided in K at the time of the survey and makes a living by farming without migrating. Their mother (as a respondent of the interview) answered that she would give farmland to all her children in future. However, it is unlikely that land will be given to the second son in the near future because eight years had already passed since he got married—it is unusual in the villages surveyed to give land to children many years after their marriage. Judging from the fact that the second son and his wife can support themselves without labor migration, his wife seems to have received enough farmland from her parents. This is probably why the parents have not given land to the second son so far.

In other cases, parents give land to a limited number of their children even though they have enough land to divide among all their children. A couple in K (household No. 200) have four children, all of whom are married. But the couple gave all their farmland (2.5 hectares) to the eldest child (daughter) and are now landless. This means that their other three children will never receive land from them. The eldest daughter married a relative from the same commune as K. She and her husband currently live in K and make a living by cultivating the land she received from her parents (her husband did not receive land from his parents); they do not engage in labor migration. The second and third children (both sons) found partners from the same district as K and each lives in the village of his wife. While they cultivate land received from their wife’s parents, they also go to Phnom Penh seasonally to work as construction laborers. The youngest child (daughter) had worked at a garment factory in Phnom Penh before marrying a relative from the same commune as K. She now lives in the village of her husband and makes a living by farming (with land her husband received from his parents) and running a grocery shop. While one possible reason these three children did not receive any land from their parents is that they inherited land from their spouse’s parents, we cannot ignore the possibility that their parents gave them a large sum of money as a substitute for land.16) This example suggests that children would accept impartible land transfer if they receive a sufficient amount of other assets as a substitute for land. But this also means that ordinary parents who do not have major assets other than land, must divide land among all their children, even if it causes farm fragmentation, if they want to maintain equality among children. In fact, of those children who have not received land from their parents, only a small proportion has received non-land assets, as we shall see in Section VII-2. It is also rare for parents to give financial assets to their children as a substitute for farmland, as in the example above.17)

V-3 Children’s Prospect of Receiving Land in Future

As mentioned above, married children yet to receive land at the time of the survey stand the chance to receive land in future as long as parents still own enough land. In other words, the prospect of receiving land in future is small if parents’ current land endowment is small. Thus the distribution of parents’ current land endowment is an indicator of how many children are unlikely to receive land from their parents.

In this subsection, we estimate the proportion of children who are unlikely to receive land from their parents in future, among children yet to receive land at the time of the survey, by the following method.

We assume for simplicity that parents will not buy or sell land in future. Parents own land of size T (hectares) and have N children to whom they have not given land. Let t (hectares) be the size of land parents will give to each child, or “land transfer size.” So the number of children to whom parents can give land in future is formed by T/t. If N<T/t, parents can give land to all of the N children, but if N>T/t, then NT/t of their children cannot receive land. By calculating NT/t for all households with positive N, we can estimate the proportion of children who are unlikely to receive farmland from their parents in future, among children yet to receive farmland at the time of the survey (including both married and unmarried children but limited to those aged below 40).

Because this is a simulation, t can take any value, but we run our estimation on t=0.2, 0.4, and 0.8 hectares. This is because these values are close to the average size of land that children received from their parents in S, K, and Y respectively (see Table 5). The proportion of children unlikely to receive land estimated based on t=0.2 can be regarded as the minimum estimate because there are very few cases in which land transfer size is less than 0.2 hectares in the villages surveyed. Even in land-scarce village S, such cases account for only 9 percent of land transfer. This suggests that parents avoid dividing land to such a small scale from the standpoint of economic viability.

The simulation results are presented in Table 8. The important point to note is whether the proportion of children not receiving farmland from their parents will increase if the current level of land transfer size is maintained. For village S, under the current transfer size of around 0.2 hectares, the simulated proportion is 16 percent, which is slightly lower than the proportion of those who have not received land from their parents among married children under 40 (19 percent). Therefore, as long as parents maintain the current level of transfer size, though it is already the minimum level, the proportion of children not receiving land will not increase in the near future. Village K is in the same situation. Under the current transfer size of around 0.4 hectares, 28 percent of children will not be able to receive land from their parents. Though the value is high, it is comparable to the current level (29 percent). If land transfer size is reduced to 0.2 hectares, the proportion will even decrease to 16 percent.


Table 8 Simulated Proportion (%) of Children Unable to Receive Farmland from Their Parents



The situation in Y is different. If parents give their children land up to 0.8 hectares, as they have done so far, as much as 44 percent of children will be unable to receive land, which is much higher than the proportion of married children under 40 currently not receiving farmland from their parents (17 percent). Though the proportion of children not receiving land will be smaller if the transfer size is reduced to as small as 0.2 hectares, the simulated value is still 23 percent, which is higher than even S and K. The high value in Y reflects the fact that a larger proportion of households (parents) in Y are landless.

These results indicate that the proportion of children who do not receive land from their parents could increase to a greater extent in land-rich villages rather than in land-poor villages. In the case of Y, the negative prediction is a result of significant inequality in landholding (there are many landless households). It also suggests that this landholding inequality may increase further in the near future.

VI Does Migration Experience Matter?

VI-1 Relationship between Migration and Land Transfer

As presented in the previous section, a number of married children have not received farmland from their parents. In this section we examine whether children’s lack of access to their parents’ land is related to their migration experience. To investigate the effect of migration rigorously, we pay attention to children’s labor migration experience before marriage because their migration decision after marriage is highly influenced by whether they receive land from their parents and how much.

Table 9 shows the difference in proportion, among married children aged under 40 who received land from their parents, between those who migrated before marriage and those who did not. According to the table, the proportion is around 30-percentage point lower for those who migrated before marriage, irrespective of the village and the gender of the child. One possible reason is that those with migration experience are on average younger than those without, as migration has become more widespread recently. Being young, many of the children have just got married and have not received land from their parents yet (although they will a few years later). However, even discounting the age factor, we still observe a negative effect of premarital migration experience on land transfer (the lower part of Table 9).


Table 9 Effect of Premarital Migration Experience on Receiving Farmland from Parents



We should also take note of the effect of land endowment. Children of parents with small land endowment would be more likely to migrate before marriage to supplement family income; such children would be less likely to receive land from their parents simply because their parents do not have much land. However, Table 10 shows that, even after taking into account parents’ land endowment measured by OLE, in S and K villages, children with premarital migration experience are still less likely to receive land from their parents. In Y, on the other hand, migration experience does not cause a significant difference. The exact reason is not known, but it might be because labor migration from Y is a more recent phenomena and the rate of migration in Y is lower than in S and K. The difference between Y and the other two villages suggests that premarital migration experience begins to exert an influence on parents’ land transfer decision when migration becomes very common among young people.


Table 10 Proportion of Married Children under 40 Receiving Farmland from Parents by Premarital Migration Experience



Why does migration experience deter land transfer? One factor that links land transfer to migration experience is children’s postmarital place of residence. As argued in Section II, some of the children who migrated when they were single continue to live at the migration destination even after they get married. In addition, if migrating children marry migrants from other regions whom they met at their migration destination, they might settle in the home province of their spouse. Parents would then withhold land from children who leave their home province because they cannot (and do not need to) cultivate land in the village.

Therefore, in the following subsection, we examine whether children’s premarital migration experience leads to provincial exogamy (marriage with a person from a province other than the home province) and residency in another province. We define place of residence by whether children live in their home province or another province, because it is generally very difficult to cultivate land in the home village while living in another province. This is not the case for children living in other districts of the same province, as districts are close by in some cases.18) In fact some children living in others districts of the home province cultivate their land in their village of origin. Distinction in the place of residence by province leads to distinction between provincial exogamy and provincial endogamy (marriage with a person from their home province) simply because provincial exogamy would be more likely to result in residency in another province (= the place of origin of their spouse).

VI-2 Premarital Migration Experience, Marriage, and Postmarital Residency

Fig. 2 illustrates the relationship between premarital migration experience and the prevalence of provincial exogamy, with controlling for parents’ land endowment (OLE). This figure indicates that, in all three villages, those with migration experience before mar­riage are more likely to marry a person from a province other than their home province. Interestingly, parents’ land endowment is also associated negatively with the prevalence of provincial exogamy, except for those without premarital migration experience in S and K.



Fig. 2 Prevalence of Province Exogamy among Married Children under 40

Source: Field survey by the author in 2009.


Among the cases of provincial exogamy, some couples were matched through inter-provincial kin ties. Such matching is not unusual, especially in Y, because there are many villagers who originate from Takeo or Kampot province, as mentioned above. People living in neighboring provinces may also come to know each other from interactions in daily life.19)

Nevertheless, the reason why those who have premarital migration experience are more likely to marry with a person from another province is that they met their partner at the migration destination. We asked parents how their children aged below 40 got to know their partner and found that out of 158 children with premarital migration experience, 56 percent married a person they met at the migration destination, 75 percent of whom are from other provinces. By comparison, among 415 children with no premarital migration experience, there are 33 cases of provincial exogamy, but in 24 of them (73 percent), the couples met at the time of engagement (in marriages arranged by parents), or they already knew each other as they are relatives.

Next, we examine the relationship between migration experience and the current place of residence of married children. Children’s residency is not an unambiguous concept if we take account of labor migration. In this paper, even if a child works in a remote place (such as Phnom Penh) for most of the year, his/her home village is regarded as the place of residence as long as he/she has a house in the village or is still considered as a member of the household by the household head (=the parent).

Fig. 3 shows the relationship between premarital migration experience, the origin of the spouse, and the current place of residence of married children aged under 40, with controlling for parents’ land endowment. The data is the total of the three villages because some categories have too few samples if we were to divide the data by village. This figure indicates that even if children experienced migration before marriage, only a very small fraction of them live in another province after marriage if they are married to a person from their home province (“Provincial endogamy & Migrated”). It also demonstrates that while children married to a person from another province (“Provincial exogamy”) are more likely to live in another province, such a tendency is stronger for those who have premarital migration experience.20) Furthermore, out of 29 children who married a person from another province after experiencing migration and who currently live in another province, 23 live in the home province of their partner.



Fig. 3 Prevalence of Residency in Another Province among Married Children under 40

Source: Field survey by the author in 2009.


In summary, children’s premarital migration experiences promote provincial exogamy by providing young migrants with opportunities to meet migrants from various provinces. This provincial exogamy in turn increases the number of children who do not return to their home village but move to the place of origin of their spouse in another province.

VI-3 Effect of Migration Experience on Land Transfer

Finally, we examine whether and how provincial exogamy and residency in another province promoted by premarital migration experience affects land transfer from parents to their children. Before presenting the compiled data, we give examples of children who apparently do not receive land because of their premarital migration experience, so as to understand concretely how the migration experience can affect intergenerational land transfer.

The eldest son (37 years old) of a couple in Y (household No. 164) is an example of a child who did not receive land probably because he can make a living at the migration destination. The couple has nine children, six of whom are married (one of them is divorced). They gave 0.27 hectares of land to all six of these married offspring, except the eldest son, who was also the only one out of the six to have migrated before marriage. He was employed in waste materials collection in Phnom Penh,21) and at the age of 27, he married a woman who also did the same job in Phnom Penh. In fact, both husband and wife are from the same district and have known each other since they were children. Neither husband nor wife has received farmland from their parents and both continue to make a living by collecting disused articles in Phnom Penh. Apparently, this is not because his parents do not have much land; in fact they still have 1.5 hectares of rice field. When asked about their land transfer plans to their children in the future, the parents responded that they would not give land to children who lived in a remote place. In other words, the eldest son would receive land if he returned to the village, which is unlikely to happen as he can make a living, albeit a difficult one, in Phnom Penh.

The second example (household No. 122 in S) is a case in which children married a person from another province whom they met at the migration destination, then moved to the place of origin of their partner after marriage. The couple has nine children, five of whom are married. Among these five married children, only the first child, a son, has received land (0.18 hectares) from his parents, with the remaining 0.8 hectares of land being cultivated by the parents. The eldest son migrated to Phnom Penh to work but married a childhood friend from S (who also migrated to Phnom Penh). Though his wife also received land from her parents and the couple lives with the husband’s parents (household No. 122), both of them also migrated to Phnom Penh to work. Of the other four married children, three sons migrated to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap when they were single and all married someone from another province whom they met at the migration destination. The three sons have not received land from their parents as mentioned above and currently live in Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom, and Siem Reap provinces respectively, which are probably the place of origin of their wives. Though information on whether their wives received land from their parents is unavailable, the three sons all engage in farming in their place of residence. Another married child (daughter) had worked at a garment factory in Phnom Penh before marriage and settled down with a man from another province whom she met in Phnom Penh. Her husband had worked at an NGO in Phnom Penh and has also not received land from his parents. The couple continues to work at the same jobs in Phnom Penh as before their marriage.

These examples demonstrate that premarital migration experience of children lead to settlement in another province such as the migration destination or the place of origin of their spouse, and that such children are less likely to receive land from their parents. However, there is another possibility that children move to another province precisely because they cannot receive land from their parents. In other words, in some cases, children decide where they settle subsequent to marriage, based on whether they will receive land or not from their parents. With this possibility in mind, I merely confirm here that the lack of land transfer from parents to children is closely associated with children’s moving out of the home province, which is promoted by their premarital migration experience.

To ascertain whether the above examples are exceptions or the norm, we examine the data of our sample as a whole. Fig. 4 illustrates the relationship between migration experience of married children aged under 40, the place of origin of their partner, and land transfer from parents, with controlling for land endowment of parents. The following is demonstrated. First, marrying a person from another province (provincial exogamy) does not have a great effect on the probability of land transfer for children with no premarital migration experience, but it does have a large impact for children with migration experience, especially among those whose parents’ land endowment is small. Second, while the negative effect of migration experience is found even among children married with a person from their home province, its effect is much greater among children married with a person from another province. In conclusion, provincial exogamy after migration experience is negatively associated with land transfer from parents, especially when parents’ land endowment is small.



Fig. 4 Effect of Migration Experience and Province Exogamy on Land Transfer

Source: Field survey by the author in 2009.

Note: Excluding those with parents with OLE=0.


The data presented in Fig. 4 does not, however, take account of the effect of the place of residence. As argued above, if provincial exogamy tends to lead to residency in other provinces, the effect of the marital partner’s place of origin demonstrated by Fig. 4 may be superfluous and merely reflect the effect of the place of residence.

To check whether this is the case, we prepared Fig. 5, showing the relationship between place of origin of spouse, the current place of residence, and land transfer from parents for married children under the age of 40 with premarital migration experience. Examining the findings, especially the category of OLE<0.6 because the samples in the OLE≥0.6 categories are scarce,22) we notice the following points. First, while children living in other provinces are less likely to receive land from their parents, among these children, there is no considerable difference depending on the place of origin of spouse. In other words, irrespective of the place of origin of spouse, those who live in other provinces are less likely to receive land from their parents. This indicates that it is the place of residence rather than the place of origin of spouse that greatly affects the land transfer decision.



Fig. 5 Effect of Province Exogamy and Place of Residence on Land Transfer for Children with Premarital Migration Experience

Source: Field survey by the author in 2009.

Note: Excluding those with parents with OLE=0.


Living in another province need not necessarily deter land transfer if the renting out of land were possible. In fact, land rental exists in the surveyed villages, even if it is not widely prevalent, as 11 percent of sample households rent farmland from other households. In addition, migration is one of the major reasons prompting landowners to rent out their land, accounting for 11 out of 66 cases of rental of farmland. Therefore, the observed negative association between residency in another province and land transfer by parents suggests that the renting-out of land is not a preferred option for farmers in the surveyed villages for some reasons, though examining the validity of this supposition is beyond the scope of this study.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, it is also highly likely that some of the children who moved out to another province did so precisely because they did not expect to receive land from their parents. In such a case, the possibility of land rental in their home village is irrelevant to their decision.

Second, among children who live in their home province, those who married a person from another province are less likely to receive land from their parents compared with those who married a person from their home province. If all land-endowment groups are combined, while 77 percent of the latter received land, only 38 percent of the former have been given land. There are 18 such children in the sample. It seems that some of them have yet to receive land because they got married very recently, but the majority of them are children of land-poor parents: among the 18 children, 6 are children of landless parents and the other 6 are children of parents with OLE of less than 0.2 hectares (though not zero). Household No. 1 of K is an example. The parents of this household own only 0.3 hectares of farmland, though they also rent land from another household. Among their five children, the first three (all daughters) are married but have not received any land from their parents. These three daughters had migrated before marriage and had met their spouses, who were also from other provinces, at the migration destination. The eldest daughter worked at a garment factory in Phnom Penh. While working in the capital, she met her future husband, who was a monk at that time, and married him in 2007. The second and the third daughters went to Koh Kong province to work in fishery-related jobs. The second daughter still lives in Koh Kong, after getting married in 2004 to someone she met there and who is probably from Koh Kong. The third daughter got married in 2007 to a man who had left his own province to work in fishery in Koh Kong. Their husbands have not received land from their parents either. Currently the eldest and the third daughters, as well as their husbands, live with their parents in K without migrating to other places, and help the parents with farming (and supposedly also engaging in agricultural wage labor in the village).

What does this mean? One possible inference is that children who cannot expect to receive land from their parents, who have small land endowment, try to find their marital partner at their migration destination. This is supported by the findings of Yagura (2012) that among young unmarried migrant workers in Phnom Penh, those who do not expect to receive land from their parents are more likely to hope to marry someone they meet in Phnom Penh, rather than someone from their place of origin. This finding is also consistent with the finding of this paper that among children with premarital migration experience, the smaller the land endowment of parents, the higher the prevalence of provincial exogamy (Fig. 2).

Yagura (ibid.) proposes two possible reasons why the availability of farmland from parents affects marital partner selection. First, those who do not have farmland feel handicapped in their search for a potential partner in their locality because they are regarded as less desirable a marital partner (at least from the economic standpoint); therefore they have to find their partner at their migration destination. This choice can produce an economically better outcome if the partner comes from a more affluent region than their own place of origin; in such a case, their living conditions can be improved by relocating to the partner’s place of origin.

Second, if a child does not have farmland in his/her home village and thus does not engage in farming, marrying a local is of lesser importance, economically speaking. Farming often requires support from family members (parents and sibling), thus if one engages in farming in one’s place of origin, it is to one’s advantage to marry with a local because support from the spouse’s family is also easily available.23) There is no such advantage in marrying with a local if one does not engage in farming.

VII Is Lack of Land Transfer Compensated for?

VII-1 Land Transfer from Spouse’s Parents

Even if a child does not receive land from his/her own parents, he/she can still expect that his/her spouse be given land from his/her parents because both sons and daughters usually receive farmland from their parents, as is evident from Table 5. One might also suppose that parents would give more land to their child if the spouse of their child does not receive land from his/her parents.

What happens in reality is the opposite. Among married children aged under 40, the proportion of those who received land from the spouse’s parents24) is 89 percent for those receiving land from their own parents, but only 52 percent for those who do not receive land from their own parents (the difference is statistically significant at 1 percent level). Such differences are present even if the sample is divided according to village, age, gender, place of residence, and year of the marriage of children.

This gap is not caused by a bias in the distribution of parents’ occupations. If parents engaging in non-farm activities as their major occupation tend to marry their children off to children from other non-farming family, parents of both the groom and the bride would not give land to their child as they do not have land, or land is not important for the newly-wed couple who will engage in non-farm activities like their parents. In reality, however, such couples account for only 7 percent of couples who have not received land from either the husband’s or wife’s parents. Rather, the positive association between land transfer from the husband’s parents and the wife’s parents implies that children who are unable to receive land from their parents are less likely to be chosen as a partner by those who can expect land from their parents. In short, “positive assortative matching” takes place in the three villages.25)

In fact, married children aged under 40 who have not received land from either their own parents or their spouse’s parents constitute a very small minority: they account for only 9.8 percent of married children under 40, while 70.9 percent received land from both their own parents and their spouse’s parents (the rest received land either from their own parents or their spouse’s parents). But these compositions differ according to premarital migration experience and the place of origin of spouse, as presented in Table 11. This table reveals the following two points. First, even if they receive land from their own parents, children married to a person from another province are less likely to receive land from their spouse’s parents, regardless of their premarital migration experience (93.0 vs. 59.3; 87.1 vs. 72.0). This is probably because provincial exogamy tends to lead to settlement in another province on the part of their spouse.


Table 11 Land Inheritance by Spouses of Married Children



Second, of children with premarital migration experience and a spouse originating from another province (most of them meet their partner at the migration destination), only 38 percent received land from their spouse’s parents if they have not received land from their own parents. This makes sense if the children marry a person they had met at the migration destination, for the very reason that they did not expect to receive land from their parents, as argued above. Because the situation of their partner is similar (otherwise he/she would not consider searching for a mate at the migration destination), couples formed at migration destinations are less likely to receive land from either the husband’s parents or the wife’s parents.

In summary, the data presented above clearly indicate that for children not receiving land from their parents, their spouses are also unlikely to receive land from their parents, and that such a tendency is especially evident among couples who meet at migration destinations.

VII-2 Transfer of Non-land Assets

Children who do not receive land from their parents need not face great difficulty in ­making a living if they were to receive other assets in lieu. In the villages surveyed, major non-land assets given by parents to their children include draft animal (cattle and buffalo) and financial assets (cash and gold). Though we do not have information regarding the transfer of such non-land assets from the spouse’s parents, we collected data on whether and how household heads and their spouse (as parents) gave non-land assets to their children.

Paradoxically, however, the data demonstrate that most children who did not receive land from their parents did not get non-land assets either. While the proportion of children receiving draft animals is 60 percent for those receiving land, the proportion is only 15 percent for those not receiving land. Similarly, while 29 percent of those who received land also received financial assets, only 18 percent of those not receiving land were given financial assets.

Migration experience is also associated with the transfer of non-land assets. As shown in Table 12, the likelihood of receiving non-land assets is especially small for those who have premarital migration experience and who did not receive land from their ­parents. This is probably because parents of these children are poor in the first place (that is why their children must migrate to support their family) and thus do not have many assets to bestow on their children. Whatever the reason, the data suggest that a large proportion of children not receiving land from their parents, especially those with premarital migration experience, cannot aspire to receive other assets from their parents and are therefore forced to start their married life under difficult economic ­conditions.


Table 12 Transfer of Non-land Assets to Married Children



VIII Concluding Remarks

As is evident from parents’ plans and actual land transfer, equal division among all children is the most favored practice in the villages surveyed, despite the intensifying scarcity of land and increased labor migration in recent years. This implies that there will be further farm fragmentation in the villages surveyed. At the same time, however, parents with very small land endowment are unable to divide land equally among all their children, and some of them choose not to give land to children who can make a living without land. Though this situation leads us to expect an increase in the proportion of children unable to receive land from their parents in the near future, the data also suggest that the increase would not be very dramatic.

The recent increase in migration opportunities helps parents to maintain equal division to a certain extent, by enabling children to make their living with only a small piece of land. Partly for that reason, expanding migration opportunity has not caused fundamental changes in land transfer practices, but it has indeed affected intergenerational land transfer. Especially in villages S and K, where youth labor migration has been widespread, children with premarital migration experience are less likely to receive land from their parents even after controlling for parents’ land endowment. Premarital migration experience of children is negatively associated with land transfer, especially when children settle in the migration destination or when they marry a person from another province whom they met at the migration destination, then move to their partner’s place of origin.

On the other hand, children who migrated before marriage and then married a ­person from another province—mostly with partners encountered at the migration destination—are less likely to receive land from their parents, even if they live in their home province after marriage. This indicates that children who had little expectation of receiving land from their parents try to find their partner at the migration destination.

Given this perspective, the argument that expansion of labor migration opportunities increases the number of children not receiving land is not very accurate. A more realistic description of the current situation of the villages surveyed is that, taking advantage of labor migration experience, children with little prospect of receiving land from their land-poor parents, choose to leave their home province and find means to make a living without land. To put it from a different perspective, as long as parents have enough land, their children are inclined to settle in their home province even if they migrated when they were single; such inclination on the part of the children also leads their land-rich parents to give land to all their children.

The contrast between land-poor families and land-rich families—in the emigration of children of land-poor families and the division of land among children of land-rich families—is very similar to the situation in a rural village in Tokugawa Japan outlined by Hayami (1983).26) Hayami argued that different responses to changes in economic conditions between the classes (defined by the size of landholding) led to inter-class mobility. Similar changes can happen in the long run in the Cambodian villages surveyed. That is, the above-mentioned differences between classes in land transfer practice and children’s behavior imply that increase in migration opportunities can eventually reduce landholding inequality among households within a village by the following mechanism. Further fragmentation of smaller farms would be avoided as parents choose to give land only to a limited number of their children, made possible by the expansion of migration opportunities. In addition, because children who do not receive land tend to move out of the village, increase in landless households in the village would be contained.27) On the other hand, large-scale landholders will experience farm fragmentation as they continue to divide land among all their children, and the landholding of their offspring will get smaller and smaller.

The decrease in inequality does not necessarily imply improvement in livelihood for the lower economic stratum. As presented in Section VII, most of the children who did not receive land from their parents are in difficult economic conditions, as they do not receive other assets and their spouses are also less likely to receive land from their parents. This situation also implies positive assortative matching exists in marital partner selection in the villages surveyed, which may increase economic inequality among households.

Though increasing migration opportunities can have a large impact on land distribution or economic inequality among households in a village, as discussed above, whether, how, and to what extent that actually happens or will happen are beyond the scope of this paper and require future research. To tackle these questions, well-planned research with a long-term perspective is needed to collect detailed longitudinal data at the household as well as individual level in specific villages.

Another issue that this paper does not address is family conflict that may arise due to unequal division of land among children. With unequal division of land, children who receive neither land nor financial compensation from their parents may feel dissatisfied. Such dissatisfaction may cause a rift within the family, which can have a negative socio-economic impact on rural households and society. Our data is insufficient to examine this issue and further research is required.

Accepted: September 24, 2012


This study was supported by KAKENHI [Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) (20780168)]. I am indebted to Mr. Dork Vuthy from the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the research assistants for preparing and conducting the field survey. I also extend my heartfelt gratitude to people of the surveyed villages for cooperating with our survey.


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1) In this paper, the term “transfer” is used instead of “inheritance” to refer to the giving of land by parents to their children, because it is generally conducted while parents are still alive.

2) For example, in the eastern part of the Treang district, Takeo province, a vast area of dry season rice fields was reclaimed in the 1980s, but the reclamation has stopped as unreclaimed land has almost run out (Yagura 2008).

3) Yagura (2005) examines factors determining land distribution in two Takeo villages, but changes in land distribution in the long run are not fully captured because data used is basically cross-sectional. In addition, the effect of changes in land transfer practice is not addressed.

4) See Yagura (2015), which, using the same household data as the present paper, is focused on the effect of intergenerational asset transfers on land distribution in the three villages surveyed. (This note is added after the acceptance of the present paper.)

5) For example, under a manorial system where the lord of a manor imposes tax and labor on tenant farms and sets the rules for transfer of the rights to land between tenants (Platteau and Baland 2001).

6) In rural villages in northeastern Thailand, the practice of partible land inheritance has largely been maintained in the 1980s and 1990s even though farm size has shrunk. Takeuchi (2000) attributes this phenomenon to productivity improvement in rice farming.

7) The reverse can also bring about discord. André and Platteau (1998) show that in a Rwandan village, a change in land inheritance practice from primogeniture (all land given to the eldest son) to division among sons brought about intra-family dispute, provoked by the eldest son who was deprived of his privilege.

8) According to the population census conducted in 2008, population outflow due to inter-provincial migration for five years up to 2008 was 70,357 for Prey Veng and 12,508 for Pousat (Cambodia, National Institute of Statistics 2010b). The ratio of the outflow to total population as of 2008 is 7.4 percent for Prey Veng and 3.1 percent for Pousat, which respectively rank 1st and 7th among 24 provinces including Phnom Penh.

9) The krŏm samokki is a group composed of about 10 households organized to practice collective farming in rural Cambodia under the People’s Republic of Kampuchea regime. As is the case of the three villages in this paper, krŏm samokki were mostly dissolved by the mid-1980s (Amakawa 2001).

10) In this paper, land that the informant considered as his/her own is regarded as being owned by the informant (or his/her household), whether the plot is officially registered or not.

11) Among 582 married children aged below 40, 72 persons received residential land from their parents and all but 4 of them also received farmland from their parents.

12) Among married children under 40, the proportion of those who live with their parents or their spouse’s parents is 54 percent for the youngest children and 30 percent for the other children.

13) The age group 15–19 of village K is exceptional in that it includes only four persons. Thus no overall trend can be drawn from it.

14) Though the size of land plot can have an effect on parents’ land transfer decision, we are unable to explore this factor because of the lack of plot-level data. Nevertheless, the effect of plot size in the surveyed villages is probably negligible because parents can divide a plot up when distributing land to children.

15) “Cow” here indicates either male or female and castrated or uncastrated cattle.

16) The amount of money given to each of the three children is 4 million riels, 3 million riels, and 9.5 million riels, respectively. These amounts are comparable with one to two hectares of wet season rice field, as one hectare of wet season rice field in K is priced at 3–5 million riels as of 2009.

17) Of 39 households (couples) with more than one married child aged under 40 and who gave farmland to only some of these children, just 4 gave financial assets exclusively to those children who did not receive any land.

18) Kampong Leav district, which is very close to village K (in Prey Ro district), is such a case. It would have been preferable to measure the remoteness of residency by calculating the distance from the home village, but the necessary information was not available.

19) For example, many villagers from Y paired up with people from Battambang province through such interactions.

20) Incidentally, the prevalence of the residency in another province tends to increase with OLE for the cases of provincial exogamy. This is because a large portion of children marrying under provincial exogamy are from land-rich village Y.

21) This involves collecting waste such as cans, bottles, and paper by cart around the city to sell to junk dealers.

22) These categories include only a few cases each.

23) According to the data collected through the survey for this study, parents tend to help their children in farming if the child lives in the home village, irrespective of the gender of the child. From the perspective of a married couple, this means they can count on the help of both sets of parents (the husband’s and the wife’s) if their parents live in the same village.

24) In the Cambodian context, parents give land to their own child, not to the couple. But in this paper, I use statements such as “children received land from their spouse’s parents” for simplicity.

25) Existence of the positive assortative matching in the surveyed villages is more rigorously examined by Yagura (2015). (This note is added after the acceptance of the present paper.)

26) According to Hayami (1983), contrary to the stereotype of the Japanese family system, diverse patterns of land inheritance practice, including partible inheritance, existed in the Tokugawa era-village that he studied.

27) This prediction does not necessarily contradict with the existence of landless households in the surveyed villages. In fact, in accordance with this prediction, the proportion of landless households is lower for younger generations than for older generations (4.4 percent for households whose heads are in their twenties or thirties and 11.7 percent for households whose heads are in their forties, fifties, or sixties).

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