17 posts

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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan Badenoch



Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pavin Chachavalpongpun ปวิน ชัชวาลพงศ์พันธ์


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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Hewison
Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya


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


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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pierre Brocheux
University Paris-Diderot


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

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

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

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

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

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



Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Buzzanco, Robert. 2005. How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love Vietnam and Iraq. Counterpunch, April 16., accessed January 28, 2016.

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

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

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

―. 2004. How I Began to Teach about the Vietnam War. Special Issue, Michigan Quarterly Review 43(4). Permalink:

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

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


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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Vol. 5, No. 1, MIICHI

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Looking at Links and Nodes: How Jihadists in Indonesia Survived

Miichi Ken*

* 見市 建, Faculty of Policy Studies, Iwate Prefectural University, 152-51 Sugo, Takizawa City, Iwate 020-0693, Japan

e-mail: miichi[at]

The major militant Islamist network in Indonesia, comprising the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and its associated groups, was believed to have been responsible for dozens of violent incidents after 2000, including the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005. Generally JI sympathized with al-Qaeda’s ideology, openly supported al-Qaeda and other militant ideologues by translating and publishing their work in Indonesia, and sent hundreds of fighters (mujahidin) to Afghanistan for training. The Indonesian militant Islamist groups were not foreign controlled, but they shared some features with a broader militant Islamist network. This essay takes as its point of departure Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s characterization of al-Qaeda as a matrix of self-organized networks, not a military organization with structured divisions. In Barabasi’s theorization of networks, al-Qaeda appears as a “scale-free network” of a limited number of persons who had accumulated many nodes in a scattered and self-sustaining web. Hence, JI was loosely organized and yet hierarchical, composed of small cells held together by personal loyalties, family, school, and other friendly connections. Faced with intensifying police assaults, militant Islamists increasingly fell back on their networks. Using published reports and the author’s own interviews with relevant individuals, this essay traces the links and nodes of the militant Islamic networks in Indonesia and examines why and how jihadists in Indonesia tenaciously sustained their violent activities.

Keywords: Indonesia, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Islamist, jihadist networks, Islamic State (IS)


It has been more than a decade since the Bali bombings of 2002, which increased international awareness of militant Islamists, more commonly called jihadists by Western media and security experts, in Indonesia.1) Jihadists in Indonesia, represented by an organization called Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), carried out a series of attacks on Western targets such as US-owned hotels and tourist sites over the next few years. Indonesia became the “second front” in the War on Terrorism. Indonesian security authorities arrested or shot down most of the key jihadists and a few hundred other perpetrators and accomplices. JI and related groups became more and more dispersed, and the structures of their organizations dissolved. However, jihadists have survived in different forms with smaller groups and continued their “war on the enemy of Islam.” Furthermore, the recent war in Syria and proclamation of the so-called Islamic State (IS) seem to have revitalized their international connections and activities. This paper examines why and how jihadists in Indonesia tenaciously sustained their violent activities.

To examine this, I shed light on JI and related groups in Indonesia by preliminarily applying network theories, mostly those proposed and summarized by Barabasi. There are detailed reports published by Sidney Jones on current militant Islamists,2) and the historical background and chronological paths have been revealed by ex-activists and Indonesian experts (Abas 2005; Huda Ismail 2007; 2010; Solahudin 2011; 2013; Wildan 2013). There are hundreds of published and unpublished books, booklets, papers, and videos in which militant activists translate and share their ideology for their fellow activists. Using these materials as well as my interviews and discussions with activists, insiders, and experts, this paper tries to extract certain significant aspects of Indonesian jihadists by focusing on the links and nodes in such networks.3) The significance of this paper is that it reorganizes existing reports and materials with theoretical and comparative views by applying network theories. Through focusing on several key actors or “nodes,” this paper especially emphasizes the changing characteristics of the jihadist network in Indonesia, which could not be fully captured by existing studies. JI is an organization with a loosely organized but hierarchical structure that is divided into regional cells. Its members are recruited through families, schools, friends, or other connections.

As organizations weaken because of arrests and police assaults, jihadists modify themselves and rely more and more on new types of horizontal networks. Most recent violent attacks have been carried out by infamous, small splinter groups. It is not very meaningful to analyze each group or organization separately in this regard, and thus network analysis is useful.

The following sections will first provide the key concepts of network theories. They will then draw on the changing structure of jihadist organizations in Indonesia by briefly describing family and school ties and their international expansions and limitations. The network surrounding the Malaysian jihadist Noordin M. Top and the changes after his death will then be explained, by highlighting three figures. Before concluding, some implications of emerging Internet networks will be discussed.

I Theological Background

Network theories assume that networks are present everywhere. They can be applied to understand issues ranging from how Christianity spread beyond Judaism to the vulnerability of the Internet and the spread of deadly viruses (Barabasi 2003, 7). Some key concepts and theories on networks give us suggestions to analyze social and political phenomena. This paper highlights several ideas for a deeper understanding of Indonesian jihadist networks.

In his influential book Linked (2003), Barabasi describes al-Qaeda as a military organization not with divisions but with self-organized networks. It was populated over the course of several years by thousands of individuals who were drawn to its radicalism by religious beliefs and impatience with the existing social and political order. It is a typical scale-free network in which a limited number of persons have many nodes, accumulated over the course of years, yielding a scattered and self-sustaining web (ibid., 222–223). This model can be applied to the current condition of Indonesian jihadist networks, with some reservations.

Mark Granovetter’s classical “weak-ties” theory also contributes to an understanding of jihadist networks in Indonesia. The weak-ties theory proposes something that sounds preposterous at first. A natural a priori idea is that those with whom one has strong ties, such as cherished friends, are more motivated to help with job information. In contrast to this, those to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and will thus have access to different information than what we receive (Granovetter 1973, 1371). Weak ties (shown as thin lines in Fig. 1) between small clusters “play an important role in any number of social activities.” This weak-ties model describes how militant Islamic activities have been conducted through links to other, mostly local, groups and networks.



Fig. 1 Strong and Weak Ties

Source: Barabasi (2003, 43)


An analysis of Indonesian militants reveals at the same time a weakness of network analysis. This paper suggests what we can and cannot find through network theory and how to overcome the theory’s weaknesses.

II From Hierarchical Organizations to Horizontal Networks

JI originated in the Darul Islam (DI) movement, which aimed to establish an Indonesian Islamic State (Negara Islam Indonesia, NII)4) with armed uprisings during the 1950s. The uprisings were suppressed by the government. DI/NII subsequently went underground, where it divided into small factions. The founder of JI, Abdullah Sungkar (1937–99), was a leading figure of a DI faction and left it to his followers. Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir (b. 1938), his longtime associate, also belonged to the Masyumi party, one of the four major parties participating in the 1955 election, as well as related organizations such as DDII (Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia, Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council). During the early 1970s, Sungkar and Ba’asyir, along with other preachers, established the Islamic boarding school Pesantren al-Mukmin, known as Pondok Ngruki, in the village of Ngruki near the city of Solo in Central Java. Sungkar and Ba’asyir were very critical of Suharto’s authoritarian regime, which intervened in Islamic movements and enforced a basically secular nationalism, and they were charged under the law governing subversive activities.

Sungkar and Ba’asyir managed to escape to Malaysia in 1985 and settled in Johor, where they opened the Lukmanul Hakiem school and organized mujahidin (jihad fighters) to be sent to Afghanistan in the late 1980s in order to undergo military training. Influenced by Salafi (Wahhabi) scripturalism, Sungkar was said to be critical of inauthentic customs practiced by Masduki, a DI factional leader. In 1993 Sungkar formed his own group named Jemaah Islamiyah, which means simply “Islamic community” (see Solahudin 2011, 197–224). His political ideology sharpened at the time, from domestic political opposition to global jihad revolution.

Al Qaeda is so scattered and self-sustaining that even the elimination of Osama bin Laden and his closest deputies might not eradicate the threat they created. It is a web without a true spider. (Barabasi 2003, 223)

The organizational structure of Indonesian jihadist groups changed over time and became closer to Barabasi’s al-Qaeda model, though it was more hierarchical in the beginning. In the early years of the twenty-first century, JI was often described as having a central committee and regional branches (see Fig. 2). JI had four regional divisions, called mantiqi, which covered the area from the Philippines to Australia. Each of these divisions had a top-down command structure. There were four phases of systematic cadre training: public lectures (tabligh), religion courses with small numbers of students (taklim), a closed religious study session (tamrin), and an advanced stage (tamhish) (Abas 2005, 99–100). When a central or regional leader was captured and unable to maintain his leadership, he was quickly replaced. After Abdullah Sunkar, the leader (amir) of JI, died in 1999, the co-founder, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, adopted the position of amir. Several members replaced Ba’asyir after he was captured. Ba’asyir never returned as the amir of JI even after he was released, although he remains an important node.5) Instead, he established JAT (Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid) and became its amir in 2008. His religious authority and thus legal judgment (fatwa) are recognized even among non-JI and non-JAT members.6) Nevertheless, the JI and JAT networks can survive without him. As I will describe later, the organizational structure dissolved and came to resemble self-organized webs. Though the earlier form of the organization was very different from the current form, it also can be argued that JI was designed flexibly from the beginning. Membership in JI is based on a loyalty oath (bai’at) pledged to the leader. During the 1990s, many members pledged their loyalty to Abdurrahim Thoyib, alias Abu Husna, who acted in a leadership position while Sungkar was away from Indonesia.7) When JAT was established, members made another oath to Ba’asyir. According to former DI and JI members, a loyalty oath represents a lifetime commitment but does not necessarily entail continuing activity within the organization. Loyalty to the organization is less important than personal relationships, and JI can be described as an organization made up of personal networks.


Fig. 2 Organizational Structure of Jemaah Islamiyah, as Described by Singaporean Authorities in 2003

Source: Singapore, Ministry of Home Affairs (2003, 10)


It should be noted that al-Qaeda itself transformed significantly, especially after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 (see Sageman 2008). It is known that Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, al-Qaeda’s leading strategist, wrote Call to Global Islamic Resistance with the aim of transforming al-Qaeda from a “vulnerable hierarchical organization into a resilient decentralized movement.” He encouraged individuals to play a role without being part of an organization. Though his 1,604-page book predated 9/11, his idea was largely adopted after the collapse of the Taliban (Cruickshank and Ali 2007). Indonesian jihadists, probably intentionally from the beginning, followed al-Qaeda’s path.8)

III Expanding Family and School Ties

Family and school ties characterize JI’s internal network. Initially, most of the mujahidin sent to Afghanistan were recruited from DI families. There were, at the same time, members from non-DI families who were recommended from among Sungkar’s close associates (Solahudin 2011, 204–205). Furthermore, Pondok Ngruki had survived during Sungkar’s absence, and underground members of JI constantly recruited from among the organization’s students and alumni. Because these students were not limited to members of DI families, JI’s network expanded. Yet kinship consisted of important links in order to expand and maintain networks and a sense of community.9) The 2002 Bali bombings were planned and executed by three brothers—Mukhlas, Amrozi, and Ali Imron—who taught at the Ngruki-related Al Islam school in Lomongan, East Java. Mukhlas married a Malaysian who was a sister of Nasir Abas, a leader of Mantiqi (Region) III. There are ample examples like this.

There are also examples of solidarity and mutual help among widows and orphans of mujahidin who were killed by the authorities. The wife of Dulmatin, a key figure in the 2002 Bali bombings, lived and worked at an Islamic school complex on the outskirts of Solo, where the widow of Imam Samudra, a Bali bomber executed in 2008, and the widow of Urwah, an associate of the aforementioned Noordin, also lived.10) There are foundations for families of late mujahidin, such as the Infaq Dakwah Center and Yayasan Rumput, which were established by the jihadist media outlets and Abdurrachim Ba’asyir, a son of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, organizes

Most JI members were recruited from Ngruki or related schools. Militant doctrines were taught at individual study groups led by teachers or senior students. Kinship and school nodes were correlated and overlapping (see Huda Ismail 2007). Several related schools were established by DI families, and some were established by alumni of Ngruki in the absence of such family ties. Ngruki requires students to intern during their final year by teaching at another school. Thus, students spread to a plethora of schools and add to the links, enabling jihadists to expand and maintain their networks. Most Ngruki graduates do not join the organization but can be cooperative when they are asked for the use of such assets as their houses or motorcycles. As will be explained later, Ngruki-related schools became more important as time passed.

IV International and Inter-organizational Networks

Existing domestic and international injustice systems also created a rich context for the recruitment of Indonesian jihadists. Soon after the political transition as a result of President Suharto’s resignation, JI became involved in regional conflicts with the Christian inhabitants of the Maluku Islands and Poso, Central Sulawesi. In these conflicts, the victimization of Muslims was emphasized, and their Christian counterparts were believed to be obtaining financial and material support from transnational Christian movements. JI members worked in these areas with activists from other organizations such as KOMPAK (Komite Aksi Penanggulangan Akibat Krisis, Action Committee for Crisis Management), a charitable body of DDII.11)

JI extended its networks to include neighboring countries such as the Philippines and Singapore in addition to Malaysia, where Sungkar and his followers had once been based.12) On the other hand, JI failed to coordinate with militants in southern Thailand; there are indications that JI had links in Thailand but never succeeded in establishing meaningful relationships in this area. Southern Thailand conflicts were regional and autonomous in nature, and militants were less drawn to the global jihad.13) In the Philippines, JI initially developed connections to probably a few small factions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and later established links to the Abu Sayyaf Group. JI moved a training camp to Mindanao, an area under the control of the MILF, after political conditions in Afghanistan became unfavorable. JI members traveled between Indonesia and the Philippines to exchange arms and fighting skills. DI and KOMPAK also established contacts and connections with each other in Mindanao. JI cadres Dulmatin and Umar Patek fled to Mindanao in 2003 after participating in the 2002 Bali bombings. As the MILF entered peace negotiations with the Philippine government, JI withdrew its training camp and Dulmatin and Umar Patek subsequently joined the Abu Sayyaf Group. Dulmatin, believed to have returned to Indonesia in 2007, dramatically reappeared and was shot down by police in 2010. Umar Patek was arrested in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in April 2011. He was arrested where Usama bin Laden was killed a few weeks later. Though we don’t know how closely they were connected, JI and its extended networks have maintained links to global jihadist networks represented by al-Qaeda. These links reappeared during the recent Syrian war. JI, JAT, and other smaller groups sent “humanitarian missions” and mujahidin to Syria (see IPAC 2014b). It appears that there were several hundred Indonesians fighting there by the beginning of 2015. At the same time, JI’s failure in Thailand and limited success in the Philippines reminds us that links cannot explain everything. Ideological differences between groups that reflect local contexts are important factors to explain the limitations of JI’s expansion. As discussed later, the Syrian war and the establishment of IS brought about serious divisions among jihadists in Indonesia based on ideological and strategic differences.

JI has also established links to outside groups that do not necessarily share these familial or school connections, as we have seen in the Poso conflict and Mindanao. JI has temporarily cooperated with outsiders for practical purposes. Organizational affiliation and exclusiveness are not necessarily strict, particularly in areas of conflict, where organizational overlap is not unusual. Such overlap has been strengthened as a function of the passage of time. Because JI and its successor JAT, as organizations, are not currently seeking violent solutions, dissatisfied militant members have extended their cooperative efforts beyond the boundaries of these organizations. Jihadists call each other ikhwan (brother) regardless of organizational affiliation. Indeed, the first internationally recognized 2002 Bali bombing itself was the result of an individual decision made by JI’s militant faction, not the official or collective decision of the organization.14) The 2003 Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta was similarly executed by a small group led by the Malaysian Noordin, with some help from individual JI members. Annual bombings against Western targets continued until 2005, and the second Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2009 were carried out by Noordin’s group cooperating with outside groups (ICG 2006; 2009a). After the dissolution of Noordin’s group, jihadist militants were further fragmented yet managed to survive by changing to more and more horizontal networks. These paths coincided with the above-mentioned strategies of al-Qaeda proposed by Abu Mus’ab al-Suri.

Besides school and family ties, links and a sense of community among small groups and networks were created during combat experiences primarily in Afghanistan and later in Maluku and Poso. As conflicts in Maluku and Poso almost ceased, Indonesian jihadists have kept base in the former conflict area and held temporary training camps in order to maintain networks, combat experience, and technique.15) In addition, the continual crackdowns after the Bali bombings made prison an important place for adding links, as I will describe later in the case of Urwah and Aman Abdurrahman.

V Noordin’s Network and Thereafter

For about six years, the Malaysian national Noordin M. Top dominated the terrorism scene in Indonesia. He led bombing attacks against Western targets or the “far enemy,” meaning the United States and its allies, in Indonesia with a clear awareness of fighting a global jihad.16) Yet he was “by all accounts . . . not a particularly impressive figure.” He could not speak Arabic, and his religious knowledge was limited. Nor was he was a skilled orator. However, he had a knack for surrounding himself with devoted followers who possessed skills that he did not, and his ability to elude police for so long enhanced his stature (ICG 2006, 1). In this section, I will highlight three figures—namely, Asmar Latin Sani, Urwah, and Aman Abdurrahman—in order to elucidate the nature of jihadist networks in Indonesia. The three all played important roles yet linked the networks very differently. Asmar and Urwah were closely associated with Noordin, whom Aman was critical of. Aman became increasingly important after the death of Noordin, and he began to create a new kind of network.

Asmar Latin Sani, the 2003 Marriott hotel suicide bomber, had connections to important nodes but was apparently of less personal importance to the network. He attended Pondok Ngruki and was one of hundreds of students who left the school with Abdurrahim Thoyib in 1995 as a result of an internal conflict. The school foundation issued a regulation to limit extracurricular study groups, the so-called harakah, which brought about a fierce dispute and serious split within the Pondok Ngruki (Wildan 2013, 200–201). Asmar, along with tens of students, subsequently moved to the Darusy Syahadah school in Boyolali, on the outskirts of Solo in Central Java. The Darusy Syahadah is one of the most important JI-related schools, and it may actually be more important than the Ngruki school. Some of those who were involved in violent operations either graduated from Ngruki before 1995 or left in 1995. Several key operatives teach or study at the Darusy Syahadah. Asmar somehow became a member of Laskar Khos (the network’s special forces), led by Noordin. Noordin belonged to JI but coordinated suicide bomb attacks against Western targets without approval from the JI central command. In preparation for the Marriott bombing, Noordin and associates moved to Bengkulu, Sumatra, where Asmar was from. Asmar and other JI members in Sumatra helped Noordin arrange for money and explosives. Asmar was chosen as the suicide bomber who detonated the car bomb in August 2003. A few years after Asmar’s death, Gungun, his former schoolmate in Boyolali, married Asmar’s sister. Gungun was a younger brother of Hambali, known for his strong links to al-Qaeda and the only Southeast Asian detainee at Guantanamo, the United States’ controversial prison camp in Cuba. Gungun was known also for belonging to a Pakistani cell that was led by Abdurrachim Ba’asyir. Asmar was closely linked to very important nodes, but his loss seemed not to damage the network at all. Asmar’s case seems similar to what Barabasi describes as the situation of Mohamed Atta, the purported mastermind of the 9/11 attacks:

Despite his central role, taking out Atta would not have crippled the cell. The rest of the hubs would have kept the web together, possibly carrying out the attack without his help. (Barabasi 2003, 223)

After the first Marriott bombing, Noordin distanced himself from JI and relied more on inter-organizational networks. Urwah, alias Bagus Budi Pranoto, was a key figure in modifying networks by linking Noordin to others. His case typically describes how recent jihadist networks form, are maintained, or collapse.17) Urwah went to Pesantren Al-Muttaqien, a Ngruki-related school in Jepara, on the northern coast of Java, and proceeded to the Ma‘had ‘Ali An-Nur college in 2000. The An-Nur college was founded by teachers who had left Ngruki in 1995. He chose the college because he had not been accepted by the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Sciences, a Saudi government-sponsored college in Jakarta. He had educational links to the jihadist network from the beginning, but his choice of An-Nur made a difference. He added links during his involvement in conflicts in Maluku and Poso, where he spent a few months each, probably as a JI member. It was Urwah who connected Noordin to important links outside JI, such as Iwan Darmawan, alias Rois, a head of DI’s Banten battalion (See ICG 2006). Urwah was arrested in July 2004, before Noordin carried out the Jakarta Australian embassy bombing in September with help from Iwan and other local JI networks.

By his own account, Urwah was further radicalized in jail, where he spent around three years. In prison, he married a woman introduced to him by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. The families of Urwah and his wife were not involved with DI. Urwah did not participate in the activities of JI or JAT after being released, but he taught at a local mosque and headed a small group probably consisting of around a dozen members. He openly emphasized the need for “terror attacks” in order to fight back against Western, mostly US, aggression against Muslims around the world, which was contrary to mainstream jihadist groups’ increasing tendency to give priority to the “near enemy,” or their own Muslim regime, which hampered the activities of jihadists and contributed to US aggression. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir even tried to persuade Indonesian political elites to repent for their “sins” before fighting against them.18) Although Urwah maintained contacts with the leadership of JAT and other existing groups, he often irritated those who refrained from bombing attacks and the publication of Maqdisi’s criticism of global jihad that will be mentioned later. Urwah also said during my interview that he wanted to be a martyr soon. For the 2009 hotel bombing operation in Jakarta, Noordin asked for Urwah’s help, and Urwah provided his man, Air Setiawan, to assist. Urwah was not directly involved in the bombing operation. He remained at his house in Solo as usual until Air Setiawan was shot to death, and then he realized he would be hunted too.19) He was finally killed by a police squad along with Noordin on September 17, 2009.

It should be noted that organizations have become more fragmented and less important. Networks around Urwah have remained active, but unlike the aforementioned Asmar, Urwah was a capable and important hub. He was like a local bridge, as explained by Granovetter:

As with bridges in a highway system, a local bridge in a social network will be more significant as a connection between two sectors to the extent that it is the only alternative for many people––that is, as its degree increases. (Granovetter 1973, 1365)

After Urwah’s death, his followers dispersed. Some of them joined a group called Hisbah led by Sigit Qardowi. Hisbah carried out minor attacks on small restaurants and bars serving alcohol, more commonly known as “sweeping.” Then after Sigit was shot to death by police in May 2011, some of the group members carried out suicide attacks on a police mosque and a Christian church, which invited further arrests and damage to the network. Some Hisbah members fled to join IS in Syria.

Aman Abdurrahman became one of the most important persons among the jihadists in Indonesia after Noordin passed away. An independent jihadist who was never fully affiliated with major organizations such as DI or JI, Aman linked others with weak ties. He was followed by only around 10-odd people who attended his study group on the outskirts of Jakarta at least until 2004. At the same time, however, he was well known among militants and translated many books published by JI-related publishers. His translations include writings of the Jordanian scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who was the mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Maqdisi broke with Zarqawi around 2004 and criticized his strategy of massive suicide bombings in Iraq. He believed that the primary targets of jihad should be Muslim regimes or the “near enemy.”20) Because Noordin admired Zarqawi, Aman’s translation was considered to represent criticism of Noordin (see ICG 2010). Aman emphasized that Muslims must fight against the immediate or “near” enemy, the Indonesian government. He believed governments that did not apply Islamic law and oppressed the Islamic movement were kafir (infidel) and thaghut (kafir rulers, literary false gods).21) A thaghut is an enemy of Islam who impedes the implementation of Islamic law and leads Muslim masses to the “darkness of jahiliyya” (pre-Islamic ignorance).

Having no training or experience in Afghanistan or Mindanao, Aman was taught bombing skills by Harun, a JI member. He was arrested in March 2004 after accidentally setting off a bomb (see ICG 2004). In prison, Aman became popular among those who came from the periphery of militant movements such as East Kalimantan and did not have a leader or mentor. He added links from among the detainees. He was released in 2008 and briefly participated in the newly established JAT because his followers had supported this group while he was in jail. However, “his idea on takfir [declaring another Muslim as kafir] was not suitable to JAT.” Aman was too exclusive and strict to accept other Muslims as “true Muslims,” and he often condemned others as kafir.22) What is important here is that Aman’s ties to DI, JI, and JAT were weak, but he definitely had links to other militant groups with many nodes. His personal strength was religious knowledge and a fearless attitude that legitimized attacks. His legal judgment and his recorded speeches were released through Web sites. Eventually his statements became as influential as Abu Bakar Ba’asyir’s.

In early 2010, Aman emerged as a key person in mediating intra- and inter-organizational disputes through a program known as lintas tanzim, which was organized by Dulmatin—who had returned from the Philippines—and his friends to activate a new jihad based on a longer-term perspective than that underpinning Noordin’s desperate bombing operations. However, this effort was soon detected by the police and resulted in raids around Aceh and Jakarta. Aman was arrested, and Dulmatin was shot to death in March 2010 (see ICG 2010). This was not the end of Aman, however. His influence again increased in jail. This time it was not through adding personal links; his ideas on legitimate fighting against the government brought about the creation of self-organized networks outside. His fierce sermons in prison were broadcast to other detainees, even in different prisons, through smuggled mobile phones.23) Several small groups, such as the Abu Omar group and Mujahidin Indonesia Barat (West Indonesian Mujahidin), launched sporadic attacks against police based on Aman’s thaghut concept. Some of these members were affiliated with JAT or JI, but their continual attacks against police were apparently without order or permission from organizations. Moreover, those who sympathized with Aman formed new groups named Jamaah Aman Abdurrahman (Aman Abdurrahman Community) and Tauhid Wal Jihad (Oneness of God and jihad) in several cities without command from Aman or obvious coordination among them. Jihadist networks in Indonesia evolved to become scattered and self-sustaining webs.

Responding to the proclamation of IS in June 2014, Aman urged jihadists in Indonesia to take a loyalty oath to IS and its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir followed and ordered JAT members to make a pledge. However, ideological and strategic differences between IS and the al-Qaeda/al-Nusra Front overshadowed Indonesian jihadists. IS attempted to subordinate the local al-Qaeda branch al-Nusra, but al-Nusra rejected IS. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s chief, tried to calm the dispute, but IS refused to accept Zawahiri’s mediation (Mendelsohn 2014). Although started as part of al-Qaeda, IS seeks territorial rule based in Iraq and Syria, which is different from al-Qaeda’s global jihad. Ba’asyir’s son Abdurrachim did not agree with IS and instead founded Jema’ah Ansharusy Syari’ah. Remnants of JI and Majelis Mujahidin, which Abu Bakar Ba’asyir formerly led, also did not agree with IS and supported rival al-Nusra. They cast doubt on IS’s religious credentials as the caliphate and criticized its harsh implementation of criminal law and takfir tendency.

VI Growing Internet Networks and Their Limitations

Jihadists in Indonesia have used the Internet, e-mail, and mobile phones for communication, but until the early years of the twenty-first century print media were much more important for disseminating ideology in the domestic market. Several JI-related printing companies published hundreds of translations of the writings of major Arabic militant ideologues by downloading the original materials from the Internet and translating them into Indonesian. Due to the absence of publication licenses and internal security acts in Indonesia, these companies could publish radical and militant ideology almost freely. They also downloaded and edited videos and sold them as VCDs (see ICG 2008b).

However, the Internet has grown rapidly and been replacing print media. Aman Abdurrahman had published only one thin booklet by 2008, but dozens of his lectures can be read and downloaded on a blog. Even after he was arrested, he made statements through jihadist Web sites. His blog somehow has continued to update his lectures.24) Jihadist Web sites cover the latest international news related to the struggles of Muslims and condemn US military aggression. They refer to subordinated Muslim regimes as boneka (“puppet” in Indonesian), kafir, munafik, and thaghut. Some of these sites are run by individuals who simultaneously operate publishing companies. YouTube has replaced VCDs for disseminating visual content. TV news and interviews of figures such as Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and the late Imam Samudra, one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings, began to be posted several years ago after involved individuals learned how the Internet worked and how to utilize its scale-free network. When Imam Samudra and two others were executed in January 2009, a video of their burial ceremony was quickly uploaded to YouTube. In 2010, facing police raids, “al-Qaeda of Aceh” posted a video statement. Santoso, who claims to lead Mujahidin Indonesia Timor (East Indonesian Mujahidin), delivered statements urging a fight with the thaghut Indonesian government and its security authorities. More recently, several recruiting videos for IS were released in Indonesian in addition to “official” videos quickly shared and transmitted. Jihadist Web sites propagate these militant messages by reporting them as news.

The emergence of Facebook and other social network services clearly illustrates the characteristics of scale-free networks. Each member of Facebook has an individual page and links with “friends.” The network service offers members the ability to display and update their profiles, send messages, join groups, play games, and so on. Abdurrachim Ba’asyir had more than 3,000 “friends.” Moreover,, the most popular jihadist Web site in Indonesia, has more than 200,000 “fans” who subscribe to daily updates.25) That is more than most major news sites in Indonesia.26) Friends and fans are encouraged to visit jihadist Web sites and view the YouTube videos mentioned above.

Networking on the Internet has its limitations and risks, especially for those who want to hide their activities. Exposing personal networks through social networks can be a risk rather than an advantage. Probably concerned by this, Abdurrachim Ba’asyir had closed his Facebook page by March 2011. Facebook management shut down the page for in January 2014. The Indonesian authorities arrested M. Fachry, editor-in-chief of the pro-IS, and blocked the Web site at the end of March 2015. Internet media also reveals the split and rivalry among jihadists. M. Fachry used to work for but left it due to differences over jihad strategy., which supports al-Nusra, has repeatedly criticized Aman Abdurrahman (see Al-Majdi 2012; Ali Akram 2015). Accordingly, pro-IS Web sites fought back.

Though acknowledging the risks, jihadists in Indonesia still—or even more often—use social network services for propaganda, internal communication, and discussions. The perpetrators of the Myanmar embassy bombing in Jakarta in May 2013 plotted the attack on Facebook. They were motivated by reading posts by Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, met and talked with other extremists on Facebook, and learned bomb-making on other Internet sites.27) Indonesians who joined IS in Syria have been in contact with their friends and families at home and share their experiences via Facebook, and WhatsApp, more recently. Yet, as IS realized, the leaking of information through social network sites such as Facebook posts from Syria became less frequent by early 2015.28) Overall, scale-free networks of the Internet have contributed greatly to jihadist activities in Indonesia rather than limited them. It should be noted, however, that communication and networks in the real world have been much more important. Lone wolves are still exceptional; the great majority of perpetrators have familial, educational, organizational, or friendly links. The Internet is not enough to create a sense of community among jihadists in Indonesia.


This examination of the links and nodes of militant Islamists in Indonesia has demonstrated how militant Islamists expanded and maintained networks, adapted to difficult organizational situations, and survived by switching to new kinds of networks. Links are created through family, education, ideology, and organization. Shared experiences in conflict areas, training camps, and jails are vital. As their organizations were damaged by arrests and police assaults, militant Islamists relied more on informal and inter-organizational networks. Incidents over the past few years, mostly attacks on police, were conducted by small splinter groups. Though militant Islamists in Indonesia have links to JI, JAT, or DI and share a sense of community as jihadists and ideas on changing strategies and targets, there are no hierarchical relations. Their changing forms of networks can explain the persistence and resilience of jihadist networks in Indonesia.

Theoretical and quantitative network analyses have several weaknesses. They cannot explain how Indonesian jihadists developed or changed from hierarchical organizations to vertical networks. They also largely ignore personal strength and ideological differences. JI’s inability to expand to southern Thailand cannot be explained through theoretical and quantitative analyses, and the significance of Aman Abdurrahman cannot be fully described by his weak ties. Muslim leaders of important nodes with many links must also have attributes such as outstanding communication skills and strong academic and ideological backgrounds. Scale-free networks of the Internet contributed to spreading militant ideology and enhancing communication among militants, but they did not greatly increase recruitment in Indonesia. Nevertheless, network analysis can be a useful and sufficiently empirical tool if we remain cognizant of its weaknesses.

Accepted: January 21, 2016


Abas, Nasir. 2005. Membongkar Jamaah Islamiyah: Pengakuan mantan anggota JI [Revealing Jemaah Islamiyah: Confessions of a former JI member]. Jakarta: Grafindo Khazanah Ilmu.

Al-Majdi, Muhib. 2012. Fenomena perdebatan seputar takfir Ta’yin terhadap Anshar Thaghut, Quo vadis? [The phenomenon of the debate over branding thaghut (false god) security forces as kafir (infidels), whither?]., May 10, 2012., accessed March 31, 2015.

Ali Akram. 2015. Adab dan Akhlaq Khawarij modern: Studi kritis kesesatan mazhaj Aman Abdurrahman [The manner and character of the modern Khawarij (extremist): A critical study of the deviance of the Aman Abdurrahman School]., February 2, 2015., accessed March 31, 2015.

Aman Abdurrahman, Abu Sulaiman. 2012. Ya . . . Mereka memang Thoghut [Yes . . . They are really thaghut (false gods)]. Surabaya: Kafilah Syuhada Publishing.

―. 2008. Kandungan “Laa Ilaaha Illallah” versi Ahlussunnah Wal Jama’ah [Content of “Laa Ilaaha Illallah” (That none has the right to be worshipped except Allah) in Ahlussunnah Wal Jama’ah [People of the Sunnah and the community]. Jakarta: Pustaka Atstsuguur.

Anonymous. 1995. Pedoman umum perjuangan Jamaah Islamiyah (PUPJI) [General guide on Jemaah Islamiyah’s struggle] (photocopied).

Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo. 2003. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. New York: Plume.

Benkler, Yochai. 2011. I/You, Us/Them: Empathy and Group Identity in Human Cooperation. In The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest, pp. 81–100. New York: Crown Business.

Cruickshank, Paul; and Ali, Mohannad Hage. 2007. Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 30(1): 1–14.

Gerges, Fawaz A. 2009. The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Granovetter, Mark S. 1973. The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology 78(6): 1360–1380.

Huda Ismail, Noor. 2014. To Stop ISIS in Indonesia, Target the Young and Reform Prisons. Jakarta Globe, August 15., accessed August 16, 2014.

―. 2010. Temanku, Teroris? [My friend, the terrorist?]. Jakarta: Hikmah.

―. 2007. Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asia, Jamaah Islamiyah and Regional Terrorism: Kinship and Family Links. Japan Focus, January., accessed April 19, 2014.

International Crisis Group (ICG). 2011. Indonesian Jihadism: Small Groups, Big Plans. Asia Report 204 (April 19).

―. 2010. Indonesia: Jihadi Surprise in Aceh. Asia Report 189 (April 20).

―. 2009a. Indonesia: Noordin Top’s Support Base. Asia Briefing 95, Jakarta/Brussels (August 27).

―. 2009b. Indonesia: Radicalisation of the “Palembang Group.” Asia Briefing 92 (May 20).

―. 2008a. The Philippines: Counter-insurgency vs. Counter-terrorism in Mindanao. Asia Report 152 (May 14).

―. 2008b. Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah’s Publishing Industry. Asia Report 147 (February 28).

―. 2007. Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah’s Current Status. Asia Briefing 63 (May 3).

―. 2006. Terrorism in Indonesia: Noordin’s Networks. Asia Report 114 (May 5).

―. 2005. Southern Thailand: Insurgency, Not Jihad. Asia Report 98 (May 18).

―. 2004. Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don’t Mix. Asia Report 83 (September 13).

Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). 2015. Indonesia’s Lamongan Network: How East Java, Poso and Syria Are Linked. IPAC Report 18, Jakarta (April 15).

―. 2014a. The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia. IPAC Report 13, Jakarta (September 24).

―. 2014b. Indonesians and the Syrian Conflict. IPAC Report 6, Jakarta (January 30).

Kepel, Gilles. 2004. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. London: I.B. Tauris.

McCargo, Duncan. 2008. Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

McRae, Dave. 2013. A Few Poorly Organized Men: Interreligious Violence in Poso, Indonesia. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

Mendelsohn, Barak. 2014. Collateral Damage in Iraq: The Rise of ISIS and the Fall of al Qaeda. Foreign Affairs, June 15.

Miichi, Ken. 2007. Book Review: Catatan dari Penjara: Untuk mengamalkan dan menegakkan Dinul Islam [Note from prison: For the upholding enforcement of Islamic Law] by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. Asian Journal of Social Science 35(4–5): 716–717.

―. 2006. Penetration of “Moderate” Islamism in Contemporary Indonesia. In Popular Movements and Democratization in the Islamic World, edited by Masatoshi Kisaichi, pp. 126–142. London and New York: Routledge.

Sageman, Marc. 2008. Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sayyid, Bobby S. 1997. A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism. London and New York: Zed Books.

Singapore, Ministry of Home Affairs. 2003. White Paper: The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism.

Solahudin. 2013. The Roots of Terrorism in Indonesia: From Darul Islam to Jema’ah Islamiyah. Translated by Dave McRae. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing.

―. 2011. NII sampai JI: Salafy Jihadisme di Indonesia [From NII to JI: Salafi Jihadism in Indonesia]. Depok: Komunitas Bambu.

Van Klinken, Gerry. 2007. Communal Violence and Democratization in Indonesia: Small Town Wars. London and New York: Routledge.

Wagemakers, Joas. 2012. A Quietist Jihadi: The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wildan, Muhammad. 2013. Mapping Radical Islam: A Study of the Proliferation of Radical Islam in Solo, Central Java. In Contemporary Developments in Indonesian Islam: Explaining the “Conservative Turn,” edited by Martin van Bruinessen, pp. 190–223. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

1) Islamism and jihadism are political discourses similar to other political discourses such as socialism and liberalism. Islamism attempts to reestablish Islamic civilization and to center Islam within the political order. It may involve an ideological struggle carried out by a diffuse strategy of “moral and intellectual reform” (Sayyid 1997; Miichi 2006). Jihadists are those who have given highest priority to armed struggle interpreted as jihad fi sabilillah, or “war in the cause of Allah.” It should be noted that the usage and employment of the word “jihad” depends on identity. In the general Muslim context, all efforts to propagate Islam are jihad; in the eyes of jihadists, the word has come to signify a holy war against all infidels whom they stigmatize as such (Kepel 2004).

2) Her reports appeared on the Web site of the International Crisis Group (ICG). She founded the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in 2013 and has provided updates on jihadists in Indonesia.

3) I would like to thank Taufik Andre, Nur Huda Islamil, the late Urwah alias Bagus Budi Pranoto, and many other anonymous informants.

4) According to the classic understanding of Islamic theology, this world is divided into dar al-Islam (house of Islam) and dar al-harb (house of war). The Darul Islam (or Dar al-Islam) movement in Indonesia intends to establish Islamic political authority within Indonesian territory and includes the name Negara Islam Indonesia; the name of this group is thus abbreviated as DI/NII.

5) Ba’asyir established the Council of Mujahedeen for Islamic Law Enforcement (MMI, Majalis Mujahidin Indonesia) in 1999 and became its amir. MMI is a “legal” organization that aims at enforcing Islamic law in an Indonesian framework. Some JI members who remained underground and did not accept the Indonesian government did not join MMI. Ba’asyir established Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid in 2008 and separated from MMI. After he was arrested again in 2010, he was replaced as amir by M. Akhwan.

6) Ba’asyir’s statements during his trials were often reported as fatwa by jihadist media. Ba’asyir has also issued open letters from time to time. See, for instance, “Fatwa Ustadz Abu: Kapolri, Jaksa Agung, dan Ketua Mahkamah Agung Murtad!”, March 1, 2011, accessed March 28, 2011; and “Inilah Surat Ustadz Ba’asyir dengan 3 Bahasa untuk Presiden Myanmar,”, August 1, 2012, accessed March 31, 2015.

7) Abdurrahim Thoyib was captured in Malaysia and deported to Indonesia in 2008.

8) Abu Mus’ab al-Suri’s book was first published in Indonesian in 2009 by a JI/JAT-related publisher, Jazera, yet some of the activists must have read it much earlier as it was available on the Internet as early as 2004.

9) For how a sense of how community enhances cooperation, see Benkler (2011).

10) “Pindah ke Sukoharjo, Istri Dulmatin Bertetangga dengan Istri Imam Samudra,”, March 10, 2010, accessed March 31, 2015.

11) JI needed KOMPAK in order to access funds that were donated by the public, given that JI was not a well-established or trusted organization (Solahudin 2011, 252–256). See Van Klinken (2007) for comparative studies of regional conflicts in Indonesia after 1998, and McRae (2013) for the Poso conflict, especially how mujahidin related to local militias.

12) DI has had small cells in Sabah, Malaysia, since the 1980s; these should be credited for transactions between the southern Philippines and Indonesia. JI itself has also maintained a support base in Sabah since the mid-1990s (see ICG 2007, 13).

13) JI’s former regional chief (the head of Mantiqi I) Hambali was caught in Ayutthaya, Thailand, in August 2003. He attended a meeting with al-Qaeda in Malaysia in 2000. He was the only Southeast Asian detainee in the Guantanamo Bay prison. Terrorism experts such as Rohan Gunaratne and Zachary Abuza have repeatedly warned of the existence of JI members in southern Thailand, but no strong evidence to prove this has been forthcoming. For characteristics of conflicts in southern Thailand, see McCargo (2008) and ICG (2005).

14) There have been internal discussions on the concept of an individual jihad (jihad fardiyah) against the United States. It is commonly understood that collective jihad for defense from the enemy is obligatory for all Muslims. Those who promote an individual jihad consider that jihad against the United States does not require the permission of their organization because the country has aggressively invaded Muslim lands (see Solahudin 2013, 196). The concept of an individual jihad leads to individuals attacking their own government (near enemy), which hinders the activities of jihadists and contributes to US aggression.

15) Mujahidin Indonesia Timor (East Indonesian Mujahidin), led by Santoso, has been active in Poso and sporadically attacks local police. Other small splinter groups such as Mujahidin Indonesia Barat (West Indonesian Mujahidin) claim to support Mujahidin Indonesia Timor.

16) This was based on a theory stating that Muslim regimes would never fall as long as their Western backers kept up their support. This led some jihadists to direct their attention to those backers instead of their own regimes. See Gerges (2009) for the origin of the distinction between the near enemy and the far enemy and how al-Qaeda turned to global jihad.

17) I interviewed Urwah regularly, two or three times a year, in 2008 and 2009. The following description has been reconstructed from published information and my interviews.

18) Though Ba’asyir calls the current Muslim regime thaghut (infidel ruler) and justifies fighting against it, as Aman Abdurrahman describes later in this paper, he wrote an open letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and published several books urging political elites to repent. See also Miichi (2007).

19) See also “Menelusuri Jejak dan Peran Bagus Budi Pranoto Alias Urwah,”, August 21, 2009, accessed March 31, 2015.

20) Maqdisi also condemned Zarqawi’s takfir of entire groups of people. This view coincided with criticism against Aman Abdurrahman and IS among Indonesian jihadists, as discussed later. Thus, there are twists among ideological and strategic opinions. For Maqdisi’s thoughts and his relationship with Zarqawi, see Wagemakers (2012).

21) There are serious discussions and divisions among jihadists and Salafists on the object of jihad. Though there are differences of opinion among jihadists, they maintain a sense of community as a brotherhood. On the other hand, divisions between Salafi jihadists and Salafi non-jihadists are more profound and intense. Aman Abdurrahman (2012) fiercely criticizes non-jihadi Salafists, who claim the Indonesian government is not thaghut and that they do not have to fight against it. See also Al-Majdi (2012) and IPAC (2014a; 2014b).

22) Interview with a JAT leader, March 6, 2010.

23) Interview with a JAT member, February 6, 2015.

24) Aman’s writings were posted on (accessed March 31, 2015). Previously his writings were uploaded to (accessed March 28, 2011), when it was a blog. The latter Web site was shut down but reemerged as a news site in 2014 (accessed April 19, 2014) and was shut down again sometime in 2015. The Indonesian government blocked access to Aman’s Web site ( in the country apparently after IPAC (2015) pointed out the government’s ignorance about it.

25) was founded by Jibriel Abdul Rahman, a leader of Majelis Mujahidin.

26) Among the usual news sites, (more than 1 million) and (372,000) have the most subscribers on Facebook. The numbers of subscribers of other major newspapers and magazines, such as Tempo (235,000), Kompas (206,000), and Republika (137,000), are not very different from Kompas‘s Web site,, functions more interactively than other major sites integrated with blogs (all accessed November 2013).

27) See “Indonesian Plotted on Facebook to Attack Myanmar Embassy,” Jakarta Globe, November 6, 2013, accessed March 31, 2015.

28) Interview with a JAT member, February 6, 2015. See also Huda Ismail (2014).


Vol. 5, No. 1, ONIMARU

Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 1

Shanghai Connection: The Construction and Collapse of the Comintern Network in East and Southeast Asia

Onimaru Takeshi*

* 鬼丸武士, Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University, 744 Motooka, Nishi-ku, Fukuoka 819-0395, Japan

e-mail: onimaru[at]

As East and Southeast Asia’s communist parties, founded between 1920 and 1930, strove to promote communism regionally from the 1920s to the 1930s, they were linked in an international network of communist movements formed under the aegis of the Third International (Comintern). This essay focuses on the activities of the Comintern’s regional headquarters in Shanghai after the Comintern had established the Far Eastern Bureau in Shanghai in 1926 and the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat in 1927. These two organizations, charged with supervising local communist movements in East and Southeast Asia, allocated funds, dispatched couriers and agents, and received local communists who wanted to go to Moscow. Thus, the Comintern built and maintained a complex East and Southeast Asian liaison network of agents and couriers who developed critical links with the Shanghai regional headquarters staff, and liaison officers in the local communist movements who acted as the nodes of the network. Intriguingly for the operation of the vast liaison network, among those who played crucial roles were regional facilitators who could speak European and local languages, were familiar with regional situations, and knew their contact persons. By carefully charting the structure of the network, tracing its links, which could be forged or snapped, and identifying its nodes, which could emerge or vanish, this essay provides an original account of how the Comintern network emerged in the late 1920s and how it collapsed in 1931.

Keywords: political underground, Third International (Comintern), Shanghai, network, East and Southeast Asian history

Nowadays, especially after the end of the Cold War, communism has lost its appeal as revolutionary thought. Although there are several communist regimes still in existence, nobody except the most committed communists imagines that a communist revolution is possible or historically inevitable. But in the 1920s and 1930s, communism was one of the major political ideologies that inspired revolutionary movements all over the world. The success of the Russian Revolution in 1917 was so impressive that those who were inspired by this first successful communist revolution tried to create their own revolutions in their countries.

In East and Southeast Asia, communism was received with enthusiasm by young intellectuals who wanted to liberate their countries from colonial rule or tried to solve social and economical inequalities by way of communist revolutions. They taught communism to laborers and peasants at night schools or by distributing leaflets, and mobilized them to go on strikes and demonstrations. They organized labor unions, peasant associations, and communist institutions. The first communist party in East and Southeast Asia was the Communist Association of the Indies, which was established in the Dutch East Indies in 1920 (and renamed the Communist Party of Indonesia in 1924). The next year the Chinese Communist Party was established, followed in 1922 by the Japanese Communist Party. In 1930, four communist parties were established in Southeast Asia: the Indochinese Communist Party, the Siamese Communist Party, the Malayan Communist Party, and the Philippine Communist Party.

Local communist movements in East and Southeast Asia were led by these communist parties, labor unions, and peasant associations, but there was another important dimension to the communist movements in the 1920s and 1930s. The local parties were linked in a network of international and/or regional communist movements under the aegis of the Third International (Comintern). Moreover, local communists frequently sought to promote communism regionally or to help neighboring movements. While there are a number of studies on country-based communist movements, studies of the international or regional communist movement in East and Southeast Asia in the 1920s and 1930s are not as well done, except for several pioneering works on such topics as the regional and international liaisons of the Malayan Communist Party (Cheah 1992; Hara 2009), those of the Indochinese Communist Party (Goscha 1999; Kurihara 2005), and the Comintern’s activities in Asia (McKnight 2002). But these works do not reveal clearly how the regional and international liaison networks in East and Southeast Asia were constructed and maintained, and how they collapsed.

This paper describes the international and regional communist movement in East and Southeast Asia in the late 1920s and early 1930s, focusing mainly on activities of the regional headquarters of the Comintern in Shanghai. In 1926 the Comintern established the Far Eastern Bureau (FEB) in Shanghai, followed by the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat (PPTUS) in 1927. These two organizations were in charge of supervising local communist movements in East and Southeast Asia, allocating funds, dispatching couriers and agents, and receiving local communists who tried to go to Moscow. To conduct these works, it was crucial to construct and maintain a liaison network in the region. Construction and maintenance of this liaison network was done by agents and couriers who had contacts both with staff of the regional headquarters in Shanghai and with liaison officers in local communist movements. The network of the international and regional communist movements in East and Southeast Asia in the 1920s and 1930s consisted of links between agents, couriers, the regional headquarters’ staff in Shanghai, and local liaison officers acting as nodes. This paper shows how this international and regional network was constructed in the late 1920s, how it was maintained, and finally how it collapsed in 1931. Those who played important roles in the construction and maintenance of the liaison network in the region were regional facilitators who could speak both European and local languages and knew regional situations and contact persons. In June 1931 an FEB liaison officer in Shanghai and other regional facilitators were arrested simultaneously, and this roundup caused the collapse of the network.

I Regional Headquarters in Shanghai

The Comintern was established in Moscow in 1919, two years after the Russian Revolution. The Comintern was in charge of supervising communist movements all over the world. Supervision meant the recognition of the establishment of a communist party in each country or colony, approval of personnel appointments in each communist party, allocation of funds for communist movements, dispatching of agents, distribution of directives, receiving and training of communists from other countries, and so on. These activities were conducted through liaisons between Moscow and communist movements in each country (Kurihara 2005, 3, 20–21). The organization that constructed, operated, and maintained these liaisons was the OMS (Otdel Mezhdunarodnykh Svyazey, Department of International Communication), established within the Comintern in 1921. OMS “conducted the clandestine activities of the Comintern abroad, including the distribution of confidential directives and propaganda material, the forging of passports and identity papers for overseas agents and the implementation of espionage operations” (McDermott and Agnew 1996, 22). The activities of the Comintern, especially clandestine activities abroad, were heavily dependent on liaisons operated and maintained by OMS, but it was not easy to maintain liaisons between Moscow and distant places.

The fact that East and Southeast Asian regions were so distant from Moscow led to the establishment of the Far Eastern Bureau of the Comintern in Shanghai as a regional headquarters to facilitate liaison. FEB was set up in 1926, and its original mission was to supervise communist movements in China, Japan, and Korea. But by 1930 its jurisdiction had expanded to Taiwan, French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya, and the Philippine islands (Kurihara 2005, 57).

There was another organization in Shanghai that was also in charge of supervising communist movements in East and Southeast Asia. It was the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, established in 1927. PPTUS was under the Profintern (Red International of Labor Unions), and its mission was supporting and promoting labor union movements in China, Japan, Korea, India, and Southeast Asia (McKnight 2002, 104–105).

Although FEB and PPTUS were formally separate organizations, most of their personnel and activities overlapped, so that regional headquarters in Shanghai in fact consisted of these two organizations (SMP Files: D2527/45; Kurihara 2005, 58). A liaison network was constructed from these regional headquarters in Shanghai both with communist movements in East and Southeast Asia and with the Comintern Central in Moscow. In this way, Shanghai became the main arena or hub for regional network making. But why Shanghai?

II Why Shanghai?

David McKnight has identified three reasons why Shanghai was chosen as the place in which to locate the Far Eastern Bureau. The first was the availability of legal protection, the second was that Shanghai was equipped with modern communication systems, and the third was the existence of a large international community (McKnight 2002, 101).

Legal protection was greatly enabled by the existence of extraterritoriality. During the 1920s and 1930s, 14 states could exercise this right in Shanghai: Britain, the United States, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland (All About Shanghai [1934] 1986, 22). The reason why extraterritoriality mattered was that most staff of the Far Eastern Bureau and the PPTUS were Westerners, who, in case of arrest, could claim such privilege and right.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai was already well equipped not only with modern communication systems but also with other infrastructure. Radio and cable communications as well as postal services were available and reliable, and thus a person in Shanghai could send and receive messages to and from all over the world (ibid., 97–101). Foreign and Chinese banks had offices in Shanghai. Not only international bank transfers, but also remittances to and from East and Southeast Asia through Chinese local banks and money changers were possible (ibid., 105). As for other infrastructure, gas and gaslights were available from 1865, electric lights from 1882, and waterworks from 1883 (ibid., 29–32). All of this made life in Shanghai “modern” and comfortable, and also promoted economic activities there. Shanghai was one of the largest trading centers in the world at this time, and its metropolitan character made it an eminently suitable place for the activities of communists. As a trading center, Shanghai was a hub for flows of money and people, and it was relatively easy to hide fund remittances and movements of agents and couriers in the city.

In 1934, Shanghai was the sixth-largest city in the world and the second-largest in Asia (after Tokyo). Its estimated total population in 1930 was 3,144,805, predominantly Chinese. But there were also a considerable number of foreigners living in the city; in 1930, foreigners totaled 58,607 (Takahashi and Furumaya 1995, 21–22). As shown in Table 1, the foreigners were of various ethnicities (nationalities); and this variety was useful for the communist movements. The activists engaged in communist movements in East and Southeast Asia were also diverse: Chinese, Japanese, Tonkinese, Annamese, Cochinchinese, Javanese, Filipino, Korean, Taiwanese, Indian, Russian, Ukrainian, American, French, British, German, and other Westerners. The ethnic diversity and cosmopolitanism of Shanghai offered these activists not only the opportunity to be at the center of these movements, but also safe houses.


Table 1 Foreigners in Shanghai (1930 Census)



In addition to the above three points raised by McKnight, there were two more factors that were critical in making Shanghai the center of the communist movement in East and Southeast Asia. The first was its geographic position and accessibility. Since Shanghai is located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, it is a center of maritime—primarily river and coastal—transportation. This was much truer in the 1920s and 1930s than it is today. Steamships connected the city with various ports in East and Southeast Asia and beyond on a regular basis. A guidebook published in 1934 described the situation as follows:

 Where next? To the traveller, Shanghai offers a unique advantage; the entire world, literally, is open for his selection. He can go to Europe by going West, or he can go to Europe by going East, with distances, time, and cost showing but slight variation. It may be an exaggeration to call Shanghai the “centre of world” but it looks very much like it on a travel map.
A trip to Europe may be made to the West by sea through the Suez Canal or by train through Siberia and Russia; to the East by sea across the Pacific Ocean, overland across the United States or Canada and across the Atlantic, or entirely sea through the Panama Canal. (All About Shanghai [1934] 1986, 195)

Furthermore, around 1930 there were no passport or visa requirements for visiting Shanghai (Sergeant 1991, 2). Agents, couriers, and native communists in East and Southeast Asia could visit and leave Shanghai by sea or by land with almost no restrictions.

The second, and final, point was the division of municipalities. In the 1920s and 1930s, there were three sections in Shanghai: the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the Chinese Municipality. Each section had its own administrative body and its own police force, and the territories controlled by each police force were similarly divided along administrative lines. There was no restriction on movements between the three sections, leading to the creation of gray zones within and between these divisions. A gray zone was a place where a certain degree of ambiguity existed in law enforcement and administrative control; in Shanghai, the division of police territories and the freedom of passage generated such gray zones. Because the existence of these zones was an obstacle to policing,1) it was a boon for political activism and communist movements. For example, the Chinese Communist Party was established within the French Concession in 1921,2) and despite suppression by the Kuomintang government in 1927, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party remained in Shanghai until 1933 (Stranahan 1998, 151). When Leftists held their meetings, they did so at a house whose front door opened onto the International Settlement but whose other side faced the Chinese Municipality. In case of a police raid from one side, they could escape through one door to the other, from one administrative zone to another (Nishizato 1977, 86–87).

With its extraterritoriality, modern infrastructure, international communities, accessibility to and from other places, and division of administrations, Shanghai became the hub of the international and regional communist network in East and Southeast Asia. The network was promoted by the regional headquarters in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. Liaisons were established between FEB and PPTUS in Shanghai and local communist organizations, such as communist parties, communist youth associations, labor unions, and peasants associations, and also the Comintern Central in Moscow. How were these liaisons made?

III The Creation of “Liaison Networks” in East and Southeast Asia

When a network is quantitatively or theoretically analyzed, its nodes and links tend to be treated as being similar or interchangeable. But if we want to understand how and why a certain political network is constructed or generated, we need to carefully analyze the personality and character of each node, the ways used to create links among nodes, and the purposes of the political network. And this was true of the “liaison network” constructed by the Comintern in East and Southeast Asia in the 1920s and 1930s.

Liaison making was not a unidirectional activity radiating from Shanghai. Communist parties, labor unions, and other communistic organizations in East and Southeast Asia that wanted to establish contact with Moscow for the purpose of getting directives, obtaining approval of appointed personnel and party missions, and gaining access to funds also tried to construct liaisons with Shanghai. Initial contacts with the regional headquarters in Shanghai or with communist organizations in the region were undertaken by agents dispatched from Shanghai to communist organizations in East and Southeast Asia or vice versa. One question here is how these agents were able to obtain information about contact addresses or persons.

First, information was provided to agents by the Comintern in Moscow. In the 1920s and 1930s, there were East and Southeast Asian students in Moscow universities.3) When they went back to their own countries, they were given relevant information. For example, the Japanese communist Sadachika Nabeyama (鍋山貞親) was shown photographs of an agent in Shanghai and provided a contact address there by the Comintern in Moscow before he went back to Japan via Shanghai. Nabeyama proceeded to that address in Shanghai and met with the agent (Tachibana 1983, 178).

The other way to do liaison work was to utilize existing regional links. In the 1920s and 1930s, these regional connections were provided by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which had its own links with communist movements in the Philippines, British Malaya, Indochina, and Siam. The CCP had sent its party members to supervise or do organizing work in the above areas and in turn provided safe houses for political exiles in China. When Nguyen Ai Quoc (阮愛国), who cooperated with the regional headquarters in Shanghai, was in Hong Kong and tried to establish contact with communist movements in British Malaya and Siam in 1930, he asked the CCP to provide him with an introductory letter (Kurihara 2005, 55–56).

The existence of the Central Committee of CCP in Shanghai until the early 1930s was also an important factor in the CCP’s playing a bridging role between the regional headquarters of the Comintern in Shanghai and communist movements in East and Southeast Asia. To take another example: in 1929, the Japanese communist Manabu Sano (佐野学) went to Shanghai after attending the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in Moscow. When he arrived in Shanghai, he called the phone number provided by Moscow but could not get any reply. Then he went to the address he had been provided, but again nobody was there. Now at a loss, he went to the antique shop that he remembered had been a contact point of the CCP Central and left a memo there requesting contact. Four days later, he achieved contact with the CCP and met Zhou Enlai (周恩来). Zhou arranged for him to meet a member of the regional headquarters of the Comintern in Shanghai (Tachibana 1983, 320–322).

Once liaisons were established, they were maintained by agents and couriers who were dispatched from and to Shanghai, and by means of mail and telegraph.

IV Maintenance of Network: The Role of Couriers

Couriers played an essential role in local communist movements because it was they who brought directives from Moscow and Shanghai and, especially, much-needed funds. In early 1931, the main route for couriers in East and Southeast Asia was from Shanghai to Rangoon via Hong Kong, Saigon, Bangkok, and Singapore. From Rangoon they reached India and beyond. From Shanghai there were also routes to Moscow via the Trans-Siberian Railway and to the United States via Japan by sea. Other than these main routes, there were several sub-routes, such as from Hong Kong to Keelung in Taiwan and Manila via Amoy, from Saigon to Yunnan Province via Haiphong, and from Singapore to Batavia. From Yunnan Province, a new route to British Burma was under construction (Fig. 1) (SMP Files: D2527/45).



Fig. 1The Route of Couriers in East and Southeast Asia in 1931

Source: SMP Files: D2527/45


When a courier arrived at his destined place, he was required to make contact with a liaison officer or an agent there, but in most cases they did not know each other. So how did they meet? Richard Sorge, who was arrested in Japan in 1941 as a spy for the USSR, in his memoir explained the various—and sometimes elaborate—methods of making contact with unknown couriers or agents. According to him, both parties were informed in advance of the date and place of meeting, the other’s physical appearance, and methods of achieving contact. The coded methods included the following (Sorge 2003, 53–57):

(1) Exchanging predetermined questions and answers. For example, the question could be “Do you know the person whose name is Ram?” The answer could be “The end of that name is ‘Say,’ isn’t it?”
(2) Showing one half of a torn business card. The other agent then showed the other half.
(3) Showing a $1 banknote numbered 112235. The other agent showed a $1 banknote numbered 112236.
(4) Bringing a book and saying, “I think this book is quite interesting. The most interesting page is . . .” The answer would be, “For me, the most interesting page is . . .” These specific pages were fixed in advance.
(5) Going to a department store and buying a handkerchief at a certain stand. The other agent bought socks from the same stand.
(6) Going to a restaurant and ordering a special dish. The other agent ordered another special dish. The two then talked to each other about these special dishes.
(7) Having a unique pipe in hand at a restaurant. The contact had a big cigar. When the two agents noticed each other, they started smoking at the same time.
(8) Reading a newspaper at a restaurant and folding it in a unique way when the other agent arrived.
(9) Using a newspaper advertisement to make initial contact and deciding on the place and time to meet.
(10) Directly calling the hotel where the other agent was staying.

The above methods were utilized for making contact with couriers. For example, when Nabeyama tried to make contact with an agent in Shanghai, he was instructed by this agent that a courier would come to Kinza, in Tokyo, at a certain date and time. Nabeyama was also told that this courier would have an English magazine in his hand and would bring funds allocated to Japan. After he returned to Japan, Nabeyama went to Kinza at the time stated by the Shanghai agent, and he found a foreigner who actually had an English magazine in hand. He made contact with this courier and was given $2,000. This courier was a consul of some Latin American embassy in Shanghai (Tachibana 1983, 178–179).

Another example was an agent who was dispatched to Singapore from Shanghai to establish contact with a member of the Malayan Communist Party in 1931. Before the agent went to Singapore, he met Nguyen Ai Quoc in Hong Kong and asked him how to contact local communists in Singapore. Upon arrival in Singapore on April 27, 1931, the agent rented an office and waited for local communists to seek him out. On May 15, a letter written in invisible ink was sent by Nguyen Ai Quoc from Hong Kong to the Malayan Communist Party Central. The letter instructed the liaison officer of the Malayan Communist Party to go to the office of the agent. On May 19, the liaison officer met the agent at the latter’s office (WO106/5814).

By using these or other methods, the international and regional communist network in East and Southeast Asia promoted by the regional headquarters in Shanghai was established and maintained by couriers with staff in Shanghai and with liaison officers in local communist organizations. But in order to understand not only the maintenance, but also the construction, of this network, we should consider one more factor: the role of “regional facilitators” or human hubs.

V Regional Facilitators as Hubs

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, when FEB and PPTUS in Shanghai tried to establish their own network in East and Southeast Asia, regional facilitators played crucial roles in both constructing and maintaining the network. The regional headquarters in Shanghai relied on regional facilitators because of their skills and abilities, which were in part determined by the nature of the communist network in East and Southeast Asia, the ethnic composition of the staff in the regional headquarters in Shanghai, and the circumstances under which local communist movements were conducted. What were these skills and abilities?

The first and most important ability was language skills. The international and regional communist movements in East and Southeast Asia were not monolingual by nature. Languages used in communist movements in the region included not only Chinese (along with Chinese topolects) but also Javanese, Malay, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, and other local languages, along with English, French, Dutch, German, and Russian. These languages can further be classified into three categories: Western, regional Asian, and local.

Western languages—English, French, German, Russian, and Dutch—were used in communist movements both within and beyond East and Southeast Asia. They were essential for making contact with Western comrades who came to East and Southeast Asia as staff in the regional headquarters in Shanghai or couriers and agents. Some of these languages were also used as regional lingua franca among local communists in East and Southeast Asia. For example, some Chinese and Indochinese communists could communicate with each other in French—not only because they had been to France as students, laborers, or soldiers (only Indochinese) in the second and third decades of the twentieth century, but also because in French Indochina there were schools teaching French.

The second category, regional Asian languages, consisted of East and Southeast Asian languages that could connect local communist movements in the region. The languages that played such bridging roles were Chinese (including its dialects) and Malay. Chinese—especially its dialects, such as Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, and others—was essential for gaining access to regional links made by ethnic Chinese communists. Malay was useful for communist movements among Malays who were in British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.

The third category, local languages, was used only within each domestic communist movement in East and Southeast Asia. Languages under this category were Japanese, Korean, Javanese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and other local languages.

To be a regional facilitator in international and regional communist movements, it was essential to be acquainted with (though with varying degrees of proficiency) several languages under the different categories. These multilingual regional facilitators were crucial for the regional headquarters in Shanghai because they were responsible for constructing and maintaining the regional network in East and Southeast Asia. No staff in the regional headquarters could understand local languages in East and, especially, Southeast Asia. Takashi Tachibana has pointed out that the languages used in FEB were Russian, English, and German, and Japanese communists always had trouble making contact with staff in Shanghai because there were very few Japanese communists who could speak Russian or English and there were no staff in Shanghai who could speak Japanese (Tachibana 1983, 140–141). McKnight also pointed out that there were staff who could speak only Russian (McKnight 2002, 120). Moreover, the ethnic composition of staff in the regional headquarters was completely Western. In early 1931 there were 12 or 13 Western staff in the regional headquarters, and they hired Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean translators for their activities (SMP Files: D2527/45). In this situation, it was necessary to recruit local comrades who could speak local, Western, and/or Asian languages, so that the regional headquarters in Shanghai could construct and maintain its network in linguistically diverse East and Southeast Asia.

But having multilinguistic ability alone was not enough to make one a regional facilitator. In the 1920s and 1930s, communist movements in East and Southeast Asia operated under severe conditions. States and colonial governments in the region, considering communist movements to be threats to their rule, tightly monitored and suppressed their activities. Thus, to conduct underground work successfully, it was crucial for the communists to have knowledge and skill on how to conceal their real identities, penetrate other countries, make secret contacts with other comrades, elude surveillance and arrest, and so on. Such knowledge and skill could be obtained only through actual experience of underground activities in the region.

Comrades who had been involved in communist movements not only in their own country but also in neighboring countries gained some ability in the languages used in these movements, and they forged links with local communists in the region. Moreover, they were acquainted with the situations faced by local communist movements. In the course of their careers, therefore, these comrades became regional hubs in the communist movements of East and Southeast Asia. The availability of these comrades as regional facilitators was crucial for the regional headquarters in Shanghai in making, maintaining, and reconstructing its regional network.

For example, when the Shanghai regional headquarters’ links with communist movements were disconnected as a result of severe crackdowns by the police in each state or colony, or when the regional headquarters tried to expand its liaisons in the region, it had to rely on links and knowledge provided by regional facilitators, who could also be dispatched as agents to the state or region.

Around 1930, several regional facilitators were available for constructing and maintaining the regional network promoted by the regional headquarters in Shanghai. They were Tan Malaka, Teo Yuen Foo (張然和), and especially Nguyen Ai Quoc.

Tan Malaka4) was a famous Javanese communist in the 1920s and 1930s. He traveled between the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya, the Philippines, and China and could speak Indonesian, Javanese, Dutch, English, German, French, Thai, Tagalog, and Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien). He insisted on cooperation among revolutionary movements in Asia, especially among those operating in the Dutch East Indies, American Philippines, and British Malaya. In 1931, when he was in Shanghai, the regional headquarters had a plan to send him to Rangoon as an agent to set up a liaison center there. This liaison center would be a connecting point between India and the Dutch East Indies (McVey 2006, 223; SMP Files: D2527/45).

Teo Yuen Foo was a former member of the Indonesian Communist Party and took part in the uprising against Dutch rule in Java in 1926. After the failure of the uprising, in 1927 he went to Shanghai to study. He could speak Chinese, English, Malay, and Javanese. He was recruited by Nguyen Ai Quoc as an agent because of his language skills and experience in the region. He was dispatched to Southeast Asia in 1931 by the regional headquarters in Shanghai, with the mission of setting up the Dutch East Indies Bureau and then establishing a liaison between it and the Far Eastern Bureau in Shanghai (Yong 1997, 163; Goscha 1999, 83).

Nguyen Ai Quoc was undoubtedly one of the most famous Asian communists in the 1920s and 1930s, with a reputation rivaling—if not surpassing—that of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong (毛沢東). “Nguyen Ai Quoc” was one of the aliases used by Nguyen Sinh Cung in his revolutionary career. In 1945 he became the first president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under the name of Ho Chi Minh. He was involved in communist movements in French Indochina, France, Moscow, Siam, Southern China, and British Malaya.5) He could speak Vietnamese, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), French, English, Russian, and Thai. When he worked in Canton in the mid-1920s, he tried to establish liaisons among radicals who opposed colonial or semi-colonial rule in Asia. After December 1929 he was based in Hong Kong and was involved in the establishment of the Vietnamese Communist Party (renamed the Indochinese Communist Party the same year), the Siamese Communist Party, and the Malayan Communist Party in 1930 as the representative of the Comintern. He was in charge of maintaining liaisons between Shanghai and communist movements in French Indochina and British Malaya (Goscha 1999, 76–82, 382; Duiker 2000, 122; Kurihara 2005, 55; SMP Files: D2527/45).

The above regional facilitators had multilingual capabilities, experience in local underground operations, and, especially in the cases of Tan Malaka and Nguyen Ai Quoc, a strong commitment to developing regional cooperation among comrades in East and Southeast Asia. They were indispensable not only for the regional network centered in Shanghai, but also for the activities conducted by the regional headquarters in Shanghai. The most important requirement for maintaining this regional network was to prevent them and staff of regional headquarters from being located and arrested by the police. But in 1931 this happened.

VI The Collapse of the Network in 1931

In 1931, the regional headquarters in Shanghai decided to dispatch three agents to Southeast Asia: Joseph Ducroux, alias Serge Lefranc; Wong Muk Han6) (黄木涵); and Teo Yuen Foo. Ducroux’s mission was to investigate communist movements in British Malaya, establish liaisons between the regional headquarters in Shanghai and the Malayan Communist Party Central, and make Singapore a liaison center for communist movements in Southeast Asia and British India. Wong was in charge of reorganizing communist movements in British Malaya, and Teo’s mission was as mentioned above (Yong 1997, 99, 163; Kurihara 2005, 135; SMP Files: D2527/45).

While Teo was not identified by the British Political Intelligence Services in 1931, Ducroux, together with Wong, was detected, monitored, and finally arrested by the Special Branch in Singapore on June 1. The Special Branch in Singapore obtained contact addresses in Shanghai and Hong Kong from seized documents, and it sent these addresses to the Special Branch both in the Royal Hong Kong Police and in the Shanghai Municipal Police. Based on information sent from Singapore, Nguyen Ai Quoc was arrested in Hong Kong on June 6. Hilaire Noulens and his wife, the OMS staff in the regional headquarters in Shanghai, were arrested in Shanghai on June 15 (Onimaru 2006).

After Mr. and Mrs. Noulens’s arrest, the Special Branch of the Shanghai Municipal Police seized documents that Mr. Noulens kept at various houses in Shanghai. And from these documents, the Special Branch was able to piece together information not only about the purposes, methods, and current status of international and regional communist movements in China, French Indochina, British Malaya, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippine islands, but also about communists and agents engaged in these activities. This information was shared with the relevant countries and colonies. For example, it resulted in the arrest of about 30 communist suspects in Japan (SMP Files: D2527/36; D2527/45).

At the time of the arrest of the Noulenses, Nguyen Ai Quoc, and Ducroux, there were links from Shanghai to French Indochina, Siam, and British Malaya via Nguyen Ai Quoc in Hong Kong. Ducroux had succeeded in forging a link with the liaison officer of the Malayan Communist Party. As for the Indonesian Communist Party, Teo was in charge of liaison making—but it was not clear whether he had succeeded or not. The true identity of the agent in charge of making links with the Philippine Communist Party was not known. He used the code name “Leon,” and it is known that he succeeded in contacting the Philippine Communist Party. Figure 2 shows the Shanghai-Southeast Asia liaison network in June 1931. Tan Malaka does not appear in this figure, but there was a plan to dispatch him to Rangoon for establishing links between India and Southeast Asia (SMP Files: D2527/45).


Fig. 2 The Comintern Network in Southeast Asia in June 1931

Notes: Dotted lines: Cities (Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore)

Gray lines: State or colonial territories (Siam, French Indochina, American Philippines, Dutch East Indies, and British Malaya)


From the network point of view, the severest impact of the arrests of Mr. and Mrs. Noulens and Nguyen was the collapse of the liaison network constructed from Shanghai to communist movements in the region. Both Mr. Noulens and Nguyen were hubs in this liaison network. When they were arrested, links they had established were cut off from the liaison network in East and Southeast Asia, and this caused the collapse, or at least default, of the network. For example, the communist movement in British Malaya was completely disconnected from Shanghai as a result of the arrests of Ducroux, Nguyen, and Mr. Noulens, and it suffered from a lack of funds (SSPPIJ Supplement No. 4 1932; Yong 1997, 164, 171).

Although Mr. Noulens and Nguyen Ai Quoc were both hubs in the network, their roles were different. The former became a hub as a liaison officer in the regional headquarters in Shanghai, and the latter became a hub as a regional facilitator. The former type of hubs could be interchangeable, because their links were attached to their roles as liaison officers and could be transferred to a successor. But the latter type of hubs were not interchangeable because they were not only hubs but also regional facilitators, and their links and abilities were acquired through their own careers in the region—so once they were no longer part of a network, it took time to find or develop a replacement. These differences in characteristics and roles led to differences in the impacts of Mr. Noulens’ and Nguyen Ai Quoc’s arrests on the network. Mr. Noulens’ untimely arrests prevented them from passing on their links and documents to their successor, but this in itself was not the most salient factor in the disabling of the regional headquarters in Shanghai. Nguyen Ai Quoc’s arrest was far more critical and had a far greater impact on the collapse of the network because he was an indispensable hub, not easily replaceable within the network.


In late 1920s and early 1930s, Shanghai was the center of the international and regional communist movements in East and Southeast Asia. Its extraterritoriality, its modern infrastructure, its substantial international community, its accessibility to and from other places, and its division of administrations made it the vital regional headquarters of the Comintern in Shanghai, the Far Eastern Bureau of the Comintern, and the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat. International and regional communist movements were enabled through liaisons between Shanghai and communist movements in the region. These liaisons were in turn connected mainly by agents and couriers using simple as well as sophisticated techniques for establishing contact with comrades. The international and regional communist network centered in Shanghai was crucial to the establishment of links among the staff in the regional headquarters in Shanghai, agents and couriers, and local communists in the region.

In constructing and maintaining this network, apart from couriers and agents, regional facilitators played quite important roles. Regional facilitators were comrades who had careers not only in their own countries but also in regional or international communist movements. Their experiences in and knowledge of the region, their links with local communists, and their multilinguistic abilities were indispensable for the regional headquarters in Shanghai in constructing and maintaining the regional network in East and especially Southeast Asia.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there were several regional facilitators who cooperated with the regional headquarters in Shanghai for its activities in the region. Those facilitators were Tan Malaka, Teo Yuen Foo, and Nguyen Ai Quoc; among them, Nguyen played the most important role as a hub in the regional network.

In 1931 the international and regional network centered in Shanghai collapsed as a result of waves of arrests in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. The arrest of Nguyen in Hong Kong, and of Mr. Noulens in Shanghai, was critical to the collapse or at least dysfunction of the network, because the removal of these hubs crippled the Asian communist and international network by simultaneously depriving it of its links to the regional headquarters of the Comintern in Shanghai and of its most important regional facilitator. The loss of Nguyen was arguably much more critical than the loss of Mr. Noulens for the regional network and communist movements, because regional facilitators such as Nguyen were not interchangeable and it would take a lot more time and effort to find, train, and deploy another facilitator of Nguyen’s talent and ability.

One might ask what similarities and differences can be detected between the network discussed in this paper, which existed almost 100 years ago, and other contemporary networks in this volume. One crucial difference is definitely to be found in the technologies available. A century ago, communists relied on steamships, railroads, telegraphs, and postal services for their communication. Nowadays all kinds of activists and politicians can use airplanes, mobile phones, and many kinds of information and communication technology to maintain rapid and regular contact with their comrades. These advanced technologies have moderated the centrality of cities in network building to some extent. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Comintern’s regional network in East and Southeast Asia was constructed from Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore because these major cities offered ready access to the most advanced forms of telecommunication and transportation technologies of the time. Now, certain failed or fragile states are favorable places to organize clandestine networks because network builders can avoid detection even as they construct their networks by utilizing advanced technologies. Technologies have transformed the ways of making links and the places in which to base networks. Yet there is one unchanged factor in both historical and contemporary networks, namely, the importance of human agency. Political networks, clandestine or otherwise, are organized, maintained, and transformed by human actors within them. A network often collapses when its key figures are arrested, lose interest in the network, or die. Thus, it is necessary to analyze political networks not only by utilizing the findings of network theories and analyses but also by focusing on actors who play important roles in the networks.

Accepted: January 21, 2016


This work was supported by JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research, numbers 18730115, 20730115, and 25101004. I would like to thank Ms. Saharu Yokoyama for making figures.


Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer, Aix-en-Provence, France Indochine, Gouvernement G1 Indo, 65560, 65561. Straits Settlements Police Political Intelligence Journal (SSPPIJ).

The National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD, USA. Shanghai Municipal Police Files (SMP Files), RG263.

The National Archives, Kew, London, UK. War Office Records. WO106/5814, “China Personalities Ducroux or Serge Lefranc.”

All About Shanghai: A Standard Guidebook. 1986. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press (originally published 1934).

Cheah, Boon Kheng. 1992. From PKI to the Comintern, 1924–1941: The Apprenticeship of the Malayan Communist Party. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program.

Duiker, William J. 2000. Ho Chi Minh: A Life. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Goscha, Christopher E. 1999. Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks of the Vietnamese Revolution, 1885–1954. Richmond: Curzon.

Hara Fujio 原不二夫. 2009. Mikan ni owatta kokusaikyoryoku: Maraya Kyosanto to Kyodaito 未完に終わった国際協力―マラヤ共産党と兄弟党 [Incomplete international cooperation of the Malayan Communist Party]. Tokyo: Fukyosha.

Kurihara Hirohide 栗原浩英. 2005. Kominterun Shisutemu to Indoshina Kyosanto コミンテルン・システムとインドシナ共産党 [The Indochinese Communist Party in the Comintern System]. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

McDermott, Kevin; and Agnew, Jeremy. 1996. The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin. London: Macmillan.

McKnight, David. 2002. Espionage and the Roots of the Cold War: The Conspiratorial Heritage. London: Frank Cass.

McVey, Ruth T. 2006. The Rise of Indonesian Communism. Jakarta: Equinox Publishing (originally published 1965).

Nishizato Tatsuo 西里竜夫. 1977. Kakumei no Shanhai de: Aru Nihonjin kyosantoin no kiroku 革命の上海で―ある日本人共産党員の記録 [In revolutionary Shanghai]. Tokyo: Nichu Shuppan.

Onimaru Takeshi 鬼丸武士. 2006. “Nu-ran Jiken”: Senkanki Ajia niokeru Kokusai Kyosanshugi undo to Igirisu teikoku chianiji shisutemu「ヌーラン事件」―戦間期アジアにおける国際共産主義運動とイギリス帝国治安維持システム [“Noulens Case”: International Communist movement and British security system in Asia]. Kokusai seiji 国際政治 [International relations] 146: 70–87.

Sergeant, Harriet. 1991. Shanghai. London: Jonathan Cape.

Sorge, Richard リヒアルト・ゾルゲ. 2003. Zoruge Jiken: Gokuchu shuki ゾルゲ事件―獄中手記 [Sorge Case: Memoirs written in a prison]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Stranahan, Patricia. 1998. Underground: The Shanghai Communist Party and the Politics of Survival, 1927–1937. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tachibana Takashi 立花隆. 1983. Nihon Kyosanto no kenkyu 日本共産党の研究 [Study of the Japanese Communist Party], Vol. 1. Tokyo: Kodansha.

Takahashi Kousuke 高橋孝助; and Furumaya Tadao 古厩忠夫, eds. 1995. Shanhai shi: Kyodaitoshi no keisei to hitobito no itonami 上海史―巨大都市の形成と人々の営み [History of Shanghai]. Tokyo: Toho Shoten.

Tan Malaka. 1979. Dari Pendjara Ke Pendjara [From jail to jail]. Translated by Noriaki Oshikawa. Tokyo: Rokusaisya.

Wakeman Jr., Frederic. 1996. Policing Shanghai 1927–1937. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Yong, C. F. 1997. The Origins of Malayan Communism. Singapore: South Seas Society.

1) One reason why Chinese police could not keep order was the existence of the International Settlement (Wakeman 1996, 8).

2) The French Concession played an important role in the founding of the party. The Provisional Government of Korea was also established in the French Concession in 1919.

3) They were Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Indochinese, Filipino, and Malay (mainly Indonesian) (Kurihara 2005, 56–57, 81–86).

4) This account of his activities and language skills is based on his memoir translated into Japanese by Noriaki Oshikawa (Tan 1979).

5) The account of his career is based on Duiker (2000).

6) Wong was born on Hainan island. He promoted communism in Penang and was a leading figure in communist movements in British Malaya during the late 1920s. He was arrested by the Straits Settlements Police in September 1929 and released and deported to China the following month. He was again arrested with Ducroux on June 1, 1931. He died in 1932 from ill health during his imprisonment in Singapore (Yong 1997, 99).