Current Book Reviews

Pacific Affairs accepts books for review from publishers and authors that have been published in the previous two years only. Our focus in on current political, economic and social issues affecting Asia and the Pacific Region. We do not review books on art, theatre or music. Please send review copies to the following address marked “For Review Only – No Commercial Value.”

While we will make every reasonable effort to review all books within our scope that are sent to us, we reserve the right not to review a book. We do not accept unsolicited book reviews.

Book Review Editor
Pacific Affairs
University of British Columbia
#376 – 1855 West Mall
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Volume 91, No. 1, March 2018

Asia General

Nuclear Debates in Asia: The Role of Geopolitics and Domestic Processes. Edited by Mike M. Mochizuki and Deepa M. Ollapally. Reviewed by John P. DiMoia

Smart Diplomacy: Exploring China-India Synergy. By P S Suryanarayana; foreword by Ambassador Tommy Koh. Reviewed by Jiye Kim

Dictators and their Secret Police: Coercive Institutions and State Violence. By Sheena Chestnut Greitens. Reviewed by Patrick Hein

Coalitions of the Well-Being: How Electoral Rulesand Ethnic Politics Shape Health Policy in Developing Countries. By Joel Sawat Selway. Reviewed by Gavin W. Jones

Chinese Encounters in Southeast Asia: How People, Money, and Ideas from China Are Changing a Region. Edited by Pál Nyíri and Danielle Tan; foreword by Wang Gungwu. Reviewed by Chih-yu Shih

Cultural Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Asia. Edited by Tiantian Zheng. Reviewed by Jesook Song

The Value of Comparison. By Peter van der Veer; with a foreword by Thomas Gibson. Reviewed by Joseph S. Alter

Architects of Buddhist Leisure: Socially Disengaged Buddhism in Asia’s Museums, Monuments, and Amusement Parks. By Justin Thomas McDaniel. Reviewed by Erik J. Hammerstrom

China and Inner Asia

Security Relations Between China and the European Union: From Convergence to Cooperation? Edited by Emil J. Kirchner, Thomas Christiansen, and Han Dorussen. Reviewed by Andrew Scobell

The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. By Daniel A. Bell. Reviewed by Paul M. Evans

Centrifugal Empire: Central-Local Relations in China. By Jae Ho Chung. Reviewed by Lior Rosenberg

Transforming Patriarchy: Chinese Families in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Gonçalo Santos and Stevan Harrell. Reviewed by Leslie K. Wang

Leftover Women: The resurgence of gender inequality in China. By Leta Hong Fincher. Reviewed by Bryna Goodman

China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road. By Tom Miller. Reviewed by Tai Wei Lim

Goddess on the Frontier: Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China. By Megan Bryson. Reviewed by C. Patterson Giersch

Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1964. By Wang Zheng. Reviewed by Wendy Larson

Traces of the Sage: Monument, Materiality, and the First Temple of Confucius. By James A. Flath. Reviewed by Thomas Wilson

Empire and the Meaning of Religion in Northeast Asia: Manchuria 1900–1945. By Thomas David DuBois. Reviewed by Victor Zatsepine

Northeast Asia

The Sublime Perversion of Capital: Marxist Theory and the Politics of History in Modern Japan. By Gavin Walker. Reviewed by Derek Hall

Women and Politics in Contemporary Japan. By Emma Dalton. Reviewed by Jackie F. Steele

Osaka Modern: The City in the Japanese Imaginary. By Michael P. Cronin. Reviewed by Tristan R. Grunow

Women in Japanese Cinema: Alternate Perspectives. By Tamae K. Prindle. Reviewed by Kathryn Hemmann

Manga Vision: Cultural and Communicative Perspectives. Edited by Sarah Pasfield-Neotifou and Cathy Sell, with manga artist Queenie Chan. Reviewed by James Welker

The Strategy for Korea’s Economic Success. By Hwy-Chang Moon. Reviewed by Wankeun Oh

Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea. By Eunjung Kim. Reviewed by Celeste L. Arrington

Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Music. Edited by Hyunjoon Shin and Seung-Ah Lee. Reviewed by Hyung-Gu Lynn

North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground Is Transforming a Closed Society. By Jieun Baek. Reviewed by Steven Denney

South Asia and the Himalayas

Space, Planning and Everyday Contestations in Delhi. Edited by Surajit Chakravarty and Rohit Negi. Reviewed by Sanjeev Routray

Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance. By Ajay Skaria. Reviewed by Uday Chandra

Southeast Asia

Religion and Nationalism in Southeast Asia. By Joseph Chinyong Liow. Reviewed by Michael D. Barr

The Rise of China and the Chinese Overseas: A Study of Beijing’s Changing Policy in Southeast Asia and Beyond. By Leo Suryadinata. Reviewed by Amy Freedman

Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation. By Vicente L. Rafael. Reviewed by William B. Noseworthy

Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema. By Arnika Fuhrmann. Reviewed by David Teh

Of Beggars and Buddhas: The Politics of Humor in the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand. By Katherine A. Bowie. Reviewed by Susan M. Darlington

Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok. By Michael Herzfeld. Reviewed by Charles Keyes

Hamka’s Great Story: A Master Writer’s Vision of Islam for Modern Indonesia. By James R. Rush. Reviewed by Abidin Kusno

Tropical Renditions: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America. By Christine Bacareza Balance. Reviewed by Victor Bascara

Australasia and the Pacific Islands

Resilience and Growth in the Small States of the Pacific. Edited by Hoe Ee Khor, Roger P. Kronenberg, and Patrizia Tumbarello. Reviewed by Penelope Schoeffel

Domination and Resistance: The United States and the Marshall Islands during the Cold War. By Martha Smith-Norris. Reviewed by Sylvia C. Frain

Gender Violence & Human Rights: Seeking Justice in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Edited by Aletta Biersack, Margaret Jolly, and Martha Macintyre. Reviewed by Barbara Andersen

Transformations of Gender in Melanesia. Edited by Martha Macintyre and Ceridwen Spark. Reviewed by Barbara Andersen

Tides of Innovation in Oceania: Value, materiality and place. Edited by Elisabetta Gnecchi-Ruscone and Anna Paini. Reviewed by Rodolfo Maggio

Touring Pacific Cultures. Edited by Kalissa Alexeyeff and John Taylor. Reviewed by Shirley Campbell

Trees, Knots, and Outriggers: Environmental Knowledge in the Northeast Kula Ring. By Frederick H. Damon. Reviewed by Susanne Kuehling

Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology. By Karin Amimoto Ingersoll. Reviewed by Tui Nicola Clery

Documentary Film Reviews

Tokyo Idols. Directed by Kyoko Miyake, produced by Felix Matschke, Bob Moore, and Kyoko Miyake. Reviewed by Lindsay Nelson

People are the Sky. Directed and produced by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson. Reviewed by Robert Oppenheim

Forgetting Vietnam. Directed by Trinh T. Minh-ha, produced by Jean-Paul Bourdier. Reviewed by Van Nguyen-Marshall

NUCLEAR DEBATES IN ASIA: The Role of Geopolitics and Domestic Processes. Edited by Mike M. Mochizuki and Deepa M. Ollapally. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. x, 277 pp. (Illustrations.) US$85.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-4422-4699-7.

The debate over nuclear power in the East, South, and Southeast Asian regions encompasses a wide range of associations. The topics range from the triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and reactor explosion) at Fukushima in March 2011, to a rich, earlier history, involving various post-colonial efforts to harness atomic power for a combination of symbolic, industrial, and military purposes. The eclectic nature of these distinct efforts might seem to mitigate against any general account for the region, but the ambitions of the volume under review lie precisely in this direction, seeking to bring coherence to a cluster of national and regional stories. More specifically, Nuclear Debates in Asia: The Role of Geopolitics and Domestic Processes, edited by Mike Mochizuki and Deepa Ollapally of George Washington University, aims to place domestic and international tensions in conversation with each other, seeking to model and better understand the complex processes by which states make difficult choices about their energy and security concerns.

In her introduction, Ollapally positions these tensions at the project’s centre, outlining the shared concerns of the authors. The project originated at a workshop that took place in 2014 at Vietnam National University in Hanoi. This bears mentioning here as the volume derives its aims from an explicitly political science framework, with an emphasis on security studies, and equally, seeks to do so by adopting a consciously “Asian” standpoint, considering the diverse motivations and strategies influencing the behaviour of a cluster of actors, ranging from the major investors (China, India, Japan) with a larger stake in nuclear power, to relatively new participants, here meaning aspirants such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Uniting these diverse actors is a set of questions tied to the significance of external factors for studying the choices made by a state, as opposed to the corresponding attention paid to a set of internal or domestic concerns. On this point, Ollapolly emphasizes that the role of external factors no longer proves sufficient as an explanation in itself, and with this gesture, the volume begins by adopting a skeptical approach to “the international lens,” the traditional framing mechanism for addressing these types of security concerns.

The literature review framing this central issue notes the prominent role of China within the larger region, and draws from this an assumption about China’s possible effects upon its neighbours, especially in terms of raising new security problems for East and Southeast Asia. Specifically, the volume brings up China’s increasing claims to portions of the South China Sea, along with a more general willingness to assert itself corresponding to its perceived rise in economic and political status. In contrast to this suggestive narrative of conflict, however, Ollapally argues that domestic debates for China’s neighbours are not driven exclusively by a need to respond to this aggressive style of behaviour, and here she critiques the neorealist position, along with power transition theory. In prioritizing a much larger role for domestic factors, Ollapally offers a means of disaggregating the state, appealing to analyses of its constituent actors at a much more fine-grained level, even while acknowledging the significant role of state elites within policy making.

For the domestic programs, the perceived link between the acquisition of nuclear power, at least in some capacity, and the turn to a military option, therefore appears as an open question. This is an important starting point, as it allows for a much wider range of possible explanations for a nation’s interest in the nuclear, bringing in not only state considerations, but also energy needs, civil society actors, and air pollution, and the relationships between these factors. If historians have long pointed to the lack of a necessary link between a nuclear energy program per se and issues of proliferation or military use, it is useful to find this claim mobilized explicitly within a security framework; and in fact, Ollapally underscores the thematic, noting that “the limited research on potential versus actual nuclear proliferation shows there is no automatic link” (9). In turn, this issue relates to the volume’s project of classifying its case studies according to three clusters or approaches, comprising a spectrum—realist, nationalist, and globalist—with these categories standing as descriptors for attitudes towards adopting certain technologies, and determining how to use them appropriately.

With this set-up, the volume proceeds through its cases, organized according to the oldest and more significant actors (China, India, and Japan, covering chapters 2–4), before turning to those with a moderate investment (South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, chapters 5–7), and finally, to the most recent examples, here including ASEAN nations (Thailand, chapter 8) and Pakistan (chapter 9). The spectrum mentioned previously allows for a high degree of play between its three categories, meaning that the classification scheme is not rigidly imposed, and rather, seeks to encourage some degree of blurring or complicating of individual behaviours and choices. At its strongest, the volume provides new insights into national programs and the interplay of regional factors, with a finer degree of shading in its characterizations. Hui Zhang’s China, for example, receives detailed consideration at both the level of its energy needs and its military ambitions, placing these seemingly disparate issues in the context of a need to respond to international institutions. In this respect, China ultimately receives a label of “realist-globalist,” juxtaposing its domestic concerns with international responsiveness.

Although of interest primarily to political scientists and those with a security studies focus in particular, Nuclear Debates in Asia provides a thorough introduction to the region and its nuclear concerns, potentially appealing to the historian, and perhaps even to the historian of science. Area specialists will also find much of interest, although the cases might need a supplement for use beyond the introductory level, and the inclusion of Southeast Asia (chapter 8) proves especially interesting as a new research area. At its core, the volume offers a fresh rejoinder to the established wisdom on many of these issues, and in this respect, points the way towards potentially challenging a primarily Americanist, prescriptive approach to the nuclear issue. If the characterization of Pakistan (chapter 9) as exceptional illustrates the difficulty of breaking free from an older mindset, the volume nonetheless aspires to do much more, bringing its questions to bear upon new countries and their internal politics, and balancing these factors with considerable attention to regional concerns.

John P. DiMoia, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany


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SMART DIPLOMACY: Exploring China-India Synergy. By P.S. Suryanarayana; foreword by Ambassador Tommy Koh. Hackensack, NJ: World Century Publishing Corporation; Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. [distributor], 2016. xii, 317 pp. US$132.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-9338134-68-5.

This book addresses a question critical to the present security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region: How can the world’s two most populous and fastest growing neighbours, both possessing nuclear capacity, rise in a peaceful manner? P.S. Suryanarayana predicts that a “Sino-Indian Smart Zone” will appear, and provide a “‘virtual’-mindscape of ideas and practices in politics, economics, as well as science and technology” (1–2). Throughout the book the author keenly observes the driving forces of “China-India synergy” (68) and suggests a broader framework for analyzing the rise of these two actors in the Asia-Pacific, and more importantly, their stable bilateral relations. Suryanarayana argues that “the real determinant of the future of both China and India … will be how they capitalise on their respective national genius at every stage of development” (8) over issues critical to both states, such as population, bridging the income gap, and external threat (9). While he addresses the realistic challenges to pursuing synergies between China and India, the author focuses on the notion of “smart power,” goals pursued by both states that do not call for compromises over their respective interests (71). From the author’s point of view, finding the subject of smart power is the significant factor in smart diplomacy, and eventually creates China-India synergy.

In chapter 1, Suryanarayana provides a comparative analysis of China and India in the areas of politics, economy, military, and foreign relations. In chapter 2, he establishes whether two or more states with different politico-economic systems can remain at peace. “Norms will ensure” the co-existence (80), therefore the “Sino-Indian Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” (Panchsheel in Indian parlance) enunciated in 1954 are the basis of diplomatic synergy between China and India (78). The author illustrates that the shared principles of Panchsheel, including non-interference and respecting one another’s territorial integrity, enable China, under the community party rule, and India, under a multi-party democratic system, to remain ideologically at peace.

The author finds the source of China-India synergy not only in shared norms and ideologies, but also in the practical interests of the two states. In chapter 3, the author underscores the common interests of the two countries on regional and global issues, such as the environment and Pakistan-originated terrorism (117). Counter-terrorism is again discussed as a realm of possible cooperation between the two states in chapter 4 (184). The author also fully covers existential threats between China and India, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China-Pakistan collaboration on nuclear and missile development, the Sino-Indian border dispute as well as different perspectives on Tibet. The author argues that none of these issues stand completely alone. In other words, issues are sometimes negotiable because there is an “apparent milieu of Sino-Indian reciprocity of ‘responsible’ attitudes” (154); for example, New Delhi and Beijing maintain neutrality on Tibet and Kashmir, respectively, so as not to unnecessarily escalate tensions.

The author’s one critical analytic contribution can be found in chapter 4. From a geopolitical approach, Suryanarayana interestingly discusses Russia, for which “Sino-Indian competition partly accounts” (167). He points out Russia’s close bilateral ties with China, India, and even with Pakistan, and increasing concerns by these three countries regarding the formation of an unfavourable power balance against them. Suryanarayana views this situation as “competition between India and China for Russia’s friendship” (208). The significance of the Russia factor is keenly observed as far as Sino-Indian relations are concerned. However, the author does not further extend the discussion on Russia to Russia’s possible leadership in BRICS and the institutionalization of Russia-China-India relations. In chapters 5 and 6, the author provides evidence from historical and contemporary diplomatic anecdotes advocating China and India’s peaceful coexistence.

Suryanarayana’s approach to the subject matter of China-India diplomatic synergy is heavily policy-oriented, and well-supported by policy sources. The book traces the trajectory of remarks and actions by Chinese and Indian decision-makers by collecting primary and, more uniquely, internal sources from historical and contemporary records. Personal correspondence between relevant Chinese and Indian personnel and Suryanarayana further deepens the credibility of the book’s analysis. For example, the author’s private source of information enables him to suggest a military-security dimension of China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) project (131) that has been far less discussed compared to the economic expectations of OBOR.

Also worth mentioning here is Suryanarayana’s conceptualization of the “Asian Security Council” (224). In his book, the author primarily examines bilateral issues between China and India, and finds a way to sustain stability in their relations by synergising their respective national interests through smart diplomacy. Beyond the bilateral level of analysis, he also brings great power politics into the discussion and explains where and how the great powers, particularly the United States, can be positioned in the era of co-rising China and India (chapters 1 and 4). He further predicts the impact of China-India synergy on the current world order (73), and possibly in a “new consultative-forum” called the “Asian Security Council,” which is conceptualized and advocated in the book (224). The “Asian Security Council” indeed appears to be more progressive than an “Asian Concert” (224). An “Asian Concert” is created and governed by powerful actors, but the “Asian Security Council” would be based on inter-regionalism that includes the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which are respectively influenced by China, India, and “plurality” (225). Follow-up research should examine not only US strategy toward the changing nature of China-India relations, but also the responses of small and medium actors to the expected changes brought forward by this smart synergy.

Jiye Kim, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India


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DICTATORS AND THEIR SECRET POLICE: Coercive Institutions and State Violence. Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute; Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics. By Sheena Chestnut Greitens. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. xix, 324 pp. (Illustrations, maps.) US$99.99, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-13984-8.

In this voluminous study the author tries to develop a general theory to explain the institutionalized coercive use of force in dictatorships across cultures and over extended time periods. The key point of interest that informs this study is the relationship between coercive institutional mechanisms and levels of repression and state violence. To put it differently, the author wants to shed light on the institutional dynamics that shape the use of violence and the consequences citizens experience as a result of these policies. Theoretically, the author draws from institutional and threat perception models to embed her argument. She discards other models such as “path dependence” and “external influence” because, according to her, these theories cannot account for institutional variations in state violence (295).

Drawing on numerous examples from dictatorships around the world, with a special focus on the three case studies of Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea, the author posits that dictatorships face a “coercive dilemma” (12). Based on the threats dictators face when gaining power, they have two strategic choices: either build up a unitary and inclusive secret police force to monitor, prevent, or repress mass protest, or build up a more aggressive but disparate and segmented secret repressive apparatus to foil possible coups by rival internal elites. The author contends that dictators can only focus their energies on one of those two threats (4). In contrast to conventional studies that predict the massive use of violence to deter and contain possible mass protests, the author asserts that the existence of a fragmented and exclusive security apparatus is more likely to spread and sustain state violence than the existence of a unitary secret force organization for two reasons: namely, the organizational inability to gather intelligence information in an effective way and the higher occurence of incentives for state violence because the fragmented security agencies operate in parallel and compete with each other in persecuting opponents triggered by internal competition along divisive security lines (12). In the empirical part of her analysis, the author explores the different ways that dictators have organized their coercive apparatuses, using the examples of Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos, and South Korea under Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. She demonstrates that institutional choices unequivocally shape the violence used against citizens. This phenomenon explains, for instance, why violence in Taiwan dropped over the course of the 1950s, but rose steadily in the Philippines under Marcos. By contrast, South Korea experienced two opposite patterns of state violence under Park and Chun: whereas Park relied on a more exclusive and fragmented security apparatus, Chun unified the apparatus, which resulted in lower levels of violence.

The author extends her findings to other regions of the world by exploring the situation in Chile under Pinochet and the situation of East Germany. It is difficult, however, to imagine how these two examples could possibly reinforce the argument put forward in the book. In Chile, for example, the author argues that a drop in violence can be explained by a reorganization of the security apparatus. A graph on page 272 showing the number of killed and arrested regime opponents underlines this drop. However, one could conversely argue that the drop in violence is related to the simple fact that after the first four initial months of the junta, when thousands of civilians had been murdered, jailed, killed, or had disappeared, there was no more opposition left as most opponents had been physically eliminated or removed from the streets. The case of East Germany is not convincing either. The author mentions correctly that the security apparatus did not respond with increased violence to popular unrest towards the end of the regime in 1989 (282). However, her theory cannot explain why the SED regime collapsed overnight. Indeed, evidence suggests that dictatorships crumble when support for the dictator falls apart and when the majority of citizens regard the regime as illegitimate. This is exactly what happened in East Germany when citizens lost their fear of the security apparatus and repression was no longer effective. The regime collapsed not because the Stasi was unitary and inclusive with a huge network of unofficial willing civilian informants, as the author suggests, but because it had become illegitimate and dysfunctional in the eyes of the citizens. There are several other cases which do not conform with the theoretical assumptions expressed in the study. Take, for example, North Korea: in the most enduring dictatorship in Asia, extreme state violence has been prominently used to purge internal high-ranking elites. Most of the 340 individuals executed since 2011 by the new ruler Kim Il Jong have been members of the inner power circle whilst executions of ordinary citizens have been the exception. Is there any reason to believe that the security apparatus is unitary and inclusive? If yes, how can this explain the high level of mistrust and violence against members of the inner circles? North Korea seems to put into disarray Greiten’s assumed link between institutional dynamics and the use of state violence against opponents. Another example which cannot be explained by Greiten’s framework is the repressive crackdown in Bahrain in 2011, which was underwritten by external actors. Finally, if we look at the situation in Syria, it becomes obvious that Assad’s repressive system has not only been extremely violent (two-thirds of all war crimes have reportedly been carried out by his troops) but also maintained unity, consistency, and pervasiveness among the security services since Assad’s election in the presidential referendum in 2000.

In addition, the study fails to account for and predict change: What makes seemingly stable dictatorships fail and what triggers their downfall? It is difficult to conceive how Greiten’s model can, for example, be applied to the 2011 revolution in Tunisia, when the army refused to shoot on protesters and President Ben Ali, whose security apparatus was deemed one of the strongest and most oppressive in the region, had to flee the country overnight.

In sum, if a theory cannot explain why levels of state violence vary or why state violence has become ineffective at a certain point in time, then it is an inadequate or incomplete theory. In the conclusion, the author herself reflects this lack of belief when she notes that “the answer lies at least partly in the coercive institutions” [italics added] (296). To put it differently, other non-institutional factors such as lack of public support and legitimacy, psychological concerns, or external factors should be taken into account when exploring why dictators use force, stop using force, and why they might fail at the end despite the use of force.

Patrick Hein, Ochanomizu National Women’s University, Tokyo, Japan


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COALITIONS OF THE WELL-BEING: How Electoral Rules and Ethnic Politics Shape Health Policy in Developing Countries. By Joel Sawat Selway. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. xiii, 292 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$103.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-10304-7.

This book aims to develop and test a socio-institutional theory of public goods provision that can explain the diversity of health and education outcomes in developing democracies. Arguing that electoral rules function differently in different kinds of societies, three dimensions of social structure are used to determine societal type: the diversity of ethnic groups, their economic equality, and their geographic distribution. The author argues that different arrangements of these three variables in combination with electoral rules will lead to different party-building and policy-making strategies than those asserted under existing electoral theory.

Chapters 3 and 4 develop and test a socio-institutional theory of public goods provision, focusing on low and high ethnic-salience countries. Existing institutional theories are most applicable in low ethnic-salience societies. Two features of electoral rules that affect public goods outcomes are the number of legislative seats per electoral district, and the formula which determines how votes are translated into seats (majoritarianism and proportional representation [PR]). In ethnically diverse societies, PR systems that pre-determine the legislative representation of each ethnic group prevent interethnic coordination. But if ethnic groups are geographically isolated (as in many African countries), first-past-the-post systems would be no better in inducing pre-electoral interethnic coordination. What can be done about this? Selway cites the example of Indonesia, where although ethnic and regional conflicts exist, ethnic-based and regional-based parties have not developed for a very simple reason: the electoral law has successfully avoided such dynamics through the electoral rules established for both legislative and presidential elections. These party-registration rules effectively force parties to be broad-based and multi-ethnic. Such rules will not necessarily work in every ethnically diverse society, but should work in those (like Indonesia and Nigeria) where ethnic groups are geographically concentrated in their own regions.

The core of the book is the chapters examining the provision of health care in several countries that vary along both the electoral-rule and social-structure dimensions of the theory. The key case studies are really those of Thailand and Mauritius, but other case studies are also developed in considerable detail: Botswana, New Zealand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Indonesia, all of them contributing in different ways to a testing of the theory developed in the first part of the book.

The Thailand case study is fascinating, the core of the analysis directed to understanding the remarkable shift from a highly wasteful expenditure of public health funds in the over-building of hospitals, purchase of over-priced medical supplies, and other forms of pork barrelling and rampant corruption, to the introduction of the universal health-care policy known as the “30-baht scheme” following the constitutional change of 1997. This constitutional change replaced a first-past-the-post system with a proportional representation system, which resulted in the replacement of a fractionalized multiparty system of narrowly oriented parties by an essentially two-party system of nationally oriented parties with independent policy-making capabilities. This led to much more detailed party platforms relating to aspects including health policy, in terms of description of the program, financing, and implementation. The benefits in terms of health outcomes were clearly evident.

The Mauritius case study is similarly detailed and insightful. In contrast to Thailand, Mauritius is an ethnically diverse society, with majoritarian electoral rules, both of which factors would normally be expected to work against effective public goods provision. However, it did not develop a narrow party system similar to pre-1997 Thailand, or an ethnicized party system as developed in Myanmar in its democratic period from 1948 to 1962. Mauritius outperforms Thailand comprehensively on just about every health outcome, a surprising performance, given that Thailand’s health performance is not so bad and that Mauritius is a more complex society. The national health system is so crucial to political success in Mauritius that politicians must pay careful attention to it. (The same was actually true of Thailand in the 1997 to 2006 period). Parties must be seen not only to be not harming the existing free and universal system, but as vigorously improving the system.

Though the book’s introduction promises to examine both health and educational outcomes, health outcomes are developed in much greater detail than educational outcomes. This is implicitly acknowledged in the title, where only health policy is mentioned, and also on p. 248, where it is acknowledged that education and other broad social programs might differ from health policies in ways that make them more difficult to change.

This reviewer is not a political scientist, and therefore not well placed to critique the political science aspects of the book, but can certainly comment favourably on the book’s analysis (using both quantitative and qualitative approaches) of the relationship of health outcomes to different electoral rules and ethnic situations. Just one quibble might be mentioned. In Malaysia, where the book appropriately lauds the remarkably good health outcomes on relatively modest health budgets, a political reason for the pro-poor health policy that is rather underplayed in the analysis is the ruling National Front’s reliance on a gerrymander giving much greater weight to rural electorates than to urban electorates. Since the rural Malay-dominated electorates in Peninsular Malaysia and the bumiputera-dominated electorates in East Malaysia are also the relatively poorest sections of the population, policies designed to satisfy this electorate will inevitably also be pro-poor.

As the author concludes, a one-size-fits-all institutional solution is inadequate for the rich variety of social structures in this world. More sophisticated analysis is needed in order to more accurately design rules for the variety of shortcomings faced by fledgling democracies. The promise of constitutional engineering is that if politicians are given the right incentives, perhaps we can put an end to bad governance. This would certainly have profound outcomes in terms of lowered mortality and improved public health.

Gavin W. Jones, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia


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CHINESE ENCOUNTERS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA: How People, Money, and Ideas from China Are Changing a Region. Edited by Pál Nyíri and Danielle Tan; foreword by Wang Gungwu. Seattle; London: University of Washington Press, 2016. xiii, 296 pp. (Tables, maps, B&W photos.) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-295-99930-2.

The humanities and social sciences identify, study, and represent people, their behaviour, and their relationality. However, there has not been sufficient reflection in the literature on how a group or a category of people can be identified as a target group to be studied and represented in certain ways. This ontological puzzle can be partially resolved by declaring the limited scope of the study. However, this still does not shed light on how a group of people can be intuitively selected and labelled as belonging to or representing that group. Scholars usually simply accept the existence of a group or take for granted the self-designated belonging to a group of people. Today, however, even people who could once understand their own identities may have to rethink them as the expansion of capital as well as the transnational flow of physical bodies, desires, and ideas are transforming relationality.

In Chinese Encounters in Southeast Asia: How People, Money, and Ideas from China Are Changing a Region, Pál Nyíri and Danielle Tan present eleven chapters that address the ways in which these conceptually difficult dynamics are playing out across China’s national borders, primarily amongst the subaltern Southeast Asian populations. The book claims that a study “on the ground” yields “better understanding of the realities,” (21) “which are not always in line with China’s policy goals and the intentions of various Chinese actors” (22). In fact, even the seemingly simple question of “who is Chinese?” can challenge the most experienced anthropologists in interactions with different generations of Chinese migrant cohorts and those crossing “restless borders” (5) in different time periods. Strategically retrieving, reconstructing, and sometimes resisting a particular kind of Chinese identity or a particular Chinese network simultaneously reconstitutes the self-knowledge of those initially considered non-Chinese. Hence, in “the Chinese political economy of ethnicity” (16), Chineseness can be socially acquired.

In his foreword to the book, Wang Gungwu, a renowned expert on Chinese Southeast Asians, points out several implications of this book. Wang argues that although the reality that “land borders may be no less open than maritime borders” has been “true for centuries,” it has been “neglected in the scholarly literature” (viii). In light of this, the main implications of this book are that it addresses a gap in the literature and provides empirical proof of the fluidity of “Chineseness.” It also strongly suggests that Chineseness has been fluid for long before China’s current rise. Furthermore, Wang is curious at how seemingly “positive growth” in combination with “developments that are strikingly negative” may either “consolidate the control for the young states” or “reinforce their boundaries” (ix). This echoes the worry that the Chinese or China can still serve as scapegoat, turning the image of a strong and fearless China upside down. He concludes by stating that the book “provides a view of what has become possible,” and calls for empirical research “matching the overseas Chinese roles to the larger story of rising Asia” (x). Thus, in my opinion, he implies a wish to dissolve “Chinese” as an analytically useful category.

In chapter 1, Pál Nyíri explores the political economy of Chinese ethnicity to explain the different nature of contemporary retransnationalization of Chinese Cambodians. In chapter 2, Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Weiqiang Lin record how new Chinese immigrants engender a sense of estrangement among Chinese Singaporeans. The story is different in chapter 3, where Hew Wai Weng depicts how pious Muslim Chinese become translocal via economic entrepreneurialism in Indonesia and Malaysia, thus transcending the traditional understanding of Chineseness in their cities of residence. Using the case study of Thai Chinese, Aranya Siriphon nonetheless reconfirms in chapter 4 that ethnicity is not sufficient for newcomers to establish guanxi, and thus benefit from the existing Chinese traders’ association. Caroline Grillot and Juan Zhang, in chapter 5, suggest that easy, though fragile, guanxi can emerge in the sex trade in Hekou. The chapter interprets how Chinese male businessmen enhance their masculinity in the face of Vietnamese partners by employing extremely submissive Vietnamese women who understand and skillfully meet their need for dominance.

Caroline S. Hau shows in chapter 6 that the story is equally, if not more, complex in the Philippines. Hau painstakingly moves between different levels of analysis to demonstrate the uneasy links between political-business alliances among elites and between nations, different generations of Chinese migrants, and the Chinese Mestizo, and Mestizo in general. Danielle Tan’s chapter 7 illustrates the capacity of the Lao government to discharge state functions to illicit “Chinese enclaves” in a peculiarly neo-liberal way through the inflow of Chinese private capital and public goods. In chapter 8, Kevin Woods reports a similar story in which Chinese investors enable the Burmese government to smooth the transition of ethnic strongmen to neo-liberal practitioners who, in cooperation with the government and crony companies, ironically impede global financial institutions.

Such ambiguously governed regions can result in the relaxing of environmental regulations, which, according to Oliver Hensengerth’s chapter 9 on water governance in the Mekong Basin, tempts the investing Chinese companies to disregard the higher international environmental standards. In chapter 10, Johanes Herlijanto presents the spread of a positive image of China in Indonesia that prompts the idea of learning from China. In chapter 11, Chris Lyttleton lists a number of affects that undergird Chinese influence everywhere in Southeast Asia that may by themselves generate desires for arguably myopic transformations.

The book’s provision of stories on the ground reminds the reader of the likely superficiality of most analyses that posit global and national parameters. However, readers may want to avoid over-romanticizing the agency of the subaltern actors introduced. Although larger forces cannot determine choices or prevent constant revising at the lower echelons, the strange alliance of neo-liberal and national discourses continues to overwhelm most of their alternatives.

Chih-yu Shih, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan


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CULTURAL POLITICS OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY IN CONTEMPORARY ASIA. Edited by Tiantian Zheng. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016. ix, 229 pp. (Figures.) US$69.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-5296-2.

This edited volume provides an interesting addition to the understanding of Asian gender and sexuality for ethnographic studies audiences. I appreciate that a substantial portion of the collection includes contributions by scholars from relatively marginalized locations, in terms of their affiliations with smaller-scale or teaching-centred academic institutions in the United States or scholars living and working outside of North America, such as Hong Kong and Cambodia.

Some chapters truly highlight the collection’s foci on agency and social institutions through their nuanced meaning making and engaged discussions with well-established arguments in the literature. For example, John Osburg’s chapter argues that elite nightlife is not simply a practice of hypermasculinity that utilizes the women involved as objects lacking agency, despite its appearance as “trafficking in women” among Chinese businessmen. Osburg’s chapter asserts, instead, that nightlife is a process of forming networks governed by codes of honour that consider the women involved as subjects, and that their own desires and motivations matter. In other words, the elite businessmen’s sense of status is not necessarily identified with the price paid for the “purchase” of the women’s services, but by subtle forms of value, such as fame, connections, and reputation that are confirmed by the depth of authentic affection from high-class girlfriends. While building on the work of anthropologists of gender and sexuality in China, the chapter’s reference point in analyzing nightlife is Anne Allison’s esteemed work on Japanese nightlife. Osburg departs from Allison’s analysis, however, on the measure of status and value through price by emphasizing the subtler forms outlined above. It also reveals the reflexive positionality of the author that the North American context is not used as a reference point for contextualizing the Chinese businessmen’s nightlife, as many Anglophone audience-centred ethnographies tend to do.

Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo and Tracy Royce’s chapter also deals with the issue of nightclubs, labelled BoySpace, in the context of a Thai society that allows both men and women to contest mainstream views of Thai masculinities and femininities. As with Osburg’s chapter, Hildago and Royce’s contribution highlights the agency of sex workers and clubbers in contesting Western media’s stereotyped representations of them, as coerced sexual labourers and exploitative patrons. Building on the well-established literature on Thai queer sexualities from both anthropology and queer studies, they put forward the particular nightclub contexts as another platform to deconstruct normative genders and sexualities.

Following the line of research that contests dominant media and social norms through the agency of gendered subjects, Heidi Hoefinger’s chapter features Khmer women who migrate from their hometowns to urban locations for work in the Cambodian entertainment industry. The chapter demonstrates that these women maneuver the material resources of men whom they are dating, rather than unilaterally being exploited by those men, and resist patriarchal social codes that require them to remain submissive. Grounded in the relevant literature on media and gender in Asia that points out the contradiction between an authoritarian regime and economic liberalism, the chapter concludes that the new female subjectivities in Cambodia are both complicit with those contradictory regimes and transgressive of them.

Aligned with the urge to deconstruct stereotypes of gendered and sexualized subjects, Xia Zhang’s chapter brilliantly reveals dimensions of stratifications of class and rural-urban division that intersect with formations of masculine identity. With a firm grasp of the enriched ethnography of China that deals with migrating subjects, urbanization, and notions implicit to class identification, such as suzhi (quality), the chapter steers away from simplistic understandings of male migrant manual workers as perpetual victims of an unprivileged economic and social status due to their displacement. It accomplishes this by illuminating the ways in which these workers construct a sense of self by reasserting their masculinity through pride in manual labour.

Other interesting chapters include the following. Despite the claimed focus of the volume, Kevin Carrico’s chapter on Chinese neotraditionalist desire and practices to attribute contemporary social problems to women—which he labels “misogynistic fantasy”—does not seem to center on a discussion of the agency of the women subjected to neotraditionalism. Perhaps Carrico’s point is rather to warn the reader of the danger of relying too much on “agency” for marginalized people who are subjected to social norms, especially in the discourse of balance in the yin-yang tradition where the neotraditionalist claims that tradition exerts value on women equally regardless of misogynistic practices. Ahmed Afzal’s chapter on Pakistani same-sex male relationships is well grounded in the ethnographic literature of South Asian sexualities and accurately points out the significance of adding Pakistani sexualities to the literature on South Asian sexualities.

Despite the contributions outlined above, there are some shortcomings in the volume. The length of each chapter is a bit too short to fully flesh out the contexts and problematics of the respective research issues. The importance of the state and political economy, emphasized in the introduction, is not given as much attention in most chapters, which focus rather on the agency of subjects. Most of all, the volume begs the question of how it conceives and represents “Asia.” Despite its claim to address gender and sexuality in Asia, the collection predominantly centres on Chinese societies.

These drawbacks aside, the more nuanced chapters, reviewed above, are informative and useful for teaching about gender and sexuality in the discussed Asian societies, particularly for students at the undergraduate level.

Jesook Song, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada


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THE VALUE OF COMPARISON. The Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures. By Peter van der Veer; with a foreword by Thomas Gibson. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. xii, 192 pp. US$22.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6158-9.

It is uncommon to read a book at once solidly grounded in the fundamentals of anthropology, critically aware of some of the key problems with the discipline, and dynamically engaged with contemporary social and cultural theory. As the title of this insightful and thought-provoking book suggests, there continues to be great analytical value in comparative thinking about the nature and extent of social and cultural differences, but there are also critically important problems in conceptualizing how, why, and in relation to what kind of larger questions comparative research should be undertaken in the context of rapid globalization. Blurred distinctions caused by the movement of people, commodities, and ideas make comparisons more problematic but also more valuable, important, and insightful when done with rigour and sophistication.

As an anthropologist who has for many years studied religion and nationalism, and as a scholar whose work in South Asia has marked an important analytical shift toward the critical re-examination of essentialized analytical categories, here Peter van der Veer directly engages with a fundamental problem in comparative “cross-cultural” research: how to reconcile relativism and historical constructivism with analytical “generalization”—the process of gaining a better perspective on the larger whole—without essentializing important social, cultural, and historical differences.

To avoid the problematic essentialism of contrived binarism—local and global, individual and society, agency and structure—and methodological reifications attendant on these contrasts, van der Veer suggests that “fragments” can provide a useful framework for comparative analysis. While difficult to identify and define in abstract terms, a fragment may be conceptualized as a phenomenon, either a material thing or an institutionalized idea, that highlights the complexity of intersecting realities and domains of experience. Thus, commodities such as tea and opium are fragments that provide critical insight on the dynamic, inherently unstable interplay of cultural meaning in relation to trade, colonial history, emergent state boundaries, and modes of production, as well as globalizing forms of power more generally.

Fragments break down cultural preconceptions in analytically productive ways, producing critical insight on social relations and institutionalized systems of meaning—such as religion, ethnicity, and nationalism—by provoking questions that challenge fundamental assumptions. Building on this logic, the book is divided into three parts, each comprised of two chapters. The Fragment and the Whole introduces comparison—a “double act of reflection” (29) rather than a binary, two-dimensional juxtaposition—to problematize the anthropological concept of holism, and uses markets and money to fragment preconceptions concerning the logic of rational choice. Civilization and Comparison shows how value-laden cultural constructions of civilization and civil society are fragmented by discrete modes of exclusion. Here van der Veer effectively shows how we can better understand the nature of civilization in relation to the historical production of “Muslims” as a different kind of stranger in Western Europe, China, and India. Comparing Exclusion further develops an argument concerning the contingency of modernity’s reification of nations, nationalism, and religious communities by problematizing the binary structure of state vs. non-state formations in Southeast Asia. This is followed by a concluding chapter that very effectively and provocatively uses garbage and sanitation as “fragments” within the purvey of state systems of public management and civil society to help us better understand the dynamics of poverty, care, and “civic responsibility” in India and China.

Van der Veer’s analysis reminds us of the fundamental value of a critical, anthropological perspective, that necessarily works from within the inherent modernity of social science, to question basic assumptions concerning the “natural” integrity of constructs such as the individual as a rational actor, the cultural heritage of nations, the preemptive social legitimacy of states, and the cultural integrity of “religious” identities. Not only do analyses of fragments—commodities, identities, ethnicities, state institutions—reveal the ideological structure of these constructs, such analyses provoke interesting and important questions concerning the social and cultural dynamic of fragmentary wholes that do not conform to the hegemonic holism of global modernity and rational synthesis.

Considering what strikes me as the development and articulation of a very useful approach, one is, nevertheless, left with the question of what constitutes a fragment as clearly distinct from something that is neither a fragment nor fragmentary. Or at least that is a question that is likely to be posed by those—even some anthropologists—who seek stable, unambiguously demarcated and easily translatable terminologies that work within established frameworks of certainty. The best answer to this question is that fragments are made, they are not discovered. The making of fragments, very different from the production of synthetic wholes, entails adroit perceptivity, a chronically critical analytical attitude and, perhaps most significantly, intellectual sophistication. Anything can be analyzed as a fragment, and it is a matter of persuasive argumentation that makes the case for doing so either convincing or not.

Self-consciously intent on fragmenting certainty, Peter van der Veer makes a very convincing case for the productive instability and provocative inconclusiveness of definitive conclusions. As all good books do, this one opens outward to suggest as many questions as it answers. It is most certainly a book that should be read by scholars who engage—either explicitly or implicitly; consciously, unconsciously, and sometimes blindly, with the focused confidence of their categorical convictions—in the comparative analysis of social and cultural difference.

Joseph S. Alter, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, USA


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ARCHITECTS OF BUDDHIST LEISURE: Socially Disengaged Buddhism in Asia’s Museums, Monuments, and Amusement Parks. Contemporary Buddhism. By Justin Thomas McDaniel. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017. xiv, 224 pp. (Illustrations.) US$68.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-6598-6.

In the past century, Buddhists have created a wide array of amusement parks, museums, and other sites for their leisure around the world. They range from the solemn to the kitsch, but regardless of their aesthetic quality, the prevalence and scale of these sites should make them hard to ignore. For example, as the author notes, twenty-six of the world’s thirty tallest statues are Buddhist. However, despite their size and number, sites of Buddhist leisure have been overlooked in the field of Buddhist studies. Since its appearance, the academic study of Buddhism, in both Asia and the West, has emphasized philosophy and philology. There are many reasons for this, including the traditional privileging of the ascetic and the doctrinal within Buddhism itself, as well as the impact of Western colonialism on scholarship on Buddhism. Starting in the 1980s, the cultural turn that swept through the humanities and social sciences began to broaden the scope of Buddhist studies to include cultural, practical, and quotidian elements of the tradition, but until now there was no full study of the leisure activities that Buddhists engage in as Buddhists.

In some ways this book follows the direction of McDaniel’s first book, which examined lived Thai Buddhism, focusing on the central role that ghosts and magic play in the tradition. In this new, more globally focused book, he has once again sought to account for phenomena that are widespread within contemporary Buddhism, but which have otherwise been overlooked. Architects of Buddhist Leisure examines Buddhist leisure spaces around the world, describing how they are conceived, constructed, and repurposed. The author has visited many such sites, and although he focuses on sites in Nepal, Thailand, and Singapore, he also discusses ones in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and even Avery Island, Louisiana, home to the McIlhenny Company, the makers of Tabasco Sauce. McDaniel loosely classifies these sites as 1) monuments/memorials, 2) historical, educational, and amusement parks, or 3) museums. These three categories also serve as the basic structure for the book, which is composed of three main chapters sandwiched between the usual introduction and conclusion. Each chapter begins with a short vignette describing the author’s visit to a site of Buddhist leisure, before launching into a detailed study of another specific site, or related series of sites. Chapter 1 focuses on the development of a large pilgrimage area at the Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal, chapter 2 treats several sites of “Buddhist Spectacle Culture” constructed in Thailand by the wealthy Sino-Thai couple of Lek and Braphai Wiriyapan, and chapter 3 analyzes an ecumenical Buddhist museum created in Singapore by the Chinese monk Shi Fazhao. Each chapter balances moderately dense descriptions of the sites with discussions of their histories, creators, and designers, and the varied uses to which they are put by their visitors. McDaniel employs art and architectural history, anthropological theory, and narratives of the economic conditions at each site. The tone of his discussions, while always academic, can be quite lively as he provides readers with plenty of detail to keep them engaged.

In his analysis of these sites, McDaniel is particularly interested in the ways in which they serve to create a specific kind of “public.” He notes that studies of public space in the West have tended to exclude religious spaces, largely because churches and synagogues are usually private spaces requiring active participation by those who enter. Buddhist sites, however, do not necessarily require such active participation. As a result, spaces of Buddhist leisure have a different relationship to both Buddhism and the public. Although all of the sites discussed in the book are Buddhist in some way, they are often far removed from the formal doctrines and institutions of that tradition. Most of these sites contain no monasteries, and they house few or no clergy. Most of the sites were designed, created, and promoted by non-monastics with little doctrinal training in Buddhism, and as such they provide the location for a kind of Buddhist activity that is “non-teleological and nonformal,” as opposed to what occurs in and around monasteries (15–17). McDaniel expands on this observation in the book’s conclusion, noting that, as public sites of leisure, these places have few formal or ritual boundaries. They rarely aspire to any kind of authenticity vis-à-vis the Buddhist tradition. Rather, these sites promote a global Buddhist ecumenism that had never really existed in history. The imagined Buddhism presented at these sites is universal and timeless, and often lacks references to specific Buddhist traditions. In some ways, this renders these sites “non-places”; they resist categorization. The lack of specificity also reflects the fact that the creators of some of these sites did not even have the promotion of Buddhism as a goal in constructing them (169–172).

Apart from these observations, McDaniel is hesitant to make sweeping claims about what these sites mean for our understanding of Buddhism, which, though academically responsible, means that many of the book’s greatest assets lie in its descriptions. McDaniel’s repeated emphasis on the many ways in which these sites are not Buddhist (in the vision of their planners, the content of their imagery, or in the demographics of their visitors) can occasionally leave the reader wondering why they should be called Buddhist at all. This ambiguity is central to the book’s overall position, however, and is meant as a corrective to the idea that Buddhism is an otherworldly religion focused solely on lonely meditation and personal attainment, or that it is primarily a religion of ordered monastic life. Instead, what one encounters here is a Buddhism that is vibrant, pleasurable, democratic, and difficult to define. In short, it is a Buddhism that many Buddhists around the world would recognize.

Erik Hammerstrom, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, USA


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SECURITY RELATIONS BETWEEN CHINA AND THE EUROPEAN UNION: From Convergence to Cooperation? Edited by Emil J. Kirchner, Thomas Christiansen, Han Dorussen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. xxii, 250 pp. (Tables.) US$99.99, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-14903-8.

A collaborative effort between Chinese and European scholars, this volume is useful in documenting the breadth of ties between the European Union (EU) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Ten substantive chapters on a wide range of topics—military-to-military relations (or “military security”), human security, cyber security, economic security, climate and energy security, regional conflicts, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and organized crime, civil protection, and migration—are bookended by an overview chapter and a conclusion.

This book underscores the reality that for decades the security relationship between Beijing and Brussels has tended to function as a wading pool: quite wide and adequate for getting wet but not deep enough for actual swimming. In other words, the relationship is suitable for conducting a range of Sino-European security interactions but with significant limitations on how in-depth any one of these can venture. Nevertheless, if the early months of the Donald J. Trump administration are indicative of a new trend in US security policy, the potential exists for building a deeper Euro-Chinese pool. But even if this were to occur, there are structural and normative limitations, as some contributors note. While the PRC is a single centralized state, the EU is a collection of individual states, each with its own foreign and defense policies. Second, as the three co-editors note in their introduction, Brussels and Beijing “have very different attitudes to key principles of inter-state relations” (1). Indeed, the PRC appears more comfortable in its relationships with other authoritarian states than it is with democracies. Moreover, while neither the EU nor China sees “the other side as a potential enemy or military threat” (1), each is formally or informally allied with a rival or adversary of the other, and these states—namely the United States and Russia—actually do pose military threats to the other security partner.

Consequently, to date the security relationship between China and the EU has been relatively modest overall. According to Simon Duke and Reuben Wong, “[t]hus far … the main venue for building military-to-military relations” between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the armed forces of EU countries has been in cooperation on anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden through the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction meetings in Bahrain (33). Of course, mil-mil interactions with China occur not between the EU per se but rather between the armed forces of individual European countries or between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the PLA.

A significant contribution of the volume is an insightful comparative analysis of Chinese views and approaches to security. This provides a welcome variation to the all-too-familiar treatments of China alone or the US-China comparison. Of particular interest are the chapters on nuclear proliferation, cyber security, and climate change. On the proliferation issue, the extent of China-EU cooperation has been significant and in at least one case—Iran—via the so-called P5+1 mechanism, to reach a nuclear agreement with Tehran in April 2015. On another daunting proliferation case—North Korea—authors Nicola Casarini and Xinning Song accurately observe that “the EU is essentially a bystander” (78).

Meanwhile, security in the cyber realm has become a significant and thorny global issue in which China’s role is highly problematic. Here, as in many other security areas, European and Chinese perspectives and strategies are at odds. The EU approach, according to Sebastian Bersick, George Christou, and Shen Yi, is “defensive, legal and resilience-focused” while China emphasizes “establishing cyber sovereignty” and prioritizes “security and control” rather than “rights, openness and freedom” (169). Consequently, the authors conclude that “prospects for deeper cooperation between the EU and China remain largely at the level of rhetoric rather than practice” (169).

Climate security is especially topical since the United States decided in June 2017 to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement. This development will test whether the potential of greater cooperation between Beijing and Brussels might become a reality. While there may be actual cooperation, more likely China will seek to leverage largely symbolic cooperation on this high-profile issue to score points at US expense. Nevertheless, there are built-in limitations on Beijing-Brussels cooperation based on normative and national security grounds. As Yan Bo, Katja Biedendopf, and Zhimin Chen note: “While the EU emphasizes the conflict multiplier implications of climate security, China focuses on the development angle” (113).

A welcome addition to the growing literature on China-EU relations, this volume also offers a fresh comparative approach to contemporary Chinese security affairs.

Andrew Scobell, RAND Corporation, Washington DC, USA


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THE CHINA MODEL: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. By Daniel A. Bell. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2015. xii, 318 pp. US$29.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-691-16645-2.

A genre-bending combination of Western and Confucian political philosophy, analysis of contemporary and historical China, and comparison across political systems, The China Model has already been widely reviewed in terms both glowing and disparaging. Written by a Canadian-born scholar well-travelled in Asia and North America, now a professor at Tsinghua University and the dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University, the book has rightly been described as thought provoking, insightful, illuminating, and infuriating.

Bell is a gadfly in the best sense of the word: here probing, preening, and promoting the concept of meritocracy in a way that certainly hits a nerve with liberals inside and outside China who have an unshakeable faith in the superiority of electoral democracy. Based on reviews of the Chinese translation, it has also hit a nerve in official China.

At the heart of the book is a sophisticated analysis of some enduring and fundamental political questions central to the Western experience since Plato: what makes for good leadership, how should leaders be selected, and how should inept ones be replaced?

Bell’s main focus is meritocracy as both an ideal and a reality in the Chinese political system, past and present. He starts from the premise (a) that China is doing some things very right in large part because of how it selects its leaders; and (b) that China can and should improve its system of selection and promotion that nevertheless has “a clear advantage over electoral democracies that leave the whole thing up to the whims of the people unconstrained by lessons of philosophy, history, and social science” (108).

While both admiring and intrigued by the Chinese philosophy and practices of merit, he does not shy away from problems in the Chinese political system including abuse of power, rising inequality and reduced social mobility, factional in-fighting, and harsh treatment of the CCP’s domestic critics and minority groups. Most importantly, he underlines the growing threat to its legitimacy that will require more participation, more democracy, freer speech, and more independent social organizations. Without this, it is “difficult for defenders of political meritocracy to counter the criticism that coercion lies at the heart of its political system” (197).

Rather than seeing these flaws as fatal to regime survival or prescribing a one-person, one-vote system, he makes the case for political reform involving more democracy at the bottom, experimentation in the middle, and strengthened meritocracy at the top. Teaser: he recommends that the Chinese Communist Party rename itself “The Union of Democratic Meritocrats,” (Minzhu xianneng lianmeng) (198), one of the ideas removed from the Chinese-language edition.

It is not necessary to agree with his analysis or sensibilities to appreciate a lucid discussion of the defects of both electoral democracy and the current Chinese system, his effort to find in Chinese traditions and philosophy a durable playbook for domestic rule, and an informed account of the practice and philosophy of such devices as the examination system.

As several critics have emphasized, the book moves back and forth between political philosophy and history, on the one hand, and political science on the other. As Andrew Nathan and others have pointed out, it is perplexing whether the book is about the myth, aspiration, and ideal of the Chinese system—an imaginary China—or its very different reality.

Looking beyond China, Bell identifies a crisis of governance in Western political systems “that has undermined blind faith in electoral democracy and opened the normative space for political alternatives” (3). It is worth noting that he wrote this even before the political rise of Donald Trump. This crisis may be worse in American-style presidential systems than Westminster-style parliamentary systems (the Canadian Senate and House of Lords are appointed, not elected). Singapore is high on his list of effective alternatives.

Whatever the durability and strengths of the distinctive blend of animating forces and specific practices of the Chinese system, it is very unlikely to serve as a model outside of China’s immediate neighbourhood even for a generation of millennials in Europe, North America, and elsewhere disillusioned by the performance of their own regimes.

Rather, Bell’s book is a sophisticated and sincerely empathetic corrective to the absolutism and triumphalism of an unquestioned faith in American-style electoral democracy. And in the Trump era it may even suggest some useful insights on how and why inept leaders can be replaced as well as a reminder of the damage they can do. We used to ask, “Would the world be a better place if China acted more like the United States?” For at least the moment, the answer is empathetically more negative.

I’ve thus placed The China Model on the list of twenty contemporary books that I recommend to senior students for provocative insights into contemporary China, books that raise fundamental questions about its internal dynamics and global significance. Bell’s book speaks to the possibilities and limits of understanding China from the inside out while using universal concepts and standards subject to incessant and informed debate. Also provided by the publisher are two appendices to the book, available free of charge at the publisher’s website. These are “Harmony in the World 2013: The Ideal and the Reality” ( and “A Conversation between a Communist and a Confucian” (

Paul Evans, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada


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CENTRIFUGAL EMPIRE: Central-Local Relations in China. By Jae Ho Chung. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. x, 216 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-231-17620-0.

Why is China, unlike other large countries, stuck on a highly centralized unitary governing system, instead of adopting a federal governing structure? What drives China’s perennial preoccupation with effective control over localities? These questions are at the heart of Centrifugal Empire, which seeks to “reconstruct, empirically, how the central leaders of the People’s Republic have thought about localities and gone about designing modes of local governance” (3). The book argues that central-local relations in the People’s Republic have been shaped not only by its leaders’ contemporary political-economic agendas (for example, centralization and ideological control during Mao’s era; marketization and decentralization during the reform period) but also by China’s long historical past: established modes of central-local relations and historical memory of the capacity of “centrifugal forces” to threaten and to topple rulers and divide the centre. Communist leaders, therefore, are “as preoccupied as their imperial predecessors with local governance and devote much effort in improving their capacity to control regions and provinces” (3).

The book’s chapters discuss various dynamics of central-local relations. Following an introduction to the book’s conceptual framework in chapter 1, the second chapter relates to the issue of decentralization. It begins with a discussion of the Mao era, which the author identifies as “an exception to China’s centrifugal tradition” (16). It then focuses on economic and non-economic aspects of decentralization during the reform period, and concludes that while local discretion has, overall, increased considerably in the economic realm, the centre still enjoys extensive commanding power in non-economic areas. Chapter 3 discusses institutional changes and continuities in the Chinese local administrative hierarchy. It provides an overall account of the evolution of China’s system of local governance, and discusses four cases of institutional changes at the sub-provincial level during the reform period: (1) creating deputy-provincial cities; (2) turning prefectures into prefecture-level cities; (3) changing counties into county-level cities; and (4) designating counties and county-level cities as urban districts.

Chapter 4 explores the evolution of the central state’s perception of the local state in the People’s Republic. At the heart of the discussion is a three-image typology of the local bureaucracy: the agent (localities performing as the centre’s loyal agents), the principal (localities defending their own interests as opposed to national or societal interests), and the representative (localities articulating and defending societal interests in the face of the central state). The chapter then elaborates on Beijing’s different perception of the various levels of the subnational government. Chapter 5 discusses four types of instruments which Beijing has devised/refined during the reform period to rein in its localities (i.e., prevention, investigation, rule changing, and suppression) and suggests that “the People’s Republic’s principal mode of local control resembles that of traditional China more than that of the pre-1949 revolutionary era” (12).

Chapter 6 probes the impact of policy characteristics on local discretion. It typifies policies by three categories: scope, nature, and level of urgency. Based on the investigation of six national policy cases, the author suggests that, “assuming that all other things (i.e., local assertiveness, patronage networks, and societal demands) are similar among the provinces, the level of local discretion actually permitted for implementation is likely to vary with different types of policy” (90). Chapter 7 focuses on the evolution of four types of policy instruments for mitigating regional disparities: (1) vertical resource support; (2) vertical policy support; (3) vertically-induced horizontal support networks; and (4) voluntarily-formed horizontal linkages. It argues that “whereas Beijing’s policy support and vertically-induced horizontal networks were important in the early phases of the reform era, the center’s resource support and voluntarily-formed lateral linkages have become increasingly crucial in recent years” (116). Chapter 8 elaborates on central-local dynamics and state-society relations, and assesses that, in the future, strong centrifugal forces will continue to stand up against the centre, “which will in turn resort to many of the traditional means of local control in addition to modern, innovative ones” (148).

Centrifugal Empire succeeds at achieving its stated goals. Meticulously researched, it provides a wide-ranging account of central-local dynamics and their evolution. It integrates theoretical debate and rich empirical research, and sheds light on aspects which have remained under-studied to date: notably, the institutional evolution of the local governing system, the role of horizontal networks in China’s development, and the striking resemblance between traditional and contemporary times. The book contributes to many contemporary debates and raises intriguing questions and speculations regarding China’s future. Doing so in a relatively short book is a great accomplishment. However, I felt that parts of the book were too concise, and could justifiably have been more detailed. I wish the author had addressed the following in a more systemic and detailed fashion. First, the role (if any) of political indoctrination in post-Mao China in shaping central-local dynamics (e.g., via the Party school system and Party cells). Second, how, and to what extent, do structural governance institutions, which bring together officials from different tiers of the governance system, impact dynamics of central-local relations? And third, I wished for a deeper exploration of the terminology that central leaders have used to refer to the local state and its evolution.

Nevertheless, Centrifugal Empire is an excellent book—one of the most comprehensive accounts published on China’s central-local relations, and an important contribution to the field. It is highly recommended and suitable for sinologists and non-sinologists alike. Students may find this book a useful guide and a good starting point for delving into the complex world of Chinese governance. And it is definitely the kind of book that specialists want to have on their shelves.

Lior Rosenberg, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel


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TRANSFORMING PATRIARCHY: Chinese Families in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Gonçalo Santos and Stevan Harrell. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017. ix, 301 pp. (Tables.) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-295-99982-1.

Is Chinese patriarchy over? This is the central question addressed in this thought-provoking volume, edited by Gonçalo Santos and Stevan Harrell. The book’s twelve chapters, which were all written by anthropologists, reflect the specific ways in which Chinese notions of marriage, family, and “traditional” gender norms have been significantly altered since the People’s Republic of China first opened up to the outside world in the late 1970s. Given the rapid changes brought about by market reforms, this volume is an important and timely contribution to the literature on Chinese gender relations and family life during this key era of economic development and globalization.

Because patriarchy is a broad term that must be considered within a historical and cultural context, this book categorizes China as a “classic” type involving “a hierarchical system of domestic relations that includes multiple intersecting structures of inequality including gender and generational inequalities, among others” (10). For centuries this system of male dominance derived its strength from a combination of economic, institutional, and ideological factors such as virilocality (women joining their husband’s family upon marriage), patrilineal inheritance, and the centralizing of power in the hands of senior male patriarchs. Historically, the sexes were kept separate and unequal by dividing their roles into dichotomies: inside/outside, heavy/light, and skilled/unskilled.

Even so, one must not assume that Chinese women have always been oppressed, powerless victims of circumstance. As Denise Kandiyoti famously discussed, throughout history women have been able to express individual agency, challenge structural limitations, and gain resources for themselves and their children through the use of “patriarchal bargains,” a concept that is extremely salient in today’s China. Undeniably, the rapid modernization of the economy and demographic transformations resulting from decades of fertility regulations have placed Chinese families in uncharted territory. This book primarily highlights changes that have occurred in the late-Reform era (mid-1990s on) in light of globalization, mass labour migration, urbanization, the expanding middle class, and the advent of the Internet. This begs the question: if China no longer fits the definition of classic patriarchy, then how should it be characterized?

The volume is organized into three main sections that address this question in rural areas, urban areas, and in spaces that use online/technological/commodified means. Many studies point to changing childbearing practices, particularly in regards to parental attitudes towards sons. Once the primary objective of Chinese parents, male offspring have become financial and emotional liabilities in an era of restricted childbearing, declining filial piety, and needing to pay for sons’ houses and weddings. Lihong Shi’s fascinating case study in a rural northeast village shows how parents increasingly prefer to have girls due to rising childrearing costs, declining beliefs about needing sons to continue the family line, and new views of sons as financial burdens rather than care providers. Despite young women’s newfound empowerment in this village, it is not enough to overturn societal ideologies of male dominance. Gonçalo Santos draws attention to changing generational relationships by examining issues related to rural grandparents who care for the millions of children left behind when their parents migrate to cities for work. Although the media frames absent parents—especially mothers—as neglectful, the chapter shows that families partition the work of parenting into different roles of breadwinning and caregiving that allow responsibilities to be split across space and family members.

Urban areas, not surprisingly, are also seeing drastic changes in gender and generational relations. Separate studies by Roberta Zavoretti and Elisabeth Engebretsen highlight transformations in heterosexual and lesbian-gay contract marriages respectively. Zavoretti traces the trajectory of one educated, middle-class woman in Nanjing through the process of dating, marriage, and eventually childbearing to show how everyday bargaining within the household can reproduce patriarchy even among affluent urbanites. Engebretsen’s intriguing study discusses how urban, educated lesbians and gay men meet online and undertake a “marriage of convenience” to relieve intense family pressure. Although this arrangement may seem like a sound strategy for LGBT individuals to please their parents and obtain more personal freedom, the author shows that persistent patriarchal ideologies that favour men create a situation in which women have more to lose if they pursue a fake marriage.

The book’s final section highlights how new technologies and commodified practices are being deployed to assist families with childbearing and eldercare. Notably, Kerstin Klein’s chapter on assisted reproductive technologies and sperm donation demonstrates the state’s intervention not just in the fertility, but also the infertility, of its citizens. While the fertility regulations have limited most people’s possibility of adopting a child, there are nonetheless stringent restrictions on sperm donors and total restrictions against obtaining donor eggs that prevent many couples from being able to have a child. The irony of this situation lies in the fact that these urban, educated, affluent prospective parents are exactly the ones upon whom the government depends to create a so-called “high quality” population.

Ultimately, all of these studies suggest that new, modern practices of gender and generation within families continue to coexist with long-standing patriarchal norms. The role of the state can’t be ignored, as it simultaneously encourages (and at times restricts) marriage and childbearing to enhance societal stability while also placing the burden of social security and eldercare onto individual families. The anthropological take on these issues is enlightening, but it would have been useful to incorporate other family and gender-related research emerging out of the fields of history, sociology, and law. Furthermore, the studies hint at globalization without truly engaging in the ways in which transnational actors, ideas, and practices are both flowing into and pulling people out of the country, in the process influencing new approaches to family. As China moves towards becoming the world’s most powerful economy, it is increasingly necessary to examine cross-border processes and interactions. Nonetheless, this volume is a treasure trove of useful, interesting, and in many ways groundbreaking material that will undoubtedly influence the next generation of Chinese gender and family scholars.

Leslie K. Wang, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, USA


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LEFTOVER WOMEN: The resurgence of gender inequality in China. Asian Arguments. By Leta Hong Fincher. London: Zed Books; Chicago: University of Chicago Press [distributor], 2016. 215 pp. (Figure) US$15.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-78360-789-1.

Leta Hong Fincher, a former journalist and daughter of China academics, is the first US citizen to earn a Tsinghua University doctorate in sociology. Her dissertation traced Chinese women’s de facto exclusion from the exponential wealth accumulation created by China’s expansive urban property market. Fincher’s book, Leftover Women, builds on this research and connects it to what she terms “resurgent” gender inequality in post-socialist China. Women not only earn less than men, but they have less parental help with home purchasing. In 2011, marital property rights were legally redefined to emphasize ownership by the party named as owner on the deed. Because married women are pressured to leave their names off deeds, they often lose control of substantial assets. Although Fincher touches on rural ownership, her main focus is the urban property-owning elite.

The title, “Leftover Women,” refers to a fabricated crisis of single educated urban women. These women have been derided in state media and in the rhetoric of the official All China Women’s Federation since 2007, when the Chinese Ministry of Education “added the term to its official lexicon” (3). Educated women are urged by the state, society, and their families to marry before the age of twenty-seven, lest their own choosiness, education, and career focus result in their becoming “yellowed pearls,” no longer marriageable (and thus unlikely to produce the high-quality eugenic children upon whom China pins its future). Fincher argues that pressures on educated women to compromise their standards so they can marry young result in their acceptance of unequal marriage conditions that intensify the gender wealth gap, creating dependence and susceptibility to marital abuse. Fincher’s work, which emphasizes gendered disparities in property ownership, suggests that the leftover woman discourse has played a causative role. Although Fincher reflects that messages she has received via Twitter from women in South Asia, Russia, Turkey, and Singapore evince similar social pressures to marry, pressures that may also be felt in the US and the UK, she concludes that in China the “one-party state intent on social engineering” exacerbates gender discrimination by means of a one-two punch of propaganda and information controls that disadvantage women (4).

Leftover Women is based on observation of purchasing norms in Beijing real-estate agencies, Chinese online surveys of home buying, and approximately 150 e-mails that Fincher received after posting a solicitation on Weibo, a platform that combines Twitter and Facebook functions. Her e-mail correspondence samples 151 college-educated women and 132 men in as many as twenty Chinese cities. She also conducted sixty in-depth interviews, and analyzed media portrayals of home-buying and gender. She supplements discussion of “leftover women” and men’s advantaged accumulation of real-estate wealth, with examination of inequality within extended families (in which savings for home purchases flow preferentially to sons and nephews over daughters); connections between women’s limited property rights and domestic violence; challenges for feminist and LGBTQ communities; and state constraints on feminist activism. Along the way, she draws on interviews and newspaper reports for illustrative stories of women’s victimization and resistance.

Fincher’s slim book, aimed at a general audience, achieved immediate acclaim for exposing new facets of gender inequality in China. Although already in its second edition, it is unfortunately unlikely to satisfy China specialists or other well-informed readers. Although she traces some symptoms of new gender discrimination, she does not offer a compelling analysis. Links that are drawn between “leftover women” discourse and a variety of inequities rest on murky argument, uneven evidence, and inadequate citation. (Zed Books’ minimalist citation style may also be to blame.)

The organization of the book works against the clarity of its argument. At the approximate midpoint of the volume, an odd place to introduce history into the narrative, Fincher briskly surveys the shifting character of Chinese women’s property rights over the past millennium. Whereas the introduction evoked a retreat from revolutionary gains, this historical interlude highlights the Song dynasty as “the golden age for women’s property rights” (110). Thus the baseline for “resurgent” inequality is unclear. If, indeed, “more property was transferred to women” during the Song than at any other historical moment, and the problem of women’s diminished rights began with the Ming dynasty, then readers need a great deal more context on family property and law in late imperial China—and on the enduring connections between this past history and the present—to effectively comprehend contemporary inequalities. If today’s inequalities result instead from reform-era “erosion” of the Communist celebration of gender equality (7), the interpretive lens should reflect more substantively on shifts in political economy. Without this framework, the socialist allocation of shared housing and contemporary market-based property rights are not easily compared. If, in the past, the one-party state intervened on the side of greater equality, is the one-party state the key problem in the re-emergence of inequality, as Fincher appears to suggest?

In terms of grasping the dynamics of the contemporary urban gender wealth gap, Fincher provides no explanation for the 2011 shift in the legal definition of property rights that she emphasizes. The precise dimensions of the wealth gap are unclear, moreover, because Fincher does not consider other forms of wealth accumulation outside of housing. Absent from analysis is the recent explosion of wealth management services, a venue for investment that—in contrast to urban housing—is recognized for high levels of female investors.

Fincher correctly calls attention to conservative rhetoric and retrograde laws that disadvantage women. Nonetheless, in the pattern of inequality that has emerged with China’s accommodation of capitalism, the most brutally disadvantaged are rural people and workers. Within this broader picture, even within its gendered landscape, the urban women who are Fincher’s focus might best be contextualized as both beneficiaries and victims. The partial scope of Fincher’s focus, though attentive to urban women’s vulnerability and activism, does a disservice by obscuring this larger picture.

Bryna Goodman, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA


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CHINA’S ASIAN DREAM: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road. By Tom Miller. London: Zed Books Ltd; The University of Chicago Press [distributor], 2017. xii, 292 pp. (Maps.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-78360-923-9.

China’s Asian Dream is an ambitious trade professional publication that tries to capture the essence of China’s ambitions, as expressed in the state slogan “China Dream.” The slogan was originally intended for a domestic Chinese audience to aspire towards a better life, but the author casts the concept wider to include China’s economic and political ambitions in the Asian arena, thus the title “China’s Asian Dream.” The publication is written in accessible language and persuasively argued, with evidence drawn from secondary sources and the author’s own observations.

The analytical and interpretive portions of the publication detail the story of the rise of China and its nationalistic impulse to regain its self-perceived rightful place in the world (11), reflected in President Xi Jinping’s economic diplomacy in the “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) initiative. In doing so, the author argues China is creating a Sinocentric world order with some local nationalists showing nostalgia for a Ming-era tributary system (17). The author suggests there is a loosening of self-restraints on a more assertive Chinese foreign policy and international profile, away from “peaceful development,” “bide and hide,” and “harmonious world,” to “the nation’s resurgence as a great power to achieve the ‘Chinese Dream’ of national rejuvenation” (27–28).

Paralleling robust diplomacy, the author also describes the economic implications of the rise of China with the emergence of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and other financial institutions and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) underpinning the OBOR. Viewed in different ways by various parties, the author indicates that these institutions were even regarded as a challenge to the post-1945 Bretton Woods international system by some critics in Washington (37). However, the author argues that Chinese financing competition with regional rivals like Japan has benefitted Asia (45) as the two outbid each other for regional influence.

Throughout the publication, the author is careful to point out the presence of other regional powers and their possible unease with Chinese economic outreach. He addresses the persistent presence of Soviet/Russian influence on Central Asia, in language use, security arrangements, local culture, and military protection (89). In this sense, the author also exposes the underbelly of Chinese power, which is the lack of cultural soft power to influence others through non-military, non-political, and non-economic means (90). Following this line of argument, Asian governments are keen to exploit China’s tremendous economic power but Chinese culture is not universally well-loved and in many ways, it is contained by countries hosting Chinese investments.

The subsequent chapters address specific regions. Chapter 2 focuses on Central Asia and the volume switches gears from a macro-political economic analysis to observation studies of Chinese economic inroads, with short commentaries offered by petty traders on the ground. The author includes accounts of the doubts, suspicions, and even fears held by ordinary Central Asians fearful of being overwhelmed in economic competition by the re-rise of a hegemonic power in their neighbourhood (81). In chapter 3, the author hints at the potential leakage of national wealth if minerals are shipped out of countries like Laos when the Chinese railway lines are completed (104–105). In the same region, Cambodia is described in the book as a state that was spurned by the West based on human rights, driving the country deeper into a Chinese economic embrace (117–119). The author argues that Beijing has reaped geopolitical rewards when Cambodia supported China in issues like Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea (SCS) (121).

The limits of Chinese diplomacy in the region are evident in the democratization of Myanmar, with the author casting it as “how China lost Myanmar” (chapter 4). The pro-democracy orientation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is a test of how China has to deal with constantly evolving national interests with every change of government in Asian countries (159). Chapter 4 also includes a depiction of Beijing’s troubled relationship with New Delhi over a Chinese submarine docking at a Sri Lankan port (India’s sphere of influence) in 2014 (163) and memories of the 1962 Sino-Indian war (165), which created a trust deficit. Miller’s narrative depicts a powerful and confident China eager to establish its sphere of influence in the world but troubled by a relationship of distrust with its neighbours. Miller is careful to highlight potential beneficiaries, partners, allies, neutral intermediaries as well as rivals and enemies in interacting with China’s economic outreach.

Some factors are understandably de-privileged in the publication due to a very practical central focus on Chinese economic outreach. China’s millennia-old paranoia with internal control and order is based on the avoidance of dynastic implosions experienced cyclically throughout Chinese history. China’s ability to manage equitable distribution of resources while tackling systemic excesses and corruption will impact its political stability, which in turn is crucial to sustaining its external economic and geopolitical outreach. Therefore, for a more objective picture, Miller’s publication needs to be contextualized or paired off with another volume dedicated to studying China’s tremendous domestic challenges.

To dramatize the idea of the rise of China, the publication begins with a fictional future scenario detailing the apocalyptic collapse of Europe, a hostile US, and China as a global superpower (1). But the situation could take a different turn in alternative scenarios of major power responses to China’s assertion of its own interests. For example, will an abrupt shift from a policy of “biding time” for China’s rise to proactive (sometimes aggressive), far-reaching, and continental-wide diplomacy consolidate the otherwise disparate national interests of other major powers against Chinese geopolitical moves? If India, Japan, the US, and the EU find common ground for coordinating a response to China’s assertion of interests, the future scenario could be quite different from the hypothetical one painted by the author at the beginning of the volume.

Tai Wei Lim, National University of Singapore, Singapore


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GODDESS ON THE FRONTIER: Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China. By Megan Bryson. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016. xii, 246 pp. (Illustrations.) US$60.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8047-9954-6.

Can the story of a goddess illuminate how borderlands’ peoples position themselves against empires and nations? Megan Bryson is largely successful in arguing that the tale of Baijie, “goddess on the frontier,” provides such insights. Baijie was not a single deity but rather four legendary figures linked by name, gender, and location of worship in the Dali region of China’s Yunnan Province. To tell the tale of all four Baijie legends, Bryson’s book sprawls across a millennium, from the Dali Kingdom (937–1253) to the present, and analyzes the textual and visual representations of Baijie. The book seeks to reveal how “Baijie’s transformations from the twelfth century to the present have echoed and shaped Dali’s local identity and how it has been gendered” (2). This is a particularly insightful contribution to understandings of gendered representation in China’s inter-ethnic encounters.

Bryson’s main method is to analyze textual and visual evidence, which is then contextualized within historical time frames. In this way, Bryson reveals how elite male writers used Baijie to position “themselves in relation to China” (3). The earliest manifestation of Baijie was as Baijie Shengfei (Holy Consort White Sister), depicted in the Buddhist texts of the independent Dali Kingdom. In chapter 2, Bryson provides a convincing reading of three Dali ritual texts and the only extant visual work (the Fanxiang juan) depicting Baijie Shengfei, arguing that the goddess reveals how elites articulated their “politico-religious” identity as a civilized, distinct polity. Baijie Shengfei was a local female serpent (nāgī), represented in the tradition of Indian dragon maidens but with a twist: the painting techniques were Chinese and the goddess appears chaste and fully clothed in the best Confucian tradition. This reading is reinforced as Bryson expands analysis to Baijie’s consort, Mahākāla, a fierce Buddhist guardian deity popular in India but not Song China. Bryson hypothesizes that Dali elites used Mahākāla’s fierceness to articulate a masculine autonomy, while Baijie Shengfei’s chastity undercut Song ideas about Dali as an uncivilized borderlands with sexually undisciplined women (59).

By the 1400s, long after the independent Dali Kingdom’s destruction by the Mongols and its incorporation into the Yuan (1279–1368) and then Ming (1368–1644) empires, a new Baijie had emerged. In chapter 3, Bryson traces the stories of Baijie Amei (Little White Sister) in Ming materials, from her miraculous birth to her immaculate conception of Duan Siping, founder of the Dali Kingdom. While the emergence of this Baijie legend corresponded with the rise of the Bai ethnonym, Bai history, and the use of genealogy by Dali elites to claim local Bai ancestry, Bryson challenges the standard interpretation that this was an era of growing Bai ethnicity in the wake of outside conquest. She reveals that a single Dali clan, the Yangs, produced many of these writings and that the Yangs probably promoted the significance of the Dali Kingdom’s miraculous origins because they claimed Baijie Amei as an adopted daughter. Her extraordinary birth along with her conception of Duan Siping therefore underpinned Yang claims of local status rather than broader claims to a shared Bai ethnicity (92–93).

In chapter 4, Bryson traces the legend of a widow martyr who came to be called Baijie Furen, a story that, by the late Qing (1644–1911), had evolved into the tale of a widow who drowns herself rather than submit to her husband’s murderer. As Bryson explains, the legend is both local, in that the murderer was founder of the Dali Kingdom’s predecessor, and translocal, in that Baijie Furen borrowed aspects of the iconic tales of Meng Jiangnu and Qu Yuan. Thus, Baijie Furen’s legend was shaped both by Qing efforts to promote civilizational and ideological loyalty on the frontier—in the form of chastity among women—and by ongoing local efforts to preserve a unique historical identity that also marked Dali society as civilized according to Confucian gender norms.

In chapter 5, the inquiry expands to include both the analysis of symbols in texts as well as interviews (conducted 2006 to 2009) with worshippers of the local village goddess Baijie. For elites producing current textual representations, the goddess is an example of ethnic difference, a distinctly Bai deity who continues to minimize the difference between Bai and Han through her adherence to Confucian gender norms. Worshippers, however, do not emphasize Baijie’s ethnic dimension, allowing this village deity to unite rather than divide diverse neighbours. Over the past millennium, the various forms of Baijie have therefore been used to “simultaneously signif[y] that which marks Dali as a politically, historically, or ethnically distinctive place, and that which marks Dali as civilized by the gendered criteria of Chineseness” (170).

In its ambition to link religion, ethnicity, and gender to larger stories of identity over a vast period, the book is necessarily reductive at times. While the basics of Bryson’s important arguments should hold, specialists in different disciplines and eras will likely be spurred on to further consider their implications. For me, an historian of frontier policy and ethnicity in Qing and Republican times, I know from other work that it was not always the case that “Qing officials worked to spread Chinese civilization to the frontier” (110). I also suspect, based on recent studies, that the salience of Han identity rose to unprecedented importance in the nineteenth century. How do these basic historical developments, which the book does not consider, impact the representation of Baijie Furen and Bai identity over the course of the Qing period? The book also deploys the concepts of ethnicity and Zomia without engaging broadly with these subjects’ complicated literatures. For example, the book refers to Dali as part of the highland Asian region of Zomia in ways that, like James Scott’s Art of Not Being Governed (Yale University Press, 2009), seem static and in contradiction to Willem van Schendel’s original purpose for radically rethinking Asian spaces in “Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance” (Environmental Planning D: Society and Space 20, no. 6, 2002). But these are relatively minor concerns, and China specialists from multiple disciplines should welcome this new book.

C. Patterson Giersch, Wellesley College, Wellesley, USA


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FINDING WOMEN IN THE STATE: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1964. A Philip E. Lilienthal Book in Asian Studies. By Wang Zheng. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. xv, 380 pp. (Figures, B&W photos.) US$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-520-29229-1.

The goal of Wang Zheng’s latest book is to highlight the role played by feminists in official state organizations, and, more importantly, to bring their work into the conversation about cultural transformation in China. Through archival work, historical research, and interviews, Wang strives to question the dominance of patriarchy in the socialist state. She is also working against a “lingering Cold War paradigm” that implicitly emphasizes the totalitarian aspects of the Chinese Communist-led state, without recognizing the way in which diverse groups altered the status quo (7). Wang identifies several cohorts of “socialist state feminists,” the development of which begins with early Communist women from the May Fourth generation and ends with women who joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the late 1940s (8). The work of a few feminist men is also part of this story.

Wang’s research illuminates the strategies used by state feminists to further their goals. The most important is the “politics of concealment,” which primarily means that feminist officials used Party language to formulate subversive action, but also includes self-effacement in the form of hard work, self-sacrifice, and a disavowal of power (18). This self-deprecating behaviour was necessary because the gender-related projects of state feminists were often overruled in favour of a focus on class struggle. The persistent risk of being labelled as bourgeois, and the official claim that China had already reached gender equality made it difficult to point out the continued existence of inequality. Therefore, even though Wang’s goal is to uncover cracks in the authoritarian structure, her work also illustrates the restrictions often imposed on the Women’s Federation by male officials, who were reluctant to address women’s concerns. The limitations experienced by state feminists could be read as evidence that the patriarchal state was indeed dominant, a possibility confirmed by some of Wang’s interviewees. For example, Hou Di, an influential editor of Women in China, commented on the extremely low status of women during the Mao era and the frequent attacks on their abilities (102). Wang argues that in modern China, the contradictory mix of Fredrich Engels’ theory of women’s liberation and the bourgeois feminism of the May Fourth period created a special situation that could only be addressed through the politics of concealment. However, the “hidden script” of feminist activity, lurking in adherence to Party language and self-effacement, is hardly unique to China (17). Superficially agreeing while working behind the scenes to change things is a ubiquitous strategy of those without power.

Wang unearths some fascinating interactions, such as Luo Qiong’s memory of the role played by Deng Xiaoping in assisting the Women’s Federation when it was under attack during the Great Leap Forward, and Dong Bian’s spectacular efforts to establish and sustain the journal Women of China. Part 2 continues this trajectory, investigating the way in which state feminist actors pushed their agendas through film. Chapter 5 revolves around the work of Chen Bo’er, an actress, director, playwright, and writer who became famous in 1934 for her role in The Fate of Graduates (Taoli jie). Chen also directed Daughters of China (Zhongguo nü’er, 1949), a film that drew attention to revolutionary heroines, an approach Chen expanded as director of the art department of the Central Film Bureau after 1949 (Chen died in 1951). Chapter 6 centres on Xia Yan’s work in socialist film screenwriting and adaptation. Wang reads Xia’s screen adaptation of The New Year’s Sacrifice—which endowed Xianglin’s Wife with more agency than did the story by Lu Xun on which it was based—as a feminist text. Chapter 7 traces the downfall of Xia Yan at the hands of Jiang Qing, and chapter 8 details the transformation of the Iron Girls from a positive icon of strong womanhood in 1964 to an example of all that went wrong with socialist gender ideology in the 1980s, when a newly developing capitalist China rejected this vision of socialist women as masculinized and demanded “natural femininity” (231).

Wang’s book is a spirited and useful study of a group of women (and some men) who embedded themselves in the state and fought for equality, often against great odds. Unfortunately, it is marred by her conviction that her methodology is the only way to study film, and that those who focus on “final products” (i.e., film interpretation and analysis) are woefully inadequate (170). Wang repeatedly names them and criticizes their lack of archival research, which, she argues, causes them to miss the important roles played by Chen Bo’er and Xia Yan. As with the supposedly powerful Cold War paradigm—which has long been under attack—film scholars who work interpretively become straw dogs, against whose work Wang contrasts the originality of her insights.

Although there is nothing wrong with a focus on plot and filmic history, as well as on the interactions of those working in film, this approach cannot provide a comprehensive perspective. Film can indeed be a historical source, but there are many ways in which film—like an archival document, perhaps—may be more richly understood. Wang ignores the way that creative work functions: how its structures knowledge, how it works subtly to influence ideology, when and how it becomes counterproductively didactic, and how the dialectic of aesthetics and subjectivity unfolds. She discounts the large body of film theory that has developed over the last one hundred years, with its provocative and revealing inquiry into aesthetics and ideology. Even so, I may not have objected to Wang’s approach to film had she not suggested that whereas others are neglectful, her work has exhausted every avenue. Wang seems unaware that her valourization of archival research above all other kinds of inquiry constructs a flattened form of history that is closed off from engagement with interdisciplinary interpretation, an approach that ultimately diminishes the considerable value of her study.

Wendy Larson, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA


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TRACES OF THE SAGE: Monument, Materiality, and the First Temple of Confucius. Spatial Habitus: Making and Meaning in Asia’s Architecture. By James A. Flath. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016. xix, 290 pp., 8 pp. of coloured plates. (Tables, B&W illustrations.) US$55.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-5370-9.

Time, in Flath’s carefully documented book, passes through Qufu, leaving its indelible marks on Kong Temple, the shrine devoted to Confucius (Kongzi). The temple has withstood centuries of environmental degradation through ongoing, if intermittent, human interventions to maintain it. Kong Temple emerges in this telling as a physical presence greater than those who would use it for personal advancement or political goals. Before the advent of modernity, changes made to the temple and its environs were ultimately “absorbed into the old,” Flath argues (196), but once it was designated as a heritage site in the last century, Kong Temple became subject to a new maintenance regime premised on a binary between the static old and the dynamic present. Kong Temple is a potent relic of the past, yet its politicization during the twentieth century made it vulnerable to conflicting ideas about Chinese modernity; its commercialization in recent decades has produced “the deterioration of the historical environment and unbalanced criteria regarding the definition of historical relics” (198).

In the first half of the book, Flath examines three aspects of Kong Temple, each covering more than a two-thousand-year span of documented history before the Republican era. Chapter 2 examines the social life of the temple as a built artifact subject, in turns, to environmental ruination and human restoration, destruction, and reconstruction. Drawing extensively from stelae inscriptions that date to the time of the events, Flath describes a range of reasons why local officials, Confucian literati, and the imperial court thought Kong Temple should be maintained. “Repairing the old hall and aggrandizing the palaces and buildings,” he quotes an imperial stele dated 220 C.E., “this is how diligent students show respect for their study and this is how we make the rules and law. When the work is done the sage and the gods will protect the realm” (23). This passage, Flath notes, expresses an understanding that “custodial work provides a distinct political advantage … that it is indistinct from scholarship, and … that it is in accord with cosmic pattern” (23). Chapter 3 considers the ritual uses of the temple as material culture: a place of transactions among different temple constituencies. Kong Temple, he argues, was never under any one actor’s control nor were its rites merely a means of performing social relations. Chapter 4 walks the reader through the temple complex from the southern-most entrance through successive courtyards leading to the temple proper and behind it. Flath pauses at several key points to offer important details of their background and context. Here successive rulers, local officials, and Confucian literati inscribed their thoughts in stone in vain attempts to finally define Kong Temple’s meaning. Kong Temple constituted a force to be reckoned with; present exigencies remained at least partially subordinated to the temple’s enduring past.

Flath follows Kong Temple’s changing fate through the crucible that was the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. That attitudes toward Kong Temple underwent radical change in the modern era comes as no surprise. But Flath demonstrates that this shift was neither simply linear nor was the break entirely complete, though the differences in attitudes varied greatly. As late as the 1930s, many Nationalist officials, as patrons of Kong Temple rites, still viewed the temple as a powerful ritual site to civilize the restive populace. At the same time the Nationalist government’s position on the temple began to cross a critical divide, from maintaining the temple for its ritual uses, moral effects on the populace, and protection of the regime to protecting the temple as a heritage site, subject to different conceptions of the temple’s purpose. In 1935, the eminent architectural historian, Liang Sicheng, was commissioned to conduct a complete survey of Kong Temple funded, among others, by Jiang Jieshi. Liang “sought to counter the degradation of the historical artifact as well as its wider built environment by introducing the concept of conservation and in situ preservation,” Flath says, yet his scientific study produced drawings in which Kong Temple “appears as a technical anatomy rather than a monument” (143).

In chapter 6, aptly titled “Kong Temple Inc.,” Flath chronicles the deteriorating, if unintended, effects of conservation in the last several decades. The early post-Mao years saw promise that Liang Sicheng’s conservationist model might preserve Qufu’s original built environment. His protégé, Wu Liangyong, recommended a plan to preserve the town’s historical environment while also facilitating tourism with hotel accommodations based on the “national form” of architecture, famously exemplified in Beijing by I.M. Pei’s Fragrant Hills Hotel, which, in Qufu, produced Dai Nianci’s Queli Guesthouse, next to the Ducal Manor in 1986. By the 1990s, and the “advent of modern tourism,” Flath says, “the municipal government entered into a tortuous and convoluted process of trying to reinvent Qufu in the image of the modern tourist” (183). “Anything that might interfere with tourist comfort” (183) could be eliminated, such as a five-hundred-year-old neighbourhood, demolished in 2013 to make way for hotels, parks, and traditional shopping streets. In consequence, Flath poignantly surmises, “it is not the new structure that looks out of place but rather the old one. And thus develops the compelling need to synchronize the antique with the modern, not through in situ conservation, but by giving the relic a polished façade that reflects on its sponsors as well as the patina of age once reflected on the dukes of Fulfilling the Sage,” Confucius’s most direct descendants (183).

Flath tells the stories of an ancient relic’s battle with time, gravity, and human actions. The complex relationship between his archival sources and the discursive constructions of Kong Temple and its cult practices found in voluminous works by Confucian writers lies outside the scope of this book. Flath makes no claim to write an objective history of the temple of Confucius in Qufu. His history of the physical relic and its environs is an important contribution to our knowledge of Kong Temple and of such sites in general. His judicious use of stele inscriptions and recent archival materials significantly expands the documentary foundation of that knowledge.

Thomas Wilson, Hamilton College, Clinton, USA


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EMPIRE AND THE MEANING OF RELIGION IN NORTHEAST ASIA: Manchuria 1900–1945. By Thomas David DuBois. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2017. xii, 249 pp. (Tables, maps, B&W photos.) US$99.99, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-16640-0.

In recent years, a growing number of historical studies have examined Manchuria (or China’s Northeast as it is called now) from a transnational perspective. This region’s rapid transformation, from being the Qing Empire’s sleepy frontier, then a warlord’s playground in the 1920s, and then the client state of Manzhouguo (1932–1945), was accompanied by international competition as well as unprecedented economic development and the movement of people, ideas, and goods within East Asia and to/from abroad. Empire and the Meaning of Religion in Northeast Asia brings the study of cosmopolitan Manchuria to new heights by treating religion as a prism for understanding complex social and political changes. Religion is defined here not only as a self-contained phenomenon, but also as a channel used by the state and social groups to disseminate ideas and to promote various agendas. Taking “transnational discourse communities as its basic unit of analysis” (14), this book describes how different institutions and specialized groups in Manchuria, such as commercial presses, Christian missions, social scientists, and lawyers, envisioned or used religion as a laboratory for social and spiritual engineering. Manchuria’s regional and global links facilitated the exchange of religious ideas and, at the same time, put new pressures on existing religious practices, as it happened in highly centralized Manzhouguo and in the rest of the Japanese empire.

This book covers the period from the late nineteenth century to 1945, when the Japanese regime in China collapsed. The book is organized thematically, with some chapters following a chronological narrative. Chapter 1 is a historical overview of Manchuria’s religious developments during the late Qing dynasty. The author discusses the emergence of multiple religious practices, such as Shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, which were shaped by the multicultural nature of the Qing state as well as by the frontier nature of Manchuria, where the population was diverse and mobile. Remaining chapters deal with themes revolving around separate institutes or specialized groups which developed their own understanding of religion (chapters 2 to 5), and specific historical incidents in which religion and society affected each other (chapters 6 to 8). Chapter 2 discusses how different Catholic and Protestant missions brought to Manchuria “a variety of new idioms, practices and resources that transformed the practice and conception of religion” (30). The author demonstrates how the experience of living in Manchuria, with its misery and violence, transformed the missionaries. The most dramatic change, however, occurred after the suppression of the Boxer Uprising (1900) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), when European missions increased their influence in Manchuria by expanding social services (medical and educational) and by becoming the agents of social change.

Chapter 3 discusses how Western social science inspired a new generation of Chinese and Japanese scholars to develop different approaches to the study of society and religion in Manchuria, and in the rest of East Asia. Japan’s growing influence in Manchuria resulted in the expansion of Japanese institutions, where Chinese and Japanese social scientists had to balance Western scientific methods (i.e., fact-based research) and the ideological needs of a growing Japanese empire. But even in the rigid intellectual conditions of Manzhouguo, some Japanese scholars, armed with Western-style training, argued against the imposition of one unified religion (political Shinto) on a non-Japanese population for the sake of preserving a multicultural spirit in Manzhouguo, and its religious diversity. Chapter 4 analyzes how the Japanese-owned Chinese-language daily Shengjing Times, published from 1906 to 1944, portrayed religion and reached out to its readers. As a commercial newspaper, it covered local religious “news” (i.e., mocking popular religious practices and praising monastic Buddhism). When ownership of the newspaper and the aims of Japan in this region changed, the newspaper’s portrayal of religion became more ideological, in tune with Japan’s civilizing mission in Manzhouguo. Chapter 5 examines the role of law in creating a state religion in Manzhouguo. According to the author, “law was a practical concern, but also a discursive sphere, one where debates around the fundamental issues and identity of state, and its place in the empire found expression” (115). The promotion of the Kingly Way as a revival of Confucian ideology, and of the Shinto-style ceremonies commemorating the war dead, became part of spiritual engineering. New regulations aimed at promoting new moral principles of the state, and at remolding the minds of its citizens.

Chapters 6 and 7 address different religious activities such as charity, as a new type of religious expression by various religious groups, as well as graveside piety, as part of a Confucian revival in Republican China and Manzhouguo. The state authority in both cases was determined to extend its control over the charitable sector and of the filial tombs in order to transform the minds of the people through rituals. Chapter 8 examines how the Catholic Church negotiated its status in China, Japan, and Manchuria. Diplomatic links between the Vatican and Xinjing during the controversy over international recognition of Manzhouguo speak to the political importance of religion in domestic and international politics.

This book’s strength lies in its strong grasp of different historical trajectories and religious practices in China, Japan, and Europe, backed up by the author’s command of several languages and his access to multilingual sources. Instead of one straightforward argument, this book introduces multiple religious ideas and practices, discussed by different professional groups and institutions. The ease with which the author addresses a range of linguistic and sociological concepts, combined with an engaging narrative, will make this book attractive to different audiences. The book invites further questions: How do we select and define discourse communities as units of analysis? What role did the Russian Orthodox Church play in Manzhouguo? How did militarization and wars affect religion in Manchuria? Overall, Empire and the Meaning of Religion in Northeast Asia engages in an excellent critical analysis of religious ideas and practices, moving away from Eurocentric assumptions about the development of religion in this region and in the world.

Victor Zatsepine, University of Connecticut, Storrs, USA


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THE SUBLIME PERVERSION OF CAPITAL: Marxist Theory and the Politics of History in Modern Japan. Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society. By Gavin Walker. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. xvi, 245 pp. US$24.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8223-6160-2.

In this original and erudite book, Gavin Walker develops a wide-ranging and densely argued Marxist theoretical account of capital and its (il)logics. The heart of his inquiry is what he calls capital’s “sublime perversion”: its ability to overcome, without resolving, its own contradictions, its “constant and relentless transformation of limits into thresholds” (11). Walker’s theorization of this perversion interweaves a set of concepts and approaches derived from Marx and from Walker’s extensive reading (in, by my count, seven languages) of the works of two sets of twentieth- and early twenty-first-century thinkers. The first is a large group of mostly post-World War II European theorists, including Louis Althusser, Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Sandro Mezzadra, and Carl Schmitt. The second is comprised of Japanese Marxists writing between the 1920s and the 2010s, and gives pride of place to Uno Kōzō, the most influential and well-known of the group. Walker does not take up the “debate on Japanese capitalism” primarily for what it can tell us about Japan (though he does of course cover this), but as “a debate on the most central theoretical and historical questions of Marxist analysis itself” (6) and “a point of departure for diverse theoretical discussions” (15). He highlights three themes in the Japanese debate: the analysis of “the national question”; arguments about the impossibility (muri) of the commodification of labour made by Uno and thinkers who have followed him; and Uno’s “theory of three levels of analysis” of capitalism in terms of the pure logic of capital, stages of capitalist development, and conjunctural analysis. By bringing together these concerns with more recent analyses of primitive accumulation and other key processes, Walker seeks to uncover the “demented” process through which capital makes a world for itself.

The Sublime Perversion of Capital is far too multifaceted and complex for quick summary. Rather than try to encapsulate it, I would like to give my sense of the overarching characteristics of Walker’s approach to capital and to comment on his engagement with the Japanese Marxists. Walker presents capital as a social relation that has not just an expansionary drive but, implicitly, a kind of consciousness. Capital posits things to itself, tells itself things, acknowledges and attempts to do things; it dreams and coquets. In tracing capital’s logic and its relationship to life, labour, primitive accumulation, and the nation, Walker emphasizes necessity (words like “must,” “requires,” “never,” “always,” and “only” are common) and paradox (infinite regresses, relationships that posit themselves, capital’s unavoidable reliance on the impossible commodification of labour). While Walker is deeply interested in the relationship between capital’s perverse logic and history’s particularities (the actual development of capitalism), and gives a lucid account of the treatment of the pre-World War II Japanese experience in the Japanese Marxist debates, his own arguments proceed largely at the level of theory rather than historical investigation. Those arguments also rely heavily on numerous unexplained and/or seemingly metaphorical terms (gradient, planar surface, spectral body, torus, fold/folding, torsion, logical topology, politicality, etc.); readers who are not accustomed to this kind of language may find parts of the book difficult to parse.

It is within an overall approach of this kind that The Sublime Perversion of Capital puts the debate on Japanese capitalism into conversation with what might be called contemporary Theory. While the results are often stimulating, Walker also often attributes to the Japanese Marxists concerns, arguments, and conceptual vocabularies that he does not demonstrate were actually theirs. The most serious example is the great emphasis Walker puts on what he sees as the early and highly sophisticated contribution of the Japanese Marxists to the study of “the national question.” Walker argues that “throughout the debate on Japanese capitalism and particularly in Uno’s attempt to both critically sublate as well as transcend its limitations, the national question—that is, the question of the function of the nation as a mechanism within the social relation of capital—remained always at the debate’s center” (183). He thus seeks “a return to a specific set of thinkers in Marxism who attempted most concretely to rethink the theoretical place of the nation in Marxian analysis” (11, see also 6). Walker’s survey of this debate in chapter 2, however, provides no instance of any Japanese Marxist even using, let alone theorizing, the term “nation.” Walker’s exegesis, rather, attributes a concern with the “nation-state” or “the form of the nation” to participants in the debate despite the absence of those terms in the quoted texts. Uno is the only prewar Japanese Marxist who is shown in the book to have theorized the nation, but his thoughts are not directly engaged with until quite late (157, 159) and very little detail on them is given. I also found no instance in the book of any Japanese thinker using the phrase “the national question.” I do not mean to claim here that theorization of “the form of the nation” or “the national question” played no role in the debate on Japanese capitalism (I do not know whether it did or not); the point rather is that Walker provides virtually no textual warrant to think that it played such a role.

The engagement with Uno’s understanding of the impossibility (muri) of the commodification of labour in chapter 4 presents a related set of problems. Walker’s account of Uno’s theorization of this core problem is fascinating, and he uses it as a jumping-off point for extended connections to the work of Western theorists like Foucault and Schmitt. (Surprisingly, he does not compare Uno’s formulations with Karl Polanyi’s hugely influential conceptualization of land, labour, and money as “fictitious commodities.”) This approach may, however, be a double-edged sword. It allows Walker to develop intriguing and fruitful lines of thought, but runs the risk of submerging Uno’s own conceptual vocabulary by translating it into the contemporary lexicon. For instance, Walker frequently explicates Uno’s ideas by using the concept of “folds” or “folding” in a way that implicitly suggests that Uno himself used those concepts, but I saw no evidence that he did so. This importing of contemporary concepts back into the Japanese Marxists and reformulating of their insights in terms that (on the textual evidence) they seem not to have used occurs throughout the book, and seems to me to undermine the remarkable work of research, synthesis, and original development that Walker otherwise brings to the Japanese debates.

Derek Hall, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada



WOMEN AND POLITICS IN CONTEMPORARY JAPAN. ASAA Women in Asia Series. By Emma Dalton. Abingdon, England; New York: Routledge, 2015. xiv, 157 pp. (Figures, tables.) US$155.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-415-82738-6.

The chronic under-representation of women in Japanese politics is a fascinating area of inquiry for political scientists, democratic theorists, and gender scholars interested in how supposedly “neutral” democratic institutions get coopted by vested interests. As Emma Dalton’s research shows, male-dominated political parties such as Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) often explicitly reproduce legacies of political exclusion long after the formal laws excluding women from electoral participation are overturned. Combining institutionalism, discourse analysis, and experiential accounts of women parliamentarians, Dalton’s book should be required reading for students interested in democratic institutions and citizenship in contemporary Japan.

The author first outlines the gendered exclusion generated by the institutions and ideologies of the “1955 system” of LDP dominance. The multi-member electoral system privileged personalistic politics channelled through candidate support networks (koenkai), incestuous relationships of power-brokering, and status-based politics. Expected to serve the nation as mothers and housewives, women were largely perceived as “outsiders” to this kind of self-interested game. Dalton writes that “support for the post-war salaryman/housewife family model was on the political agenda for the LPD at least until the 1990s” (27). Public policies channelled the masculinized values of the governing LDP and were part of its economic strategy to ensure the rapid development of Japan by relying on informal and uncompensated female labour rather than raising taxes to support a welfare state.

Chapter 2 then turns the reader’s attention to the evolution of gendered political structures following the electoral reform of 1994. The LDP lost control of the House of Representatives to a governing coalition that created a mixed electoral system combining a majority of single-member district (SMD) seats with a modicum of proportional representation (PR). While the PR tier was heralded as a window of opportunity for women, parliamentary representation by women barely increased, rising from 2.7 percent in 1993 to 7.3 percent in 2000, and then quickly plateauing. A provision allowing dual candidacies across the two electoral segments (the “zombie” clause) further weakened the impact of the proportional tier and thus limited opportunities for women. Campaign financing reform curtailed the impact of money politics and introduced a system of public funding to parties, but failed to contribute to significant increases in female parliamentarians. While “gender equality” policy, or at least, the appearance of supporting equality, came to be seen by the LDP as “good business” in terms of Japan’s international reputation, Dalton argues that few of the public policies have transformed traditional gendered norms in practice.

Dalton then takes a step back from the way state-level institutional structures and policies construct gender norms in contemporary Japan, to examine individual female politicians. Using qualitative interviews, she explores the views of elected women, and how they articulate their political ambitions within the boundaries of gender-acceptable frames and terms. In chapter 3, we learn that most of the interviewees avoid asserting any evidence of political ambition. Women run, they say, because they are asked to and because they feel a sense of civic duty. Many join the LDP so as to be on the governing side, and often explain their political career choices in relation to a significant man, such as a father or husband.

In chapter 4, Dalton brings her qualitative interview material into productive dialogue with a leading theory of women’s representation, “The Politics of Presence,” articulated by Anne Philips. This theory asserts the need for gender balance as a matter of democratic justice and efficiency. Against this backdrop, Dalton traces the dominant discourses in Japan used to explain the importance of having women in politics. Traditionally, female participation is seen as derived from women’s roles as mothers, housewives, and household consumers. An alternative interpretation observes that women often strategically deploy their gender and mothering roles to discredit their male opponents in an era where corruption scandals are prevalent and childcare policy is of increasing public salience. Conveying the author’s main message, chapter 4 exposes the highly masculinized culture and norms of the LDP. Most LDP women, she suggests, internalize these pervasive norms and convey them in their own accounts, downplaying the prevalence and meaning of sexism, and denying that it might be a systemic effect of a patriarchal party culture.

The text alternates between the narratives that the women choose to put on the public record, softening their gendered transgressions, and Dalton’s interpretation of their discourses. From experiences in Canada and Japan, I would suggest that elite qualitative interviewing is a two-way street of posturing and expectation management. When trying to measure misogyny (and racism), it is exceptionally hard to delineate the personal beliefs (honne) from the “traditionally gendered” personae that may strategically be adopted by interviewees, particularly those from conservative parties. Dalton does a fine job of exploring nuances and admitting of alternative interpretations of the interviews that differ from her own proposed readings. A systematic methodological antidote might be to conduct interviews with elected men. For the discussion of ambition in particular, by documenting how both groups may tactically hide ambition and modestly justify why they run, a dataset covering both groups of politicians would allow robust assessments of the “gendering” discourses at play and the degree to which they disproportionately manifest among female politicians.

Dalton’s conclusion offers a timely discussion of ways to increase women’s representation by introducing a gender quota. After reviewing the dominant discourses about equality, feminist activism, and party responses to the demand for quotas, Dalton closes with a rather depressing assessment that little progress can be expected of Japan in the near future. In fact, since the book’s publication, the LDP has repeatedly watered down, and then thwarted adoption of a multi-partisan bill that would have merely “encouraged” parties to “aim for” equal numbers of men and women candidates, without providing any actual sanctions for non-compliance. In short, Dalton’s assessment of the pernicious influence of LDP hegemony upon the election of women remains damningly accurate in 2017.

Jackie F. Steele, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan



OSAKA MODERN: The City in the Japanese Imaginary. Harvard East Asian Monographs, 403. By Michael P. Cronin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center; Harvard University Press [distributor], 2017. xiii, 232 pp. US$39.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-674-97518-7.

In Osaka Modern, Michael Cronin has provided a timely addition to the field of Japanese literary urban studies. Cronin provocatively argues that Osaka’s “recalcitrant” local identity constitutes a “treasonous” challenge to the homogenizing discourses of modern nationality that have emanated from, and concentrated on, Tokyo since the 1868 Meiji Restoration (7, 9). Weaving historical detail and literary theory into rich readings of cultural production set in the city during the 1920 to the 1950s, Cronin charts how writers and filmmakers “imagined Osaka as a distinctly local order—of space, language, everyday life, gender, and more—alternative to the national order” (3). Osaka’s fierce cultural independence, then, informs much more than humorous anecdotes about the differences between Osakans and Tokyoites. In the 1930 and 1940s, it inspired resistance to Tokyo’s imperialist and statist dogmas, and thereafter it animated local antipathy towards economic centralization.

Cronin builds his argument over five chapters, drawing case studies from the works of three writers who “fit awkwardly” into the Tokyo-based Japanese literary canon: Tanizaki Jun’ichiro, who famously relocated to Osaka following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated the capital region; and two household names in Osaka, Oda Sakunosuke and Yamasaki Toyoko (14).

Chapter 1 sets the stage for Osaka as treasonous through an extended reading of Tanizaki’s serial novel Manji (1928–1930), highlighting the concepts of narration and authenticity. As in each of the five chapters, Cronin provides a rich historical description to illustrate how Tanizaki’s work transgressed mainstream discourses. In this case, Cronin places Manji in the context of the genbunitchi movement that sought to standardize Japanese national language along with Tanizaki’s personal concerns about the movement’s negative impact on Japanese language. As Cronin argues, the strategic juxtaposition of local Osaka dialect and Tokyo-based national standard language (hyōjungo) subverted homogenizing discourses of modernity. The contest between Osaka dialect and the national standard, then, amounts to “a contest over the authority to narrate the local” (45).

Chapter 2 expands on the potential of locality to counter the national by introducing Oda Sakunosuke’s Meoto Zenzai (1940), read through themes of expenditure, gourmandise, and everyday life. Writing in the gloomy atmosphere of imperialist discourses demanding rational consumption, propriety, and increased productivity, Oda instead penned a story that follows a “bonbon” spendthrift heir who burns through his inheritance by indulging in vices, all the while undermining, with his ineptitude, his wife’s dogged efforts to make the family business succeed. Not only does the protagonist’s “alternative local masculinity” defy state demands for male physical discipline, the couple’s lack of children violates the state’s calls for sexual reproduction in the service of the empire. Oda uses the bonbon character, Cronin argues, to “reclaim an Osaka … resistant to the homogenization and centralization of culture under national imperialism” (78).

Chapter 3 articulates how imaginations of Osaka’s locality transgressed Japan’s imperial expansion through discussion of a second wartime story by Oda, Waga Machi (1942). At a time “when the nation had already subordinated localities and the empire was pursuing the subordination of nations” under the universalism of the Great East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, Cronin writes, Oda emphasized the inexorable locality of Osaka to map a “distinctive cosmopolitanism that links city, nation, and empire” (81, 105). Identifying a number of flows between Osaka and the Philippines—two places transcended by the empire—Cronin argues that Oda crafted a protagonist who embodies an Osakan “local cosmopolitanism” in conflict with the universalism of imperialism (97).

Chapter 4 offers an innovative reading of Tanizaki’s Sasameyuki (published serially between 1943 and 1948), placing into juxtaposition Osaka and Tokyo, nostalgia and futurity. In the context of imperialist ideologies of production and reproduction, Tanizaki presented the characteristic Osaka bonbon figure as the embodiment of an “anachronistic masculinity” that obstructs the Makioka family’s attempts to adjust to imperial demands (108). In the end, Tanizaki once again juxtaposes Osaka and Tokyo. But this time, Cronin notes, Osaka fills the role of an “outmoded economic model” that steadfastly embraces its traditions in the face of the economic centralization and cultural homogenization of capitalist modernity (140).

Chapter 5 undertakes an extended deliberation of film adaptations of Osaka literature with analysis of several works set in the city, most notably Yamasaki Toyoko’s Noren (1957). Alterations between original literary source materials and their on-screen adaptations, Cronin points out, reveal how popular perceptions of Osaka changed in the national consciousness over time. Kawashima Yuzo’s 1958 adaptation of Noren, for example, updated the prewar temporal setting of the novel to the postwar, and refocused the narrative arc from one of Osaka’s economic subordination to Tokyo to one of romantic drama. Osaka’s submission to Tokyo’s prominence is taken for granted as a result. “The cumulative effect of these changes,” Cronin argues, “is to turn Yamasaki’s story into a narrative of national progress.”

Finally, the conclusion brings the analysis to the more recent present by introducing the 2011 film Purinsesu Toyotomi about a hidden cabal that has secretly ruled Japan from beneath the ruins of Osaka Castle since 1868. As Cronin writes, the success of the film “demonstrates both the persistent resonance and the shifting relevance of Osaka as ‘treason’” (182).

Each chapter is constructed around sections entwining synopses of the works in question, historical contextualization, textual analysis, and theoretical meditations. Sophisticated engagement with critical theorists Georges Bataille, Mikhail Bakhtin, Paul de Man, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari will appeal to literary scholars. At the same time, those in urban studies will find two noteworthy contributions in Osaka Modern. First, Cronin adds his voice to a number of others calling for scholars to look outside Tokyo to decentre narratives of Japanese urbanism and urban culture. Second, Cronin usefully carries his analysis beyond the end of the war in 1945, proving the benefits of transcending a date that has all-too-often been treated as a breaking point in Japanese history.

With its blending of deep textual analysis, rich historical detail, and rigorous conceptual engagement, Osaka Modern is a model study for employing literary sources and cultural products to add texture to our understanding of urban culture and modern life in the city.

Tristan R. Grunow, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada



WOMEN IN JAPANESE CINEMA: Alternate Perspectives. By Tamae K. Prindle. Portland, ME: MerwinAsia; Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press [distributor], 2016. viii, 497 pp. (Illustrations.) US$35.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-9832991-4-1.

Although the subtitle of Women in Japanese Cinema promises the reader “alternate perspectives,” it should be noted at the outset that this lengthy monograph focuses on how male directors portray female characters in their work. Every filmmaker discussed is male, and the creative agency of actual women, such as actresses and screenwriters, is not taken into consideration. The “women” in Japanese cinema who are discussed are all fictional, and the perspective from which they are viewed is primarily male. Accordingly, each of the book’s chapters focuses on an archetypal feminine role defined by a woman’s relationship to men in what the author describes as the “pre-feminist era.”

After a brief introduction establishing the study’s positionality within the framework of postmodern cultural studies scholarship, Women in Japanese Cinema explores the roles of “Mothers,” “Wives,” “Prostitutes,” “Girls,” and “Women” (specifically working women in male-dominated environments) in its five chapters. Each chapter contains extended discussions of three live-action films, which were selected for their representation of female characters existing within the diegetic settings of premodern Japan, Japan during the Pacific War, and postwar Japan. The films themselves were released between 1946 and 1997, with a slight emphasis on titles from the 1980s. The directors, such as Kurosawa Akira, Ichikawa Jun, and Itami Jūzō, are all relatively well known within the field of cinema studies.

What makes Women in Japanese Cinema unique is its emphasis on films that have been adapted from literary works. For example, the fourth chapter, “Girls,” is a study of titles based on Kawabata Yasunari’s The Izu Dancer (Izu no odoriko), Akagawa Jirō’s The Sisters (Futari), and Yoshimoto Banana’s Goodbye Tsugumi (Tsugumi). In her treatment of these short novels and their adaptations, Prindle is especially interested in the construction of the shōjo, the adolescent girl who symbolizes a “stand-by state [that] appeals to Japanese minds as precious” (257). Prindle begins the chapter by outlining the major visual themes in Kawabata’s novella The Izu Dancer and runs through five early cinematic adaptations, pointing out the differences between them before focusing her attention on Nishikawa Katsumi’s celebrated 1974 film of the same name. The author then moves to The Sisters, explaining why it is “a shōjo novel,” namely, because it “rejects patriarchal common sense and opens up a space for dreams” (296). She then describes how this liminal space is portrayed in Ōbayashi Nobuhiko’s 1991 adaptation of the story. The final film of the chapter is Ichikawa Jun’s 1997 interpretation of Goodbye Tsugumi, one of the only literary source texts not written by a man and, refreshingly, one of the few films appearing in Women in Japanese Cinema in which the main female characters are not seen primarily through the eyes of a male protagonist. Throughout the chapter, the author returns to the themes of transition, liminality, and the illusory nature of female adolescent selfhood. These observations and arguments are illustrated and summarized with the author’s own drawings and diagrams.

One of the more fascinating sections of the book is its discussion of Itami Jūzō’s popular 1985 film Tanpopo. In her reading of the film, the author is interested in how the postmodernism of the film “sheds light on women’s liberation” (377). A major element of this postmodernism is the range of foods celebrated within the film, “whose homelands are France, the Netherlands, Japan, and Mother Nature” (379). Prindle explains that the director’s focus on extended depictions of cooking and eating is distinctly postmodern: “Itami dwells on these details because he believes that big stories are bad and little stories are good, as do the postmodernists” (380). Prindle also describes how the director portrays class differences as a source of amusement, which she explains with supplementary aids such as a seating arrangement chart and a table of expressions used by the characters according to linguistic registers of formality. In order to highlight the postmodern disconnect between the events in the film, Prindle also includes a numbered list of its scenes and a diagram of their complicated relation to one another. At the end of the section, she connects Tanpopo to her broader study of feminism with a count of how few of these scenes the female protagonist actually appears in.

The strength of Women in Japanese Cinema lies in its thorough and vivid plot descriptions of each film under discussion. As not all of these films are readily available in North America and Europe, the text serves as a convenient reference. Although Prindle draws on a wide range of scholarship, she does not embark on lengthy theoretical reflections, which makes her writing accessible to non-specialists, including undergraduates. In fact, certain relevant sections of the chapters could easily act as supplementary reading to ensure full comprehension of certain films that often appear on the syllabi of college classes. The lists of major characters, their roles, and the performers that portray them at the beginning of each section are quite useful as well.

For specialists in Japanese cinema, the appendices of this monograph are one of its most useful aspects. Each of these nine short essays details one of the Japanese terms or concepts only lightly touched on in the main text, such as ryōsai kenbo (a late nineteenth-century ideological expression meaning “good wife, wise mother”) and Japanese ecofeminism. Prindle provides both detailed historical context for these ideas and concise summaries of relevant Japanese-language scholarship on the topic.

Women in Japanese Cinema is an ambitious examination of gender roles in twentieth-century Japan and a welcome addition to the body of work on both Japanese cinema and Japanese literature. The range of the texts the author references extends into lesser-known titles while highlighting “alternate perspectives” on cinematic masterpieces. Prindle’s monograph is a valuable resource for experienced scholars and students of Japanese culture alike, and it can easily serve as an engaging introduction to Japanese film and fiction.

Kathryn Hemmann, George Mason University, Fairfax, USA



MANGA VISION: Cultural and Communicative Perspectives. Cultural Studies. Edited by Sarah Pasfield-Neotifou and Cathy Sell, with manga artist Queenie Chan. Clayton, Australia: Monash University Publishing, 2016. vii, 293 pp. (Illustrations, music.) AUD$49.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-925377-06-4.

Manga Vision: Cultural and Communicative Perspectives, edited by Sarah Pasfield-Neotifou and Cathy Sell, joins an increasing number of academic books examining the overlapping Japanese popular media forms manga and anime (comics and animation). As its title indicates, the volume is mainly concerned with manga, though some chapters inevitably move well beyond the page. Not unsurprisingly, all of its contributors have research interests in Japanese popular culture. However, the volume is unusual in its particular assemblage of scholars whose primary area of expertise is Japan alongside scholars working in other fields, and in its consequent examination of these media, both in and outside Japan. In fact, most of the chapters do not focus on Japanese popular culture or on its (re)production and consumption in other cultures; rather, the authors address various aspects of interplay between the two. As the distinction between Japanese popular culture within Japan and its manifestations abroad grows increasingly blurry, this is a welcome approach.

In addition to the many illustrations, including excerpts of manga, charts, graphs, and figures supplementing some chapters, the book’s cover, introduction, conclusion, and section heads are adorned with manga drawn specifically for the volume by original English-language (OEL) manga artist Queenie Chan, visually exemplifying the blurred cultural boundaries that the book as a whole illustrates. The volume also provides supplemental multimedia materials online for four of the chapters accessible via both URLs and QR codes, the latter of which might tempt readers, including students, with a smart phone at hand to quickly check out the collections of photos, music files, teaching materials, and an impressive bilingual glossary of onomatopoeia and mimetic terms.

Manga Vision is divided into two thematic sections. The first is “Appropriation and Expansion: Cultural Expressions,” which “explores manga as an expressive medium through which personal identities and group cultures are expressed and developed” (9). Three of the chapters in this section could find a home in a typical Japanese studies volume: Renato Rivera Rusca’s study of manga and anime magazines and their role in the broader industry; Thomas Baudinette’s examination of the representation of masculinity in manga appearing in Japanese gay magazines; and Corey Bell’s analysis of Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi’s highly popular narrative Death Note.

Conversely, another three chapters could all readily fit within a collection on foreign fandom of Japanese popular culture: Claire Langsford’s exploration of the role of manga in the Australian cosplay (costume play) scene, supplemented by an online photo gallery; Angela Moreno Acosta’s interrogation of how OEL manga relates to Japaneseness; and Simon Turner’s investigation of engagement with Japanese culture among an online English-speaking community of fans of the male homoerotic yaoi, or boys love (BL), genre.

The final chapter in this section features composer Paul Smith’s reflections on Falling Leaves, a solo piece for piano that he composed “in response to the dominant gestures, tropes and overall design of … yaoi” (126). The chapter is available for readers to listen to online. While Smith’s chapter offers an approach to manga, and to BL specifically, unlike any I have seen—or heard—before, it is the chapters in the second section that collectively I find to offer the most interesting and valuable contribution to the field of manga studies.

This section, “Communication and Engagement: Language Exchange,” addresses the potential of manga to serve as a resource for teaching and research, language use in manga, and difficulties entailed in translating manga. In their chapter, Tomoko Aoyama and Belinda Kennett look at how Ninomiya Tomoko’s manga narrative Nodame Cantabile represents language learning, German and French specifically, while in a practical chapter supplemented online by sample teaching materials, Lara Promnitz-Hayashi makes the case that manga can function as an effective tool in the English as a foreign language (EFL) classroom, drawing from her experiences teaching in Japan. James F. Lee and William S. Armour’s chapter exposes the difficulties non-native readers have understanding how manga panels are sequenced on the page. While they are responding to the use of manga to teach Japanese, their findings have implications for the EFL use suggested by Promnitz-Hayashi. In a related chapter, Wes Robertson calls attention to how the language use of non-native speakers of Japanese is represented visually in manga via non-standard orthography, in part via an analysis of Hebizō and Umino Nakiko’s depiction of a Japanese as a Second Language (JSL) classroom in Japan in their Nihonjin no shiranai Nihongo (Japanese that Japanese people don’t know). Also looking at language use, Lidia Tanaka’s chapter on the use of impolite language by manga characters demonstrates how manga, with the multifaceted ways it expresses interpersonal relationships and communicative interactions, can serve as a resource for scholars of Japanese communication.

While Robertson does not explore the difficulties that particular ways of representing foreign speech may represent for translators, Cathy Sell and Sarah Pasfield-Neotifou address challenges of a similar sort, namely how to translate onomatopoeia and what they call “mimesis,” the particular ways the Japanese language expresses states, motion, and feelings, including “The Sound of Silence,” their chapter’s title. These words present great challenges to translators given both the abundance of such words in Japanese which have no English equivalent (an extensive bilingual glossary of which can be found in an online supplement), and the way they are generally stylized graphically on the page (somewhat akin to the way “pow” and other words appear across the screen during fights in the Batman TV series). In his own chapter on translation, Adam Antoni Zulawnik asserts the importance of translating controversial texts, specifically nationalist texts attacking the rise in popularity of Korean popular culture in Japan and vice versa, and at the same time makes clear the value of such texts to examine issues such as the tensions between Korea and Japan, again illustrating the value of manga to scholars.

By way of a conclusion, Cathy Sell drives home the point that Sarah Pasfield-Neotifou suggests in her introduction and which is carried throughout the book, that “the multimodal nature of the image-text” (271) combination that is manga is important not just to educators and translators but to researchers, including both those with an interest in Japan and those who wish to better understand Japanese popular culture as a globally significant phenomenon.

James Welker, Kanagawa University, Yokohama, Japan



THE STRATEGY FOR KOREA’S ECONOMIC SUCCESS. By Hwy-Chang Moon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. xviii, 281 pp. (Tables, figures.) US$65.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-19-022879-8.

Korea has achieved compressed growth, going over the past six decades from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the world’s top 15 countries in terms of GDP. Although many studies have attempted to explain the driving forces behind Korea’s economic success, this book deals with the topic comprehensively and systematically.

The book interests by its twin approach to analyzing Korea’s economy. In part I, the author takes a traditional approach to describe the fundamental elements in the foundation of Korea’s economic development (e.g., human resources, capital resources, and total factor productivity). From part II, the author introduces a new framework for examining the past, present, and future of the Korean economy, the so-called ABCD model (agility, benchmarking, convergence, dedication). This innovative model consists of four factors and eight subfactors. The first factor in the model, agility, refers to speed (or pali pali in Korean) and precision and is cited by many observers as the most defining characteristic of Korean culture. A culture of agility provides a valuable contribution to consumers and a nation’s economic development.

The second factor, benchmarking, consists of learning and best practice. Here the author suggests that by benchmarking advanced companies’ technologies, Korean firms could increase their own competitiveness with smaller investments in time and money than is required to invent independent technologies.

The third factor, convergence, refers to mixing and synergy creation through related-industry diversification, which helps Korea sustain prosperity. And the final factor, dedication, is a laudable cultural element of the Korean people, who work diligently and in a goal-oriented manner. Simply speaking, Korean firms and employees work very long and hard to accomplish their goals.

The adoption of the ABCD model makes it possible to chronologically analyze, from a time series perspective, Korea’s past, present, and future. The author looks at Korea’s economy from a bird’s eye view, taking a holistic approach to the Korean economic landscape. Yet he also includes a microscopic perspective, allowing him to scrutinize Korea’s cases horizontally and vertically. The model also analyzes many cases by comparison across different groups of countries (such as developed and developing countries) and firms (for example, newly emerging companies and their matured counterparts), which makes the book comprehensive as well as systematic.

In explaining the factors of economic development at a national level, the existing approaches deal with tangible factors such as capital, labour, technology, and natural resources. The ABCD model, on the other hand, focuses on intangible factors and subfactors. In particular, although a country lacks competitiveness in tangible factors, the author emphasizes how to gain intangible competitive advantages through an ABCD strategy. This is one of the positive messages in the book. In addition, when inspecting the implementation of ABCD strategies toward internationalization, this book offers multiple real-world examples as well as facts about Korea relative to international cases at both the national and firm levels. This approach makes the book theoretical as well as practical and can provide insight into other developing countries.

After reviewing the past strengths of Korea through the ABCD approach, in part III, the author addresses three significant challenges (e.g., an unproductive service sector, underdeveloped sociopolitical system, and aging population) facing present-day Korea. The author seems to consider these challenges as byproducts or side effects (or anti-products) of Korea’s rapid economic growth; by using the ABCD approach, he also suggests strategic guidelines to solve these problems and upgrade Korea’s competitive advantage. His suggestions are reasonable and agreeable.

Regarding the unproductive service sector, I propose that more attention should be paid to the fact that Korea’s recent economic slowdowns stem from structural problems, not only limited to the service sector, but in the labour market, small and medium-sized enterprises, and other areas. In order to solve these problems, the study recommends broad structural reforms. The second challenge, an underdeveloped sociopolitical system, is related to a lack of social cohesion that stems from factors such as high inequality, restrictions in upward social mobility, high levels of corruption, among others. While many challenges are addressed, environmental issues are noticeably absent: the greenhouse gas emissions rate in Korea, for example, is relatively high in comparison to other OECD countries. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of 2015 also identify these environmental issues as high priority items that need to be addressed going forward.

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to policy-makers in developing and developed countries interested in learning about Korea’s economic successes, as well as to the general public. It is encouraging that Korea has transitioned from aid recipient to aid donor, as signaled by its joining the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee in 2009. This book can be a knowledge-sharing work to aid developing countries. The ABCD model is a novel approach for investigating an economy at the macro and micro levels, as in the author’s study of Korea’s miraculous growth. This study may also prove useful for researchers or businesspeople seeking to enhance national and corporate competitiveness, as it is rich in content and practical lessons.

Wankeun Oh, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, South Korea



CURATIVE VIOLENCE: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea. By Eunjung Kim. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2017. 312 pp. (Illustrations.) US$94.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8223-6277-7.

Eunjung Kim’s richly textured and important book, aptly titled Curative Violence, draws attention to the “uncertainty of gains” from trying to treat or cure disability or illness and “the possibility of harms” (10). Kim interrogates the intersections of disability, illness, gender, sexuality, and cure by analyzing Korean cultural representations of disability from the past century. She makes a compelling case for understanding cure as “based on complicated social and familial negotiations that occur beyond an individual’s desire or volition” (233).

The evidence comes from “cure discourses and imagery” (7) in Korean literature, film, folktales, media, and activism. The introduction’s succinct and focused historical overview offers crucial context for such representations of disability and illness, which were often metaphors for Japan’s colonial rule over Korea and national division (27–34). Koreans’ longing to be made whole enables Kim to link disability and nationhood as themes. She joins other scholars in documenting how the push for modernization and government control in Korea obscured much violence and certain categories of victims. Korean interviewees have similarly told me that there are “more important victims in Korea” when I asked about, for instance, survivors of Hansen’s disease or hepatitis C-tainted blood products.

The book’s evidence is thematically organized across five chapters. The cultural representations Kim analyzes are sweeping in their scope, and she narrates them with sensitivity and a theoretical rigour that lays bare societal divisions and power hierarchies. A recurring theme is “folded time,” which is most clearly articulated in the conclusion. With this innovative concept, Kim conveys the “difficulty of inhabiting the present” for people with disabilities or illnesses. Hope for a better future or recollections of a better past may exist for many people, but the book’s chapters suggest that this sensibility is more acute for persons with disabilities.

Chapter 1 explores reproduction and efforts to prevent disability via eugenics and modern genetic screening. Though the chapter evinces well the disproportionate burden women bear, it could have also placed disability-related eugenics in the context of 1970s state policies to curb population growth generally, including through financial incentives for men to be surgically sterilized (especially p. 65 ff). Women also feature prominently in chapter 2 as it investigates the notion of cure by proxy, which refers to a non-disabled person’s sacrifices to help cure or the imposition of some remedy to aid the non-disabled caregiver (85). In chapter 3, Kim delves into the disturbing subject of how violence is sometimes justified as a cure or overlooked by society or in the criminal justice system. Together, these chapters uncover the Janus-faced and gendered nature of the cure itself and of societal and familial negotiations about cure.

The final two empirical chapters are less persuasive. Chapter 4 focuses on Koreans with Hansen’s disease (leprosy), who suffered mass killings, forced vasectomies and abortions, institutionalization, and ostracism due to official policies and prejudice. While Kim’s analyses are illuminating, her bibliography contains omissions. Most importantly, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s 2005 report on such abuses in the name of curing prejudice deserves Kim’s astute analysis. Kim also rapidly passes over the historic statute known as the Hansenin Special Law, which is short for the Special Law on the Investigation of Violent Incidents against People Affected by Hansen’s Disease and Livelihood Assistance for Victims Etc. (law no. 8644, 2007). The law’s incomplete implementation spawned six collective lawsuits—which Kim only alludes to—filed starting in 2011 by nearly 550 leprosy survivors who endured forced vasectomies and abortions until around 1990. These lawsuits are quite relevant to Kim’s themes. For example, the plaintiffs’ lawyers requested more compensation for forced abortions than for vasectomies and found women reluctant to join the lawsuits. Also, though it happened too late for inclusion in the book, in February 2017, the Korean Supreme Court ordered the state to compensate the plaintiffs. The landmark ruling noted, “Even if the plaintiffs gave a prior consent, they were forced to make such a decision based on prejudice, discrimination and poor social, educational and economic conditions without being fully informed of whether the disease was hereditary or if it can be cured” (Yonhap News, Feb. 15, 2017). Chapter 5 likewise suffers from omissions when scrutinizing the nexus between disability and sex. Kim’s credible argument against monolithic assumptions (e.g., disabled persons as asexual) or solutions (199–202) would have been stronger with citations or quotes.

There is much that is laudable in this book, but some questions remain. First, how distinctive is Korea on the topic of curative violence? Some themes seem relevant elsewhere, as Kim hints in the conclusion. For example, intersectionality and the uneven burden women bear in issues related to reproduction and sexual pleasure are hardly unique to Korea. The most distinctively Korean dynamics emerge in chapter 2, when Kim discusses hyo (filial piety). She convincingly shows how this value and legal clauses based on it (i.e., families’ legal obligation to care for disabled relatives) “exempt the state from its duty to provide social assistance” (118–119). The discussion is relevant and troubling in light of current social issues, such as poverty and suicide among the elderly in Korea.

Second, how did Kim select the works she so deftly analyzes? Are they meant to be comprehensive or illustrative? Can the book’s findings be generalized to all of Korean society? A brief anecdote in the concluding chapter drove home this conundrum for me. Kim recounts how one activist in the disabled women’s movement was proud about refusing surgery on her leg while her co-worker had no regrets about the surgery she had had on her leg (225–226). The book rightly warns against monolithic assumptions, but one wonders how representative or pervasive each of these perspectives is.

The strengths of Curative Violence lie in its nuanced and at times arresting contributions to studies of Korea, disability, and gender. It would work well in graduate or perhaps advanced undergraduate courses related to Korea, disability, sexuality, and state-society relations in East Asia.

Celeste L. Arrington, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA



MADE IN KOREA: Studies in Popular Music. Routledge Global Popular Music Series. Edited by Hyunjoon Shin and Seung-Ah Lee. New York; London: Routledge, 2017. xiii, 247 pp. (Illustrations.) US$145.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-138-79303-3.

South Korean (hereafter “Korea”) popular music, a range of genres often stuffed under the rubric of “K-pop,” has been an ubiquitous global presence in the 2010s. Aside from diffusion in established markets for Korean popular culture such as China and Japan, K-pop has increased its reach from Antofagasta in Chile to Zanzibar in Tanzania, and secured its foothold in global cities such as New York, London, and Paris, through dissemination via Youtube, SNS, and precisely choreographed live concerts. Nonetheless, analyses that move beyond clichés and display a solid command of the history and the specifics of the Korean popular music scene have not grown with commensurate rapidity, at least in English.

Made in Korea, part of a Routledge series of edited volumes with similar titles and formats, such as Made in Japan, Made in Brazil, and Made in Italy, addresses this relative lacuna. With contributors from various social sciences and humanities disciplines, the book is an assemblage of seventeen essays organized into four sections: history, genres, artists, and issues. Preceding these are a preface by one of the editors, Hyounjoon Shin, which explains the core questions and the background of the book, and an introduction by both co-editors that provides definitions of key concepts, a brief description of the historical contexts of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Korea, and some anecdotal comments on the state of Korean popular music studies.

The four chapters in the Histories section focus on live performances (Hyounjoon Shin); recorded music (Keewoong Lee); broadcasting of music on radio and television (Jung-Yup Lee); and digital forms of music distribution focused on the ubiquitous 2012 song by Psy, “Gangnam Style” (Sun Jung). The Genres chapters analyze trot and ballad (Yu-Jeong Chang); rock (Pil Ho Kim); folk (Aekyung Park); and soul and hip-hop (Jaeyoung Yang). The Artists section features four studies by Junhee Lee, Dohee Kwon, Okon Hwang, and Eun-Young Jung, each focused on an individual musician/composer: Kim Hae-song (b. 1910); Shin Joong Hyun (b. 1938); Kim Min-ki (b. 1951); and Seo Taiji (b. 1972). These musicians each had major impacts on the evolution of jazz, rock, folk, and rap respectively in Korea. The third section, Issues, is a potpourri, with chapters describing the use of “traditional” Korean musical elements (Hyunseok Kwon); the affective labour of Korean idol groups (Dong-Yeun Lee); government cultural policies towards censoring and supporting music (Soojin Kim); and vocal techniques in trot, ballad, rock, dance, and rap songs (Haekyung Um). A fifth and last section, Coda, features two chapters. The first of these briefly describes the histories of diffusion of Korean popular music in modern China and Japan before the 1980s, then Taiwan of the 1990s and 2000s, and Austria and Europe of the 2010s (Sunhee Koo and Sang-Yeon Loise Sung). The second and last chapter, as is the case with all the titles in the series, is an interview of a prominent musician—in this case a translated and abridged 2013 interview with the late Shin Hae-chul (Sin Hae-ch’ŏl) (1968–2014), who was most prominent during the 1990s as the leader of the rock band N.EX.T. (Hyounjoon Shin and Ch’oe Chi-sŏn).

The lead editor, Hyounjoon Shin, is a pioneering figure in the interdisciplinary study of Korean popular music, having published a variety of articles in English and Korean on various aspects of the music industry. The depth and breadth of his research is reflected not just in his own chapter, but also through compact strokes and deft touches evident in the brief editor’s notes that introduce each of the four sections. Most of the individual chapters make laudably consistent use of the large and diverse body of academic studies of popular music published in Korean, something which bizarrely is rarely found in other English-language academic works on K-pop. In addition, several of the chapters engage with studies published in English and Japanese (plus one in French). The chapters that are more focused on 1910 to 1980, especially for jazz, folksongs, trot, and rock, provide useful empirical details on musicians and institutional structures relatively understudied in English.

Although the book discusses an array of genres, individuals, and issues, it should not come as a surprise given length limits that not all potentially significant points are covered. If detailed analyses of lyrics are evident in Eun-Young Jung’s chapter on Seo Taiji (146–152), mentions of specific songs or their musical, choreographic, or lyrical elements are elided in others. If Yi Mi-cha, a famous trot singer who had her biggest hit banned in the 1960s, turns up in several chapters (even if oddly referenced just once in the index), none of the individual artists who have chapters devoted to them are women, indirectly reflecting the absence of discussion of gender at any depth. If the electronic dance music duo Clon’s success during the 1990s in Taiwan is discussed by Koo and Sung (208–209), examinations of the specific fluctuations and dynamics of K-pop’s recent popularity in major markets such as China and Japan are notable only for their absence. If some key artists such as Cho Yong-p’il make frequent appearances, the roles of diasporic Koreans, for example Korean Americans as producers, sound engineers, songwriters, and performers or as disseminators of music in overseas markets, are either entirely ignored or mentioned only in passing. The conglomerate nature of song production, such as contracting Swedish songwriters or employing Japanese choreographers, and specific mechanisms of government censorship in the 2000s and 2010s, are among other salient points left unaddressed. If the writing is usually clear, the regular appearances of grammatically odd constructions and syntactical malapropisms indicate that the manuscript would have benefitted from another round of copyediting and proofreading prior to publication.

These and other minor issues do not detract from the fact that taken together, the essays in this edited volume provide a very useful introduction for readers unfamiliar with Korean popular music, and also serve as a foundation for academic researchers seeking to strengthen their knowledge across several antecedents, genres, and artists of contemporary Korean popular music.

Hyung-Gu Lynn, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada



NORTH KOREA’S HIDDEN REVOLUTION: How the Information Underground Is Transforming a Closed Society. By Jieun Baek. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2016. xxvi, 282 pp. (Maps, illustrations.) US$30.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-300-21781-0.

An influx of outside information coming in via USB sticks, radio broadcasts, DVDs, and more is changing the way many North Koreans see themselves and the world. Jieun Baek, a PhD candidate in public policy at the University of Oxford and a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Harvard University), draws on ten in-depth interviews with resettled defectors in South Korea to describe a network of smugglers, defectors, border guards, and information bootleggers working to get information into North Korea.

The book is organized into six chapters. Chapter 1 explores what makes North Korea’s political system so durable, namely the regime’s ability to control information. Chapters 2 through 4 are devoted to explaining the “information underground,” or how information bound for North Korea is curated, packaged, transmitted, and received. Chapter 5 considers the significance of the spread of information in the post-famine era and chapter 6 concludes the book with a summary and call to action.

The central concern of the book is timely and relevant: What are the social and political effects of media flows in a politically unfree society where information is tightly controlled? For those seeking regime change, flooding North Korea with information that runs contrary to the state-crafted message is seen as a viable alternative to military action. Even those less interested in regime change will find the consequences of media flows in an information-scarce environment worth consideration.

The answer to the central question comes directly from the defectors interviewed for the book. In fact, the narrative of the book is driven more or less entirely by Baek’s interviewees. This is one of the book’s main strengths. Too often, North Korean defectors are portrayed as passive victims of an authoritarian regime trying to get by in a new, competitive environment. In Hidden Revolution, defectors play active roles. They are smart, discerning, and driven individuals who want to send information into North Korea, raise awareness of North Korean human rights, or promote a more favourable public image of resettled defectors in South Korean society.

Baek is clear that information is changing North Korea, but she is cautious not to overstate its effects. “Outside information alone will not create breakthrough changes in the country, but it is absolutely necessary for North Koreans to change their thinking as a perquisite to any positive change in the future” (131–132). This is confirmed by her interviewees. Gwang-Seong, a political science student, is quoted as saying: “Not a lot of people defect solely because of outside information. One could say that movies lack credibility. They’re fun, they push people to think and ask questions, but that’s it” (197).

Arguably, the most interesting information comes in chapter 5, “A New Generation Rising.” In this chapter, Baek describes how the material and social conditions in North Korea changed after the Great Famine (1994–1998), giving rise to a new generation. “North Koreans who were born during or after the Great Famine and have been exposed to widespread street markets have grown up in a society where complete dependence on the state for people’s livelihood was just not the case” (188). The Jangmadang generation, named after the street markets that appeared during the famine, is a new cohort of North Koreans. Their behaviour and attitudes more closely resemble that of youths elsewhere in the world: savvy, intelligent, and eager to learn. More specifically, North Koreans from this generation are likely to watch South Korean dramas, care about fashion, understand how capitalism works, and criticize the government (if they care at all about politics). Recounting a conversation with an interviewee from the Jangmadang generation, Baek writes: “She was adamant that people like her had no interest in ideology or politics; they were just interested in making money, making a living, being entertained, and getting by” (189).

Despite being a brisk and timely read, there are a few shortcomings. First, while the narrative-driven style of the book makes for easy and enlightening reading, there is a discernable lack of critical engagement with the broader questions addressed in the book. Baek is clearly aware of existing studies on life in North Korea and the impact of information penetration in authoritarian political systems, but there is little effort made to situate the work within an existing body of theoretical or empirical literature or engage more substantively with the central research question. As a book published by a university press, it should clearly engage a scholarly literature in some way. That it does not will leave some readers wanting more.

For example, how has the North Korean government responded to changing conditions, especially the availability of new information communication technologies (ICT)? Studies that measure the impact of information flows in North Korea find advances in ICT cut both ways. It is unclear whether North Koreans are or will become more free, or whether the North Korean government simply has new tools it can use to oppress and control people (see Nat Kretchun, Catherine Lee, and Seamus Tuohy, “Compromising Connectivity: Information Dynamics Between the State and Society in a Digitizing North Korea,” InterMedia, 2017). Baek is honest about the limitations of information inflows, but she does not consider at any significant depth or length the effects that an influx of information and the introduction of new technologies have on state capacity and everyday life in North Korea.

Overall, this is a book meant to inform a general audience about changes taking place in North Korea and promote interest in North Korean human rights. These are laudable goals that Baek, by publishing this book, has accomplished.

Steven Denney, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada



SPACE, PLANNING AND EVERYDAY CONTESTATIONS IN DELHI. Exploring Urban Change in South Asia. Edited by Surajit Chakravarty and Rohit Negi. New Delhi: Springer India, 2015. xi, 233 pp. (Illustrations.) US$129.00, cloth. ISBN 978-81-322-2153-1.

Surajit Chakravarty and Rohit Negi have put together empirical essays that examine how neo-liberal policies are materialized in specific contexts to highlight “the complex of ideologies, institutions, and political practices” that interact with the weight of global capital (5) in transforming Delhi. The editors focus on what they label “interstitial spaces,” defined as “the ordinary spaces that exist alongside centers of consumption, megaprojects, special economic zones, gated communities, high-end apartment complexes and large infrastructure installations” (6). Thus, they include “markets, resettlement colonies, industrial areas, urban villages, public transportation” as interstitial spaces against what they call the “winners-and losers” of urban transformation. Including the editors’ introduction, the book has eleven chapters, which I discuss below.

Seth Schindler explores how street hawkers negotiate with a fragmented state at various sites, thereby making a case for the state as amenable in multiple ways beyond a framework of benevolence and malevolence. He also delineates the arrangements the street hawkers have established with a range of non-state actors to avert raids and disciplining protocols encoded in zoning laws. In a meticulously documented history of land claims in the formation of heterogeneous communities, Shruti Dubey examines the contentious issue of “participation” in the various designs for in-situ resettlement of the puppeteers of Kathputli colony under the public-private-partnership policy currently in vogue. The unsettled contention between the communities of artists, non-artists, and lepers in the 1980s and 1990s was aided by what can be argued as the politics of preferential endorsement of artists on behalf of the civil society that largely invoked a neo-traditionalist argument. However, as Dubey argues, recently the unity of artists and non-artists in resisting the might of state and capital has influenced the claims over land in the city.

Kavita Ramakrishnan examines everyday corruption through patronage and brokerage networks on the part of the residents of Bawana resettlement colony in procuring rations and infrastructure. Tracking a particular case of “corruption” over time could have served her purpose better in providing nuanced arguments about various actors, arrangements, and tactics.

Ursula Rao explores how the residents of Savda Ghevra resettlement colony maneuver their environment by turning barren land into aesthetically and sensually pleasing gardens/landscapes in efforts to restore moral and salubrious physical order. While I am not absolutely sure if these efforts constitute “small-scale urban gentrification,” there is merit in treating gardens as “serendipitous spaces that permit different values, desires, and needs to coexist” (84).

Rolee Aranya and Vilde Ulset explore “incipient informality” and “insurgent space making” in Savda Ghevra to underline the processes of entrepreneurship and service provisioning. While they allude to the underside of these acts of survival practices primarily in innovations with respect to physical mobility, mobilizing social networks, entrepreneurial initiatives, and livelihood flexibility, one could have learnt more if the authors had provided analysis of varied forms of exclusion, relative advantages of communities, and difficulties with the host population. Surajit Chakravarty, in an insightful analysis of the transformation of Mahipalpur village, explores the tensions between “bureaucratic categorization,” state interventions, and “opportunistic entrepreneurship” (113). He gives a much-needed account of the evolution of the policies that defined the inhabited areas (abadi) and the agricultural farmland in the colonial and postcolonial periods. Thus, while the colonial state demarcated farmland from abadi areas for taxation purposes, the postcolonial statecraft of land acquisition created a rent gap between the villages and the newly acquired land, thereby propelling opportunistic entrepreneurship, involvement of developers and elected representatives, and also the establishment of unauthorized colonies. In the specific case of Mahipalpur village, this led to the mushrooming of budget hotels and logistics firms, warehouses, mixed-use commercial spaces, and professionalized housing services. The author has provided a nuanced analysis of state informality and indecision, though it would have been useful if he had delved into the dynamics of local politics in the transformation of the village.

Shahana Sheikh and Subhadra Banda, in their analysis of legal and policy protocols for the regularization of unauthorized colonies in Delhi, provide a historically rich description, which forms a significant backdrop for anyone researching the subject. In masterfully documenting the case of Sangam Vihar, they analyze the transfer of agricultural land to low-income residents via various intermediaries, the ambiguity of the Delhi Development Authority in laying out policies, the contentious struggles of Resident Welfare Associations, and the disputable role of police and political parties in regularizing the colonies and implementing the gradual provision of services.

Sumangala Damodaran explores the expectations and experiences of migrant workers and the shaping of industrial landscapes in Delhi. She provides an analysis of shifts in industrial policies, migration networks, and the preference for industrial work as compared to farm work, as well as living conditions and the changing landscape and lifestyle of the host communities. However, the chapter could have gained traction if she had dwelled more on the aspirations and identity constructions of industrial workers along regional origins and community lines. In analyzing the “rules and relationships” that underpinned the development of Metro Rail, Bérénice Bon points out that the “real estate component” (182) became grounds for conflict among various state, parastatal, and non-state bodies. Thus, the excluded institutions vie for power over legal and planning precepts by further excluding the local stakeholders who primarily remain the most affected people in these projects. In addressing the case of the Shastri Park project, Bon explores the residents’ recourse to local political structures in order to thwart imminent risks and effects and the consequent responses and politicking.

Sonal Sharma’s research on women domestic workers highlights a range of vulnerabilities that women experience, including the lack of safety in their places of residence, crumbling of social networks, dismal transport upon eviction and resettlement, and lack of toilets and the implications for paid domestic work. She explores how women navigate issues of “shame” and “responsibility” and how they evaluate the relative benefits of living in “servant quarters” while coping with forms of dependency and exploitation. One can also add the vulnerabilities they experience from state authorities and police officials, especially in the areas of South Delhi where Sharma has carried out fieldwork. Finally, Tara Atluri describes the sequence of events concerning the infamous Delhi gang rape case by interspersing it with quotes from philosophers. She takes up many issues, including capitalist individualism, neoliberalism, Rosa Parks and public parks, Occupy struggles, labour struggles in Los Angeles, the Pink Chaddi (panties) Campaign, and so forth, to analyze the production of postcolonial gendered subjects and the right to public space/streets. Some of her analogies are not entirely convincing, as she discusses many issues including the failure of governance, the right to the city, new social movements, and the parallels between the political and artistic events in the same breath.

The editors insinuate that the middle-ness of interstitial spaces can be mapped in a continuum, though they do not adequately explain how the concept of “interstitial spaces” has more analytical purchase. The concept is deficiently theorized and not directly engaged with in most of the chapters. The book could have gained in its logical consistency if the editors had laid out the primary features of interstitial spaces in order to test them out for empirical validation. However, the achievement of the book is in collating a range of interesting empirical essays that could serve as valuable backdrop research material for scholars working on Delhi.

Sanjeev Routray, Northeastern University, Boston, USA


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UNCONDITIONAL EQUALITY: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance. Cultural Critique Books. By Ajay Skaria. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016. xvi, 390 pp. US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-8166-9866-0.

Unconditional Equality is a challenging read, but it was arguably more challenging to write. The book is a deep engagement with M.K. Gandhi’s political thought by someone who claims to be uncomfortable with its religious character. The author, Ajay Skaria, is a well-known historian who contributed to the Subaltern Studies Collective in its later years. Skaria’s intellectual world of postcolonial studies is wholly ensconced within modern secular European thought, whether of liberal, Marxist, or postmodernist strains. To read Gandhi from such a vantage point is a challenge, as Skaria himself admits, because it is so far apart from Gandhi’s own ideas and politics.

The central claim of the book may be stated thus: against modern liberalism’s promise of formal equality that denies liberty to many, Gandhi proposes satyagraha, or surrender to the mystical experience of Truth (satya), as an alternative based on the absolute equality of all beings, human and non-human. Gandhi’s political religion (dharma) is, strictly speaking, godless. The sovereignty of God (or gods), distant or personal, would demand subordination, and hence, make the quest for equality impossible. For Gandhi, by contrast, mystical experience enables individuals to seek themselves via immersion in an ocean of groundless faith in satya. Mysticism, or the religion immanent in all religions, Skaria suggests, implies a kind of resistance to self and society because it does not subordinate individuals to God or its secular liberal avatar, the modern state. Mystical experience also produces what Skaria calls “unconditional equality” for all living beings to the extent that all partake of Truth and no seeker of satya can be ontologically superior or inferior to others. This is why satya enjoins its seekers to love their neighbours as themselves.

Gandhi himself, of course, never described his quest for Truth in these words. This book is Skaria’s attempt to think through the tensions in Gandhi’s writings, speeches, and acts without dismissing them as hopeless contradictions. But there are two problems here. First, Gandhi as a mystical thinker or guru is not particularly impressive. Indeed, he is now a guru without any followers among major political parties and ideological groupings in contemporary India, and his political religion was sadly stillborn because it lacked popular appeal of the kind enjoyed by longstanding bhakti sects or more recently, by Ambedkarite Buddhism. Worse still, even during his lifetime, anyone could project their fears and fantasies onto him and satyagraha could mean, in Raj Chandavarkar’s words, all things to all people. Second, Gandhi’s dharma does not fare well as radical political thought either. As Skaria recognizes, ontological equality among all beings could coexist happily for Gandhi with the hierarchies of gender, caste, and race that define everyday life. Despite its radical rethinking of the relationship between religion and politics, Gandhi’s dharma is, in fact, resolutely conservative in its social outlook. Even as Skaria acknowledges this, he does not see that Gandhian satyagraha fails as a meaningful alternative to modern liberalism and its rivals because mystical surrender and social subordination are two sides of the same coin.

Political mysticism can, however, be a potent challenge to the social status quo. Gandhi’s critique of the modern state and Western liberalism can, for instance, be grounded in a radical politics rooted in religious mysticism. As Faisal Devji has shown, Gandhi’s mysticism may be linked inextricably to his fascination with violence (The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence, Harvard University Press, 2012), and it is the same relationship between religious mysticism and violence that has inspired Islamic radicals from Syed Maududi to Osama bin Laden. Political mysticism in postcolonial societies has, in other words, provoked a profound challenge to state and society alike. Skaria’s inability to recognize this challenge circumscribes the scope of his argument even as it leaves open possibilities for future scholarship.

More generally, however, we must ask what religion even means in a book so bereft of theological discourse. Does the author’s turn to religion simply emerge out of a queasiness with secular liberalism? After all, Skaria’s turn to contemporary Continental philosophers such as Derrida and Levinas is hardly what Gandhi had in mind when he wrote of mystical religious experience as the religion present in all religions. Contemporary Catholic theologians might have done just as well, if not better. Nonetheless, by positioning himself at the rear end of the behemoth of Western philosophy, the postcolonial critic in Skaria unfortunately cannot enter the terms of Gandhi’s world, shaped as it was by the Indic religious traditions that he grew up with and the esoteric forms of Christianity that attracted him abroad. The mystical quest for the self that Gandhi described was, ultimately, a kind of spiritual experience that placed him at odds with the organized religions of his day. The conceits of liberalism or Marxism were far from Gandhi’s concerns in pursuing satyagraha. Those concerns were deeply personal, and their only political manifestation was a kind of quietism. But the pursuit of a quietist politics in the maelstrom of late colonial India could only be, as Joseph Lelyveld’s recent biography of Gandhi (Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, Alfred A Knopf, 2011) shows, tragic.

In sum, if we set aside its inadequacies and its contorted prose, Unconditional Equality must be commended for paving the way for future scholars to examine Gandhi’s understanding of religion and politics more closely. It lays out clearly enough the pitfalls of postcolonial scholarship when it attempts to take Gandhi seriously. In the years to come, we may await a deeper engagement with the religious mysticism that undergirded his political thought.

Uday Chandra, Georgetown University, Doha, Qatar


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RELIGION AND NATIONALISM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. By Joseph Chinyong Liow. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016. xix, 261 pp. US$99.99, cloth. ISBN 978-1-107-16772-8.

It is a sign of how much the field of social sciences has changed that a new book interrogating the linkages and relationships between religion and nationalism sits in a crowded field. A couple of decades ago, scholars like Peter van der Veer and Mark Jeurgensmeyer had the religious part of the field to themselves, even as historians and other area studies scholars shook their heads, wondering at this blind spot in international relations scholarship. Even more recently it was still fashionable to look forward to the death of nations and nationalism at the hands of regionalism, globalization, and cosmopolitanism.

That was then. Now contributions such as this one by Joseph Chinyong Liow are accepted as mainstream. They are not yet quite so commonplace that authors can overlook providing an apologia for talking about the religious element. They also feel obliged to provide a history of the social sciences’ rejection and belated acceptance of religion as a legitimate field of enquiry, but the topic is mainstream nonetheless. Liow’s book opens with just such an apologia and history, along with an exposition of the conceptual framework of his study. Its introduction of the key concepts used in the book—religion and religious nationalism, the state, nation and nationalism, legitimacy, colonialism, the narrative—is useful, but I found his account of the marginalization and the rehabilitation of religion in Western elite thinking thin and contestable, and I wonder if it really added any value.

Liow takes a solidly constructivist approach to his subject matter. Eschewing both the extremes of primordialist and instrumentalist approaches, he studies the contingent narratives that have formed local religious identities in four Southeast Asian countries and identifies how they have been imbued with political significance that in turn has placed them in a relationship with the local national identity. This analysis applies to both dominant religious/national identities and to subordinate and/or contested ones. Hence, in the case of Indonesia, for instance, he has sections on Christianity and marginalized Muslims like the Ahmadhiyah sect and the Shi’a community, as well as on the dominant Sunni Muslim community.

The substance of the book is found in the four chapters that present Southeast Asian national case studies: a chapter each on the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, in that order. In the case of the first two—chapter 2 on Catholic Philippines and chapter 3 on Buddhist Thailand—the focus is not so much on the country as a whole but on the rebellious southern provinces where Islamic identity plays a role in secessionist/rebellious disputes. This focus is explicitly recognized in the chapter headings. These two chapters are clearly the highlight of the book. In contrast with the chapters on Malaysia and Indonesia, the footnotes in chapters 2 and 3 are replete with evidence of valuable fieldwork, most notably interviews with elites in both the respective national capitals and in the sites of contestation: Mindanao and the old kingdom of Patani (now divided into the three Thai provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat).

In each case Liow has painstakingly tracked and problematized the development of the national and local ethnic identities, seeking to place the religious element in the broader context of nationalist discourses. (In this review, I follow Liow’s lead by treating both the dominant, state-linked national identity and the separatist/rebellious local ethnic identities as “nationalist” identities of equal standing, at least for the purposes of analysis.) The study of the Moro nation (Bangsamoro) in Mindanao is particularly robust, and it provides the reference point for the next chapter’s study of Patani identity (Anak Patani or Patani Darussalam), to the point where chapter 3 is replete with comparative references to chapter 2.

The “problem” peoples in each case are Muslims, but in neither case is Islam the point of the local resistance. Liow makes this crystal clear. Even in the case of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which split from the secular Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) explicitly to pursue an Islamic agenda, the author presents a convincing case that the end game is national, not religious.

I may be slightly overstating Liow’s case, but it seems to me that the underlying argument permeating this book can be expressed thus: that religious nationalism necessarily embraces tensions between the religious and the national elements, but ultimately the religious always serves the national and is subsumed into the national, rather than vice versa. The broader backdrop for this argument is Liow’s contention that religion and nationalism are the two most powerful and enduring forms of politicized identity; with the demise of ideology as a transnational force, this strikes me as a reasonable proposition.

Chapters 4 and 5 are competent and valuable histories of religious-cum-national identities in Malaysia and Indonesia, respectively, and are useful additions to the literature, but they are fairly conventional in their approaches and modest in their ambition compared to the chapters on the Philippines and Thailand.

Michael D. Barr, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia


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THE RISE OF CHINA AND THE CHINESE OVERSEAS: A Study of Beijing’s Changing Policy in Southeast Asia and Beyond. By Leo Suryadinata. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2017. xi, 278 pp. (Tables, maps.) US$39.90, paper. ISBN 978-981-4762-64-9.

Suryadinata’s work offers readers an interesting look at overseas Chinese, and at how China views these communities in light of their growing economic and global clout. The book begins by detailing the structural and policy changes within China towards Chinese living abroad. China’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO) has expanded its activities and influence since the 1990s to help promote investment in China from the Chinese diaspora; to advocate for Chinese soft power by helping to fund and staff Confucius Institutes overseas to teach Mandarin Chinese and promote Chinese cultural activities; and to connect China’s larger foreign policy goals to the state’s treatment of overseas Chinese.

Suryadinata aims to show how China’s policies towards overseas Chinese have changed and how this reflects China’s larger foreign policy goals and ambitions. In 1998, violence rocked Indonesia; Chinese Indonesians were targets of riots, arson, looting, and rape. China’s response was minimal. Beijing framed the tragedy as an Indonesian internal affair and offered little assistance or condemnation of events. This is in sharp contrast to more recent examples of violence against Chinese in the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, where China evacuated nationals and recent Chinese migrants to safety.

There are significant differences in the circumstances surrounding these examples and China’s responses. In the case of the 1998 Indonesian riots, the Chinese targeted were Indonesian citizens. Chinese have lived in Indonesia for many generations and as Suryadinata explains, have become Indonesian citizens, taken Indonesian names, and become part of the multi-ethnic fabric of Indonesian society. China’s lack of response stemmed from the understanding that their intervention could make things more complicated for Chinese in Indonesia, and (not mentioned by Suryadinata) that for many Chinese in Indonesia their ties to mainland China are tenuous or non-existent. Yes, some Indonesian Chinese businessmen have reconnected with their Chinese roots and have invested in China and rediscovered ancestral villages. For many Chinese in Indonesia this sense of connectedness did not and does not exist. Thus, there were very few reasons for China to evacuate or offer to intervene in the violence of 1998. Suryadinata claims that if similar violence was to occur in Indonesia today, China would intervene more forcefully. I disagree. In the 2017 Jakarta mayoral election there was extensive mobilization against the Christian and Chinese sitting mayor, Ahok; China was largely silent. Chinese living in the Solomon Islands and Tonga were much more recent migrants and they still had ties to China. It is worth noting that these Pacific islands are small states, less important economically and strategically to China than Indonesia. It would have been a larger diplomatic issue to act forcefully in Indonesia in 1998 than it was to evacuate Chinese from the Pacific islands in 2006. Likewise, given the level of chaos during the upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring, and noting the Chinese affected were Chinese nationals visiting or working overseas, it is completely understandable that China would go to greater lengths to protect and evacuate their citizens from violent situations.

Suryadinata also looks at a number of diplomatic scuffles where anti-Chinese actions have triggered various responses from Chinese officials. From a restrained Chinese response to Burmese actions against the Kokang Chinese, to an ambassador’s outspoken speech in Malaysia (including Malaysia Chinese in the category of haiwai qiaobao, Chinese compatriots overseas), to a measured response to anti-Chinese violence in Vietnam, we see China making subtle distinctions among Chinese living outside of China and how Beijing views and relates to them. Vietnam is a perfect example: when riots broke out in response to Beijing’s aggression in contested waters of the South China Seas, China repatriated Chinese workers on the affected oil exploration projects, but there was little Chinese action in response to anti-Chinese violence within Vietnam. China did not withdraw investments, nor do anything to protect ethnic Chinese who have been living in Vietnam for generations and who are integrated into Vietnamese society. Suryadinata argues that China intervenes to protect overseas Chinese if doing so does not conflict with higher priorities in China’s national interest (territorial integrity and protecting strategic foreign relations). Thus, we would be even more likely to see intervention if doing so coincided with higher foreign policy priorities.

This book contributes to two fields of inquiry: understanding China’s foreign policy, and understanding the varied position of Chinese overseas. These fields are rarely linked together and that’s where Suryadinata’s book offers a valuable contribution. There are some shortcomings. There should be more acknowledgment of the differences between Chinese communities overseas and their attitudes toward China. It is not enough to note that communities in Southeast Asia have been there for generations and are fairly densely connected to host societies. The reader also wants to know how communities view mainland China and their connection to it. Would these citizens expect or want China to intervene on behalf of co-ethnic solidarity? Unclear. Second, no mention is made of the fact that as China’s role in global affairs increases, it is normal to think that they would do more to protect Chinese citizens living, working, or travelling overseas. It is not surprising that China is now able to do what other developed countries do when their citizens are stuck in conflict zones. This reflects a greater global presence and improved capabilities rather than a shift in policies towards co-ethnics per se. It might have been a fruitful approach to link Chinese foreign policy to the Chinese diaspora and focus more on extensive economic ties that China has worked to develop between ethnic Chinese outside of China and the booming mainland Chinese economy. This could have been done through a discussion about the meaning of “greater China” in an economic and soft power sense, or through business case studies linking overseas Chinese to Chinese economic opportunities. Although this was a missed opportunity, the book should still be read and valued by scholars and students interested in Chinese foreign policy and overseas Chinese.

Amy Freedman, C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, Brookville, USA


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MOTHERLESS TONGUES: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation. By Vicente L. Rafael. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2016. xii, 255 pp. (B&W photos.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6074-2.

In Motherless Tongues, Vicente Rafael relies upon the historical method to address questions deeply related to the field of translation studies: How do translators function? What is the purpose of translation? Why do we translate languages? And, what are the political implications of translation? The project has broad appeal to historians, political scientists, linguistics experts, and individuals in the field of translation and literary studies. Among the most notable aspects of the author’s approach in Motherless Tongues is that it is scholarly, theoretically vivid, and, at the same time, deeply personal. In Rafael’s own family, the parents spoke Ilonggo and Kapampangan (but the mother spoke only broken Ilonggo), which the children understood, but could not speak. And so, they would reply to the parents in English and Tagalog (3). Meanwhile, the languages of the Philippines referenced throughout the study include Taglish, English, Tagalog, Conyo-speak, collegiala talk, Arneo accents, Spanish, Hokkien, Hakka, German, and French—even as English, Tagalog, dialects, and Spanish became the “big four,” historically (4). Nevertheless, rather than portraying a blend of happy hybridity and multiculturalism that inevitably emerges out of cosmopolitan settings, the book focuses on conflict, on language wars.

The organization of the book is divided into three parts: Vernacularizing the Political, Weaponizing Babel, and Translating Lives. In part 1, the first three chapters deal with Spanish as a counterrevolutionary force during the movement toward Philippine independence in 1898; Filipino vernaculars politicized in the fight against colonial education systems; and texting as a means of circumvention in Manila, particularly in the EDSA II uprising, which sought to oust a corrupt president at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Throughout the chapters, there are also distinct themes that emerge, such as telecommunication and translation as a function of everyday life for the Philippine middle class.

By contrast, the second part of the book, Weaponizing Babel, is a commentary on American empire. Chapter 4 is an in-depth discussion of the origins of American area studies programs, featuring the intimate connection between area studies and the American empire. This chapter additionally functions to connect the earlier discussion on the Philippines to a broader, regional, Southeast Asian context, while bridging the discussion to the topics of the following chapter, which focuses on automatic translation and personal translation in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in the context of the post-9/11 American military. The latter third of the book, then, uses translation as more of a metaphor, from Rafael’s perspective (15–17). It focuses on the discussion of “accidents” in the field of area studies, the notion of “nostalgia,” and the concepts of “language, history, and autobiography,” and how these concepts translate across different historical settings. The final chapter is a publication of the tape-script of an interview with Siri Nergaard, editor of Translation: A Transdisciplinary Journal, which took place in 2013 (189ff). Scholars seeking a traditional historical narrative that unfolds entirely in a chronological fashion will not find it here. Instead, the reader is offered a series of interlocking essays, organized innovatively, based predominantly on theoretical and conceptual connections.

There are a few facets of the author’s argument that are particularly important to highlight. First and foremost, the dynamics of language, vernacular, and colonial education do not unfold in a particularly surprising fashion. As elsewhere, school systems created a linguistic hierarchy, relegating local languages to the background, forcing students to translate every day (54). What is surprising, however, is the degree to which English-language education penetrated the Philippines, as, by the 1930s, 35 percent of the population was literate in English, making the citizenry of the Philippines the most literate in a Western language of any Southeast Asian society at the time (45). Early successes spreading English contrast wildly with the almost comically tragic attempts to fund polyglotism by the American military, as depicted in several of the book’s chapters. Indeed, since WWII, language has been weaponized as a skill taught to soldiers. Between at least 2007 and 2009, Fort Lewis Foreign Language Training Center has taught ten-month courses in Arabic. The model operates somewhere between the adage that “language is power,” and the idea that language is a type of equipment you can add on to a standard pack of military gear (124). Language training takes longer than the process of invading and occupying. Therefore, “the language-enabled solider thus becomes obsolete even as he or she is being trained” (126). Even more tragic, however, is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Babylon Program, aiming to develop live translation interface software. “This mechanical model conceptualizes the surge in language capabilities as the complement to the surge of combat forces” (127). But the inputs are constrained to DARPA-identified tactical scenarios, and the early model “Phraselator” is only capable of translating English to an output language (129).

But this book isn’t just about the imperialists. Rather, it is also about the translators: the “traitors” who act as cultural spirit mediums (135). Hence, situated within this entire discussion, it seems that the central innovative argument to the text is that, in the words of Rafael, “If translation is like war, is it possible that war is also like translation? It is possible, I think, if we consider that the time of war is like the movement of translation. There is a sense that both lead not to the privileging of order and meaning but to the emergence of what I have been calling the untranslatable” (118). This central argument, coupled with the notion that translation is ultimately a compulsion (201), has grave implications for the human condition: if contestation is such a compulsion, then, so is the desire for understanding. Hence, the world of Motherless Tongues is encouraging to a degree that is, perhaps, even beyond the author’s intentions stated at the outset.

William B. Noseworthy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, USA


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GHOSTLY DESIRES: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema. By Arnika Fuhrmann. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. xii, 255 pp. (Illustrations.) US$24.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6155-8.

The moving image’s affinity with the spectral is at least as old as cinema, and just as global. In Asia, the strength of that bond—as evident in constant innovation in the horror genre—has not escaped notice. Introducing a recent edited volume, Ghost Movies in Southeast Asia and Beyond (Brill, 2016), Peter Bräunlein’s survey of the expanding literature gives a sense of its breadth, of Southeast Asia’s prominence in it, and of Thailand’s preponderance within that. However, at this busy academic intersection, efforts from the direction of film studies tend to still be contained by the horizon of “national cinema,” seldom straying beyond industrial-style productions; while those from the social sciences put films to illustrative purposes, describing sociological shifts whose proofs will always lie outside the frame. In neither strand is it common to find arguments that begin and end in reckonings with the aesthetic strategies of the most challenging artists.

Arnika Fuhrmann’s Ghostly Desires breaks those moulds, without forgetting the lessons they offer. Her book offers focused case studies, but includes a wide variety of genres—from mainstream transnational movies, through smaller art-house productions, to non-narrative video art and experimental documentary—providing a range that is likely to push film studies readers beyond their comfort zones. Exemplary works are examined on their own terms; each points to mindsets operative in contemporary Thai society and expressed in bourgeois institutional norms, without necessarily standing for general cultural or artistic trends. They are sequenced so as to open, and progressively mine, interpretive shafts revealing the cultural-historical underpinnings of a fairly recent, illiberal turn in Thailand’s public culture. Focusing on the period since the Asian financial crisis (1997–1998), Fuhrmann mobilizes works made with transnational markets and diverse audiences in mind, yet manages to define a contemporaneity utterly specific to the dysfunctional Thai polity in those two decades.

Fuhrmann is unafraid of abstraction, but explains herself thoroughly. Her prose rewards patient reading. Passing between formal analysis, nuanced contextualization, and confident interpretation, her argument is anything but linear, composed of loops and refrains that sustain and deepen the book’s central claims. She is most compelling when arguing through close treatments. The first, devoted to Nonzee Nimibutr’s romantic horror movie Nang Nak (1999), consolidates the historical backdrop for the study: the confluence of official discourses of moderation, national solidarity, and cultural recovery in the wake of the crisis, and the resulting inflections of gender norms (57–58). Thus, an exorcism scene, for all its appeals to a purportedly timeless but clearly “invented traditional femininity” (47), is shown to be the product of very contemporary struggles, in which such “truisms of Thainess” have come to gain “ascendancy over pluralist and egalitarian values” (71). Anachronism turns out to be fertile ground for filmmakers, but also for the critic.

At its philosophical crux, this is a study of how highly localized discourses of negativity, such as (old and new) “rhetorics of loss and injury,” have been on one hand deployed by conservative institutions devising illiberal new “modes of sexual regulation” (123), and at the same time hijacked or reclaimed, to critical and liberating ends, by artists. This contest locates the limits of Western liberalism—not just its geo-cultural thresholds, but its interplay with other ideals that absorb or prevail over it. Fuhrmann traces liberalism’s layered reflections in non-Western practices, whilst remaining alert to its mutations outside the legislative and political discourses tended by the state and mooted by activists. She likewise gives amplitude to “traditional” religious norms anchored outside Buddhism’s doctrinal mainstream, but which thrive in vernacular and popular cultures. A liberal might like to think, for instance, that we are all equal in death, but in the karmic economy of Thai Buddhism this is far from true. Death may be a mere way-station on the path to a more (or less) enlightened state of being; and even the hapless departed are fair game for moralists, as when the clergy prescribes meditation on female corpses to demonstrate the law of impermanence and the futility of desire. But as Fuhrmann argues, the discursive spaces engendered by such practices accommodate more than just preaching and negativity. The “deferral of detachment” also “provides a space of possibility, and the belatedness of desire … creates a domain for fantasy” (69). With a theoretical agility uncommon in Southeast Asian cultural studies, she shows how artists and filmmakers exploit this ambivalence.

Aside from burgeoning anthropological interest in media and mediumship, spectrality has also reared up as a more general, historiological condition, with the apparent demise of communism, and in attempts to reanimate internationalist ideals in the face of an unjust globalization. Again, Southeast Asia seems haunted by Cold War spectres, but it has largely fallen to artists and filmmakers to engage them in places where critical history, and historically informed criticism, remain dangerous pursuits. Their engagements range from cryptic allegory (such as the video installations of Singapore’s Ho Tzu Nyen) to documentary experiments in theatre and film (such as the reeanactments of Rithy Pan in Cambodia, or Joshua Oppenheimer in Indonesia). Thailand has been ably represented by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the region’s most celebrated auteur, whose roundly “hauntological” oeuvre has inspired social scientists and historically minded artists alike. His displacements of national history, by turns transnational and local, mobilize the everyday oral and folk idioms of Thailand’s Northeast, cultures less bound by national norms and imperatives than those of the capital. Fuhrmann follows Apichatpong into this dilated theatre—he is a key protagonist of the book—devoting subsequent chapters to the experiments of Araya Rasdjamrearnsook and Thunska Pansittivorakul, both pivotal artists working outside the capital who have received precious little scholarly attention.

Notwithstanding its compact subtitle, Ghostly Desires is about much more than Thai cinema. Fuhrmann pursues these diverse moving image-makers far beyond the nation’s moral-institutional architecture; and their “queering” of that architecture takes her far beyond the critical conventions of gender studies. This adventure confirms what any observer of contemporary Thailand, however engrossed in mainstream evidence, should know: that a genuinely progressive cultural politics, one that refuses to breathe the stifling atmosphere of bourgeois nationalism, has for years been practised there under the mantle of vanguard art. Meanwhile, the parochial culture industry lumbers on like a zombie, in thrall to self-serving elites and their now unashamedly despotic status quo.

David Teh, National University of Singapore, Singapore


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OF BEGGARS AND BUDDHAS: The Politics of Humor in the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand. New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies. By Katherine A. Bowie. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2017. xvi, 357 pp. (Illustrations.) US$64.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-299-30950-3.

Attending a ritual at a Buddhist temple in Thailand, one is tempted to assume the text being chanted has been determined by tradition and is performed the same way each time. A further assumption is that the motivation behind the chanting and the chosen text is strictly religious, aiming to further the spiritual status of ritual participants. Yet as Katherine A. Bowie shows, the choice and style of the chanting matters greatly: the language used, who is chanting, who sponsored the recitation, even whether it is humorous, all provide insights into political relations and motivations, as well as regional identities. To demonstrate these broader contexts and meanings, Of Beggars and Buddhas thoroughly examines the diverse tellings of the stories of Jujaka, the old beggar in the Vessantara Jataka, the Buddhist story of the last life of the historical Buddha before he was born as Gautama. Jujaka is an excellent character to follow because of the intricacies and variations surrounding how he is portrayed in central, northeastern, and northern Thailand, with each different approach shedding light on the forms of Buddhism in each region and the degrees to which Bangkok extended its control and influence—and the resistance to such control and influence—in each region. Bowie’s book is at once the story of a classic Buddhist text and a political, anthropological history of how Buddhism and the ways in which it is practiced illuminate political attitudes across social statuses and regions.

The range of characters—the people on the ground rather than the players in the Vessantara Jataka—that Bowie deals with is the true gift of this book. She moves deftly across the categories of what she refers to as the monarchs, the monks, and the masses, highlighting the motivations and pressures on each group in each of the three regions of Thailand. (Bowie is upfront about not including the south, as she does not have the history and connections in that region she has in the other three.) Using these three regions enables Bowie to develop her argument that the manner in which Jujaka is portrayed in each location reflects the degree of influence coming from Bangkok’s elite as well as how local people (the masses) respond to this influence. She integrates historical context, regional variation, and social perspectives as people across the social and geographic spectrum use the text to their own ends. Part 1 of the book defines how the Vessantara Jataka, and the character of Jujaka in particular, is portrayed and performed in each region. These three chapters provide the geographical grid on which Bowie’s more nuanced analysis is laid out in part 2.

Part 2, also in three chapters, focuses more on the historico-political processes of the different regional interpretations of the story and how they played off of each other over time, up to the present. Bowie uses the motifs of Jujaka as Trickster, as Threat, and as Deity in consecutive chapters as she develops her main argument—and theoretical contribution—of the politics of humour. Throughout the telling, Bowie shows Jujaka as a foil of different political, social agents, from the court elite stifling his role to control how the court is portrayed to the raucous, cunning, and hilarious figure in which resistance to Bangkok is embedded in the north. In addition to the historico-political grid of part 2, Bowie incorporates a dynamic dimension, revealing the changes to the story and the portrayals of Jujaka and other characters in the jataka over time, resulting from evolving power relations across the regions.

Bowie’s encyclopedic knowledge of the literature about Buddhism and the political history and ethnography of Thailand allows her to show the interplay between humour, morality, narrative, and politics from different perspectives. Although someone unfamiliar with at least a basic understanding of Thai society, history, and Buddhism may at times feel lost in her descriptions, it is worth working through the details to unpack the complexities and depth of the evidence underlying her argument.

In building her argument about the politics of humour, Bowie taps into a wide range of theoretical literature. She draws extensively from anthropological, historical, philosophical, and literary theories to provide a complex yet solid framework for her approach to understanding Jujaka in all his manifestations. Ideas of scholars from Mikhail Bakhtin to James Scott to Charles Hallisey, and numerous others, all contribute to the development of Bowie’s original analysis as she frames her argument in response to prior theories of Buddhist literature and Thai history and society, culminating in an original analysis of the power of humour in religious and political practice.

Most impressive is the depth of Bowie’s ethnographic experiences that inform her analysis. She has undertaken extensive ethnographic, political, and historical research in Thailand over several decades. Although most of her work has focused on the north, Bowie availed herself of every opportunity to reveal the histories and perspectives of other regions—from travelling to numerous temples across the kingdom to interviewing and chatting with every taxi driver and shop keeper she encountered. She brings in the perspectives of many monks, including the few remaining who still tell the humorous versions of Jujaka in northern Thailand, villagers across all three regions, scholars, and urban folks. She conducted hundreds of oral histories (mostly in the 1980s) that enable her to highlight the views and understandings she presents through the voices of people involved. Performances of the jataka that she attended emerge through rich and engaging ethnographic details. The result is a vivid and nuanced analysis that is at once entertaining (how could it not be given the emphasis on humour?), compelling, and provocative.

Susan M. Darlington, Hampshire College, Amherst, USA


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SIEGE OF THE SPIRITS: Community and Polity in Bangkok. By Michael Herzfeld. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 2016. xii, 267 pp. (Map, illustrations.) US$30.00, paper. ISBN 978-0-226-33161-4.

In July 2003, on one of my many professional trips to Thailand, Professor Michael Herzfeld, an anthropologist from Harvard, invited me to visit the community at the base of Pom Mahakan, an eighteenth-century fort in the middle of the old city of Bangkok. Herzfeld had recently begun fieldwork research in this community in part because he found it to be comparable to heritage sites in Greece and Italy where he had carried out previous research.

The community at Pom Mahakan was begun in the late eighteenth century when the first kings of the current Chakri dynasty built a number of forts to protect the palace and government buildings in Bangkok, the then new capital of Siam. The members of the original community who had been given land at the base of the fort worked for the monarch or were the family members of these courtiers. Those living in the community today are primarily descendants of the original inhabitants.

Because Pom Mahakan is located near the Buddhist shrine known as the Golden Mount, which is in the centre of the old city known as Ratanakosin Island, it has long been of interest to Thai government officials and especially to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), which seeks to promote historic preservation. Beginning in 1959 the BMA sought to buy out the modern-day inhabitants to preserve the fort and some of the houses and make the fort and houses into a government-designated cultural heritage site. While some inhabitants of the community accepted payment for their houses, others did not, seeing themselves as the most appropriate conservators of the heritage of the fort and the old houses located in the community. In 1992, the BMA “declared eminent domain over the private land behind the old fort near Ratchadamnoen Road and Wat Saket, saying it would build a park there,” to quote an article that appeared in Khaosod English in March 2016. Protests against the decree began in 1992 and continued until 2017. At the suggestion of a Thai classmate he had been close to in England, Herzfeld was drawn to this place because the protests centred on the question of who could claim ownership of the heritage of a historic site. As this was closely related to research he had undertaken previously in Europe, he decided to make the Pom Mahakan community the focus of new research in Thailand.

Even in my brief visit to the community in 2003, it became clear to me that the question of who has the obligation and responsibility for preserving heritage was highly contested; this was evident in my conversations with the very articulate residents introduced to me by Herzfeld, and even more through Herzfeld’s writings. The Pom Mahakan community was (and is) very small, numbering several hundred people. Despite the fact that the Thai Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration had the legal right to evict people from the area, it was not until 2017, after a military dictatorship had assumed power, that demolition commenced on homes whose owners had accepted compensation.

Herzfeld’s book details the long struggle of the community to be allowed to preserve the heritage at that site. In 2017, after the book had been published and widely praised—including by many in Thailand—Herzfeld returned to the community only to witness the dismantling of several residences in the community. In an interview published in Khaosod English on March 15, 2017 he described the experience as “sickening.” Instead of allowing the community to continue to serve as a mirror for the nation, it has become a casualty of the BMA’s imposition of its own view of cultural heritage. Some of the houses will be allowed to remain as a museum, but the residents—even though a few may be hired to work as guides—must move elsewhere. “If they are … forced to leave the site, a last lingering trace of the old Siamese polity—the polity of the ghosts venerated in the community’s shrines—will vanish, a barely perceptible wisp trailing the fast-fading echoes of memory into the greedy smog of modern Bangkok” (204).

Herzfeld found the story of the Pom Mahakan community intriguing because residents view it “as a microcosm of the entire [Thai] polity” (203). Herzfeld, on the basis of his long engagement with members of the community, argues that the community is not “so much a microcosm as a mirror, a mirror that reflects many of the tensions and brittle balances that plague Thai politics and governance today” (203). It is for this reason that his book is especially relevant for those seeking to understand cultural politics in contemporary Thai society as well as the politics of cultural heritage more generally.

Despite the apparent outcome for this particular community, the book will remain as a powerful tribute to the long-suffering residents of Pom Mahakan and it can and will still be read as a unique and relevant perspective on cultural politics in Thailand.

Charles Keyes, University of Washington, Seattle, USA


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HAMKA’S GREAT STORY: A Master Writer’s Vision of Islam for Modern Indonesia. New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies. By James R. Rush. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2016. xix, 286 pp. (Maps, B&W photos.) US$79.95, cloth. ISBN 978-0-299-30840-7.

James Rush’s Hamka’s Great Story could not be more timely. A series of arrests against minorities in the name of protecting citizens’ morality is taking place in Indonesia today. The governor of Jakarta, a Chinese Christian, was just put in jail through an accusation of humiliating the Qu’ran; under Sharia law, a gay couple in Aceh was punished on stage in a public square with eighty-five strokes of the cane; meanwhile 141 men at a gay party in Jakarta were arrested for allegedly violating what is known as the Pornography Law. Such recent events, associated with the Islamic turn in Indonesia, are inseparable from the process of “democratic” transition, which (especially since the time of President Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono) has been marked by the withdrawal of the state from taking action on discrimination and violence against religious and sexual minorities. This development, along with the rise of Islamists and their aspiration to increase the influence of Islamic nationhood in the socio-political life of Indonesia, has worried not only Indonesia’s minorities but also the majority of moderate Muslims. While I was reading James Rush’s book, a masterful biography of Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (Hamka) (1908–1981), a prominent Muslim Indonesian who lived through different regimes of power, I could not stop wondering what Hamka would have thought about the goings on in his Indonesia today.

Hamka’s story, in Rush’s words, is Islam’s story, which is also Indonesia’s story. It is a story about conflicts and conciliations between Islam and Pancasila (the five principles of the Indonesian state) as they were experienced by Hamka. Hamka lived during a time when the state was actively involved in making sure that society was shaped not by Islam but by the state. The era he last lived in was that of the New Order, which demanded that citizens be loyal to the state by not bringing religion into political life. As a member of that social order, Hamka always opposed theocracy and he cared about the national society above religion. However, and this is what makes Rush’s account of Hamka so interesting, Hamka also always wondered why Pancasila, and not Islam, was the basis of the nation; why in a country where Muslims were the majority, there was such reluctance to allow Muslims to apply Muslim law (159).

The main theme of Hamka’s Great Story is captured in a question that Hamka posed for himself: “What does it mean to be a Muslim, to be Indonesian?” (xiv). In Hamka, Rush presents us with a Muslim who took Islam as his living compass. He saw every happening, small or large, individual or historical, as an unfolding of the Greater Story of Islam, where “there is no God but God,” but such totality in turn moved him and his Indonesia forward from one era to the next without becoming an Islamic state. He was a “modernist” (associated with Muhammadiyah) who rejected the Javanized Hinduism of pre-Muslim civilization as part of Indonesian Islamic culture. Yet, he was occasionally invited to speak at the gathering of the “traditionalist” Nahdlatul Ulama, the rival organization of Muhamadiyah. Hamka seems to have transcended both the modernist and the traditionalist. This explains how he was appointed chair of the state’s Ulama Council, but the position never turned him into a state apparatus. Instead, he was perceived by his fellow Muslims all the way to the end of his life as an independent individual who, when stepping down from his post as the chairman of the Ulama Council, was “in a blaze of glory for standing up to the government” (176). In relation to the state, Hamka was celebrated as “a symbol of freedom and resistance,” as if Islamic value gained meaning not by occupying the state, but by forming a critical relationship with it.

I have focused on the book’s coverage of the theme of religion and the state, but there are many other interesting stories in Hamka’s Great Story. As a kid in Medan, I read Tenggelamnya kapal van de Wijck at school and we knew the author’s name, Hamka, by heart. We knew nothing however about the fact that the great novel was an adaptation of the work of an Egyptian writer. How Hamka defended himself was profoundly interesting and it was superbly documented and discussed as part of the larger cultural wars of the 1960s and the power struggles between the army, the Islamic group, the left literary circles, and the Indonesian Communist Party. It is this moving in and out of Hamka’s great story to address the larger historical dynamic within which Hamka is embedded that makes the book valuable. Rush presents absorbing accounts of Hamka’s own life, often through a detailed account of the everyday in order to breach the great historical themes of religion and nationhood.

Those who have read Rush’s earlier masterpiece on opium farming and the Chinese of Java will recognize the shift in Rush’s approach to Indonesian history. Opium to Java (published in 1990) portrayed the micro view of the colonial state, but Hamka’s Great Story sees Indonesian history from the inside through the perspective of an Islamic nationalist. Hamka died in 1981, and today, his fellow Muslim Indonesians are also posing questions about Islam and the state, issues with which Hamka himself wrestled. In the conclusion, Rush offers the opinion that Hamka’s Great Story cannot be seen as giving rise or contributing to the radical Islamism of today’s Indonesia. There are many more stories today about “Islam for Indonesia” but few are presented in ways that acknowledge the diversity of Islam and that any definition of “what is Islam” is spatially and temporally bounded. Hamka’s Great Story presents Islam and the state relations contextually so that new problems and challenges might be understood historically.

Abidin Kusno, York University, Toronto, Canada


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TROPICAL RENDITIONS: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America. Refiguring American Music. By Christine Bacareza Balance. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. xviii, 230 pp. (Illustrations.) US$23.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6001-8.

A key motif of Christine Bacareza Balance’s excellent new book, Tropical Renditions: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America, is a practice she generatively calls “disobedient listening.” To set up this theme, she takes us to the cold opening of Marlon Fuentes’s experimental film, Bontoc Eulogy (1995). In the scene, Fuentes sits on the floor in a spare room facing a Victrola, presumably listening to music and voice recordings made of Filipinos at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Bontoc Eulogy plays on and with familiar tropes of the documentary genre, dramatizing Fuentes’s investigation to find traces of his exhibited grandfather Markod. Balance’s analysis helps us to appreciate how Fuentes can be appreciated as a kind of DJ who, as Balance puts it, “flips the beat … to revise, rework, and adapt it” (28). In that opening image, what Fuentes is doing is uncannily akin to what DJs might call digging, or searching through archives of recordings to find anything that could help them DJ that much better. But instead of garage sales and record store basements, Fuentes is digging through World’s Fair archives and anthropology museums. What DJs and Fuentes share is their capacity to make musical scenes in Filipino America. And with such a parallel established, Balance’s notions of “disobedient listening” and “renditions” can link agency and affect for appreciating legacies of colonialism, resistance, and diaspora, from 1898 to today. As Balance writes, “into the familiar sound tracks of historical violence, there are breaks in the record, imaginative spaces that provide room to improvise new movements and gestures across the seemingly smooth surfaces of historical time” (23). And with such a framework and its “phonographic approach,” Tropical Renditions examines cultural practices ranging from DJing and karaoke to performance art and indie rock, not only to account for the making of musical scenes in Filipino America, but also the making of Filipino America through musical scenes.

Balance’s book is a major contribution to a flowering of contemporary scholarship on the Filipino diaspora and musical performance written and/or edited by such scholars and artists as Roderick Labrador, DJ Kuttin’ Kandy, Mark Villegas, Antonio Tiongson, Theo Gonzalves, Lucy Burns, Sarita See, Jeff Chang, Michael Viola, Lorenzo Perillo, and others.

In her discussion, Balance usefully situates DJing in the history of musical performance in Filipino America. Balance’s notion of “renditions” functions as a way of connecting dots so that when DJ QBert and other champions of the form do what they do with recordings, technology, and performance, they can be seen as participating in and extending critical engagements that have marked the dynamic relationship between Filipinos and the US empire. DJs are then understood as giving form to affirming manifestations of difference that are both alien and musical. As Balance writes, “Through our disobedient listening to the ‘weirdest sounds’ and styles of DJ QBert and the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, we can and should take seriously the political and aesthetic alliances made possible by the identity category of alien, as both recuperation of previous histories and a signaling toward other forms of extraterrestrial intelligence” (42). Turntablist-DJing, rather than being a maligned substitute for traditional instrumental virtuosity, is then a medium of transformative creative expression precisely because of its remixing capacities for disobedient listening and renditions.

Balance fittingly then turns to the “serious” significance of karaoke for Filipino America. She writes, “Where in other contexts karaoke is merely seen as entertainment or diversion, in Filipino America, musical voices regard karaoke as something more serious” (77). With an extended focus on the case of the rise of Charice Pempengco, Balance explores the formative and critical role of karaoke technology in the development of talent for Filipinos and the diaspora. Balance examines karaoke singing as a form of “secondary orality,” drawing on Walter Ong’s concept. As with DJing, she takes what might potentially be seen as a devalued practice of musical performance and shows how that devaluation creates conditions for creative agency in Filipino America.

Her third chapter is an extended consideration of the musical performance work of multi-disciplinary artist Jessica Hagedorn. Balance provides welcome and needed attention to a figure who has mostly been appreciated for her brilliant literary and dramatic work. By focusing the analysis on Hagedorn’s collaborations with her Gangster Choirs, Balance compellingly asserts a relationship between the creative strategies of the Gangster Choir musical collectives and those of Hagedorn’s poetry, prose, and drama. Importantly, Balance provides useful reframing of Hagedorn’s life and career, not merely as a form of literary biography, but as a way of critically rethinking the relationship between authenticity and intelligibility, between the “disobedient listening” and “renditions” that made and remade Filipino America through Hagedorn’s diverse work in literature, performance, and indeed music. Balance writes, “Filled with scenes of concert-going and radio listening in cities like Manila, San Francisco, and New York, [Hagedorn’s] early poems, today, serve as a soundtrack for the ‘counter-assimilationist immigrant narrative’ in her work and acknowledges U.S. pop culture and music’s influence as beginning in the Philippines” (99–100).

Balance’s book culminates by focusing on what may be its most pathbreaking research: indie Pinoise rock and its infrastructures of production and consumption for Filipino America. Balance shows how the convergence of “indie” and “translocal” is a site where the meaning of the global can, and perhaps must, be critically understood. In characterizing how these underappreciated performers demand wider recognition, scholarly and otherwise, Balance writes, “accounts of analog media forms, and the ways in which they helped original Pilipino musical (OPM) forms such as classic, punk, and indie rock flourish, fly in the face of the cultural imperialist view that non-Western cultures passively consume U.S. and European popular music. Instead,” Balance goes on to note, in an observation that could characterize all of the cultural practices she illuminates, “these stories show how Filipino rock musicians have flipped the beat on Western pop musical objects and media in the service of developing local scenes and sounds” (154). From DJing and karaoke to performance art and indie Pinoise rock, Balance’s book draws out the rich implications of such musical scenes, and in doing so, shows how Filipino America has been made, and made uniquely meaningful, through music.

Victor Bascara, University of California, Los Angeles, USA


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RESILIENCE AND GROWTH IN THE SMALL STATES OF THE PACIFIC. Editors: Hoe Ee Khor, Roger P. Kronenberg, and Patrizia Tumbarello. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund, 2016. xix, 440 pp. (Illustrations.) US$35.00, paper. ISBN 978-1-51350-752-1.

This book discusses the low economic growth of Pacific Island member states of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) compared to other developing regions. The states are the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, as well as Timor-Leste (included due to its perceived similarities in prospects and challenges). Most of the eighteen chapters and four hundred graph-studded pages are based on papers presented at high-level IMF meetings held in the Pacific between 2012 and 2015.

In the ten years before the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 these countries averaged growth of only 2 percent per year, compared to significantly higher rates in the Caribbean and low-income countries in Asia, and with markedly lower growth in average real incomes per capita than the Caribbean countries and the “emerging” Asian nations. Why is this so? The contributors agree that Pacific Island states have common characteristics (small sizes, populations, and markets, geographic isolation, vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, and unsustainable depletion of natural resources), which are all explanatory factors, but are insufficient to explain the weaknesses of their economic performances. Additional reasons for low growth can also be explained by weak macroeconomic frameworks, lack of capacity to implement reforms, and other factors such as “laws and customs that limit the flexibility of product and factor markets, particularly the real estate market” (x).

The book is organized into four thematic areas with chapters by different authors. The first section, “Setting the Stage: The Quest of Resilience and Growth in the Pacific Islands,” has five chapters. The second, “Managing External Spillovers, Shock and Vulnerabilities,” has four papers, the third, “Tailoring Macroeconomic Policies to the Small states of the Pacific,” has five chapters on aspects of fiscal and monetary policy, and the fourth and final section, “Removing Structural Impediments to Growth,” has four chapters addressing financial management reforms, global trade integration, and banking. The book has appendices briefly describing the economies of each of the countries under discussion, with financial data from the period 1991–2015.

The contributors proposing policy solutions acknowledge a “severe shortage of expertise and implementation capacity” (xii) in many of the countries and propose careful prioritization to address the most pressing constraints to growth, with measures for institution building, confidence-inspiring fiscal and monetary policies, debt sustainability, and openness to global opportunities. However, it seems to this reviewer that it is not just lack of competence that is the challenge, but the political realities arising from the varied historical circumstances of these countries. Among the key policy elements identified by Kronenberg and Khor (6, 18) is “the structural rigidities in land tenure systems” in reference to customary tenure as obstacle to the commercial commodification of land and use of land to secure bank loans, which forces up interest rates in response to risk. All is not doom and gloom, however. In an overview of bank profitability, Davies, Vaught, and Cabezon (331–356) note that overall bank income from interest is higher than most other emerging markets, and that profits from fees, charges, and foreign exchange activities are also higher. Another important issue identified in several of the chapters is the need for regional arrangements to improve trade and other beneficial connections. This has certainly been seen as a desirable goal by all the countries concerned for the past fifty years or more, but is challenged by their different colonial histories that shaped their existing connectivities.

Haque, Bontjer, Betley, and Hackett (275–288) propose that better practices in public financial management will be part of the solution to overcome poor economic performance. Good practice emphasizes political context, as well as resource allocation, government leadership, extensive consultation, a medium-term focus, and flexibility. Their proposed road map prioritizes reforms in the management of public finance. Prevailing weaknesses to be overcome are associated with budgets which do not reflect government priorities, leading to unsustainable deficits and inconsistent allocation, and thus undermining service delivery. Technical support for the road map that they advocate is offered by the Pacific Financial Technical Assistance Centre (PFTAC) established in 1993 to promote macro-financial stability in the Pacific Island countries, headquartered in Fiji and currently supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Australia, the European Union (EU), Korea, and New Zealand.

The enquiring reader may wonder whether meaningful generalizations can be made about the economic situation and management of countries as different as Tuvalu, with 11,000 inhabitants on nine tiny coral atolls, and Papua New Guinea, with a population of over 7 million in a land rich with gold, copper, timber, and natural gas, along with eleven other very differently circumstanced countries. One may ask whether it is useful to offer detailed comparisons of the economic circumstances of Pacific Island countries, whose unique circumstances are reiterated in every chapter, with small states, large states, “other island” states, resource-rich and resource-poor states, and states in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. However, macroeconomists may find such comparisons useful and interesting.

Penelope Schoeffel, National University of Samoa, Apia, Samoa

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DOMINATION AND RESISTANCE: The United States and the Marshall Islands during the Cold War. By Martha Smith-Norris. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016. x, 249 pp. (Maps, B&W photos.) US$62.00, cloth. ISBN 978-0-8248-4762-3.

Martha Smith-Norris opens with a dedication to Tony deBrum, the minister of foreign affairs who presented before the UN Trusteeship Council in 1981 and “all of the others who fought, and continue to fight for justice in the Marshall Islands,” demonstrating her argument expands beyond the discipline of history (v). She provides a valuable text to realize the contemporary and ongoing implications of the US nuclear and missile defense programs in the Marshall Islands and beyond.

In July 2017, 130 nation-states gathered at the United Nations (UN) for the “conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination” (United Nations, Report A/CONF.229/2017/L.3/Rev.1, 2016). The United States (US), along with all other nuclear-armed states, boycotted the negotiations and refused to participate. Despite this public defiance and denial of nuclear norms and dangers, 122 nation-states signed the treaty banning nuclear weapons on July 7, 2017.

This important event and the continuing refusal of the US to consider disarmament is tied to the history of the US nuclear weapons testing program, which culminated in sixty-seven nuclear explosions and hundreds of missile and other chemical weapons tests in the Republic of the Marshall Islands during the Cold War. Today, Washington continues to fail to “provide adequate compensation to the people of the Marshall Islands for the extensive health and environmental damages caused by the US testing program” by not fully funding the Nuclear Claims Tribunal (1).

As part of her site-specific case study, Smith-Norris combines historical government documents, previously classified information, maps, and photographs, with testimonies presented before international institutions and legal bodies of the first-hand accounts of nuclear weapons experiments and missile defense testing. She limits her analysis to five themes: the power and authority of the US in the Marshall Islands; key aspects of Washington’s Cold War research agenda, including weapons systems and human radiation studies; the health and environmental damage caused by the American testing programs; the acts of protest and resistance by the islanders and specific communities; and the US response to the plight of the Marshallese (6).

Based on the realist theory of international relations and focusing on indigenous resistance strategies (11), she presents two sides of the nuclear program story. She begins with the US justification to test “a vast array of nuclear bombs and missiles … while conducting research on the effects of human exposure to radioactive fallout” (1) for the “benefit of all mankind and to end all world wars” (44). Smith-Norris successfully exposes how the openly racist and often contradictory US governmental programs of the past continue to inform US policies and the enduring resistance by the Marshallese people.

The book is divided geographically by atoll, with the first three chapters providing the historical setting and reasons for the US nuclear testing program on each atoll. Enewetak Atoll was used for forty-three nuclear tests between 1948 and 1958 as well as the lesser known chemical warfare testing of the early 1970s (13). Twenty-three nuclear weapons tests on Bikini Atoll occurred between 1946 and 1958, with the 1954 Bravo explosion memorialized as the largest test ever conducted, devastating both Rongelap and Utirik atolls. Smith-Norris clearly demonstrates how, without their consent, the atoll communities became the subjects of human radiation experiments by scientists and doctors from the Brookhaven National Laboratory from 1954 into the 1980s, and were used as a data source for the benefit of the US government.

In each chapter, Smith-Norris emphasizes the human and ecological consequences, and through residents’ statements and Navy and activists’ photographs, she features a “variety of political and legal tactics—including petitions, lawsuits, demonstrations, and negotiations” of nonviolent direct action indigenous resistance by the Marshallese (1). Chapter 4 includes a brief mention of Marshallese “sail-ins” protesting the missile-testing range on Kwajalein Atoll, currently known as the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, where the US currently tests intercontinental ballistic missiles and antiballistic missile systems (14).

The geopolitical, environmental, and ethical complications of this case study cannot be underestimated, with the fifth chapter discussing the political climate when the US and the Republic of the Marshall Islands signed the Compact of Free Association. The epilogue stresses the 2012 UN rapporteur’s report, which demands compensation from Washington for the extensive health and environmental damages caused by the American nuclear testing program (15). The Marshallese continue to fight for health justice and proper medical care, environmental justice and the clean up of their toxic home, and financial justice to fully fund the Nuclear Claims Tribunal’s decisions. However, progress has not been able to match the pace of damage on the island of Runit, where the radioactive waste site is currently “leaking 111,000 cubic yards of radioactive debris,” as reported by Collen Jose, Kim Wall, and Jan Hendrik Hinzel of The Guardian in 2015 (

Smith-Norris presents a complex and uncomfortable chapter in Cold War history of which most Americans, even students of history, are unaware. She provides an accessible and investigative overview of US government and military “domination” during the Cold War years. Through her analysis of the steadfast, resilient “resistance” by the Marshallese, she offers a valuable context for understanding contemporary US nuclear policies and global missile defense systems. Her work contributes to the field of not only history, but international and domestic law, particularly in relation to health, environmental, and financial justice. The relevance of this book within international relations and peace and conflict studies offers a needed critical discussion of contemporary and historical US militarization. This significant work should be required reading for both students and policy makers alike.

As an academic activist involved with indigenous resistance movements to US militarization across Oceania, I appreciate her approach to the complexities and challenges within the Marshallese resistance and would have liked to learn more of the strategies of and issues surrounding the scholarly solidarity expressed by US anthropologists, academics, and lawyers.

Sylvia C. Frain, University of Guam, Mangilao, Guam


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GENDER VIOLENCE & HUMAN RIGHTS: Seeking Justice in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Edited by Aletta Biersack, Margaret Jolly, Martha Macintyre. Canberra: ANU Press, 2016. xiii, 384 pp. (Maps, illustrations.) Free, eBook: ISBN 978-1-760460-71-6.

TRANSFORMATIONS OF GENDER IN MELANESIA. Pacific Series. Edited by Martha Macintyre, Ceridwen Spark. Acton, ACT: ANU Press, 2017. xii, 189 pp. Free, eBook: ISBN 978-1-760460-89-1.

These two edited volumes share a publisher, a co-editor, and many theoretical and political concerns. Both include some excellent contributions. However, the first, Gender Violence & Human Rights: Seeking Justice in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, stands out: tightly and brilliantly organized around Sally Engel Merry’s “vernacularization” thesis, it engages deeply with the question of how “global” human rights discourses are translated and incorporated into “local” contexts. The second, Transformations of Gender in Melanesia, is less cohesive as a volume, but can be productively viewed as an exploration of how gender norms intersect with class, regional, and racial identities in PNG, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, and West Papua. I will discuss each book in turn.

Merry’s thesis, advanced most prominently in her 2006 book Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice, is that because the institutions and discourses of human rights are culturally grounded in Euro-American secular liberalism, they must be “translated” into local cultural frameworks to make them “intelligible and palatable to those living outside a Euro-American cultural and historical milieu” (33). Central to Merry’s vision of how this happens is the role of “middle figures”—those who live between worlds and can help do the difficult work of vernacularization. In Melanesia, these individuals are often—though not always, as the volume shows—cosmopolitan elites who have been educated overseas and have a personal interest in allying themselves with global institutions. One problem with this arrangement is, of course, that as the cultural divide between elites and the “grassroots” grows, so too does the salience of the argument that concepts of human rights and gender violence are foreign, neocolonial impositions that insult indigenous cultural values and threaten male leaders’ control over community justice.

Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji are culturally diverse independent nations whose constitutions guarantee gender equality. All three countries have ratified the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite formal equality, these countries (most notoriously, Papua New Guinea) have high rates of gendered violence, including wife-beating, sexual assault, and child abuse. The gap between formal equality of the genders and people’s actual experiences has long been attributed to the persistence of “traditional culture” (kastom in Vanuatu and PNG) and its reification through institutions such as village courts. While they are not supposed to hear cases involving rape, assault, and child abuse, in practice they frequently do. Gender-based violence, because it is so often linked to marriage, bridewealth, and relations between families or clans, may be treated as a private or local matter that should be dealt with through community structures and in a customary idiom. Thus the involvement of “outside” institutions, discourses, and actors may be seen as an imposition and a denial of local (male) authority. This is a key dynamic that recurs throughout the book.

Linda Newland’s chapter argues that in iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) villages, both customary and church-based forms of mediation endanger women and girls because their objective is to preserve relations between men and to buttress chiefly authority—not to provide justice for individuals. The bulubulu (whale’s tooth) reconciliation ceremony was one of Merry’s primary examples of how an indigenous social practice can be used to smuggle in concepts of human rights and social justice. Newland strongly disputes this, arguing that village and family “harmony” are seen as dependent on male authority.

The legitimacy of certain forms of male violence within Melanesian communities is a second theme that runs through many of the chapters. Men’s discipline of women and children is seen, by perpetrators and often by the wider community, as a moral imperative—a way of preserving a social and symbolic order being ripped apart by change. Recasting male violence as deviant and antisocial can be difficult. Contemporary political and economic realities must be understood as well. Nicole George’s chapter describes how, in post-coup Fiji, “the lines that define military and civilian aspects of social and cultural life become more comprehensively blurred [and] violent expressions of masculine authority have become normalized with devastating effects” (208). The apparent increase in violence against women must be understood in the context of women’s diminished economic capacity. Increased military spending and structural adjustment diverted public funds from social welfare institutions, and political instability discouraged international investment in manufacturing and tourism.

The book includes two chapters examining changing masculine identities. The first, by Phillip Gibbs, discusses church-run men’s groups in Western Province, PNG, and how many men see their roles as leaders, protectors, and peacemakers slipping away. Growing inequality between men is discussed by John Taylor and Natalie Arujo in their chapter on sorcery in Vanuatu. As sorcery techniques become “democratized”—decoupled from chiefly power and secret societies, and available on a more or less open market—disempowered young men use sorcery to gain sexual access to women, subvert the powers of the state and chiefly authority, and compete with other men for status.

While community-based justice, indigenous values, and customary practices are often cast as “part of the problem,” Katherine Lepani’s chapter on HIV and gender violence argues that connections to place and indigenous social forms do not necessarily reinforce male dominance and female disempowerment. Discussing the matrilineal Trobriand Islands, Lepani provides an important rebuttal to discourses that equate the local with patriarchy and violence against women.

While the first five chapters present case studies grounded in individual countries, the contributions by Jean Zorn and Aletta Biersack take a comparative perspective. Zorn’s chapter describes how judges throughout the Pacific have translated and integrated CEDAW (the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women) into domestic law. She identifies specific ways that judges employ CEDAW in their decisions—as precedent, as authority to change common law, and as if it were domestic statute. While the cases she cites are inspiring, she notes that “[t]he effect of judicial decisions implementing CEDAW has not gone much beyond the legal system itself” (523). Biersack’s chapter also looks at the limits of legislative remedies, arguing that legal recognition of human rights and sanction of violence against women are ineffectual without institution building and transformation of norms.

Margaret Jolly’s concluding essay is thoughtful, and includes some important criticisms of the vernacularization thesis. The absence from the volume of a comment from Merry herself is disappointing, since the authors’ and editors’ engagement with her work is so thorough.

Transformations of Gender in Melanesia is more eclectic. Its focus is more on cultural constructions of gender and how modernity and development do—or do not—create new forms of masculinity and femininity. The book starts promisingly with an excellent chapter by Stephanie Lusby analyzing how securitization and security discourse work to legitimate violence against the socially marginal in Papua New Guinea. This chapter, in and of itself, is worth the price of the book: drawing on interviews with low-paid guards in the private security industry, Lusby explores how the imperative of “maintaining law and order” is used to justify everything from punitive rape and wife-beating to abuse of asylum seekers in the Manus detention center. Lusby shows how porous the boundaries are between domestic, political, state, and communal violence, and reminds us that men in PNG, too, are victims of violence. Poor and working-class men in PNG are, like women, presented with diverse options for constructing a masculine identity, but are seriously constrained in their ability to live up to social ideals.

Jenny Munro presents the case of educated Dani men in Papua, Indonesia and their struggles to embody a more positive, nonviolent form of masculinity. Despite their intellectual commitment to more egalitarian marital relationships, these men struggle to put their values into practice due to the structural violence they face as racialized subjects in a politically repressive settler colony. John Cox discusses education as a force for gendered transformation through discussion of a grassroots kindergarten in the rural Solomon Islands. Based on a very brief period of fieldwork, this chapter presents largely speculative musings on social change, but includes some interesting thoughts on the (over-?) valuation of formal education in Melanesia. He also critiques the common assumption that progressive transformation must be mediated by urban elites.

Several contributions share a concern with “exceptional” women and the structural barriers they face due to gender: female political candidates (Soaki); educated urban women (Spark); young women leaders and activists (Brimacombe). All capture important contemporary trends toward greater independence for women in the region, mapping some of the opportunities for and barriers to solidarity between women.

The volume concludes with “Lewa Was Mama (Beloved Guardian Mother),” a beautiful auto-ethnographic poem in Tok Pisin (with English translation) by Michelle Nayahamui Rooney. Written in the aftermath of the public lynching of Kepari Leniata, a PNG woman accused of sorcery, the poem’s protagonist is offered love magic by an old woman who sees she is being mistreated by her partner. The poem describes magical transactions between women as a form of female relationality and care, and women’s indigenous spirituality as a shield against male domination.

The figure of the downtrodden, self-sacrificing “mama” is ubiquitous in PNG fiction, song, poetry, and journalism. Upwardly mobile women often seek to distinguish themselves from their grandmothers who, while they may be loved and appreciated, are also frequently cast as backward and oppressed. In her commentary on the poem, Rooney notes “how narratives of ‘women’s empowerment’ potentially can work to diminish the relationships that women draw on for mutual support” (183). In discourse, the “modern woman” is contrasted with the “rural mama.” In reality, Rooney suggests, they work to constitute one another.

Put together, these two volumes evince a tempered optimism about the struggle to create a more equal future in Melanesia. As Jean Zorn writes in her chapter, “One wishes that the future would not take so long to arrive” (263).

Barbara Andersen, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand


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TIDES OF INNOVATION IN OCEANIA: Value, materiality and place. Monographs in Anthropology. Edited by Elisabetta Gnecchi-Ruscone and Anna Paini. Acton, A.C.T.: ANU Press, 2017. xv, 347 pp. (Illustrations.) Free, eBook: ISBN 978-1-760460-93-8.

The values of people, places, and material objects is unpredictable and, thus, cannot be conveyed as easy and pithy definitions. Ethnography, however, can provide stark illustrations of the creative processes of continuity and change that characterize the formation and transformation of values. In recent years there has been considerable growth in anthropological research focused on these themes. In this volume, Elisabetta Gnecchi-Ruscone and Anna Paini seek to illustrate the dynamic processes of valuing through ethnographic cases studied by anthropologists working with different Oceanic societies.

The polysemic nature of valuing clearly emerges as a common feature of different societies in Oceania. It appears to result from the interactions between societies and between humans, objects, and places. Valuing, however, cannot be reduced to a series of isolated features. Valuing is best understood as an open-ended interconnection of stories of the unexpected. Rather than comparisons, thus, Paini and Gnecchi-Ruscone establish interconnections between Pacific cultures, elaborating on the image of sea tides as a constant dynamic of innovation.

The volume structures these interconnections into two parts. First, “Mapping Materiality in Time and Place” examines how objects, persons, and ideas circulate in Oceania and, in the process, create their own meanings through these interactions. Second, “Value and Agency: Local Experiences in Expanded Narratives” illustrates the complexities arising from ethnographic accounts of the agency of local actors who seek to accommodate old and new, and the diversity of possible outcomes. The prologue opens the book, presenting the notion of Putting People First, a vision that “emphasizes the pivotal role of intersubjective relations at all levels of sociality for contemporary islanders” (23). The epilogue wraps the nine chapters up, insisting, again, on this notion of Putting People First as the pivotal contribution of anthropology to the study of value.

The study of value has notable antecedents in the works of, among others, Branisław Malinowski, Marcel Mauss, Karl Polanyi, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Sahlins. Gnecchi-Ruscone and Paini recall this anthropological genealogy in the introduction, and ask, “How can anthropology contribute to an overarching theory while maintaining its habitual peripheral position, from which stems its capacity of bringing into the picture the experience of other world views and thus offering alternative viewpoints?” (11). This volume provides an answer to this question that contemporary anthropologists interested in idiographic and nomothetic approaches to the study of value will appreciate.

For example, Marshall Sahlins’ chapter ‘puts people first’ in analysing the values associated to alterity and autochthony. Sahlins connects the specificity of Oceanic societies, such as Raymond Firth’s Tikopia, with the broader Austronesian context, and beyond, by means of an emphasis on contacts between different cultures. He writes: “If Tikopians were almost obsessively concerned with autochthony, they were equally interested in entering into relations with the vital forces, beings and things in the celestial realms beyond the horizon. For as Firth observed, the European presence greatly expanded this cosmography of the marvellous…” (40) “Cosmography of the marvellous” as a concept, can be used to connect anthropological studies of value while maintaining anthropology’s peripheral position as indicated by Gnecchi-Ruscone.

In contrast, Margaret Jolly’s chapter focuses on objects moving in Oceanic collections, rather than people. However, as she notes, objects incorporate values by means of their connections with people, embodiment of supernatural forces, and ancestors. In following the trajectories of Pacific objects moving between museums and galleries within and beyond Oceania, Jolly emphasizes the multiple dimensions in which these objects elicit their relationships with people. She focuses, then, on the differences established by two exhibitions in Honolulu and Canberra. Although the objects displayed were almost identical, they were framed differently according to different curatorial agendas. Rather than an overarching theory, Jolly offers an interpretive narrative of these movements that focuses particularly on the political and affective dimension.

The volume originates in the panel ‘‘‘Putting People First’: Intercultural Dialogue and Imagining the Future in Oceania” at the 2008 European Society of Oceanists conference in Verona. The panel addressed the lack of a comparative theory of value, and the possibility of studying values by fleshing out of interconnections and thematic similarities. “Without aiming at grand theory, [Gnecchi-Ruscone and Paini] maintain the importance of comparative work for its ability to bring to the fore both unique histories and commonalities” (11).

This kind of comparative work enables the identification of entanglements between the things that Oceanic societies value, the signs they use to indicate them, the moral standards by which they evaluate them, and the material worth that they attribute to them. Roberta Colombo Dougoud, for example, establishes this kind of connections in her chapter about Kanak engraved bamboos, where the stories expressed in the manufacture intersect with the anthropologist’s own “assumptions, hypotheses and interpretations” (125) and the framework of the exhibition where the bamboos were displayed.

These kind of analyses constitute instances of the polysemy that characterizes value as a concept and interpretive category. As such, they can be used to interrogate, analyze, and interpret aspects of society and culture, such as the relationship between people and things. But, for Gnecchi-Ruscone and Paini, the interpretation should always remain grounded in ethnographic accounts of a particular time and place. In the volume, place emerges as the third major theme along with objects and values. For example, Paini writes about the robe mission that Kanak women consider “as an expression of a deep-rooted sense of place, but at the same time also an expression of routedness, of a mobile interplay with other times, places and people” (172). As the effects of contemporary social phenomena influence Oceanic societies, this threefold set of thematic concepts turns out to be particularly useful.

Anthropologists looking for theoretical tools to interrogate and interpret these phenomena from a mid-level analytical perspective will find inspiration in the pages of this book. The fact that Tides of Innovation does not propose a new theory of value should not be considered a drawback. While such theories are yet to come, Gnecchi-Ruscone and Paini remind us that the conundrums of epistemology should not prevent us from theorizing value and, more, specifically, navigating the “tides of innovation” of contemporary Oceania.

Rodolfo Maggio, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK


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TOURING PACIFIC CULTURES. Edited by Kalissa Alexeyeff, John Taylor. Acton, ACT: ANU Press, 2016. xix, 457 pp. (Illustrations.) Free, eBook: ISBN 978-1-922144-26-3.

Tourism is as old as empire. The wealthy and privileged ventured from cities in Greece and Rome to country and seaside retreats, seeking escape from the “modern” ills of city life and looking for the chance to experience how “common” folk lived. However, as empires collapsed, so too did tourism, temporarily. Later, a new kind of tourism emerged as pilgrims set off on religious jaunts to renowned sites, with organizers ensuring the pilgrims were well housed and fed along the way. The rise of empires again set off a new flush of tourists seeking health and education. Spas and health clinics sprang up to cater to the wealthy in search of tonics to cure eighteenth-century ailments. The English privileged classes embarked upon “The Grand Tour” so as to improve their education abroad and to alleviate boredom at home. But it was in the wake of the Industrial Revolution that leisure tourism, as we know it today, enabled middle-class adventurers to travel beyond home shores. This movement has only recently beckoned the curious gaze of academics.

Touring Pacific Cultures is a welcome contribution to the growing discourse(s) commenting on the relative value of a tourism industry heavily dominated by a travelling Western population arriving at the home shores of underprivileged, colonial survivors. In the case of this ebook, the author’s gaze is trained upon the Pacific and its population’s long-suffering relations with “invaders,” both as colonizers and now as tourists.

The contributions to this volume range from poetic engagements to nostalgic recollections and investigative encounters. However, that tells one little of the depth of textural enquiry and reflection presented in this compilation. The editors begin with an exploration of the many issues that cause us, as social scientists, to cringe at the very thought of tourism and its impact upon Pacific Islanders: “colonialism and tourism have intersected to both undermine and appropriate indigenous forms of cultural identity … the analysis of such violent appropriations and erasures comprises a key feature of this volume” (15–16). Although there are a few benefits, it is suggested, that may accompany touristic encounters, these are inevitably swamped by the ferocious onslaught of mass tourism and its associated evils. The editors recognize the vastly complex subject matter, with its many threads of discourse and intricate array of interactions; however, it is difficult to escape the overall message that visitors are aggressors and those visited their victims.

There are far too many excellent contributions (31!) to realistically deal with them individually. However, identifying a few relevant themes may help to engender a sense of the breadth of “encounters” told. One recurring topic is imagery creation. Designed to lure tourists with promised encounters in “paradise” and a primitive past that includes cannibals on the one hand and alluring maidens on the other, imagery construction is like the evil queen’s magic mirror, reflecting what tourists desire while failing to reveal the realities of an underprivileged population living in a poverty-stricken Pacific “paradise.” Promotional imagery suggests opportunities for interactions with the exotic “other,” beaming welcoming smiles under azure-blue skies, creating fantasies it is ultimately unable to fulfil (Lindstrom, Tamaira, Taylor, Banivanua Mar, Alexeyeff, Connell). Related to image construction is the voice of agency. Whose are the voices engaged in image construction (Lindstrom, Amoamo, Treagus, Tamaira, Jolly, Phipps, Banivanua Mar, Taylor) and, how do these colour the expectations of tourists on their Pacific voyages (Steel, Amoamo, Banivanua Mar, MacCarthy, Cox, Lee, Alexeyeff, Connell)? In the contributions to this volume these questions are too often skewed towards a subliminal cringe. More overtly, the current of criticism demonizes the industry and its participants. Although the promises implied may be illusory and the deleterious effects of tourism cannot be denied, there is room to think in new ways and suggest a different form of image construction.

The commodification of culture is another overwhelming theme. While not a new one, it continues to draw intellectual scrutiny here (Taylor and Alexeyeff, Treagus, Jolly, Phipps, Taylor). What is more interesting, however, is the agency demonstrated by locals and their desire to both attract tourists as well as manage the interactions and representations in their own terms (Amoamo, Tamaira, Jolly, Banivanua Mar, MacCarthy, Cox, Lee). Performing culture is likewise a potent motif, laden with questions of agency, authenticity, and the tourist and local gaze (Treagus, Jolly, Phipps, Teaiwa and Vile, Cox).

There is so much to recommend this ebook to readers interested in tourism studies. However, the issues raised, while real, are not new. What can we learn about tourism and its impact that moves us beyond what is depicted in these pages? Is there another lens to look through, beyond the one focussing on the ills of tourism? Rather than continuing what is in many ways a nostalgic gaze upon the loss of culture, cultural autonomy, and agency, which is argued to be under assault by mass tourism, consideration of the benefits of tourism may lead to a new way of thinking about and, ultimately, managing tourism. Perhaps the best contribution for me in this volume is that provided by Jane Desmond. While the author recognizes the well-documented downfalls associated with mass tourism, she suggests alternative ways to manage and view tourism in the Pacific. We are all too familiar with the trope that casts tourism as an exploitative operation, but there are experiences that suggest other considerations as well. It is to these possibilities that I hope future enquiry turns.

Shirley Campbell, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia


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TREES, KNOTS, AND OUTRIGGERS: Environmental Knowledge in the Northeast Kula Ring. Studies in Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobiology, Volume 21. By Frederick H. Damon. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2017. xiv, 375 pp. (Tables, figures, maps.) US$34.95, paper. ISBN 978-1-78533-320-0.-320-0.

This book builds on almost half a century of familiarity with the northern kula region of southeastern Papua New Guinea. Based on intensive and repeated fieldwork since the 1970s, mostly on Woodlark Island (Muyuw), the author presents a fascinating collection of rich data. This publication will certainly be appreciated by anyone who is interested in the use of trees, the construction of canoes, and the ecology of this island region. The monograph combines insights of natural and social science, demonstrating the complexities and benefits of crossing academic boundaries. Its illustrations are online at

For over twenty years, the author has studied the flora through the islanders’ concepts, comparing their principles with botanists’ views and his own perspectives and experiences. Without the trusting expertise of his long-time friends and informants, frequently acknowledged throughout this book, such a wealth of information would have been impossible to accumulate. A canoe journey in which the author participated in 2002 fittingly opens this book.

Chapter 1 demonstrates how trees and gardens are connected, trees being “a property of a category of land, the land in turn understood by its trees” (39). The author identifies how certain trees contribute either “sweet” or “bitter” additives to the soil. According to the islanders, these substances affect the growth of root crops and the chapter examines the variation across the region from Kiriwina to the Nasikwabu Islands and attempts to find definite answers with the help of biochemistry. Fallow regimes and the use of various trees and other plants to improve harvests are practiced differently, so the author is sceptical, wondering if he is being taught principles of magic rather than horticultural experience (55). The section on biochemical evidence (62–73) seems to indicate that variants are too complex (e.g., soil, water, fallow type, trees, crops, and weather) to allow for generalizing conclusions. This agrees with his informants’ experiences and local principles.

Chapter 2 sets out to highlight certain trees that are significant for the islanders. Building on a large collection of samples that must have required an incredible amount of hiking and tracking, the ecological patches and other local classifications are identified with the help of informants while at the same time scientific methods are tested. The latter causes some dissonance with local guides who, for example, “found it ludicrous asking for identification by a single leaf” (87). The bulk of this chapter describes the habitats and botanic characteristics of a number of trees clustered by local principles, and their variation within the region, building on data of ca. 500 generic taxa (108). Some of the trees’ medical properties, gender analogies, and other uses are briefly mentioned (e.g., 97, 104, 105), but these are likely only a small portion of the local knowledge on these plants. In sum, Muyuw Islanders “operate with models about what specific plants are,” and these models are built on “ideas about forms” and their “experiences with given parts” (107). Rather than striving for “hierarchized relations seen in the Western analytical system,” they focus on the “singularities of specific forms” (109). The form of a tree, with its base and top, structures reality as in other Austronesian societies (113), including the geographical interpretation of the island of Muyuw itself (as shown on map 2.1, p. 116).

Chapter 3 presents various landscapes and their typical trees, the variety of soils and irrigation, human effects through logging, mining, gardening, and burning, and how distinctive patches are linked to the past. Trees shape the “social structures” (124) are linked to the Creator’s orders (125) and are metaphorically connected to the spatial history of clans (128). Due to the cultural and geographical complexities, variation in practice and principles is significant, but some guiding structures include the emergency supply of food from Muyuw to the West (131) based on—as well as motivating—affinal and kula exchange relationships (132). Sago orchards are described as a “dense network of social facts realized in biological form” (139–153) in which the “form of this tree is an experience of time” (153).

Chapter 4 highlights the interdisciplinary method in which the anthropologist acts as a mediator between local and scientific knowledge. The genus Calophyllum is used as an example, showing how it is used as a marker of time, for building canoes, as part of the ecosystem, as provider of protein, and as an element of transition. While the botanist specialist sometimes disagreed with his evidence (213), and the locals often found it boring to prove what they already knew (221), the author nevertheless persevered.

Chapter 5 describes vines and knots as the processes of intertwining strings and attaching objects. The botany and potential underlying principles of gender (e.g., 257, 261) of forty-four locally used tying materials is enriched by detailed analysis of how the strings are used for canoe building, fishing nets, sails, and string figures. “Movement is the point” for string figures, and this section describes beautifully how the figures are a way to perform stories in motion (283–291), a “kind of magical geometry” (292).

Chapter 6 explores the “mathematical expression” of large canoes and how trees are part of the shaping of cultural and technological variation. It argues that this form of canoe is the “formula, the organized reasoning” (298). The data presented in this chapter is very detailed and dense, reaching the conclusion that boats, places, people, and kula valuables are “bundled together in the structures these boats entail and realize” (342), “as motion is built into the boats to facilitate contradictory dynamics, so are social relationships coordinated with respect to complementary divergences” (343).

To me, the book’s key value is its deep ethnography, as I am not trained to understand the biochemical analyses or the full meaning of fractals. I am weary of its structuralist equations, but others may find them enlightening. To a reader with no knowledge of the vernacular, the large amount of Muyuw words (for plants, places, patches, persons, stars, and categories) complicates the understanding at times. A glossary would have been an easy fix since the index does not cover all the terms and provides only page numbers. Omission to italicize all vernacular caused me to pause and wonder, and others may be confused by the inconsistent spelling of Gawa Island (the Muyuw term Gaw appears a few times). Apart from these minor issues, this book is a major contribution to the regional, ecological, and material culture literature.

Susanne Kuehling, University of Regina, Regina, Canada


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WAVES OF KNOWING: A Seascape Epistemology. By Karin Amimoto Ingersoll. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. 204 pp. (Illustrations.) US$23.95, paper. ISBN 978-0-8223-6234-0.

Karin Amimoto Ingersoll is a scholar and a surfer who argues that the ocean can fundamentally shape identities and influence contemporary realities. She invites the reader to explore the possibilities inherent in seascape epistemology: to consider the ocean’s potential as a means of reclaiming and revitalizing cultural identities for Oceanic peoples, with a particular emphasis on Native Hawaiian communities, Kanaka Maoli. Forms of knowledge and ideas about spirituality, identity, place, and belonging do not end at the water’s edge, but extend powerfully into the ever moving ocean. Reclaiming and re-exploring seascape epistemology is a tool for decolonizing minds and bodies which “splashes alternatives onto the Western-dominant and linear mind-set that has led the world toward realities of mass industrialization and cultural and individual assimilation” (15).

The seascape is reconceptualized as a “living classroom” (180) for learning about indigenous Hawaiian ways of knowledge and practices, both past and present. Students can learn from the ocean’s tides, currents, and swells, and from the life that it contains; but also from its constant fluidity, complexity, and adaptation. Seascape epistemology resists and provides alternatives to the simplistic and binary understandings that are a legacy of colonialism. The voices and experiences of Kanaka Maoli, whose knowledge of the ocean is both philosophical and embodied, are given significant space in this book. Amimoto Ingersoll consciously details the practices and understandings of “[n]ative Hawaiian surfers, fishers, navigators, paddlers, divers, hula dancers, musicians and artisans” (35).

This work extends Epeli Hau‘ofa’s decolonizing vision of Oceanic identities. The seascape is conceptualized as an epistemological tool that connects rather than separates Oceanic peoples. The ocean contains boundless possibilities. It is a connecting pathway through which people can (re)claim a sense of ancestral connection and kinship across colonially imposed national boundaries. “The symbol of water offers flexibility as well as mobility as new routes are sailed within an ‘ocean’ of possibility” (19). Whilst this book explicitly builds on the work of indigenous Pacific scholars, Ingersoll Amimoto also draws from Western epistemologies, to “re-inflect the Western philosophical tradition in order to frame the Hawaiian issue of an ocean based epistemology” (27).

Waves of Knowing analyzes how surfing as a cultural practice for Kanaka Maoli has been affected by the “success” of surf tourism in Hawaii. Due to Hawaii’s status as the premier brand within the global surf tourism industry, colonization has not been limited to interactions on land; the sea has also been a place of dominance and conquest. Indigenous connections to the seascape have been damaged by neo-colonialist practices such as renaming places to fit tourist imaginations, and the division of land and sea into zones that suit tourist demands, reducing the ocean to a “recreational and consumable space” (76).

Amimoto Ingersoll argues that the recognition of neocolonial aspects in the surf tourism industry is necessary and purposeful. “Recognition enables the deconstruction of dominant narratives and structures that prevail, illuminating how Kanaka Maoli can and do sit inside, outside, and between them” (75). Amimoto Ingersoll argues that there is a need to make surf instruction more connected to the ocean, to teach not just technical skills, but also to instil “an awareness of the critical relationship between the surfer-to-be and the ocean” (76).

For Kanaka Maoli, surfing is a physical and a reflective act, which involves reclaiming and reconnecting with indigenous ways of knowing and being. Surfing is an indigenous cultural practice which has survived cultural colonization in Hawaii. The continued enactment of this knowledge involves “a Kanaka epistemology, an oceanic knowledge that privileges an alternative political and ethical relationship with the surrounding physical and spiritual world” (5). Oceanic literacy emerges from an active engagement with the Ocean. Amimoto Ingersoll explains, “when surfing, I have the inherent ability to reflect on knowledge production as a hegemonic language because my oceanic literacy sits outside of dominant literacies, contrasting established structures by displacing them with my body’s gestures and defiance of gravity as it glides vertical, diagonal, fast and smooth … My literacy is a valuable way of moving through the ocean (and life) by anchoring myself within its fluctuations” (22–23).

The book explores the potential applications of seascape epistemology as a tool for formal and informal education. Amimoto Ingersoll envisions young people immersing themselves in the ocean and learning through their interactions, engaging in both “practice-based” and “place-based” education (161). She proposes creating a dedicated learning environment on the shoreline of the protected Koloko region of Oahu. It would offer space in which Kanaka Maoli could (re)connect with the ocean, including a large meeting house, and several smaller houses for gathering and teaching. Restoring historical fishponds and replanting native plants would be part of this project, as would teaching about sailing, surfing, and diving. Storytelling and using Hawaiian words and phrases as teaching tools are an important part of gaining access to the knowledge of the ocean and the environment which is embedded in language, and reveals Kanaka ways of knowing. Elders (kūpuna) from local Kanaka Maoli communities would be important mentors, teachers, and historians.

This beautifully written book makes a valuable contribution to articulating indigenous epistemologies, and offers concrete suggestions for how Kanaka Maoli ways of knowing can be translated into practices which empower indigenous and local knowledge and skills, affirm cultural identity, and care for both the land and seascapes. Through place-based education based on seascape epistemology, young people can gain a greater sense of ownership of their environment, and can become custodians of both land and sea for future generations. “[A]rticulating, documenting, and analysing Kanaka culture and literacies is not just about retrieving something of the past; it is also about teaching contemporary students how to observe and act creatively and ethically. The cultural hope of ka hālu [the ocean gathering house] is to create sensitive, well-rounded, moral, and interested individuals. The political ambition is accepting, relearning, and honouring indigenous and alternative ways of interacting with the world” (181).

Tui Nicola Clery, Independent Scholar, Ryde, United Kingdom


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TOKYO IDOLS. A film by Kyoko Miyake, producer, Felix Matschke, Bob Moore, Kyoko Miyake; cinematographer, Van Royko; editor, Anna Price. London, UK: Brakeless Ltd.; Quebec: EyeSteelFilm, 2017. 1 online resource (88 mins.) In Japanese, with English subtitles. URL

Japanese idols are young, (mostly) female pop stars known for their childlike cuteness, their can-do attitude, their colourful costumes, and their relentlessly cheerful songs. By far the most famous and successful idol group is AKB48, which is composed of over a hundred members who move up and down in ranking in annual fan elections. As the documentary Tokyo Idols points out, Japan may still be in the midst of a recession, but the idol industry is booming: it’s worth an estimated US$1 billion annually. A disproportionately large number of hardcore idol fans are adult men, many of whom spend huge amounts of money to connect regularly with idols through “handshake” meet-and-greet events.

Tokyo Idols follows 19-year-old Rio, who seems to be on the brink of idol stardom, and a group of male fans in their thirties and forties known as the Rio Brothers, as well as numerous other idol groups and fans. We watch Rio and the other idol groups perform, interact with fans online and in person, and struggle to get wider exposure in an over-saturated market. We also watch the Rio Brothers and other fan groups passionately support their favoured idols: chanting and performing carefully choreographed movements at their live events, collecting endless pictures of themselves posing with the idols, and frequently insisting that there is nothing “impure” about men in their forties obsessing over teenage (and occasionally pre-pubescent) girls.

At 88 minutes long, Tokyo Idols does not have time to delve deeply into the many questions—about gender norms, ethics, and otaku culture, to name a few—that the idol industry raises. Still, it does accomplish something that’s rare when it comes to mainstream international reporting on Japanese popular culture: it moves beyond stereotypes and “Japan is weird” narratives in an attempt to understand what motivates some men to devote themselves to fantasy relationships with teenage girls, and what motivates so many young women to become idols. (To be clear, there are female idol fans, but the film gives them almost no screen time.) It’s also refreshing to see this reporting being done by a female director (Kyoko Miyake) with a unique perspective: Miyake was born in Japan but moved abroad at 26, meaning that she grew up surrounded by idol culture but has also had the chance to examine it from a distance.

Tokyo Idols doesn’t exactly let adult male idol fans off the hook for their deeply problematic obsessions, but it does at least try to present some of them as three-dimensional human beings. For Kōji, a 43-year-old salaryman who says that 19-year-old idol Rio has “inspired” him to live a better life, idol fandom seems to be a way to bond with other men and to imagine possibilities beyond a life full of disappointment. For him, Rio’s concerts, in which he dances with other men and chants support for her, appear to be one of his few sources of genuine joy. That isn’t to say that Rio’s good looks and her sexual availability have nothing to do with his obsession, but the appeal seems to be more about an idea of a person than an actual person.

Just in case audiences start to get comfortable with idol-fan relationships, though, the film challenges them by focusing on steadily younger women: first a group of younger teenage idols called Harajuku Story, and then, in a deeply unsettling segment, an idol group called Amore Carina, which features girls as young as ten. At a meet-and-greet, they’re dwarfed by the adult men who surround them to intently shake their hands. One man comments that he likes these idols the best because they’re not “fully developed,” and that if they were older they “wouldn’t interest” him. When two of the men say that they think of these girls as their “good friends,” the director, who is mostly invisible in the documentary, snaps back, “That’s a big age gap for friends.” The men look mildly abashed. “It’s not that big of an age gap,” they say.

At some points Tokyo Idols hints that female idols—at least the ones old enough to make their own decisions—have more agency than we give them credit for. They’re working within a system that they know is rigged, and they’re using the only tools available to them. The idol industry may be exploiting their youth and perceived sexual purity, but the women are just as happy to exploit lonely older men who feel like failures, or self-identified otaku who feel ostracized from mainstream society, telling them that they’re special in exchange for hundreds of dollars a month in “supporter” expenses. The women aren’t presented as malicious or manipulative, just practical.

Ultimately, Tokyo Idols shows us that idol culture is built on paradoxes. It succeeds by making fans pay for human connection through meet-and-greets, but these events are rigidly structured—there’s a timer and a collection of staff to physically move the fans if they linger too long. Both idols and fans exhibit a great deal of self-awareness about the fact that their “relationship” is a fantasy, and yet both work very hard to maintain the illusion that it’s real. Idol-land is a space in which women are taught that their worth is entirely based on whether or not men find them appealing, but it’s a space that plenty of women are happy to enter, arguably because, as one journalist in the film points out, it’s one of the few sectors of Japanese society in which they have a great deal of power. I wish that Tokyo Idols had taken more time to examine these paradoxes in depth, but the film does serve as an excellent starting point for a more meaningful conversation about Japanese idol culture in the non-academic world.

Lindsay Nelson, Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan


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PEOPLE ARE THE SKY. A film by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson. New York: Women Make Movies, 2015. 1 DVD (94 min). US$395.00, universities, colleges, and institutions; US$89.00, K-12, public libraries, and select groups. In Korean and English, with English subtitles. URL

People Are the Sky is a very personal film, and is better for it. Filmmaker Dai Sil Kim-Gibson was born in Sinch’ŏn, in present-day North Korea, during the colonial era. With her family, she came south to Seoul in 1945. After first leaving Korea for her doctoral studies in 1962, she decided after a brief experience of the repression of the Park Chung Hee government in 1970 to settle permanently in the United States. There she met and married her husband Don Gibson, with whom she eventually lived in his natal Iowa until his death in 2009. Kim-Gibson’s sorrow and her love for Don frame and suffuse the film. The title is something of a mobile metaphor throughout, but its first referent is the love Don had for the open Iowa sky and the open love he had for people, and the love for others that Kim-Gibson herself experienced with and through him.

In 2013, Kim-Gibson made a journey first to Seoul and then onwards to P’yŏngyang and finally to her hometown of Sinch’ŏn. People Are the Sky intersperses a chronicle of this trip with archival footage, over which Kim-Gibson narrates her own memories of important moments in modern Korean history, as well as interviews with scholars and activists in the United States, South Korea, and, eventually, North Korea. Many of these figures are quite well-known authors in the field: Charles Armstrong, Bruce Cumings, Suk-Young Kim, Kim Dong-choon, and Hwang Sok-yong, for instance, all make significant appearances. As a result, the film offers both a personal and a critical-scholarly review of important turning points in modern Korean history, from colonialism and its end to the US-Soviet occupation, division, the Korean War, postwar development, and political shifts in both South and North. One could do much worse than to show this film in a classroom or public education setting as an introduction to how the Koreas became divided and why they have stayed that way, along with connected issues such as the ongoing US military presence in the South, human rights, and the North Korean famine of the 1990s.

Yet to watch People Are the Sky only as a critical documentary would be to miss much of what is moving and important about it. At one point, Kim-Gibson makes a short narrative detour to discuss the nineteenth-century Korean indigenous new religion of Tonghak. At first, this struck me as an odd tangent in a film otherwise concerned with the present and more recent past—and in truth, the significance of the moment may be lost on many audiences. But as she goes on with her explanation, it becomes clear that through her journey and through the film itself she seeks to embody the Tonghak belief in innaech’ŏn, the immanence of heaven in humanity. People, once again, are the sky. Kim-Gibson brings this deep humanism to her encounters in both South and North Korea. She is at once a forward, vivacious, and sympathetic interviewer of ordinary people. For example, while her scholar and activist interlocutors present a critical evaluation of US aims in South Korea since 1945, when she interviews ordinary people she allows the diversity and ambivalence of South Korean opinion on the ongoing US military presence to come forth. She seeks out children in public places when she has the chance, making older ones practice their English, addressing younger ones with the sort of patter familiar from many a Korean grandmother (“What’s your name?” “How pretty!”).

Indeed, who Kim-Gibson is both socially and personally and thus the character of her rapport matters a great deal to the high quality of People Are the Sky, and makes it stand out from other films that promise—the trope itself is tired—a glimpse into North Korea. She possesses a common historical experience and social intimacy with many of the people she interviews, and at moments takes advantage of the sort of social license accorded older women in Korea. When she asks older people about their lives during the war, they open up to her as someone who shared the same tragedy. When she goes to a North Korean veterans’ event and talks with one old soldier, it is the mutual emotional catharsis of liberation in 1945 that comes through over and above his glorification of the role of Kim Il Sung. And when, in a P’yŏngyang park, her minder curtails her attempts to ask questions of schoolchildren (the mediation of her trip by guides and minders is addressed quite directly), Kim-Gibson is annoyed but also has a laugh with him in a way that releases the ideological tension of the moment by asking one final inappropriate question to someone she recognizes as doing his job. May I talk to those trees over there, and are there questions I should not ask? Notwithstanding the painful history the film explores, Kim-Gibson’s warm humour is prominent. She makes self-deprecating jokes about her wild hair, and invites others to join in. “Fashionable,” one old North Korean woman finally says, and everyone laughs; Kim-Gibson crows in triumph to her guide.

When she finally gets to Sinch’ŏn, she recognizes little from her youth. She is taken to another North Korean memorial to another act of American malfeasance, the Sinch’ŏn Massacre of 1950, and joins a site interpreter, whose family was killed there, in a wider sorrow for the human losses of the period. But then she goes to another park and meets more children there, on a school trip from across the country, and has with them the easy dialogue she was unable to have in P’yŏngyang. Shortly after, she goes to Kŭmgang Mountain, and is surprised by how hard the climb is, but is patiently assisted by her uncomplaining guide for the hours up and down. From these last incidents Kim-Gibson arrives at a heartfelt, if not unexpected, conclusion: her home place may be gone, but she shares the sky with North Korea’s people. As a historical film, People Are the Sky is excellent; as a work of art, it is beautiful.

Robert Oppenheim, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, USA


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FORGETTING VIETNAM. A film by Trinh T. Minh-ha, Produced by Jean-Paul Bourdier. New York: Women Make Movies, 2015. 1 DVD (90 min). US$395.00, Universities, Colleges, and Institutions; US$89.00, K-12, Public Libraries, and Select Groups. In English. URL

Forgetting Vietnam, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s cinematic meditation on the legacy of the Vietnam War in contemporary society, is framed by two ancient myths. One describes how the shape of Vietnam was formed when two fighting dragons fell into the South China Sea (or East Sea as it is known in Vietnam). The second traces the origin of the Kinh (Viet) people to the union between a mountain fairy, Au Co, and the Dragon Lord, Lac Long Quan. The serendipitous coupling of land and sea, which led to the creation of the Vietnamese nation, is reflected in the Vietnamese word for country: dat nuoc. Literally meaning “land sea,” the dyadic term dat nuoc acts as the organizing theme for the documentary, bolstered by other dualities that the film contemplates, such as ascending/descending, leaving/returning, old/new, and remembering/forgetting.

The subject of remembering and forgetting is, of course, the war. The documentary commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the end of the war, which saw the victory of the northern half over the southern half of the country. As the film suggests, even after four decades, the impact of the war remains palpable, etched into the land and people. Remembering and forgetting are difficult, for the trauma and pain have not subsided: “scars of war have surfaced publicly through increasing unearthed hidden remains” [36:34]. Moreover, as the film implies, unlike King Le Loi, who, according to legends, wisely returned the magical sword to its water source after defeating his enemy, the current Vietnamese government maintains a tight grip on power, and its control over the social memory of the war has hindered postwar reconciliation. In one of the most poignant scenes, Trinh T. Minh-ha focuses on the 1968 massacre in Hue, an event that resulted in the death of possibly two thousand civilians, and one that the Vietnamese government continues to deny. It is no wonder that “wandering souls of the unclassified, dismissed or ‘impure deads’ continue to populate Vietnam’s collective memory” [36:44].

Highly influential as a feminist and postcolonial theorist, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s films are often experimental and provocative. They challenge narrative and cinematic conventions while raising critical social issues. It is no surprise, then, that Forgetting Vietnam is not a linear conventional documentary. There is no voice-over narration. Instead, scripts comprised of pithy phrases and questions appear throughout the film, superimposed over images of Vietnam’s landscape and people in their everyday life. The documentary features many lyrical scenes of waterways and lush rice fields, underscoring the critical roles of dat and nuoc in not only sustaining life, but also culture and spirituality. The soundtrack is spectacular and at times steals the show. It features traditional music, such as northern-style quan họ, chèo, and popular ballads of the pre-1975 era. The lyrics (which are occasionally translated) and melodies work powerfully with the images to evoke nostalgia and longing.

The film pays special attention to ordinary women: at work, in the market, and at the temples. Even though the film was shot in 1995 and 2012, with a seventeen-year gap that saw enormous transformation, resulting from the normalization of relations with the United States and Vietnam’s reintegration into the global market economy, the images of women and their daily activities suggest more continuity than change. The implication is that women’s daily activities, which have endured war, revolution, and globalization, have been the mainstay of Vietnamese society. Moreover, as some forms of women’s work, such as mobile and street vending, have been outlawed in recent years, their persistence also represents a form of resistance.

Other acts of resistance have also been captured by the film. Interspersed throughout are snippets of people’s conversations that reveal frank criticisms of the state and the Communist Party. Trinh T. Minh-ha also managed to get some candid shots of people in the streets and markets, including those who were clearly bored or disengaged. Most compelling are the few people who, when caught by the camera, stared defiantly instead of averting their eyes. These instances provoke discomfort, as the viewer becomes aware of his or her voyeuristic intrusion and of having the tables turned.

While Trinh T. Minh-ha challenges many conventions in documentary making, this film does not abandon all. The documentary unfolds geographically from north to south, mirroring the historical movement of the Kinh people as they expanded from the Red River into the Mekong Delta. This expansion was facilitated by wars and colonization of the indigenous peoples of the south. By following this north-south trajectory, the documentary, like many historical narratives, privileges the story of the Kinh and the idea of the Red River Delta as the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. In fact, the two myths that anchor the film are creation stories pertinent to the Kinh people and not to the other ethnic groups that continue to inhabit Vietnam. Like remembering and forgetting, documentaries are necessarily selective, and one needs to start somewhere. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting and helpful to reflect openly, however briefly, on these choices.

A related issue is that the film seems to reinforce some longstanding assumptions about the north and south, which are antipodes not only in geography but also in politics for much of the country’s history. The two regions are often stereotyped as polar opposites: the north as the sophisticated, orthodox centre of Vietnam’s culture while the south is seen as heterodox, commercialized, and boorish. The documentary’s choice of scenes, particularly when one contrasts the depictions of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, reify these opposing stereotypes. Dominating the images of the north, notably Hanoi, are charming neighbourhoods, traditional musical performances, and tranquil temples. When the camera turns to Ho Chi Minh City, however, one gets jarring traffic, poverty, and uneven urban development. In contrast to Hanoi’s water puppetry, Ho Chi Minh City offers a performance of a scantily clad female acrobat [1:01:10]. While these are not the only images of the south, the film leaves a strong impression of Ho Chi Minh City as fast-paced and competitive [58:28], even though Hanoi in 2012 could be described in similar terms. Implying a lack or loss of Vietnamese culture, the documentary characterizes the city as: “‘New Thailand’ on target” [1:01:22]. As if to underscore the lack of authentic culture further, the subsequent scenes of the Mekong Delta are accompanied by northern-style quan h singing rather than a style of music native to the south.

Notwithstanding the above two points, this is a poetic and, at times, provocative and moving documentary that contributes to the contemplation of the war’s legacy in contemporary Vietnam.

Van Nguyen-Marshall, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada


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