Introduction: Asian Studies at the Millennium Dawn
The idea behind this collection of articles and essays was/is to examine the state of fitness of Asian countries to assume the tasks of sharing in the responsibilities of regional and global interaction. The question therefore about whether the Asian continent as a whole was mature enough in the aftermath of colonial subjugation, and consequent retardation, to be able to assume its tasks in the community of nations comes foremost to mind. No such evaluation can however be exhaustive, given the enormous land mass under consideration, but, in order to arrive at a just appraisal of its potential capacity and future roles, it was thought also necessary to bear in mind the rich Asian national and/or ethnic heritages which enter into the composition of every culture and every people on this ancient continent. Most of the authors in one way or another contribute towards this overall picture. And it is hoped what is left unsaid will have been understood by the profound insights provided by the topics under discussion by some of the leading experts in their respective fields of research.
No statement about Asia as an entity which conforms to its geographical demarcations can be held to be true with its constituent regional parts, much less to countries within traditionally upheld national boundaries. What is true of one area or nation is not necessarily true, or verifiable, with a corresponding territory within the continent. Of the seven continents, it is the largest in size while making up more than three-fifths of the world’s population. A recent correspondence in the American Asian Studies Newsletter even questioned the usefulness of continuing to publish the The Journal of Asian Studies, since Asianists normally looked to the numerous specialist journals in the area of their research for their reading and reference. Every region, area, and country, discipline and historical period is well and truely represented by academic and/or popular periodicals in diverse languages.
Asian studies span a vast and incongruent realm, or rather spheres or zones of land masses, that make comprehensive academic interest and concertation hardly possible, or even worth the effort, for the individual Asianist. A sinologist can hardly pretend to be academically interested in South Asian issues in much the same way as a Dravidologist could claim specialist skills in Inner Asian topics. Delegates to any Asian studies conference soon find themselves locked in nuclear-bunker-like academic compartments which make the crossing of even language borders, or the linguistic no-man’s-land, a veritable risk. The pitfalls of border-crossing even within disciplines and/or historical periods are, to say the least, legion. Yet, Asian studies as a subject and as a field of research has commanded the talents of academic journalists all over the world. The eminently long-standing and flourishing Journal of Asian Studies is enough proof of this «continentalisation » of material under the pretext that what happens in one area of its department will be held to produce effects in another. But then, this is true of almost any continent or country in the world. The far-reaching effects of the 1996- economic crisis in Thailand and the currency problems in some Far Eastern and Southeast Asian countries may be used as examples to disprove such a specially Asian cohesive bloc and/or equally exclusive « academic » area of reflection.
As custom would have it, broadly speaking Asian studies normally should encompass regions as unwieldy and disparate - even from a linguistic point of view - as East Asia [Far East] (China - including Taiwan, Japan, and the two Koreas); Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, the Phillippines, Papua, New Guinea, and possibly East Timor); Inner Asia (Mongolia, Outer Mongolia and Siberia); South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Andaman, Nicobar, and Maldive Islands, etc.); Southwest Asia (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the Emirates, Yemen, and other Arabian enclaves), and the Central Asian Republics (Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan). Other classifications and/or regroupings maybe possible: China and Inner Asia, Northeast Asia (the two Koreas and Japan), Southeast Asia, South Asia (including Afghanistan), and Southwest Asia and the Central Asian Republics. The latter regions, however, have received less attention in specialist media coverage and in Asian studies programmes, for the simple reason, one suspects, that their proximity and intimate connections to Maghrebian and Northeast African states sets them apart from the rest of the Asian countries. Even if Moslem Turkey forms an integral part of this huge stringed-out land mass, it now bestrides both the European and Middle-or-Near Eastern regions in its aspirations.
In this outline of area studies within Asia, Asian-Asianists might very well want to include Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, Oceania, Maori, and Australian aboriginal territories as well in the larger Asian and Asian-Pacific studies prospectus, under the pretext that the inhabitants of these areas are essentially of Asian origin, invoking at the same time the concept of race and ethnie as a yardstick by which to demarcate their larger specialties. If this definition may be accepted as a valid academic concept of compartmentalization, then further questions may be raised as to the validity of already well-established academic specialties, such as, the place of Sri Lankan Veddhas, Papua-New Guinean and Russian-Siberian populations. And again, to which area studies would the Maghrebian and Northeast African countries belong? - if not to the programme of Asian studies?
There is however yet another « definition » or concept worth exploring, though it might seem at first encounter counter-productive and less acceptable in prnciple. And this is the idea based on common history and/or common experience, the difference between the two terms being defined by « events », on the one hand, and « attitudes », on the other. In one way or another, the entire Asian Continent (with some exceptions like Thailand though these exceptions, too, have not escaped the fallout from the Colonial Asian echiquier) has been subject to some sort of Euro-American or Western colonial and/or ideological authority during the past few centuries. This common experience alone is sufficient to bind the Asian peoples into a recognisable whole worthy of being studied for their reactions to these « foreign » systems and for their attitudes which will necessarily condition their future development in the New Millennium.
It might be recalled with some advantage that there was a time when the major part of the continent had for long periods at a stretch breathed Buddhism as a creed and practised the faith as a code of behaviour, and this fact alone could subsume and characterise the fundamental weltanschauung of its prodigious masses, while laying the foundation on which Asia came to project a vision of itself as an integral whole even before the advent of the Middle Ages.
The Euro-Asiatic Connection and American tutelage
Asia has always fascinated the West. And to repay the kindness, Asians themselves today strive to live like Europeans, just as everybody all over the world is gradually aspiring to or is forced to partake of the late European Century. Greek and Roman (and in their wake Egyptian and Arabian) commercial and cultural intercourse with Southern Tamil-India before and after the early Christian era as demonstrated by the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea of the 2nd century A.D.; the thirst for adventure that drove Marco Polo and his predeccessors and successors to take to the Silk Road; the endless incursions and settlements of European voyagers on the Asian shores, following the scent of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper along the Spice Route from Alexandria, Salalah, Muscat, Calicat and Cochin to Malacca and the Moluccas since the 15th century, and in their footsteps followed the precursor pilot-administrations of colonialism’s East India companies and the zealous missionaries intent on conversion, all have until the late nineteen-sixties contributed to this mutual fascination. All the abuses of human rights are probably gradually being consciously forgotten, for the simple reason that it is precisely European and Western knowhow and technology, industrial culture, and imported political ideologies, civil and military instituitions which have paved the way for the entry of Asia into the New Millennium within the span of a mere forty years. The former colonial nations no longer have a European Quarter in Shanghai where they can put up such minatory notices at restaurants and parks: « Dogs and Chinese Not Allowed ». The former colonialist powers, including the USA, are often seen today to be competitive partners in this venture of building a New Asia.
The exception to a certain extent is still America. From the role of the great liberator from the rigours of Tojo’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, America has gradually worked through a wide spectrum of incompatible roles: « Ugly American », Big-Brother, Uncle Sam, Fulbright-benefactor, Peace Corps helper to that of big-bully and World Cop. Asians find it quite difficult to adjust themselves to this new game plan. Thus the Second World War which heralded the end of the Colonial Era in Asia proclaimed the advent of a new era in « neo-colonial » politics never before experienced by the Asian. It was enough for the man who authorised the explosion of two atomic bombs in the midst of populous island-cities to decide, soon after, the fate of Asians in the latter half of the 20th century. « We are fighting in Korea for our own security and survival, » said President Harry S.Truman, after committing U.S.troops in Korea without first obtaining congressional consent. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, avowed later by the American Defence Secretary Robert McNamara as a put-up job, permitted the dropping of more TNT on Vietnam than all the bombs dropped during the last world war. With the exception of the war-weary Vietnam veterans and legions of students in the States, nobody really seemed to mind this more-than-unequal contest of strengths perpetrated in the name of the domino theory in Southeast Asia. Only the prospect of the People’s Republic of China becoming the world’s greatest power in the 21st Century drove doubts to arise in the role of America in Asia. In the meantime, this great and ancient civilization is being bear-baited. The American Asianist and archaeologist Alfonz Lengyel puts this point across squarely.
We need to recognize that China bashing will lead Asianists nowhere. We
should understand that our own democracy was not developed overnight.
It took almost 200 years to create the 1960s civil rights legislation, and our
civil rights laws are still not perfect. Why should we expect the Chinese leaders
to copy our systems in less than twenty years? [...] Now, as a rising economic
giant, China has come to be seen by the world’s economic leaders as a menace
rather than as a useful partner. So now we become China bashers.
The real reason perhaps is that no other populous nation in Asia carried through a fundamental grass-roots revolution, with power residing potentially in the hands of the masses. Elsewhere, and now also in China, corruption is rife, barring certain safe pockets like Singapore. The colonialists have been replaced by their own upper-crust castes and Western-educated elites [made up in Tarzie Vittachi’s terminology of Brown Sahibs, W(estern) O(riental) G(entlemen), Black Europeans, or the clubby beer-swilling military types, and equally aristocratic Mem-Sahibs] with hefty sums stached away in numbered Swiss bank-accounts, and even if their numbers are dwindling, they have brought up their own « native following » in their own image. Only in 1998, with the appointment of Nagarajan Vittal, as Chief of the Central Vigilance Commission, the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee [Mazumdar 2000: 24-25] set the ball rolling to wipe out widespread corruption and announce a new era of freedom from treachery in India. Yet, almost everywhere in the former European colonies and protected states the gulf between the haves and have-nots is still too wide to be bridged in the coming decades, even if corruption may look like being stamped out.
Of course, the question of from which directions would come the dangers to their livelihood and national identity and/or safety in the New Millennium continue to haunt the Asians for the common experience of having seen their lands become the playing and hunting grounds of the white colonial nations for so many centuries remains hidden, for the moment at least, in the Asian sub-conscious. When relatively impoverished nations stockpile nuclear missiles the syndrome is clear, and just as understandable. These nations would at the same time accord little credulity to such threats as invoked by Samuel Huntington in his « The Clash of Civilizations? » [Huntington 1993: 22-49] His very definition of civilization as being « the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have » - given the present context in the era of cultural globalization and/or widespread cultural miscegenation and racial cross-breeding - in the long run begs the question, even if he accords an important place for ethnicity and religious commonality which differentiate his eight major civilizational factions. Wars or civil wars, or threats to existence and/or minimum survival standards, caused by the encroachment or confounding of frontiers (even if they stand out as psychic or cultural threats to co-existence within a state) are not necessarily going to be fought over specific issues of history, language, culture, tradition, common objectives and so forth, or over and in what Huntington specifically designates as the « cultural fault lines » separating civilizations, in spite of his striving to palliate his premises in his conclusions.
By contrast, the lasting difference between the Asian peoples in general and the developed Western nations still remains the common centuries-old colonial experience, or rather « the common colonial complex » as I see it, even in an era of the « equality » of nations where territorial safeguards and international guarantees proliferate, and this difference might continue to wreak havoc in beaten-down psyches. New wars may be fought on « imagined » compulsive responses to equally « imagined » threats, or on the « imagined » pretexts of foreign powers in Asia fearing for their own survival thousands of miles away.
There can yet be another reason for change on the face of the Asian map. The enormous pressure of migratory forces from the Siberian northern wastes which caused the Barbarians, Goths, Visigoths, Celts, Huns, and Aryans to flood the temperate and torrid climes, changing as it were the map of the known world then, may yet have its counterpart in times to come when equatorial dwellers might seek fresher climes to escape the ecological disasters through the over-heating of the planet. In the same way, the primary cause of discontent which has existed between « believers » and « non-believers » is not likely to disappear nor is it likely to respect civilizational or cultural homogeneity. And religion which has still more and more a racial or ethnic stigma, and following, would remain the decisive divisive factor, prodding the will to assert the right to proclaim God, yet once again, as an inalienable racial possession..
Is there a role for the Asian-Asianist?
If the Asian peoples as a whole are to be free, and equal in their image as nations, the deplorable economic conditions in which the vast majority still flounder must be succoured. There can be little use in spending valuable foreign currency in the hope of amassing conventional and nuclear arsenals if the basic requirements of hygiene in the day-to-day life of the masses are not provided for immediately, nor if medical treatment and potable water needs cannot be accessed freely at little or no cost. Wars these days only benefit certain politicians, government officials, and/or ambitious generals while enriching beyond all measure the multi-national manufacturers of high-tech military weaponry. The British colonial policy of divide et impera which earned Great Britain the vastest empire in history is still at work in the Indian sub-continent. And the South-Asian is still not the wiser.
The American sociologist Edward Shils made a fairly-accurate reasoned guess on the state of intellectuality, creativity, and cultural achievement in Asian countries in his essay, « The Asian Intellectual » [Shils 1969: 621-635], but the picture he painted while remaining the same at some levels, and in some cases, has since the sixties gone through innumerous revisions, and, today, at the advent of the New Millennium Asians are almost everywhere in charge of their common destinies and are seriously vying with one another with success. At the same time in some essential respects they have not quite broken away from the India and Japan Arthur Koestler described in his book, The Lotus and the Robot [Koestler 1960], though the Asian might even today recoil at Koestler’s judgement that he was happy to be back from his Asian tour - a European.
Asian studies can only make sense for the Asians if they can pull the wool away from the Asian leaders’s eyes and show them the way out and into providing for a more humane way of life for its teeming masses, free from the dangers of treacherous national felo-de-se perpetrated by the few in their midst, and free from the hand-to-mouth existence which has and is keeping the vast majority of Asians still back in the dark ages. Asian studies for the Asian should not become a mere heartless toil to attain diplomas and degrees and/or lucrative jobs.
In the ultimate analysis, Asia and Asians¸ and mutatis mutandis Asian studies as a whole, spring from a certain idea or ideas rather than from a continent of several nations or a specific field of research. In effect, Asia is a composite idea, madeup of race-based ideas. These ideas represent the largest land mass and the largest populations en bloc in contradistinction to the European-White, African-Black, and Amerindian races of the world. Asian studies, therefore, constitute the programmed study of these non-white to non-black races (though mostly exclusive of the Semitic or other populations of North Africa and the Middle East), their habitats, their past heritages, and their various worlds as seen through the eyes of specialists called Asianists who have often little in common with one another than their area of primary interest. In an era of shrinking globalization, one might legitimately ask if such studies and their media coverage have their raison d’être ensured to last through the New Millennium. Given the fast inter(net)-connecting, rapidly gaining intellectually mono-lingual global village and the increasing rate of hyperspecialisation, can the Asianist hold and justify his ground at one and the same time?
Publishing in Asian Studies
One last word about publishing on Asian subjects in the Asian studies media. Let’s face it, most - if not all the known publications - of Asian studies magazines, reviews, and journals emanate from the West. Asians still have to have recourse to Western publications to air their views on Asia; in other words, to the former colonial powers who would filter their thoughts back to Asians. Any contributor to these publications knows the rigours of arbitrary « revamping » or else « ditching » by all-knowing editors. A recent editorial in the International Institute of Asian Studies Newsletter, circulated gratis, carried an amazing admission of its contents.
It [the IIAS Newsletter] has been designed as an informal channel for all
colleagues in Asian Studies: a loosely-structured pamphlet-like project, its
pages crowded with all kinds of information. See it as a sign of life, a postcard
from the IIAS, to be read in between activities or in bed on a Sunday morning
and then to be discarded: use it to wrap your fresh fish in or to stuff your wet
shoes with after a rainy day.(my italics) [Stokhof 1999: 2B]
Can these very « colleagues » of the supervisory powers of Asianists think that they are being taken seriously after these very insouciant and condescending words? Asian Asianists cannot be blamed for feeling thwarted in their efforts to set the balance right. An eminent Asian man of letters, whose contributions in the field of Anglo-American studies in the West have been integrated into the specialty’s teaching canon, was moved to comment on hearing of the existence of JIAS: « Clearly, it is important that a magazine about Asia should be published in Asia and reflect Asian views rather than Western interpretations of those views. » [Quoting from an undated letter to the editor.]
On the other hand, Wendy Doniger, President of the American Association of Asian Studies, talking of India attempts a more balanced stance between Anti-Orientalism and Post-Coloniality.
Anti-Orientalism has led in many quarters to a disregard for the philology and
basic textual work that the Orientalists did very well and that still remains the
basis of sound scholarship about India. This need not be so. The original anti-
Orientalist agenda was monolithic in ways that soon came to be modified, by
Edward Said himself, among others, and by James C.Scott. We have learned to
see not just oppressors and victims but oppressors and resisters, subverters, people
who knew, and know, how to wield the weapons of the weak.
[Doniger 1999: 944]
Articles and essays in this issue, though reflecting both in their subject matter and viewpoints a wide spectrum of perspectives can hardly convey the complexity and breadth of the fields of research in Asian studies. The reader can only sample the wide variety of topics and fill in the blank spaces, himself. Opinions expressed or views extrapolated by the authors of course only engage the responsibilities of the authors, themselves, and are in no way a reflection of the journal or editor’s policies or credos. The journal merely provides a platform for an open debate on all Asian topics from every point of view.
Hall Gardner, a young political science professor at the American University of Paris, who had acquired some first-hand experience in China while teaching at The John Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, takes a deep « impartial » look - though his general concerns evince somewhat American in stance - at « China and [its] International Relations in the New Millennium ». Working from the premises of the transformation of China into an amphibious power during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, he draws comparisons with the triphibious power that China has become ever since, and argues her case in the present transformative epoch that « could change not only the regional, but also the global, equilibrium. » His incisive analyses of China’s role and relations with her neighbours gauged from historical bases of assessment, and her adept adaptations to the policies of the Russian and Western powers in the wake of her top-power New Millennium status make for much stimulating reading. I look forward to an indigenous - inner « Other » - point of view on the same subject for the next volume.
The inclusion of Ananda K.Coomaraswamy’s essay: « Introduction to the Art of Eastern Asia » is made on merit alone, for the breadth and scholarship of this late scholar of world renown has to be acknowledged without reserve. The essay focusses on a vast area of exploration covering as it were the art of almost all the major streams of Asian cultures, while comparing and contrasting these with European art and aesthetic standards. Art in Asia is a direly neglected but highly treasured Asian heritage.
Wang Gungwu, one of the foremost historians on China and Southeast Asia, focusses in « Transforming the Trading World of Southeast Asia » on the role of the entrepreneurial classes in Asia which have until the 20th century been prevented from sharing political power. Wang says: « After centuries spent struggling vainly for status, indigenous merchants [of Southeast Asia] have transformed their relations with those in power. » He expects them « to be partners in the power structures of the next [the present] millennium ». In his essay Wang shows how this power-sharing process came about, and the political clout this new class of Asians is likely to wield in the New Millennium.
Wang Ning, a young and prolific critic-professor of comparative literature and cultural studies at the Peking Language and Culture University, discourses with verve on the future of traditional Chinese learning (guoxue) in relation to « West-centric » sinological studies (hanxue) in an age of globalization confronted by the rise of popular culture, and he makes a plea in favour of the acceptance of the findings of indigenous Chinese scholars by (Western) sinologists in their assessment of Chinese studies and culture. Here then is a determined exposition of the argument of the « Other » projected in postcolonial theory.
Asmah Haji Omar, an authority on Malaysian linguistics, reports on her research in « Verbal and Non-Verbal Symbols: An Investigation into Their Role in Self and Group Identification » which « attempts to look at identity and its linguistic correlates at various levels: the community, the group and the individual ». In the multi-lingual and multi-cultural Malaysian society her information sources originate from various autochthonous and immigrant races which, ethnically, go to make up a mini-Asia, and it is interesting to see how at the end of the millennium identity-projection is revealed to be both personal as well as political; and that the identity symbols and features of the society, of which « Malaysian English » forms an integral part, are above-all considered indigenous. One of her conclusions that identity-building does not find a breeding ground in homogeneity augurs well for the country.
In a re-written interview that I have translated from the French, Alexis Rygaloff, one of the foremost linguists of Far Eastern languages, undertakes to work out hypotheses relating to the Chinese language and culture by drawing on the advantages of character writing as opposed to the pinyin (the romanisation of characters). The return to the older character writing practice, he avers, has far-reaching effects in the maintenance of greater Chinese cultural stability in the region. An interview is neither an essay nor an article. His subtle arguments and analyses serve here only as a point of departure for further reflection.
Rama P.Coomaraswamy, a Harvard-trained geologist and a New York-trained cardio-vascular surgeon and psychiatrist, attempts in this essay (which unfortunately - due to illness - sometimes lacks proper references) to set right the idée reçu image of his erudite father, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy as being merely a critic of Oriental art. As a devout Catholic, himself, he manages to give in this essay through an examination of his father’s writings on the subject the traditional or Catholic view of art, even if AKC himself, since 1907, turned to Hinduism for his critical sources and inspiration. In a way, it is an homage to one of the most illustrious Eurasians, and thus to both the broadly formative cultural strains in the makeup of the present-day colonial-metropolitan, Asian-industrial elite culture.
In my own article on poietics: « The Exotic in Aesthetics: A Case Study of Poietics as the Science and Philosophy of Creation », I try to give an overview of what has been introduced on this « new » subject of research mainly in France and India, and subject its formulating and/or fundamental principles to the test in the art of translation and/or trans-creation from mainly Malay and Tamil poetry, though the article as a whole constitutes a critique of the subject when taken to be an integral part of aesthetics.
Inclusion in this Special 2000 Number of the journal has been through invitations I’ve extended to various personalities and academics. Not all could respond positively, chief among the reasons being time. I started the process of inviting contributions only in November 1999. Some did not respond at all. Of those who did, may I take this opportunity of most warmly thanking: Leslie G. Fiedler, Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo; Edward W.Said, Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University; Balachandra Rajan, former Director of Studies at Trinity College, Cambridge University, and former Professor of English at Delhi University; Monsieur André Fontaine, former Editor-in-Chief and Director of Le Monde in Paris; and The Rt.Hon. Khushwant Singh, former Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Express. And of course a very warm welcome and hearty thanks to all those who accepted to participate in this collection of essays and articles dealing with Asian languages, linguistics, sociolinguistics, literatures, literary theory, art, education, aesthetics, history, commerce and politics.
Due thanks are proffered and acknowledgements made for the following articles and essays:
To Dr.Rama P. Coomaraswamy for his father’s essay: « Introduction to the Art of Eastern Asia » which last appeared in Coomaraswamy: Traditional Art and Symbolism. Ed. Roger Lipsey. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977, pp. 101-127; the same collection was published by Oxford University Press in India, paperback edition in 1986.
An earlier version of Professor Wang Gungwu’s essay appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review in June 1999.
Dr.Rama P.Coomaraswamy’s essay « The Art of Living » is to appear this year as an introduction to a collection of his father’s essays on art to be published by Fons Vitae.
Doniger, Wendy. November 1999. « Presidential Address: ‘I have Scinde’: Flogging a Dead
(White Male Orientalist) Horse » in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol.58,
No.4 (Ann Arbor, Michigan), 940-960.
Huntington, Samuel P. Summer 1993. « The Clash of Civilizations? » in Foreign Affairs, Vol.
Koestler, Arthur. 1960. The Lotus and the Robot. London: Penguin.
Lengyel, Alfonz. Fall 1998. « Correspondence » in Asian Studies Newsletter, Vol.43, No.4
(Ann Arbor, Michigan).
Mazumdar, Sudip. February 21, 2000. « Shame, the Virtual Weapon, » in Newsweek, Vol.
CXXXV. New York: Newsweek Inc.
Shils, Edward. 1969. « The Asian Intellectual », in Asia Handbook. Ed. Guy Wint. London:
Stokhof, Wim. June 1999. « Editorial » in International Institute of Asian Studies Newsletter,