AAS 2020 Prizes

The AAS is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s prize competitions and offer congratulations to all honorees.

Book Prizes

Joseph Levenson Pre-1900 Book Prize (China)

Lara Blanchard, Song Dynasty Figures of Longing and Desire: Gender and Interiority in Chinese Painting and Poetry (Brill)

Citation: Lara C. W. Blanchard’s Song Dynasty Figures of Longing and Desire: Gender and Interiority in Chinese Painting and Poetry is a triumph of intertextual and intervisual methods in gender studies. Blanchard investigates Song-dynasty images of lovelorn women and objectified females, traditionally seen as a type of genre scene or prurient subject matter. Instead, she asks serious questions about deeper content. What kinds of functions could paintings of women in love serve? Why were themes of interiority so resonant? Which groups constituted their intended audience? Looking at lyrics and paintings produced by women, Blanchard interrogates representations of emotions in painting and poetry. She interprets certain male-produced pictures containing images of female sexual desire through the lens of allegory and political symbolism, showing how men’s emotions represented by female figures parallel interpretations of love poetry as political commentary. Blanchard argues that other images of women represent sites of projected feelings by male artists and audiences. Finally, she imagines female audiences and their reception of images of court women as behavioral ideals. Blanchard arrives at her nuanced interpretations of the text-and-image tradition of the female figure as a site of interiority through detailed research into literature and history synthesized with close readings of famous ancient paintings. Her trenchant analyses of the possible audiences and functions of these works and themes serve as a model for how to write women back into the histories of art and literature in pre-modern times.

Honorable Mention: Ori Sela, China’s Philological Turn: Scholars, Textualism, and the Dao in the 18th Century (Columbia University Press)

Honorable Mention: Wen-shing Chou, Mount Wutai: Visions of a Sacred Buddhist Mountain (Princeton University Press)

Joseph Levenson Post-1900 Book Prize (China)

Sasha Welland, Experimental Beijing: Gender and Globalization in Chinese Contemporary Art (Duke University Press)

Citation: In Experimental Beijing, Sasha Welland deploys the tools and perspectives of art history, ethnography, and gender studies to give us a vivid description of avant garde artistic practice in Beijing since the 1990s, with a specific emphasis on the practice of feminist art and artists. Theoretically informed yet never overburdened with theoretical jargon, detailed yet engagingly written, Experimental Beijing re-situates Chinese artists and their production vis-à-vis the global circuits of art curation, Western feminism, Chinese male production, and the historical tradition of women’s activism. By tracing these connections and tensions, Welland innovatively highlights the subjectivity of Chinese artists and forces us to rethink the emergence of Chinese contemporary art in relation to the global art scene while describing its role in defining the space of Beijing.  Her book is essential reading for art historians, anthropologists, scholars of gender, and those interested in urban studies.

Honorable Mention (Posthumous): Gao Hua, How the Red Sun Rose: The Origin and Development of the Yan’an Rectification Movement, 1930–1945, translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian (The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press)

E. Gene Smith Inner Asia Book Prize

Max Oidtmann, Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet (Columbia University Press)

Citation: This book is a much-needed addition to the fields of Inner Asian history and early modern Asian studies in general. Drawing together evidence from an impressive range of sources—many hitherto unexplored—in Tibetan, Chinese, and Manchu, Oidtmann develops a complex portrayal of how Qing rulers and Tibetan leaders melded their interests through both conflict and negotiation in reforming the procedures and practices that governed decisions on the reincarnation of high lamas in Tibet. The so-called “Golden Urn lottery” has been standing at the heart of controversies over questions of authority and political, religious and cultural autonomy, and Oidtmann is the first to offer a comprehensive treatment of this sensitive and still-pertinent topic. In addition, the author also provides highly useful appendices, including chronologies, original translations, and a “List of Usages of the Golden Urn.” The book is essential reading for students of Tibetan history, Qing imperialism, and Sino-Tibetan relations from the late eighteenth century to the present. 

Honorable Mention: Charlene Makley, The Battle for Fortune: State-Led Development, Personhood, and Power among Tibetans in China (Cornell University Press)

Patrick D. Hanan Prize for Translation (China & Inner Asia)

Eleanor Goodman, The Roots of Wisdom by Zang Di (Zephyr Press)

Citation: Eleanor Goodman’s translations of The Roots of Wisdom invite us to linger, reread, and discover. The translator’s learned and eloquent introduction also places Zang Di’s work in a broader frame of world poetry. As a whole, these poems represent some of the finest translations of poetry being published today.

Honorable Mention: Michael Berry, Remains of Life: A Novel by Wu He (Columbia University Press)

John Whitney Hall Book Prize (Japan)

Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci, Contraceptive Diplomacy: Reproductive Politics and Imperial Ambitions in the United States and Japan (Stanford University Press)

Citation: Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci’s Contraceptive Diplomacy: Reproductive Politics and Imperial Ambitions in the United States and Japan (Stanford University Press) deserves the prize this year. It impressed the panel as an innovative and comprehensive study of the transformations of birth control discourse over time. Rich in detail and broad in coverage with a transnational approach that suits its subject, Contraceptive Diplomacy places Japan in the contexts of the global history of gender studies, racial eugenics, population policy, and imperialism. The book provides a fresh sense of the twentieth century through its exposition of the interwoven fabric of the history of feminism and international relations, revealing the inextricable links and extended interactions between Japanese and U.S. birth control activists. By placing Japan in a broader global context and showing scholars of other locales why they need to pay attention to Japan in terms of this immensely important yet understudied topic, Contraceptive Diplomacy will appeal to both Japanologists and those well beyond our field. 

Honorable Mention: Maren A. Ehlers, Give and Take: Poverty and the Status Order in Early Modern Japan (Harvard University Asia Center)

James B. Palais Book Prize (Korea)

Yoon Sun Yang, From Domestic Women to Sensitive Young Men: Translating the Individual in Early Colonial Korea (Harvard University Asia Center)

Citation: From Domestic Women to Sensitive Young Men: Translating the Individual in Early Colonial Korea is a brilliant work of literary analysis that interweaves Korean and Japanese literary theory, gender studies, and modern Korean history. Yoon Sun Yang explores a neglected but crucial corpus of novels known as “New Fiction” developed by reformed-minded male writers during the early years of Japanese colonial influence. This eloquent book upends the conventional European standard by which literary modernity in Korea has been evaluated and instead uncovers female figures as the earliest iterations of the Korean individual actively engaged in translating individuality and selfhood, while imagining the nation’s future. The analysis shows that the repression that made the explicitly political novel impossible fostered a genre of domestic fiction through which the traumas and tensions of the transition to a “modern” society began to be thrashed out. Peopled not by exemplary individuals but by rather unstable, ambivalent, and transgressive characters, From Domestic Women to Sensitive Young Men compellingly shows how the novels question and unsettle existing structures of patriarchy, gender relations, and the notion of modernity itself while being intimately shaped by colonial structures of power.

Honorable Mention: Hwansoo Ilmee Kim, The Korean Buddhist Empire: A Transnational History, 1910–1945 (Harvard University Asia Center)

Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize (first book on South Asia)

Sohini Kar, Financializing Poverty: Labor and Risk in Indian Microfinance (Stanford University Press)

Citation: Sohini Kar’s Financializing Poverty is a remarkable study of neoliberalism’s leading edge, the story of how Indian banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs) wring profit from the struggles of poor women by enlisting them in networks of mutual surveillance and control. Kar’s heartbreaking ethnography brings to life not just the impossible situation of microfinance’s victims, but the complex motives and ethical dilemmas of loan officers who see themselves as agents of emancipation and women’s empowerment. Where the former are driven in some cases to “collateralize life” itself, only to discover that even death is no escape if life insurance policies they’ve been pressured into buying fail to pay, the latter struggle with the mismatch between their mission and the realities around them. Paved with good intentions, the theory of poverty alleviation through “financial inclusion” pushed by the IMF, World Bank, and leading Indian political parties since the nineteen-nineties depends, Kar shows, on the flawed premise that every woman can be an entrepreneur. Far from liberating poor women, Financializing Poverty reveals how the extension of market relations into everyday life pits them against one another, reinforcing traditional patriarchy while binding women to global financial networks as they simply try to get by.

Honorable Mention: Ananya Chakravarti, The Empire of Apostles: Religion, Accommodatio, and the Imagination of Empire in Early Modern Brazil and India (Oxford University Press)

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize (South Asia)

Santanu Das, India, Empire, and First World War Culture: Writings, Images, and Songs (Cambridge University Press)

Citation: India, Empire, and First World War Culture by Santanu Das opens up a seemingly well-studied historical period to new questions and perspectives by locating and analyzing far flung photographs, phonographic recordings, paintings, diaries, poems, songs, and even censored letters to illuminate lives, experiences, and representations of Indian sepoys deployed overseas on behalf of the British Empire during WWI. By pioneering ways to interpret a new set of oral and visual materials (along with written materials), he reveals sensual and emotional aspects of the war experience for combatants and non-combatants. By refusing to over-simplify diverse evidence, he interprets his materials with the complexity that they deserve.

Das contributes significantly to understanding various aspects of subaltern consciousness among these original subalterns, making it possible to complicate presumptions made about subalterns, who have been the subject of relatively recent revisionist Indian historiography. He also examines the diversity of their treatment ranging from welcomes into local families to stigmatized and isolated from other groups. Das assesses their struggles and sacrifice, given that they were often willing participants in the war, part of a wider Indian effort to prove their loyalty to the British but also that they received insufficient weapons to protect them under fire. Das considers cosmopolitanism not just as the commingling of intellectuals, languages, and ideas but of bodies hurled against each other on the battlefield.

A.K. Ramanujan Book Prize for Translation (South Asia)

Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. VII: Uttarakāṇḍa (Princeton University Press)

Citation: The tale of Rāma and Sītā is arguably the most significant text of ancient Indic literary culture; its seventh book, Uttarakāṇḍa, is easily the most controversial. Based on the critical edition prepared by the Oriental Institute of Baroda, the Goldmans have rendered the text with precision, with a clarity and grace that makes its narrative literary and accessible. For those wanting more, the text is a translator’s translation, a gift of high scholasticism, with its extensive introduction outlining the critical and contentious issues surrounding this last book of the epic, voluminous notes which trace and translate alternative and vulgate passages, and close readings of commentaries stretching over the last millennium. It even includes a meticulous genealogy of the antagonist Rāvaṇa’s rākṣasa lineage. The production is breathtakingly comprehensive.

The publication of the Uttarakāṇḍa brings to fruition five decades of the Goldmans’s active engagement translating the text entire. The committee wishes to recognize their intrepid effort to oversee the project, a labor of love that was officially inaugurated in the 1970s, the first volume appearing in 1984. The project enlisted several collaborators: Sheldon Pollock, Rosalind Lefeber, and B. A. van Nooten. While this year’s prize is awarded to the seventh and final volume of this effort, we must salute the achievements of the team and Princeton University Press’ half-century commitment to see through this monumental translation.

Harry J. Benda Book Prize (first book on Southeast Asia)

Sumit Mandal, Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World (Cambridge University Press)

Citation: Sumit Mandal’s Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World (2018) is a powerful and important work of history, the result of prodigious archival research. Beyond its importance in challenging conventional understandings of the category “Arab” in the Malay world, it suggests news ways of thinking about the project of colonial racial categorization more broadly. Mandal importantly argues that most scholarship assumes that racial categorizations deployed in postcolonial nations stemmed from colonial practices aimed at dividing populations in order to rule them. He upends this argument by breaking down what the category, Arab, meant in historical contexts prior to, during, and after Dutch colonial rule. In particular, Mandal’s argument that colonial racial categories are not “totalizing” but are subject to reinterpretation and subversion, encourages the reader to think hard about the historical processes through which such racial categories come to exist, and shift over time. Working from Malay, Dutch, French and English language sources, this is a book whose importance will center the field of Southeast Asian studies in broader conversations about creole histories and racializing area studies.

Honorable Mention: Juno Parreñas, Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation (Duke University Press)

Franklin R. Buchanan Prize for Asia Curriculum Materials

Jason A Carbine, Gary Marcuse, and Rebecca Overmyer-Velázquez, Global Environmental Justice Collection (Face to Face Media)

Citation: The Global Environmental Justice Collection is a collection of twenty-five films, most of which focus on Asia, that seek to promote environmental literacy and justice with a global perspective. Selected and curated by faculty members at universities around the U.S., the Global Environmental Justice Collection serves as a clearinghouse for films that may be difficult to obtain. The collection also provides comprehensive Teacher’s Guides to accompany most of its films. In addition to providing a synopsis of the film, these Teacher’s Guides include crucial background and contextual information while highlighting the environmental justice aspects for the film. They provide discussion questions and suggested activities that relate to the themes, contexts, and issues explored in each film. With a realization of the in-class time constraints that teachers face, many of the Teacher’s Guides for the longer films have “short version” viewing recommendations that detail some specific and pertinent excerpts from the films. While the films in the collection are made available through a subscription, the accompanying Teacher’s Guides are downloadable for free. Although the Global Environmental Justice Collection is primarily geared towards college undergraduate students, many of the films and supporting materials are suitable for middle and high school students.

Career Awards

Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies Award

Patricia Ebrey, University of Washington

Distinguished Service to the Association for Asian Studies Award

Thomas G. Rawski, University of Pittsburgh

Graduate Student Paper Prizes

Gerjan Altenberg, McMaster University, “Some Problems with the Theravāda-Vinaya as a Textual Source for the Study of Abortion” (South Asia)

Gavin Healy, Columbia University, “Visual Culture and the Tourism Industry in Mao-Era China: ‘Scenery Export’?” (China & Inner Asia)

Youjia Li, Northwestern University, “Push-car Railways in the Japanese Empire: Colonialism, Technology, and the Spatial Construction in Colonial Taiwan” (Northeast Asia)

Cindy Nguyen, UC Berkeley, “The Social Life of the Hanoi Central Library: Reading Cultures & Public Space, 1919-1941” (Southeast Asia)

Sarah Xia Yu, University of Pennsylvania, “Spitting in the Settlement: Public Nuisance, Health, and Sovereignty in Shanghai, 1911–1941” (China & Inner Asia)