Black Voice, Asian Studies

By Warren A. Stanislaus, University of Oxford       

“There are no Black British-Japanese connections, so I wouldn’t spend your time looking.”

This was the guidance I received from a professor at a conference upon seeking advice on related research project ideas. As I argue in a commentary for the Royal Historical Society, such perceptions are perhaps unsurprising, as Black British history is especially believed to be limited in its spatial and temporal expansiveness. Consequently, Black British-Japanese linkages are imagined to be, well, impossible. To be sure, this can be situated within broader discourses of Afro-Japanese or Afro-Asian encounters that are regularly characterized by narratives of incompatibility, irreconcilability, or rift, which inadvertently obscure and preclude the discovery of histories that don’t neatly fit these frameworks of understanding—something that I discuss in more depth in an essay at Critical Asian Studies.

Despite observing cultural flows and interactions, not to mention my own journey, which speak to the existence of this “unimaginable” transnational connectivity, I failed to muster up a response and retreated into silence. I was unable to, in the words of Audre Lorde, engage in a “transformation of silence into language and action” for fear of having “what is most important to me…bruised or misunderstood.” 

My discouraging encounter with this professor is perhaps a familiar one to others. In an AAS Digital Dialogues panel from July 2020, William H. Bridges IV introduced a similar experience where as a graduate student seeking out a sponsor at a Japanese university, he was told that his proposed research of exploring blackness in postwar Japanese literature “would not be a study of Japanese literature.” Perhaps experiences such as these have meant the loss of many a talented researcher down the infamous leaky career pipeline, or projects that will forever remain unpursued and undocumented—a silence untransformed.

Undeterred, however, I silenced the voices of doubt, and wrote an article, in which one of its contributions is the disclosure of a significant Black British-Japanese interactivity. Published in the Japan Forum journal, “From Cool Japan to Cold Japan: Grime Cyborgs in Black Britain,” is itself a story of a breaking out of the silence.

The article introduces grime, a fast-paced electronic music and style of rap that emerged out of public housing blocks and pirate radio stations in London as an underground DIY subculture in the early 2000s, and traces its roots to an eclectic mix of genres. The sound and themes articulate the alienation and perspectives of Black urban life on the margins of British society. As expressed by Jme, one of the pioneers of grime:

“Before grime, never had a voice
Grew up in Tottenham, I never had a choice.”
(96 of My Life)

Delineating how Black urban life in Britain fused with the wires and worlds of Japanese pop culture and technologies, I disclose how grime artists disassemble and recombine these components to generate their countercultural voice. In other words, we cannot understand Black British youth identity formation in the early 21st century without considering the impact of transnational flows of Japanese pop culture, nor can we talk about the global spread of Japanese pop culture without addressing the questions raised by how “Cool Japan” was recontextualized and remixed in Black Britain. Or to repurpose Bridges’ assertion, “Asian studies matters for Black lives” and Black lives matter to Asian studies.

“Cyborg in da Corner” designed by Jason Adenuga @jasonoia and conceptualized in collaboration with the author.
“Cyborg in da Corner,” designed by Jason Adenuga @jasonoia and conceptualized in collaboration with the author.

Drawing inspiration from work by Paula R. Curtis and Tristan R. Grunow’s #AsiaNow piece, which make the case for embracing innovative approaches to digital scholarship and public-facing output in Asian studies, I collaborated with digital artist Jason Adenuga to visualize in the form of an animation several key themes introduced in the article (see full animated visualizer here). The article cover art is a nod to grime artist Dizzee Rascal’s influential Boy in da Corner album from 2003 and its iconic album cover that has been described as a cultural touchstone. The original album cover pictures a black-hooded Dizzee literally sat in the corner in front of bright hazard-yellow color walls and futuristic “origami” font text, while flicking up devil horns and gazing at the viewer with Mona Lisa-esque following eyes. “It was a way to transmute cultural marginalization into an electrifying jolt of self-affirmation,” writes Gabriel Herrera in a Red Bull Music Academy piece. We chose Hinomaru red panels (or perhaps a Poké Ball color palette) and placed a SNES on the floor in the “Cold Japan” article visualizer remake to illuminate the links with an imagined Japan of the future and Japanese pop cultural artifacts in powering this Black British voice, which transcends the silent margins. Regenerated by electrifying jolts from Japan, the “boy in da corner” is transformed into the cold “cyborg in da corner.”

Beyond referencing the original yellow panels, the bumblebee yellow-black hoody that our “cyboy” wears is also an allusion to Bruce Lee’s famous jumpsuit, also memorably donned by the actor Taimak as Bruce Leroy in the 1985 movie, The Last Dragon. Such easter eggs hidden within the artwork are intended to bring to mind much wider Afro-Asian connections, for example, how Black audiences across the African diaspora have long identified with and been inspired by the underdog hero stories of Hong Kong martial arts cinema—a phenomenon and broader historical context from which grime draws. Further, while there can be a tendency to view Afro-Asian cultural exchanges, discourses, and shared agendas as disparate sparks that are but fleeting moments of connectivity, the visualizer speaks to continuity and overlap.

This was one of the goals of the Black Transnationalism & Japan Conference hosted online in October 2021 by the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, University of Oxford, where I had the opportunity to present the “Cold Japan” paper. The conference conceptualized an extended and continued current of Black-Japanese encounters, an alternative timeline if you will, which reveals a “rich and intertwined transnational history…that often countered the state and that were invisible from a solely state-centric lens.”

In many ways, my participation in the conference itself was also the culmination of an alternative timeline of guidance that ran alongside and countered the experience introduced at the start of this post where my ideas were dismissed. During the conference that was conducted virtually, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on a panel sandwiched in between William H. Bridges IV and Marvin Sterling with Mateja Kovacic as the discussant. Discovering a book on Afro-Japanese Cultural Production edited by Bridges and Nina Cornyetz affirmed that these research topics are significant and do belong, while both Sterling and Kovacic had kindly agreed to offer mentorship in the form of feedback on drafts of my article, assuring me that it is indeed worth transforming “silence into language and action.”

This is exactly why initiatives such as the AAS Mentoring Workshop for Black Graduate Students in Asian Studies are vital. As a graduate student participant in the 2021 session, I heard the voices and experiences of diverse Black scholars, senior and early career, across multiple subfields of Asian Studies. The workshop provided a necessary space to empower junior Black scholars, such as myself, to find our voice in Asian Studies.

I will close with the powerful call to action presented at the aforementioned AAS Digital Dialogues, where Bridges urged us as scholars in Asian Studies to consider how Black lives and blackness matters to our fields and to “listen when the archive makes this argument for itself.” With those words in mind, I hope you will take a moment to check out the “Cold Japan” digital playlist I curated on Spotify and YouTube so that you can hear the voice of grime…hear the Black British-Japanese connectivity, because the archive makes the argument for itself. 


Read Warren’s article, “From Cool Japan to Cold Japan: Grime Cyborgs in Black Britain,” and the Japanese translation at Japan Forum. Watch Warren’s talk at the Asia Society, Japan.

Warren A. Stanislaus is a PhD Candidate in modern Japanese history at the University of Oxford’s Faculty of History. Originally from South East London he has spent 12+ years in Tokyo, speaks fluent Japanese and advanced Mandarin Chinese. Previously, he worked as a researcher at Asia Pacific Initiative, a Tokyo-based think tank. He received a BA in Liberal Arts from ICU and is currently an Associate Lecturer at Rikkyo University’s Global Liberal Arts Program. In 2019, he was named No.3 in the UK’s Top 10 Rare Rising Stars awards.

Call for Papers: The Rights of Women and LGBTQ People in Southeast Asia

The Southeast Asia Council (SEAC) of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is seeking paper proposals from up-and-coming scholars – including graduate students – to join a “Rising Voices” panel on the topic of “The Rights of Women and LGBTQ People in Southeast Asia” (See below for eligibility). We seek to recruit early career scholars from Southeast Asian countries to form a panel for inclusion in the 2023 Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, to be held in Boston, Massachusetts, March 16-19, 2023. SEAC will provide partial financial assistance for presenters to attend the meetings. In addition to receiving financial support from the AAS/SEAC, this year’s Rising Voices Panel also has financial support provided by TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia.

Panel Topic Description 

The prolonged pandemic, democratic declines, and/or returns to authoritarian rule have adversely affected the rights of many ordinary people in Southeast Asia. In particular, the bodies of women and LGBTQ people have become key battlegrounds for state boundaries, religious and cultural values, national identity, and morality. This panel will examine the rights of women and LGBTQ persons in Southeast Asia who face systemic discrimination and often violence from a wide range of perspectives, including history, politics, cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, geography, and/or economics. Panelists may choose to discuss either the rights of women or LGBTQ  persons or both. Panelists may study the topic within a given Southeast Asian country/countries or across the region in Southeast Asia. 

Some questions the panel may consider include: 

  1. Why and how has a state (or states) controlled the bodies of women and LGBTQ persons? 
  2. To what extent have political and economic changes in Southeast Asia (e.g., rise of authoritarian regimes, adoption of neoliberal policies) affected the conditions of the rights of women and LGBTQ persons?
  3. Are there identifiable regional trends or comparative patterns across nation-states affecting the rights of women and LGBTQ persons in Southeast Asia? 
  4. What have women and LGBTQ persons done to advance their rights in Southeast Asia in the face of rising antifeminism and political homophobia? In what way have they been successful? In what ways have they fallen short of their goals? 
  5. How have civil society organizations responded to the deteriorating rights situation of women and LGBTQ persons? Have they been successful or not? In what ways are they successful? In what ways have they fallen short of their goals? 

Eligibility and Selection Criteria 

We seek papers by Southeast Asian scholars who are early career scholars, or “rising voices.” Rising voices are defined here as advanced graduate students (currently writing dissertations based on original field or archival research) or untenured faculty members (including tenure-track assistant professors, adjuncts, and lecturers, or the approximate equivalent based on the academic tradition from which the scholar is coming). Applicants may be currently enrolled as students in, or employed by, any institution of higher education in the world. However, preference may be given to students or faculty currently based at underfunded institutions in Late Developing Countries (LDC) in Southeast Asia. (Please note that the definition of LDC used by the AAS excludes the following Asian countries: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of Korea (South Korea), and Singapore). In addition to the stated goal of supporting rising voices from Southeast Asia, the primary criteria for selection will be the quality of the paper proposals as well as the way selected proposals work together as a viable panel. 

The panel is intended to be a Southeast Asia-focused panel. Submissions that do not substantively address issues pertaining to the region will not be considered. 

To submit a paper proposal, please submit the following, in the order listed below, all in a single Microsoft Word file or PDF document, by July 15, 2022: 

  1. Applicant’s Name, affiliation, and contact information, clearly indicating applicant’s current country of residence.
  2. Paper abstract. 250 words in the format of the standard AAS paper proposal. 
  3. Brief bio-sketch of 200-300 words describing current and recent scholarly positions, a brief sentence or two about current research, and any significant publications. The model for this should be the standard blurb one sees on a faculty or graduate student website. 
  4. Current curriculum vitae

Please save the file with the following filename convention: RisingVoices2022_ApplicantsFamilyName.doc

Completed applications should be sent to the attention of Dr. Eunsook Jung and Dr. Christina Schwenkel to the following address: esjung@wisc.edu by the July 15, 2022 deadline. Late submissions will not be considered. 

The Journal of Asian Studies Moves to Duke University Press

Durham, North Carolina—The Journal of Asian Studies (JAS), the flagship journal of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), will join the Duke University Press journals program in 2023.

“There are many reasons we have decided to partner with Duke, but one of the most important is Duke’s prioritizing of the academic contributions of its journals. Duke’s academic credentials are stellar, with a global reputation for publishing top scholarly work in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Duke’s prioritizing of the academic market and readership melds with the association’s and journal’s mission of service to the field,” said Hilary Finchum-Sung, Executive Director of the AAS.

Since its founding in 1941, the Journal of Asian Studies has been recognized as the most authoritative and prestigious publication in the field of Asian studies. The journal publishes the very best empirical and multidisciplinary work on Asia, spanning the arts, history, literature, the social sciences, and cultural studies. Experts around the world turn to the journal for the latest in-depth scholarship on Asia’s past and present, for its extensive book reviews, and for its state-of-the-field essays on established and emerging topics. With coverage reaching from South and Southeast Asia to China, Inner Asia, and Northeast Asia, the Journal of Asian Studies welcomes broad comparative and transnational studies as well as essays emanating from fine-grained historical, cultural, political, or literary research and interpretation.

The journal is edited by Joseph Alter (University of Pittsburgh, USA), who said, “Asia’s ever increasing economic and political significance in the twenty-first century highlights the growing importance of Asian studies as a field of critical research. Globalization and rapid change, involving new cultural formations and the creative interconnectedness of people, places, and things, continues to stimulate incredibly innovative scholarship. I look forward to building on a legacy of excellence combined with Duke’s outstanding reputation to position the Journal of Asian Studies on the cutting edge of research that will redefine how we understand Asia’s past, present and future.”

“The Journal of Asian Studies has long been a critically important resource for those working in the field of Asian studies and is an exciting addition to our journals program. We are pleased to partner with the AAS to advance the journal’s mission and bring its scholarship to readers around the globe,” said Dean Smith, Director of Duke University Press.

The Journal of Asian Studies joins Duke University Press’s list of Asian studies journals, which includes Archives of Asian Art, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, the Journal of Korean Studies, Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature, positions: asia critique, Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies, and Trans Asia Photography. The journal will be included in the e-Duke Journals Expanded Collection and will also be available as a single-title subscription.

About

The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is a scholarly, nonpolitical, nonprofit professional association open to anyone interested in Asia and the study of Asia. With approximately 5,500 members worldwide, representing all the regions and countries of Asia and all academic disciplines, the AAS is the largest organization of its kind.

Duke University Press is a nonprofit scholarly publisher with a focus on the humanities, the social sciences, and mathematics. The Press publishes approximately 140 books annually and around 60 journals, as well as offering several electronic collections and open-access publishing initiatives.

A print copy of the Journal of Asian Studies and online access to the journal’s full archive (1941-present) are benefits of AAS membership (excluding Associate membership). If you are an AAS member and prefer to receive the JAS only in digital form, please log in to your member account and select the “Account” tab, then scroll down to the “Demographics” section. There, you may choose between print and digital copies of the JAS, or digital only. Save your preferences using the button at the bottom of the page. Questions? Email info@asianstudies.org for assistance.

Call for Proposals: “Global Anti-Asian Racism” for Asia Shorts

Volume Editor: Jennifer Ho (University of Colorado Boulder)
Series Editor: David Kenley (Dakota State University)

This special volume of Asia Shorts will focus on “Global Anti-Asian Racism,” a phenomenon, particularly in the guise of Yellow Peril, that has endured for centuries around the globe. In Europe and the Americas, Asian immigrants and refugees are and were treated as threats to national security, as well as the society/culture of American (whether U.S., Latin American, Central American, Caribbean, or Canadian) and European people. Yellow Peril and anti-Asian racism is also found in Africa, Australia, and New Zealand—wherever Asian immigrants and refugees found themselves, anti-Asian sentiments quickly followed.

In the hope that this volume will be widely adopted by specialists and non-specialists alike, as well as serve as a valuable pedagogical resource for teachers, we seek shorter submissions that range in variety—traditional academic essays that have a historical or theoretical orientation or that thematically engage in cross-comparative Asian national perspectives—as well as creative and personal pieces that delve into how people have experienced or witnessed anti-Asian racism and/or Yellow Peril from different vantage points and perspectives. While we are currently living in an era of profound and violent anti-Asian racism, the volume seeks perspectives that go beyond our current COVID-19 moment to consider the ways in which anti-Asian racism has persisted across time and space.

Logistics

October 1, 2022: 1-2 page abstracts due (12 point font, double spaced, please)

April 1, 2023: Essays due (not to exceed 5,000 words, including all notes and works consulted—if you wish to include illustrations/graphics, that’s fine so long as you have permission)

May 1, 2023: Feedback on essays sent out (may happen earlier)

July 1, 2023: First revisions due

Summer/Fall 2023: Page proofs

* Please submit all materials as Microsoft Word documents named and saved as LastNameFirstName_Title.docx — ex: HoJennifer_GlobalAntiRacism.docx

Further questions and submissions can be sent to Jennifer Ho: Jennifer.Ho@colorado.edu.

Freeman Foundation Awards Grant for Education About Asia

Logo of the Education About Asia Teaching Resource Journal

The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is pleased to announce that the Freeman Foundation has awarded AAS a $40,000 grant for 2022-2023 to support our ongoing Education About Asia (EAA) digitization project.

Education About Asia, the teaching journal of the AAS, has been published since 1996 and is steered by Editor Lucien Ellington (University of Tennessee-Chattanooga) and Managing Editor Jeffrey Melnick. An open-access publication with over 1,500 articles in print, EAA is a valuable resource for both educators and students.

With the launch of a new website in 2019, the AAS has been revamping the EAA online archive by gradually adding fully searchable HTML versions of all articles to the PDF downloads already available. The grant from the Freeman Foundation will fund continued work on this stage of EAA archive enhancement over the next year. One of the most popular features on the AAS website, we look forward to making the EAA archive even more useful for the instructors and students who visit it and appreciate the Freeman Foundation’s support for this endeavor.

Founded in 1993, the Freeman Foundation’s major objectives include strengthening the bonds of friendship between the United States and the countries of East Asia. Through education and educational institutes, the Foundation hopes to promote a greater appreciation of Asian cultures, histories, and economies in the United States and a better understanding of American people, institutions, and purposes in East Asia. The Association for Asian Studies is proud to support the Freeman Foundation’s mission by making educational resources on Asia openly available and accessible to the public.

Animal Care in Japanese Tradition: A Short History

By W. Puck Brecher

Cover image of Animal Care in Japanese Tradition: A Short History, by W. Puck Brecher

We are pleased to share this excerpt adapted from the newest Asia Shorts volume, Animal Care in Japanese Tradition: A Short History, by W. Puck Brecher (Washington State University). In this book, Brecher offers a brief overview of animals in Japanese culture and society from ancient times to the 1950s. Brecher questions common assumptions about the treatment and care of animals in Japan, correcting ahistorical understandings of the human-animal relationship that have gained widespread acceptance.

Learn more about Animal Care in Japanese Tradition and order your own print or electronic copy from our AAS Publications distribution partner, Columbia University Press.


Prince Shōtoku (574–622) is said to have erected a tomb and statue for his dog Yukimaru. The act of memorializing a beloved pet in this way was not unusual at the time, nor is it uncommon today. Such traditions, many contend, show that Japanese have always nurtured close bonds with nonhuman animals, an ethic of compassion that precludes any history of animal mistreatment in Japan. Deshima physician Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828) came to the opposite conclusion, noting the relatively weak cultural ties between Japanese and their domesticated animals. In contrast to Europe, Japanese did not raise sheep or pigs, and few interacted with cows or horses. It was little wonder, he reflected, that they knew comparatively little about those creatures. These opposing perspectives represent chronic confusion over the nature of Japan’s historical relationship with nonhuman animals.

The subject itself is fascinating in its own right, but learning about it carries an additional benefit: it helps us challenge two pervasive assumptions about Japan. The first is that Japan differs fundamentally from other, particularly Western, nations. This premise reinforces the view that cultural differences carry greater historical importance than similarities. The second assumption is that societal changes connected to Japanese modernization are of greater historical importance than continuities, a notion that foregrounds modern Japan’s departure from its native traditions and its assimilation of Western ones. This volume’s historical overview of Japan’s relationship with animals does not dwell at length on these points, but its discussion of traditional animal care does enable us to revisit and reassess these issues in a new light. It also allows us to scrutinize Japanese tradition and interrogate ahistorical claims about Japan’s culturally endemic “love” and empathy for the natural world. Departing from existing scholarship on the subject, the book discovers theoretical and practical commonalities between “Japanese” and “Western” approaches to animal care and shows how this partially shared tradition facilitated Japanese modernization.

The book’s six chapters examine the traditions and innovations that shaped the theory and practice of animal welfare from ancient times until the 1950s. The first two chapters consider how certain pre-Meiji religious views guided official policy over animal treatment, meat eating, hunting, and ritual worship. Buddhism made animal welfare a moral issue in theory, these chapters suggest, but few premodern Japanese considered noninjury to be a rigid moral mandate. Rather, they adapted the doctrine to affirm preexisting mores and then applied it to help meet ongoing material needs. Religious and political authorities also devised myriad loopholes and justifications that enabled them to mitigate the moral dilemmas posed by the continued exploitation of wildlife, livestock, and pets. Public practice thereby domesticated esoteric theory to accommodate nutritional and economic necessities. These cannot be considered distinctively “Japanese” traditions. In significant ways, they brought public ethics into philosophical alignment with the Western values Japan would encounter in the mid-nineteenth century.

The third chapter explores pre-Meiji knowledge of animal healing. Specifically, it uses several Buddhist and Dutch veterinary texts to examine the development of animal care as a proprietary field of professional knowledge. Chinese veterinary medicine had developed to care for economically or symbolically valuable livestock, particularly horses and cattle. Japanese students of this knowledge did not always value it for its efficacy. Hereditary schools guarded veterinary healing as esoteric knowledge, often protecting their own traditions by rejecting newer, more effective techniques. Functioning much like clerics, Japanese veterinarians used a combination of esoteric religious and medical learning to empower themselves as healers, formulating their craft as a mixture of imported empirical techniques and homegrown religious knowledge. In the process, they created new veterinary lineages—and thus new traditions—that mimicked esoteric religion. Their private management of learning also supported a parochial veneration of tradition. During the last century of the Edo period (1600–1868), these hereditary schools would encounter stiff challenges from the commercialization of veterinary knowledge and the discovery of Western techniques.

Chapter 4 examines pet-keeping practices in the Edo period. Conceptualized differently than wildlife and livestock, pets were exploited as sources of entertainment, companionship, karmic benefit, and prestige. Though prized in some contexts, in others they suffered worse treatment than other animals. In contrast to wildlife and livestock, pet exploitation was rarely justified in moral terms. Love did not necessarily engender compassion or moral custodianship.

The book’s fifth chapter extends these discussions through Japan’s first century of frantic, intensively state-directed modernization (1850s–1950s). It discusses the nascent animal welfare movement, revolutionary changes to the fields of veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, and pet keeping, and the ways these new forms of theoretical knowledge represented what some consider a triumph of modernity. It also finds many continuities in public practice, including the ongoing abuse of feral dogs, zoo animals, livestock, and wildlife that modernization theorists and Marxist historians alike have styled a failure of modernity.

From the premodern through the early postwar era, as the book’s final chapter concludes, theoretical knowledge like esoteric Buddhism and Western science only partially shaped public relationships with animals. Despite modern innovations in veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, and agriculture, exposure to Western thought often did not engender the extensive ontological shift that is generally assumed. Nor did it fundamentally alter many people’s preexisting conceptualization and treatment of animals. Attitudinal change was largely contextual, even among animal welfare advocates for whom animal well-being remained connected to practical, utilitarian concerns. Animals’ instrumental value to humans continued to eclipse their perceived intrinsic value. Despite broad insistence on the distinctiveness of Japanese tradition, therefore, Japanese and Western approaches to animal management have shared a great deal. Those parallels allowed for Japan’s relatively smooth adoption of modern (external) structures and technologies but also permitted the continuation of many preexisting (internal) patterns of animal care. These insights historicize and help explain the apparent contradictions and controversies that have confounded our understanding of this issue for so long.

AAS Gosling-Lim Fellowship in Southeast Asian Studies Awarded to Dr. Realisa D. Masardi

Profile picture of Dr. Realisa Darathea Masardi
Dr. Realisa Darathea Masardi

The Association for Asian Studies is pleased to announce that the 2022 Gosling-Lim Postdoctoral Fellowship in Southeast Asian Studies has been awarded to Dr. Realisa Darathea Masardi (Universitas Gajah Mada, Indonesia) for her proposed project on Independent Refugee Youth in Waiting: Social Navigations while in Transit in Indonesia. Dr. Masardi will be based at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan to turn her dissertation into a book that examines the social navigations of refugee youth traveling from various parts of the world as they maneuver uncertainties while in transit in Indonesia.

Her manuscript, which focuses on young asylum seekers between the age of 8 and 24 years old such as the Hazara ethnic group born in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran; the Rohingya from Myanmar; as well as young refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Sri Lanka, explores the ways in which independent refugee youth “exercise active waiting while transiting in Indonesia.”

The Gosling-Lim Postdoctoral Fellow in Southeast Asian Studies has been made possible thanks to a generous gift from L.A. Peter Gosling and Linda Yuen-Ching Lim. This fellowship is focused on capability-building in Southeast Asian Studies among scholars who are Southeast Asian nationals based in Southeast Asia and at Southeast Asian institutions. Its goal is to enable such scholars to concentrate on publishing their dissertation research, and/or embark on new post-dissertation research, without the distraction of having to teach, consult, or shoulder administrative burdens, and with the opportunity to expand their scholarly networks and expertise.

The intent is that fellowship recipients will develop their careers in the region, helping to advance the field of Southeast Asian Studies within the region. According to Pete Gosling and Linda Lim: “We are pleased that the fellowship attracted many competitive applicants from across the region, and look forward to its continuation and growing impact in the years ahead.”

#AsiaNow Speaks with Durba Mitra

Durba Mitra is Associate Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University and author of Indian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought, published by Princeton University Press and winner of the 2022 AAS Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize.

To begin with, please tell us what your book is about.

Indian Sex Life analyzes how ideas of deviant female sexuality, often named as the “prostitute,” became foundational to modern social thought and theory in colonial India. European, American, and Indian social analysts made scientific claims about deviant female sexuality in the constitution of new fields of knowledge about society. In the new sciences of society, including Indology, legal sociology, evolutionary theory, and even popular literature, the assessment of feminized sexuality became essential to the study of social life. Ideas of female sexual deviancy were foundational for debates about social progress and exclusion, Hindu supremacy, caste domination, sexuality and work, women’s industrial and domestic labor, transnational indentured servitude, customary marriage, widowhood and inheritance, the trafficking of girls, abortion and infanticide, and anti-Muslim ideologies about the dangers of Muslim women’s sexuality. Colonial authorities and Indian intellectuals used the mutable concept of the prostitute to argue for the dramatic reorganization of modern Indian society around Hindu supremacist visions of upper-caste monogamy. Indian Sex Life reveals how modern social science and theory is made possible through ideas of deviant female sexuality. I demonstrate how modern social theory is based on a dangerous civilizational logic built on the control and erasure of feminized sexuality. This logic continues to hold sway in present-day South Asia and many parts of the postcolonial world.

What inspired you to research this topic?

The inspiration for this research is both personal and methodological—personal in terms of my own history and that of my family, and methodological in the challenges of writing history in and through archives that purposefully objectify, limit, and erase the lives of women. The research is framed by intellectual questions that I have asked in response to seeing and knowing the cruel dictates of social and sexual control that shape the everyday lives of girls and women and watching women in their efforts to challenge, subvert, and survive despite dangerously strict sexual norms. Indian Sex Life is shaped by these unique challenges and asks how research on women and issues of sexuality gets to the very heart of the ethical and political questions that shape how we write about social life, from the vocabulary we use to  describe women to the normative visions of conjugality and hierarchy that shape our own understandings of the past and future of modern society.

What obstacles did you face in this project? What turned out better and/or easier than you expected it would?

I think researchers face many obstacles in conducting research on women and sexuality, from the dearth of sources that give contour to the nature of women’s lives rather than the circumstances of their criminalization or deaths, to the problem of archives that are crumbling as a result of poor infrastructure to sustain materials in South Asia. These challenges are even more acute in India today with increasingly authoritarian structures that limit access to archives and disappear archives in new infrastructure projects that are reshaping cities through a chauvinistic vision of Hindu nationalism.

In my research, I faced many challenges, including the problem of sexual control and harassment in and out of archives and the regular experience of not gaining access to materials due to bureaucratic procedures, including regular disagreements with different directors of archives about using computers or cameras in the reading room (the answer was always no). I also faced the obstacle of being a woman asking for materials labeled as “sensitive.” I remember making a request for a medical chapbook that was labeled “confidential” when it was catalogued by colonial librarians in 1922 in The Imperial Library in Calcutta. Despite being a medical textbook, it was considered lewd and obscene by colonial authorities. It remained under the label as “confidential” almost a century later, inaccessible throughout the postcolonial period. Library staff would not let me see the materials no matter how many times I requested the book. Keep in mind, this text was a medical textbook about women’s diseases, and the content considered lewd described and diagramed women’s bodies and diseases for the purpose of science, without anything we might consider explicit in today’s standards. One day, on a Saturday, when the regular librarians were off, an unknowing staff person finally gave me the book. The text eventually formed a key part of chapter four, “Evolution,” on evolutionary theories of female sexuality and society.

As for what turned out easier, not much is easy about research, although finally gaining access to sources or finding rare materials is so exciting. When I finally read the censored book, I felt like I had discovered a secret shared only by me and the library walls. What is best about research are the amazing and long-lasting friendships formed in the spaces of consuming tea and snacks just outside the archives. These relationships are life-sustaining in what can be rather isolating work.

What is the most interesting story or scrap of research you encountered in the course of working on this book?

Much of the research for the book came from leads offered informally over tea or snacks or from dear colleagues who saw something once in a small library or archive. There was so much oral historical knowledge about archives, from where to find what sources to how to travel to the small libraries in the winding city streets of Calcutta and its outer areas. Little of this knowledge is written down in any kind of how-to guide. The bibliophiles and archive lovers were so essential for helping me understand the topography of sources and knowledge that made this project possible. I think in particular of a dear colleague and committed historian, the late Shrimoy Roy Chaudhury, who died unexpectedly earlier this year. In his research, Shrimoy found a so-called “autobiography” of a woman who fell into prostitution after becoming a professional worker, published in the 1920s. I tried again and again to go to the local archive that held the book in question, but it was always closed—for a strike, for the holidays, for lack of staff, sometimes because of the monsoon rains. Shrimoy, because he was a lover of archival discoveries and the most unfailingly generous person, had taken some photos of the text and shared them with me. The text itself was fascinating and curious, written in the first person from an unknown author. Was it a pseudonym? Could a man have written the book and claimed to write from the perspective of a “fallen woman”? Who was the audience? I explore it and other similar texts in chapter five of Indian Sex Life, “Veracity.”

What are the works that inspired you as you worked on this book, and/or what are some other titles that you recommend be read in tandem with your own?

The book builds on a long genealogy of feminist critical thinking in anti-colonial feminist traditions that recognizes the foundational place of racialized womanhood and the “lag” of feminized sexuality for the modern study of society. There are so many powerful thinkers who shaped this work from intersecting feminist traditions, including feminist philosophers, South Asian feminist historians, scholars of Black feminisms, and theorists of queer theory and queer of color critique. The amazing work of South Asian feminist scholarship animates my notes throughout the book, and there the reader will find a wide range of key thinkers who have transformed the study of gender and sexuality in South Asia. Indian Sex Life might be read alongside the many texts that shaped it, including Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards (University of California Press, 2005) and Anjali Arondekar’s For the Record (Duke University Press, 2009). New books on gender and sexuality in South Asia that I think address related questions include Charu Gupta’s The Gender of Caste (University of Washington Press, 2018) and Ishita Pande’s Sex, Law, and the Politics of Age (Cambridge University Press, 2020). But these excellent titles are just a few of the many works that shaped this study.

Finally, what has captured your attention lately—as a reader, writer, scholar, professor, or person living in the world?

In this terrible time of the ongoing pandemic, I have turned to the history of Third World and postcolonial women’s intellectual work in the decolonizing world in the 1970s and 1980s in order to imagine the possibilities of feminist research in times of crisis. I was led to my current book project on South-South feminist social theory and social science from Indian Sex Life, which ends at the moment of decolonization in South Asia. In Indian Sex Life, I demonstrate how, over the course of the colonial period in British India, British colonial administrators, European, American, and Indian social scientists, doctors, lawyers, and public intellectuals—all men —created modern social science and theory based on the patriarchal control and erasure of feminized sexuality. Despite their profound biases about non-conjugal sexuality and contemptuous understandings of women’s lives and desires, these theories and concepts continue to be foundational for the modern social sciences today. In my ongoing research, I analyze how women across geographies of the Third World incorporated and challenged these institutionalized forms of patriarchal social science with the rise of women’s movements in the second half of the twentieth century. What theories and methods in the study of women did feminist scholars and activists in postcolonial spaces create? What were the limits and erasures of their approaches to the study of women?

Cultivating the Humanities and Social Sciences and Supporting Under-represented Scholars of Asia: Sweden Awards the Association for Asian Studies $2.68 Million

With support from Sweden, the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) will coordinate a new $2.68-million project to support scholars located in economically disadvantaged regions of South and Southeast Asia. The project will focus on support for scholars from conflict areas and post-conflict countries, and particularly on junior faculty, graduate students, senior and independent scholars, women, and ethnic minority groups.

“Cultivating the Humanities and Social Sciences and Supporting Under-represented Scholars of Asia” is a four-year transnational initiative that will enhance the research capabilities of scholars and universities in select South and Southeast Asian countries to help reduce the vulnerabilities of low and lower-middle income countries in the region. The grant to AAS is part of Sweden’s regional development cooperation in low income countries and regions of Asia to support local research and research capacities of relevance for poverty reduction and sustainable and inclusive societies.

This collaborative endeavor will pursue its objectives through cooperation, exchange, and the creation of a “network of networks” centered on four main partners located in different parts of the region. These include two universities in Southeast Asia (Thailand and Cambodia) and two in South Asia (India and Pakistan). In South Asia, AAS will be working with the Faculty of Humanities at Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) in India and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). In Southeast Asia AAS will be working with The Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Chiang Mai University and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at The Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).

The four partners will function as the project’s “regional hubs” to help identify and build the capacity of other, under-resourced universities that are located away from the largest cities in their respective region. In addition, the AAS will work with an East-Timorese institutional partner to continue fostering the field of Timor-Leste studies.

“At AAS, we have been expanding our links with scholarly communities in Asia through collaboration and academic exchange, notably the AAS-in-Asia Conference. The new award from Sweden allows AAS to further expand its goals of reciprocally working with and learning from universities in South and Southeast Asia,” said Kamran Asdar Ali, AAS President. “The project’s spirit is inclusive and democratic and it will focus on supporting scholars from disadvantaged regions and from marginalized and minority communities.”

This project has four components directed to enhancing individual and institutional research capacity:

  • Short- and longer-term research grants, including graduate student awards and fellowships for Scholars in Residence for members of under-represented and vulnerable groups;
  • Research capacity-building for scholars located in conflict and post-conflict affected countries;
  • AAS-in-Asia Conferences and transregional workshops;
  • Special academic publications.

According to AAS Executive Director Hilary Finchum-Sung, “this project aligns with the AAS strategic planning project, which includes development of global initiatives aimed at building stronger connections with and support for global communities of Asianists. This timely funding from Sweden facilitates the accomplishments of these strategic goals.”

Further information about research grants, fellowships and awards will be available mid-year when applications open.

New AAS Initiatives in Chinese Art History

The Bei Shan Tang Foundation 北山堂基金 of Hong Kong has generously pledged financial support to work cooperatively with the AAS to create two exciting initiatives in the field of Chinese art history:

  • The establishment of awards to recognize and celebrate distinguished new monographs and catalogues in Chinese art history (see more information via the button below), and
  • The founding of the Association for Chinese Art History (ACAH).

The book prizes will be the first such awards dedicated exclusively to scholarship in Chinese art history, while ACAH will be the first and sole professional association dedicated to the field of Chinese art history. ACAH will operate as an official committee of the AAS and work with the East and Inner Asia Council (EIAC) to administer the book prizes.

These projects underscore the essential significance of art historical scholarship for Chinese Studies and Asian Studies, as a whole. They also reflect the ongoing efforts by the AAS to be a congenial and intellectually vibrant community for Asianists of all disciplines. 

#AsiaNow Speaks with Wai-yee Li

Wai-yee Li is 1879 Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University. She translated and edited Plum Shadows and Plank Bridge: Two Memoirs about Courtesans, by Mao Xiang and Yu Huai, published by Columbia University Press and winner of the 2022 AAS Patrick D. Hanan Book Prize for Translation.

To begin with, please tell us what your book is about.

The book is a triptych: the first part is Mao Xiang’s (1611-1693) memoir of his relationship with the famous courtesan Dong Bai (1624-1651), who became his concubine and died young, the second is Yu Huai’s (1616-1696) memoir describing twenty-seven Qinhuai courtesans, the third presents anecdotes, stories, and poetic writings related to two of the most famous seventeenth century courtesans—Chen Yuanyuan (b. 1623) and Liu Rushi (1618-1664). The world these writings evoke is that of the Lower Yangzi area in the final decades of the Ming dynasty and in the aftermath of its collapse in the early years of the Qing dynasty. They provide a window into the sights, sounds, smells, and texture of pleasures and passions but also bear the burden of witnessing the traumatic dynastic transition and remembering a lost world.

What inspired you to translate this work?

The courtesans at the core of this book as well as the men who loved, admired, and wrote about them are fascinating characters. I have always wanted to have the writings by and about these characters available for teaching, especially when addressing topics such as emotions, gender, and private life in the Chinese tradition. I also want to introduce them to a wider public.

What obstacles did you face in this project? What turned out better and/or easier than you expected it would?

I did not face any significant obstacles. This was absorbing and enjoyable work that I could do even when traveling. At some point I decided to add “translator’s notes” to explain cultural, literary, and historical contexts. That made the project even more gratifying—it opened the space for ruminations and creative interventions. I felt as if I were engaging in a dialogue with the prospective reader.

What is the most interesting story or scrap of research you encountered in the course of working on this book?

I started the translation in July 2018. I had flown to Taipei for a meeting and was waking up at 2:00 or 3:00 every morning. I got into the habit of working on the translation when I woke up. It was the perfect antidote for jetlag. On one of those mornings, I researched materials about the God with White Eyebrows. According to Shen Zhou (1427-1509) (and other Ming sources), on the first and fifteenth day of the month, courtesans would pin their handkerchiefs to the face of the God with White Eyebrows. The handkerchiefs then attained magical power. A courtesan would throw the handkerchief at the face of a difficult or faithless client. When the handkerchief fell, she would ask him to pick it up, and this was how the man would be conquered.

What are the works that inspired you as you worked on this book, and/or what are some other titles that you recommend be read in tandem with your own?

Chen Yinke’s work on the life and times of Liu Rushi (Liu Rushi biezhuan) continues to be a source of inspiration. Ōki Yasushi’s books on Mao Xiang, Dong Bai, and seventeenth century courtesan culture (Chūgoku yūri kūkan: Min Shin shinwai gijo no sekai, Bō Jō to “Eibaian okugo” no kenkyū; both are available also in Chinese translations) have been very helpful. Readers interested in exploring the world of seventeenth century courtesans (or, more generally, women in late imperial China) may also want to read Dorothy Ko’s Teachers of the Inner Chambers, Susan Mann’s Precious Records: Women in China’s Long Eighteenth Century, Daria Berg’s Women and the Literary World in Early Modern China, Grace Fong’s Herself an Author: Gender, Agency, and Writing in Late Imperial China, Xiaorong Li’s Women’s Poetry in Late Imperial China, and my earlier book, Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature.

Finally, what has captured your attention lately—as a reader, writer, scholar, professor, or person living in the world?

I have recently discovered the joy of audio books. While walking, cooking, or doing laundry, I have been listening to books—some of them I read many years ago and I am amazed at how much I missed. Right now I am listening to the Iliad. It is such a luxury to have someone read to you. It is a different way of savoring language.

My next project: I will start translating Peach Blossom Fan in May. I plan to follow the model of Plum Shadows in providing “translator’s notes” that will explain interpretive contexts.

In Memoriam: Barbara Sato (1942-2021)

Barbara Sato (née Wool) came to Asian Studies with little or no Asia in her personal background. However, as a high school student she was chosen to go to Japan under the auspices of the American Field Service, perhaps one of the last cohorts to actually make the journey by ship across the Pacific. This experience would eventually lead to her distinguished career as a historian of Japan.

Barbara graduated from the University of Vermont and spent time in Japan before returning to the United States and entering the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. After receiving her M.A. degree in 1976 and her M.Phil. in 1977, she went to Japan to do dissertation research, and she did not leave her beloved Tokyo until her final illness precipitated a move for treatment in 2020.

Barbara received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1994, but had already begun her teaching career at Temple University in Tokyo. She then taught for two decades at Seikei University, also in Tokyo. Barbara’s scholarly publications laid an essential foundation for all subsequent study of women in prewar Japan. It is difficult to find any later research that does not cite her groundbreaking book, The New Japanese Woman: Modernity, Media, and Women in Interwar Japan (Duke University Press, 2003).  In this work and later articles in Japanese and English, Barbara used popular women’s magazines as primary sources, affording her insight into the lives of non-elite Japanese women in modernizing Japan. Her original choice of dissertation topic, the “modern girl” (moga) in interwar Japan, was groundbreaking. In that era, however, some considered her theme and approach somehow lightweight. Nevertheless, she persevered, and is now recognized as a pioneer in Japanese socio-cultural history and praised for her innovations in theme and research methods.

Barbara was a pioneer in another way, as well: she became a full professor at Seikei when it was still unusual for non-Japanese to receive regular appointments at Japanese universities. Her professional life could be challenging, but she handled her university assignments with grace. As a “famous professor” on campus she had many fans among the students, who appreciated her encouragement to speak up in class, as well as her empathy and friendliness.

Barbara was unfailingly generous with colleagues on both sides of the Pacific, sharing sources, connections, and advice. She bridged different scholarly worlds through active participation in the Association for Asian Studies and the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, where her research on Japanese women became part of transnational dialogue. In Japan, her connections with the University of Tokyo, where she completed course work for the Ph.D., and her role as a Research Fellow with the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto (1995-2013) were especially meaningful.

In addition to all of her professional accomplishments, Barbara’s friends remember her for her shining spirit, generosity to friends and colleagues, wonderful gift for friendship, and the resilience and realism with which she approached life.   

Barbara is survived by her husband, Sato Kazuki, son, Sho, daughter-in-law, Jade, and grandson, Noah. 

— Submitted by Ellen Hammond


Memories of Barbara Sato

Josh Fogel

Like many of us who grew up in the immediate postwar years, Barbara’s connections to her Jewishness were strong in identity, less so in practice. Her wonderful son Sho had his bar mitzvah at the synagogue in Tokyo, which my wife and I promised years before we would be sure to attend, and Barbara used the Jewish Community Center there for her primary form of exercise: swimming. Nonetheless, all (both Jewish and Gentile) would surely agree that the ruach ha-kodesh (divine spirit) ran through her soul. Her joyous personality was utterly infectious. In addition to her husband Satō Kazuki (Kazie) and son, she leaves many friends all extremely sad but equally enriched for having known her. Baruch dayan ha-emet.

Sometime circa 1974 or ‘75, Barbara and I found ourselves studying in [Columbia University’s] Kent Hall library, and as we ended up leaving together, we began walking toward our respective homes down Broadway deep in conversation. It was a rare day of lovely weather, so we just kept walking past my block at 100th St and then past hers somewhere in the West 70s. We ended up walking all the way to Chinatown (around seven miles, about 2 hours). I don’t even know if it’s still there, but a restaurant called 4-5-6 was then my go-to place; we had dinner and then walked back as far as Barbara’s block. I promptly hopped in the subway, even though I was only about 1.5 miles from my apartment. I’ve never done anything like that again, as an adult. Many years later, Kazie, Barbara, and Sho took me and my wife to the sister restaurant in Yokohama, also called 4-5-6.

Jeff Hanes

First, I recall a couple of wonderful lunches in Boston with Barbara and Kazie while she was undergoing treatment at Dana Farber. You would never have known that Barbara was as ill as she was: she exuded positivity and the same sweetness and empathy that we all know so well. One thing I that I always appreciated about Barbara was her interest in her friends’ lives. She was terrifically generous as a friend, even when her own life was in jeopardy. 

Second, as a scholar, I continue to recall that story I told (with Ron Toby as the source) of Barbara’s advisor(s?) at Columbia pitying her for electing to study something as frivolous as moga (modern girls). What she proved herself to be, instead, is a pioneer of modern Japanese social-cultural history.

Third, Barbara and I engaged in lively, sophisticated discussions, over a period of years, concerning the changing face of “popular culture” (taishū bunka) in the interwar period (then later the postwar period). Often our dinners in Tokyo included Yoshimi Shunya. I look back on those evening as some of the most intellectual stimulating moments of my entire career—being introduced to new sources, new points of view, new concepts, etc. I truly miss those occasions.

Carol Morley

When I think of Barbara I am immediately drawn back into the past and the wonderful gift Barbara had for making you feel as if you were the one person in the world whom she wanted to be with at that moment. If you ran into her by accident, she made you feel that it was serendipitous because there was something she just had to tell you. Maybe it was that she ate an entire jar of peanut butter while working on the verb conjugations for Japanese class, or maybe she’d confess that she just couldn’t remember anything and had stayed up all night working for nothing. And there you’d be in the middle of the sidewalk outside the entrance to the campus at 116th Street, laughing and commiserating. How she could lift your day! 

I knew Barbara best during our days at Columbia when almost our entire class would meet before Classical Japanese and pore over our notes and translations before we headed over to Kent Hall to Keene Sensei’s class. I loved that class. I loved the comradery, and looking back, can see so clearly how central Barbara was to the ease with which we shared our work, our successes, and most importantly, our failures. I had no idea how rare that is in life. 

Over the years, I saw Barbara in Japan from time to time and she was always still Barbara. Still elusive and yet, still looking as if every encounter with you was a miracle, a delight. I wondered at times about her elusiveness. But as I look back, I find myself accepting that this was Barbara’s way of being in the world. And it was a fine way of being, a wonderful gift to all those whom she encountered. At least so it was for me.

Kate Wildman Nakai

Barbara and I first met at the end of May 1959. We were part of a contingent of American high school students being dispatched to Japan on the American Field Service summer program. Ours was the third group to be sent to Japan, and since going by air was not yet the norm for people traveling between the United States and Japan, we had gathered in Seattle to board the Hikawa Maru for the close to two-week voyage across the Pacific. Barbara and I happened to be assigned to the same cabin deep in the ship’s third-class quarters, and we immediately established a bond. (The Hikawa Maru was retired from active service not long after our crossings on it and today is anchored permanently in Yokohama harbor.) After reaching Japan the group spent a couple of days in Tokyo and made an overnight excursion to Nikkō, where Barbara and I wandered off on our own to explore the area around the main shrines. It then dispersed to the localities where we were to stay for the next two months. Barbara went to Hamamatsu, and I to Matsusaka.

For both of us that short summer stay in between our second and third years of high school was a life-changing experience. Like so many before and after we fell under Japan’s thrall and returned to the U.S. determined to find a way to come back as quickly as we could. The founding in 1961 of the Stanford Center in Tokyo (now the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama) provided an opportunity to do so. It also made it possible for Barbara and me to reunite. I began study at the Center in spring 1962, and Barbara joined that fall (along with Henry Smith, Bill Sibley, and others). The Center at that time was located at Wakeijuku (next to Chinzansō, on property held by the Hosokawa house), and undergraduate women, per Stanford policy at the time, lived in one of the dormitories of Nihon Joshi Daigaku, a ten-minute walk away.

Somewhat over a decade ago, Barbara, Henry, Shirley Sun (another member of the class that came to the Center in fall 1962), my husband, and I got together to visit Wakeijuku and the area around it in memory of Bill. As the last stop of the day, we went to see the Joshidai dormitory compound. The dorm where we had stayed was located at the very back of the compound, and Barbara, Shirley, and I got the guard at the gate to let us in to go look at it. At the time it had been the only modern, concrete, multistory building; the other dorms had been one-story Japanese-style buildings. Now all the dorms were concrete and multistory, but the compound as a whole and “our” dorm still had an air of familiarity.

Embarrassing to recall, the Stanford authorities felt that a Japanese student diet wouldn’t provide sufficient nutrition for American college students and so provided us with an extra food allowance. For a while the Center students ate a different breakfast, separate from the other dorm residents, but at some point it was arranged for us to receive the allowance individually to use as we wanted. Barbara and I developed the habit of going weekly to Ketel’s restaurant on the Ginza and buying a whole cheesecake, which we stored in the common little refrigerator on the dorm floor. We divided it up carefully, doling ourselves out a piece each day. We engaged in other less-than-wholesome activities as well, notably spending hours in coffee shops as our favored locales for study.

On a more elevated plane, during the end-of-year holiday in 1962, we took a trip to Kyoto. Among its highlights was walking through the fields of Ōhara in the weakening late December afternoon sun to visit a deserted Jakkōin. We separately would later experience the disillusionment of visits to Jakkōin when it had become an established tourist spot, but that earlier moment remained magical for both of us.

During the following decades there were long periods when Barbara and I were not regularly in touch, but whenever we reconnected, it was as if there had been no gap whatsoever. The shared initial experiences of Japan that were so crucial to the later courses of our lives helped make it possible to pick up instantly from where we had left off. More crucial, though, was Barbara’s personality. Resilience tinged with vulnerability, an adventurous streak, and sensitivity to others fed into a warmth that spilled out of her and enveloped you in it. All who knew Barbara will remember her infectious smile and laugh and the spontaneous affection expressed through hugs and her seizing and holding your hand. Those qualities surely sustained her through the trials she had to endure in the last few years. It is no wonder that the staff at Dana Farber asked her to lead discussion groups among patients there.

I last saw Barbara at the end of January 2020, shortly before she returned to the U.S. to continue treatment. We had lunch at the restaurant at the top of the Bunkyō-ku Ward Office and afterwards walked around the observation deck on the same twenty-third floor, noting sights not so far from the Wakeijuku area familiar from almost sixty years before. Then I waited with her for her bus, we hugged, she got on the bus, and it drove away. Her subsequent messages almost always mentioned how in the midst of hospital visits and her worsening physical condition, she continued to work on her project on Tanaka Sumiko. In one of her last messages she wrote, “I’m still concentrating on the Tanaka Sumiko piece because unlike many she was optimistic, yet the gains made are nowhere close to what she imagined. I think it is of relevance to women’s history.” Barbara’s affinity for Tanaka evokes her own underlying optimism and bravery, which shone brightly and brought light to others even as she recognized and confronted difficult realities.

AAS Awards $897,245 through “Striving for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Asian Studies: Humanities Grants for Asian Studies Scholars” Program

The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is pleased to announce the recipients of fellowships, professional development grants, and publication support grants in our “Striving for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Asian Studies: Humanities Grants for Asian Studies Scholars” program. This initiative, funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) grant, is designed to provide opportunities for career development and research projects for Asian Studies professionals on the periphery of Asian Studies.

“The National Endowment for the Humanities commends the Association for Asian Studies for its work administering American Rescue Plan funds to help the field of Asian Studies recover from the impact of the pandemic,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “These new fellowships will open up opportunities for junior scholars and contingent faculty, and diversify the pipeline of specialists engaged in advanced study of Asian literatures, languages, histories, and cultures.”

Congratulations to all awardees, and many thanks to everyone who applied to this program, as well as to all who served on the selection committees.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

Fellowship Awardees

AAS Pipeline Fellowship

Patrick Beckhorn, “Lives beyond Labor: The Masculine World of Cycle Rickshaw Men”

Lisa Brooks, “Leech Trouble: Therapeutic Entanglements in Human-Leech Medicine”

Anthony Irwin, “Building Buddhism in Chiang Rai, Thailand”

Nayoung Jo, “Have the Local People Become Invisible? A Case Study of a Military Installation on Jeju Island, South Korea”

Hye-Kyoung Kwon, “K-Beauty’s Rise from Dictatorship: AmorePacific’s Saleswomen and the Park Chung Hee Regime of 1961-79”

Jawan Shir Rasikh, “Early Islamic Ghur: The Many Histories of the Ghuris in South Asia, 10th- 13th Centuries C.E.; Everyday Life in Medieval Afghanistan: An Anthology of Asnad-i Ghur”

Celia Tuchman-Rosta, “The Value and Labor of Moving Bodies: Cambodian Classical Dancers’ Experiences of their Corporeal Economy”

AAS Digital Humanities Fellowship

Paula Curtis, “East Asia-related Job Market Data and Visualizations”

Jesse Drian, “Mapping The Tales of the Heike

AAS Fellowship for Multimedia Projects on AAPI/Asian History and Communities

Julian Saporiti, “The ‘Vietnam’ Album”

AAS Public Research in Asian Studies Humanities Fellowship

Fnu Kamaoji, “Minju : Material Culture, Folklife, and Diversity in a Rural Chinese Folk House”

Maij Xyooj, “Anti-HMoob Violence Project”

Professional Development Awardees

DEI Curriculum Development Grant

Becky Butler, “Southeast Asian North Carolina”

Amy Lee, “Chinatown and Racial Exclusion”

Xuefei Ma and Elizabeth Miles, “New South, New Asian Studies: Striving for A Diverse Future”

Mamiko Suzuki, “Researching, Creating, and Implementing Content to support Japanese Language Faculty at Under-resourced Institutions”

Tommy Tran, “The Silk Roads: Pathways to World Histories”

Mentorship Grant

Rebekah McCallum, “Mentorship Program: Black Graduate Students/Postdocs in the Humanities with Research focus on South/Southeast Asia”

Christina Schwenkel, “Demystifying Academia: Towards a Sustainable Mentorship Collective in Southeast Asian Studies”

South, Southeast, and Global Asias Seminar Grant

Lauren Collins, “Teaching Southeast Asia: Communities, Borders, and Youth-Led Activism”

Sarah Grant, “Teaching Southeast Asia at the Teaching University”

Sophea Seng, “Pedagogies in Asian Studies: Faculty Seminars on Teaching South and Southeast Asia”

Publication Support Awardees

Ying Diao, “Muted, Mediated, and Mobilized: Faith by Aurality on the China-Myanmar Border”

Laura Dunn, “Visualizing Power”

Hilary Faxon, “Surviving the State: Struggles for Land and Democracy in Myanmar”

Amanda Kennell, “Alice in Japanese Wonderlands: Translation, Adaptation, Mediation”

Peter Kwon, “Cornerstone of the Nation: The Defense Industry and the Building of Modern Korea under Park Chung Hee”

Amanda Lanzillo, “Pious Labor: Islam, Artisanship, and Technology in Colonial India”

Joseph Scalice, “The Drama of Dictatorship: Martial Law and the Communist Parties of the Philippines”

Nguyet Nguyen, “Antiwar Transnationalism: People’s Diplomacy in the Vietnam War”

Douglas Ober, “The Jewel in the Crown: Buddhism and the Making of Modern India”

Dong Jo Shin, “An Ethnic Persecution without Ethnic Animus: The Effects of Chinese Communism on the Koreans in Yanbian, 1949-1976”

Richard Quan Tran, “Queer Vietnam: A History of Gender in the early Twentieth-Century, 1920-1945”

Excerpt: Burmese Haze: US Policy and Myanmar’s Opening—And Closing

Cover of Burmese Haze: US Policy and Myanmar’s Opening—and Closing, by Erin Murphy

In spring 2008, recently hired CIA analyst Erin Murphy was tasked with a one-month assignment to cover Myanmar in the lead-up to the country’s first vote since 1990. One month soon turned into a career: over the past fourteen years, Murphy has moved between the public and private sectors, keeping Myanmar at the center of her work. Now, Murphy shares her observations and analysis of Myanmar over the past decade-plus with readers as author of Burmese Haze: US Policy and Myanmar’s Opening—And Closing, the newest title in the AAS Publications Asia Shorts series.

In Burmese Haze (its title a play on George Orwell’s Burmese Days), Murphy tackles a number of topics—democratization, international relations, ethnic conflict, and more—that have permeated Myanmar’s politics and society as the country moved from rule by a military junta to an elected leader and back. Drawing on her own experiences and interviews with others, she considers the roller coaster of relations between the United States and Myanmar, touching on the moments of opportunity and those of crisis. Burmese Haze is the ideal book to pick up for anyone seeking a succinct but thorough overview of 21st-century Myanmar. Erin Murphy offers readers a clear-eyed perspective and in-depth understanding of the country—developed not in one month of analysis, but through years of personal engagement.


Prologue: The End of the Beginning

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is not a country that lacks whimsy or the eccentric. It is a place that trades in rumors and astrological predictions but also remains rooted in a deeply complex and sobering history. Tired of its bustling capital of Yangon (also known as Rangoon), the despotic and secretive generals that had ruled the country for more than five decades would uproot and move the capital overnight—a decision rumored to be informed by an astrologer specializing in auspiciousness and in line with past kings and rulers who did similar things in centuries past—to a location in the middle of nowhere, naming it Nay Pyi Taw, or “Abode of Kings.” One journalist described the place “like a David Lynch film on location in North Korea.”

It is a wealthy country in every sense of the word: history, people, natural resources, and culture. But it is mired in poverty. It was the scene of decisive World War II battles and home to one of the most powerful Asian empires, whose rule extended from Cambodia to Yunnan to Manipur. The country produced a UN Secretary-General and a Nobel laureate. It also produced some of the world’s most notorious drug kingpins.

Myanmar is home to the world’s most precious natural resources. Its gem and mineral belts are embedded with rubies, sapphires, topaz, quartz, spinel, moonstone, amethyst, peridot, garnet, imperial jadeite, gold, silver, tin, tungsten, lead, and copper. The northernmost area of the country sits atop a wealth of amber, most of it infused with well-preserved fossils, including a tail of a ninety-nine-million-year-old dinosaur that proved dinosaurs had feathers. These riches have also brought death and destruction in the form of landslides, environmental catastrophe, and exploitation.

Its farmlands produce rice, beans, pulses, fruits, vegetables, spices, tea, and coffee. Myanmar has potentially significant deposits of gas, its countryside is filled with teak forests, and it sits between China and India, connecting South, Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast Asia. Airlines such as Pan-Am, Air France, and KLM once used Rangoon as their Asia hub. In the 1950s and 1960s, Burma was the bright spot of Asia, with one of the region’s most distinguished universities, an erudite population, the best health care, and a booming film scene. Now the country ranks among the least developed countries and has one of the worst health and education systems in the world.

The country is rich with diversity, counting dozens of ethnicities, each with their own languages, customs, and culture, including the majority Bamar people, long-necked Padaung women, the facial-tattooed Chin women, the linguistically diverse Naga people, the Shan princelings and princesses, and the wild Wa, the once-renowned headhunters (they gave up ritual beheadings in 1976) whose armed group is now one of the world’s largest narco-armies. But decades of civil wars and broken promises on autonomy and peace threaten to tear the fragile nation apart.

The country’s successive military regimes, beginning after General Ne Win’s bloody second coup in 1962, committed gross human rights abuses and drove a wealthy nation into the ground, transforming it into a least developed country under a pile of global sanctions. Once leading the United Nations, by 2008, it could only find diplomatic and economic shelter with Belarus, Russia, China, and North Korea.

It is also a country that grips people and never lets go. It seeps into the imagination, terrorizes immune systems, challenges assumptions, influences views, and makes one question one’s role in the world. Myanmar has had this effect on an untold number of people from all walks of life, including actors and musicians, US presidents, US congresspersons, global leaders, donors, philanthropists, Nobel laureates, authors, poets, white saviors, and misguided fantasists.

Without even knowing it, Myanmar may have seeped into your own life, through crisp garlic or citrusy splashes from a Burmese kitchen, travelogues, references in your favorite shows or movies, Rudyard Kipling or Pablo Neruda’s poetry, Bono’s lyrics, or Eric Blair’s dystopian visions. Eric Blair, who is better known by his pseudonym, George Orwell, was born in British India and later spent five years in Burma as a policeman during the colonial era and was deeply influenced by his time in the country. In Emma Larkin’s book, Finding George Orwell in Burma, she traces his experiences working in the most violent corner of Britain’s Indian empire, gathering intelligence on roving dacoits while getting to know ethnic communities and growing ever critical about the colonial yoke under which Burma had to live. His experiences would go on to inform his novel Burmese Days and his essay “Shooting an Elephant,” though those that Larkin met would argue that the “prophet” Orwell would predict Burma’s future miseries under successive juntas that sought to install ethnic Bamar supremacy, censor news, and insist that war was peace and ignorance was strength in his Animal Farm and 1984. Even after returning to the UK, Burma never left Orwell. His experiences informed his writing and his views on governance and global engagement.

I would soon get swept up in Myanmar as well. I began to study the country at what would become a pivotal time, when one of the worst natural disasters in the region, Cyclone Nargis, struck the country. The cyclone would test the junta and its relationship with the United States, putting cracks in the walls that had been built between the two for decades.

Burma/Myanmar is unique in a myriad of ways. As someone who has spent more than a decade working in and around Burma, it is difficult for me to believe that the country is not at the center of everyone’s universe. I’m here to tell you it should be at the center of yours, as its story would appeal to history buffs, foreign policy and national security wonks, conflict and military analysts, drama and intrigue lovers, and astrology and gossip fans. In a sense, it is so damn interesting. But above all, it’s an important story because its inherent struggles on race, ethnicity, and democracy mirror American, and now global, struggles.

© 2022 by the Association for Asian Studies, Inc.

#AsiaNow Speaks with Heonik Kwon

Cover of After the Korean War: An Intimate History, by Heonik Kwon

Heonik Kwon is Professor, Senior Research Fellow of Social Anthropology, Trinity College, University of Cambridge, UK, and a member of the Mega-Asia research group at Seoul National University Asia Center. Kwon is author of After the Korean War: An Intimate History, published by Cambridge University Press in 2020 and winner of the 2022 James B. Palais Prize.

To begin with, please tell us what your book is about.

The Korean War was formative of the early Cold War. It is a unique episode of modern history, in that the legacies of this war continue to shape political relations in East Asia, two generations after the heavy guns fell silent. For example, there is a renewed interest today in the 1950-1953 war—this time, as a pivotal episode of American-Chinese relations. Following my earlier work on the Vietnam War, I present in this book one of the first studies of the Korean War’s enduring legacies seen through the realm of intimate human experience. The destruction of the Korean War was a profoundly social and relational experience for many Koreans. Hence, the book reclaims kinship as a vital category in historical and political enquiry and probes the grey zone between the civil and the social (and between the modern and the traditional) in the lived reality of Korea’s civil war and Asia’s postcolonial Cold War more broadly.

What inspired you to research this topic?

I began the book project in 2010, the year that marked the sixtieth anniversary of the 1950 war. I wanted to have the historical experience of the war-generation Koreans recorded and narrated, before it was too late to do so.

What obstacles did you face in this project? What turned out better and/or easier than you expected it would?

For many of my interlocutors, it was often too painful to recall their wartime lives. The book benefited from existing biographical and fictional renderings of the Korean War experience, as well as from the work by South Korea’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission in 2006-2010.

What is the most interesting story or scrap of research you encountered in the course of working on this book?

One evening at Mr. Lee’s house in Daegu. Mr. Lee and his sister lost their mother to the preemptive state violence of July 1950 (against the civilians whom the state believed were potential collaborators with the advancing communist forces). Their father was a leading organizer of the early civic activity in 1960-1961 that aimed to account for the victims of the Korean War state violence, for which he was arrested and condemned to death. He was found not-guilty, posthumously, in a recent court action. That evening, Mr. Lee and his sister were holding an ancestral death-day rite on behalf of their parents. Mr. Lee spoke of the news about the court decision while facing the table of food offerings. Then, the handles of the spoons that his sister had inserted to the two bowls of rice (offerings to their parents) started slowly inclining towards each other. The movement stopped when the tips of the two spoons touched one another. That was an utterly moving scene.

What are the works that inspired you as you worked on this book, and/or what are some other titles that you recommend be read in tandem with your own?

I was influenced by the historian Jay Winter’s seminal work on World War One memories, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning (1998). In art, by Pablo Picasso’s 1952 mural La guerre et la paix. I will be interested to know what readers will make of After the Korean War if it is read in tandem with Bruce Cumings’s The Korean War: A History (2010), Su-kyoung Hwang’s Korea’s Grievous War (2016), Nan Kim’s Memory, Reconciliation, and Reunions in South Korea (2016), and Monica Kim’s The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War (2019).

Finally, what has captured your attention lately—as a reader, writer, scholar, professor, or person living in the world?

I was in Paris earlier this year following an invitation from the Musée du quai Branly, one of France’s prominent cultural institutions. Two new exhibitions were in preparation during my stay. One was about the work of Dinh Q. Lê, a hugely creative contemporary Vietnamese-American artist, on his Vietnam war memories. The other was about the wampum and how these shell-made indigenous artifacts of North America’s northeast coast became a key symbol and instrument of diplomatic ties between the continent’s First Nation peoples and the French power in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The Vietnam exhibition dealt with an event of great significance in the twentieth century’s international history, whereas the wampum collection spoke powerfully of how different international systems coexisted in the early modern world. I was fascinated by these two exhibitions, and the fact that they opened on the same day shortly after I delivered my forth and final lecture at the museum’s research department. I take the last as an auspicious sign for my next book, which will be about the history of conversation between Anthropology and International Relations.

Meanwhile, I have completed a new book on Korea’s Cold War experience—this time, seen from a religious cultural sphere. Prepared in collaboration with Jun Hwan Park, a young colleague and an expert on northern Korean shamanism tradition, this book, Spirit Power: Politics and Religion in Korea’s American Century, is to appear in July 2022.

AAS Statement on Participation of PRC Scholars at AAS 2022 Annual Conference

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AAS Board of Directors
March 29, 2022

The AAS is aware that some scholars located in the PRC were pressured into withdrawing from their scheduled online presentations at the recently concluded 2022 Annual Conference. We are currently working to determine the number of individuals involved and the scope of actions affecting conference participants. The AAS firmly supports the right of scholars worldwide to take part in the free exchange of ideas and research through conferences and other forms of academic cooperation.

Sacrificed for the Prosperity of the Nation: Telling the Story of Minamata through Film

Promotional poster for Minamata (2022)
Image Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films. (2022). Minamata [Poster]. http://www.samuelgoldwynfilms.com/minamata/

Minamata (Andrew Levitas, director, 2020; Sakamoto Ryūichi, music; Benoît Delhomme, cinematography)

Inspired by true events in Minamata, Japan, where the Chisso chemical factory poisoned residents by dumping mercury into the sea from 1932 to 1968, Andrew Levitas’ film shows Minamata through the eyes of the great photojournalist W. Eugene Smith and Aileen Smith, who move there to document the suffering and struggles of the victims in the early 1970s. The Smiths’ 1972 article and photographs in LIFE magazine and their 1975 book Minamata made the story known to the world. Minamata disease became the symbol of both the dark side of Japan’s high economic growth and of the rise of its environmental citizens movement, and demonstrated that toxins we dump in the environment end up in our bodies.

Michelle Daigle and Timothy George offer a review of the film in the form of a taidan-style discussion.

Michelle Daigle: Several minutes into the film, Eugene Smith reminds LIFE editor Robert Hayes of the days “when the truth still mattered.” How does a feature film present the “truth” of Minamata?

Timothy George: The director Andrew Levitas lays out the big picture of Minamata disease accurately. Organic mercury from the Chisso factory was in the fish people ate. It made them sick; it killed people. The company denied responsibility. Many of the victims eventually organized and fought, both in and out of court, and eventually won in court. But the issue was not completely resolved, nor was it unique. Levitas makes all this clear, and more importantly his emotionally powerful film inspires his viewers in the right ways. How about you—do you think there can be truth in a film that is not a documentary and does not attempt to exactly recreate history?

Daigle: I think it is precisely because Minamata is not a documentary that Levitas is able to get at the essential truth. Unfettered by actual chronology, he pierces through to the emotional heart of Minamata disease to show the audience the social and political dynamics at play in the city. These are clearest when Shigeru, a congenital patient, asks Eugene “You are not afraid to touch me?” Shigeru’s question speaks to the longstanding physical and emotional disconnects between the patients, the Chisso Corporation, residents in the city, and the broader community.

George: Much of the film was inspired not just by the photographs in Eugene and Aileen Smith’s 1975 book Minamata, but also by the text in that book. An example drawn from what they wrote is the scene in the film where Gene is told by the company president: “The small amount [sic] of fishermen who claim that they’ve somehow been harmed by our methods … are the parts per million relative to the great amount, the great good.”

Daigle: Right, the people of Minamata were sacrificed for the prosperity of the nation.

George: If Eugene Smith is the central character, does the film avoid the potential trap of depicting a foreign (and male) savior coming in to rescue the victims of Minamata disease, thereby robbing them of their own agency?

Daigle: I think it is vulnerable to that criticism, but it’s important to keep in mind that the film audience is viewing the events through Eugene Smith’s eyes. We have no idea what the other characters in the film are doing—how they are invoking their own agency—out of the camera’s view. It isn’t until the final frames that we realize there had been an active lawsuit in court the entire time he was there. I actually feel that Eugene Smith is saved and redeemed by Minamata.

George: Smith is a flawed hero, and his redemption is a parallel story to that of the Minamata disease patients. At the start of the film he thinks his career is over, and is putting together his retrospective exhibit. He is addicted to painkillers and alcohol; he has PTSD and flashbacks from the war. Those flaws help avoid the “foreign savior” trap, and so does the shift in point of view as the film progresses. At first, we watch Eugene Smith as if the camera were a fly on the wall in his Manhattan loft—the camera is well above him some of the time—and we continue to watch him as he goes to Minamata with Aileen. But the point of view gradually shifts, becoming no longer us looking at him but us seeing Minamata through his eyes and his lens. He becomes less and less the central character, and the people of Minamata move more to center stage to become the heroes. Aileen Smith has written that it was because of these struggles by pollution victims that Japan passed pollution laws, so that the Japanese people, to the extent that they live in a cleaner country, have those victims to thank for it.

Daigle: I’d add that we have benefited from the struggles of pollution victims globally, too. Minamata disease taught us how some toxins bioaccumulate in the food chain to severely impact public health. Today, we have regulations to monitor and limit the mercury in the fish and shellfish we buy, and warnings to pregnant women about consuming too much of certain types of fish. And so, to get back to the film, Eugene Smith doesn’t save anyone. Really, it is the other way around.

George: What do you think about the visual look of the film, which cinematographer Benoît Delhomme worked so hard to achieve? In places the film even switches to black and white, or uses actual archival black and white films, or shows the Smiths’ own photos, including Eugene Smith’s photos from the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The movie was filmed mostly in Serbia and Montenegro but it clearly has a look and a mood informed by the photographs. What do you think Levitas and Delhomme wanted to achieve with this?

Daigle: The visual look and use of archival footage in the film is one of my favorite things about it. I loved how Delhomme took archival 8-millimeter footage and stitched it together with new scenes meant to mimic the mood and look of the original. When I first watched the film, it caught me by surprise because Delhomme’s cinematographic amalgam of archival material with the fictional footage is almost seamless. Ironically, I think the seamlessness of Levitas and Delhomme’s technique adds an element of emotional authenticity to Minamata that is lacking in more typical usages of similar archival materials, precisely because this footage and the Smiths’ own photographs are folded into the story itself—they aren’t B-roll used as a form of window dressing to tell a “factual” story.

George: Yes; it is beautifully done. Moreover, Levitas prepares us masterfully for the climactic scene, the taking of one of the most important photographs in history, “Tomoko in Her Bath” (though she is “Akiko” in the film.). You mentioned the episode when Shigeru asks, “You are not afraid to touch me?” and Gene replies “Why would I be?” before they hug. Later there is the moving scene when Gene is left to take care of Akiko while her mother and Aileen go to the market. Johnny Depp completely disappears into the role of Gene Smith here. He sits outside holding Akiko in his arms. Born blind, deaf, and paralyzed, she is a congenital Minamata disease victim. He covers her feet with his coat, and says “I’m not so good at this kind of thing. Sorry. You wanna touch my beard?” He rubs her hand on his beard, chuckles, and starts singing “Forever Young.” This foreshadows the bath scene, of course, because he’s holding her in the way her mother holds her in the bath, gazing into her eyes. This to me was the second most powerful scene in the film.

Daigle: I think that speaks to how Eugene Smith is redeemed. Oftentimes, redemption comes in forms that are not verbal. Rather, it has to do with touch or “skinship,” which is an important part of Japanese sociality. In Japan, the concept of mi (“body”) extends the body beyond the physical person to interpersonal relationships. As Eugene Smith is holding Akiko, he is being incorporated into her and her mother’s community—a community that redeems him through the sense of touch and bodily togetherness.

George: And this is a redemption for Smith, in part, for not having been such a good father. At the beginning of the film when Aileen interrupts him by knocking on his New York apartment door, he is recording an apologetic cassette tape message to his children, explaining that he has sold his equipment and wants the money to go to them. Now, in Minamata, he is acting like a father to Akiko.

Daigle: This is such a simple question, but what part of the film stayed with you the longest? For me, films linger, and there are some parts that become fuzzy and others that become sharper. What remained sharpest in your memory?

George: You’re right; this is a powerful and emotionally moving film. Viewers may simply have to sit still for a few moments to recover after seeing it. I had talked to Andrew Levitas when he was planning the film, but I had never seen the script, so I did not know what to expect of Minamata. That scene of Gene holding Akiko while he was taking care of her was the most memorable scene for me. I had mentioned to Levitas that what brought the meaning of Minamata disease home to me most viscerally was when I carried a partially paralyzed congenital victim on my back from a car into a building, and I had suggested to him that Gene Smith must have had a moment like that too. I never imagined, though, that he would come up with something as brilliant as this. It made me cry the first time I saw the movie. What about the film had the most impact on you?

Daigle: It was the scene when Eugene was developing the photograph he took of Akiko with her mother—the recreation of “Tomoko in Her Bath.” I was surprised and a little shocked to see the photograph of Akiko and her mother transform into the original photograph by the Smiths as Eugene is agitating the tray. The poignancy and power of that scene is twofold for me. First, the transition from the mock photo to the actual “Tomoko in Her Bath” was just a beautiful transition. Second, this photograph has had tremendous meaning to the people in Minamata, particularly patients and activists involved in the lawsuits and environmental citizens movement since the time Tomoko herself went to court with her parents. Because this photograph is staged, it has been the focus of intense controversy among patients. So, one of the most important things that I learned is to acknowledge that some of the most beautiful and impactful photographs are, in fact, staged and come with consequences not known to viewers.

George: Indeed, and it was not staged by Eugene alone. It was a joint creation by him, Aileen, and Tomoko’s mother. It epitomizes the brilliance and humanism of Eugene Smith as a photographer, showing both the atrociousness of this innocent girl having been robbed of so much by Chisso’s poison before she was born, and the best of humanity in the beatific, loving gaze of her mother.

Daigle: Exactly. I was thoroughly entranced by the lead up to the reveal of “Tomoko in Her Bath,” so seeing the actual photograph was a happy surprise.

George: But of course the movie doesn’t actually end there. We see the impact of the photos in LIFE, but then Gene and Aileen are mere observers when the court victory against Chisso is announced. The closing words come from the patient activist powerfully played by Sanada Hiroyuki, who announces that the battle may have been won but “the war persists.” The film seems to be over, but when the credits are running on the right side of the screen there is a list of 22 other industrial pollution incidents running on the left. Levitas wants to tell us about more than Minamata: that Minamata is not alone, that these problems are worldwide, and that they are not solved and continue right up to today.

Daigle: Right. That was just the beginning of Minamata and the victims’ movements.


Michelle Daigle is author of the dissertation “Modern Ambivalences: The Minamata Disease Disaster, Haptics, and the Social Movement in Japan” and a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Timothy George is the author of Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2002) and a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Rhode Island, and lives in Kailua on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i.

Attendees at the 2022 AAS Annual Conference in Honolulu are invited to attend a showing of Minamata followed by a discussion with Aileen Smith and the film’s director Andrew Levitas from 1:00 to 4:00pm on March 26 in the Hawai‘i Convention Center’s Lili‘u Theater, room 310. In conjunction with the film there will be a display near the registration area throughout the conference of photographs provided by Aileen Smith from the Smiths’ 1975 book Minamata, on which the film is based. The screening and exhibition are made possible by generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Jeff Peterson Receives 2022 Hamako Ito Chaplin Award

Photo of Jeff Peterson
Dr. Jeff Peterson

The Hamako Ito Chaplin Memorial Award Committee is pleased to announce that Dr. Jeff Peterson (Visiting Assistant Professor of Japanese, Brigham Young University) is the recipient of the 2022 Hamako Ito Chaplin Memorial Award for Excellence in Japanese Language Teaching.

Dr. Peterson has a background in Japanese language pedagogy and linguistics. He has taught Japanese classes at all levels, and they are described as student-centered, effective, and engaging. Dr. Peterson helps students develop functional communication skills through culturally and contextually rich learning experiences. He has an extensive record of developing educational materials, including co-authoring an elementary-level Japanese language textbook series and curating new reading materials for the BYU library’s Japanese extensive reading area. The selection committee would like to congratulate Dr. Peterson for his accomplishments and look forward to his continued contribution to Japanese language education. 

This award is made possible through the generous donation of Professor George Chaplin in memory of his wife, Hamako Ito Chaplin, who was a devoted, experienced, and well-respected professor of the Japanese language at Yale University for many years.

AAS 2022 Prizes

The AAS is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s prize competitions and offer congratulations to all honorees. Please join us at the AAS 2022 Awards Ceremony on Saturday, March 26 at 8:30am Hawaii Time, in-person at the Hawai’i Convention Center and live-streamed to all registered AAS 2022 Annual Conference Attendees.

AAS Book Prizes

Joseph Levenson Prize (China, Pre-1900)

Robert Ford CampanyThe Chinese Dreamscape 300 BCE–800 CE (Harvard University Asia Center, 2020)

Honorable Mention: He BianKnow Your Remedies: Pharmacy and Culture in Early Modern China (Princeton University Press, 2020)

Joseph Levenson Prize (China, Post-1900)

Silvia M. LindtnerPrototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation (Princeton University Press, 2020)

Patrick D. Hanan Book Prize for Translation

Wai-yee Li, editor & translator, Plum Shadows and Plank Bridge: Two Memoirs about Courtesans (Columbia University Press, 2020)

Honorable Mention: Wilt L. Idema, editor & translator, Insects in Chinese Literature: A Study and Anthology (Cambria Press, 2019)

E. Gene Smith Inner Asia Book Prize

Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, Volume 4: In the Eye of the Storm, 1957-1959 (University of California Press, 2019); Chinese translation published by Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2021.

Honorable Mention: Brenton Sullivan, Building a Religious Empire: Tibetan Buddhism, Bureaucracy, and the Rise of the Gelukpa (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020)

John Whitney Hall Prize (Japan)

Gabriele Koch, Healing Labor: Japanese Sex Work in the Gendered Economy (Stanford University Press, 2020) 

Honorable Mention: Nozomi Naoi, Yumeji Modern: Designing the Everyday in Twentieth Century Japan (University of Washington Press, 2020); see media gallery at Art History Publication Initiative.

James B. Palais Prize (Korea)

Heonik Kwon, After the Korean War: An Intimate History (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

Honorable Mention: Hwisang Cho, The Power of the Brush: Epistolary Practices in Chosŏn Korea (University of Washington Press, 2020)

Bernard S. Cohn Prize (First book on South Asia)

Durba Mitra, Indian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought (Princeton University Press, 2020)

Maria Rashid, Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect, and the Politics of Sacrifice in the Pakistan Army (Stanford University Press, 2020)

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Prize (South Asia)

Benjamin D. Hopkins, Ruling the Savage Periphery: Frontier Governance and the Making of the Modern State (Harvard University Press, 2020)

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

Archana Venkatesan, Endless Song: Nammāḻvār’s Tiruvȳmoḻi  (Penguin India, 2020)

Honorable mention: Philip Lutgendorf, Tulsidās, The Epic of Rām, vol. 5 (Harvard University Press, 2022)

Harry J. Benda Prize (First book on Southeast Asian Studies)

Teren Sevea, Miracles and Material Life: Rice, Ore, Traps and Guns in Islamic Malaya (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

Honorable Mention: Puangchon Unchanam, Royal Capitalism: Wealth, Class, and Monarchy in Thailand (University of Wisconsin Press, 2020). 

A.L. Becker Southeast Asian Literature in Translation Prize

Roger Nelson, A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land: A Novel of Sihanouk’s Cambodia (National University of Singapore Press, 2020)

Franklin R. Buchanan Prize for Curricular Materials

John Frank, Arlene Kowal, Yurika Kurakata, and Anne Prescott, Walking the Tōkaidō: A Multi-Disciplinary Experience in History and Culture

Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies Award

Anna Tsing, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz

Graduate Student Paper Prizes

China and Inner Asia Council

Mian Chen (Northwestern University), “Great-Leap Forwarding the Great Leap Forward: The Institutional Change of the Propaganda Machines in Socialist China (1957-1960)”

Hsien-min Chu (National Taiwan University), “Beyond a Ruling Guide: The Aesthetic Effect of Ruins in Shuijin zhu

Debby Chih-Yen Huang (University of Pennsylvania), “Wives at Men’s Parties: Gender Ethics and Expressions of Closeness”

Northeast Asia Council

Juyoung Lee (Johns Hopkins University), “Chemical Fertilizer and the Making of ‘Scientific’ Farmers in 1960s South Korea”

South Asia Council

No South Asia Council student paper prize awarded

Southeast Asia Council

Alexandra Dalferro (Cornell University), “Weaving Queer Pasts and Futures in Thailand”

Call for Nominations: AAS 2022 Elections

The Association for Asian Studies welcomes nominations and self-nominations of candidates for our Fall 2022 elections. All nominations must be submitted by completing this online form no later than Monday, March 7.

Nominees should be current AAS members (or must become members if selected to appear on the election ballot) who wish to contribute to the association and the field of Asian Studies through participation in AAS governance. Positions to be filled in the Fall 2022 AAS elections are three members each in the four Area Councils (China & Inner Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia) and two members of the Diversity and Equity Committee (one faculty of any rank and one graduate student).

Terms of service vary by position: three years for members of all Area Councils and faculty on the Diversity and Equity Committee and one year for the graduate student member of the Diversity and Equity Committee. All AAS governing bodies meet in person at the Annual Conference, hold several additional meetings online throughout the year, and remain in frequent communication via email and the AAS Community Forum. As the workload varies by council/committee, depending on specific programs and initiatives overseen by each, we recommend contacting a current member of AAS governance to discuss the time commitment and responsibilities involved.

All nominations will be reviewed by the appropriate council or committee, which will in turn set its slate of candidates for the Fall 2022 elections. Council/committee meetings will take place during the AAS 2022 Annual Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii (March 24-27) and nominees will be announced in Summer 2022.

If you are nominating a colleague, please check with them to ensure they have time and interest in participating in AAS governance over the next 1-3 years. (We will also verify that all nominees are willing to stand for election prior to proceeding.)

Questions or issues with the online form? Please contact webmaster@asianstudies.org for assistance.

Thank you for your support of the AAS!