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“Say goodbye to Taiwan,” wrote political scientist John Mearsheimer in a widely read article in the March-April 2014 issue of The National Interest. Threatened by China's rising economic might and abandoned by a weakening United States, one of Asia's most vibrant democracies was facing, in his “realist” analysis, an almost inevitable annexation via economic if not military force. “Time,” he wrote, “is running out for the little island coveted by its gigantic, growing neighbor.” But only days after publication, on March 18, activists and armchair analysts alike said hello to a new reality.
More than sixty-five years after the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, controversy about partition, its causes and its effects, continues. Yet the emphases in these debates have changed over the years, and it is perhaps time, in the wake of India's recent elections, to take stock once again of how these debates have developed in the last several decades and where they are heading. What gives these controversies particular significance is that they are not just about that singular event, but about the whole trajectory of India's modern history, as interpreted through partition's lens—engaging academic historians, even as they continue to be deeply enmeshed in ongoing political conflict in South Asia, and, indeed, in the world more broadly.
In order to express what is uniquely accomplished in the field, Asian studies should be reconceived as Asian humanities and should adhere to three principles: care first, learn from, and connect histories. A review of the history and criticisms of Asian studies as a field calls for a positive theoretical articulation of what the best scholarship in Asian studies does and has done. The principles advocated here are not exclusive to Asian studies and should be extended to all area studies fields, but they are offered as a way to understand Asian studies as an essential field of the university and the academy, unique because of its content but common in spirit with the humanities generally.
The article examines the spatial turn in the contestations between the Indian nation and the British empire, as manifested in the creation and annulment of a new province at the turn of the twentieth century. The province, Eastern Bengal and Assam, was a culmination of the British Indian empire's eastern gaze since the early nineteenth century across northeastern India, Burma, and southern China. While the new province was expected to facilitate the empire's eastward transregional engagements, the national resistance to the scheme was influenced more by the comfort zone of the agro-ecological regime of the plains of the Bengal Delta, imagined to be capable of sustaining the Bengali nation in decline. The province was dismantled within six years in the face of the razing national movement, but a century later its legacy returns as India looks east.
Since independence, India has had electoral quotas for Scheduled Castes (SCs, Dalits, “untouchables”). These quotas have been praised for empowering members of a deprived community, but have also been criticized for bringing to power SC politicians who are mere tools in the hands of the upper castes. Tracing the history of these quotas through four critical junctures, I show how a British attempt to strengthen their own control of India eventually resulted in one of the world's most extensive quota systems for minorities. The quota system was in the end a compromise between several political goals, and was not strongly supported by anyone. Also, while the quotas were designed to integrate SC politicians into mainstream politics, there was a subtle and gradual shift in the debate about them, to being about development for the SC community as such. This created a disjuncture between the design of the quota system and the expectation of what it would achieve. The case of quotas in India illustrates how policy choices often result from long path-dependent processes, how policy makers struggle with trade-offs when trying to design institutions, and also the power of expectations in shaping the perceptions of the outcomes of those institutions.
This article revisits the criticisms of “diaspora” by Wang Gungwu, Ien Ang, and Shu-mei Shih, and urges a return to the concept with an attention to temporality. Focusing on the story of Lim Boon Keng (1869–1957)—an Edinburgh-educated baba Chinese who led a Confucian revival in Singapore in the 1890s, clashed with May Fourth writer Lu Xun in China in the 1920s, and has been celebrated since the 1990s—this article argues that diaspora is less a collection of communities than a series of moments in which reconnections with a putative homeland take place. By considering how “diaspora moments” emerge and create actors, scholars may ask why and for whom essential ties become useful, and how the history of mass emigration foregrounds a contingent Chinese identity. Temporally inflected, diaspora is a process to reckon with a world in flux, hence a useful paradigm for analysis.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a group of overseas Chinese businessmen created a private international remittance network linking the southeastern littoral zone of the Qing empire with the colonies of mainland and archipelagic Southeast Asia. Holding together this transnational network were Qiaopiju remittance firms that succeeded in controlling the remittance trade not by relying on traditional forms of economic organization or behavior, but by pioneering a unique combination of capitalist profit-making strategies, culturalist customer services, and flexible interfirm relations. The organizational structure and business practices of Qiaopiju allowed them to successfully adapt to and negotiate with the emerging regulatory regimes of the nation-state, colonial, and capitalist world systems in order to dominate the international remittance industry for more than a century.
Revisiting the political and social history of Seoul, Korea, in 1945, this article assesses responses to Japanese defeat and the end of empire in the context of American military occupation. The arrival of the Americans forced Japanese and Koreans alike to rethink their positions in the world. Drawing on past colonial practices, Japanese residents used the immediate post-surrender moment to ponder their future prospects, recording those thoughts in a number of public and private sources. They negotiated the passage from a colonial to a post-imperial society, I argue, by embracing a consciousness of a defeated people while disregarding criticisms of colonial rule. This investigation seeks to interpret the immediate post-World War II moment in Seoul less as a founding moment of the Cold War and more as an important transition in the history of decolonization.