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This essay traces the colonial origins of the concept of endogamy and its history as a foundational idea in the modern study of society in South Asia. The history of the concept of endogamy reveals how the control of female sexuality shaped the overlapping fields of Indology and ethnology. The invention and deployment of endogamy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is discussed in the writings of key colonial writers and British administrators, such as J. F. McLennan and H. H. Risley, and Indian intellectuals, including S. V. Ketkar and B. R. Ambedkar. It argues that the modern study of caste naturalized the control of female sexuality through the uncritical use of the concept of endogamy, which Ambedkar diagnosed as the irresolvable problem of the “Surplus Woman” in 1917. The essay reflects on the long life of endogamy and the enduring problem of nonconjugal sexuality in modern social theories of South Asia.
In preparing my presidential address for publication, I debated between different options. On the one hand, I could do what I assume is most typically done—that is, take the oral presentation and re-present the material as a research-based journal article. On the other hand, I considered the extraordinary year of challenges, disruptions, traumas, fears, and insights that had preceded this presidential address. Nothing from that year could be considered normal, from a personal or professional point of view; therefore, another option would be to engage in a writing structure reflecting our departure from the normal. For the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), the year of abnormality began with the canceled 2020 Annual Conference in Boston as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued with online teaching and meetings, and culminated in a virtual Annual Conference in 2021.
This article examines one of the earliest Gujarati travelogues concerning China, written by Damodar Ishwardas—a Hindu resident of Bombay and a clerk for a Sunni Khoja commercial firm—and published in Bombay in 1868. Based on a three-year trip to the port cities of southern China, Ishwardas's text runs close to 400 pages and was patronized by a prominent stratum of Bombay's Gujarati-speaking commercial and bureaucratic elite. The primary intervention in this article is to analyze Ishwardas's account as a neglected relic of vernacular capitalism and vernacular intellectual history. Furthermore, the text presents an opportunity to reexamine the history of the Indian intellectual and mercantile engagement with late Qing China, especially before anticolonial nationalism and pan-Asianism supplied new paradigms for Indian writing on East Asia beginning around 1900. It further points to the many unstudied Indian materials that have yet to be integrated into the study of modern capitalism in the regions from the South China Sea to the western Indian Ocean.
This article examines the early development of South Korean intercountry adoption to Sweden. It focuses particularly on two disruptions in the movement of children between the two nations, drawing on archival sources in Sweden, South Korea, and Denmark. The article demonstrates that South Korean–Swedish adoption was deeply bound up in the shifting Cold War relations within and between the Korean peninsula and Scandinavia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Further, state actions and strategies during this time reveal that both governments actively utilized their Cold War foreign policy and positionality to shape adoption to meet their respective national interests. This study extends US-centered adoption scholarship by revealing broader implications of Cold War geopolitics in cross-border adoptions to Scandinavia and, more importantly, significant ways in which intercountry adoption challenged, altered, and constituted the Cold War relations and nation-building projects of both sending and receiving states.
In 1533, Lady Qu, native prefect of Wuding Prefecture in northern Yunnan, sponsored the inscription of two texts on a cliff face at the center of her domain. One was in Nasu, the language of the ruling lineage; the other was in Chinese. Both commemorated the long, powerful line of Né (or Yi) native chieftains to which Lady Qu was heir. Yet they gave contradictory accounts of the forms of chiefly succession, sources of political authority, and geopolitical position of the native domain. The inscriptions show that chiefly sovereignty was neither merely embodied in ancestral authority nor simply endowed by the emperor. Sovereignty—particularly that of a female chieftain—was the capacity to master both modes of self-description while embodying their incompatibility. While we often understand colonialism through power-laden projects of translation, Lady Qu's inscriptions give evidence that Ming colonization of the southwest might require a different approach. Native chieftains were often intermediaries in encounters between indigenous peoples and imperial agents, garrisoned soldiers, and other migrants. Rather than merely understanding these elites as translators and mediators of colonialism, we might also ask how they emphasized and strategically deployed cultural and linguistic differences to achieve ends of their own.
Korean shantytowns existed in every large Japanese city from the postwar years through the late 1960s. Japanese people recall them as secluded, dirty, impoverished, and dangerous. To many scholars, their existence confirms the transwar continuity of Japanese oppression of underclass ethnic minorities. But zainichi Koreans who grew up in such slums, which they called tongne, offer inspirational stories and fond memories of living there. This article sheds light on Koreans’ postwar experiences by discussing the important sociopolitical functions of the tongne and their continuing symbolism among the zainichi population. Viewing the tongne as zainichi's postliberation place of origin and paying attention to the reproduction of its meanings in hakkyo (schools) helps us understand the uneven terrain of power relationships in zainichi society, including why the Chongryun exercised great cultural power at least until the 1970s.
In 1937, Burma formally separated from India. The separation might seem self-evident, given India and Burma's framing as distinct, bounded spaces. Yet, in the Patkai mountains straddling them, separation was a complex process with only a murky sense of finality, more problematic and contested than generally acknowledged. The border ran through similar groups and complex networks, which posed recurring problems for local inhabitants and frontier officials. As independence neared, colonial officials unsuccessfully tried to reshape the Patkai's territorialization. Viewed from the Patkai, the narrative of an amiable divorce between two ill-suited partners crumbles. The separation was one of several partitions that created bounded spaces across South Asia during the twentieth century. Seeing Burma and India as distinct others privileges spatio-cultural hierarchies rooted in colonial frameworks, assimilated by postcolonial political arrangements and nation-state-centric scholarship. This article foregrounds the need to explore how India and Burma were made against one another and recover alternative spatialities.
The joint rise of popular movements and mass media in early twentieth-century China gave birth to a democratic imagination, which culminated in the anti-American boycott of 1905. The transnational campaign nonetheless disintegrated as a result of partisan division—an ingrained predicament of democratic agonism that is best illustrated by the story of Feng Xiawei, a grassroots activist whose suicide in Shanghai constituted a key moment in the boycott. Juxtaposing a variety of accounts about Feng's death in journalism, political fiction, reformed opera, and advertisements, this article examines how, together, these texts construct democratic agonism and suicide protest as revealing two opposing political sensibilities as well as modes of action. Instead of expressing only nationalist passion, Feng's suicide reveals a deep anxiety of his time to locate a spiritual source of authority in the face of its glaring absence in social negotiation. This fraught dynamic between the democratic and the transcendent continues to characterize modern Chinese political culture to the present.
This article explores critical shifts in the governance of religion amid massive urbanization and technological advances in contemporary China. Since the turn of the millennium, along with rapid urban transformation, the Chinese state has greatly expanded its reach into and surveillance of religious communities. At the same time, tensions between state initiatives and religious communities have come to the forefront of public attention. So far, scholarly attention has mostly focused on the repression of religious communities, especially Christians. The goal of this article is to highlight broader transitions in the ways religion is governed in China and to reflect on how these transitions should be understood alongside the government's social and political agendas. The advancement of technologies and the extension of the bureaucratic system to maintain control of a rapidly urbanizing society, I argue, have brought about a “technological turn” of secularism in China, which will have a far-reaching impact on religious life.
In this article, I interrogate the exhaustive “inbetweenness” through which Bhutan is understood and located on a map (“inbetween India and China”). I argue that this understanding naturalizes a contemporary geopolitics with little depth about how this inbetweenness has shifted over the centuries, thereby constructing a timeless, obscure, and remote Bhutan that is “naturally” oriented southward. I trace how the construction of Bhutan's asymmetrical inbetweenness is nested in the larger story of the formation and consolidation of imperial British India and its dissolution, and the emergence of post-colonial India as a successor state. I identify and analyze the key economic dynamics of three phases marked by commercial, production, and security interests, through which this asymmetrical inbetweenness was consolidated. Bringing together sources from different disciplines and archival work, this account also challenges some of the dominant historical scholarship on Bhutan in each phase. I conclude by emphasizing that critical work at the intersection of geographical/political/historical contingencies is important to the subalternizing of geopolitics, which recognizes the myriad ways in which dominant powers have shaped both the geopolitical environment as well as knowledge-making that has constrained small states.
The New Right movement that arose in the early 2000s in South Korea was a response to a change in ownership of Korean nationalist discourse during the preceding decades. Although nationalism was the preserve of the South Korean right wing from the trusteeship crisis in 1945 through the end of the Park Chung Hee regime, a historiographical revolt in the 1980s that emphasized the historical illegitimacy of the South Korean state allowed the Left to appropriate nationalism. With the loss of nationalism from its arsenal, the Right turned to postnationalist neoliberal discourse to blunt the effectiveness of leftist nationalist rhetoric. An examination of New Right historiography on the colonial and postliberation periods, however, shows that despite the recent change in conservatives’ stance on nationalism, a preoccupation with the legitimacy of the South Korean state remains at the center of right-wing historical narratives. The New Right represents old wine in new bottles.
This article discusses how the Chinese Communist Party governed death in Shanghai during the first half of the People's Republic of China. It examines how officials nationalized funeral institutions, promoted cremation, and transformed what they believed to be the unproductivity of the funeral industry into productivity (by raising pigs in cemeteries, for instance). I show how each of these policies eliminated possible sources of identity that were prevalent in conceptualizing who the dead were and what their relationships with the living could be. Specifically, in addition to the construction of socialist workers, the state worked to remove cosmopolitan, associational, religious, and relational ideas of self. By modifying funerary rituals and ways of interment, the Chinese state aimed to produce individualized and undifferentiated political subjects directly tied to the party-state. The civil governance of death aimed to produce citizen-subjects at the end of life.
This article revisits our understanding of corvée labor regimes and their role and impact in the early expansion of colonialism and capitalism. Rather than remnants of feudal pasts, or in-kind taxation or revenue instruments of weak colonial powers, corvée regimes should be viewed as refined methods of colonial exploitation that provided colonial actors with more direct access to and control over the production of commercially interesting global commodities. This article explores and compares the corvée labor regimes employed and shaped by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the Moluccas, Sri Lanka, and Java. The article first addresses how to understand corvée and tributary relations as labor, production, and (political-)social regimes. Second, it explores and compares the organization and development of corvée labor relations in the context of the VOC in South and Southeast Asia. These corvée labor regimes reappear as crucial instruments in the expansion of (early) modern colonialism and capitalism, which could explain their widespread recurrence across the globe in the last few centuries.
A number of nations have instituted group-specific institutions or “enclaves” for women. The assumption underpinning such bodies—physically distinct, autonomous units in which constituent members belong entirely to a particular group—is that the segregation of female administrators will better serve the interests of women by isolating them from patriarchal norms and practices. I scrutinize this assumption by examining India's experience with all-women police stations, and carry out eight months of ethnographic research in and around police stations across the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. I find that while all-women police stations allow complainants to speak freely, they may also diminish capacity for female administrators working in law enforcement, create hurdles for victims of violence, and, in some ways, marginalize gender issues from the mainstream.
Located immediately north of Hong Kong, Shenzhen is China's most successful special economic zone (SEZ). Commonly known as the “social laboratory” of reform and opening, Shenzhen was the foremost frontier for the People's Republic of China's adoption of market principles and entrance into the world economy in the late 1970s. This article looks at prototypes of the SEZ in Bao'an County, the precursor to Shenzhen during the Mao era (1949–76). Between 1949 and 1978, Bao'an was a liminal space where state endeavors to establish a socialist economy were challenged by capitalist influences from the adjacent British Crown colony of Hong Kong. To create an enclave of exception to socialism, Communist cadres in Bao'an promoted individualized, duty-free cross-border trade and informal foreign investment schemes as early as 1961. Although beholden to the inward-looking planned economy and stymied by radical leftist campaigns, these local improvisations formed the foundation for the SEZ—the hallmark of Deng Xiaoping's economic statecraft.
This article examines the webtoon (wept'un)—a term coined in Korea to refer to webcomics—which is arguably the most pervasive and powerful form of digital serial production in twenty-first-century Korea. Webtoons have developed by utilizing various potentials that the digital platform offers, such as open solicitation, (partial) free web/mobile distribution, profit from advertisement and page viewing, and transmedia production. As a new cultural medium, the webtoon is thus inseparable from its platform and organically tied to its distinctive platform ecology, which is different from the ecosystems that other (global) mega-platforms create. Engaging with the insights from recent studies of platforms and utilizing empirical media analysis, I argue that Korean webtoon platforms demonstrate the continuing and intensifying dependency of art on platforms—a process that I call “the platformization of culture”—and that this specific type of platformization is reinforced by what I call “the artist incubating system.” The case of webtoon platforms reveals a number of telling aspects of media ecosystems for art production in the digital age—aspects that are spreading and expanding to various fields of art.