EVENT REVIEW: BU at the 2013 Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference

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April 8th, 2013

Our Asian Studies Presenters and the American Institute of Indian Studies Board meeting

Several faculty and graduate students attended the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego, March 21-24, 2013.


Marié Abe, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, Presenter,“Shaking Bodies on Shaky Ground: Henoko Peace Music Festa and the Anti-US Military Base Struggles in Okinawa”

In February 2007, on Henoko Beach in northern Okinawa, a group of musicians held the first “Peace Music Festa” in protest against the construction of a new offshore U.S. military base. A constellation of various musical sounds and political aspirations resounded across the contested beach, simultaneously offering a critique of the imperial politics that has valorized Okinawan difference and celebrating the very difference through diverse musical programming that evoked “multicultural Japan.” This paper offers an ethnographic analysis of the shifting strategies of the festival as it continued annually in the subsequent years. I locate the efficacy of the festival at the intersection of the politics of pleasure, which enables translocal alliances among activists from all over Okinawa as well as mainland Japan, and the politics of survival, which emphasizes the well-being of the economically marginalized local community. Focusing on the performance of these strategies at the Peace Music Festa, this paper considers the possibilities and constraints offered by the rhetoric of multicultural Japan within the specific struggle in Henoko. I will show that while the articulation of a contested site, musical sounds, and the emphasis on conviviality at the Festa enabled a new modality of political expression in Henoko, mobilization of Okinawan difference posed limitations on the organizing efforts for the musicians. Further, I posit that the festival made audible not only the ambivalence of Okinawan difference, but also the internal differences within Okinawa that are often elided in the narrative of Okinawan marginality within the nation state.


Andrew Barton Armstrong, PhD (BU Anthropology), Presenter, “The Japanese ‘Ghetto-Gangsta’: Neighborhood and Experiential Authenticity in Kansai Hip-Hop Performance”

My research treats emergent, outspoken class consciousness among performers of what I call “ghetto-gangsta” hip hop in Japan’s Kansai region. Musicians, including Anarchy from the public housing projects in Mukaijima (Kyoto) and Shingo Nishinari from the day-laborer neighborhood of Nishinari Ward (Osaka), are earning prestige in spite of, but also in part because of their humble origins. My ethnography of Kansai hip hop culture demonstrates that “marginality” is a source of prestige for performers who embody keywords including “ghetto,” “gangsta,” and “Korean,” and who critique Japanese society using language typically associated with right-wing ultranationalists (uyoku). These musicians trump the “authenticity” card, the critique of cultural plagiarism, because they really have experienced economic hardship and social stigmatization, and because in some cases they really are gangsters (yakuza). Their lyrics represent marginal identities that are defined by socioeconomic status and ethnic identity, but the MCs speak of marginality in terms of neighborhood of origin. In a society where people rarely are willing to speak openly about socioeconomic status and ethnicity, neighborhood can function as a proxy and thereby confer experiential authenticity to the musicians. My presentation will analyze the ambivalence that local musicians express towards their neighborhood of origin, and show that they view “Japan” with equally mixed feelings. In doing so I demonstrate that Japan is far less “other” than has often been presumed in anthropological studies.


Joe Fewsmith, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Presenter, “The Logic and Limits of Political Reform in China”

The idea of incremental political reform has been both assumed and advocated by reformers in China for many years. In the late 1990s and first part of the first decade in the new century there was reason to believe that this vision might become reality: there were hundreds, even thousands, of experiments throughout China that were designed to introduce some measure of openness, usually under the rubric of “inner-party democracy.” A convergence of interests between some in the central government and those on the front lines in the localities lay behind these initiatives. Many of them were widely publicized and set as models for others to follow. Notions of “path dependence” suggest that this progress would be self-sustaining, bringing ever greater returns in terms of better governance and social stability. Unfortunately this has not happened. Although there are still experiments of various sorts, one can say that the thrust of incremental reform has stalled and that the old hierarchical system has reasserted itself, leaving a variety of social problems to accumulate. Drawing on investigations of many reforms throughout China, this paper will explore why the path of incremental political reform has not, to date, been successful and the problems that creates.


Sarah Frederick, Co-Associate Chair of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, Associate Professor of Japanese, Discussant


Julian Go, Associate Professor of Sociology, Session Organizer, “Asia-Pacific Islands in the Sun of Empire”


Eugenio Menegon, Associate Professor of History, Presenter, “Who was using whom? Europeans, Western Commodities, and the Politics of Gift-Giving in Qing Beijing”

In the early to mid-Qing period around thirty Western European Catholic missionaries lived in Beijing, partly employed in technical services, and partly engaged in religious work. Starting with the Yongzheng reign (1724), Christianity was forbidden empire wide. Yet these foreigners, with semi-official permission, continued missionizing, maintained a network of churches, and acquired real estate in the city and its environs to support their activities. Besides producing luxury objects for the court, the priests also imported Western commodities (tobacco; chocolate; wine; clocks and other mechanical devices; glass objects etc.) for their own use, as exotic gifts, and to resell on the capital’s market. The emperor and the Qing court allowed the Europeans to remain in Beijing and tolerated their religious activities in exchange for their exotic commodities and their services, including those useful for important state-building projects. The European missionaries used their skills and a relentless gift-giving strategy not only to please their main imperial patron, but also to create a network of support among princes, ministers, employees of the Imperial Household Department, eunuchs, and Beijing commoners. Using financial ledgers and reports preserved in European and Chinese archives, this paper will explore the two faces of the medal, asking an apparently simple question: “who was using whom?” Luxury objects and commodities in fact became the currency of negotiation between divergent interests, contributing to weaken Qing imperial prohibitions and laws, and to create ad hoc arrangements tolerated by the emperor, and benefiting the palace personnel, the missionaries, and their communities.


Teena Purohit, Assistant Professor of Religion, Presenter, “The Aga Khan Case of 1866”

In the famous Aga Khan Case of 1866, the British colonial court officially redefined the Khojas’ caste group as part of the “Ismaili Muslim sect.” This paper analyzes how the beliefs and teachings of the Ismaili community were firmly embedded within the diverse cultural practices indigenous to South Asia. These complex identifications were undermined and reshaped as a consequence of the court’s interpretation of sectarianism. The paper offers readings from the devotional texts of the Ismailis to illustrate how the heterogeneous forms of practices peculiar to the vernacular history of Islam in early modern South Asia were displaced by the culturally alien discourse of sect and religious identity in the colonial period.


Robert Weller, Chair of Anthropology, Professor of Anthropology, Presenter, “Religious Pluralism in Chinese Policy and Practice”

Religious pluralism in China is part of the larger problem of how to deal with diversities of all kinds, with those differences of category and qualities of boundary that are so much a part of human life. Policy solutions to these problems usually attempt to clarify and control the boundaries between groups through what might be called processes of notation—adopting laws, statutes, and regulations. The first part of this paper traces the evolution of modern Chinese policies toward religion and the kind of vision they create for a plural society. The space of shared experience beyond this notational effort, however, can be just as important in understanding how diversity can survive successfully. Part of China’s current adaptability is its ability to accept a mismatch between notation and shared experience to create a form of informal governance with its own internal tensions, but which has delivered increased religious space for most of its population. This form of governance involves officials turning a blind eye to religious behavior beyond the law as long as adherents pay lip service to the regulatory world. The paper concludes with some thoughts about comparative situations where such “blind-eye” governance become important.


Frank Korom, BU representative, Board of Trustees meeting of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS)

Frank Korom (Religion and Anthropology) attended as BU representative the annual Board of Trustees meeting of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), held during the AAS Conference, and reports on the proceedings:

The AIIS is without a doubt the major funder of educational enterprises in India. It supports both language study in India as well as junior and senior research fellowships, with short- and long-term grants ranging in duration from 1-3 months and 6-9 months respectively. Formerly, much of the operating budget came from a rupee fund handled by the Smithsonian, but this money has been drawn down over the years, so now new sources of revenue are being sought through aggressive fundraising campaigns both in the US and in India. Investing also continues, but the recession and the current state of the economy has taken its toll on AIIS, as it has on other such operations (e.g., Fulbright), which has led to budget and staff cuts. Despite this, over 2000 fellowships were awarded in the previous academic year (consisting of both language and research fellowships).

Due to the decrease in operating budget, the major issue that immediately confronts the AIIS is how to generate more income to sustain operations in India that support the research of American and Indian scholars. To this end, large investments were made in facility renovations, which will eventually generate funds in the long term through rent income. In the meantime, however, the budget is very tight, which means that there may be cutbacks, such as those implemented by Fulbright and other federal granting agencies. The cutbacks might consist of eliminating spousal support or reducing the duration of grants. A last resort might be to reduce the amount of the monthly stipend provided to junior and senior scholars. It is most likely that senior scholars would be hit the hardest, since a major goal of the AIIS is to train future scholars of India through language training, then doctoral research. The Board felt that this was a reasonable move.

As for BU, we have already benefitted from our membership with AIIS. We have had students attend summer language programs in India, and a few faculty have applied for research fellowships.. However, with the growth of South Asian Studies at BU and the new India Initiative launched by the president of the university, it is likely that more and more faculty and students will avail themselves of the benefits afforded by AIIS membership.