Five Minutes with Southeast of Now March 24, 2017 11:00
This month marks the official launch of Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, a new journal devoted to art in Southeast Asia (and the wider region). The journal's inaugural issue has been launched at several events across Southeast Asia, engaging scholarly as well as artistic and curatorial publics.
In January, the journal had a soft launch that coincided with the Singapore Biennale Symposium at the National Museum of Singapore, and an informal launch was held earlier this month at the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok to coincide with the exhibition People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor).
In this edition of Five Minutes with …, we caught up with the editorial collective—Isabel Ching, Thanavi Chotpradit, Brigitta Isabella, Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, Yvonne Low, Vera Mey, Roger Nelson, Simon Soon, and Vuth Lyno—to discuss the complexities of an exisiting “gap” about contemporary art in Southeast Asia, the decision to have a thematic focus of “discomfort”, and what readers can expect in future issues of Southeast of Now.
In the editorial to this inaugural issue of Southeast of Now, you express a desire to address a gap in current scholarship about contemporary art in Southeast Asia. Could you briefly account for the nature and complexities of this gap? Why aren’t enough people writing about contemporary art in the region and, even so, why aren’t writers framing their research “historically”?
Yvonne Low: Saying that there is a gap in current scholarship about contemporary art in Southeast Asia does not mean that there aren’t any writings on and about the contemporary; on the contrary, there are a lot. Such writings however are frequently curatorially driven or biennially-driven (if such a term maybe used). In some instances, such as in Indonesia, writings on contemporary art are commissioned by collectors. For all these reasons, research and writing on contemporary art in Southeast Asia are often skewed toward particular collections, personal or public; they may be responding to particular themes or have had to meet particular objectives. With the exception of the rare few publications (for example,T. K Sabapathy's Intersecting Histories: Contemporary Turns in Southeast Asian Art) that make a serious attempt to look at the region’s contemporary art historically, mapping commonalities and shared pasts, and identifying intersections and inter-/intra-regional developments, the far more common approach taken of contemporary is to view it as ahistorical, an artistic phenomenon that does not have any precedence, when this is clearly not true. And especially not when conditions that led to the rise of contemporary art in the region was traceable to as early as the seventies.
The First Southeast Asia Art Competition Exhibition, Manila, 12 May 1957.
(Courtesy of Vanessa Ban. Original Source can be found in the MoMA Archives, New York IC/IP I.A.408)
You settled on “Discomfort” as the theme for the first Call For Papers. What sort of provocations did you hope to invite?
Editorial Collective: To adapt the words used in the Call For Papers and the editorial from the inaugural issue, the provocations that the Southeast of Now editorial collective wanted to invite were pieces that reflect on the burdens and future possibility of wielding “regionalism” as a framework. The playful disquiet evoked by the title of the journal, which troubles linear notions of space-time and destablises any certainty of an imagined temporal centre, gave rise to the first theme. “Discomfort” locates this source of tension and anxiety as a productive register to explore various discursive stakes, propelled by new urgencies, orientations, and motivations; and perhaps discover therein some comfort, even if merely within shared discomfort.
Image from Sharmini Pereira with P. Kirubalini, “Searching for Discomfort” (an essay from the inaugural issue of Southeast of Now).
Alongside traditional academic writing, the Artists’ Projects section in this issue features fascinating work by artists such as Shooshie Sulaiman, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, and a transcribed conversation between artist Tom Nicholson, curator Grace Samboh and the late Edhi Sunarso, who was supposedly “Sukarno’s most trusted sculptor”. How do you see this section evolving as a space for creating discourses about contemporary Southeast Asian art? What, in your opinion, are the curatorial possibilities here?
Vera Mey: It was important for us to create an open platform within the journal where we could pair artistic responses to the various journal themes we have planned. We also wanted to have the possibility for an artistic response which could be purely visual alongside more scholarly articles and written work. A lot of contemporary artists are engaged in artistic research and have different ways of demonstrating this beyond writing an article, essay or review. In the case of the transcript in the video work by Tom Nicholson with Grace Samboh we also wanted a place where this kind of research material, in this case generated from an interview of a video work, could travel beyond the site of the physical exhibition in which it was originally viewed, which was the Jakarta Biennale. Within the context of the journal it is not only an artwork to be experienced; it is also a primary source of research material about an aspect of Indonesia's art history.
There are endless curatorial possibilities here. The artists' pages could be a space for a specifically curated space of images or texts either by a member of the editorial collective, a guest curator, or someone with a desire to respond to our call for proposals. This follows new approaches to publishing where printed matter is considered equally an exhibitionary format in two-dimensional form. In future issues we will also alternate between archival pages from various archives within and beyond the region and the artists’ pages.
With the opening of National Gallery Singapore in 2015 and the upcoming opening of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MCAN) in Jakarta, it appears as if substantial investments, whether from public institutions or private individuals, are being channeled to the area of contemporary art. Where do you think a journal of critical scholarship such as Southeast of Now might fit, given its context?
Brigitta Isabella: The infrastructure of public and private institutions in Southeast Asia cannot be generalized as having similar nature and agendas. Its characters are contingent on the context of relationship between artists, curators, the state and the market inside the local art scene. Within this context, there are different power plays shaped by politics of nationalism, commercialization of art and commodification of culture, as well as narratives of resilience from minor artists and alternative spaces that also greatly contribute to the practice of contemporary art. Framing an apt critique of art institution in the region certainly cannot follow the discourse of institutional critique within the Western art system and here the journal is trying to present a necessarily historical perspective to understand the shifting cultural context in Southeast Asia. Another fact to consider is the lack of educational infrastructure of art history in most countries in Southeast Asia, so, in a way, the journal serves as a trans-local container and a discursive space for creating encounters between critical scholarships of contemporary and modern art produced in, from and around the region.
What other conversations do you foresee happening within the pages of future volumes of Southeast of Now?
Roger Nelson: The categories of “contemporary and modern art,” indeed of “art” in general, are obviously terms we consider to be open for debate just as much as the category of “Southeast Asia” itself. Given this, we anticipate continuing to trouble and denaturalise these categories, including through looking at aspects of culture that don't usually qualify as “art,” and also through treating the region's borders as fluid, and looking at research that transcend these borders.
But in all this, we remain committed to the importance of an historical approach, however interwoven with methodologies from other disciplines and practices that historical approach might also be. We would be delighted if future issues of the journal can look further back in time, to the 19th century (and before), and perhaps can place this historical research in dialogue with issues of today (and the future).
International Women's Day 2017 March 08, 2017 15:23
Will you #BeBoldForChange on International Women's Day 2017? This year’s campaign calls for action to drive change and progress for women and create a “more gender inclusive” working world. This comes in light of recent projections by the World Economic Forum that—with the current state of affairs—the gender gap in workplaces will not close entirely until 2186.
In line with this year's theme, we have foregrounded women who have moved beyond the stifling limitations of gender norms and become leaders in their own right to enact groundbreaking change for their communities.
First on our list is Ann Wee (author of A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore), the founding mother of social work in Singapore. In 1955, she became a training office at the Social Welfare Department, responsible for counseling low-income families in their homes.
(Image courtesy of Ann Wee)
Later, Wee helped shape social work education in Singapore for undergraduates, establishing an Honours degree course for social workers. Responding to a question of what inclusivity means to her, Wee said, “(The) gender gap will close more easily if society emphasises 'parenthood' rather than just 'motherhod'. Inclusivity must include an ethos that not only gives men legal family rights, but makes it okay for them to exercise these rights.”
In the academic discipline of art history, we chatted with Sarah Tiffin, author of Southeast Asia in Ruins: Art and Empire in the Early 19th Century, who talked about female art historians she admired and their contributions to this field: “I remember that as an undergraduate in my first year of an art history degree, the work of Marcia Pointon, Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock was a revelation to me. Their writings taught me how to think critically, how to probe for the subtle undercurrents of meaning that lie hidden within an image. Instead of just looking at what was depicted, they taught me to ask how and why.”
(Image courtesy of Sarah Tiffin)
Shifting our perspective to a historical one, nationalist movements within Southeast Asia tend to adopt a male centric perspective. We read about the struggles of national heroes (usually male) against imperialism and their journeys to becoming the founders of Southeast Asian nation-states. Yet, little attention is given to the role of women who toiled alongside their male counterparts.
Susan Blackburn and Helen Ting’s edited volume, Women in Southeast Asian Nationalist Movements provides a more in-depth appreciation of such hidden figures. We have put the spotlight on two key figures:
Daw San (Burma)
“Daw San”, the pen name of Ma San Youn, was a pioneering nationalist in colonial Burma. Single handedly running the popular weekly newspaper Independent Weekly as an editor and author, Daw San was known for her prolific writings, which often underscored her nationalist and feminist aspirations. Partaking in local and trans-local women’s movements, she sought to make the Burmese government and political elites more accountable to the masses.
Suyatin Kartowiyono (Indonesia)
Remembered as the leader of the women’s movement in Indonesia, Suyatin Kartowiyono organized the first Indonesian women’s congress and became the founder of the secular women’s organization Perwari. Devoting herself to the burgeoning women’s movement and nationalist movement, she became a leader in raising women’s awareness of belonging within the Indonesian nation, demanding for radical changes in Indonesian society and public policy.
For more books on/about women and their social, political and cultural impact, check out our selection of titles. Happy International Women’s Day!
Five Minutes with Ronald McCrum February 24, 2017 10:00
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore. Considered one of the greatest defeats in the history of the British Army during World War Two, retired British Army Officer and military historian, Ronald McCrum, undertakes a close examination of the role and the responsibilities of the colonial authorities in his new book, The Men Who Lost Singapore, 1938-1942.
In this edition of Five Minutes With ..., we talk to Colonel McCrum to get his insights on how his military background helped his research, his history and ties with Southeast Asia, and whether co-ordination between civil authorities and military bodies has improved nearly eight decades on.
How did you come to be interested in the military history of this particular region?
My interest in military history was, I suppose, inevitable. At 18 years of age, I decided to become a soldier and at Sandhurst, the officer training college, part of the curriculum is military history and it fascinated me. In any case, it was now my chosen profession and I almost felt duty bound to understand something of the trials and tribulations of my predecessors.
The Far East, Malaya/Malaysia and Singapore were of particular interest because I spent a lot of my life in these parts. I first came to the area not long after the end of the war (1948/49?)—my father was then stationed in Nee Soon. We lived just outside Johor Bahru and I went to ‘English College’ in Johor Bahru. After a period in England, we returned to Malaya, this time to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and I went to Victoria Institution in KL. So the formative years of my life were in this part of the world.
McCrum in Germany (Iserlohn), 1981
(Image credit: Ronald McCrum)
In your book you discuss the various factors leading up to Singapore’s downfall, particularly how the preparation and execution of British defence strategies were addled by the conflicting views, interests and priorities of the military and civil authorities. In what ways has your military experience allowed you to be more attuned to these issues?
In 1965, after I had been a commissioned officer in the British Army for a number of years, an opportunity arose to be seconded for a period to the Malaysia Armed Forces and I accepted. I was sent to the Malaysian Military College at Sungei Besi just outside KL as an instructor. While in Malaysia my first two sons were born, the first shortly after we arrived and the second just before we returned to UK. And then surprisingly in 1970 after completing a year’s course at the British senior officers Staff College I was sent to Singapore as the Assistant Defence Advisor to the British High Commissioner. Where I spent two and half very happy years and my third and last son was born there. All three boys have Southeast Asia in their blood.
You’ve pointed out the civil authorities were slow to recognise the impending threat of the Japanese invasion. Was this general across other European colonies in Southeast Asia, or was it particular to Singapore? Do you think issues of co-ordination between civil authorities and military bodies improved with the advent of new technologies and procedures of co-ordination today?
While in Malaysia/Singapore I was endlessly curious about how the British Forces were so easily beaten in 1941/42. And in my travels I took the chance to visit the scenes of the battles that took place. After much reading, I began to recognise that in those early days of a new form of mobile modern warfare no one escaped an enveloping invasion. Inclusive lessons of total war were quickly learnt in the West, but in the quiet backwater of South East Asia such a prospect seemed remote. Glaringly obvious afterwards was the need for a combined (civil and military) planning headquarters, with an overall supremo able to impose decisions. At that time the three military services had each their own HQ’s in different locations in Singapore and the Governor was remote in Government House. Now of course a combined planning authority is normal greatly helped, of course, by modern communications. I cannot think of a current example where the civil and military authorities do not work closely together towards a common aim. A good instance in the Far East, after the war, was the combined operations of all the authorities in Malaya planning the defeat of the communist terrorists during the Malayan Emergency.
McCrum in Israel, 1988
(Image credit: Ronald McCrum)
What also struck me as grossly negligent was the poor, indeed almost non-existent, liaison between the Colonial Office and the War Office in London. One was demanding increased production of tin and rubber and the other telling the military they had to employ local labour to prepare defences. The same labour that was required on the rubber estates and the tin mines. There were of course a number of other very important factors that played a crucial part in the defeat, but the authorities quarrelling on basic matters like this did not help.
What are your future plans? Are you thinking of writing another book?
I am well into researching another book. This time a biography of a significant British figure who played an important part during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
McCrum in Singapore with an advance copy of
The Men Who Lost Singapore in early February 2017
(Image credit: Pallavi Narayan)
#BuySingLit Highlights (Part 3) February 23, 2017 14:30
In the third installment of our series on #BuySingLit highlights, we look at memoirs written by Singapore authors. Through the memoirs published here at NUS Press, the experiences and personal anecdotes shared by authors have allowed readers to learn more about their outlook on life and the world around them.
Here is a short reading list that gives you glimpses of Singapore and the wider world through different lives that have been lived.
From the Blue Windows: Recollections of Life in Queenstown, Singapore, in the 1960s and 1970s
By Tan Kok Yang
Have you ever wondered what everyday life was like in one of the earliest housing estates in Singapore during the 1960s and 1970s? In From the Blue Windows, Tan Kok Yang reminisces about life during his formative years in Queenstown. Coupled with a sense of nostalgia, Tan’s memoir pays tribute to the estate he grew up in and takes readers back to a simpler time of Singapore’s bygone past.
Born in the Year of the Fire Tiger, Ann Wee arrived in Singapore in 1950 to marry into a Singaporean Chinese family. Affectionately observed and wittily narrated, A Tiger Remembers recounts her experiences of cross-cultural learning such as domestic rituals and emotional nuances in social relations, along with various untold stories of Singapore’s past. With a strong appreciation for Singapore’s social transformation, this book provides a frank perspective on the shapes and forms of the Singapore family through the eyes of a keen social observer.
What transpires when a young Asian student finds himself in the Ireland of the 1950s? This memoir by Singaporean novelist Goh Poh Seng details his adventures as a student in a world with an entirely different milieu and culture. Through his travels in Europe and stay in Dublin, readers are able to catch a glimpse of what shaped Goh to become the writer he is known as today.
#BuySingLit Highlights (Part 2) February 22, 2017 10:00
In part 2 of our series on #BuySingLit highlights, we shift our attention to the discipline of Sociology. In the words of C Wright Mills, “neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both”. Within the local context, Singapore society provides compelling subject matters for sociological inquiry given its metamorphosis since independence.
Here are two NUS Press titles that offer in-depth perspectives of specific social phenomena in Singapore.
Remembering the Samsui Women: Migration and Social Memory in Singapore and China
By Kelvin E.Y. Low
Leaving their families behind and migrating from the Samsui region of Guangdong, China for a better life abroad, how did the Samsui women come to be icons of Singapore’s burgeoning economic transformation? How were these women, who donned the iconic “red head scarf” (红头巾), remembered for their hard work and sacrifices both in Singapore and China? Situated in the politics of social memory and the processes of remembering and forgetting, Kelvin Low explores first hand accounts of the women’s migratory experiences and how they were ultimately reinvented as industrious pioneers of Singapore through the memory appropriation of the Samsui women.
The AWARE Saga: Civil Society and Public Morality in Singapore
After the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) was helmed shortly by a Christian faction in March 2009, the controversy foregrounded issues such as religion, sex education, homosexuality, and state intervention within Singapore’s civil society. In this book, academics and public intellectuals situate the AWARE saga within the country’s political and historical context, further discussing the role of religion in Singapore’s civic society.
#BuySingLit Highlights (Part 1) February 21, 2017 10:00
NUS Press is proud to take part in the #BuySingLit campaign, the first nationwide initiative led by the local publishing industry to promote the reading and purchasing of Singapore literature. In addition to discounts on selected titles available on our web store, we are also highlighting literary and non-fiction titles in a series of blog posts throughout the week.
Our first installment showcases the Press’s literary publications.
The Collected Poems of Arthur Yap
By Arthur Yap, with an introduction by Irving Goh
Sometimes referred to as a “poet’s poet,” Arthur Yap (1943–2006) published four major collections between 1971 and 1986, all of which are now out-of-print. With color reproductions of original cover art, many of which are Yap’s own paintings, and a critical introduction by Irving Goh, this volume of collected poems represents the burgeoning of recent scholarly activity surrounding his oeuvre.
Noon at Five O’Clock: The Collected Short Stories of Arthur Yap
For the first time ever, the rarely-seen short stories of Arthur Yap are brought together in a single volume of collected work. These short stories are less sprawling tales than miniature vignettes—or what Shirley Geok-lin Lim calls “his little area of animation”—all of which proffer glimpses into a mind constantly grappling with the aesthetics of global modernism with the lived experiences of modernity in a newly independent Singapore.
If We Dream Too Long
Widely regarded as the first Singapore novel, If We Dream Too Long explores the dilemmas and challenges faced by its hero, Kwang Meng, as he navigates the difficult transitional period between youthful aspirations and the external demands of society and family. Since its first publication in 1972, Goh's novel has moved and delighted generations of readers and was most recently given a new lease of life and adapted into an interactive theatre-dinner production by Marc Nair and AndSoForth in May 2016.
Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature
This volume, which chronologically surveys literary work from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, broadens the idea of a national literature with its inclusion of stories and poems from the Malay Annals and the Straits Chinese Magazine, as well as classic and forgotten work by Lee Kok Liang and Kassim Ahmad. With its rich offerings of primary material and criticism, Writing Singapore is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in Singapore literature.
Remembering the Fall of Singapore February 15, 2017 12:30
On 15 February 1942, Singapore—famously dubbed the “impregnable fortress” and the final British stronghold in Southeast Asia—fell to advancing Japanese troops after a violent campaign that killed 7,000 soldiers on both sides. The Fall of Singapore was, in NUS Press author Ronnie McCrum’s words, “unprecedented in the annals of British history”; despite the portentous warnings of the Second World War erupting in the Pacific region, the surrendering of the ‘Gibraltar of the East’ to the Japanese nevertheless “stunned the British nation and the watching world.”
This week, we commemorate the events of 1942 and the Japanese Occupation with a reading list of NUS Press titles that offer in-depth perspectives of the watershed event and its aftermath:
The Men Who Lost Singapore, 1938–1942
This lively new monograph by military historian and retired British Army Officer Ronald McCrum provides an alternative perspective to existing accounts of the Fall of Singapore, all of which engage extensively with military strategy, focusing on the role of the Malaya Command. In contrast, McCrum highlights the vital role played by the civilian colonial administration, which not only failed to prepare the colony adequately for possible invasion, but also created distractions and hostile working relations with the military command. The Men Who Lost Singapore levels a fresh charge against forgotten agents in history, and significantly expands the current body of scholarship about the Asia-Pacific theater of the Second World War.
War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore
Having lived through the Japanese Occupation for more than two years, how did the survivors of wartime Malaya remember and reconstruct the trauma associated with the period? How has its memory been shaped by individuals, communities, and states? What’s at stake in the very act of remembrance? Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack present compelling and richly-illustrated instances where wartime memory and postcolonial exigencies collide, for example, in the debates around the design and construction of the Civilian War Memorial, and the representation of wartime heroism in post-war Malayan cinema.
Asian Labor in the Wartime Japanese Empire
During the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asian, thousands of Prisoners-of-War were sent to work on the Thailand–Burma Railway, which—given the dismal conditions of labor—was also dubbed the “Death Railway.” In this volume of essays, edited by Paul Kratoska, an international group of specialists on the Japanese Occupation examine the labor needs and the management of workers throughout the expanding Japanese empire, with a particular view to the experiences of Asian laborers, whose voices are often left out of mainstream narratives.
In this classic study of the Japanese Occupation and its aftermath, Cheah Boon Kheng performs the groundbreaking task of engaging with vast archives about the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army, which was a communist-led guerrilla resistance movement that formed during the Japanese Occupation and emerged as a significant force of liberation after the war. Now in its fourth edition, Red Star Over Malaya examines the ethnic and racial lines that divided Malaya after the surrender of the Japanese, and continues to shed light on the conditions that shaped Malaysia and Singapore during the turbulent period of decolonization.
New Perspectives on the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Singapore, 1941–45
After their surrender, the Japanese military systematically destroyed war-related documents, severely limiting the range of Japanese-language primary sources about the Occupation in Singapore and Malaya. This volume represents an international effort to gather primary materials from libraries and archives in Britain, Malaysia, Singapore, USA, Australia and India, to illuminate new findings and reconstruct the history of the Japanese Occupation.
Guns of February, an equal-parts novelistic and scholarly work, highlights the experiences of the Japanese soldiers who fought during the Malayan Campaign. In this book, Henry Frei sensitively examines the prevailing ultra-nationalist ideologies that propelled young Japanese men to risk their lives for their country, and provides much-needed perspective on an imperial war fought on an impossibly alien terrain.
Playing for Malaya: A Eurasian Family in the Pacific War
Rebecca Kenneison’s Playing for Malaya is a literary and meticulously researched work that vividly describes, in minute detail, the everyday conditions of wartime Malaya. This is a memoir that depicts the experiences of a Eurasian family in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation in all its grim details, revealing in the process the intertwined registers of heroism, tragedy, and endurance.
Five Minutes with Sarah Tiffin February 10, 2017 09:00
When Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles published his landmark book The History of Java in 1817, ruins were far more than the architectural detritus of a former age. Images of ruins reminded people of the transience of human achievements, and stimulated broader philosophical enquiries into the rise and decline of entire empires. In this edition of Five Minutes with ..., we speak with Sarah Tiffin, author of Southeast Asia in Ruins: Art and Empire in the Early 19th Century, who shares with us how art history has become a useful source to understanding colonialism and why portrayals of the "Other" will continue to pique public imaginations.
Colonial art seems undervalued/understudied as a resource that could potentially yield insights into colonial perspectives and preoccupations; why do you think this is so?
Actually, I think a great deal of really interesting and thought provoking work has been done on colonial art, particularly by art historians responding to the ideas initially raised by Edward Said and the ensuing debates surrounding his work. Certainly, their work has had an influence on my own. But I think that in the area I am interested in— the work of British artists in Southeast Asia—there is room for a great deal more scholarship. So often in discussions of British art and empire, the work of British artists in Southeast Asia is overlooked. I think the dominance of India in British imperial thinking and experience has had a big part in this, and it is understandable given the huge quantity of materials that were produced as a result of British rule in India. But there is also a wealth of fascinating material relating to the British in Southeast Asia that could generate some really interesting new scholarship.
A painting by William Daniell titled, ‘The large temple at Brambánan’, from T.S. Raffles, The History of Java, Vol. 2 (London: 1817)
(Image courtesy of The Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library)
Your previous book was about the depiction of Chinese poets by a Japanese artist in the seventeenth century. Have you always been intrigued by the politics of representation behind the portrayals of a culture by others?
Do you know, I hadn’t really thought about that connection before as the starting points for my books were very different. My first book was produced for a small art exhibition that was based around a pair of Japanese screens—it explored the iconography of the screens within the context of 17th century Japan. Southeast Asia in Ruins, on the other hand, grew out of a doctoral dissertation and my studies in Southeast Asian history as well as my interest in British art. What I am particularly interested in is socio-political context, in how art reflects the society in which it is created and at the same time, it also influences that society.
In Southeast Asia in Ruins, you explore how the British saw the ruined candi as evidence of a cultural, and indeed civilisational, decline of Southeast Asian peoples. Did the British apply this line of thinking to their other colonies, or were such notions particular to the Southeast Asian region?
The linking ruins, or images of ruins, with ideas about cultural decline was an essential part of late 18th and early 19th century ruin appreciation. The remains of the past allowed people to derive a melancholic pleasure from contemplating the transience of even the most grandiose of humankind’s deeds and designs, including the demise of entire empires. For British ruin enthusiasts, the fall of civilisation was most throughly associated with Rome—most famously in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire—but this thinking was also extended to the remains of past civilisations in other parts of the world. The British response to Southeast Asia’s ruins, then, was not a unique one, but part of a wider expression of ruin sentiment.
A painting by William Daniell titled ‘Prome, from the heights occupied by His Majesty’s 13th Light Infantry’, from James Kershaw, Views in the Burman Empire (London, 1831)
(Image courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)
What piqued your interest in images of Southeast Asian ruins that were idealised popular colonial British imagination?
When I first looked at Raffles’ The History of Java, I was struck by the beauty of Daniell’s aquatint ruin plates. I was familiar with the images of Indian architecture he and his uncle Thomas had created for the superb Oriental Scenery, but I had not seen his images of the Javanese remains before and I felt they really deserved more attention. Similarly, the engraved vignettes by a number of British printmakers that are scattered throughout Raffles’s text are really lovely and very fascinating, yet I found very little had been published on them, or on the wealth of archaeological drawings now held in the collections of the British Library, the British Museum and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. It has been something of a labour of love, and I hope it might encourage other people to look at these wonderful collections for their own research projects.
William Daniell, A Javan in the court dress (plate from The History of Java by Thomas Stamford Raffles, London : 1817, vol. 1), coloured antiquint
(Image courtesy of the Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library)
What is your next project? Will you return to the museum/gallery scene?
I am currently working on a study of Southeast Asia in 17th century English poetry, prose, pageantry and drama, looking at how authors responded to the aspirations and experiences of English merchants then active in the region, and the changing political and economic imperatives at home and abroad. I’m keen to keep working on this project over the next couple of years, but apart from that, I’m not sure what the future holds!
(Image provided by Dr Tiffin)
Five Minutes with Ross King February 03, 2017 09:00
Memories, while often thought to be intimate personal recollections, can be
interpreted through a collective lens, where memories and experiences of individuals are weaved together to form collective memories that influence the larger community. In his latest book, Heritage and Identity in Contemporary Thailand: Memory, Place and Power, Ross King situates the notions of social memory, place and power to make sense of the production of Thai heritage and the identity of the Thai people.
In this edition of Five Minutes with, we speak with Prof King to discuss how memories and sites of memories (be it grand locations or everyday settings) contribute to and shape a country’s heritage, and whether the recent passing of the revered King Bhumibol will further polarise Thai society.
What made you decide to delve into the world of contemporary Thailand again, given that your previous book, Reading Bangkok, was also focused on the country?
Heritage and Identity in Contemporary Thailand, quite simply, emerged from my teaching in Thailand. Thai research students, in my experience, tend to be assiduous in the pursuit of good data but there is generally an inhibiting difficulty in bringing sharp, critical thinking to bear of the real issues to which those data might relate. Over the years I have supervised some 32 Thai PhD students; some have produced excellent work but it has not been internationally publishable because of the lack of self-reflection and the failure of critical thinking. My aim in Heritage and Identity was therefore to show how theoretically informed, critical thought might be mobilized to throw light on the phenomena of Thai heritage and identity.
(Image credit: Milei.vencel/ Wikimedia Commons)
What was the process of writing Heritage and Identity in Contemporary Thailand like?
It is based on 12 PhD theses and on subsequent work of those scholars. On the basis of my reading of that work I would write a chapter—an essay—that could address the book’s theme of the intersections of memory, place and power. There would then be various interchanges of ideas and drafts between myself and the 12 co-authors until I could get the manuscript to a coherent text. It was a difficult book to write because it was neither one thing nor the other—neither a consistent, single-authored book written to a tight intellectual agenda, nor an edited collection from separate, different authors. Despite the difficulties, I strongly believe that it is a powerful way to bring Southeast Asian scholars to publication, also to bring critical reflection to the work of such scholars.
In this book, there is a large focus on spaces and landscapes in Thailand, such as temples and palaces, as sites of memories. What about these places drew you to explore further into their historical background?
Heritage is always linked to memory—it is what we remember and which thereby defines who we are. And yes, I am certainly interested in the grand sites of memory such as temples and palaces; far more, however, my interest is in the ordinary ‘environments of memory’—the home, the street, the village and the memories that attach to them, for these are the real wellsprings of identity, also of creativity. Further, they are the real heritage of a people.
The book is structured in such a way that its first half dwells on the present memories that attach to ancient places: temples, palaces, remnants of past ages—to the things that might define some officially sanctioned idea of ‘the Nation’; in the second half, it moves on to memories that resonate through everyday life—a canal (khlong), a small street (soi), village, local customs, the home, family.
Fishing Village in Narathiwat
(Image credit: preetamrai/ Wikimedia Commons)
With regards to the recent passing of the revered King Bhumibol, how would the notions of memories and identities of the Thai people relate to the social cohesion of the country? Do you think his passing would deepen the polarization of the Thai community?
Thailand’s is not a unitary culture. Rather, it is an assemblage of diverse ethnicities and cultures. There is generally some sense of harmony, except in relations between central Thailand (mostly Bangkok) and the Northeast (Isan). There is a profoundly cultural base to the division—the people of Isan are, mostly, not Thai but Lao; there are language differences. The rift has stretched over centuries with its origins in ancient conflicts but, even more, in exploitation and brutality leveled by Bangkok against Isan, notably since the 1930s. Hence the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts of the present era. King Bhumibol, though controversial especially in his relationships with Thailand’s military coups, had since the 1950s expressed concerns for the depressed conditions of the Isan region. It is notable that, with King Bhumibol’s failing health in recent decades, his previous conciliatory role also failed. Simply, the new King will not be able to replicate his father’s role as the great conciliator. Polarisation will proceed apace.
Portrait painting of King Bhumibol Adulyadej
(Image credit: Government of Thailand/ Wikimedia Commons)
You mentioned in your book that Thai heritage is sustained by the “preservation of deprivation”, maintaining the entrenched inequalities amongst the Thai people. What are your thoughts on how the Thais can bridge this deep divide in their society? Is there any possibility at all?
At one level, it is heritage tourism that is thus sustained. At a deeper level, the book invokes dependency theory to demonstrate how dependency—exploitation—works at a diversity of scales throughout the society. Most seriously it underlies that rift between a Bangkok elite (royalist, middle-class, military) and a repressed Isan. So, what can be done about this? The starting point has to be an understanding of and respect for different memories and experiences—Bangkok must come to understand the tragic history and present condition of Isan, also to understand Bangkok’s continuing role in that tragedy.
Will your next research project be revisiting Thailand or has a new subject matter piqued your interest?
I have a book on Seoul to be published later this year from Hawai‘i University Press. More to the present point, I have completed a book (not yet in press) titled The Tragedy of Isan. Its argument is that the tragedy is one of mis-interpretation: the long history of the rift and its causes has been suppressed, it is not to be remembered. (Even the National Museum in Bangkok virtually ignores Isan, despite its being one-third of the country.) Instead, the rift will be explained by the elites simply as Northeasterner inferiority—“water buffaloes”, they will be labeled—while Isan perspectives will perceive the elites as forever anti-democratic. It is yet again a problem of suppressed memory, and the interpretative task—therefore the task of The Tragedy of Isan—is to strip away suppressed memory. To expose tragic history. In a more positive sense, The Tragedy of Isan is not only to interpret the tragedy and its roots, but also to celebrate the real glory of the culture of Isan and to assert that, in the richness of that heritage, are the tools of reconciliation.
Soft Launch of Southeast of Now at the National Museum of Singapore January 26, 2017 09:00
In conjunction with the Singapore Biennale 2016 Symposium, NUS Press’s newest journal dedicated to art history in the region—Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia—was launched at the National Museum of Singapore’s Gallery Theatre last Sunday (22 January).
(Image credit: Pallavi Narayan)
A panel that included renowned art historians John Clark, Patrick D. Flores and T.K. Sabapathy, NUS Press Director Peter Schoppert, as well as two members of the Southeast of Now editorial collective Simon Soon and Yvonne Low, discussed the significance of producing an academic journal dedicated to contemporary art in the region.
Left to right: Yvonne Low, Simon Soon, T.K. Sabapathy, John Clark, Patrick D. Flores
and Peter Schoppert
(Image credit: Sebastian Song)
John Clark, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney, opened the session with remarks about the role of journals in forming and sustaining epistemic communities. He spoke on Southeast of Now’s potential to engage “laterally” with other clusters of research within the general field of art history and contemporary arts scholarship, and praised the “chutzpah of young art historians in the field,” citing this as evidence of a thriving community of researchers.
(Image credit: Sebastian Song)
Thereafter, T.K. Sabapathy, a leading authority on art history in Singapore and Malaysia, considered the role of publishers and university presses in fostering an environment conducive to research: “NUS Press,” he rejoined half-jokingly, “has woken up.”
Patrick D. Flores, Curator of the Vargas Museum, Manila, and a professor with the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines, suggested that the journal represents a new development in the professionalization of arts research. He added that the journal also provides young arts researchers invaluable opportunities for acknowledging the “different system of knowledge-making in the region.”
(Image credit: Sebastian Song)
Peter Schoppert elaborated on the series of decisions that led to NUS Press’s acquisition of the journal. According to him, the editorial collective’s energy levels, commitment and openness were “impressive,” and, interestingly, their proposals were also accompanied by “rumours” of their ambition and ability spread by their teachers, supervisors and mentors. To end the panel, he quoted extensively from an interview—included in the first issue of the journal—with Stanley J. O’Connor, on the idea that in the face of global upheaval and changes in the production and practice of art, “nothing can be more important than the decentering of the art world,” a process which is “by no means automatic.”
(Image credit: Sebastian Song)
Southeast of Now will be published twice a year (March and October). Register with Project MUSE to enjoy free previews of Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 2017) and Vol. 2, No. 2 (October 2017). For editorial enquiries, contact the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to find out more subscription rates and to subscribe to the journal.
January-June 2017 Highlights January 13, 2017 11:00
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) turns 50 this year, making The ASEAN Miracle: The Catalyst for Peace a timely tribute to the history (and future) of the regional body. Written by Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kyan Yew School of Public Policy, and Jeffrey Sng, the book highlight the strengths of the ASEAN model of international cooperation, and in the words of Amitav Acharya, the book is a “a powerful and passionate account of how, against all odds, ASEAN transformed the region.”
Turning closer to Singapore’s shores, Chua Beng Huat examines the rejection of Western-style liberalism and continued hegemony of the People’s Action Party in his thought-provoking book, Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore. Chua analyses the areas in public policies that are foundational to the political, economic and social stability of Singapore, making his book a valuable read for readers who are interested in Singapore's political economy and public affairs.
While many have lamented that countless books have already been written on the Fall of Singapore (which is commemorated on February 15, 1942), Ronald McCrum’s The Men Who Lost Singapore, 1938—1942 will be a valuable addition to the literature of the Japanese Occupation and Pacific War. Professor Greg Kennedy has commended the book as “a must-read for anyone wishing to understand why Singapore's fall occurred in the manner it did."
Fast-forwarding readers to the 1960s and 1970s, Daniel Chua focuses on Singapore’s relations with the United States under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon in US-Singapore Relations, 1965-1975: Strategic Non-alignment in the Cold War. Chua argues that against the backdrop of the US’s policy of containment at the height of the Cold War, the superpower took a great interest in Singapore’s nation-building and was integral to Singapore’s development. This counters the well-trodden narrative of Singapore's growth from “Third World to First” merely because of good governance.
CONTEMPORARY ART HISTORY
David Teh’s Thai Art: Currencies of the Contemporary examines the tension between the global and the local in Thai contemporary art. The first serious study of Thai contemporary art since 1992, Teh analyses the work of artists who straddle the local and the global, against the backdrop of sustained political and economic turmoil.
Last but not least, Yvonne Spielmann’s Contemporary Indonesian Art: Artists, Art Spaces, and Collectors is a comprehensive overview of artists, curators, institutions, and collectors in the Indonesian contemporary art scene. Spielmann demonstrates how contemporary art breaks from colonial and post-colonial power structures, and grapples with issues of identity and nation-building in Indonesia.
We will also be launching a new art history journal Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia this year. It will be published twice a year (March and October) and you can enjoy free previews of the inaugural issue (Vol. 1, No. 1 [March 2017]) and Vol. 1, No. 2 (October 2017) by registering with Project MUSE.
Subsequent issues from Vol. 2, No. 1 (March 2018) will be available upon subscription. Subscription form is availabe here.
Events to Start The New Year January 06, 2017 11:30
Professor Kenneth Dean and Dr Hue Guan Thye will be launching their magnum opus Chinese Epigraphy in Singapore, 1819-1911 at the POD at the National Library on 10 January (Tuesday), 6.30-9pm. The event is free to attend but registration is required via Eventbrite.
In this two-volume set, Professor Dean and Dr Hue have painstakingly recorded and translated over 1,300 epigraphic records of 62 Chinese temples, native place associations, clan and guild halls. These materials, dating from 1819 to 1911, include temple plaques, couplets, stone inscriptions, stone and bronze censers, and other inscribed objects found in these institutions. Available in Chinese and English, this reference set opens a window into the world of Chinese communities in Singapore.
Chinese Epigraphy in Singapore, 1819-1911 is available at S$220 for the whole month of January (original retail price: S$245). Enter the code ChineseEpigraphy during checkout to enjoy free delivery in Singapore.
On a more art-historical note, we will be soft-launching a new art history journal, Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, at the National Museum of Singapore Gallery Theatre on 22 January (Sunday), 6.30-7.30pm. It will be held on the second day of the Singapore Biennale Symposium (21-22 January).
The launch is free (and you can attend it without a Symposium ticket) but registration via Eventbrite is required.
You can purchase tickets for the weekend-long symposium via Sistic: http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/csb0117 (S$50 for a 1-day pass and S$90 for a 2-day pass).
Cover photo taken by Michael James Colbourne, 'David Medalla in an impromptu shot before rice-planters, with Sonia Monillas, Rizal province, Philippines, 1959.’ (Collection of David Medalla, 'another vacant space', Berlin).
Southeast of Now presents a necessarily diverse range of perspectives not only on the contemporary and modern art of Southeast Asia, but indeed of the region itself: its borders, its identity, its efficacy and its limitations as a geographical marker and a conceptual category. The first issue will be officially published in March 2017 and it will be published twice a year (March and October).
Register with Project MUSE to enjoy free previews of Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 2017) and Vol. 1, No. 2 (October 2017). Subsequent issues (print and digital) will be available upon subscription.
For editorial enquiries, contact the editors at email@example.com.
For subscription enquiries, contact the National University of Singapore Press at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NUS Press Highlights of 2016 December 27, 2016 10:30
While 2016 has proven to be a rather bleak and tumultuous year, we are proud to have published some books that will continue to have much bearing in the new year ahead.
All eyes will continue to be on Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency as it implements plans of restoring peatland to prevent haze crises (like that of 2015) from engulfing the region again.
Two NUS Press books, Catastrophe and Regeneration in Indonesia’s Peatlands (edited by Kosuke Mizuno, Motoko S. Fujita and Shuichi Kawai) and The Oil Palm Complex (edited by Rob Cramb and John McCarthy) touched on some agricultural and labour challenges that Malaysia and Indonesia are facing within the oil palm industry and peatland agriculture. In his review of both books in The Jakarta Post, James Erbaugh commented that both titles “provide scholarship that elucidates the complexities of oil palm production, and the challenges presented by peatland agriculture as well as peatland restoration.”
Indonesia’s gubernatorial election is set to take place in February 2017 and Edward Aspinall’s and Mada Sukmajati’s edited volume, Electoral Dynamics in Indonesia will be handy for observers as it provides greater insight into the patronage systems and money politics at the grassroots level.
In the field of maritime developments: Tensions in the South China Sea will continue to have much bearing on US-China and China-ASEAN relations in 2017. Ng Chin-keong’s collection of essays, Boundaries and Beyond, provides a novel way of understanding the nature of maritime China, and the undercurrent of social and economic forces that have created new boundaries between China and the rest of the world.
Lastly, in light of the 29th Southeast Asian Games taking place in Kuala Lumpur next year, Stephen Huebner’s Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913-1974 explores the role international sporting competitions had in shaping discourses of nationalism and development across Asian states. As one of the first major studies of the history of sports in Asia, Dr Huebner’s book provides a compelling window into the intersection between sports and politics in the region.
The history of pre-independence Singapore remained a staple to our publishing programme this year, with Timothy Barnard’s Nature’s Colony shedding much light on the Singapore Botanic Gardens' lively history. Professor Barnard examined the Gardens’ changing role in a developing Singapore—from colonial times under the charge of several colourful Superintendents and Directors, to today, as a World Heritage Site.
On a more personal level, social work pioneer Ann Wee reminisces about her eventful life in Singapore. Her memoir A Tiger Remembers ruminates on the Singaporean family, and presents the reader with a series of charming vignettes from her life that captures the nuanced transformation of Singaporean society over the years. These intimate recollections, all told in exquisite detail and rich with insight, are testament to the vibrant cultural heritage of the nation.
We are also proud to have published Professor Kenneth Dean and Dr Hue Guan Thye's two-volume set, Chinese Epigraphy in Singapore, 1819-1911, which has been described by Claudine Salmon, Director of Research Emeritus at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris to be a "a repository of Singapore cultural and historical heritage." The collation of over 1,300 epigraphic records is a breakthrough in the telling of the Singapore story and according to Prof Dean, "such inscriptions provide snippets of what life was like in 19th and early 20th century Singapore, and capture the diverse cross-section of society at that time."
SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART HISTORY
What importance does art hold in the representation of history?
In the context of the portrayal of Southeast Asia by its colonial masters, Sarah Tiffin’s Southeast Asia in Ruins explores how the British justified colonialism through imperial art. Dr Tiffin will be speaking at the National Gallery Singapore on 25 February 2017 about British artists' portrayal of Southeast Asian civilization(s) in ruins in Stamford Raffles' The History of Java, and the role that these artists (and their work) played in Britain’s imperial ambitions in Southeast Asia.
In 2017, photographers and photojournalists will continue to play a vital role in exposing the realities of an increasingly authoritarian Southeast Asia. Zhuang Wubin’s Photography in Southeast Asia will be a useful introduction to the discourse of photographic practices in the region as his survey provides insights into the role images play in shaping Southeast Asian society, culture and politics.
Five Minutes with Brian Bernards November 22, 2016 15:00
In this special edition of our author-interview series, Professor Philip Holden from the National University of Singapore conducted an email interview with Professor Brian Bernards on the occasion of the publication of the Southeast Asian edition of Writing the South Seas: Imagining the Nanyang in Chinese and Southeast Asian Postcolonial Literature. An assistant professor at the University of Southern California, Bernards works in three languages – English, Chinese, and Thai—and his book thus gives a revisionary perspective on the literatures of the region, and indeed the way in which we imagine Southeast Asia itself.
Professor Holden's and Professor Bernards' exchange was first published on singaporepoetry.com. We are pleased to present some excerpts of their lively discussions:
Philip Holden: As someone who has been studying auto/biography, I’m always interested in the life stories of scholars. What drew you to study Chinese and Thai? And what fostered your interest in the literatures of Southeast Asia?
Brian Bernards: When I was 9 years old, a family from Shanghai (a father, mother, and their 2-year-old daughter) moved in with my family at our home in Minneapolis. The father was studying engineering at the University of Minnesota, and the mother, who later went on to study accounting, became our live-in babysitter. On occasion, our two families had meals together, and the boiled dumplings (shui jiao) our sitter cooked became quickly my new favorite dish. Our good friends from Shanghai lived with us for about two years, when the father graduated and found a plush job in Milwaukee. Starting high school about three years later in 1992, I opted to take Mandarin because of my prior exposure to Chinese culture (and cuisine!). I first traveled to mainland China in 1998, where I studied for a year at Sichuan University in Chengdu. My language professor recommended Chengdu because she had done research there, she knew I wanted to tread beyond the typical path of studying in Beijing, Shanghai, or Taipei, and, most importantly, she knew I would like the spicy ma-la food there. Living and attending school in Chengdu certainly opened my eyes, and my taste buds, to new experiences, flavors, and possibilities.
PH: Given your exposure to different disciplines, what are your thoughts on inter-disciplinary studies?
BB: I have always enjoyed literature (especially fiction and poetry), music, and film. As a student and traveler, I felt I could better connect with a place, a culture, a society, and its history through the very personal stories and creative imagination conveyed in fiction and memoirs by authors who were from or who were very familiar with that society. While Southeast Asian studies in the US is largely a social science-oriented field, I was fortunate to take history and anthropology classes as an undergraduate from professors who, rather than assigning dry textbook readings, assigned novels by authors such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer, José Rizal, Duong Thu Huong, Ma Ma Lay, and Kukrit Pramoj, to be read in conjunction with course lectures. I was very inspired by this approach to history and cultural studies, not only because it put the human impact of historical events and social transformations in relatable narratives rather than abstract figures, but also because the micro-histories we encountered in such literary narratives often challenged or even contradicted the standard interpretations and “big picture” perspectives taken for granted in the official histories. I am grateful to my teachers for cultivating the approach that would stick with me as I moved forward into graduate studies.
PH: What was the process of writing Writing the South Seas like?
BB: Writing the South Seas began as a way of combining my interests and background knowledge in modern Chinese literature, Southeast Asian studies, and postcolonial literary theory in an attempt to make a novel contribution, and hopefully a type of critical intervention, in each field. I felt the varying approaches from these different fields could be mutually illuminating in ways that the disciplines had yet to sufficiently consider. Mainly, I sought to bring a Southeast Asia-centered perspective to the study of literatures in Chinese on and from the region. Luckily, I conceived the project at the time that Sinophone studies was emerging and bringing about a sea-change in the modern Chinese literary field. Sinophone studies not only emphasizes cultural networks across national and ethnic boundaries, but also seeks to situate such networks locally in their multilingual milieu. In this sense, my interests in Anglophone literature and Thai-language literature from Southeast Asia, which might have otherwise been seen as irrelevant or marginal to modern Chinese literary studies, could provide an insightful comparative perspective that showcased the cross-lingual interactions and relationships of these Sinophone literary networks. I owe a significant intellectual debt to the pioneering work of Shih Shu-mei in this regard.
PH: The cover of your book will have a particular resonance for many Malaysians and Singaporeans. Could you explain this?
BB: I really have you to thank for this, Prof Holden, as you were the first person to recommend Suchen Christine Lim’s novel Fistful of Colours to me when I began researching Anglophone authors in Singapore. As you know, at the end of the novel, the protagonist returns to Kuala Jelai, her home village in Malaysia, from Singapore, and she becomes moved viewing the large wall murals while waiting for her train at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. When I read this passage, I wanted to see the murals myself, though at the time I had no idea they would later provide the source material for the cover of my book.
That was before the station closed. When it was operational, the station, along with the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway tracks, was an important living legacy of the intimate relationship, common colonial history, and shared culture between the two countries. Now that it is closed, it can only serve as a “heritage site” – a relic or a reminder of that past. For a lot of Malaysians and Singaporeans who grew up when the two societies were more integrated, Tanjong Pagar is bound to be a source of nostalgia, especially because it conjures a more rustic landscape and older colonial architecture that contrasts with the image of Singapore as a city of glistening skyscrapers and squeaky-clean air-conditioned malls. I think this nostalgic sentiment regarding the railway station is quite obvious in “Parting,” director Boo Junfeng’s contribution to the omnibus film, 7 Letters: he uses the space of Tanjong Pagar to tell the story of an interethnic romance against the backdrop of racial riots in the 1960s.
Interior of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, 2010
(Image credit: Jacklee, Wikimedia Commons)
Of the six triptych murals in the station, the one with the commercial maritime focus showing the harbour was the most relevant to my book in its entirety, so I commissioned an image of that mural for the cover. The different types of ocean vessels in the image, from a sampan to a junk to a passenger steamship, really captured the varying modes of maritime crossings and convergences that the Nanyang has historically signified. And it’s beautifully done.
NUS Press would like to thank singaporepoetry.com's founding editor, Koh Jee Leong for granting permission to republish these excerpts.
Sayonara, 2016 Singapore Writers Festival November 18, 2016 17:00
With Japan as its country focus, the 19th Singapore Writers Festival came to an end last weekend after ten action-packed days of literary talks, discussions, music, and performances.
NUS Press was proud to have been one of five publishers featured in The Paper Trail, a backroom tour of Singapore publishers led by poet Yong Shu Hoong on November 5. Our director Peter Schoppert addressed a group of about 30 people and gave a quick overview of the history of the university press, and how it came to establish a foothold in the academic publishing scene in Asia.
(Image credit: Caroline Wan, National Arts Council)
(Image credit: Yong Shu Hoong)
(Image credit: Caroline Wan, National Arts Council)
On November 6, two of our authors, Lim Cheng Tju, co-author of The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, and Mrs Ann Wee, author of A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore, appeared on a panel alongside Nilanjana Sengupta at the Asian Civilisations Museum to share how everyday experiences, lesser-known stories, and oral histories are crucial for a better understanding of Singapore's past.
(From left to right) Nilanjana Sengupta, Lim Cheng Tju and Ann Wee
(Image credit: Chye Shu Wen).
Last but not least, we caught the matinee performance of The Finger Players’ love-letter to Singapore’s literary history, Between the Lines: Rant and Rave II. It was a delight to watch Serene Chen and Jean Ng act out key literary milestones in the development of Singapore’s cultural landscape. We were thrilled to have had some of our publications and authors (Edwin Thumboo, Arthur Yap and Goh Poh Seng to name just a few) featured in this play.
(Image credit: Chye Shu Wen)
At the end of the play, the stage became a pop-up shop for 30 minutes and it was heartening to see audience members stream down to the stage to browse through and purchase the books that were featured in the play.
(Image credit: Chye Shu Wen)
We look forward to the 20th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival, which is set to take place from 2–13 November 2017.
NUS Press at the 2016 Singapore Writers Festival November 04, 2016 11:00
NUS Press is pleased to be participating in this year's Singapore Writers Festival (SWF)! Themed "Sayang," the festival will feature close to 320 writers, speakers and performers between November 4–13.
To celebrate, we are offering special prices for this selection of titles!
We will also be featured in these main events:
Singapore Untold | 6 Nov, 1–2pm |
Asian Civilisations Museum (Ngee Ann Auditorium)
Our authors, Ann Wee, a pioneer of social work education in Singapore and author of A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore, and Lim Cheng Tju, co-author of The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, will be appear in this panel alongside Nilanjana Sengupta to discuss why they have written stories that are often not found in Singapore history textbooks. They will also talk about their experience of uncovering and writing these stories.
You can attend this event with a SWF Festival Pass (S$20), which is available via SISTIC.
Ann Wee (left) and Lim Cheng Tju (right) (Image sources: Singapore Writers Festival).
Between the Lines: Rant & Rave II | 4–6 Nov, various times |
School of the Arts (SOTA) Studio Theatre
Simultaneously a crash course in, and a love letter to SingLit, Between The Lines: Rant & Rave II will take you on an odyssey of the evolution of the English-language literature scene in Singapore through the decades. Actors Serene Chen and Jean Ng as they take on the roles of real-life poets, novelists, publishers and many more in this loving tribute to the written word.
NUS Press is pleased that a number of books and authors we have published (from Edwin Thumboo's 1973 book, Seven Poets: Singapore and Malaysia, to Arthur Yap's Collected Poems) will be featured in this performance!
Between the Lines was commissioned by SWF and is presented by The Finger Players. Tickets (S$35) are available via SISTIC.
Serene Chen and Jean Ng rehearsing for "Between the Lines" (Image courtesy of The National Arts Council).
The Paper Trail: A Backroom Tour of Singapore Publishers (SOLD OUT) |
5 Nov, 9am–1pm | Various locations
Launch of "Nature's Colony" at the Singapore Botanic Gardens October 21, 2016 11:00
Timothy Barnard launched his latest book, Nature’s Colony: Empire, Nation and Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on October 14, as part of the Gardens' regular speaker series.
(Photos courtesy of Sebastian Song)
Professor Barnard centred his talk around the history of the Gardens and its broader impact beyond its bounadries in environmental, political, and
(Photos courtesy of Sebastian Song)
Professor Barnard explained that the botanic gardens was established as a private park between 1869 and 1874. By the early 1870s, the British realised that it had the potential of becoming a key colonial institution because imperial botany was seen as a tool that could strengthen empire (i.e. rubber seeds could be harvested in Singapore and Malaya, which could then be traded as a commodity).
The ever-changing position of the Singapore Botanic Gardens in society and politics over time has also often been overlooked: Professor Barnard emphasised the Gardens' precarious position as a colonial institution in a decolonialising society in a post-Merdeka era.
Humphrey Burkill, Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1957 to 1969, leading a tour of government officials at the opening of the “renovated” herbarium in October 1964 (Source: Ministry of Information and Arts Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore).
One of the highights of the talk was a segment on Henry Ridley, the Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens between 1888 and 1912. Ridley was seen as “mad” by many of his contemporaries within the colonial government in Singapore due to his quirks and views of how the Singapore Botanic Gardens should be developed.
Ridley accomplished a lot during his tenure as director—from overseeing the set up of a short-lived zoo (1875-1905), to the establishing an Economic Garden within the park. Ridley also had the foresight to see that planting oil palm would have economic advantages for the region.
Henry Ridley with a small panther (Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew).
The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session that was moderated by the Group Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Dr Nigel Taylor.
(Photo courtesy of Sebastian Song)
At the end of the talk, many queued up patiently for Barnard to sign their copies of Nature’s Colony.
(Photos courtesy of Sebastian Song)
We would like to thank the Singapore Botanic Gardens for hosting the launch. If you would like to hear snippets of what Barnard said that day, you can check out his interview with talkshow host, Michelle Martin, on 93.8 Live’s Culture Café here, where he discussed his book and the history of the Gardens.
Launch of "Photography in Southeast Asia" in Singapore October 18, 2016 17:00
Zhuang Wubin's Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey was launched at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film on October 13, 2016. The launch featured a dialogue between Zhuang and famed street photographer, Chia Aik Beng, followed by a lively question and answer session.
(Photo courtesy of Kevin Lee)
Zhuang and Chia discussed the influence and impact social media has had on photography. When asked by Zhuang about the advantages and disadvantages of using Instagram as a platform for showcasing work, Chia said, "Instagram is a social media platform; it is not a photo gallery or website. If I'm on a project, I will share some images [on my Instagram account], to tease people and then direct them to my website. This is how I distribute information."
For a detailed transcript of what was discussed during the book launch, you can read Invisible Photographer Asia's coverage of it here. We are grateful to Objectifs for sponsoring the venue for this book launch, and to Kevin Lee for being the official photographer of the event.
NUS Press Book Launches in October 2016 October 07, 2016 15:00
October is looking up to be a very busy but exciting month for us with three book launches taking place in Singapore!
BOOK LAUNCH & DIALOGUE
Zhuang Wubin will moderate a short exchange with street photographer Aik Beng Chia about the digitisation of photography. This dialogue will be followed by an open Q&A session, and limited copies of the book will be available for sale at a special price of S$40 (inclusive of GST).
AUTHOR TALK & BOOK LAUNCH
Timothy Barnard will be sharing his perspective about the Singapore Botanic Gardens being "nature’s colony," its impact in the nation and the environment as part of the Gardens' Speaker Series. He will also be launching his new book, Nature’s Colony, and it will be available for sale at a special price of $28.90 (inclusive of GST). A book signing session by Professor Barnard will also be scheduled at the end of the talk.
NUSS Guild House will be hosting the launch of Mrs Ann Wee's new book. Known as one of Singapore’s pioneer social work educators, Mrs Wee shares her experiences in pre-independence Singapore frankly and with great humour in her memoir. Copies of the book will be available for sale at a special price of S$15 (inclusive of GST). A book signing session by Mrs Wee will also be scheduled at the end of the launch.
International Translation Day: Five Minutes with Frank Palmos September 30, 2016 09:20
Why does translation matter?
The rise of works being translated into English in recent years seems to have made that question a rhetorical one, and it is clear that English readers are becoming more interested in literary and non-fiction works that have been written in different languages.
The rousing reception towards translated non-fiction work, like Thomas Piketty’s bestseller, Capital in the 21st Century (translated by Arthur Goldhammer), and literary works like this year’s Man Booker International winner, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (translated by Deborah Smith), shows that translators are set to take on a more major role in the world of publishing.
To celebrate International Translation Day, which falls on 30 September every year, we caught up with Frank Palmos, the acclaimed journalist, historian, and translator of works such as Bao Ninh’s award-winning The Sorrow of War, and more recently, Revolution in the City of Heroes, a first-hand account of Indonesian nationalists’ efforts to gain independence from the Dutch in Surabaya in 1945. Here, Dr Palmos shares his experience of translating and why translations are important for the preservation of memory and history.
Translators have been said to be literary activists, given that they play such a strong role in facilitating the travel of stories across borders of language. Can you tell us more about your experience in translating fiction (The Sorrow of War) and non-fiction (Revolution in the City of Heroes)?
The “borders” my languages had to cross borders were very local indeed. I was born in a tiny timber town in Central Victoria and schooled in a tiny one-roomed, six-class school of rarely more than 35 pupils, which was rated a hardship post for teachers, resulting in a rapid turnover of teachers and accents, from harsh Australian to middle-England or Northern Ireland.
My Irish-descended Australian-born mother, who spoke faultless, wonderfully clear English, married a Greek born man who never did master English (so he spoke with a Greek accent), and I learnt to both imitate and understand at a very early age. My neighbours were Scot-born, tough country folk whose harsh accents were also a good training for me. By the time I was ten years of age, I could entertain my classmates and certain adults by imitating all these accents.
The two books that you have translated deal with very heavy topics such as ideological battles and wars of independence. What draws you to translate stories like this?
I won a United Nations (UN) sponsored Fellowship in Djakarta (as it was known then) in 1961, administered by the Indonesian Foreign Office. Part of the reward was being able to live with Indonesian families of my choosing, which helped me learn about Indonesian people and their habits from early morning until late at night. I soon discovered almost every Indonesian spoke a regional language and Bahasa Indonesia, the national language. Hence I began to speak and mentally translate Sundanese as well as Indonesian when with my first family in Bandung.
I enjoyed listening to President Sukarno speak so much that I studied hard to attain a level that gave me confidence to request a position as an unofficial translator of President Sukarno’s annual August 17 Independence Day speeches. I was given the requisite passes to the Merdeka Palace and permission to hook up my headphones to an old National radio set.
President Sukarno (Source: Wikimedia Commons).
I was placed about 25 metres behind the president, facing away from him and towards the large assembly of diplomats and foreign press. I gave a passable simultaneous translation of his 1961 Independence Day speech. I hardly
remembered a word of it, but others said I got almost one half of the speech correct, without missing any important dot points. Sukarno often repeated his main points, which helped. Years later, my UN interpreter colleagues comforted me by saying they, too, hardly remembered any of their simultaneous translations. The brain switches itself into automatic translation gear.
I found that I liked doing that work and particularly enjoyed answering the telephone in my hosts’ Jakarta homes, successfully conversing without the callers knowing I was a foreigner, although once, Deputy Prime Minister Johannes Leimena called with a message for my host and upon ending the call, asked if my parents were Dutch. “I think I hear a little Dutch accent,” he said.
How has your background in journalism helped in translating?
The first reason I was comfortable writing the English Version of Bao Ninh’s book was that my original translator of my 1990 book, Ridding the Devils, Madame Hao, was a very reliable technical translator. The second reason was that I did not regard The Sorrow of War as fiction, nor frankly did Bao Ninh, although he had to clothe his stories in certain make belief vignettes. Ridding the Devils was non-fiction, so I wrote Sorrow of War using the same depth of knowledge gained on 33 land, sea and air missions, as a Vietnam War correspondent.
Usually, foreign correspondents do not learn the languages of the countries they report. It is one of the great failings that still exists throughout the western world today, where publishers rarely place correspondents abroad for more than three or four years and do not interest themselves in funding language training or cultural adaptation. I funded my own fare to Indonesia in the days when a flight to Djakarta was the equivalent to AUD $5,000 return today, on a BOAC Comet.
My interest in Indonesia began in 1961 and will continue until I die. I find no difficulty in retaining my love for Australia, Greece, France, and Singapore, for that matter, where I lived in the dramatic years during the formation (and partial break-up) of Malaysia. But as an historian, I find it my duty to repay the hospitality and friendship of the Indonesian people.
In the Sukarno years (1950–1965) research into the foundations of the Republic were not welcomed because the President felt that “nation building” was more important, and by nation building he meant that to keep the peace he did not wish to place greater credit on one ethnic group over another. The role of Surabaya and East Javanese was not accentuated, yet that was where the Republic finally won a small piece of territory for the fledgling Republic at a time when independence seemed an eventuality many years off.
I have used my research and translation skills and my past friendships with Indonesian leaders, many of whom were founders of the Republic, to write the complete history of the founding of the Republic in 1945. It was printed last week in Bahasa Indonesia, titled Surabaya 1945: Sakral Tanahku (Surabaya 1945: Sacred Territory).
Surabaya after the uprisings on 31 October 1945 (Source: Universities Kristen Petra; this photo is part of the collections at the Imperial War Museum).
However, Revolution in the City of Heroes—the Suhario Padmodiwiryo (alias "Hario Kecik") diary that is known as Student Soldiers in its original form in Bahasa Indonesia—is an important part of Indonesia’s history and of that Surabaya story. Unless I had worked with the author (General Suhario) until his death in December 2014, that history would have been lost. In years to come this generation of modern Indonesians will look back and be thankful that works like Kecik’s are in their National Archives.
Five Minutes with Nicholas Herriman September 23, 2016 15:00
If you thought witch-hunts were a thing of the 17th cenutry, think again.
In 1998, around 100 people were killed for being sorcerers in Banyuwangi, Indonesia. This figure far outnumbers the number of people who were executed during the Salem witch trials of 1692–1693, where 200 were put on trial and 20 were executed.
Nicholas Herriman, a senior lectuerer in Anthropology at La Trobe
University, set out to find out why the killings happened as part of research for his PhD thesis between 2000-2002. His findings and arguments about the Banyuwangi incident are presented in his latest book, Witch-Hunt and Conspiracy: The ‘Ninja Case’ in East Java. We caught up with Dr Herriman to talk about witch-hunts, why anthropology is an important discipline in the study of culture and society, and his interest in podcasts (and making them).
Were the sorcerer killings in Banyuwangi the first cases to pique your interest in witchcraft and magic?
Honestly, yes! Prior to learning about the killings, my interest in Indonesia had focused on cultural performance and literature. I first heard about the sorcerer killings in 1998. The killings troubled by me. I wondered, “How could there be a witch-hunt in modern times?” I also thought, “Who was behind the killings? Who benefitted from the killings?”
These questions, it turned out, were naïve and misplaced. But I asked myself these kinds of questions. Arriving in the field in 2000, I still assumed that the witch-hunt had nothing to do with magic, but was rather tied up with national political interests. While doing fieldwork (2000–2002), I began to realise that witchcraft and magic were crucial to understanding the killings. That was the first time my interest was piqued.
In Southeast Asia today, is the belief and practice of black magic and sorcery still very common?
As far as I can tell, belief in and practice of black magic and sorcery are very common. We could qualify that statement, as academics are wont to do, by questioning what we mean by “belief”, “practice”, “magic”, and “sorcery”. Nevertheless, studies from different parts of the region report on widespread suspicions. People suspect that their neighbour, colleague, rival, or whoever it might be draws on extraordinary or unseen powers for immoral ends. The people suspected are from the heights of power to the poorest and disenfranchised.
What were the challenges you faced during your field work in Banyuwangi when you undertook the task of conducting over 100 interviews for ethnographic research?
Professionally, the fieldwork was easy. People readily admitted to killing suspected sorcerers. Indeed, in some cases, they boasted and overstated their roles! By contrast, I struggled, personally. Initially I was horrified—I had to deal with ill health and exhaustion. I kept going primarily because I thought it was crucial to get an accurate historical record this massacre; especially as press and academic reports were so misleading. I wrote Witch-hunt and Conspiracy with this objective in mind.
This woman believed she had been ensorcelled. Her protruding stomach is visible from the profile. Dr Herriman is in the background. (Photo courtesy of L. Indrawati)
What are your thoughts about interdisciplinary studies? Upon reading your book, one can see that the historical and political contexts are very important to explaining how local dynamics or reactions to a situation came about (I.e., In your book, the context of 1998 being a period of Reformasi was very important in explaining how locals were reacting to political and social change after the fall of the Suharto government).
My feeling is that context is crucial in all studies of culture and society. Nevertheless, when I compare the anthropological approach with the interdisciplinary approach, I can discern differences in how to treat this context. Based on my fieldwork, the first book I wrote is called The Entangled State. I wrote this as an anthropologist. I was concerned with how the official treatment of the “problem of sorcery” in Banyuwangi could relate to anthropological theories about the state. I contended that the state was entangled in local communities. Because of this, I argued, senior bureaucrats are hamstrung in trying to contain the “problem of sorcery”.
Witch-hunt and Conspiracy is the second book I have written from my research on the sorcerer killings. I have focused closely on the killings themselves and attempted to understand them as an interplay between local dynamics and larger developments. I see this book as an interdisciplinary study in an area studies tradition. I like a diversity of approaches. The paradox of knowing the world is that each different understanding brings both insights and limitations. So I see pros and cons to both anthropological and interdisciplinary area studies.
So how did your academic background shape the way you approached the killings?
As a philosophy student I was introduced to the skepticism of David Hume and others. I was profoundly disturbed by questions about how we know what we think we know. Of course, I have no greater insight into these problems than most people. So the skeptical attitude remained with me. In research and writing Witch-hunt and Conspiracy, I continually challenged and questioned myself. In fact, after months and months of fieldwork the patterns of the killings began to seem clearer to me. I had begun to feel there was no conspiracy behind the killings. Yet I still did not trust appearances. So, for instance, when I interviewed people I would ask, “So who was behind the conspiracy?” Assuming that the truth remains hidden from me was my modus operandi in researching Witch-hunt and Conspiracy. I wanted, as much as possible, to be sure of my findings.
You are known as the “Audible Anthropologist”, having done a podcast series about anthropological concepts. What got you thinking about doing a podcast series as a way of promoting anthropology as a field of discipline and interest? And are you thinking of doing another season of podcasts, or a new series of podcasts?
I teach anthropology at university. Some of my students coming into second year subjects are new to anthropology. I wanted a quick and easy introduction to anthropological concepts. What I found online seemed more suitable for advanced learners. So I decided to produce a crash course myself. I asked La Trobe’s Matt Smith what to do. Matt currently produces La Trobe’s Asia Rising podcasts and other publications. Matt suggested a series of podcasts entitled “The Audible Anthropologist”. I then set myself a target of recording on a concept every workday for 25 days. This would stop me from over-complicating the content. Matt also got me studio time, told me how to record, and he edited the files. I hope that the result is a simplified introduction that even high school students could use. I got great feedback about that series, so I already have another series of podcasts on iTunesU. It’s called “Witch-hunts and Persecution”. This presents an anthropological view on past and present witch-hunts. It is part of my attempt to understand what I have presented in Witch-hunt and Conspiracy, in relation to witch-hunts internationally and throughout history.
NUS Press at the 2016 ASEASUK Conference September 16, 2016 12:30
NUS Press is pleased to be part of the 2016 edition of the Association for Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom (ASEASUK) Conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Held over three days this weekend (16-18 September), it is set to be the largest ASEASUK conference, with over 40 panels discussing a wide variety of topics.
NIAS Press is representing NUS Press at the event and will be displaying our books. Here’s a highlight of some titles:
- Catastrophe and Regeneration in Indonesia's Peatlands: Ecology, Economy and Society
- The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia
- Marriage Migration in Asia: Emerging Minorities at the Frontiers of Nation-States
- Central Banking as State Building: Policymakers and their Nationalism in the Philippines, 1933-1964
- Electoral Dynamics in Indonesia: Money Politics, Patronage and Clientelism at the Grassroots
- Tall Tree, Nest of the Wind: The Javanese Shadow-play Dewa Ruci Performed by Ki Anom Soeroto - A Study in Performance Philology
- Pan-Asian Games and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913-1974
- Racial Science and Diversity in Colonial Indonesia
Dr Paul Kratoska, Publishing Director of NUS Press, will be also attending the Conference.
Do drop by to find out more about NUS Press and to browse our selection!
The Countdown to the 2016 Singapore Writers Festival has Begun! September 09, 2016 12:14
On September 6, members of the press and Singapore’s publishing scene gathered at Bhaskar’s Arts Academy for a media conference, where Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) director, Yeow Kai Chai, unveiled a solid line-up of writers and events for this year's festival.
Themed “Sayang,” the 19th edition of the festival will feature close to 330 acts between November 4-13 . The festival has also attracted big-names such as Eka Kurniawan, Lionel Shriver, Joanne Harris, German investigative journalist Frederik Obermaier, who helped to coordinate the Panama Papers expose, as well as Gosho Aoyama, the Japanese creator of the popular manga series Detective Conan.
"Sayang," illustrated by Esther Goh from the Organisation of Illustrators Council Singapore. (Image courtesy of Singapore Writers Festival)
We also got sneak previews of what the festival has to offer, including a performance of “Sayang di Sayang,” by M Saffri A Manaf and Mr GT Lye from the third edition of Malam Lawak Sastera (Literary Comedy Night), co-presented with Berita Harian.
NUS Press authors such as Alfian Sa’at, Boey Kim Cheng, Cyril Wong, O Thiam Chin, Jason Erik Lundberg, Ng Yi Sheng, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, Mrs Ann Wee, Kevin Tan, Philip Holden, and Simon Tay (to name just a few), will also be appearing at the festival.
Mrs Wee will be speaking at the Arts House on November 6. She will be talking about stories not found in Singapore history textbooks, based on her recollections in her forthcoming book, A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore.
We are also excited to announce that we will be participating in "The Paper Trail: A Backroom Tour of Singapore Publishers," led by award-winning poet Yong Shu Hoong, on November 5 (Saturday). The Press is one of five publishers to be featured in this tour, where participants will get to find out what publishers of different genres and languages do behind the scenes to bring the printed word to life. Tickets for this tour are now available.
Watch this space for more NUS Press-at-SWF news!
Ann Wee's 90th Birthday and the Pre-Launch of Her Book, "A Tiger Remembers" August 24, 2016 17:30
On August 19, the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Department of Social Work celebrated Mrs Ann Wee’s 90th birthday at NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House. With Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin as a special guest, the afternoon proved to be a delightful one that served as a retrospect on Mrs Wee’s contributions to the field of social work in Singapore. As one of the country’s pioneer social work educators and longest serving Head of Department of Social Work, she has inspired many in the profession with her philosophy and outlook towards the field.
From left to right: Professor Esther Goh (Head of Department of Social Work), Professor Chan Heng Chee, Mrs Lee Wang Cheng Yeng, Dr Sudha Nair, Mrs Ann Wee and Mrs Jean Marshall. (Image credit: Lionel Lin)
The event also marked the pre-launch of her forthcoming NUS Press book, A Tiger Remembers: The Way We Were in Singapore.
(Image credit: Lionel Lin)
Born in the Year of the Fire Tiger, Mrs Wee moved to Singapore in 1950 to marry into a Singaporean Chinese family and was ushered into a world of cultural expectations and domestic rituals that she eventually came to love. Her work in Singapore’s fledging social welfare department that decade only deepened her cross-cultural learning and appreciation for the shapes and forms of the Singapore family. These experiences and “things that the history books left out” are affectionately observed and wittily narrated by Mrs Wee in her book.
Mr John Ang, Senior Fellow at the Department of Social Work, gave a preview of A Tiger Remembers. (Image credit: Lionel Lin)
Mrs Wee presented an autographed cover of A Tiger Remembers to Minister Tan. (Image credit: Lionel Lin)
The afternoon ended with Minister Tan presenting the Ann Wee NUS Social Work Alumni Award to three awardees, and a birthday cake-cutting ceremony.
(Image credit: Lionel Lin)
A Tiger Remembers will be available in all good bookstores in October 2016. Mrs Wee will be donating her royalties to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Student Advancement Scholarship Fund.
Five Minutes with Stefan Huebner August 08, 2016 14:30
With the Rio Olympic Games underway, we caught up with Stefan Huebner, author of Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913-1974 to discuss who was responsible for spreading Western sports across Asia, how sports came to shape the idea of Asian 'nation-states', and why sporting events continue to be an important (and very costly) tool for nation-branding today.
How did you become interested in the connections between religion, East-West politics and sports?
During my undergraduate studies in history, I was very interested in Japan since it managed to defeat Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05. I also wondered why China and other Asian countries became victims of “Western” (and also Japanese) colonialism and imperialism. When we talked about the book, I should say that I was at first not really interested in sports, but when I learned that the Far Eastern Championship Games had been founded by officials of the North American YMCA and supported by the US colonial administration in the Philippines, this really caught my interest. I bet most people think that the International Olympic Committee was mainly responsible for spreading Western sports in Asia and other regions, but that’s not the case. While doing some initial research, I also became very interested in development policy in Asia during decolonisation and the Cold War, which is very important to understand the postwar Asian Games and why they served to communicate the image (actually several different images) of a “rising Asia”.
How is sport related to ideas of anti-colonialism or nationalism? Do these ideas expire?
Very often athletes represent nation-states. Events can be (and some are) organised in different ways, but when the North American YMCA founded the Far Eastern Championship Games in 1913, they chose this approach. Watching athletes representing entities such as “China”, “Japan”, or the “Philippines” in the stadium or reading about them in newspapers created feelings of national belonging. Part of this was based on the YMCA’s and the US colonial administration’s experience of pitting town teams in the Philippines against each other. The intention had been that such athletic rivalry would encourage the selection of athletes based on their competence, not on clan and family relations or other factors, to maximise each team’s strength. In the process, people of different social backgrounds or even ethnicities would be integrated into the town’s team. This approach was then repeated on the regional level, meaning that people from different parts of China, Japan and the Philippines were represented in the respective “national” teams. This integrative approach certainly made it easier for spectators to identify with a team. The intention thus was not to encourage aggressive forms of nationalism (though the outcome sometimes was different), but to encourage the emergence of national civil societies. The staging of the games also regularly served to promote a certain image of the host nation—this remains true today and I doubt this will change in the near future.
Anti-colonialism, both in the form of nationalism and pan-Asianism, was closely linked to all that. Initially, the main organisers of the games were all Americans, who held these positions since there were no Asians who were equally experienced in Western sports. However, when a first generation of Asian physical educators emerged, these often felt patronised and eventually ended this “colonial” relationship between “American experts” and “Asian pupils”. Events on the international level, such as the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, also intensified anti-colonial sentiments—as a newspaper cartoon in my book shows. Seen before the background of this “Asiatisation” process, the games started to communicate the message that Asians now were in charge of a “modernisation process” in fields such as sport, public health and citizenship training that would eventually end the power asymmetry vis-à-vis the “West”.
Asian leaders in the 1910s such as JAAA president Kanō Jigorō criticised American style sports for its characteristics (“inefficient training method for shaping better soldiers and workers”), but did they also consider sports an invasion of “Western” values?
Some indeed did. Especially those Asian leaders who did not appreciate the activities of missionary groups resisted the YMCA’s Christian approach to amateur sports: “muscular Christianity”. However, not all of those Asian leaders rejected Western sports in general, but some of them claimed that they fitted well into Asian cultural backgrounds. There were, for example, Japanese sports leaders who connected Western sports to the Bushidō, the Way of the Warrior. Some of them did this to challenge the influence of North American missionary groups in Asian sports events.
Others, who were closer to the YMCA, advocated an interpretation of the Bushidō that had quite a “Western-Christian” touch. In this way, local resistance against “muscular Christianity” could be circumvented and “Western” values could still be promoted. Much more can be said about this topic, but I want to conclude with shortly mentioning those Asian leaders who eventually dominated the field: those who referred to the Olympic movement and “Olympism”. Doing this became increasingly popular, since such a secular approach to “Western” sports did not cause much resistance (after all, nobody believes in the old Greek gods anymore).
"Uncle Sam teaching the Asian children sports values"; Philippines Free Press (10 May 1919). (Image courtesy of US Library of Congress)
What was the process of penning Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia 1913–1974 like?
It is my first book, so I was very enthusiastic when it finally got published. I started working on the topic in autumn 2009 and the book came out this year, which is quite quick, I think.
During the first years I travelled a lot in Asia, Europe and North America to gather sources in various archives and libraries and to make myself familiar with the history of sports in Asia. Turning all these into a book was a fascinating process, especially when I realised how useful the concept of the “civilising mission” is to analyse the events I covered. Scrutinising the games’ connections to Asian nationalisms, pan-Asian sentiments, religious ideas and Cold War development policy was also very interesting as I noticed the tremendous changes the Games experienced over the course of 60 years. I also enjoyed working with so many images—and when my book manuscript was accepted without any revisions, I was extremely happy! Obviously, some less exciting tasks were inevitable … when things needed to be standardised, the bibliography needed to be compiled, etc.
How do you think sports have evolved in Asia in recent years? Do you think the same tensions remain?
It obviously depends on the type of event we talk about. The 18th Asian Games that are set to take place in Indonesia in 2018 is an interesting case, since the event originally was supposed to have taken place in Vietnam. Financial problems, including the question of what to do with the newly-built venues after the event is over, have been a main reason for Vietnam’s decision not to host the games and remind us of how expensive the hosting of regional sports events has become. In my book, I pointed out that the founders of the Asian Games reflected on this problem early on.
When we talk about the Olympic Games, it is remarkable that we will have the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea in 2018, and in China in 2022. Between the two events, the Summer Olympics will take place in Tokyo in 2020. This is very noteworthy, especially since all three East Asian countries have hosted Olympic events before—strictly speaking they are the only Asian countries which have hosted the Olympic Games so far. This again reminds us of the high costs of hosting such events and throws the spotlight on which countries are trusted by the International Olympic Committee to host the Games. The controversial 2010 Commonwealth Games in India comes to one’s mind as it did not set the precedent of hosting any editions of the Olympic Games.
Chinese female swimmers at the 10th Far Eastern Championship Games in 1934. (Image courtesy of Harvard Yenching Library)
Is your next research project along the tangent of politics, religion and sports?
My next book project will be on oceanic colonisation projects, such as offshore drilling, mariculture (farming of marine organisms) and floating city extensions. There is a connection to development policy, which is part of the main story in the later chapters of my book. But I will also continue working on the dynamics between politics, religion and sports. For example, I am co-organising a conference here in Singapore at the Asia Research Institute on 25–26 August titled “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of the Social Gospel in Asia, c. 1890s–1930s” where we will have some presentations on sports and the YMCA.
The Angkor Photo Festival July 08, 2016 17:00
Ever wondered what the longest running photo festival in Southeast Asia looked like?
Angkor Photo Festival Exhibition © Irene Yap
The Angkor Photo Festival looks for portfolios of work that engage social issues across the world. This year’s festival however comes with a twist.
For the first time in 12 years, multi-media entries that are up to 10 minutes in length will now be accepted. Festival organizers acknowledge that the advancing digital age has allowed narratives to be presented in new and engaging formats.
Programme Coordinator Françoise Callier explains:
When the right balance between photography, video and audio is found, the strength of the testimony can be further revealed in a more spirited way.
Submissions are entered under the “Open” or “The Impact Project” category, with the latter looking for stories that aim to make a difference.
The annual festival also offers a series of workshops conducted by international professionals to nurture developing photographers in the region by providing technical skills training and guidance in developing their own aesthetic vision.
Anjali Photo Workshop © Zinkie Aw
These workshops are free of charge, and alumni who pursue photography professionally return in subsequent years as mentors in these workshops to groom future talent.
Check out snaps from their current exhibition here, and look out for Zhuang Wubin’s forthcoming book, Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey, which contributes to the global conversation on whether photography can truly mobilise social change.
Peter Schoppert in Beijing for StoryDrive Asia conference June 13, 2016 00:00NUS Press has been working to build closer strategic cooperation with scholary publishers working in Asian languages. China has been an important focus for us and we took advantage of a recent conference to meet authors and scholarly publishers in Shanghai and Beijing.
Bernard Arps at the Tong Tong Fair June 10, 2016 17:04
Professor Bernard Arps, author of Tall Tree, Nest of the Wind, delivered a lecture at the 58th Tong Tong Fair on June 3. A vibrant Eurasian festival that offers a diverse range of cultural exhibitions, performances and food, this year’s Fair was held at The Hague in the Netherlands and it featured celebratory showcases of Southeast Asian works.
Addressing an audience of over 100 people, Professor Arps discussed the significance of Dewa Ruci, a Javanese shadow-play that describes the mighty Bratasena’s quest for the ultimate mystical insight. He also talked about the contemporary resonance of Dewa Ruci in Indonesian politics and religion, providing insight on the intricacies of wayang kulit (shadow puppetry).
After his lecture, Ki Warseno Slenk (the younger brother of distinguished master puppeteer Ki Anom Soeroto) performed an abridged rendition of Dewa Ruci, on the same stage.
Prof Arps also had a book signing session at the Tong Tong Theatre to end the evening.
NUS Press Celebrates World Environment Day June 03, 2016 11:52
It’s World Environment Day on 5 June and this year’s theme is Go Wild for Life: zero tolerance for illegal wildlife trade.
Angola, the 2016 host country, is determined to do its part by eradicating the trafficking of ivory from within its borders. Although not every country acts as a breeding ground for corrupt wildlife trade syndicates, countries that have a central position within the international economy—like Singapore— are key conduits for smuggling between source and destination countries in the business.
To celebrate World Environment Day, NUS Press would like to recommend some of our best books that discuss the problems and possibilities that have resulted from man’s interventions to nature.
You can enjoy 20% off all titles in our Man & Nature collection with the promo code WED2016 from 3–6 June.
The Annotated Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russel Wallace
Edited by John van Wyhe
Wallace’s Malay Archipelago is a classic account of the travels of a Victorian naturalist through island Southeast Asia, and has been loved by readers ever since its publication in 1869. This volume is the first—and long overdue—annotated edition in English, where John van Wyhe explains, updates and corrects the original text with an historical introduction, and hundreds of explanatory notes.
Nature's Colony: Empire, Nation and the Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens
By Timothy P. Barnard
Timothy P. Barnard presents unique insights on nature’s sociopolitical significance, underscoring the various layers of power and representation embedded in the Singapore Botanic Gardens over the colonial and post-colonial eras.
The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia
Edited by Rob Cramb and John F. McCarthy
The contributors in this timely and important volume raise the impasse surrounding industrial wealth-generation from oil palm development at the expense of rural farmers and the complex interconnections surrounding land, labour and capital.
Catastrophe and Regeneration in Indonesia's Peatlands: Ecology, Economy and Society
Edited by Kosuke Mizuno, Motoko S. Fujita, and Shuichi Kawai
This groundbreaking study outlines policy initiatives to address the degradation of Indonesia’s peatlands and its resulting haze, which presents a public health catastrophe to the Southeast Asian region.
Community, Commons and Natural Resource Management
Edited by Haruka Yanagisawa
Taking a broader Asian perspective, this volume explores how natural resources held collectively by communities in specific ecological settings have been handled in the face of increasing marketization and demand for resources vis-à-vis state intervention policies.
NUS Press attends Southeast Asian Studies Symposium 2016 May 03, 2016 09:33
NUS Press was pleased to be part of the 5th Southeast Asia Studies Symposium held in Oxford, United Kingdom, on April 14–16, 2016.
Dealing with the theme of “Human and Environmental Welfare in Southeast Asia”, this Symposium also included two specialised sub-fora: The Southeast Asia Investment Forum, which aimed to engage businesses with an interest in the region in issues including human rights, healthcare, and political risk; and the Southeast Asia Strategic Forum on Women, Business, and Economic Growth in Southeast Asia, which tackled gender equality.
Supported by NIAS Press, we displayed our Spring 2016 publications and 2015 titles, including shortlisted and award winners. We would like to thank everyone who came by to check out our books!
To be one of the firsts to receive updates about the Press and our latest publications, do sign up here to be on our mailing list.
New Distribution Arrangements in the Americas April 27, 2016 18:57
April 28, for immediate release
National University of Singapore Press is pleased to announce a new marketing and distribution partnership with the University of Chicago Press
Effective July 1, 2016, books from NUS Press will be distributed, sold, and marketed by the University of Chicago Press in North and South America.
The National University of Singapore Press is heir to a tradition of academic publishing in Singapore that dates back some sixty years, starting with the work of the Publishing Committee of the University of Malaya, beginning in 1954. It publishes scholarly titles, as well as books for the general public, with an emphasis on the humanities and social sciences, Southeast Asia, and Asian Studies more broadly.
“We publish from Asia, and principally on Asian subjects, but our audience is global,” says press director Peter Schoppert, “and so good distribution in the Americas is a priority. We’ve long been impressed with the marketing and distribution capabilities of the University of Chicago Press and its Chicago Distribution Center, which serves many of our peers in the American and international university press community. The United States is our third largest market, and we are thrilled to be working with Chicago to further improve our reach here.”
“We’re excited to be working with the National University of Singapore Press and look forward to serving their needs,” commented Chicago Distribution Center director Don Linn.
Garrett Kiely, director of the University of Chicago Press, further said, “We are honoured to partner with this distinctive press, whose distinguished contributions to Asian studies will complement our dynamic list of client publishers.”
NUS Press joins the University of Chicago Press’s list of distributed publishers that includes the American Meteorological Society; Amsterdam University Press; the Bard Graduate Center; the Bodleian Library; Conservation International; Diaphanes; GTA Verlag; Intellect Books; Leiden University Press; Pluto Press; Policy Press at the University of Bristol; Prickly Paradigm Press; Reaktion Books; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Royal Collection Trust; Scheidegger and Spiess; Seagull Books; and Zed Books, among others.
All backlist and forthcoming titles will ship from the Chicago Distribution Center beginning July 1, 2016.
Booksellers in the Americas should contact the University of Chicago Press sales team:
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago Distribution Center
11030 South Langley
Chicago, IL 60628 USA
Telephone: +1-800-621-2736 (US & Canada); +1 (773) 702-7000 (Rest of world)
Among the titles to be offered in the Fall 2016 University of Chicago catalog are two books targeted at the general, or trade, audience:
Nemesis: The First Iron Warship and Her World
by Adrian G. Marshall
ISBN-13: 978-9971-69-822-5 Paperback US$28.00
Launched in 1839, Nemesis was the first of a generation of iron-clad, steam-powered naval vessels that established British dominance in Asian waters in the nineteenth century. The world’s first iron warship, Nemesis was commissioned by the Secret Committee of the East India Company and covertly built in three months. It was the first vessel with truly watertight compartments, and the first iron vessel to round the Cape of Good Hope. But despite the ship’s impressive history and its important role as a symbol of Western military superiority, there has never been a book dedicated to its story—until now. In this book, Adrian G. Marshall provides an accessible and compelling account of the Nemesis, dispelling much of the mystery that has surrounded its origins and exploits.
Revolution in the City of Heroes: A Memoir of the Battle that Sparked Indonesia’s National Revolution
by Suhario Padmodiwiryo
translated by Frank Palmos
ISBN-13: 978-9971-69-844-7 Paperback US$24.00
In October of 1945, newly liberated from almost four years under brutal Japanese control, the people of Indonesia faced great uncertainty. As the British Army attempted to take control of the city of Surabaya, trying to maintain order and deal with the surrender of Japanese personnel, the actions of the British were interpreted by young residents of the city as a plan to restore colonial rule. In response, the youth took up arms and tried to repel the British force. Holding off British reinforcements for two weeks, they battled tanks and heavy artillery with nothing more than light weapons and sheer audacity. Though eventually defeated, Surabaya’s defenders had set the stage for Indonesia’s national revolution.
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NUS Press attends AAS 2016 Annual Conference March 28, 2016 17:22
NUS Press is pleased to be part of the AAS Annual Conference 2016 to be held in Seattle, Washington, on March 31 to April 3, 2016. We would like to take the opportunity to congratulate AAS on celebrating the following three milestones.
- the 75th anniversary of the Association for Asian Studies;
- the 75th anniversary of publishing the Journal of Asian Studies (JAS); and
- the 20th anniversary of publishing the Education about Asia (EAA) journal.
We will be highlighting our Spring 2016 publications as well as offer a sneak preview for some of our Fall 2016 titles, including
- Abolitions as a Global Experience
- Metemorphosis: Studies in Social and Political Change in Myanmar
- Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power
- Clinical Psychology in Singapore: An Asian Casebook
- The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia
- Catastrophe and Regeneration in Indonesia’s Peatlands: Ecology, Economy and Society
Visit us at Booth 507 which is supported by our North America distributor University of Hawaii Press.
Peter Schoppert, Director of NUS Press and Dr Paul Kratoska, Publishing Director will be attending the Conference. Dr Kratoska will be chairing panel 98 entitled "Publishing Matters: New Metrics, Traditional Skills, and Mistakes Authors Make" on 1 April, 3 to 5 pm, at Room 203, Level 2.
Publishing New Asia Scholarship December 18, 2015 10:43
Paul Kratoska and I co-wrote this article which was published in the Autumn edition of The Newsletter of the Institute for International Asian Studies, a stimulating issue that looks at the big trends in Asian Studies.
This year’s twelve-title shortlist for the ICAS Book Awards on social sciences and humanities included three books first published in Asia (two by NUS Press). For the new EuroSEAS Nikkei Book Awards given in Vienna in August this year, five of six finalists originated in Asia. And in March this year, the US Association of Asian Studies (AAS) awarded its Kahin Prize to M.C. Ricklefs’ Islamisation and its Opponents in Java: A Political, Social, Cultural and Religious History, a book originated in 2012 by NUS Press at the National University of Singapore. Remarkably, this was the first time any book published in Asia received an AAS book prize.
It took a long time to reach this particular milestone, and it is useful to explore what it might mean.
Does it tell us anything about the shifts in Asian Studies? About new Asia scholars? Despite many predictions over the years that the centre of Asian Studies would shift to Asia, why is so much of Asian Studies scholarship still published outside Asia? And does that matter?
The past few decades have brought an explosion of scholarship on Asia carried out by scholars at Asian universities. The greater part of this research is published in local languages and receives little attention outside of the countries where it appears, and like scholarship in other parts of the world, it tends to come out in the form of journal articles rather than monographs.
Asian-language scholarship often deals with issues of particular concern to the countries where it originates, and is part of a conversation that does not actively invite participation by outsiders. Many universities, research centres and other institutions in East and Southeast Asia publish scholarly periodicals that handle this material. A rough calculation suggests that there are more than 40,000 such publications, many of them fully funded by Asian institutions.
However, the major universities in Asia now expect scholars to publish research articles in internationally recognized journals covered by major citation indexes, in effect requiring them to write and publish in English. When Asian scholars do this, their audience shifts. Potential readers include scholars in the West, but also scholars based in other Asian countries who may well find parallels with their own research concerns. (Recent work that fits this model deals with topics such as regionalism and Asian identity.) As a publisher based in Asia, we look to for opportunities to nurture this second audience.
Recent initiatives such as the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA) launched in 2013 suggest that institutions and scholars will increasingly work within widespread networks, electronic and personal, that extend across national borders. Technological advances in the production and distribution of books are creating a global book market. While traditional library markets in the West are under severe pressure, it is possible for publishers in Asia to reach them with greater ease.
Asian markets are becoming more open and transparent in response to a growing demand for access to information. The more savvy publishers from the West are originating more works from Asia, basing commissioning editors in the region and commissioning more local peer reviews.
Manuscripts written by Western authors are often written to explain Asia to the West, and adopt an “outside-looking-in” perspective on matters of great import to audiences in the region.
Frequently these manuscripts represent solid scholarship, but they position their discussion within the theoretical concerns currently engaging scholars outside of Asia and for a publisher like NUS Press, whose primary market lies in Asia, they have limited appeal. When referees in Asia indicate that the substance of a manuscript is well known within the country concerned, and that the material is not pitched appropriately for Asian readers, our conclusion is that the author should probably seek publication opportunities elsewhere.
At the same time, more and more younger scholars from all parts of the world see social science research as a co-creation of knowledge. If they do Asian Studies they wish to speak to Asian audiences, and while their books and articles may reach readers in institutions around the world, they also become embedded in local discourse.
The book prizes mentioned at the start of this piece reflected a noticeable shift in the geography of publication of Asian studies. Whether this shift becomes a long-term trend remains to be seen, but the remarkable output of research by Asian scholars cannot be ignored, even if publishers are grappling with new forms of “publication” and new channels for delivering knowledge.
Peter Schoppert is Director and Paul Kratoska is Publishing Director at NUS Press
NUS Press attends SEASIA 2015 Conference December 10, 2015 13:36
NUS Press was pleased to be part of the "Southeast Asian Studies in Asia" conference held in Kyoto, Japan, on December 12-13, 2015. The conference was an attempt at exploring new directions in re-contextualizing and re-conceptualizing Southeast Asia and Southeast Asian Studies, particularly the legacy and transition of such studies after the Cold War period.
We displayed our 2015 publications, including shortlisted and award winners.
Here’s a highlight of some titles:
- Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power
- Malaysia's "Original People": Past, Present and Future of the Orang Asli
- The ASEAN Charter: A Commentary
- Metemorphosis: Studies in Social and Political Change in Myanmar
- Brunei: From the Age of Commerce to the 21st Century
- Journal, Memorials and Letters of Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge: Security, Diplomacy and Commerce in 17th-century Southeast Asia
Peter Schoppert, Director of NUS Press and Dr Paul Kratoska, Publishing Director attended the Conference, supported by our Japanese partners Hotaka. Dr Kratoska convened a panel entitled "Writing for Publication: What Editors Look For, and Common Mistakes by Authors" on 12 Dec, 3 to 5 pm, at Room 104.
Highlights of the event included keynote addresses from Prof Wang Gungwu and Prof Pasuk Phongpaichit, both coincidentally NUS authors. Another favourite moment was when Barbara Andaya name-checked Jacques de Coutre as a source in a presentation on the importance of the orang asli in history.
Book Launch of Walter Woon’s The ASEAN Charter: A Commentary November 19, 2015 14:31
from left: Former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo, Professor Walter Woon, Professor Tommy Koh, former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar, and NUS Press Director Peter Schoppert.
Professor Walter Woon’s The ASEAN Charter: A Commentary was launched on 13 November 2015 at the NUS Faculty of Law.
The ASEAN Charter comments on the provisions of the 2008 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Charter, which established ASEAN’s legal status and institutional framework. Professor Woon, a Member of the High Level Task Force that drafted the Charter and Singapore’s former Attorney-General, crafts an insider’s perspective on the making of the Charter, elucidates how its provisions came to be drafted, and how they relate to diplomatic practice. As both former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh eulogised during the launch, The ASEAN Charter is a very important and useful reference text for ASEAN officials and scholars, as well as members of the public who are interested in the organisation.
George Yeo on the “magic of ASEAN”
Graced by the likes of former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar as well as numerous members of the legal community, the launch of The ASEAN Charter commenced with a few words from George Yeo in praise of ASEAN. Highlighting Myanmar's National League for Democracy’s latest victory at the polls, Yeo attested that this outcome was in part a “triumph of ASEAN”. Indeed, such is the “magic of ASEAN”—a space that allows room for disagreement, evolution, and provides time for the branch to gradually bend, Yeo affirmed. Continuing in this positive vein, Yeo concluded that that despite criticisms, ASEAN has not only kept the peace in the region, but is also a historical necessity that will hold together with time.
ASEAN: Rolls-Royce ambition, Volkswagen model
Less sanguine about ASEAN was Professor Woon in his professorial lecture on the imperative to build a rules-based ASEAN community and strengthen the association’s centre.
Professor Woon stressed that ASEAN is “in essence not a legal institution”, having begun its life as a confidence-building mechanism for bickering countries and continued with an “ASEAN way” of being ad hoc. Accordingly, the formal rules that the ASEAN Charter intends to set in place do not sit well with ASEAN practice. Seen from this perspective then, ASEAN appears to have the “ambition to create a Rolls-Royce organisation, but fit[s] it with a Volkswagen model with dodgy software”. Professor Woon ultimately compared the Charter to a camel, being serviceable but inelegant.
What could upgrade ASEAN to become a full-fledged Rolls-Royce vehicle then? Professor Woon flagged a few areas that could be improved. Firstly, a proper legal service with international lawyers was needed to establish a rule-making centre that would also ensure the coherence of and compliance with such rules. Another aspect that a rules-based organisation requires is a proper dispute settlement system, with ASEAN’s current system being designed to be ineffective, Professor Woon lamented. The fact that the ASEAN High Council has never been convened was cited as evidence of such ineffectiveness. Moreover, the bringing of disputes to political settings like the ASEAN Summit—as has been done—is fatal to ASEAN’s credibility as a rules-based organisation. Ending on a more ambiguous note, Professor Woon pondered the possibility of being able to celebrate this rules-based element in time with ASEAN’s jubilee year in 2016.
A camel on shifting sands: Tommy Koh on ASEAN
Professor Tommy Koh was able to draw the book launch to a more buoyant close. Picking up on Professor Woon’s earlier camel metaphor for the ASEAN Charter, Professor Koh defended the association by extolling the importance of the animal to the audience’s amusement. To be sure, the camel might lack elegance, but in Professor Koh’s words, the anatomy of its hoofs, for instance, allows it to walk across shifting sands—likewise then for ASEAN, in its ambitions and efforts over the years.
The ASEAN Charter: A Commentary is now available at NUS Press.
Goenawan Mohamad at the Singapore Writers Festival 2015... November 09, 2015 15:19
It was NUS Press' pleasure to host Goenawan Mohamad in Singapore for a few days, in particular for his keynote speech at the Singapore Writers Festival special programme on Indonesia, "17,000 Islands Dreaming..."
Thanks for everyone who came along for the speech, which we thought was fascinating, and for the excellent questions from the audience. The event was well attended, and the Straits Times gave it a fine write-up: ‘Goenawan Mohamad: "I write to liberate the language’:
"At his hour-long talk at the Singapore Writers Festival on Saturday 31st October, Goenawan, 74, charmed the 125-strong audience at The Arts House Chamber with his unwavering faith in the power of writing and his unexpected humour.
"At first glance, he is perfectly unassuming: a narrow-shouldered gentleman scholar who speaks of Plato and Russian literature with ease and authority, half-vanished under a roomy black jacket.
"But when he speaks, there is a fire to him. When the topic turns to writing in Indonesia, where language and the freedom of expression cannot shake off government scrutiny, Goenawan's first response is: 'When I write, the first urge is to liberate the language'."
A few days later, the Straits Times followed up with a book review of Faith in Writing:
"This is Goenawan's charm: grounding weighty insights into politics and power by relating them to the mundane and quotidian.Thanks to Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh for the excellent write-up. And thanks to the Singapore Writers Festival for creating such a good platform for readers to meet writers.
"In these short, powerfully composed essays - most are two to three pages long - his voice and force of personality ring through."
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