Global Asia Initiative Hosts Symposium on Monarchy and Sovereignty in Twentieth-Century Asia
April 16, 2018
By Yan Gao, Global Asia Initiative Research Associate
On April 13, 2018, nine scholars from around the world presented their research on monarchy and sovereignty in twentieth-century Asia. This workshop was organized by Oscar Tang Professor of East Asian Studies Prasenjit Duara and Assistant Professor of History Adam Mestyan, and it was co-sponsored by Global Asia Initiative and Archives of Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean at Duke University. The main areas of inquiry included the legal codification of the monarchical power, nationalism and monarchism, formation of thinking on sovereignty and the changing role of rulers, ruling legitimacy and legacy, and comparative and transnational monarchical systems in Asia and beyond.
The first panel investigated the Asian monarchy in the colonial age. Cemil Aydin (UNC-Chapel Hill) focused on a particular moment between 1905 and 1914, when many Muslim admirers of Japanese modernity wrote about virtues of Emperor Meiji. He explored how the discourses on the success of Japanese monarchy influenced and shaped the destiny of dynastic families and monarchies in West Asia in the context of rising nationalism. Faiz Ahmed (Brown University) reassessed the legacy of Shah Amaullah Khan (r. 1919-29) by analyzing a transcript of sermons he delivered in Qandahar in 1925. In so doing, Ahmed tried to understand the purpose of the sermons, his style of rule, and his mode of leadership. Adam Mestyan (Duke University) analyzed the development of legal codification in post-WWI Arab nation states. He argued that the codification in judging the civil affairs within the ruling family and the order of succession signified the secularization of political power through shari’a principles.
The second panel focused on the monarchy and decolonization in 20th-century Asia. Milinda Banerjee (LMU Munich/Presidency University) presented modern Indian thinking about sovereignty and how concepts of human, divine, and messianic kinship have contributed to the collective thoughts. He emphasized the pluralistic visions of political authority ranging from authoritarian sovereignty to democratic visions embracing peasant demands for empowerment. By examining the Indian thinking in a global context, he theorized about the absolute centrality of monarchic concepts in the rise of modern nationalism. David Malitz (Chulalongkorn University) compared the Japanese and Thai monarchies at the beginning of the Cold War. He argued that historical blocs of domestic conservatives and their US supporters created national monarchies for both authentic nations and capitalist states in the Cold War era. Axel Michaels (University of Heidelberg) revised the conventionally conceived view of Nepal’s Śāha kinship as a continuous symbolic and ritual authority. He emphasized the “non-state” characteristic of Nepal in the long nineteenth century and traces the decline of the Śāha monarchy through its various constitutions. He argued that it was due to the joined symbolic authority with political power derived from the historical and structural weakness that made Nepal almost a failed state.
The third panel analyzed the Asian monarchies in the global transformation. Ervand Abrahmian (CUNY) examined the fall of the Pahlavi Monarchy in 1979 Iranian Revolution and argued that the revolution was inevitable because the Iranian monarchy was an anachronism. He asserted that the Shah owed his throne to the overthrow of Mossadeq, the idol of Iranian nationalism, and thus was lacking national legitimacy in an age of nationalism. Therefore, the Shah’s reform strategies to compensate for his legitimacy crisis eventually led to the fall of his reign. Wasana Wongsuravat (Chulalongkorn University) investigated the special relationship between the Thai royal family and the government of the PRC in the post-Cold War era. She compared the different paths of two sovereignties – while the Communist PRC moved towards the global capital market, the Thai monarchy consolidated its political power through peasant organization and socialist propaganda. Noriko Kawamura (Washington State University) revised the stereotypical portrayal of Hirohito as a shrewd survivor and a passive collaborator of the U. S. occupiers, and argued that Emperor Hirohito continued to play an important role in both domestic politics and U.S.-Japanese relations in the early years of the Cold War.
A few researchers, students, and visiting scholars from various departments and fields also joined the discussion.
Global Asia Initiative Hosts Workshop on Circum-Himalayan Rivers
By Yinglu Zhang, MA student, Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke
The workshop Six Rivers in Historical Time included six papers about the human-nature relationships on six Asian rivers originating from the Himalayas in pre-modern and modern periods. The speakers analyzed how people adapted to and utilized the rivers, and how the riverine communities being shaped and reshaped by the rivers in various perspectives.
Drs. Ling Zhang and Yan Gao focused on two major rivers in China and how their fates have intertwined with politics. Ling Zhang’s paper stressed the limited function of the states through her interpretation of Mencius’ critique of “treating your neighbors as gully,” questioning that by constantly shifting problems to others and transferring them to the recipients of harms, we are facing a kind of ethical crisis in the process of solving ecological issues. Yan Gao revealed a complex picture of how the waterway transportation networks were shaped by social and ecological agencies jointly in late imperial Central China. She emphasized the social and environmental impacts brought by the ten-year Yangtze waterways’ blockade on the middle Yangtze region and the significance of local communities in managing the unpredictable situations.
The studies on the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Mekong River elaborated more about the local riverine communities. Dr. Saikia discussed the life of gold washers, fishermen, boatmen along the Brahmaputra River and the intimacy developed between the river and its people’s livelihood and their mutual influences. Dr. Singh analyzed how the development modern laws of India interacted with the morphological conditions of the Ganges River and how such socio-ecological entanglements had transformed the entire mid-Ganga region. Dr. Gilmartin shed light on how the Indus basin became one of the most heavily engineered in the world through the interconnection of political powers and their physical environment. He pointed out two major turning points in the river-people relationships in Indus basin: the British colonial vision of a scientific empire and the influence of the Indian and Pakistani nation-states.
Dr. Stark shared her fascinating archeological project about the Angkorian worlds at the workshop. She discussed the life along the Mekong River during 6th-8th century CE. Interestingly, while the everyday life was shaped by the Mekong river ecology, the pre-Angkorian riverine communities developed a bottom-up system of the river management, and they gained some regional autonomy by providing some goods to the political capital. During her talk, she emphasized the climatic and ecological factors in the collapse of Angkor and signs of resilience from local communities.
The audience was engaged in the talks and discussions. Issues explored further during the discussions include the effects of the global climatic patterns on the rivers and their communities, alternative strategies in water management, environmental ethics, elements of local sustainability, and concepts such as social metabolism in understanding ecological crisis.
Video Recording of the Workshop
Blood and Water in the Indus Basin with David Gilmartin:
Flood, Avulsion and Governance: The Ganga river in Nineteenth Century with Vipul Singh:
Premodern Khmers and their Mekong: Ecology and Agency in Archaeological Perspective with Miriam Stark:
Gold washers, Fishermen, and Boatmen: Was there a pre-modern life of the Brahmaputra? With Arupjyoti Saikia:
Dr. Prasenjit Duara elected as Vice-President of the Association for Asian Studies of America
Global Asia Initiative is delighted to announce that the GAI director Dr. Prasenjit Duara has been elected vice-president of the Association for Asian Studies of America. As with many learned societies, the vice-president of the AAS will assume the role of president in the following year in 2019-2020.
The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is a scholarly, non-political, non-profit professional association open to all persons interested in Asia and the study of Asia. With approximately 7,000 members worldwide, representing all the regions and countries of Asia and all academic disciplines, the AAS is the largest organization of its kind. GAI congratulates Dr Duara on this major honor.
AAS 2017 Election Results
Duke Welcomes Anderson to Speak on China's Southwest Silk Road
November 2, 2017
By Rohini Thakkar, Global Asia Initiative Staff Specialist
On November 1st, Duke welcomed Professor James Anderson, Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro to lead a talk on China’s Southwest Silk Road.
Anderson took us on an engaging historical journey on the famed trade route with striking imagery. The talk was perfectly timed with the U.S. President embarking on a 5 nation tour of Asia, including China, on November 3rd. He took us down history lane from the end of the Han dynasty in the 3rd Century BCE through Marco Polo in the 13th century CE to the 1963 discovery of Cui Chengsi’s tomb.
Along the way, we learned about the ascent of the Cuan clan and how its influence persisted over centuries. It was fascinating to hear Anderson talk about the rich history of southwest China and its frontier people. It was interesting to learn how the depiction of history can be reexamined in a new light and how ethnographic study offers useful new approaches to handling historical documents like maps and court records.
Journey of the Universe and Thomas Berry (Online courses now available in Chinese)
The Journey of the Universe courses and the Thomas Berry course are being launched today, October 2nd, in Chinese through Yale/Coursera.This is an auspicious time as October 1st is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are accessible here:
The Journey of the Universe book has also been published in Chinese through Posts and Telecom Press.
Prasenjit Duara Awarded Honorary Doctorate
Prasenjit Duara has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Oslo. The award was presented on September 1 in Oslo, Norway.
Duara, a historian, is Oscar Tang Chair of East Asian Studies at Duke, where he also directs the Duke Global Asia Initiative. His research interests include modern Chinese social and cultural history and nationalism and transnationalism. His most recent book is “The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future.” In awarding the degree, committee members praised Duara for demonstrating how “topics like climate change and environmental degradation can be studied in Asian historical context with regards to the global future.”
Duara previously served as a history professor at the University of Chicago and as Raffles Professor of Humanities and director of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.
To access the Duke Today article, please click here.