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Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

Ecological Cooperation in South Asia by Saleem H. Ali

In Asia, politics, society on October 19, 2015 at 02:16

From: Ecological Cooperation in South Asia: The Way Forward by Saleem H. Ali, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The greatest loss of human life and economic damage suffered by South Asia since 2001 has not been due to terrorism and its ensuing conflicts but rather due to natural disasters, ranging from the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the Indus floods of 2010 to seasonal water shortages and drought. Although such calamities themselves might not be preventable, their human impact can certainly be mitigated.

The most consequential ecological features in South Asia are the Himalayas and the rivers that are largely derived from their geography. Some of the worst territorial disputes in the region also span these mountains. Hence, scientific and sociocultural research on mountain ecosystems is likely to play a pivotal role in galvanizing regional cooperation and reaping peace dividends.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

The Japanese Way of Silence and Seclusion by Elisheva A. Perelman

In Asia, mythology, society on January 11, 2015 at 06:00

From: The Japanese Way of Silence and Seclusion: Memes of Imperial Women by Elisheva A. Perelman, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

With the sun metaphor, though she herself would disavow it, Hiratsuka recalled the origination myths of Japan, and the birth of the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom Japan’s imperial household was purported to be descended. In Amaterasu’s origin, the relationship of men with women—both in the physical and spiritual sense—was shaped. The story of Amaterasu and her progenitors, Izanagi and Izanami, as an origin myth and a heuristic device, is far more complex than an obvious feminist manifesto. The tale of Amaterasu and Izanami, her “mother”, as conveyed by the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest extant chronicle, presents a legitimising meme of the subjugation of women, and of women’s attempts to circumvent subjugation; and this meme occurs not only within Japan’s origination myths, but also in far more modern iterations among Amaterasu’s current putative descendants.

Neither Amaterasu nor Izanami emerge from their stories unscathed. At the beginning of the Kojiki, following a commentary by the compiler, we are confronted by the primal void, which appears in so many origin myths, and from that void emerge Japan’s progenitrix deities, Izanagi and Izanami, male and female, respectively. The pair is tasked with creation, which is first undertaken through a rather pragmatic and perfunctory attempt at intercourse. While the actual, physical coupling seems to be fairly by the book, the postcoital utterance by Izanami ruins the encounter, forcing a miscarriage of form. It is Izanagi’s privilege to speak first, but Izanami, whether out of ignorance or excitement, blurts out her satisfaction with the partnering. Women are often charged with ruining aspects of origination myths—Eve and the apple, Pandora and the box—and Izanami falls into this trap. Her brother-spouse orders her silence after their next attempt, allowing him the first words following their union, and she complies with his command. It is his right to pronounce the union satisfactory first, whereupon Izanami is allowed to echo his sentiment. After all, when she was the first to speak, the offspring produced are, essentially, aborted, abandoned to the void. Izanami’s initiating speech is a miscarriage, a breakdown; her echo, a success. She complies, and, by choosing to hold her tongue, Izanami has been silenced, both by her partner and, in her acquiescence, by herself.

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

The galloping militarisation of Eurasia by Neil Melvin

In Asia, politics, sociology, war on June 16, 2014 at 14:38

From: The galloping militarisation of Eurasia by Neil Melvin, openDemocracy, www.opendemocracy.net

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the deployment of up to 40 000 troops on Ukraine’s border to support the actions of pro-Russian separatist forces, has been widely identified as a turning point in the ‘post-Cold War’ European security system. But Russia’s militarised policy towards Ukraine should not be seen as a spontaneous response to the crisis – it has only been possible thanks to a long-term programme by Moscow to build up its military capabilities.

To be a ‘great power’ – which is the status that Moscow’s political elite claim for Russia – is to have both an international reach and regional spheres of influence. To achieve this, Moscow understands that it must be able to project military force, and so the modernisation of Russia’s armed forces has become a key element of its ‘great power’ ambitions. For this reason, seven years ago, a politically painful and expensive military modernisation programme was launched to provide Russia with new capabilities. One of the key aims of this modernisation has been to move the Russian military away from a mass mobilisation army designed to fight a large-scale war (presumably against NATO) to the creation of smaller and more mobile combat-ready forces designed for local and regional conflicts.

Nearly 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new, highly militarised climate is being created that threatens peace amongst the Eurasian countries, and is substantially changing societies there. At its simplest, the change can be seen in the rising defence expenditures and the modernisation of armed forces across the region. But behind these trends are deep-seated political and social developments. Building on the popular support for security approaches to resolving issues with neighbouring countries, the states of the region are looking to roll back the liberal reforms of the past two decades, and to re-militarise state-society relations.

In these conditions, a wholly security-focused response to the Ukraine crisis by the ‘transatlantic community’ risks further entrenching hardliners in Moscow, and reinforcing the dangerous trends towards militarisation. At the same time, a narrow diplomatic approach focused only on Ukraine will not address the broader drift towards militarism in the region. In seeking a response to the Ukraine conflict and to Eurasia’s growing instability, the ‘Western community’ needs to craft a comprehensive regional approach that looks to address the sources of militarism. This will involve increased efforts to find peaceful solutions to Eurasia’s protracted conflicts, and the enmity that has built up around them. It will also require the establishment of a renewed security dialogue between Russia, its allies and the ‘transatlantic community’ to counter perceptions of insecurity and threats in the region, notably in the Caucasus and Caspian regions. Moreover, countries such as Britain might like to reconsider their arms deals with countries such as Russia, which can only further exacerbate instability. Such measures just might help slow down the galloping militarisation of Euraisa.

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy

Aokigahara by Tony Mckenna

In anthropology, Asia, community, society, sociology on April 3, 2014 at 23:57

From: Aokigahara: A place where people come to end their lives by Tony Mckenna, Adbusters, https://www.adbusters.org

For you are in Aokigahara — and Aokigahara is a place where people come to end their lives. It is estimated that one hundred people die here each year. The ribbons are a precaution; if the person who is contemplating suicide changes their mind at the last moment, he or she will be able to find their way back to the world of the living once more. Ribbons are required because compasses simply don’t function in this place. Something about the iron concentration in the ground interferes with them — though inevitably, such naturalistic explanation has been superseded by all types of supernatural ones; the forest is so spooky and still, it is hard not to infer the ghostly presence of all the souls that have perished here.

… The more modern modes of suicide are, therefore, an expression of alienation; if anything, the act of killing oneself in a group allows the alienated individual to experience a single, ultimate act of ‘purpose’ through a level of social integration which the uncertainty and fragmentation of modern existence has denied them. If the excess of internalized ‘shafu’ provides an impetus toward suicide, its lack can also provide a singular drive toward self-immolation. Among the new generation in Japan today, it is the depth and intensity of isolation, of alienation, which more and more allows them to heed the Suicide Forest’s siren calls.

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Reposted with permission from: Adbusters

A Tale of Two Decades by James F. Warren

In Asia, government, history, politics, society on January 12, 2014 at 01:25

From: A Tale of Two Decades: Typhoons and Floods, Manila and the Provinces, and the Marcos Years by James F. Warren, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

In the second half of the twentieth century, typhoon-triggered floods affected all sectors of society in the Philippines, but none more so than the urban poor, particularly the esteros-dwellers or shanty-town inhabitants, residing in the low-lying locales of Manila and a number of other cities on Luzon and the Visayas. The growing number of post-war urban poor in Manila, Cebu City and elsewhere, was largely due to the policy repercussions of rapid economic growth and impoverishment under the military-led Marcos regime.1 At this time in the early 1970s, rural poverty and environmental devastation increased rapidly, and on a hitherto unknown scale in the Philippines. Widespread corruption, crony capitalism and deforesting the archipelago caused large-scale forced migration, homelessness and a radically skewed distribution of income and assets that continued to favour elite interests.2

Marginal urban enclave of Siteo Baseco, Tondo.

… There was a cruel contradiction, albeit irony, between the generally clean, quiet and orderly atmosphere proclaimed in travel guides, tour advertisements and billboards, depicting Manila as a global city where economic progress went hand in hand with the developing social reality of a burgeoning rural-urban migrant population. Many of the globe-trotting tourists and overseas executives visiting the city’s business district were not fully aware of the scope and rate of the adverse changes that were taking place in Manila, as the metropolis rapidly grew and poor people struggled to cope with its consequences. But the government-sponsored promotion of the remarkable transformation of the city, from a previously alarming and deteriorating place to a vibrant, expanding metropole proved a cruel illusion—a false dream—for the tens of thousands of squatters confronting the problem of a lack of housing and related health impacts, in one of the third world’s fastest growing cities. Most of the comfortably-housed wealthy locals and foreign visitors rarely went anywhere near the burgeoning slum quarters of the city. But Makati’s tree-lined avenues and glass-lined skyscrapers cast shadows across the makeshift houses of squatters from rural areas living at overcrowded addresses that did not appear in information provided on recommended tours and general guide maps. The migrants from the provinces threatened with homelessness dwelled out of sight of the path of the capital’s crushing progress, but they lived within its interstices and in vulnerable areas; low-lying neighbourhoods often sited directly in the path of typhoons and prone to flooding.

… Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos did not only use the productive character of ‘power’ to restrict social and individual possibilities. They produced new strategies and techniques of social control, through the development of their vice-like regulation and management of disaster relief and, correspondingly, new social and political capacities in the individuals threatened by the typhoons and floods.52 Kenneth Hewitt argues in interpreting the role of hazards in third-world societies that if the main purpose of government and scholars is to bring aid to the needy after calamity has struck then it is clear that these disaster-mitigation responses were not working properly, and they were making matters worse in the Philippines of the 1970s and mid-1980s. These failings were generated by preoccupations of the Marcos government that were political-economic, agency centred and selectively, communal-centric. There was no need to question whether this was a deliberate moral or technical choice; rather it was a simple but necessary side effect of partisan political and institutional arrangements. It is the meaning and implication of these arrangements as they bear upon the interpretation of risk and responsibility for damages and disaster relief—but also, more importantly, in relation to ‘who eats and who does not’—with which Hewitt is concerned.53 Clearly, the Marcos administration derived a dual benefit from the destruction and deprivation wrought by the typhoons and floods: the value of the resources they controlled became inflated in a political and material sense, and they also controlled the force necessary to either expand and protect, or deny, the support of redistributable resources and aid.54

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

Social Covenants… by Seth Kaplan

In Africa, Asia, culture, ethics, Europe, human rights, political science, religion on January 12, 2014 at 00:57

From: Social Covenants Must Precede Social Contracts By Seth Kaplan, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The differences between the two ideas are stark. Social contracts are written agreements entered into on the basis of self-interest for specific purposes. Social covenants, in contrast, are sustained not by the letter of any law or by self-interest. Instead, they depend on fidelity, trust, and loyalty. As moral philosopher and religious leader Jonathan Sacks writes,

Social contract creates a state; social covenant creates a society. Social contract is about power and how it is to be handled within a political framework. Social covenant is about how people live together despite their differences. Social contract is about government. Social covenant is about coexistence. Social contract is about laws and their enforcement. Social covenant is about the values we share. Social contract is about the use of potentially coercive force. Social covenant is about moral commitments, the values we share and the ideals that inspire us to work together for the sake of the common good.

In societies riven by divisions and lacking any organization that can be relied upon to adjudicate disagreements between competing groups effectively, such as the state, some form of agreement between important groups is crucial to ending conflict and dividing up power in a way that ensures a degree of common understanding on how the state ought to work. Such agreements—between different actors within society, not between the state and society—must occur before determining the nature of government, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution.

The power of a social covenant flows less from its conception and implementation than, as Elazar points out, from:

The way it informs culture, especially political culture, endowing particular peoples with a particular set of political perceptions, expectations, and norms and shaping the way in which those perceptions, expectations and norms are given institutional embodiment and behavioral expression.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei

In art, Asia, culture, government, human rights, internet, technology on October 21, 2013 at 05:01

From: Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

For ages, artists have asked difficult questions about the human condition. It is their privilege to pursue such questions without needing to yield practical results. As individuals, and as a society, we can never really say we know everything. Society allows artists to explore what we don’t know in ways that are distinct from the approaches of science, religion, and philosophy. As a result, art bears a unique responsibility in the search for truth.
Art is a social practice that helps people to locate their truth. The truth itself, or the so-called truth presented by the media, has limitations. Manipulation of the truth does not lead to a lack of truth—it’s worse than no truth. Manipulated truths help the powerful, or advance the positions of the people who publicize them. So the arts and journalistic media play completely different roles.
I think it is important for artists to see themselves as privileged, and to bear some responsibility, because their job is about communication and expression. These are the core values of life, of being individuals. Most people don’t realize that they have to fight for this, but for us artists it’s necessary.

With 140 Chinese characters on Twitter, you can write a short story or novel. It’s not like in English, where you only have room for one question or piece of information. So we’re very privileged. But at the same time, I have been censored countless times for blogging on Sina Weibo, sharing my opinions, and publishing the names and stories of children killed during the Sichuan earthquake. The authorities delete my sentences. When they find that I’m writing too much, they shut off my IP. So I have to use another one and write under another user name. Sometimes in one month I have to use a hundred different IP addresses. Still, whatever I do, they’ll try to recognize me from the way I talk and the name I take—variations on my name like “Ai Weiwei,” “Ai Wei,” “Ai” and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

China’s Facelift by Hamid Elyassi

In Asia, economics, economy, politics, society on September 30, 2013 at 21:30

From: China’s Facelift: Economic Development and Political Transition by Hamid Elyassi , The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

In March this year, the moulting of the political structure of the People’s Republic of China was completed at the annual plenary session of the National People’s Congress and the old faces at the top politely offered their seats to their younger colleagues. The facelift, taking place after the set interval of ten years, certainly helped dispel the received notion that leaders of communist regimes, having survived an often perilous road to power, tend to cling to it until death. What it did not do was to counter the uneasy feeling that the intended rejuvenation was only skin deep.

The routine endorsement of the new leadership by the People’s Congress was the second phase of the rejuvenation procedure. The rather ritualistic exercise had begun in November last year when the Communist Party of China (CPC) held its less frequent National Congress to announce new party leaders. The Party, which at one time used to pawn its impressive revolutionary credentials to lend legitimacy to an oppressive, totalitarian state, has for some time been clutching at the success of the Chinese economy to justify its endurance and avoid the inescapable question of its relevance in a country well-versed in the ways of capitalism. Of course, the way the Congress was managed gave no indication of a once bright star on the wane. Indeed, in a perfectly choreographed exercise in form, the new Party leaders presented to the Party Congress in November were later transplanted to the top of the state apparatus. The operation took place before the delegates to the National People’s Congress who played the rather convincing part of parliamentarians empowered to give, and presumably withhold, their votes of confidence in people set to run China for the coming ten years.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

The Weaver’s Dance: Briana Blasko by Karolle Rabarison

In art, Asia, culture, photography on June 12, 2013 at 08:29

From: The Weaver’s Dance: Briana Blasko by Karolle Rabarison, The Morning News, http://www.themorningnews.org/gallery/the-weavers-dance

In 1995, San Francisco-born Briana Blasko transplanted to New York City, where she earned a BFA in Photography from Tisch School of the Arts while working at the Annie Leibovitz Studio. Her photographs have appeared in Dance Magazine, the New York Times, India Perspectives, and numerous other publications. These days, Blasko is based in New Delhi and documents textile and dance throughout India.

Briana Blasko:

I have been working as a photographer for 13 years with a specialization in dance photography for the past 9 years. Frequent trips to India since 2003 have informed the conception of this book project through a deep appreciation for the arts and crafts of Indian textiles and dance. For over three and half years, I visited dance schools and festivals across India to research various forms of classical, folk, and tribal dances. Simultaneously, I visited weaving villages in these states to document the costumes and textiles used by the dancers.

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Reposted with permission from: Morning News

 

 

Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun

In Asia, ecology, economy, environment, government, human rights, information, politics, science on June 3, 2013 at 21:19

From: Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

Sitting with Ma in his office last year, I asked him to talk about the remarkable 20-year career that propelled him to the forefront of China’s environmental movement.

Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.”

He took me back to 1992, the year Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour to open southeastern cities to commerce. China remained closed in many ways but Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.” He was a fresh journalism graduate from the University of International Relations and had landed a position as a researcher and translator in the Beijing office of the South China Morning Post, later working his way up to office manager. At the paper he found himself immersed in every kind of issue and story.

While working as a journalist Ma came to realize that China was in an environmental crisis. He had grown up learning the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu, poets who spoke of China’s lakes, rivers, and land in lyrical, beautiful images. “I grew up reading these books, knowing this landscape through the words of ancient literary giants. I had an image in my mind, but when I traveled—it was just so different.”

In 1994, he found himself at the Three Gorges Dam site covering the story for his paper. Ma was saddened to find that the trees had been clear cut, the river muddied and polluted. “Li Bai and Du Fu had both been so inspired by the landscape, by the gorge, by the torrential flow. When I saw the river, I felt such a big loss.”

When he traveled to Dongting Lake in 1996, he expected to find a place he knew from ancient literature as “vast and extremely pretty.” But when he got there, he “found that the lake during the dry season had been reduced to a few rivers. The degradation was just so obvious.”

And when he went to the Fen River in Shanxi province, Ma saw “streams coming out of different villages with different colors, representing different industries: copper green and iron red and iron brownish, and yellowish and reddish. And they all came together to form a very highly polluting flow, eventually ending up in the Yellow River.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley

In Asia, Europe, government, interview, North America, politics, religion on June 3, 2013 at 21:12

From: Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Pelin Tan: In Infinitely Demanding, you describe a distinction between active and passive nihilism. As I understand it, this description has a theological basis. You offer Al-Qaeda as an example of active nihilism. However, I have my doubts about this distinction. I think active nihilism cannot be explained in terms of local and specific conditions, since its meaning is based in Western epistemology. Do you think Western thought is capable of explaining oppositional radical movements such as Al-Qaeda by way of nihilism?

Simon Critchley: It is a question of the political uses of religion, or civil religion in the way Rousseau talks about it in The Social Contract. We could think of religion as ideology. My view is that things like class, ethnicity, and the rest are hugely important, but the question concerns how a polity such as a state acquires legitimacy and is able to motivate citizens to act on its behalf. And the answer to that question requires some understanding of civil religion. In The Social Contract Rousseau comes to the conclusion that politics requires a quasi-religious apparatus of rituals, including flags, national anthem, pledges of religions, and all the rest. Turkey is a very good example. Ataturk basically tried to invent a kind of civil religion using nationalism. So for me, all political units, especially states, justify themselves and try to motivate citizens by appealing to a form of civil religion. Here in the US, that works through the Constitution and the way constitutionality begins with an appeal to God—”In God We Trust.” And this becomes the basis for a political fight, the question of how the civic creed of the United States is to be interpreted. Does it justify a Republican or Democratic governmental order? Analogous situations exist elsewhere. The French elections took place last Sunday and France also has a civil religion, even though the country is purportedly secular.

PT: What is your opinion on the relationship between secularism and liberal democracy nowadays?

SC: I think that all political units make an appeal to something like the sacred, some conception of the sacred. And to me, the history of political forms is a history of different forms of sacralization — from Mesopotamia through Sumeria to the ancient world, and to where we are now. So in my opinion the secular is another expression of the sacral. Of course, secularists usually insist that God has no role in the political realm, that we cannot appeal to God. This is usually based on some progressivist idea of history, which is also religious. Secularism takes over the providential narrative of Christianity, changes some key elements, and comes up with the idea that liberal democracy is the completion of history. The idea is that one is either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history—as Saint Obama has said. So for me, secularism is another appeal to something sacred, the sacredness of human rights, the universality of human rights. This is ideology. I come out of a Gramsician leftist tradition that took a very particular form in England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where thinkers like Ernesto Laclau, who was very influential for many years, tried to follow Gramsci’s insistence that ideology is important. Ideology isn’t just superstructure. Marxism is about socioeconomic conditions, class, and all the rest—of course that’s true. But ideology, and therefore politics, is that field where social groups are articulated. So for me, ideology has huge importance. And it’s in relation to that notion of ideology that religion takes on this particular importance. So it is not religion, ethnicity, or class inequalities that are important, but the way in which the articulation of each of those terms also appeals to notions of the sacred.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

The Global War Against Baby Girls by Nicholas Eberstadt

In Asia, gender, politics, society, sociology on May 29, 2013 at 23:02

From: The Global War Against Baby Girls by Nicholas Eberstadt, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Over the past three decades the world has come to witness an ominous and entirely new form of gender discrimination: sex-selective feticide, implemented through the practice of surgical abortion with the assistance of information gained through prenatal gender determination technology. All around the world, the victims of this new practice are overwhelmingly female — in fact, almost universally female. The practice has become so ruthlessly routine in many contemporary societies that it has impacted their very population structures, warping the balance between male and female births and consequently skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males. This still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe — and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new “missing baby girls” each year. In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.

Sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species: this new and medicalized war against baby girls is indeed truly global in scale and scope. Estimates by the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Programs Center (IPC) — the two major organizations charged with tracking and projecting global population trends — make the point. According to estimates based on IPC data, a total of 21 countries or territories (including a number of European and Pacific Island areas) had SRBs of 107 or higher in the year 2010; the total population of the regions beset by unnaturally high SRBs amounted to 2.7 billion, or about 40 percent of the world’s total population. For its part, UNPD estimates that 24 countries and territories (a slightly different roster from IPC’s, including some additional European, South American, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Pacific settings) had SRBs of 107 or higher for the 2005-2010 period, for a total population similar to the IPC figure. Additionally, UNPD and IPC list several countries with child (age 0-4) sex ratios of 107 or higher; those lists partially overlap with the SRB lists. If we tally all the places that IPC and UNPD flag as having unnaturally high SRBs or child sex ratios, along with the places listed in Tables 2 and 3 whose official demographic statistics report unnaturally high SRBs or child sex ratios, we would have a total of over 50 countries and territories accounting for over 3.2 billion people, or nearly half of the world’s total population.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan by Cho Kyo

In anthropology, Asia, culture, Featured, history, society on May 20, 2013 at 19:50

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan: Aesthetics and Power by Cho Kyo (Translated by Kyoko Selden), http://www.japanfocus.org

Reposted in full with permission from: Japan Focus

An oblique tooth is viewed in the States as requiring straightening, but in Japan it may be thought of as emblematic of a young woman’s charm. While a slim body is a prerequisite for beauty today, plump women were considered beautiful in Tang Dynasty China and Heian period Japan. Starting from around the twelfth century in China, bound feet symbolized the attractiveness of women. But Japan, which received sundry influences from China, never adopted foot-binding. Instead, shaving eyebrows and blackening teeth became markers of feminine beauty. Before modern times, neither Japanese nor Chinese paid much attention to double eyelids, but in the course of the long twentieth century they became a standard for distinguishing beautiful from plain women. Thus, criteria of beauty greatly differ by era and culture, and therein lie many riddles.

Focusing on changing representations of beauty in Chinese and Japanese cultures, Cho Kyo, in The Search for the Beautiful Woman, attempts to clarify such riddles from the angle of comparative cultural history. Before modern times, Japanese culture was profoundly shaped by Chinese culture, and representations of feminine beauty too received continental influences. In considering Japanese representations of feminine beauty, the author examines literary and artistic sources scattered across historical materials and classical literary works.

Are There Universal Criteria for Beauty?

What constitutes a beautiful woman? Intrinsically, criteria vary greatly depending upon peoples and cultures. A woman thought of as a beauty in one culture may be considered plain in another. This is not normally in our consciousness. Rather, images of beauty are thought to be universal across all cultures. Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn gain worldwide fame as beauties, not simply in American eyes but in Asian and African eyes. But on what criteria?

Princess Shokushi from One Hundred Poets by Katsukawa Shunshō, Tokugawa, private collection.

Have universal standards for determining beauty emerged with the global reach of consumer culture and of the media? As products of multinational enterprises transcend national boundaries to spread worldwide, people of different races and nations have come to use the same cosmetics, and people of different skin colors and facial and bodily features have come to don similar fashions. As a result, the fact that different cultures have different standards of beauty was forgotten before we realized it.

In earlier epochs, different cultures shared no common conception of beauty. In ancient times, each culture held a different image of beautiful women. This was naturally so when cultures were widely different, say, between Western Europe and East Asia, but images were not identical even between closely connected cultures.

Both Chinese and Japanese are Mongoloid. Moreover, in pre-modern times China and Japan shared Confucian culture. Despite the fact that cultural ties between the two countries were extremely close, however, images of beauty in Edo Japan (1600-1868) and Qing China (1644-1911) were strikingly different. For example, while bound feet were a condition for female beauty in China, in Japan blackened teeth were considered beautiful.

At present, with the advance of globalization, the same commodities are not only distributed throughout the world but information easily transcends cultural walls. Boundary crossings represented by satellite television, film and the internet have greatly changed values and aesthetics of the non-Western world, but also of the Western world . . . such that the very categories of East and West, and perhaps North and South, are problematized. As American visual culture is being consumed at the global level, the Western sense of beauty inevitably penetrates today’s developing countries. But Chinese and Japanese conceptions of beauty have also, at various times, made their way across the globe through art, literature, film, commodities and communications.

Despite the rapidly advancing standardization of aesthetic sensibility, however, criteria of beauty have not necessarily become uniform. In Sichuan province, a young medical student from the Republic of Mali became acquainted with a Chinese woman. They fell in love and eventually married, the bridegroom staying on in China and becoming a doctor. A People’s Daily reporter who interviewed him asked: “Would you let us know the secret for winning a beauty like your wife?” “We Mali people have a completely different sense of beauty from yours. A person you regard as a beauty isn’t necessarily always beautiful in our eyes,” he said by way of preface before answering the reporter’s question.

The absence of universal standards for physical beauty was recognized early on along with the discovery of “the intercultural.” Ever since Darwin stated that “It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body,”1many researchers have made the same point. Claude Lévi-Strauss, who observed the body drawings of the Caduveo tribe in Brazil and described them in Tristes Tropiques, conjectured as to why many men belonging to other tribes came to settle and marry Caduveo women at Nalike: “Perhaps the facial and body paintings explain the attraction; at all events, they strengthen and symbolize it. The delicate and subtle markings, which are as sensitive as the lines of the face, and sometimes accentuate them, sometimes run counter to them, make the women delightfully alluring.”(2) When he wrote this, the aesthetics that greatly differed from Western sense of beauty did not shock his readers. In their daily lives, however, most people still believe that essential physical beauty exists universally.

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Impressions of Gaza by Noam Chomsky

In Asia, ethics, history, human rights, politics on May 20, 2013 at 18:53

From: Impressions of Gaza by Noam Chomsky, http://chomsky.info

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

My initial impression, after a visit of several days, was amazement, not only at the ability to go on with life, but also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at the university, where I spent much of my time at an international conference. But there too one can detect signs that the pressure may become too hard to bear. Reports indicate that among young men there is simmering frustration, recognition that under the US-Israeli occupation the future holds nothing for them. There is only so much that caged animals can endure, and there may be an eruption, perhaps taking ugly forms — offering an opportunity for Israeli and western apologists to self-righteously condemn the people who are culturally backward, as Mitt Romney insightfully explained.

Gaza has the look of a typical third world society, with pockets of wealth surrounded by hideous poverty. It is not, however, “undeveloped.” Rather it is “de-developed,” and very systematically so, to borrow the terms of Sara Roy, the leading academic specialist on Gaza. The Gaza Strip could have become a prosperous Mediterranean region, with rich agriculture and a flourishing fishing industry, marvelous beaches and, as discovered a decade ago, good prospects for extensive natural gas supplies within its territorial waters.

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Reposted with permission from: Noam Chomsky

Africa Shining by Anjan Sundaram

In Africa, Asia, ecology, economics, ethics, politics on May 11, 2013 at 19:35

From: Africa Shining: Can India compete with China in an emerging Africa? by Anjan Sundaram, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

… Fifteen years ago, Africa, and particularly its troubled centre, was seen almost exclusively as an exotic high-risk investment destination for the brave and adventurous, for those with privileged connections to Africa’s dictatorships and large pools of capital to risk. Most investors had all but forsaken central Africa after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide killed more than 800,000 people in three months.

But the economic interest in Africa has lately become intense. It is now routinely described as the continent of the future: by some measures it is soon to be the world’s fastest growing region, with a large and rapidly expanding consumer base—its middle class is now estimated to be larger than India’s—and an abundance of rich mineral deposits.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

Video: The K-Pop Effect

In Asia, documentary, media, music, video, visual arts on April 8, 2013 at 17:35

From: Video: The K-Pop Effect: Plastic Surgery, Documentary.net, http://documentary.net

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Viral sensation ‘Gangnam style’ sparked imitations worldwide. Yet closer to home, the dream to be like such K-Pop idols is driving young South Koreans to a darker level of imitation: plastic surgery.

“Once people graduate almost all of them get double-eyelid surgery”, explains Gina, who recently left high-school. “In Korea they say, ‘please make my nose into the style of this star’.” In the district that is home to K-Pop’s major entertainment companies there are over 300 plastic surgery clinics on a single street. But some fear this growing beauty obsession is threatening young people’s sense of identity; “they treat their body as a product. They are losing the meaning of who they are”.

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Disclaimer from the website: “Yes it is free and legal. Films are provided by the filmmakers or rights-holders themselves. Or they claim their copyright protected contents on YouTube and monetize it (like National Geographic).”

Reposted with permission from: Documentary.net

Rediscovering Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud

In Asia, books, history, poetry, politics, religion, research, theory, writers on March 16, 2013 at 15:54

From: Rediscovering Gandhi: New insights from recent books on Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

IN CONVERSATIONS, social theorist Ashis Nandy fondly recalls an exchange between philosopher Ramachandra Gandhi and poet Umashankar Joshi. The philosopher argued that MK Gandhi was inconceivable without his spiritual strivings, while the poet—and one suspects Ashis Nandy too—insisted that Gandhi’s significance lay in his willingness to engage and transform the “slum of politics”.

This divide between the religious, spiritual Gandhi and the political one or, more aptly, the divide between Gandhi the ashramite and Gandhi the satyagrahi has come to shape not only our academic engagement with the life and thought of Gandhi, but also our memory of the man whom we revere, revile or remain indifferent to. The dichotomy is a superficial one. Gandhi saw himself as a satyagrahi and an ashramite. His politics was imbued with spiritual strivings and his relationship with religion was a deeply political one.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan by Anand Gopal

In Asia, government, human rights, law, North America, politics, war on March 5, 2013 at 23:11

From: Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan by Anand Gopal, http://anandgopal.com

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished. He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dusty streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaargoers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat handwritten note on Red Cross stationery to the family. In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. US forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

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Reposted with permission from: Anand Gopal

The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics by Saleem H. Ali

In Asia, ecology, government, politics, war on February 26, 2013 at 05:36

From: The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics: Security and Scarcity by Saleem H. Ali, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

As the rift has widened between the Chinese government and the Tibetan leadership in exile during the past year, it is high time that innovative strategies be considered for conflict resolution. During a recent visit to the Netherlands, I had an opportunity to interact with the Dalai Lama at a seminar on water security organized by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. Sitting around a table with about fifteen scholars from Asia and Europe, the Buddhist spiritual leader called the Tibetan plateau a “third pole” of available water on the planet. The conversation was meant to be apolitical and to focus on science as a touchstone for cooperation. The Dalai Lama humorously commented that it is time we protect mountains not just because they are “sacred” but because “science tells us they are important.” A global strategy is needed by scientists and policymakers alike to address the challenge of water scarcity in Asia.

The situation is particularly acute for the world’s largest continent. While home to more than half of the world’s population, Asia has less fresh water—3,920 cubic meters per person—than any continent except Antarctica. Almost two-thirds of global population growth is occurring in Asia, which is expected to grow by nearly 500 million within the next 10 years, mostly in urban areas. In November 2008, The U.S. National Intelligence Council highlighted Asian water scarcity in its Global Trends 2025 report: “With water becoming more scarce in Asia and the Middle East, cooperation to manage changing water resources is likely to become more difficult within and between states.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek

In Asia, economics, Europe, government, politics, religion, society on February 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The ultimate postmodern irony of today is the strange exchange between Europe and Asia: at the very moment when “European” technology and capitalism are triumphing worldwide at the level of the “economic infrastructure, the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened at the level of “ideological superstructure” in the European space itself by New Age “Asiatic” thought, which, in its different guises ranging from “Western Buddhism” to different “Taos,” is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. Therein resides the highest speculative identity of opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement. One should mention here the well-known concept of “future shock” that describes how people are no longer psychologically able to cope with the dazzling rhythm of technological development and the social changes that accompany it. Things simply move too fast, and before one can accustom oneself to an invention, it has already been supplanted by a new one, so that one more and more lacks the most elementary “cognitive mapping.” The recourse to Taoism or Buddhism offers a way out of this predicament that definitely works better than the desperate escape into old traditions. Instead of trying to cope with the accelerating rhythm of techno-logical progress and social changes, one should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination. One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being. One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the “opium of the people,” as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The “Western Buddhist” meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity. If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Nushu by Fabio Conte

In Asia, community, gender, languages on February 10, 2013 at 17:53

From: Nushu, secret script of Chinese women by Fabio Conte, http://www.cafebabel.co.uk

Discovered in the 1950s, the ancient language was banned by the communist party so that it didn’t ignite discussions on women’s liberation. Thanks to tourism today, this ‘women’s script’ is experiencing something of a revival – unfortunately, fears are that there are few women left who are able to speak and write it.

In standard Chinese it is identified using only one character, yet Nushu itself represents concepts as well as sounds. Literally, ‘nu shu’ means ‘women’s script’. It is made up of over 20, 000 characters which are rhomboid, not square shaped, as they are in standard Chinese. It is read from right to left and mainly written in verses, probably so as to give a certain rhythm to the text. Mao’s prohibition of women’s script during the cultural revolution of China (1966-1976) meant the loss of all texts written in it. Consequently many of the women who knew how to speak and write it soon forgot it. Many texts written in Nushu were burned, and as such now it is difficult to establish the language’s origins.

In the village of Shanjianxu, in the southern region of Hunan (which is famous, amongst other things, for being home to the fictional mountains in 2009’s Avatar) the flower mountain temple is a shrine to two sisters who died over a thousand years ago. For many centuries, the inhabitants of the region have worshiped the spirits of these sisters at the temple. They offer gifts of rice paper rolls in which they placed their secrets, their wishes and sometimes their prayers, which is necessary to find the courage to commit suicide. In the temple, among the smell of incense, there is the sound of a countrywoman’s song which roughly translates as, ‘Spirit sisters, please listen to my prayer, this poor girl writes to you in women’s script, Spirit sisters, take pity on me. I wish to follow wherever you are, if you would only accept me there, then I would dedicate myself to you. I’m willowing to follow you right to the Yellow Springs, to the Underworld. Now, I care nothing for things of this world, Spirit sisters, take pity on me, I beg you, change me into a man, I don’t want to bear the name of woman’.

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Reposted with permission from: Cafebabel

Zojoji Temple in Snow by Philippe Theophanidis

In art, Asia, history of art, visual arts on January 3, 2013 at 16:49

From: Zojoji Temple in Snow, four prints by Kawase Hasui by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net

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Hasui Kawase (1883-1957) was a prominent printmaker in the shin-hanga movement who worked closely (but not exclusively) with the famous publisher Shōzaburō Watanabe. From The British Museum:

In 1907 he began studying Western-style art, especially landscape, at the Hakuba-kai (White Horse Society) and took guidance from Okada Saburosuke (1869-1939); subsequently in 1910 he became a pupil of Kaburaki Kiyokata who gave him the art name Hasui, though the greatest influence on his style and palette was the ‘Nihonga’ painter Imamura Shiko (1880-1916). At this time he earned his living through designing ‘sashi-e’, magazine illustrations, posters and patterns for sashes. Through Kiyokata he became known to Watanabe Shozaburo, who published his first landscape prints in 1918-19. These in turn were first inspired by ‘Eight Views of Omi’ by his fellow-pupil Shinsui, which had aroused Hasui’s interest in single-sheet prints. From then on Hasui worked very extensively as a designer of landscape prints for Watanabe, and from almost the beginning inspired the carvers and printers to produce newer and subtler efforts, especially in the expression of snow.

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Welcome to the “Spiritual Kingdom of Animals” by Slavoj Žižek

In Asia, documentary, economics, ethics, film, North America, philosophy, society on January 1, 2013 at 19:31

From: Welcome to the “Spiritual Kingdom of Animals” by Slavoj Žižek, ODBOR, http://www.odbor.org

In other words, self-interested egotism is not the brutal fact of our societies but its ideology – the ideology philosophically articulated in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit towards the end of the chapter on Reason, under the name of “das geistige Tierreich” – the “spiritual kingdom of animals,” Hegel’s name for the modern civil society in which human animals are caught in self-interested interaction. As Hegel put it, the achievement of modernity was to allow “the principle of subjectivity to attain fulfillment in the self-sufficient extreme of personal particularity.”[3] This reign of this principle makes possible civil society as the domain of in which autonomous human individuals associate with each other through the institutions of free-market economy in order to satisfy their private needs: all communal ends are subordinated to private interests of individuals, they are consciously posited and calculated with the goal of maximizing the satisfaction of these interests. What matters for Hegel here is the opposition of private and common perceived by those on whom Hegel relies (Mandeville, Smith) as well as by Marx: individuals perceive the common domain as something that should serve their private interests (like a liberal who thing of state as a protector of private freedom and safety), while individuals, in pursuing their narrow goals, effectively serve the communal interest. The properly dialectical tension emerges here when we become aware that, the more individuals act egotistically, the more they contribute to the common wealth. The paradox is that when individuals want to sacrifice their narrow private interests and directly work for the common good, the one which suffers is the common good itself – Hegel loves to tell historical anecdotes about a good king or prince whose very dedication to the common good brought his country to ruins. The properly philosophical novelty of Hegel was to further determine this “contradiction” along the lines of the tension between the “animal” and the “spiritual”: the universal spiritual substance, the “work of all and everyone,” emerges as the result of the “mechanical” interaction of individuals. What this means is that the very “animality” of the self-interested “human animal” (the individual participating in the complex network of civil society) is the result of the long historical process of the transformation of medieval hierarchic society into modern bourgeois society. It is thus the very fulfillment of the principle of subjectivity – the radical opposite of animality – which brings about the reversal of subjectivity into animality.

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Reposted according to “friendly” copyright notice from: ODBOR

Snow Job by Anastasia Taylor-Lind

In Asia, ethnicity, Europe, media, photography, sexuality, society on November 25, 2012 at 20:39

From: Snow Job by Anastasia Taylor-Lind, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

THE BLEMISHLESS SUPERMODELS in the glad-rag mags and the haute runways of the London, Paris, New York and Milan fashion weeks are among the most photographed women in the world. Increasingly, these girls originate in Siberia, that legendarily vast Cold War wasteland associated with the terrifying Stalinist Gulag, which today houses a hyper model-casting industry and training schools for kindergarteners to midteens.

Stalin’s paranoid regime, and those that came after, exiled into northeast Russia entire ethnic groups, the spetsposelentsy (special settlers): Volga Germans (the Russlanddeutsche, invited in the 18th century to immigrate by Catherine the Great), Chechens from the Caucasus, Baltic Latvians, Mongol tribes, Inuit, Tatars, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz….

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

The Asian Super Grid by John A. Mathews

In Asia, economics, government, politics, technology on November 25, 2012 at 20:30

From: The Asian Super Grid by John A. Mathews, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

The integration of East Asia is a topic of perennial interest – whether it be monetary integration (much discussed in the wake of the 1997 financial crisis), trade integration (promoted via ever-expanding FTA areas) or even political integration. But what is not widely discussed (as yet) is actually the best hope for effective integration – and that is energy integration, via an Asian super grid linking the enhanced electric power systems of China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and perhaps Russia.

Just such an Asian Super Grid has been proposed – by the charismatic Softbank CEO Son Masayoshi, driver of Japan’s post-Fukushima shift to a renewable energy pathway. The first steps towards the Asian Super Grid (ASG) were taken in October, when SB Renewables, Son’s new subsidiary specializing in renewable energy, announced an agreement with a company in Mongolia, Newcom, to develop a site in the Gobi desert for a giant wind farm that would feed renewable power into the grid. (See ‘Softbank plans to develop wind power in Mongolia with Newcom’, by Chisake Watanabe, Bloomberg, Oct 24 2012)

By the end of 2012, it is anticipated that SB Renewables and Newcom will have identified the site for the first wind farm in the Gobi desert through a joint venture, Clean Energy Asia established in March 2012. The proposed wind farm would be rated at 300 MW (the equivalent of a thermal power plant), and could be operational as early as 2014. Feasibility studies for three other sites have already been commissioned, with power capacity of 7 GW – or the equivalent of seven nuclear power stations.

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva

In Asia, biology, community, culture, ecology, ethics, nature, research, science on November 9, 2012 at 00:16

From: It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva, America Latina en Movimiento, http://alainet.org

(…) Biodiversity is not empty, it is not pure nature, none of the varieties that have been evolved over centuries by peasant societies, particularly the women, are landrace. I think it’s just a wrong term to use because there’s intelligence in every bit of their breeding.
And as we think of how do we achieve systems of development, particularly rural development, there can be objectives of providing food of high quality, good nutrition, how do we assure that rural communities are not excluded, that women are not excluded, I think the first step along with development [is] food security as well as social inclusion, it is to start removing the boundaries and walls that have lead to exclusion. In my view the most important wall is a very invisible wall that gets higher and higher and higher.
This is a wall I have called the creation boundary. This is a wall that is destroying our biodiversity, that is pushing our rural communities to marginalization and poverty, and it is a wall that has discounted the knowledge of peasant societies, especially the women.
And this wall started to get put in place when knowledge was suddenly demarcated between scientific knowledge and other [types of] knowledge that aren’t knowledge.

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Reposted with permission from: America Latina en Movimiento

The dark side of TESOL by Kimie Takahashi

In Asia, economics, gender, languages, politics, sociology on November 8, 2012 at 03:14

From: The dark side of TESOL by Kimie Takahashi, Language on the Move http://www.languageonthemove.com

The latest issue of Cross-Cultural Studies (published by the Center for Cross Cultural Studies, Kyung Hee University, Korea) includes an article about the dark side of TESOL authored by Ingrid Piller, Kimie Takahashi, and Yukinori Watanabe. Based on case studies from Japan and South Korea, this review paper explores the hidden costs of English language learning (ELL). In a context where English has become a commodity and ELL a form of consumption, we focus on the personal and social costs of (a) studying abroad as a much-touted path to “native-like” proficiency and (b) sexualization of language teaching materials in order to reach new niche markets. The hidden costs of ELL are embedded in language ideologies which set English up as a magical means of self-transformation and, at the same time, an unattainable goal for most Japanese and Koreans. We end with the call to expose debilitating language ideologies in order to shed light on the hidden costs of ELL.

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Reposted with permission from: Language on the Move

A city for women only by Natasha Mitchell and Adel Abdel Ghafar

In Asia, audio, gender, human rights, politics, sexuality, society on November 5, 2012 at 21:16

From: A city for women only by Natasha Mitchell and Adel Abdel Ghafar, Life Matters, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

A new women-only industrial city dedicated to female workers is set to be built in the so-called shrouded kingdom of the Middle-East: Saudi Arabia.

It may come as a surprise to some, given Saudi Arabia attracts much criticism from human rights groups for its systematic discrimination against women. Saudi women are subject to the kingdom’s strict customs which mean they are unable to vote, drive or sign a legal document.

So does the proposed development represent a move by the government toward achieving independence for women, or is there another incentive?

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Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Sex and Censorship During the Occupation of Japan by Mark McLelland

In Asia, books, culture, gender, history, North America, politics, sexuality, sociology, war on November 3, 2012 at 20:44

From: Sex and Censorship During the Occupation of Japan by Mark McLelland, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

Historian of sexuality Shimokawa Kōshi has described the first three years of the Occupation, from 1945 to 1948, as a time of “sexual anarchy,” 1 and it is true that many accounts describe the early postwar years as a period of “sexual liberation.” Igarashi Yoshikuni, in particular, has stressed the very visceral sense of release that many Japanese people experienced at the war’s end.2 As we saw in the previous chapter, the militarist authorities had established pervasive surveillance and censorship mechanisms that seriously constrained the expression of sexuality by men and particularly by women. Prostitution was tightly controlled and limited to specific licensed areas, unmarried male and female couples had almost no opportunity to mingle socially, and sexual expression in the press was stymied by the threat of prosecution by the “thought police.” All these restrictions were removed within the first few months of the Occupation.

However, anarchy is probably not quite the right term since it suggests a complete freedom from formal control. But, as we will see, sexuality continued to be highly regulated and supervised, albeit in different ways and with different goals in mind. The Japanese authorities fully expected that the incoming Americans would behave in the same rapacious manner as had their own forces when they advanced across China and were determined to put in place measures to protect the purity of Japanese women. The US administration, on the other hand, rather than viewing their troops as sexual predators, tended to see these young men as “clean, innocent and vulnerable” and in danger of “having their morals corrupted and their health destroyed” by “shameless Japanese women.”3 The policies that the Allies enacted were intended to protect their own troops’ physical wellbeing, with scant regard paid to their effects on Japanese women and society.

Both authorities, Japanese and Occupier, were overwhelmingly concerned to regulate “fraternization” between local women and foreign troops, and many academic studies have examined in detail the lengths to which both sides went to monitor and restrict potential inter-racial sexual contacts.4 However, far less attention has been paid to the effects that the collapse of the military regime and the arrival of the American forces had upon Japanese male and female interaction and the representation of sexual discourse in the Japanese media. This chapter outlines some of the major policy decisions taken by the Occupation administration, particularly regarding the regulation of obscenity in the press that helped shape local Japanese sexual cultures during the Occupation period.

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

Great Leap Backward by Steve Tsang

In Asia, books, government, history, politics on October 31, 2012 at 18:44

From: Great Leap Backward by Steve Tsang, Literary Review, http://www.literaryreview.co.uk

The author saw his father starved to death but believed the official version of history and even joined the Party. He only found out the reality three decades later as he started his research for this book. As a senior Xinhua journalist he had privileged access to provincial archives. He cross-checked his findings against survivors’ stories to devastating effect, as he tells how at least 36 million Chinese citizens were persecuted or starved to death as the famine was sustained for over three years.

Yang’s research confirms that the official account, which blames Mother Nature and the Soviet Union, is make-believe. No unusual natural disaster or abnormal weather conditions occurred that could have caused the famine. He also proves that the withdrawal of Soviet aid during the period could not have had anything more than the most tangential impact on the food supply in China.

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Reposted with permission from: Literary Review

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