Today Southeast Asian Studies, as well as the wider Asian Studies, are facing challenges in the new era, the Age of Disruption, the high tech-driven transformation of global society. The consequences are paradoxical. 1) While the tech-led transformation needs a workforce with critical and innovative abilities, higher education has become hyper-utilitarian. 2) While the disruptive transformation has instigated increasing diversity of identities and cultures in the global society, most countries are thriving on STEM education at the expense of that of global diversity. Southeast Asian Studies needs to respond to these challenges.
This paper examines the prospects of Southeast Asian Studies from the Vietnamese scholarly perspective. While area studies are in a crisis because of emerging Global and International Studies and the driving forces of globalization, Southeast Asian Studies are facing the struggle of reconstructing their institutions, theoretical approaches, and geographical shifts. Although the field is declining in Australia, Europe, and North America, its emergence in Asia in general and Southeast Asia, in particular indicates the regional eagerness to promote a new understanding of the region and seek to produce the kind of knowledge that better serves regional interests. This paper sheds light upon the state of the field in Vietnam. By recognizing the changing intellectual landscape and shifting regional context that demands new “regional knowledge,” it suggests that Vietnamese Southeast Asianists are not ready, and are still trapped in the post-Cold War transition. While the state’s control of research on social sciences and the humanities limits the space for intellectual creativity and criticism, public discourse is still fueled by nationalism and Viet-centrism. The traditional imperial and Cold War-mindsets still dominate the way Vietnamese look at the region, particularly countries such as Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. The result has been the lack of an updated understanding of what has happened in the region for both the public and the intellectuals.
This paper explores how Southeast Asian Studies can benefit from, but also contribute to, efforts to rethink Asian alterities within Asia by using institutional and disciplinary developments at the National University of Singapore. It shows how revisions of Asian Studies in the aftermath of the Orientalist critique have produced a critical brand of Inter-Asia discourses that provincialize dominant/Western narratives in order to recover autonomous Asian thought and action. However, an over-emphasis on Inter-Asia studies risks submerging a sub-regional field like Southeast Asian Studies that has long been concerned with the problem of autonomous differences. Furthermore, Inter-Asia insistence on regional alterities comes with the attendant risk of exclusivism that closes off any translatability between (Southeast) Asia and the West/the rest of the world. How then can the quest for Asian differences contribute to more inclusive or democratic understandings of human diversity and possibilities? This paper argues that intercultural approaches developed within Southeast Asian Studies fill gaps in Inter-Asia discourses by bringing incompatible differences into dialogue to reveal and reinstate unexpected interdependencies, thereby arriving at renewed understandings of the inseparability and parity of radical differences.
Since the 1950s Indonesia has attracted foreign social science and humanities researchers. Therefore, when the U.S. government initiated an area studies program in the 1960s, Indonesian Studies immediately emerged as one of the main research and study interests. Students and scholars came to Indonesia to study the relationship between religion, culture, and politics. They returned and brought their knowledge of the people, history, culture, and language of the country, strengthening the area studies program in the U.S. However, in contrast to the role of foreign scholars in developing Indonesian Studies in the U.S. and Europe, Indonesian academics have shown little interest on learning about people and cultures outside of their own country. This essay examines why area studies knowledge is less popular among Indonesian academics. Drawing on the history of area studies at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), it also demonstrates how area studies knowledge relates to state’s policy.
From the 1960s to early 1970s, area studies at LIPI followed an international relations approach to studying regional influences on domestic politics. From the 1970s, the New Order developmentalist regime instructed that research should focus more on domestic social problems, therefore area studies were discouraged. The interest in area studies re-emerged in the 2000s, facilitated by foreign grants to strengthen Southeast Asian Studies. In around 2015, the government changed its development policy to emphasize international connectivity and a quest for a greater Indonesian contribution to the international market. As a result, the national research priority has changed and area studies at the LIPI has once again been sidelined and shifted toward transnational studies.
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed an inflow of large numbers of Chinese laborers, and the proliferation of inland traffic profoundly influenced highland society in Northern continental Southeast Asia. Although previous studies have discussed social fluctuation in areas where states have maintained a comparatively high level of autonomy from lowland polities, few have investigated areas such as the Northeast region of Vietnam, where inhabitants have been closely tied to lowland polities. This article focuses on the Lạng Sơn province―one of the provinces in northeastern Vietnam―and investigates the survival strategies of local chieftains, and the degree of influence exercised by provincial officials by considering the Vietnamese Lê-Trịnh military government in Lang Son province during the eighteenth century.
During the mid-eighteenth century, the Lạng Sơn region experienced extensive disturbances, as did other provinces in the Red River delta area. To suppress these uprisings, provincial officials organized local chieftains into military units by providing titles named hiệu, which provincial officials used as a tool to encourage chieftains to draft and command soldiers. An investigation of archives of interactions between provincial officials and chieftains reveals that when chieftains contributed to suppression of uprisings, provincial officials granted or upgraded their title. By 1780, provincial officials had arranged titles into three ranks: principal director [thủ hiệu], vice director [phó hiệu], and subordinate director [thuộc hiệu]. Furthermore, in the late eighteenth century, provincial officials directly mobilized and commanded one hundred soldiers, who were originally drafted and mobilized by chieftains. This indicates an increasing influence of provincial officials over local chieftains.
Since the “Workers’List” formed by cooperation of the Indo-China Communist Party and a Trotskyite group won seats on the Saigon Municipal Council in 1933 and in subsequent years, the Saigon Municipal Council election in 1933 has been considered as a major turning point in the radicalization of Vietnamese nationalism in southern Vietnam. Previous studies have claimed that the reason that the Saigon Municipal Council elections were the greatest success for the “Workers’List” in the 1930s was that in Indo-China only the Saigon Municipal Council adopted direct universal (male) suffrage.
However, the electoral system and the true nature of Saigon Municipal Council elections have not been sufficiently investigated in previous studies. This article focuses on the Saigon municipal electoral system and examines its structural features.
The Saigon Municipal Council was founded in 1869. Until 1881, foreign residents who had not acquired French citizenship were excluded from the Saigon Municipal Council election; there were two electoral colleges called the French Electoral College and Indigenous Electoral College. Throughout the French colonial period, the ratio of French representatives to indigenous representatives was fixed at 2:1, although this did not actually reflect the population ratio. In short, the unequal state continued.
In spite of having adopted “direct (male) universal suffrage,” the number of registered adult Vietnamese voters was extremely small and the voter turnout was low. The percentage of the registered eligible voters in 1919 is presumed to have been about 12.7%, and throughout the twentieth century, the voter turnout was consistently less than 50% of registered eligible voters.
The Saigon Municipal Council election was thus conducted by universal suffrage; the possibility of becoming registered voters through residential registration or registration in an electoral register was open to all male adults. Therefore, in election campaigns, candidates had to gear their election promises to appeal not only to a few people who eagerly participated in the election but also to many potential registered voters.
In 1930s, the Saigon Municipal Council became a place of political strife between the Constitutionalist Party and “Workers’ List.” It can be said that as early as 1920s, the Saigon Municipal Council elections had already included a possibility that it would become a site for class struggle among the Vietnamese residents of Saigon.
This article aims to identify changes in the locations of Japanese military facilities in Bangkok and analyze Thailand’s reactions. In the initial stage of the war, many Japanese soldiers went through Bangkok on their way to the front lines. Although most of them left Bangkok within a few months, Bangkok became the headquarters of the Japanese army in Thailand when the Thailand Garrison Command was installed in 1943. Thereafter, Bangkok’s function as the main base for the Japanese Army gradually increased before reaching its peak at the end of war.
The Japanese barracks and other facilities in Bangkok were concentrated in Pathumwan, Bang Rak, and Yannawa districts in the inner area and Phra Khanong and Dusit districts in outlying part of the city. Many public facilities such as schools were used by the Japanese army in Pathumwan, which resulted in the largest number of garrisons and soldiers being located there. Bang Rak had fewer soldiers and garrisons, but functioned as the Japanese Army Headquarters in Thailand. Many Western firms’ wharfs in Yannawa were occupied by Japan as enemy property. The Bangkok port and Bang O garrison in Phra Khanong and Sanam Pao and Chat Songkhro School in Dusit also played important roles.
With limited success, Thailand requested return of several sites that Japan used without permission. However, Japan tried to evacuate its bases to suburban areas to prevent air raids from 1944, causing problems, as Thailand wished to concentrate them in specific areas. Therefore, Thailand tried to minimize damage but not to refuse all requests by Japan. As a result, the number of Army facilities in Bangkok did not increase substantially in comparison to the skyrocketing number of soldiers in the last stage of war.
Through analysis of the paddy cultivation scheme announced in 1944 by the Ministry of Land and Agriculture, headed by Minister Thakin Tan Tun, this paper examines how the Ba Maw government responded to Japanese military intervention. This policy aimed to compel people in rural areas to organise themselves into village agricultural committees to allot centrally planned quotas of paddy acreage to each of their villages, and to offer agricultural loans to cultivators. Every landlord was obliged to rent their land to tenants; village agricultural committees were expected to assist in the execution of the scheme, such as by helping landlords find tenants when needed, preparing lists of available lands or workers, and collecting rent and revenue. The paddy cultivation scheme was intended to cover the whole of Burma, though consistent implementation might have been impossible. This paper analyses this scheme using previously untapped source materials from the National Archive Department in Myanmar.
Examination of this material indicates that the Ba Maw government made use of the opportunity presented by the Japanese sponsored paddy cultivation scheme to organise people in rural areas for its political ends, and that Thakin Tan Tun, who was a leader of the Burma Communist Party after the war, was the plan’s driving force.