The number and types of memory projects in Vietnam have proliferated rapidly since the mid-1990s. These projects, most of them intensely local in focus, reconfigure selective aspects of different “pasts” for strategic use in the present. Government-approved memory projects exhibit similar patterns. However, some of them openly diverge from official narratives of patriotic resistance. The project featured in this essay—the creation of an archive to document the Great Famine (1944–45) by a joint Vietnamese-Japanese research commission—is such an example. Close attention to the methodological procedures used to assemble this archive, which is highly unorthodox in form and content, provides insights into how historical evidence is fashioned rather than found in the Vietnamese context. The details reveal partial silences in four thematic areas: (1) the allocation of blame, (2) the suppression of sentiment in oral form, (3) the depersonalization of suffering in visual form, and (4) the comparative absence of organized resistance. Close attention to these elisions explains why the Great Famine and the hungry ghosts it produced continue to resist incorporation into state-approved histories of the “exceptional dead,” who sacrificed their lives to defend the “nation” from foreign aggressors.
I intend to approach the current decade-long political crisis in Thailand from two perspectives: power shift and cultural political hegemony. From a comparative historical point of view, the current crisis fits into a pattern of cyclical power shifts in modern Thai politics in which an initial opening/liberalization of the economy led to the emergence of a new class/social group, which in turn grew and rose to politically challenge the existing regime of the old elites and their allies. An extended period of political contest and turmoil ensued, with varying elements of radical transformation and setback, reaction and compromise, which usually ended in a measure of regime change. A remarkable feature of the ongoing power shift in Thailand is the ironic reversal of political stance and role of the established urban middle class, who have turned from the erstwhile vanguard democratizers of the previous power shift into latter-day anti-democratizers of the current one, with the globally dominant ideology of liberal democracy being torn asunder as a result. The preferred strategy of recent anti-democratic movements has been violent street politics and forceful anarchic mass occupation of key administrative, business, and transportation centers to bring about socioeconomic paralysis, virtual state failure, and government collapse. The aim is to create a condition of un-governability in the country that will allow the movement’s leaders to exploit King Bhumibol’s hard-earned hegemonic position and the deep-seated constitutional ambiguity of the locus of sovereignty in Thailand’s “Democratic Regime of Government with the King as Head of the State” so as to appeal to heaven for divine political intervention. This has inadvertently resulted in the increasing politicization of the monarchy and concomitant decline of royal hegemony as the symbolic ties between democracy and the monarchy in Thailand become unraveled. In this light, the latest coup by the NCPO military junta—on May 22, 2014—was a statist/bureaucratic politic attempt to salvage the cohesiveness of the Thai state apparatus in the face of the societally self-destructive, protracted political class conflict that has reached a stalemate and the aggravatingly vulnerable monarchy.
The “Javanese factor” is a strategic consideration in Indonesian electoral politics, as the Javanese are Indonesia’s most numerous inhabitants. However, seminal masterpieces such as those by Geertz (1960) and Gaffar (1992) apply only a limited and individual-based voting approach in their efforts to explain Javanese voting behavior. Recent qualitative case studies explore anut grubyuk (fitting in) as a unique form of grouped rural Javanese voting behavior, rooted in the Javanese communal philosophy of life and hierarchical values. A study in four selected villages in Blitar and Trenggalek Regencies in East Java argues that individual Javanese voters adjust their voting decisions based on the major preference in their neighborhood, in keeping with the communal spirit of living in harmony as well as to avoid conflict and respect neighborly relationships. This article presents a preliminary assessment of anut grubyuk as group-oriented voting among the Javanese, a topic that has been relatively absent in academic discussion. Beyond cultural explanations, recent illiberal democratic practices have made anut grubyuk vulnerable to manipulation, since certain community leaders or brokers exploit Javanese communality in return for both individual and communal short-term benefits from candidates. Instead of helping with the growth of liberal democracy, anutgrubyuk potentially supports patronage-driven democracy, in which small numbers of elites use patronage for influential control over electoral processes.
The spawning of Muslim philanthropic associations signifies an increasingly visible Islamic social and political activism, in Indonesia as elsewhere in the Muslim world. Acting as non-state welfare providers, the associations provide “social security” to poor and disadvantaged groups as a means of promoting the public good. In the intricate relationship between state and citizen in the world’s largest Muslim country, Muslim philanthropic ideals of promoting the well-being of the community (ummah) are in turn contested. Will they lead to a more democratic citizenship or to new types of clientelistic relations within a plural society? This research deals with the following questions: To what extent are welfare issues perceived by Muslim philanthropic organizations as shaping a new debate over “citizenship”? Can the Islamic concept of ummah be reconciled with modern ideas of citizenship?
This paper will examine Kuo Pao Kun’s modern reiteration of the Zheng He theme in his 1995 Singaporean play titled Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral 郑和的后代. The memory of Zheng He and his legacy rooted in an anomalous series of sea expeditions makes him unique in Chinese history and speaks to contemporary issues of multiculturalism, ethnic hybridity, and the geopolitics of migration and diaspora. Kuo reappropriates the Zheng He theme to re-present the eunuch admiral as an ancient paradigm of the modern multicultural man in an increasingly transnational world. Scholars have noted the way Kuo uses storytelling to prompt people in Singapore to show a greater willingness to live together as a multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual nation. However, I argue that the play’s text reveals more somber and personal undercurrents, where Kuo draws upon an intimate understanding of the classical Chinese Zheng He story to record shrewd observations and articulate concealed shafts of criticism about Singapore’s bureaucracy, intermingled with philosophical reflections addressing contemporary Sinophone lived reality.
Since Singapore’s independence in 1965, the People’s Action Party government has launched an extensive urban planning program to transform the island into a modern metropolis. This paper discusses human-animal relations and the management of stray cats in postcolonial Singapore. In exploring the perceptions and handling of stray cats in Singapore, I argue that stray cats became an urban “problem” as a result of the government’s public-health regime, urban renewal projects, and attempts to fashion itself and Singapore for international tastes, and that cat activists are the main agents of rebuilding connections between animals and everyday urban life. In particular, I analyze how cat-welfare associations and individual citizens assume functions that the government has been loath to perform unless absolutely necessary.