Transregional Research Junior Scholar Fellowship: InterAsian Contexts and Connections — 2015–2016 Cohort

Robert Beahrs
Postdoctoral Fellow, Music (Ethnomusicology), University of Pittsburgh
Nomadic Belonging: Interspecies Listening and Voicing in the Turco-Mongol Borderlands (Russia–Mongolia)

This project is an ethnography of mediated, interspecies listening and voicing among nomadic hunter-pastoralists living in the rural borderlands of Tuva (Russia) and Western Mongolia before and after the fall of Soviet state socialism (from Perestroika to Putin). Based on extensive historical, ethnographic, and musicological research, I show how mobile pastoralists living on both sides of the international Russia–Mongolia border express a transboundary sense of identity, or belonging, through their practices of listening to and voicing with the natural environment, animals, and people during everyday herding and hunting activities. I argue that the cultivation of these listening and voicing practices in rural herding and hunting communities — for example, throat-singing, calling, coaxing, hushing, and crying produced collaboratively by humans, animals, wind, and rivers — indexes rich and complex social, political, and cosmological relationships. Moreover, the sonic materiality of “voices” can be understood to inhabit and navigate multiple types of boundary zones — between Turkic and Mongol language groups, Russian and Mongolian subjects, humanity and animality, music and sound, as well as physical and metaphysical life worlds. Mobile pastoralists living in the rural Circa-Altai borderlands cultivate and negotiate multiple kinds of voices whose semiotic and affective links with “borders” complicate urban narratives of nomadic personhood as an ideology for constructing national identities in Tuva’s capital city of Kyzyl and Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar. This project helps create a model for understanding similar features and relationships in and among other groups that have experienced modes of ethno-cultural nationalism and inter-regional division.

Brian Bernards
Assistant Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California
Imagined Horizons: The Multicultural Nationscapes of Inter-Asian Cinema

Imagined Horizons examines the imaginative configuration of relations between East, Southeast, and South Asian cultures, environments, and peoples in post-Asian Financial Crisis (1997) films from different parts of the region. This inter-Asian cinema renegotiates national cultures whose hegemonic articulation is predicated on the threat or promise of globalization, usually construed as spiritual/moral corruption or material attainment under an invasive or idealized monolithic Westernization whose cinematic emblem is Hollywood. I ask: How do directors from different Asian cinemas mobilize personnel, talent, and shooting locations from/in other parts of the region? Does their work circulate among Asian audiences beyond national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries? Are inter-Asian connections more important than appropriating and competing with Hollywood? How do filmmakers imagine inter-Asian relations through different motifs, such as pop cultural consumption or gendered flows of migrant labor? This study puts recent criticism on Asian regionalism into dialogue with Asian cinema studies to argue for an “inter-Asian cinema” based on subregional interrelations rather than stylistic common ground. With film dialogue in multiple languages, dialects, and accents, inter-Asian cinema targets audiences who rarely understand all languages spoken onscreen: it locates a “horizon of partial intelligibility” that confronts stereotyping, othering, and claiming mastery. The “imagined horizon” builds on Benedict Anderson’s nation as “imagined community” to rearticulate the relationship between cultural production and national identity in an era of neoliberal globalization, underscoring the capacity of cinema’s audiovisual interplay to pluralize and destabilize relations between sound and image that standardized print languages normalize as fixed. Attending to uneven flows of labor, capital, and popular culture within Asia, inter-Asian cinema produces differently multicultural (rather than discretely singular) nationscapes, complicating assertions of an Asian cinema while still accessing viable circuits of regional cinematic production and reception that allow for a sustained critique of both Hollywood dominance and national cinema agendas.

Lale Can
Assistant Professor, History, The City College of New York, CUNY
Spiritual Citizens: Central Asian Pilgrims and the Politics of Protection in the Ottoman Empire, 1869-1914

Spiritual Citizens is a history of pilgrimage and migration from Central Asia to Ottoman lands, which tells a broader story about intersections of mobility, legal imperialism, and pan-Islam in the fin de siècle Ottoman Empire. The book examines the status of “foreign” (i.e., non-Ottoman) Muslims in the modernizing Ottoman state, with a focus on people from various formally and informally colonized lands in Russia, China, and Afghanistan. Taking us from the realm of Russo-Ottoman competition for authority to the experiences of so-called pauper pilgrims traveling to Mecca, the book begins with an 1869 citizenship law that classified all non-Ottomans as foreigners and ends with the First World War, when large-scale pilgrimage from Central Asia came to a halt. By reconstructing multifaceted stories of short- and long-term residents in the empire, Spiritual Citizens argues that foreign Muslims (ecanib-i Müslimin) forced the central government in Istanbul to continually recalibrate what it meant to be an Ottoman and to grapple with what pan-Islam—the ideology of political and religious unity of Muslims worldwide—meant in practice. The sultan’s claims to universal authority through the caliphate, combined with the threat that colonial Muslim subjects posed to Ottoman sovereignty and authority (for example, by claiming extraterritorial rights and privileges derived from treaties and Capitulatory grants) pushed the foreign ministry to assert that some Central Asians were exclusively under the protection of the Ottoman caliphate – even as they were excluded from the citizenry. Not quite Ottoman and not quite foreign, they had become what I term the sultan’s “spiritual citizens.” This was an extralegal form of membership in the polity that emerged at the crossroads of pan-Islamic politics and Ottoman engagement with international law, and that helps us to better understand the role of transimperial mobility in shaping imperial citizenship in the Ottoman Empire and beyond.

Debojyoti Das
Visiting Fellow, Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, Oxford University
Post-doctoral Fellow, MacMillan Center, Yale University
Memory, Resilience and Climate Change: An Ethnographic Account of Flood and Cyclone in South and South East Asia

My project aims to study cyclone and flood in the Bay of Bengal - Indian Ocean littoral region through investigation of community memory, oral history and literature produced by communities of Dalit East Bengal partition refugee (Bengali fisherman and seafarers settled in the Sundarban delta of South 24 Parganas, India) (Bandopadhyay 1997), the Rakhaing community of Burmese dissent living in Chittagong, Bangladesh (Tun 2015), and the Rohingyas, - Bengali Muslims settled in Myanmar’s Arakan region (Moshe 2002). At a time when the global scientific community is debating the impact of climate change and global warming, this project is of pressing concern in its exploration of how local communities build resilience through tacit knowledge of their environment. The research will produce an innovative re-conceptualization of cyclones and floods by focusing on peoples lived memory, creative arts, paintings, community museums and vernacular literature in South and South East Asia. It will provide an evidence-base for the culturally specific dimensions of disaster preparedness and community resilience (Adger et. al, 2005).

The research builds on my recent participation in the ‘Coastal Frontiers’ project (2012-15) where I looked at the lives of seafarers and fisherman in the Bay of Bengal and the community managed archives. The project will combine environmental anthropology with the memory study and history of transnational flows, bridging insights from the humanities, community museums, oral history and subaltern artwork of marginal communities occupying the coastal and regional frontier in the northern Bay of Bengal littoral region which includes the territories of - (Eastern India, Bangladesh and Myanmar).

This research can be of significant value to policy-makers and experts who currently overly rely on scientific knowledge and data-gathering practice based on meteorological forecasting to understand changing climate which as Mike Hulme (2009, 2011) has argued compellingly has had little effect on people’s behaviour. It will simultaneously contribute to the emergent scholarship on climate change and natural disaster mitigation aligns with the ‘grand challenges’ that Asia face with global climate change.

Kathryn J. Franklin
Lecturer, Liberal Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Silk Roads, Mountain Worlds: Travel and the politics of worldview in the Late Medieval South Caucasus

This integrated research project approaches the ‘Silk Road’ of Eurasia as a material and historical problem, a challenge to situate modern understandings of scale and interaction in Eurasia in their own moment and to explore ways of imagining local action and larger worlds as they were intimately constructed in the past. Specifically, the project draws from multiple bodies of evidence to reconstruct how social actors locally situated in the highlands of Armenia during the AD 12-15th centuries produced working understandings of their place in relation to a wider world of interaction. Through analyses of surveyed landscape, archaeological artifacts, texts, architecture and inscriptions and synthesis of these datasets within a digital spatial database, I will examine how these locally rooted ‘worlds’ were then implicated in constituting the wider Silk Road ecumene, a shared cultural world of tastes, practices and spatial logics which continued to shape socio-political life in Eurasia even as the “silk roads” themselves shifted in space and degrees of centralized organization. Working with comparative data from the regions of Vayots Dzor, Aragatsotn and Shirak in Armenia, the project will ultimately renovate appreciations of the people living in Armenia as cosmopolitan, shifting emphasis of that concept from the consumption of exotic things from distant foreign places to the active production of worldviews through engagements with materials, spaces and other historical subjects. In addition to various bodies of new material data, this project thus also generates a refurbished model of the medieval Silk Road as a cultural ecumene consisting of multiple imperfectly overlapping and complexly interrelated places like Armenia, each of which was for the cosmopolitan people passing through it and living in it both local and world.

Kathryn E. Graber
Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University Bloomington
Cashmere: Value, Knowledge, and Intellectual Property in an InterAsian Industry

Mimi Hanaoka
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of Richmond
Views of the Asian Other: Educational Reform and Models of Modernity

Distinctive in its use of Japanese, Arabic, Persian, and English language primary sources, “Views of the Asian Other: Educational Reform and Models of Modernity,” investigates the ways in which Muslim reformists in Iran and South Asia approached Japan as a non-Western model of modernity and educational reform during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

At the core of my book project is the diplomat Eishiro Nuita, who with his delegation departed Tokyo for their nine-month exploratory mission from Japan to the Middle East in late summer, one day before the cataclysmic Great Kanto Earthquake devastated the region on September 1st, 1923. The 37-year old Nuita’s journey took him through the Middle East, with extended ventures in Iran and Turkey. Nuita’s travels, coming two decades after Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 and during a crescendo in Japanese imperialism, were guided by two major goals: to gauge the perception of Japan in the Middle East and to build a rapport with various Middle Eastern constituencies in order to lay the diplomatic groundwork for treaties and pacts.

Mapping Nuita’s journey through the Middle East, “Views of the Asian Other” identifies the ways in which Muslim reformists viewed Japan as a non-Western model of modernity. The book focuses on the ways in which Iran assessed Japan as a non-Western model of modernity, especially for educational reform, during the late 19th century and first quarter of the 20th century. South Asian Islamic Revivalists, such as the educator Syed Ross Masood, also sought to import select elements of Japanese reforms into British colonial India. By shifting attention to long-standing relationships between the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia, this project explores why and how Muslim reformers in the Middle East and South Asia looked to Japan as a model of modernity.

Kimberly Kay Hoang
Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Chicago
Capital Brokers in Emerging Markets

Dramatic shifts in global financial flows over the last decade point to a decline of Western influence and a rise of East and Southeast Asian power in international financial markets. In particular, two major events have pushed scholars to rethink the dominance of Western nations in global finance: the 2008 financial crisis that rocked the United States and Europe, and the concurrent economic rise of East Asia. The 2008 global financial crisis reversed the fortunes of leading global cities like New York and London, which have struggled to retain their lead in relation to Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. These market transformations suggest that the rules of the game—a game that is now full of new players—are up for grabs and, in order to understand the emerging new rules, we must examine the culture of how investors broker business deals on the ground. How are highly speculative capital deals brokered in newly emerging markets with a diverse set of Western and East Asian investors?

While economists have illustrated how global capital moves around the world, foreign direct investments are not disembodied flows of global economic capital. People embedded in Southeast Asia’s newly emerging markets broker capital deal. I examine how Western investors, constrained by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, navigate the local market and compete for investment projects with East and Southeast Asian investors, who operate from contexts that are not subject to the same laws. This project provides sociological analysis of capital brokers as they manage investments in risky markets. I document their practices of embedding themselves in these local economies as they calculate the potential risk and rewards for their investments.

Mana Kia
Assistant Professor, Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University
Significant Others: Forms of Companionship Across Early Modern Iran and India

This project focuses on the various forms of companionship in early modern Persianate Asia, a region created through heavy and sustained circulation of people, texts and ideas. Persian was the language of government and various kinds of learning across Central, South, and West Asia. I examine what made this mobility possible, as well as the social and cultural limits of such mobility. How did individuals embed themselves in local communities? How did they perceive differences and negotiate them (or not)? In much of the sources of this period, the language of friendship and reference to its practices and forms are ubiquitous. I ask the simple question, Why was friendship so important?

I approach these questions via the cultural meanings and social practices of love, loyalty and friendship across the long 18th century. Rather than focusing this discussion on states (or empires) and their various institutions, I propose that friendship, in its various forms and practices, is central to understanding society and governance in early modern India. As political, legal or social subjects, Persians (a category of people including and exceeding Iranians) were always constituted through their locations in various kinds of relationships, rather than as autonomous and sovereign individuals. Thus, the ground of the political in these contexts was a particular conception of society, one founded on various relationships – types of companionship – that formed connections, entailed obligations and bestowed privileges.

By elucidating the cultural concept of friendship, how it functioned socially and politically, we can also gain new purchase on questions of social and political difference. Friendships across lines of parochial community were common, such as between Muslims and Hindus. This project seeks to historicize understandings of the social and cultural labor that friendship performed and to challenge the relevance of modern regional borders as the basis for study, parochial communities as the basis of social organization, and state institutions as the basis of political order.

Matthew William King
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of California, Riverside
The Old Empire and the New Reasoning: Interpretative Communities Between the European Academy and the Buddhist Monastery in Revolutionary Inner Asia (1911-1940)

This project is devoted to literary and scientific exchanges between Buddhist monks and Euro-Russian intellectuals in newly opened zones of contact during the imperial-socialist transition in Inner Asia (c. 1911-1959). This was a time of clashing Russian, British, Japanese, and Chinese claims on Mongolian and Tibetan cultural areas and of regional constitutional and socialist revolutions. Inseparable from these political developments, in Europe and Russia this was also a time of emergent academic and popular scrutiny of, among other things, the “world religion” of Buddhism, Tibeto-Mongolian folkways, and Altaic linguistics. The Old Empire and the New Reasoning turns to Tibetan and Mongolian monastic archives in order to ask: How did the last generation of Buddhist literati trained under the Qing and Tsarist regimes enter into textual and interpretative relationships with the European academy? On that basis, how did cosmopolitan monks re-imagine the form and contours of post-imperial political ideologies, re-define the scope of received monastic fields of knowledge in light of “religion” and “science”, and re-conceptualize a modernist globalism formed in the confrontation between “Asia” and “the West”? More generally, this research explores how specific monastic mediations of the discourses and practices of European arts and sciences helped organize nascent fields such as Buddhology and Asian Studies in the Euro-Russian academy?

The Old Empire and the New Reasoning will thus contribute to a pluralized and internally diverse understanding of Asia by focusing on flows, closures, and appropriations of texts and knowledge practices that exceed conventional national and area studies boundaries. Specifically, this project aims to contribute to the social history of knowledge production in modernizing Inner Asia by including Buddhist scholasticism and nascent academic discourses and practices as a dispersed Eurasian example of what Stanley Fish has called in other contexts an “interpretative community” (Fish: 1980).

Masha Kirasirova
Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow, History, New York University Abu Dhabi
The Eastern International: Orientalism, Anti-Colonialism, and Realpolitik in Soviet-Arab Relations, 1917-1973

The Eastern International: Orientalism, Anti-Colonialism, and Realpolitik in Soviet-Arab Relations, 1917-1973 explores political and cultural interactions between the Soviet Union and the Arab Middle East from the interwar period to the Cold War. At its centerpiece is the Soviet construct of the “East” in the realm of ideology and culture, on the one hand, and practices and institutions, on the other. By shaping the workings of Soviet political and cultural bureaucracies, I argue that the construct “East” produced a material/physical, social/subjective, and symbolic/representational space of Soviet power and helped to project that power across Eurasia and beyond. In so doing, it shaped the historical relationship between the Soviet Union and colonized and later decolonizing/postcolonial Middle East as well as the lives of the many transnational actors (including communists, intellectuals, and artists) who traveled across this space and positioned themselves within its spatio-temporal ideological frames.

This relationship between Soviet political power, space, orientalism, and anti-colonialism illuminates the critical legacies of Russian imperial rule that spilled over and were reconfigured in the post-1917 revolutionary polity. Inherited from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russian orientalists and statesmen, the vague and flexible concept “East” was embraced by early Bolshevik leaders and applied in various strategies for avoiding perceptions of empire. In the 1920s and 1930s, these propaganda initiatives crystallized into a more permanent infrastructure for working with Eastern peoples and places which, in turn, served as a foundation for the broader and much more robust Soviet engagement with the Middle East and other parts of the decolonizing world in the postwar period. My study also reveals other connections between the socialist (“Second”) and post-colonial (“Third”) worlds, including the often-unexpected roles and itineraries of Middle Eastern actors in Soviet history, and the importance of Soviet Central Asia for twentieth-century histories of the Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Andrew Liu
Assistant Professor, History, Villanova University
Tea Countries: Labor and Political Economic Thought in China and India, 1834-1937

Tea remains the most popular commercial beverage in the world today, and the majority of its supply has long come from the growers of the Chinese and eastern Indian “tea countries.” For both regions, modern tea production reached new heights starting in the 1830s, when the China trade was liberalized by the first Opium War (1839-1842) and British colonial officials pushed for tea cultivation in Assam, India with the same hawkish aim to “annihilate” the “Chinese monopoly.” Indian tea production, in short, was the flipside of the Opium War. Over the next century, annual exports of tea surged, surpassing five hundred million pounds (an eleven-fold jump) and employing more workers — peasants, indentured “coolies,” women, and children — than any comparable urban sector in China and India. Tea Countries is the first study to analyze this transformative competition between the tea-growing hinterlands of China and India in transregional and comparative terms. It offers a new interpretation of rural Chinese society, so often described as tradition-bound and static, and of colonial Indian history, conventionally framed through a nationalist binary of colonizer and colonized, by situating both within patterns of competition that were global and dynamic.

Relying upon Chinese, Bengali, and English materials, this study departs from past studies of Asia, which, guided by macroeconomic questions regarding growth, have tended to characterize China and India in terms of their divergence from Euro-American models of development. I argue that a different approach — one emphasizing global connections and focused on labor practices and economic thought — reveals that these two agrarian frontiers were in fact reshaped by the same social dynamics of industrial capitalism facing much of the world. In turn, my work expands the history of modern political economy into the unlikely sites of the rural Chinese and Indian “tea countries.”

Steffen Rimner
Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University
The Indictment of Opium: Asia’s Invention of Global Drug Control, c. 1860-1921

Julia Stephens
Assistant Professor, History, Rutgers University
Worldly Afterlives: Death and Mobility in the Indian Ocean

During the second half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century, over thirty million Indians traveled abroad as laborers, merchants, soldiers, policemen, students, performers, and pilgrims. Caught up in this unprecedented age of mobility, migrants forged familial and financial relations that spanned continental distances. As colonial subjects, they also navigated a new global bureaucracy that Britain developed to track the flow of labor and capital across its formal and informal empires. “Worldly Afterlives” traces the history of these itinerant subjects, and the modes of mobile governance they inspired, by looking at the most intimate, but also often most public, moment of many migrants’ lives—their deaths.

Moving across Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa, and Europe, the project reconstructs the lives of Indian migrants out of the archives of their deaths, including wills, legal disputes over inheritance, lists of effects, statements of next-of-kin, and coroner-court reports. These records provide a remarkable window into the everyday familial, and financial, lives of migrants. Coroner-court records offer rare glimpses of “subaltern” credit-networks, noting, along with fatal wounds, stashes of IOU notes found on the dead bodies of Indian migrants. Wills mapped new, often precarious, intimate geographies, bringing together the lives migrants left behind and those they forged abroad. From transcontinental inheritance battles over depopulated ancestral bungalows, to life savings lost to fluctuating currency rates, the dilemmas of nineteenth-century migrants are often strikingly similar to the challenges facing global households today. Yet, while mining these rich materials, the project also probes how and why this archive of death came into being. In contrast to the emphasis on territorialization in most studies of law and bureaucracy in the nineteenth and twentieth century, the project offers a new history of mobile governance, charting how modernizing states exercised power over flows of people and capital, in addition to fixed geographical spaces.

Emily Wilcox
Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies, Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan
Choreographing Cold War Asia: Convergent Transnationalisms and Cultural Exchange in the Era of Radical Nation-Building

The early Cold War, which I define here as the period of 1945-1965, saw the convergence of four spheres of intra-Asia transnationalism: the Japanese imperial legacy; the Soviet bloc; the postcolonial Asian diaspora; and the Bandung movement. This period also witnessed the formal constitution of most of the independent modern nation-states that comprise contemporary Asia. The study of national cultures in Asia has tended to place each nation within only one of these transnational spheres. I argue that modern national cultures in Asia should instead be examined using an intersectional methodology, what I call “convergent transnationalisms.” Taking the history of modern Chinese national dance as a case study, I demonstrate that the one-dimensional approach to transnational analysis is insufficient at accounting for the empirical realities of national cultural formations in modern Asian nationstates. In the proposed book, I follow the lives of four transnational women: Choi Seunghee (1911-1969), a Korean dance artist trained in Tokyo who performed for the Japanese empire and after 1945 became the first architect of Chinese and North Korean national dance; Kangba’erhan (1922-1994), a Uyghur dance artist trained in Tashkent and Moscow who after 1947 led the formation of national dance in Xinjiang and Chinese minority dance more broadly; Dai Ailian (1916-2006), a diasporic Cantonese dance artist born in Trinidad and trained in England who emigrated permanently to China in 1940 and headed China’s first professional dance school and ballet company, established in 1954 and 1959, respectively; and Zhang Jun (1934-), a Chinese-born dance artist trained by teachers from Indonesia, Cambodia, Burma, India, and Pakistan who was the foremost figure of “Oriental dance,” a national dance style that dominated intra-Asian diplomatic exchange activities in China from 1955 to 1965. Through their lives and artistic legacies, each of these women embodies an important dimension of one of the four spheres of post-WWII inter-Asian transnationalism discussed above. By focusing on the lives of bordercrossing female performers, the proposed book highlights women’s bodies and cultural exchange as important arenas of inter-Asian connectivity, while illustrating a broader phenomenon of national culture formation through the historical model of convergent transnationalisms.