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Michael Leifer ed., Asian Nationalism
Now that regional studies seem to have acquired permanent status and while nationalism and nationhood, despite their detractors, are still very much in being, the book compiled by Michael Leifer on Asian Nationalism is a timely publication. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 gave rise to all kinds of comment about the miracles and models in that part of the world coming to an end: from being described as reborn or rediscovered, Asia soon found itself to be in danger, indeed, the object of a great deal of concern as to its future((1). Now that the worst of its economic difficulties are over, we have reverted to more politically centred form of inquiry. It is generally recognised, moreover, that the economic crisis served as both revelatory and catalyst of the changes of government that have taken place in Asian capitals during the past two years: some of these have been sweeping (Indonesia, East Timor), some less so (South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand).
The various contributions to Asian Nationalism were written back in 1997 following the seminars organised by the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) to mark the founding of its Asia Research Centre. Nearly all have been revised, however, to take account of more recent political developments. The book showcases the work of the LSEs leading specialists; and among its virtues, it combines long-term considerations, such as the emergence of national identities and the building of nation-states, with the most recent development: the reawakening of nationalism.
The book opens with an excellent overview of theories of nationalism and of how nations are created. In this introductory chapter, Anthony Smith gives a finely shaded account of the main explanatory models, both fixed and dynamic, and contrives to reconcile the vision of the modernists, for whom the nation is a recent creation, with more culturalist or ethno-culturalist approaches emphasising the pre-modern heritage((2). Smith shows, by the end, that in an interdependent world of unsatisfied, but hopeful, ethnic nationalisms, the chances of transcending a world of nations must remain a dream of liberal cosmopolitans, which achieves an ideal transition to the various monographs that follow.
China is awarded special treatment. Michael Yahudas contribution takes stock of the imperial heritage and the present-day patriotic frenzy of Communist China, greedy for profit and in mid de-ideologisation. And it aptly illustrates the idea that China is a nationless state, to borrow John Fitzgeralds formula((3). This view is rounded off by a survey of ethnic nationalism in China, in which Solomon Karmel reveals the extent of nationalism in Tibet and Xinjiang and suggests a few ideas likely to lessen the risk of anti-Chinese reaction in those autonomous regions. Supplying the mirror image, Christopher Hughes, certainly the leading foreign authority on Taiwanese nationalism, offers a post-modernist reading of the creation of a national identity in that other China: there, the priority allegiance given to the legitimate and democratic government has brought to a conclusion the process of building a nation-state in Taiwan.
South Asia is the other main focus of the book. Meghnad Desai shows how the deficiencies of Indian nationhood arise from the near-insoluble conflicts between constitutionalism and communalism, that is to say, between the secular foundations of the Indian nation and a social organisation based on caste differences as prescribed by the Hindu religion. Athar Hussein deals with the peregrinations of Pakistani nationalism, dwelling upon the conditions in which modern Pakistan was bornthe partition of Indiaand upon the effects, now unifying, now divisive, of an Islamic state, while General Zias regime is squeezed between Afghanistans Taliban and Indias Bharatiya Janata Party.
Last of all come two excellent chapters on nationhood and nationalism in Indonesia and the Philippines, by way of South-East Asia, the panoramic ambitions of the whole undertaking. For Michael Leifer, nationalism is at the heart of the creation of Indonesias archipelagic state. It is expressed firstly in the battle against the Dutch colonial power; and is reaffirmed through the non-aligned movementof which Indonesia was one of the founding statesand in the struggles against enemies at homethose provinces tempted to secede. After the fall of the Suharto house, and despite the independence won by East Timor, Indonesia today seems more concerned with economic recovery; and Michael Leifer predicts a lessening of state nationalism at a time when the government desperately needs financial aid from abroad. As to the Philippines, James Putzel paints a comprehensive picture of nationalism there, from its origins as one of Asias first republics, founded right at the end of the nineteenth century, to the most recent developments leading to racist demonstrationsanti-American, anti-Chinese, anti-Indianwhich serve to reveal the tension existing between the notion of democracy and that of nationalismall the more so when it is a populist president who presides over the destiny of that ailing democracy((4).
In the end, it is only the chapter on Japan that turns out to be a cruel disappointment. Too short and above all too skimpy in its aims, Ian Nishs chapter is limited to a brief account of the clashes between nation and nationalism ever since Japan first opened up to the world in 1853, and ends with a rather dull discussion of how Japanese youth is becoming disenchanted with nationalism. How could he omit from his bibliography the translated works of Maruyama Masao, who on this question is one of Japans leading political scientists?
Despite all its qualities, mainly its solid theoretical chapter and its precise and valuable case studies, this book suffers from at least two main defects: a strange omission and a methodological failing.
On the one hand, it seems a great pity that, in a book about nationalism in Asia, a country as paradigmatic as Koreaboth the Koreasshould not even be mentioned. An ancient unitary nation, divided several times over, a bridge between Japan and China and under the direct domination, now of one, now of the other, one of the hottest battlefields of the Cold War, a small tiger among the developed Asian economies, a successful example of democratic transition, Korea brings together all the elements of a political syllabus. Amid the tangle of nationalism theories, it might have provided valuable material for debating which influence was the more apt: primordialism, perennialism, modernism or ethno-symbolism. Research into Korean nationhood and nationalism has been fairly long established((5) and continues to draw academic attention((6). All the same, we are well aware that specialists on South or South-East Asia would similarly find it regrettable that countries such as Sri Lanka and Cambodia have also been left out of this collection of studies.
On the other handand we come now to the books methodological failingwhile one cannot attribute it exclusively to the collective character of the whole, the book does not really succeed as a work of comparison, one about Asian nationalism: it goes no further than to juxtapose nationalisms in Asia. Regrettably, Michael Leifers preface covers no more than a page; and James Mayalls closing chapter is also too short for a discussion of the questions raised by the different monographs. Only the challenges posed by the resurgence of nationalism benefit from any cross-disciplinary approach. Lastly, an opportunity was perhaps missed in not asking Anthony Smith to carry out an aporetic synthesis of all the varied forms of nationhood and nationalism described here. Brilliant though it is, his introductory presentation draws upon several of his own publications and, in sum, it is sad that his talents as a thinker of nationalism should not have been put to better use.
Translated from French by Philip Liddell
1. François Godement, La renaissance de lAsie (The rebirth of Asia), Paris, Odile Jacob, 1993; David Camroux and Jean-Luc Domenach eds, LAsie retrouvée (Rediscovered Asia), Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1997; Jean-Luc Domenach, LAsie en danger (Asia in danger), Paris, Fayard, 1998; and François Godement, Dragon de feu, dragon de papier : lAsie a-t-elle un avenir? (Fire dragon, paper dragon: is there a future for Asia ?), Paris, Flammarion, 1998.
2. For a French equivalent, see Christophe Jaffrelot, Les modèles explicatifs de lorigine des nations et du nationalisme Revue critique, in Gil Delannoi and Pierre-André Taguieff éds., Théories du nationalisme (Theories of nationalism), Paris, Kimé, 1991, pp. 139-177.
3. John Fitzgerald, The Nationless State: The Search for a Nation in Modern Chinese Nationalism, in Jonathan Unger ed., Chinese Nationalism, Armonk (New York, USA), M.E. Sharpe, An East Gate Book, 1996.
4. The book was published before the demise of Estrada, in December 2000.
5. Lee Chong-Sik, The Politics of Korean Nationalism, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1963; Kim Se-Jin and Kang Chi-Won eds., Korea: A Nation in Transition, Seoul, Research Center for Peace and Unification, 1978; and James B. Palais, Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1975.
6. For a superb general history of the Korean nation: Bruce Cumings, Koreas Place in the SunA Modern History, New York & London, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. For a more detailed study of Korean nationalism: Pai Hyung Il and Timothy R. Tangherlini eds, Nationalism and the Construction of Korean Identity, Berkeley, University of California, Institute of East Asia, 1998.