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#AsiaNow Speaks with James Rush

James Rush is Professor of History at Arizona State University and author of Hamka’s Great Story: A Master Writer’s Vision of Islam for Modern Indonesia, published by the University of Wisconsin Press and awarded Honorable Mention for the 2019 AAS George McT. Kahin Book Prize. To begin with, please tell us what your book is about. The book is about the discourse of Islam and modernity in the formative years of Indonesia. From the 1930s through the 1970s, Hamka, aka Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, engaged actively (one might say hyperactively) in public discussions about the role of Islam in shaping the new society then emerging in late-colonial Indonesia and the early years of independence. An autodidact writing in multiple popular genres and an avowed Islamic modernist, Hamka envisioned a society that simultaneously embraced modern Western learning, the nation of Indonesia, and the abiding Truth and guiding moral compass of Islam—to him a liberating religion that embraced human agenc ...

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#AsiaNow Speaks with Jonathan Schlesinger

Jonathan Schlesinger is Associate Professor of History at Indiana University and author of A World Trimmed with Fur: Wild Things, Pristine Places, and the Natural Fringes of Qing Rule, published by Stanford University Press and winner of the 2019 AAS Joseph Levenson Pre-1900 Book Prize. To begin with, please tell us what your book is about. The book examines the environmental history of Qing Manchuria and Mongolia during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Using Chinese-, Manchu-, and Mongolian-language archives, I show that unprecedented commercial expansion and a rush for natural resources not only transformed the Qing empire’s frontiers in this period, but generated new anxieties at court about the environment. The book focuses in particular on the rushes for furs, freshwater pearls, and steppe mushrooms. In each case, the court responded to environmental pressures with attempts to repatriate undocumented migrants accused of destroying the land; investigate their Manchu and Mon ...

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#AsiaNow Speaks with Bryan D. Lowe

Bryan D. Lowe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University and author of Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan, published by University of Hawai’i Press and the Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism and winner of the 2019 AAS John Whitney Hall Book Prize. To begin with, please tell us what your book is about. The book studies how and why people transcribe Buddhist scripture in ritualized ways. I trace how scribes often engaged in purification practices prior to and while copying texts and how patrons sponsored dedication ceremonies upon completion. They did this based on an idea that reproducing Buddhist texts could create merit capable of saving the damned and bringing benefits to the living. I argue that ritual practice represents one way that humans transform a particular body of texts into scripture—works set apart as uniquely special, venerable, and powerful. But the book is also a rethinking ...

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#AsiaNow Speaks with Stuart Robson

Stuart Robson is an Adjunct Professor in Indonesian Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and is author of The Old Javanese Ramayana; A New English Translation, published by the Institute of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA) within the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo, in 2015, and winner of the AAS A.L. Becker Southeast Asian Literature in Translation Prize for 2019. What is the book about? As you will know, the Ramayana is a famous classic of world literature, originating from India and existing in a number of different versions. The present version is a literary one (that is, as distinct from folk), written in the Old Javanese language and dating from the second half of the 9th century and the early decades of the 10th century, and composed in Java. It follows the plot of the Sanskrit Valmiki version, but is an independent work of literature, with its own special qualities. Unfortunately the name of the author is unknown. Being an epic, it is hundreds o ...

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#AsiaNow Speaks with Anna Stirr

Anna Stirr is Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii, and author of Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal, published by Oxford University Press and winner of the 2019 AAS Bernard S. Cohn prize for a first book on South Asia. To begin with, please tell us what your book is about. My book is about the importance of a genre of Nepali sung poetry called dohori in the everyday social relations among different groups in Nepal today. Dohori is improvised, dialogic singing, in which a witty repartee of exchanges is based on poetic couplets with a fixed rhyme scheme, often backed by instrumental music and accompanying dance, performed between men and women, with a primary focus on romantic love. It has roots in multiple indigenous traditions of social exchange. It’s transgressive of dominant social norms, because it promotes love relationships that cross social divides—caste, class, ethnicity, religion. Despite this transgressiveness, it’s also ...

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#AsiaNow Speaks with Craig Clunas

Craig Clunas is Professor Emeritus of the History of Art, University of Oxford and author of Chinese Painting and its Audiences, published by Princeton University Press and winner of the 2019 AAS Joseph Levenson Pre-1900 Book Prize—Honorable Mention. To begin with, please tell us what your book is about. The book is about the ways in which viewers, both inside and outside China, have acted over centuries to create the category now universally known as “Chinese painting.” So it’s about what was looked at, who got to do the looking, and how looking was understood as a cultural and social practice. It covers the period from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the 1970s, and it proceeds chronologically through a number of ideal “types” of viewer—The Gentleman, The Emperor, The Merchant, the Nation, The People. Of course in pre-1900 China itself what artists did was not called “Chinese painting,” it was just “painting,” so the long span tries to ...

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AAS 2019 Book Prizes

The AAS is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s book prize competitions and offer congratulations to the authors and presses. We encourage everyone to attend the Awards Ceremony at the upcoming AAS annual conference in Denver, CO on Friday, March 22, where the authors will be recognized and receive citations. Joseph Levenson Pre-1900 Book Prize (China) Jonathan Schlesinger, A World Trimmed with Fur: Wild Things, Pristine Places, and the Natural Fringes of Qing Rule, Stanford University Press Honorable Mention: Craig Clunas, Chinese Painting and Its Audiences, Princeton University Press Joseph Levenson Post-1900 Book Prize (China) Ching Kwan Lee, The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa, University of Chicago Press Honorable Mention: Thomas Mullaney, The Chinese Typewriter: A History, MIT Press John Whitney Hall Book Prize (Japan) Bryan D. Lowe, Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan, Unive ...

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Q&A with James L. Huffman, Author of “Down and Out in Late Meiji Japan”

James L. Huffman is Professor Emeritus of Japanese history at Wittenberg University and the 2017 recipient of the AAS Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies award. A journalist-turned-scholar, Huffman is author of several studies of the history of journalism in Japan, as well as Japan in World History (Oxford University Press, 2010), Modern Japan: A History in Documents (Oxford University Press, second edition 2010), and Japan and Imperialism: 1853–1945 (AAS “Key Issues in Asian Studies” series, second edition 2017). Huffman’s latest book, Down and Out in Late Meiji Japan, was published earlier this year by University of Hawai’i Press. In this wide-ranging work, Huffman examines the lived experiences of the hinmin (urban poor) during the last decades of the Meiji Era (1868–1912), a time when Japan saw enormous growth in both wealth and poverty as the country industrialized. Near the end of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of rural residents fled rising taxes ...

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Lhasa’s Departed Past

By David G. Atwill At dusk one evening in June 2012, I found myself staring up at the imposing main gate of Lhasa’s Grand Mosque. I had waited four years to procure the proper travel permit necessary for me to visit Lhasa and witness firsthand the people, places, and spaces I’d previously only been able to read about in my research on Tibetan Muslims (in Tibetan known as Khache). However, I was not the typical tourist and I had not requested the typical itinerary. My local Tibetan guide—a requirement for foreign visitors—was less than impressed. Rolling his eyes and not bothering to conceal his disdain, he asked, “Why are you even interested in Tibetan Muslims?” He went on to explain that in Tibet there were only Chinese Muslims, never Tibetan Muslims. I knew from my research that Lhasa in fact had been home to a Muslim community for over three hundred years and had multiple mosques, and that the Tibetan Muslims had influenced Tibetan literature, culture, and pol ...

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Excerpt: The Dream of East Asia

We are pleased to announce the publication of the second book in our new “Asia Shorts” series, The Dream of East Asia: The Rise of China, Nationalism, Popular Memory, and Regional Dynamics in Northeast Asia, by John Lie, C.K. Cho Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley. In this concise and engaging volume, Lie analyzes the standard sound-bite narratives that have come to dominate American and European ideas about East Asia and discusses how to move beyond these and arrive at a more historically informed and culturally nuanced understanding of the region. Below is the book’s “Overture,” in which Lie provides an overview of the argument he makes in the pages that follow. What do we talk about when we talk about East Asia? Breaking news and newspaper headlines, or blogs and tweets, transmit sensational stories of a turbulent region full of storm and stress. But the same stories appear and reappear in these scripts, with surprising uniformity. We are worried about China’s emer ...

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