Study Asia from below

June 19, 1998

WANG Gungwu (THES, June 5) makes an interesting analysis of the reasons why in the field of Asian studies the North-South link has flourished much more than the South-South link. However, Professor Wang's analysis overemphasises the "imperial orientalism" of both the East and the West. Also, there is a larger than life importance given to the post-colonial state as an orientalist rubric.

If orientalist dichotomies have to be applied to the region, one needs to look at the different permutations and combinations of identity and power that operated, and still continue to operate, within the states that emerged in the aftermath of Occidental colonial control/influence. The Brahaminical, Dalit ("untouchable"/"oppressed") and Adivasi ("Aboriginal") traditions in India, for example, constructed conceptual frameworks that "othered" each other (or overlapped in some cases).

Similar identity constructs involving othered religious or racial/ethnic polarisation(s) evoke a very potent response in Asian countries. This could partly explain the outcome of the Hua Hin survey mentioned in the article.

Also, the Asian interest in the "other" neighbour has been expressed often in collaborative political rhetoric - in the form of "Afro-Asian solidarity", "Non-Aligned Movement", Asian collective values, and regional organisations such as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Whether such political posturing has been translated into academic input at school or university level study and research in Asian countries needs a detailed investigation. Also, a key question is if the "financial denouement of the past year" can produce initiatives "fresh and stimulating and worthy to be future models" or whether it would reproduce/reinforce "the same assortment of underdeveloped(ment?) problems"?

Finally, Professor Wang might want to add that some exciting methodologies such as subaltern studies have been put forward, largely by scholars from Asia. This "history from below" has uncovered and articulated responses to various otherings.

Balasubramanyam Chandramohan. Mountfield Road. Luton

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