Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
January 2006 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <>

Welcome to Asian Currents

Asian Currents aims to connect Australia's academic experts on Asia with journalists, policy makers, business people, artists and other educators. Please feel free to forward this email to others you think would be interested in receiving Asian Currents. Registration is free and open to all by simply registering your email address at The e-bulletin normally appears in the third week of each month.

From the President

Welcome to the first edition of Asian Currents for 2006. As we begin the new year I am delighted to report that the Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin has over a thousand subscribers. We are doing what we set out to do, that is to connect Australia's academic experts on Asia with journalists, policy makers, business people, artists and other educators. This achievement would not have been possible without the generosity of the Myer Foundation, which saw the potential in Asian Currents, and which not only supported us at the start but also extended its assistance from one to two years. That funding has now come to an end and we would like to express our sincere thanks to the foundation for its support in these crucial starting years.

Asian Currents will continue. The International Centre of Excellence in Asia-Pacific Studies has agreed to take over as our sponsor. More on this in the next edition. Suffice it to say here that registration will continue to be free and that current subscribers will receive the February edition as normal.



by Professor Garry Rodan, Director, Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University.

Controversy over the execution in Singapore on 2 December 2005 of Australian Nguyen Tuong Van Nguyen for a drug conviction not only strained bilateral relations, it also revealed significant divisions in Australia over capital punishment. Within the city-state too the death penalty became the subject of unprecedented protest during 2005, betraying popular depictions of Singaporeans as uniformly supportive of the death penalty. Indeed, capital punishment has become the new political issue on which to challenge the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and to mobilise against it. Official responses to these protests, however, underline the PAP's determination to suppress dissent on this issue.

An execution earlier in the year, in May 2005, of Singaporean Shanmugam Murugesu, a sole parent of teenage twins who had been convicted of possessing one kilo of marijuana, prompted protests. These were led by the reformist non-government organisation, Think Centre. Authorities responded by barring Amnesty International from speaking at a forum opposing the death penalty and by banning the use of Shanmugam's image in publicity material for a 'Hung at Dawn' concert.

However, international focus on the Nguyen case has encouraged domestic death penalty critics to sustain their campaign. It has also steeled the authorities' resolve to try and intimidate opposition to the death penalty including in the arts. A play examining the hanging of Shanmugan entitled 'Human Lefts' by local theatre group The Fun Stage was forced to submit a new script to the Media Development Authority (MDA) just days before it opened on 3 December. No mention of the death penalty or reference to any political leader was allowed. Also in early December the Lasalle-SIA School of Arts in Singapore held an exhibition featuring nooses and stools. Only one of those stools was standing. It bore a card with Nguyen's prisoner number on it. Curiously, following a story on the exhibition by ABC Australia's 7.30 Report the card was blank.

Meanwhile, the number of websites and web logs championing the case against the death penalty has escalated and the opposition Singapore Democratic Party has taken up the issue. Although chances of overturning government policy are remote, the issue is being linked to other thorny matters for the PAP, such as state secrecy surrounding the racial and socio-economic profiles of the executed and official links with Burmese drug lords and the beneficiaries of their trade. In short, the pursuit of the repeal of the death penalty in Singapore potentially opens up a new angle in the struggle for civil society.



by Professor DP Chaudhri, Honorary Visiting Senior Fellow, Monash University.

I visited Pakistan for a week in October 2005, 58 years after its establishment as an Islamic Republic and my departure from Lahore as a teenage refugee. I became a citizen of India, a permanent resident of Australia since 1971 and a development economist, and had little idea that this return would invoke such intense emotional and intellectual reactions.

These were sharpened by the earthquake that had devastated Kashmir and the Blauchistan area a week before, although to witness the swift response of the Pakistani, Indian and international community was gratifying. At the local level, attempts to raise funds and organise assistance resulted in a sense of community solidarity. Similarly, the military precision of the overall co-ordination effort invoked respect for the state and army machine.

My focus was on culture and economics. The museums I visited at Taxila, Lahore and the National Archives were very well maintained. The preservation and display of ancient and modern history was impressive, as was the average Pakistani's respect for, and genuine pride in, heritage. Seeing these places convinced me that greater tourism and student exchange between Australia and Pakistan would be educationally and culturally enriching for both.

The airports of Lahore and Islamabad are among the best in South Asia and the highway linking these two cities is a model to be emulated. Nevertheless, it was also evident that the need for better link roads and substantial investment in rural and urban infrastructure in Pakistan is as urgent as in the rest of South Asia.

The high proportion of female university students at Islamabad, Sargodha and Lahore was a source of very pleasant surprise. Articulate and confident questions coming from students, in particular girls, following my lectures, indicated well-trained minds. Apart from decidedly more modest dress, but no hijab, these female students could have been in any Asian or Australian university. Unfortunately, this gender parity is conspicuous by its absence in rural Pakistan as it is in most of South Asia, except Sri Lanka.

A former student of mine organised visits to villages involved in the World Bank's Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund. The fund supports well structured micro-credit schemes but it was clear that independent monitoring and evaluation is needed before these are scaled up to cover all districts of Pakistan. Even then, the extent of inequality of income, wealth and land holding means these schemes on their own will have limited reach. Pakistani policy makers need to consider land reform as an important instrument in rural development. In addition, since 42 percent of all Pakistanis are below the age of 15 years, a massive investment in gender-sensitive school education and child development would ensure the sustainability of high economic growth and social development. Without these rural Pakistan is likely to be a drag on recently recorded growth.

I felt absolutely at home and welcome in the various places and institutions I visited in Pakistan. However, it was at a dinner party in Lahore, hosted by an old colleague and professor of economics, that I became acutely aware of my roots here despite having left the city 58 years ago. Shared language, heritage, cultural interests, food habits, stories and even jokes proved to be bonds too strong to be weakened by passage of time.



Maila Stivens is the Director of Gender Studies in the Department of History at the University of Melbourne and the recently appointed editor of the flagship publication of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, Asian Studies Review (see

Q.  When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?

A.  It began with first year Indonesian and Malay Studies at Sydney University and pursuing Anthropology Honours there. I particularly enjoyed the pioneering anthropologist of Malay rural society Michael Swift's course on the peasantry. The Vietnam War was also a constant background and spur to my interest in Asia. After looking at kinship among the Sydney middle class for a Masters degree, I ended up studying the Minangkabau daughter society of Negeri Sembilan in Malaysia for my PhD work in anthropology at the London School of Economics. The old fascination with middle classes came full circle when many of my Negeri informants moved on to become members of Malaysia's new middle classes and I followed them to explore issues around modernity, class and gender.

Q.  What are your current preoccupations?

A.  While my teaching is in gender studies, I am heavily involved in a range of questions around social inclusion, social development, ethnicities, nationalisms, class, gender, human rights and globalisation, mainly within Southeast Asia. My special interest is in the links between global processes and local developments. I have been looking at the Asian family and notions of 'family values' and their links to burgeoning religious and state moral projects. Most recently I have embarked on a study of new Asian childhoods and the rise of the 'quality child'.

Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?

A. Many of these issues are crunch ones at present. The new millennium began with proclamations by people like the sociologist Anthony Giddens that we were moving into an age of rights but such proclamations have proved complex. Moral projects of right and left alike have clearly taken centre stage in the many culture wars across the globe; and arguments about the relations between the purported 'East' and 'West' preoccupy contemporary geopolitics, with many observers suggesting we may be in for some very rocky times.

Q. What are your hopes for Asian studies in Australia?

A. Beyond expressing the usual hopes for much greater knowledge of Asia within Australia, and anxieties about the fate of Asian Studies programs, it is timely to think about the ways Asian studies in Australia provide a place for interdisciplinary and international engagement outside geographical boundaries. Furthermore, they are able to move us well beyond nation-state oriented scholarship and to avoid quite a few long-standing and tedious disciplinary turf quarrels. I would like to see the Asian Studies Review continue to foster such developments and to encourage wide interaction among scholars of Asia around the world.

Gender and Power in Affluent Asia, edited by Krishna Sen and Maila Stivens is available as an e-book or printed book. See

Human Rights and Gender Politics in the Asia-Pacific (Routledge Advances in Asia-Pacific Studies) edited by Anne-Marie Hilsdon, Vera Mackie, Martha Macintyre and Maila Stivens is available through

Researcher of the month

Lenore Lyons ( is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS) at the University of Wollongong. Lenore's interest in Asia began as she embarked on her BA in Modern Asian Studies at Griffith University with a language specialisation in Mandarin. She spent two years on scholarship at the Taiwan National Normal University from 1988-89 and returned to complete her Honours degree at Griffith University in 1991.

Lenore moved to Singapore in 1992 where she taught sociology for three years in the University of London's external degree program. During this time she joined the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). In 1994 she returned to Griffith University to begin a PhD on the women's movement in Singapore. She was offered a position in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wollongong in 1995 and taught there for five years.

In 2000, Lenore left academia to work as the Manager of the University of Wollongong's Research Student Centre. In this role, she developed and implemented policies related to higher degree research candidature, and managed a team of staff responsible for admissions, scholarships and thesis examinations. Realising that her first love was research, she took up a position as Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director of CAPSTRANS in 2003.

Lenore's long term interest in the women's movement in Singapore culminated in 2004 with the publication of A State of Ambivalence: The Feminist Movement in Singapore, published by Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden ( This book explores the place of AWARE in the Singaporean women's movement. Her ongoing work on NGO activism resulted in a national workshop on civil society in Singapore held in 2004. Papers from this workshop were published as "Democracy and Civil Society: NGO Politics in Singapore" a special edition of Sojourn in October 2005 (

In 2004, Lenore was awarded two ARC Discovery grants. In the Shadow of Singapore (, jointly held with Dr Michele Ford, Sydney University, examines the impact of cross-border interactions between Riau Islanders and Singaporeans. The second project, Trans/national activism: Organizing for Domestic Worker Rights in Southeast Asia, explores the growth of migrant worker advocacy groups in Singapore and Malaysia.

Website of the month

The India-China Project

This web log tracks developments, reportage, commentary and scholarship on the Asia-Pacific region with a special emphasis on its implications for India. The title refers to a significant focus on China in this enterprise. It is sponsored by the M. L. Sondhi Institute of Asia-Pacific Affairs, New Delhi. Recent posts include: Myanmar playing India off against China; China's New Navy; Banking in China and India.

Recent article of interest

William Pesek Jr., a Bloomberg columnist, suggests six Asian themes for 2006:

  1. China's revaluations are likely to be smaller and come more gradually than many investors and politicians would like.
  2. Expect higher interest rates to blunt the effects of higher oil prices and rising demand.
  3. Debt may be a big story.
  4. Geopolitics may trump economics amid risks such as high oil prices, bird flu, poverty and disputes over a variety of energy-rich islands.
  5. The Yen is set to rise.
  6. With a growth rate of more than 9 percent China will be a more prominent global force, although, rather than overheating, China may be gravitating toward an extended period of falling consumer prices.

For the full story, see

Did you know?

In December 2005, all Australian Ministers of Education issued the National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia. The statement acknowledges that Asia is now one the greatest catalysts for worldwide change and that Australians require new skills, knowledge and understanding related to the Asian region and Australia's engagement with Asia in order to meet the challenges and opportunities of living and working in the twenty-first century. It identifies the broad knowledge, understandings, values and skills required to engage with Asia and considers how these can be incorporated into teaching and learning practices. The ASAA contributed to the development of the National Statement through its membership of the Australian Education Foundation Board and contributions made at two national forums. A copy of the statement can be downloaded from

Diary dates

KAMPUNG STREET FESTIVAL, 29 January 2006, Sydney. This is the final event in the month- long contemporary art Gang festival which has brought together the cutting edge artists from Australia and Indonesia. The street festival will take place on Sunday 29 January between 12pm and 9pm at the Peace Park, Myrtle St, Chippendale. It will feature busking, lantern installations, printmaking, soap box, an ArtBarter Market and an exhibition of artworks throughout the laneways of Chippendale in the largest outdoor gallery of its kind in Sydney.

16TH BIENNIAL CONFERENCE OF THE ASIAN STUDIES ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA (ASAA) ON "ASIA RECONSTRUCTED", 26-29 June 2006, University of Wollongong. The deadline of submitting abstract proposals is 3 February 2006. The proposed themes of the conference include: the critique of development; governance and citizenship; labour and social Transformation; the clash of fundamentalisms; national and transnational legal issues; the role of technology; new and old Arts; Asia and world history; post-colonialism; Australia-South Asia links. The program will be posted on the ASAA conference web site by March 2006, Contacts: Adrian Vickers, conference convenor at or Margaret Hanlon at

MEDIA AND IDENTITY IN ASIA CONFERENCE. 15-16 February 2006, Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Malaysia.  This is an interdisciplinary conference jointly organised by the Media-Asia Research Group at Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia and Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Malaysia. For more information visit

CAPSTRANS Fellowships: applications close 17 February 2006. The Centre for Asia-Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS) at the University of Wollongong, Australia, is calling for applications from interested scholars for its Senior Visiting Fellowship scheme and Postdoctoral Writing Fellowship scheme. Senior Visiting Fellowship Scheme: for senior researchers from outside the university to spend between three and 12 months as a Visiting Fellow located within the Centre. Grants of up to AUD$10,000 are available to assist with travel, accommodation and research expenses and research costs. Postdoctoral Writing Fellowship Scheme: for postdoctoral researchers from outside the university to spend up to six months in the Centre. Grants of up to AUD$5,000 are available to assist with travel, accommodation and research expenses. See or contact

INVESTING IN ASIA'S URBAN FUTURE, 27-28 February 2006, Manila. The conference, organized by the Asian Development Bank and German Technical Cooperation, will discuss and agree on approaches to support sustainable urban development and continue addressing poverty in many Asian cities. For more details about the conference, visit

STRANGERS ON THE SHORE: A CONFERENCE ON EARLY COASTAL CONTACTS WITH AUSTRALIA, 30-31 March 2006, Canberra. A conference about early historical contacts with Australia and indigenous Australians, including the Macassans, National Museum of Australia. Further details at

AUSTRALIANS AND NEW ZEALANDERS IN CHINA, 1800-1950, 14-16 April 2006, Canberra. This conference will have a special focus on the contribution of women to ANZ-China relations. Abstracts of approximately 300 words are invited. Contributions by ANZ citizens/residents of Chinese ethnic origins are particularly welcome. Contact the convenor, Dr Ian Welch,

INTERNATIONAL ASIAN ANTIQUE AND ART FAIR 2006, 27-31 May 2006, Hong Kong. The fair will be held at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre, China Resources Building, 26 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

10TH ASIAN STUDIES CONFERENCE JAPAN (ASCJ), 24-25 June 2006, Tokyo. This conference will be held at International Christian University (ICU), Tokyo, on Saturday, June 24, and Sunday June 25, 2006. See

BORNEO IN THE NEW CENTURY, 31 July and 1 August 2006, Kuching Sarawak. Papers are invited for the Eighth Biennial Conference of the Borneo Research Council (BRC). These should present original research in any field relating to Sabah, Brunei, Sarawak, Kalimantan and its surrounding region. Abstracts, no longer than 100 words, must be submitted by email before 1 May to: or For more details, see:

ASIA-PACIFIC MISSIONARIES: AT HOME AND ABROAD, 2nd Biennial conference, 25-27 August 2006, Canberra. The conference will be held at the Coombs Lecture Theatre, Australian National University, Contact: Dr Ian Welch,

ASIA-PACIFIC TRIENNIAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART, 1 November-1 December 2006, Brisbane. The Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) will be the opening exhibition at the new Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. APT 2006 will present the work of over 30 artists from Asia, Australia and the Pacific. It will feature a performance and cinema program, as well as a children's festival. See

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About the ASAA

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) promotes the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures, and politics in Australia; supports teaching and research in Asian studies; and works towards an understanding of Asia in the community at large. It publishes the Asia Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference.

The ASAA believes there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has called on the government to show national leadership in the promotion of Australia's Asia knowledge and skills. See Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset

Asian Currents is published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA), thanks to a grant from the Myer Foundation made to assist the ASAA promote the study of Asia in Australia. It is edited by the ASAA's promotions agents, Francesca Beddie and Peter Rodgers.

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