Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge
July 2007 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <> for the plain copy (no images) of this issue please click here


NATIONAL LANGUAGES SUMMIT: a call for policy leadership and urgent action

by John Byron, Executive Director, Australian Academy of the Humanities

The Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Group of Eight (Go8) Universities convened the National Languages Summit in Canberra in June. The diverse sectors represented at the summit – schools and universities; ethnic community groups; diplomats and trade officials, the media, aid organisations and the tourism industry – have a common interest in improving Australia’s language capacity but do not often have the opportunity to work together, exchange views and speak with a common voice. The summit provided just such an opportunity.

The event sprang from a conviction that our national deficit in foreign language capability is Australia’s great unrecognised skills shortage – and the one most directly relevant to our competitiveness and security in an increasingly global environment.

Keynote speakers were Professor Michael Worton, Vice-Provost of University College, London (UCL) and Major Michael Stone from the Australian Defence Force. Professor Worton outlined the policy being phased in at UCL which will require students to have studied a language other than English at school to gain entry to the university. He called on teachers and policy makers to emphasise the benefits of studying a second language in terms of employability in a global work market, inter-cultural understanding and personal development.

Major Stone’s ability to speak fluent Tetum, the national language of Timor Leste, has allowed him to act as negotiator, mediator, arbitrator and key liaison for the International Forces in Timor Leste.

His speech was a powerful reminder about the importance of language skills in maintaining peaceful relationships with our neighbours.

The summit participants also heard of the trade, economic and security risks of the widely held assumption in Australia that English is the only language we need. Some speakers also emphasised the importance of the sheer fun that language learners of all ages experience, as well as the collateral advantages in other subjects such as the boost to English learning, and the social benefits to be gained from greater interaction between cultures.

The event coincided with the release of a Go8 policy discussion paper on languages education which highlights the decline in the study of Languages Other Than English (LOTE) in Australian schools and universities. The paper, “Languages in Crisis: A Rescue Plan for Australia” is available at
Along with many other groups, the Academy and the Go8 wanted to address the policy inertia on language competency in Australia. The summit did so by issuing a communiqué, which recommends that languages, including Australian indigenous languages, Asian, Middle-Eastern and European languages, be taught because they foster cultural insight, intellectual development, curiosity and exposure to literature and history. Language education can also help students develop confidence in negotiating life in a diverse global community. It is a powerful tool for social cohesion.

The communiqué argues for bipartisan support at all levels of government to develop Australia’s language capability. It sets a target of the year 2020 for a significant majority of Australians to have attained second-language proficiency.

This will mean that all Australian students will need to study languages for most of their compulsory schooling and that their teachers are subject specialists with appropriate training and meaningful career paths. Second language study will also need to be much more common at university level. The communiqué calls on governments as well as teachers, industry, community groups, parents and students to build partnerships to meet this target.


THE NEW RICH IN CHINA: Why there is no new middle class

David S G Goodman Professor of Contemporary China Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney

Economic reform in the People’s Republic of China [PRC] since 1980 has seen the emergence of new categories of wealth and power. Collectively and colloquially these categories have been referred to as the ‘new rich’. They have also been referred to both inside and outside of the PRC as the new middle class. Patterns of consumption and discourses of change suggest there are good reasons for accepting their designation in terms of middle classness. At the same time there is a need for caution.

The term middle class can refer to a range of social categories, from the high bourgeoisie, the captains of industry of the nineteenth century in northwest Europe,

to the managerial servants of the state and the economy that emerged in industrialised societies in the first half of the twentieth century.

It would be misleading to think that the PRC had no middle class of any kind before the Reform Era. On the contrary, it had developed its own managerial middle class during the 1950s as the state modernised society and the economy.

The evidence from surveys of new rich entrepreneurs conducted since the early 1990s in different parts of the PRC (Zhejiang, Shanxi, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Hainan) suggests that describing their experience in terms of an emergent middle class may present further comparative misunderstandings. In terms of wealth, China’s new rich are hardly middle ranked income households by any standard. While there are some new style entrepreneurs who are not very wealthy, most of the new rich earn and are worth several times national averages. Even official sources recognize that 6.15 per cent of the population earn more than 60,000 yuan RMB (c. AUD9,870) per annum, compared to an average 11,759 yuan RMB (c. AUD1,934)for urban and 3,587 yuan RMB (c.AUD590)for rural residents. In terms of asset management China’s new rich are more suggestive of the European high bourgeoisie than of the products of a managerial revolution.

In structural terms there are distinct differences between the experience of China’s new rich and the earlier European bourgeoisie. In particular, China’s new rich have a much closer relationship to the state. While by no means all the new rich have emerged from within the party-state, there is no doubt that private entrepreneurs seek or are requested to take functional and ceremonial leadership roles in the party-state. There is a close relationship between the state and the new rich.

These observations highlight the objectives of the various discourses of middle classness to be found both inside the PRC and outside. Within the PRC ideological constraints mean that promoting the new rich as the new middle classes is somewhat more egalitarian and generally more acceptable than describing them as the super-wealthy or the new bourgeoisie. Outside the PRC the search for the middle class in that country’s transformation is often seen as hopeful by those who equate industrialisation and economic development with the emergence of liberal democracy. The argument that these are people ‘just like us’ is very seductive, especially if it is delivered without any hint of irony.


This month we profile Dr Morris Low (, Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of Queensland

Q: When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?
A: I was long aware of being Asian, as a fourth-generation Chinese-Australian, but my first awareness of the possibility of formally studying `Asia’ only came when I entered high school in Brisbane. I studied Japanese (the only Asian language on offer), as well as French. On graduating from high school, I went to Japan as a Rotary Club exchange student. The Rotarians were concerned that a Chinese-Australian student might not be welcomed in Japan, but they were assured by the club in Japan that would not be the case. I had a great time. Meanwhile, I had deferred entry into the new Bachelor of Science with Japanese Language program at Griffith University, a boutique program with an annual admission quota of around five students. The study of Japan in the late 1970s was still confined to a relatively small number of people. I tend to be interested in many things at any one time, and the program at Griffith enabled me to combine those interests. A Japanese Government scholarship took me back to Japan for a year. I returned to Griffith to do honours, and then visited Japan again on another scholarship to work in the area of the history of science at Nagoya University where I helped set up some archives. I became convinced that the history of Japanese science was what I wanted to do and I began a PhD in history at the University of Sydney in 1987. I was appointed to my first academic position at Monash University in 1989 at the time of a tsunami of interest in Japan.

Q: What are your current preoccupations?
A: I am involved in a number of collaborative projects.

They include a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project entitled `Inventing an International Culture of Change: 1870-1930’ where we examine the role of six major cities as engines of scientific and technological development: Berlin, London, Chicago, Turin, Paris and Tokyo. We have just held a final workshop in Chicago. I am also a chief investigator in a new ARC-funded project `Historical Conflict and Reconciliation in East Asia: Media, History Wars and the Search for Regional Understanding’.

Q: How do these fit into the contemporary scene?
A: Cities throughout the world are searching for ways of invigorating their local economies and making themselves attractive to the so-called `creative class’. The NSF project helps us to understand why some major cities continue to be magnets for people. Despite attempts at decentralisation, Tokyo continues to be the centre of scientific, cultural and economic activity with some 59 per cent of Japanese major corporate headquarters based there. How have Tokyo and cities like London been so resilient? Part of the secret of Tokyo lies in its ability to reinvent itself and encourage change. But interestingly, both the NSF project and the ARC project will show that it is only by coming to terms with the past, that a country can truly move forward.

Morris Low is the author of Japan on Display: Photography and the Emperor, Routledge, 2006, a publication in the ASAA’s East Asian series. The book examines representations of the Meiji emperor, Mutsuhito (1852-1912) and his grandson the Showa emperor, Hirohito who was regarded as a symbol of the nation, in both war and peacetime. Drawing on archival documents, photographs, and sources in both Japanese and English, this book seeks to understand how the Emperor was transformed from wartime leader to peace-loving scientist.

Student of the month

It all started with food. Karen-Anne Coleman, driven mad by a family who refuses to touch anything beyond British fare, first found Asia through its food. The delicate mix of flavours, textures and aromas were not a bad initiation to the cultures themselves. Karen first travelled to Vietnam in December 2003, participating in an Antipodeans abroad trip to fundraise and visit street kids and orphanages in Hanoi and Hoi An. In March 2006, Karen decided to launch herself on a bigger trip, joining Australian Volunteers International Youth Program for three months of social work in southern India. Billeted with a family among the tea plantations of the Nilgiris, Karen and ten other young Australians engaged with the local Badaga community on grass-roots development programs.

As preparation for this trip Karen decided to take a ‘Modern India’ history unit offered in her Bachelor of Art Theory/Arts at the University of New South Wales. This course brought up many of the contemporary issues facing the region and helped Karen gain an awareness of the larger social context for her upcoming trip. It also allowed her to pursue her interest in art, as one its major themes was the use of visual representation as historical analysis.

Karen evaluated the historical accuracy of Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi, winning the Hugh Owen Prize for best undergraduate essay written on a South Asian topic in Australia.

Since then Karen has developed a deep interest in post-colonial studies. Post-colonial theory is already established as a way of interpreting literature, but Karen plans to apply this body of theory to the visual arts. At the end of her degree Karen aspires to combine further studies with curatorial work in public galleries. From August she will combine her full-time study with an internship with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an exciting opportunity to investigate how this might happen.


Website of the month

The Database of Research on International Education is funded by Australian Education International (Department of Education, Science and Training). It focuses on transnational education, international education, international educational exchange and international students and includes material on Asia, Asian studies, and students from Asia.

Recent article of interest

‘Our ignorance of Asia is off like old sushi’, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 July by Louise Williams, has caused concern among teachers who, Williams says, are not equipped to teach about Asia, This means that while Australians are "Asia mobile", that is comfortable travellers to Asia, they are not Asia literate. For example, while 100 per cent of Australian primary school children recognise the United States on a map only 27 per cent can find Indonesia. But Williams’ main complaint is not directed at teachers. Instead she calls on governments ‘to reinvest in targeted teacher training, teacher travel and teachers' language skills to turn the tired "Asia-literacy" mantra into change’.

Did you know?

Ten years on from the 1997 East Asian Financial Crisis the region is far wealthier, has fewer poor people and a larger global role than ever before. People’s incomes are well beyond where they were before the crisis and in some countries, like China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR, they are growing at exceptional rates. Over 100 million people across East Asia have left the ranks of the extreme poor since 2000. The World Bank’s East Asia & Pacific Update examines the next wave of tough challenges to be faced to prevent this growth slowing.,,menuPK:

Diary dates

ATBC Seminar:"Thailand – what's really happening?", Sydney 17th July 2007, Melbourne 18th July 2007. The ATBC has invited a diverse range of speakers, including prominent political and economic commentators from Thailand and business people with first-hand knowledge, to address the seminars and provide an inside look at what really is happening in Thailand. Eminent Bangkok-based political commentators and authors Dr Chris Baker and Dr Pasuk Phongpaichit, well-known for their insightful and forthright views will be key-note speakers at the seminars. Sean Riley, Austrade Senior Trade Commissioner in Bangkok, will provide an insider’s view of the market and lead a panel of experienced Australian business leaders. Click here for more information & registration form

2007 NARAYANAN ORATION, 8 August, Canberra. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Head of the Energy and Resources Institute in India will deliver this year’s oration. 5.30pm Law Sparke Helmore Theatre 2, Australian National University. See This is a free event.

THE INDIAN ECONOMY AT 60: PERFORMANCE AND PROSPECTS, 20-21 August, Canberra. Major scholars and promising young researchers from Australia, the US, Europe and India will present papers at this conference hosted by the Australia South Asia Research Centre (ASARC) at the Australian National University Details will shortly be available on ASARC's website Registration is free.

APEC ECONOMIC LEADERS MEETING, 8-9 September, Sydney. The main event of the APEC year brings together the 21 APEC Member Economy leaders, thousands of delegates, support personnel and the international media. See

CHINA: CONFERENCE ON MIGRATION AND SOCIAL PROTECTION, 25 to 26 September, Beijing. Monash University's Asian Business and Economics Research Unit together with the Institute of Population and Labour Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Renmin-Monash Advanced Centre for Economic Studies are staging an international conference to explore issues such as: labour market integration and social protection, migrant participation in social security schemes, migrant alternatives to state-sponsored social protection, migrant working conditions, salaries and wage arrears, and responsibilities of government in the provision of social protection. See
or contact Dr Ingrid Nielsen

DESPOTS, DEMOCRATS AND DISCONTENTS: Democratic Prospects and International Policy Responses in the Middle East and South Asia, 2 October Sydney. The Sydney Democracy Forum and the Lowy Institute for International Policy are hosting this event, with the following speakers: Anthony Bubalo (Lowy Institute for International Policy), Professor Niraja Gopal Jayal (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Professor John Keane (Westminster University/University of Sydney)
2 to 5 pm at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, 31 Bligh Street, Sydney

RSVP: by 25 September.

SIXTY YEARS OF INDIAN DEMOCRACY: Achievements and Prospects 2 October, Sydney. The Sydney Democracy Forum, with Sydney Ideas, presents a lecture by Professor Niraja Gopal Jayal (Jawaharlal Nehru University) at the Seymour Centre, corner of City Road and Cleveland Street, University of Sydney, 7pm. Bookings are essential: phone (02) 9351 7940.

ASPIRE: WATER AND SANITATION IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION: Opportunities, Challenges and Technology, Perth, 28 October - 1 November 2007. The Australian Water Association, in conjunction with the International Water Association is organising this conference, which will focus on design, operation, maintenance and management of water and wastewater systems. Innovations in the field, case studies on safe and reliable systems for removal of nutrients, water reuse, and methods of better operation will also be discussed at the conference. There will be specific emphasis on issues facing the Asia-Pacific Region. Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre. See

ASIA PACIFIC REGION: SOCIETIES IN TRANSFORMATION conference, Georgetown (Penang) Malaysia, 19-22 November, 2007. The region is seemingly now more integrated, with unprecedented levels of tourism, migration, and economic and cultural linkages. But, are the nations of the region, and their populations, more divided, united or are they fundamentally unchanged over the past two decades? These are questions to be raised in a conference co-sponsored by the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and the Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS), University of Wollongong, Australia The conference website link is at:
Submission of abstracts to Dr Tim Scrase: by 30 June 2007

17th NEW ZEALAND ASIAN STUDIES SOCIETY (NZASIA) CONFERENCE, Otago, 22-25 November 2007. This will be an open, multidisciplinary conference. Participants are invited to submit panel or paper proposals presenting original research on any Asian-related topic. Proposals for panels are welcome. Paper abstracts, single-spaced and no longer than 200 words, must be submitted before 1 June 2007 to Full conference details can be found at

'OCCUPYING 'THE OTHER': AUSTRALIA AND MILITARY OCCUPATIONS FROM JAPAN TO IRAQ'. 29-30 November 2007, Wollongong. Call for Papers This symposium sponsored by the Japan Foundation, the Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS) at the University of Wollongong and Monash University aims to bring together journalists, public commentators and scholars investigating Australian involvement in foreign military occupations. It will pose the question: ‘How are we to understand this ongoing military commitment to the region, and how can the occupation of Japan contribute to understanding this commitment and, more generically, the role of military occupations today?’ Deadline for the submission of paper is 31 July 2007. Contact Dr Christine de Matos

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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 Asian Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference. ASAA and the Centre for Language Studies at National University of Singapore also co-publish an annual supplementary issue of the Centre's fully peer-reviewed electronic Foreign Language Teaching Journal (e-FLT). See

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 International Centre of Excellence for Asia Pacific Studies (ICEAPS) It is edited by Francesca Beddie. The editorial board consists of Michael Leigh, ASAA President, Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary, Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer, and Ann Kumar, Director, ICEAPS.

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