Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge

September 2008 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <> for the plain copy (no images) of this issue please click here

Sponsored by ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network

In this issue:


PAKISTAN: democracy faces a litmus test

by Dr Ashutosh Misra, Research Fellow, Griffith Asia Institute, and Associate Investigator, Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS)

Notwithstanding its critics, the last year has reaffirmed the resilience of democracy in Pakistan and its ability to stand as a potent alternative to military dictatorship. The return to power of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif (PML-N, now in opposition since August 26, 2008) augurs well for democracy’s future in Pakistan. It has also signalled the coming of age of the voters, who rejected the politics of opportunism and General Pervez Musharraf’s tall claims of having rescued Pakistan from disaster.

That Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, would win the presidency was a foregone conclusion. Riding on the sympathy wave following Benazir’s killing, Zadari has emerged the hope of the millions of followers of a party whose slogan in the 1970s, under its founder, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, was bread, cloth and shelter. Now, with control over the offices of President and Prime Minister, Zadari and the PPP’s Yusuf Reza Gilani have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-assert their popularity across Pakistan. But restoring political and economic stability and the rule of law, sooner rather than later, will be no easy task. If they fail, their downfall will be as meteoric as their ascent.

Nawaz Sharif and his party on the other hand run no risk of losing legitimacy and popularity should things worsen. It could therefore be a tactically and politically wise move on their part to be in opposition, given the difficulties confronting Pakistan.

That said, a country resting on a razor’s edge would spare none if a rise in extremism, economic hardship and political turmoil should see it drift into anarchy.

The top priority in the next few months for Zardari and Gilani is to arrest inflation, check price hikes for food and the shortage of electricity. Achieving this would allow the PPP some space to address their political tasks, including the restoration of the pre-November 3, 2007 judiciary and removal of article 58 2b (that gives the president the power to dissolve national and provincial assemblies) from the constitution.

The second major challenge is to contain rising extremism and establish the authority of the state in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which are fomenting violent tendencies in other parts of Pakistan. Having failed to achieve peace through negotiated ‘deals’ the governments (federal and provincial) have fallen back on the military option, but with little success. Without checking extremism, Pakistan will not gain the confidence of foreign investors, causing continued inflation and the further depletion of foreign exchange reserves. In the interim, Zardari will have to secure financial assistance on favourable terms from international institutions and donor countries to resuscitate the economy.

With high office come big responsibilities. Until now Zardari has enjoyed power with no responsibility; now he will have to justify the faith in him shown by the Pakistani people. Nawaz Sharif has shown maturity thus far by not rocking the boat. Being a seasoned campaigner he well understands the dangers of any confrontation with the PPP, which may stoke public antipathy and give a sniff of a chance to the anti-democratic forces.

Embedded in the Charter of Democracy signed between him and Benazir Bhutto on 16 May 2006 was the goal of strengthening and insulating democracy against future military adventurism and political opportunism.

The sanctity of this charter will now be put to the test. It is Zardari and the PPP who will have to do the hard work here, ranging from pacifying the lawyers to rescuing the economic downslide, achieving peace in the tribal areas, restoring the supremacy of the Parliament, pushing the peace process with India and last but not the least juggling the domestic outcry against raids by NATO troops inside Pakistani territory and keeping the US happy. It is a mammoth assignment.


BEYOND EXPLOITATION: Alternative narratives of Asian women and work

by Dr Michele Ford , senior lecturer and chair of the department of Indonesian Studies, University of Sydney, introduces two new books on women and work in Asia: Kaye Broadbent and Michele Ford (eds). 2008. Women and Labour Organizing in Asia: Diversity, Autonomy and Activism. London: Routledge and Michele Ford and Lyn Parker (eds). 2008. Women and Work in Indonesia. London: Routledge.

It is not without good reason that the Asian woman worker exists in the popular imagination as a helpless wage slave trapped on the factory floor or a domestic helper working overseas, unhappy and far from her children. Yet as these two very different books on women and work show, that women’s experiences of oppression and exploitation are only a relatively small part of complex place that work and labour activism occupy in Asian women’s lives. As the contributors to Women and Labour Organizing in Asia demonstrate, women have been active in union and non union based campaigns throughout the region. While documenting the factors characterising individual national contexts, the book emphasises the similarities in women's experiences of unions and labour activism across the region, as well as the barriers women labour activists face. As well as providing details of specific labour campaigns and struggles in nine Asian countries, the authors consider the relationships between women union members and activists and male officials and union members, and links between labour activism and other social movements. In doing so,

they challenge the prevailing conception of Asian women workers as passive and uninterested in industrial issues.

Women and Work in Indonesia takes a much more anthropological approach to questions of exploitation, agency and identity. It focusses on what women themselves see as their work and explores how their identity as workers influences, and is influenced by, other parts of their lives. A wide range of types of employment is considered: agricultural labour, industrial work and new forms of work in the tertiary sector such as media and tourism, demonstrating how capitalism, globalisation and local culture together produce gendered patterns of work with particular statuses and identities.

Each chapter focuses on the intersection of different kinds of work, be it paid employment, home life and child care, or activities surrounding ritual, healing and religious life in a different location and setting. The volume analyses key issues, including the contrasts between ‘new’ and ‘old’ forms of work, the relationship between experiences of migration and work,

and the meaning of women’s ‘traditional’ work – challenging assumptions of women as ‘only’ mothers and housewives, and demonstrating how women mobilize kinship and village relations to transcend conventional categories such as wage labour and the domestic sphere.

Both these volumes are published as part of the ASAA’s Women in Asia series. They were launched in the mega book launch at the Association’s biennial conference in Melbourne in July this year. Publisher’s information about these books and others in the Women in Asia series is available at


This month we profile Dr Laura Dales, Acting Convenor of Japanese Studies, University of South Australia

Q: When did you become interested in Asia and why?
A: I started studying Japanese at high school, and found myself drawn into it. I also studied French (and did better in that than Japanese!), but I felt that Australia’s location made Japanese a more useful choice. At the time I was probably being pragmatic, thinking of career prospects, but along the way my interest in Asia broadly and Japan specifically became much more a fascination with culture and language. So although I started studying Law and Asian Studies at University of Western Australia, I quickly became more interested in pursuing the latter, although the law still features in some of my work. I spent a year in Osaka as an undergraduate exchange student, living with a wonderful family and brushing up on my Osaka dialect. In hindsight it was clearly a life-changing experience for me. I went back a year later, and this time spent two years in Kyoto doing fieldwork for my PhD on women’s groups and feminism.

Q: What are your current preoccupations? And how do these fit into the contemporary scene?
A: I have been interested in feminism and women’s issues for a long time. Like many countries, Japan is experiencing significant social changes related to its ageing population and low birth-rate. Women and men are marrying less and later, and are having fewer children. I’m interested in the ways that Japanese women experience these changes, how they navigate their life choices, how women in Japan who are not Japanese are included or excluded in discussions, and particularly how non-government women’s groups fit into all of this.

This kind of work is being done all over the world, and as a result there is a much greater understanding of how important it is to look at women’s perspectives, and to hear women’s voices in research on social change, development and policy. Women are still disproportionately affected by poverty, violence and instability.

These are issues that need to be addressed in political, as well as academic forums. The Women in Asia conferences are an excellent showcase of the kind of research that can make a difference for women.

I spend quite a bit of time teaching Japanese language, and enjoy seeing students develop the skills and confidence to speak, read and write in a new language. I see language as both an end in itself, as something quite lovely to know and have in your head, but also as a tool for communication – it is such a joy to be able to speak to people in their language. I’ve learnt a lot from my chats with Japanese people. This is why I love researching with people, doing interviews and hearing people’s views. Social research is a very rich and rewarding process.

Q: What are your hopes for Asian Studies in Australia?
I’d like to see Asian Studies become a key component of our education. The study of languages at primary school is a good start, but we need to recognise the importance of Asian Studies at all levels, and encourage tertiary students to see Asian Studies as a strategic complement to studies in traditional disciplines.

Asian Studies is important for Australia, not just because Asia includes some of our greatest trading partners (though that is certainly true), but because we are living in Asia. Even putting aside economics and politics, I think that there are many good reasons for a greater Asia-Australia dialogue, not least of which is an understanding and enjoyment of the incredible diversity of culture, history and custom at our doorstep. I am optimistic that having an Asia-literate Prime Minister may help put Asian Studies back on the agenda.


TRANSITION AND INTERCHANGE Ninth Women in Asia Conference, 29 September-1 October 2008, Brisbane

Student of the month

The seed of an academic interest starts early, even if it takes a while to discover what kind of tree it will become. When Stuart Upton was young, his family moved from Australia to several places in Britain, finally settling in rural mid-Wales, an area where half the population spoke English as a second language. Wales is a peripheral region within Britain, with Welsh people feeling disenfranchised politically, economically and culturally. Another common feature of peripheral areas is the sometimes lower standard of education provided. Having been turned off history by a teacher whose idea of a lesson was writing a blackboard of knowledge for the students to silently copy down, Stuart gravitated towards the better-taught science subjects. This ended in him studying mathematics at the University of Warwick.

Although this was one of the UK’s top maths departments, he had not found his calling, with Stuart finding far more interest in the social science subjects he was able to take as part of his degree.

After travelling widely in Asia, Stuart decided to experience living there. He went on to teach English in Turkey and Indonesia, and later help establish a college in China. During that time, his interest grew in the area of Asian history and politics, leading to an MA in Asian History at UNSW. Perhaps due in part to his childhood experiences, his research essay focussed on transmigration within Indonesia, examining the issues involved in relocation to peripheral areas of this nation. His PhD continued these themes, focussing on the effects of migration to the Indonesian province of Papua. With his PhD finally submitted early this year, Stuart has begun tutoring at UNSW where the skills he gained as an ESL teacher – ensuring information is comprehensible, involving all the students in the class, and constructing an encouraging atmosphere – are now serving him well as a tutor.

Website of the month SOUTHEAST ASIA VISIONS is a collection of European travel accounts of pre-modern Southeast Asia from Cornell University Library’s John M. Echols Collection. The site provides online access to more than 350 books and journal articles written in English and French. The works in the collection were selected for the quality of their first-hand observations and, together, provide a comprehensive representation of Southeast Asia.

Recent publication of interest

On 9 September, PM Rudd addressed the RSL National Congress, saying Australia needed a new defence approach that brought ‘together all the elements of traditional and non-traditional security capabilities that will ensure Australia responds to the full breadth of the threat spectrum that now confront us’. He listed increased militarisation in the region, the threat of terrorism, energy security and the impact of climate change on long-term food and water security. See

On a related subject Rory Medcalf of the Lowy Institute investigates ways Australia might contribute to nuclear security in Asia and globally. For his paper, Nuclear security: what else can Australia do? See

Did you know?

The Australian National University is calling for doctoral applicants to participate in an ARC-funded research project that explores the poorly understood Islamic cultures of Eastern Indonesia. The PhD will be based around twelve months fieldwork in an Islamic community in Maluku or the lesser Sunda Islands. The stipend is $20,007 a year. Applicants should have at least an honours degree or equivalent in Anthropology, Asian Studies or a related discipline, demonstrated research capacity and be capable of conducting field research in Indonesian. Closing date: Friday 31 October 2008 Enquiries: Professor Kathryn Robinson at: or call 02 6125 3279

Diary dates

PICTURE PARADISE - THE FIRST CENTURY OF ASIA-PACIFIC PHOTOGRAPHY 1840s-1940s 11 July - 9 November, Canberra. This exhibition is the first survey of the history of photography from India and Sri Lanka through Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific to the west coast of North America National Gallery of Australia Parkes Place, Parkes, Canberra.

THE LOST BUDDHAS Chinese Buddhist sculpture from Qingzhou 29 August - 23 November 2008, Sydney. Lost for over 800 years – the discovery of some 400 Buddhist figures by construction workers levelling a sports field is considered one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century. Thirty-five of the best preserved and most exquisite sculptures will travel from China to the Art Gallery of NSW. This is the first time that these works will be seen in Australia.

A YEAR IN TIBET, 24 September, Canberra. Sun Shuyun, author of 'The Long March' and 'Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud' explores in intimate detail the lives of a shaman and his family, three monks, a village doctor, a Party worker, a hotel manager, a builder and a rickshaw driver. Through them she captures the Tensions between Chinese and Tibetans, between an ancient and an alien culture, between faith and science, tradition and modernity. 6pm, Asia Bookroom, Lawry Place, Macquarie, RSVP by Tuesday 23 September to 6251 5191 or

CHALLENGES OF GOOD GOVERNANCE & PROMOTION OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN THE PHILIPPINES 26 September, Sydney. Mayor Jesse Robredo, Naga City, Philippines will present this seminar in the Asian Studies Lecture Series @ Sydney University from 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm Education Seminar Room 325, Education Building, Manning Road

EXPORTING UNCERTAINTY: China’s Governance & World, 26 September, Sydney. Professor David Kelly (UTS, Adjunct Professor) will give an account of China as a source of uncertainty in our contemporary world and consider the key aspects of governance that might reduce policy uncertainty within and about China. Time: 5.30-7.30 (drinks from 5.30pm, lecture from 6pm) RSVP by clicking here: Venue: China Research Centre - level 2; Blackfriars Campus (Blackfriar’s St, just off Abercrombie St) See map at

ASIAN-AUSTRALIAN ART NOW: POSITIONING THE FIELD(S), Open workshop 27 and 28 of September, Sydney. This workshop, organised by the Australian Centre for Asian Art & Archaeology, University of Sydney and Gallery 4 A, Sydney with the financial support of the ARC Asia-Pacific Futures Research Network, the School of Letters, Art and Media of the University of Sydney, and Gallery 4A, will provide a forum for discussion on what constitutes Asian-Australian art. Asia-Australia Arts Centre, Gallery 4A,181-187 Hay Street, Sydney Participation fee to the general public $20.00 Time: 9.30am start both days. REGISTRATIONS: Gabrielle Ewington:

TRANSITION AND INTERCHANGE Ninth Women in Asia Conference, 29 September-1 October, Brisbane. The University of Queensland is hosting the ninth Women in Asia (WIA) Conference, to be held from 29 September-1 October, 2008.

THE BEIJING OLYMPICS IN TRANSNATIONAL CHINA: Politics, economic reform and the media game. 2 October, Perth. This workshop is organised by the Media-Asia Research Group (MARG) and the Centre for Advanced Studies in Australia, Asia and the Pacific (CASAAP). While most of the reporting is on sports and the athletes, the Olympic Games are more than just a sporting event. In this workshop the connections between sports, media, nationhood and politics will be examined, with a focus on both the Chinese and international coverage of the games. See

NEW PATHWAYS OR OLD TRAJECTORIES? Chinese Migrants, Race, Diaspora and Australia, 3 October, Melbourne. Dr Paul Jones will review the socio-demographic record of recent years and will revisit two key moments in the genealogy of the Chinese settler-traveller in Australian history - 1949, the year China closed its ports to the 'sojourner' of old, and 1901. The talk will be followed by an informal, inexpensive meal in a nearby Chinatown restaurant. This event is organised by the Melbourne Chinese Studies Group. 6pm, Jenny Florence Room, 3rd Floor Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane Melbourne, contact

AUSTRALIA JAPAN BUSINESS ASSOCIATION Cocktail Event, 9 October, Sydney. Guest speakers: Dr. Satomi Kawaguchi, Dr. Xiangdong Liu and Dr. Yoshiko Howard, School Of Humanities And Languages, University Of Western Sydney, who will be looking at overcoming cross cultural boundaries through Japanese language learning. NSW Department of State and Regional Development facility, Level 47, MLC Centre Sydney, Registration 6:45pm – 7:00pm
Serving of canapés and beverages, Presentation and Networking 7:00pm – 8:30pm. Register online or call 02 9222 9900

ARTSingapore, 9-13 October 2008, Singapore. This contemporary visual art fair is both a trade and consumer fair, and thus a platform for art dealers and galleries to network and foster business relationships, and for art collectors to acquire new works

OPEN HANDS, CROSSED FINGERS, POLITE SMILES AND FURROWED BROWS: The Tokyo-Beijing-Washington Strategic Triangle and the Future of East Asian Regionalism 14 October, Sydney. Dr Malcolm Cook, Lowy Institute and Professor Rodney Tiffen, Asia Pacific Program, Sydney University will discuss this subject from 4:30 – 6:00 pm Education Seminar Room 459 as part of the Asian Studies Lecture Series @ Sydney University

ASIA WEEK 2008 20-23 October, Melbourne. Through four days of concerts, workshops, seminars, and lectures, Asia Week 2008 showcases the diversity of intellectual, artistic, and cultural activities of the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne and its partnering institutions, focusing primarily on the languages and cultures of China, Japan, Indonesia, and the Islamic world. For complete schedule and event details as they become available, visit:

AUSTRALIAN MEDIA AND INDONESIA, 29 October, Sydney. Professors Rodney Tiffen and Adrian Vickers present this seminar at 4:30 – 6:00 pm Education Seminar Room 325 as part of the Asian Studies Lecture Series @ Sydney University

RESEARCHING THE GARMENT INDUSTRY IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC, 5 November, Sydney. Professors Adrian Vickers and Elspeth Probyn discuss this issue from 4:30 – 6:00 pm at Education Seminar Room 325 as part of the Asian Studies Lecture Series @ Sydney University

VIETNAM UPDATE 2008, Labour in Vietnam, 6-7 November 2008, ANU, Canberra. The 2008 Vietnam Update takes up the timely issue of labour in Vietnam. It will explore the theme of labour broadly, including Vietnam's position in regional labour markets; the socialist legacy in the globalised workplace; everyday working conditions and experiences; the regulatory framework; the changing industrial relations system; the politics of labour; the protection of labour rights; and the internationalisation of labour standards. Convenor: Anita Chan, Contemporary China Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University:

INDIA UPDATE 2008, India in Australia/India and Australia, 6-7 November 2008, Canberra. If you still think India is Ambassador cars, steam trains and Sunil Gavaskar, you need to be updated on India. As 21st-century India burgeons, its intellectual and investment capital is bringing India and Australia into unprecedented daily interaction: in education, science, mining, media—and of course, sport. India Update puts outstanding speakers on a common platform to reflect on changes in the India-Australia relationship and on India’s recent political and economic course. Jointly organized by the University of Canberra and ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. Convenors: Robin Jeffrey, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU, and Auriol Weigold, Faculty of Communication and International Studies, University of Canberra.

TOKYO WAR CRIMES TRIAL CONFERENCE: 10-12 November, Melbourne. The Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law at Melbourne Law School announces a forthcoming major international conference and public lecture to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Judgment in the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. The conference will be important as a way of enhancing the prospects of global justice, understanding a neglected aspect of Australasian history and continuing to promote friendship and reconciliation among Asian neighbours and Australia. VENUE: University of Melbourne Law School, 185 Pelham Street, Carlton. COST: Conference ($275; Student/Concession $99), Dinner ($110). Contact Cathy Hutton at or (03) 8344 4775

GLOBALISING RELIGIONS AND CULTURES IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC, 1-5 December 2008, Adelaide. This conference is the 2008 Signature Event for the Asia-Pacific Futures Research Network. With religion and culture as the key themes, the conference covers areas central to understanding the current state, diffusion and evolution of religious beliefs in the Asia-Pacific as well as their cultural and other consequences. In addition to its academic conference, the Event features three major public forums, link-ups with Australian media, side events and tours. The culminating event, the conference banquet, will be held under the direction of one of Australia’s most famous chefs, Simon Bryant. Contact: or go to at

ISLAM AND SECULARISM IN MALAYSIA, Workshop, 4 December, Canberra. This workshop includes speakers Prof. Andrew Willford (Cornell), Dr Yeoh Seng Guan (Monash-Malaysia), Dr Farish Noor (NTU, Singapore) and a screening of short films relating to Islam and secularism in Malaysia. For more information, contact Dr Gaik Cheng Khoo

MALAYSIA AND SINGAPORE IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM: Contesting Old Paradigms, 5-6 December, Canberra. Call for papers by 24 October on Islam, secularism, 2008 elections, gender, ethnic politics, migrant labor, civil society, bilateral/regional relations, biography/ autobiography, terrorism, human rights. Abstracts should be no more than 300 words. Convenors: Lily Zubaidah Rahim; John Funston For further information contact Ms Sue Mills or

SHAKUHACHI PERFORMANCE CONCERT, 13 December, Melbourne. This inaugural Shakuhachi Performance Concert presents winning compositions from USA, Australia and Japan performed by Australia's leading Shakuhachi masters and instrumentalists. TIME: 3.30pm VENUE: Melba Hall, University of Melbourne. Book online at or by calling 9739-7340 (reserved seating)

THE 18TH NEW ZEALAND ASIAN STUDIES SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE 2009, Wellington, 6-8 July, 2009. This will be an open, multidisciplinary conference. Participants are invited to submit panel or paper proposals presenting original research on any Asia-related topic. For more information, please the see conference website: Paper abstracts due by 15 March 2009 to the chair of the organising committee:

You are welcome to advertise Asia-related events in this space. Send details to:


What would be useful for you? Human interest stories, profiles of successful graduates of Asian studies, more news about what's on, moderated discussions on topical issues? Send your ideas to

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). It is edited by Francesca Beddie. The editorial board consists of Robert Cribb, ASAA President; Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary; Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer; and Lenore Lyons, ASAA Council member.

Return to Asian Currents home page

(formerly at, now at