Asian Studies Association of Australia
Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge
April 2009 | 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:

From the ASAA Executive

We are sorry to have recently lost the services of our founding editor Francesca Beddie. Since establishing the newsletter in 2005, Francesca has assiduously promoted the aims of the ASAA through Asian Currents. She goes with our thanks and warmest wishes for the future. Our new editor is Allan Sharp, who has worked in journalism and public relations for many years. Allan will continue to build on Francesca’s work and encourages you to send your ideas to on topics that would be useful to you.



by Dr Marcus Mietzner, Lecturer in Indonesia Studies, Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University, looks at some of the consequences of a change in electoral laws for Indonesia’s recent parliamentary election.

Q: Can you explain the recent Constitutional Court decision to disallow party lists, and its effect on the campaign?

Under the electoral system applied in 2004, each party submitted a list of candidates to the Election Commission (KPU, Komisi Pemilihan Umum). The listed candidates were ranked, and seats won by parties were allocated to the highest-ranked nominees. For instance, if Golkar won two seats in an electoral area, these seats were handed to the first and second candidates on the party list. For lower-placed candidates, the only way around this ranking system was to achieve a full electoral quota, which could be around 300,000—400,000 votes for a seat on Java. As this was very difficult to achieve, only two nominees won parliamentary seats in 2004 by obtaining a full quota. The remaining 558 seats were distributed according to the party list rankings.

After widespread complaints about this system, parliament changed the rules for 2009 so that nominees had to gain only 30 per cent of an electoral quota to directly win the seat. Only if candidates were still below this threshold would the party list determine who got the seat. But in December 2008, the Constitutional Court declared this system unconstitutional, and decreed that whoever wins the most votes will get the seat allocated to a party, regardless of rankings or quotas.

This decision has had three major effects. First, the 2009 campaign has been much more personalised than in 2004. Nominees campaigned primarily for themselves, not for their parties. Banners showed huge pictures of the candidates, with the party symbols moving into the background. Second, the new rules have forced Jakarta-based elite politicians to campaign seriously in their constituencies. Previously, senior party leaders could rely on the party list ranking, but this time they had to go out and actively win votes. Third—and probably most importantly—the new system aggravated tensions between candidates of the same party; for most nominees, it became more important to defeat their rivals from within the party than those nominated by other parties.

Q: How did the campaign compare with 2004? Do you see indications in the conduct of the campaign—by the electoral commission,

the parties and voters—that electoral democracy is now well-established in Indonesia? What would you see as the remaining obstacles to achieving the democracy envisioned in the post-Suharto period, and in the Habibie-period electoral reforms?

There is no doubt that the quality of electoral management was lower in 2009 than in 2004. There were serious problems with voter lists and tabulation of votes, one reason being the reduced budget for elections, and the declining engagement of foreign donors and experts. There was a consensus in the political elite over the last few years that elections in Indonesia were too expensive, and that things could be done cheaper. Well, it was cheaper this time, but of course the budget cuts severely affected the quality of electoral organisation. The people running the KPU were also less qualified than their predecessors, due to an absurd recruitment system.

The shortcomings in electoral management, however, do not seem to have distorted the overall will of the voters. The result of the elections comes very close to the pollsters’ predictions and four quick counts on election night all came to the same results. Nevertheless, the organisation of elections certainly needs to be professionalised (in particular, voter registration must be computerised in the long term) if Indonesia wants to proceed with its process of democratic consolidation.

Q: Did any important new political forces/actors emerge in this campaign?

The only newcomers who won seats in parliament were Gerindra, run by former special forces commander Prabowo Subianto, and Hanura, the party chaired by former armed forces chief Wiranto. However, both former generals have been hugely disappointed with the results of their parties, and it is highly questionable whether they will remain long-term forces in Indonesian politics.


In addition, a large number of celebrities won seats in parliament (for different parties), suggesting that voters are much attracted to popular yet apolitical figures. But the level of their involvement in politics is still much lower than in the Philippines, where celebrities have occupied key positions for some time.

Q: Were there significant regional differences in the conduct of the campaign and the elections?

Generally, elections in Indonesia are easier to organise in rural areas than in urban centres. With their high mobility of voters, cities find it difficult to maintain up-to-date vote lists. Not surprisingly, Jakarta had the lowest turn-out of all provinces, with around 60 per cent.

In terms of the campaign, local customs and political issue certainly influenced campaigns. Obviously, you would see a different kind of campaigning in very devout Muslim areas such as West Java, South Sulawesi or West Sumatra than you would see in non-Muslim territories such as Bali or Nusa Tenggara Timur.

Q: What would you say about predictions of violence around the ballot by analysts such as Jeffrey Winters?

If I'm not mistaken, Jeffrey Winters predicted chaos surrounding the counting of votes received by individual candidates. This has not occurred so far, but we may still see some disputes over this issue. The final figures have not yet been announced, and certainly some candidates will protest against their defeat. But it needs to be said that Indonesia does not have a history of high levels of electoral violence, and this election does not seem to be an exception. The last major case of electoral violence occurred in 1999, when members of PKB and PPP clashed in Central Java, with several casualties. Since then, there have been occasional brawls, but mostly without loss of life. Compared to India, Sri Lanka or the Philippines, where it is almost normal to have your political opponent assassinated, Indonesia does not have significant problems when it comes to communal or political violence during elections.


The campaign to make Australia an Asia-literate country has been given significant encouragement by the Prime Minister’s recent response to the 2020 Summit ideas.

Mr Rudd announced that the government will immediately begin work on nine specific ideas from the Summit—including a Prime Minister's Australia Asia Endeavour Awards Scheme to support scholarships for students in Australia and Asia and deepen cultural understanding.

The Government is committing $14.9 million over four years to deliver the new scholarship scheme, building on its $62.4 million National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools program (NALSSP) Schooling/

Forty scholarships will be awarded annually to Australian university students, 20 at undergraduate level and 20 at postgraduate level to allow the recipients to undertake one year of study in Asia, which can be followed by an internship or work placement also in Asia.

Ten scholarships will also be awarded to the top international Endeavour Postgraduate Awards scholars at PhD level

from the priority Asian countries each year to study in Australia, with a maximum of two for any one country.

In the first three program years the following countries have been identified as priorities for both incoming and outgoing scholars: China (including Hong Kong and Macau SARs); India; Indonesia; Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Applications for the first round of the Awards will open from May 2009 for scholarships commencing in 2010.

The announcement of the scholarships provides significant encouragement to the

Asian Education Foundation’s (AEF) ‘Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia’ initiative leader/
to develop a nationwide agenda on Asia literacy.

The ‘Leading 21st Century Schools’ National Forum last year, organised by the AEF, constituted the first part of the initiative’s professional learning strategy, with the engagement of key national partners, including the ASAA.

The ASAA regards Asian studies and Asian expertise as an integral part of the government’s strategy for dealing with the international financial crisis and terrorism.

The National Forum aimed to engage school and system leaders to achieve the goals of the National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Asian Schools

Student of the month

Catherine Ingram

Catherine is soon to complete her PhD in Ethnomusicology and Chinese Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis focuses on a unique musical genre known as “big song” that is sung by Kam (in Chinese, Dong) villagers living in south-western China.

The Kam, one of China’s 55 recognised minorities, are especially known for their complex tonal language and rich repertoires of song, and today multi-part big song is the most widely known of all Kam song genres. It is still sung in many villages’ pagoda-shaped dare low during New Year celebrations, but it is also increasingly used as a symbol of the Kam, and features in all kinds of staged performances (pictured).

During the 20 months Catherine spent in Kam areas between 2004–2008 participating in all aspects of Kam life (a typical method in ethnomusicological research) she was not only invited to study and perform Kam song, but also to sing in the largest-ever staged performance of big song—10,000 people singing together!

In her thesis she describes and analyses big song, discuses the many contexts in which it is performed today, and examines the intricacies of its current significance to Kam villagers.

During her research Kam friends and teachers and Catherine also collaborated to record more than 130 hours of video and audio footage of Kam cultural activities, and they have established the first audio-visual archive of Kam musical traditions within PARADISEC online digital archive

As the project has developed the recordings they have produced and distributed to participants have been a huge source of pleasure for Kam singers, as well as stimulating more musical activity and enriching Catherine’s research.

Importantly, Catherine and her collaborators are creating a resource to help promote and maintain these traditions during this period of massive social changes occurring in Kam villages, and documenting the valuable social, philosophical, historical and aesthetic knowledge only passed down in song.

People in both China and Australia have asked her how she knew of and became interested in Kam music. It began when she first met several Kam doctors when she was taking her oral English classes in a WHO-affiliated training centre in China, where she was teaching several years before she began her PhD.

Through a series of chance encounters Catherinehad previously developed an interest in many aspects of Chinese culture—including learning erhu (Chinese two-string violin), Chinese language, and Chinese martial arts—which led her to Hunan to teach English for six months: She stayed three years.

Like those earlier chance encounters that had encouraged her interest in China, at the time Catherine’s students began to talk about their home regions and culture she had no idea that seven years later she would have learnt to speak Kam, to plant and harvest rice and do other Kam village tasks, to have the opportunity to study and perform Kam song traditions, and to count Kam singers and song experts as among her friends.

In ethnomusicology she says she has been lucky to be able to combine longstanding passions for music, gardening, bushwalking, China, and cultural advocacy and exchange, and she feels honoured to have had the privilege to be invited into Kam friends’ music and lives.


Website of the month

The South China Sea WWW Virtual Library is an online resource for students, scholars and policymakers interested in South China Sea regional development, environment, and security issues. Edited and maintained by David Rosenberg, Professor of Political Science, ( and begun as a student-faculty collaborative research project at Middlebury College, it is part of the Asian Studies WWW Virtual Library (), by Matthew Ciolek.

Interesting books of Asian interest

By Sally Burdon, Asia Bookroom

This small selection of books has been chosen, with pleasure and some difficulty, to include a wide range of interests and readership. The oft-heard protests of how difficult it is to choose a selection of anything, is especially true in the world of Asia-related books. This is, of course, an exciting 'problem' to face, demonstrating the growing demand to understand Asia that is now occurring outside the more traditional worlds of interest of the educators and researchers.

Over the coming months I will be drawing your attention not just to publications with an academic bent, but to all sorts of books for both adults and children with an Asian theme. I would like to include as many books by ASAA members as possible so please feel free to email me at with information about your book.

Birds of East Asia
Mark Brazil
Helm Field Guides, colour illustrations, 528pp, index, paperback
Christopher Healm, London, 2009. ISBN: 9780713670400
This is the first single volume guide ever devoted to the eastern Asian avifauna.The eastern Asian region, centring especially on the major islands off the continental coast (including Japan and Taiwan) and the immediately adjacent areas of the Asian continent from Kamchatka in the north and including the Korean Peninsula are an important centre of endemism. Birds endemic to this region include representatives of many of the major families, from the world's largest eagle—Steller's Sea Eagle—to the tiny Formosan Firecrest. The guide features the most up-to-date text available, which, in conjunction with extensive colour plates throughout, facilitates the field identification of all of the species known from the region. Colour distribution maps enhance the text by providing a visual analysis of the summer, winter and migratory ranges of all species.
AU$69.95 [Please quote item number 123056]

Conflict, Terrorism and the Media in Asia
Benjamin Cole (editor).
Paperback, 234 x 156mm
Routledge, UK, 2009. ISBN: 9780415486330
This major new study examines a wide range of sub-national conflicts, showing how, despite their significant differences, they share the role of the media as interlocutor, and exploring how the media exercises this role. The book raises a number of issues concerning how the media report different forms of political violence and conflict, including issues of impartiality in the media's relations with governments and insurgents, and how the focus on the 'War on Terror' has led to some forms of violence - notably those employed by states for political purposes - to be overlooked. As the issue of international terrorism remains one of the most pressing issues of the modern day, this is a significant and important book which will interest the general reader and scholars from all disciplines.
AU$64.00 [Please quote item number 128172]

Legacies of World War II in South and East Asia
David Koh Wee Hock
xvii, 212pp, index, hardback
Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn Uni, Singapore, 2008.
ISBN: 9789812304681
Sixty years after the end of World War II, the political and social fallout from the war is alive and divisive, as scholars in this volume show. One example is how former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine prevented China, Japan and South Korea from sitting down together to talk about Northeast Asian integration, and wider Asian integration. Another example is the question of comfort women. Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's statement that there is no evidence that Japan's government or army forced women to work in military brothels during the War appeared to go back on a 1993 apology for the comfort women. How such issues of history are dealt with by countries of this region has an effect on contemporary relations among the major powers contending for leadership in East Asia.
AU$69.95 [Please quote item number 128238]

Communitarian Politics in Asia
Chua Beng Huat (editor)
xiii + 191pp, index, paperback
Routledge, UK 2009. ISBN: 9780415480307
This book examines instances in southeast and east Asian countries where communitarianism is both articulated as national ideology and embedded as the ethos of social life and assesses the relative merits of a set of practices in their respective local political context. It not only augments existing international debate on liberalism and communitarianism but also provides empirical examples of communitarian political practices that will substantiate and/or refute conceptual points, such as redistributive justice and costs to individuals, in this ongoing debate.
AU$64.00 [Please quote item number 128171]

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture
Edward L. Davis (editor)
xxxiv + 786pp, index, paperback
Routledge, London, 2009. ISBN: 9780415777162
This long-awaited paperback edition is a useful reference book. It contains nearly 1,200 entries written by an international team of specialists to enable readers to explore a range of diverse and fascinating cultural subjects, from prisons to rock groups, underground Christian churches to TV talk shows and radio hotlines. Experimental artists with names such as 'Big-Tailed Elephants' and 'The North-Pole Group' nestle between the covers alongside entries on lotteries, gay cinema, political jokes, sex shops, theme parks, 'New Authoritarians' and 'Little Emperors'. These, as well as more traditional subjects and biographical entries, are indexed under 18 categories for easy thematic reference.
AU$128.00 [Please quote item number 127836]

The Old Man Mad About Drawing. A Tale of Hokusai
Francois Place
Colour illustrations, as well as Hokusai prints, 105pp with glossary, dust jacket.
David R Godine, Boston, 2004. ISBN: 9781567922608
Written for children, the author brings to life the immortal Japanese illustrator and printmaker Hokusai. Trained early as an engraver, Hokusai studied under the master Sunsho, producing illustrated volumes of verse. His first manga volume followed in 1814, after he abandoned the traditional style of engraving to perfect the technique of the coloured woodcut, in what many consider his greatest work, The 36 Views of Mt Fuji. The exuberance of his life is marvellously conveyed in Place's tribute to an artist who clearly ranks among his heroes. Both have the same genius for draughtsmanship, the perfectly defined, energetic stroke, the subtle wash. We see the humour and pathos of Hokusai's life, recorded through the eyes of a young apprentice. This is a lovely book which appeals to children from upper primary through to adults who are captured by its delightful presentation. Just the book to get younger readers interested in Japanese art and culture, and ideal for young people whose imagination has been caught by manga but are unaware of how it fits into traditional Japanese culture.
AU$41.95 [Please quote item number 123694]

Did you know?

New Asian studies grants program opens

A new grants program to support the development of school-based programs on Asian languages and studies opens this month. The program—‘Becoming Asia Literate: Grants to Schools’—is part of the NALSPP managed by the AEF.

Applications open on 4 May and close on 29 May 2009.

A total of $900,000 is available through the Grants to Schools program, which is focused on China, Japan, Indonesia and Korea. Further information about NALSSP is available at:

Diary dates

KOREAN DREAMS: PAINTINGS AND SCREENS OF THE JOSEON DYNASTY, Sydney, 5 March–8 June 2009. This exhibition is the first showing of traditional Korean painting at the Art Gallery of NSW. It will comprise Korean screens, hanging scrolls and album leaves dating from the 17th to 19th centuries. See .

CONFERENCE ON SECURITY SECTOR REFORM IN INDONESIA, Sydney, 12–13 June. This conference will consider current developments in security sector reform (SSR) and the correlation between SSR and the democratisation process in Indonesia. It is being organised by Indonesian Solidarity a nonprofit human rights organisation at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street. Contact:

TRANSMISSION OF ACADEMIC VALUES IN ASIAN STUDIES workshop, Canberra, 25–26 June 2009. See Contact:

JIU: COMMEMORATION AND CELEBRATION IN THE CHINESE-SPEAKING WORLD, conference, Sydney, 9–11 July 2009. The biennial China Studies Association of Australia conference will be held at Women's College, University of Sydney. It adopts the theme of ‘jiu’, taking up the challenge of both celebrating and commemorating the achievements and hardships of the past century in the Chinese-speaking world. See

The China Node of the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network is offering 10 student accommodation scholarships for the conference. The scholarship holders are expected to attend a Postgraduate Workshop on 9 July. Registrants who are enrolled in a PhD at an Australian university and are not based in NSW should send 250 words explaining what they hope to gain from the networking opportunity and from the conference itself. Please send this and a supporting statement from a supervisor to both: and

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:

JSAA-ICJLE 2009 Conference, Sydney, July 13–16 2009. The Japanese Studies Association of Australia (JSAA) will host JSAA-ICJLE2009, a joint conference for the JSAA conference and the International Conference on Japanese Language Education (ICJLE) in Sydney. The conference will feature research and discussion in various disciplines of Japanese language and studies. The main theme of the conference will be 'Bridging the gap between the Japanese language and Japanese studies'. The conference aims to provide a forum for Japanese language and studies academics and educators from around the world to meet and share ideas beyond and across their disciplines. See

MAJU BERSAMA The Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE) Biennial Conference, Sydney, 14–15 July 2009. ASILE is now calling for expressions of interest for papers and workshops at the 2009 conference. This is an excellent opportunity to contribute to and participate in a conference with a national audience interested in directions for the future of Indonesian language education. Small teams of presenters working together on projects are also encouraged to register. Any queries, please contact: Andrea Corston, phone: (08) 8683 4751;

INDONESIA COUNCIL fifth Open Conference, Sydney, 15–17 July 2009. The conference provides a forum to present new and innovative work in all areas of Indonesian studies. One of its main aims is to bring new Indonesianists and postgraduate students together with established scholars of Indonesia and to facilitate interaction between them. For further information see

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 ASAA and edited by Allan Sharp. The editorial board consists of Kathryn Robinson, ASAA President; Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary; Mina Roces, ASAA Publications Officer; and Lenore Lyons, ASAA Council member.

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