Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge
August 2009 | ISSN 1449-4418 | for the plain copy (no images) of this issue please click here

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In this issue:

From the Editor

Japan’ s general election on 30 August threatens to end over 50 years of almost continuous rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. Purnendra Jain looks at the reasons for the LDP’s predicament, but also asks whether the election of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan would mean can improvement in the lives of Japanese people.

Still on Japan, Joe Lo Bianco reviews the state of Japanese teaching in Australia and suggests we may be attributing the wrong causes for the decline in the number of students leaving school with a language.

Recent Uyghur unrest in Xinjiang province is discussed by Michael Clarke, who suggests that China’s long-standing approach to Xinjiang and other ethnic minority regions is at risk of failure.

Julian Millie examines the growing influence of preachers in a changing Indonesia and the fine line they need to tread in serving the interests of their new partners in village communities, media organisations and local government.

Honours student Elisabeth Kramer talks about the ‘terrors’ of making her first presentation at an international conference of Indonesia scholars, and we profile Brisbane bookseller Len Lambourne, who is sceptical of the commitment of Australian politicians to make Australia more Asia-literate. Sally Burdon, from the Asia Bookshop, also has more reviews of recent books of Asia interest.

Allan Sharp

From the President


The newly elected ASAA Council for 2009–10 held its first meeting in Sydney in July, and we were pleased to welcome several new members. It is heartening to see the vibrancy of our organisation reflected in these young and energetic scholars who choose to be active in our association.

Council members represent different constituencies in the organisation and are an important point of contact for members. The new editor of the association’s journal Asian Studies Review, Peter Jackson from ANU, updated us on the journal, which is going from strength to strength and developing its own specialist niche as a showcase for Asian Studies research. We hope you support it by publishing in it, and reviewing books and papers for it.

Past president Robert Cribb updated us on ERA journal rankings to be used in academic performance assessment. Robert represented members’ interests very effectively in the ranking of Asian Studies journals but advised the association to remain vigilant in regard to ERA, as the ranking process does not make it easy for cross-disciplinary or Asia-focused journals to be highly ranked.

A major question facing the ASAA is how we can intervene in the ongoing decline in Asian-language teaching in schools and universities. We welcome the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program initiative, and a major activity for this current ASAA executive will be to develop a submission for the 2010 federal budget to address declining Asian expertise in universities.

As council member Maureen Welch from the Asia Education Foundation notes, the declining and greying of Asian expertise in the university sector needs to be addressed alongside the teaching of Asia and Asian languages in schools. In the near future, we will be inviting Asian Currents readers to assist in the campaign to sustain and develop Asian expertise in Australia.

Kathryn Robinson



After over 50 years of continuous rule, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party faces electoral defeat in this month’s general election. But, says Purnendra Jain, with nearly 40 per cent of potential voters still undecided, new political parties emerging and political realignments continuing to reshape possibilities, nothing can be regarded as certain.

Japan’s general election on 30 August is set to usher in a new political era. The Liberal Democratic Party’s monopoly on power through over 50 years of almost continuous rule is seriously threatened by the swelling popularity of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan that is already dominant in the Upper House of Japan’s parliament. That the LDP is now on the brink of a major electoral defeat after its landslide victory under the popular and ‘reformist’ Junichiro Koizumi in the last national election four years ago underscores the failure of LDP policy and leadership.

Since Koizumi’s departure from office in 2006, a new prime minister has taken the national helm each year. The three successors, including current party leader and prime minister Taro Aso, could not arrest declining support for the LDP, despite pouring billions of dollars into the economy through stimulus packages.

Corporate icons such as Sony and Toyota have posted huge losses for the first time ever. Economic downturn has produced pay cuts, low wages and increasing economic inequality.

Unemployment, usually not a concern, is rising. Unprecedented social consequences, including rising levels of homelessness, mental illness, youth delinquency and suicide, can be little wonder. Government policy is not addressing the problems and the scant welfare system cannot respond.

The post-war generation who toiled hard throughout their working lives have watched their pension funds plummet. The unforeseen magnitude of economic downturn has eroded their confidence in what the future holds for their families. The sense of doom and gloom throughout Japan and belief that the LDP is at least partly responsible for it, make it unsurprising that many wish to dump the LDP at this election.

But two key questions dangle here. Will the DPJ actually win office and, if so, can it improve the lives of Japanese people? The DPJ is Japan’s only major opposition party with 10 years behind it. Yet many of its senior leaders came from the LDP and socialist parties, generating a potentially unwieldy mix of political styles and opinions.

Political change looms large. Latest polls reveal more people favour Yukio Hatoyama over the LDP’s Taro Aso as prime minister, and media surveys put the DPJ well ahead of the LDP. But two weeks is a long time in politics, especially in Japan. Close to 40 per cent of potential voters are still undecided, new political parties are emerging and political realignments continue to reshape possibilities.

Questions fly about whether this mix can work as a cohesive unit and implement effective policies. Leadership also looms large. The DPJ looked somewhat fragile just a few months back when ex-LDP political veteran Ichiro Ozawa resigned from leadership under pressure over a funding scandal involving a senior aide. But since then the DPJ has more than recovered ground, as strong successes at local polls, including the mammoth Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, indicate.

One thing, however, is certain: Japanese politics is poised for transformation through the 2009 national election. Whatever the outcome, it will make a landmark year in Japanese politics and a more lively and interesting political landscape.

Purnendra Jain is Professor of Japanese Studies at Adelaide University’s Centre for Asian studies. He is also Convenor of the 18th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, 5–8 July 2010.


The unrest in Xinjiang in July suggests that China’s long-standing approach to its largest province is at risk of failure and looks set to result in further Uyghur unrest, writes Michael Clarke.

Xinjiang is arguably more important to China than Tibet. China’s largest province is endowed with significant oil and gas resources and acts as both a strategic buffer and gateway to Central Asia, with the province sharing borders with the post-Soviet Central Asian Republics, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The events in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, in early July also point toward a number of other important non-geopolitical reasons as to why Xinjiang is of major importance for the future of China. The unrest, and the tensions that lay behind it, suggest that China’s long-standing approach to Xinjiang (and other ethnic minority regions) is at risk of failure as both the practice and rhetoric of its development strategy in the region looks set to become overtly imperial in nature. This looks set to result in further Uyghur unrest in Xinjiang. Significantly, it also appears from the Han Chinese response to the riots that the People’s Republic of China’s majority has bought into this ‘imperial’ rhetoric.

Surface tensions

On the surface, the demonstration and subsequent riot of some 3000 Uyghurs in Urumqi on 6 July that resulted in 156 deaths and over 1000 injuries (mostly Han Chinese) was caused by events at a toy factory far to the east in Guangdong Province. Days before, Han Chinese workers attacked Uyghur migrant co-workers, beating two of them to death and seriously injuring 61 on the basis of a rumour that Uyghurs had raped Han girls. Reports and images of this violence spread to Xinjiang via the internet, including the posting of a video of the incident on You Tube. This proved to be the spark for the 6 July demonstration and subsequent violence in which Uyghurs attacked Han Chinese businesses and individual Han Chinese on the streets. Significant numbers of Urumqi’s Han population then took to the streets on 7 July, many of them crudely armed, vandalising Uyghur businesses and attacking Uyghur merchants before being dispersed by the security forces.

Deeper tensions

While Guangdong proved to be the spark, long-term Uyghur resentments

generated by Beijing’s approach to Xinjiang provided ample fuel for the fire. Since the mid-1990s Beijing has sought to use Xinjiang’s strategic position at the crossroads of Central Asia to its advantage by investing heavily in infrastructure and oil and gas developments that link the region simultaneously to Central Asia and to China. The logic is that ethnic minority opposition, such as that from the Uyghur, can be assuaged by delivering economic development which, in turn, can only be ensured by ‘opening up’ the region to Central Asia.

While economic development has surely arrived in Xinjiang, the question remains as to its effects. Economic development and increased government investment have also brought increasing numbers of Han Chinese into the province. For example, 37 per cent of Xinjiang’s population in 1990 was Han. By 2000 this had risen to nearly 41 per cent (these figures did not account for the significant ‘floating population’ of seasonal Han migrants estimated to be around 700,000), raising the spectre of the dilution of the Uyghur in their homeland.

There are also major economic disparities between Han and ethnic minorities, and between urban and rural populations, with the Uyghur tending to make up a large majority of the rural population.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the real centre of power in Xinjiang, is also dominated by Han. Meanwhile, the old Uyghur quarters of the region’s major cities, such as Kashgar, are bulldozed to make way for modern shopping malls and apartment buildings, and Uyghur language is marginalised in educational institutions.

Hand-in-hand with the Han’s political and economic domination of Xinjiang, an imperial discourse has developed that conceives of Han Chinese civilisation as a transformative, modernising force with the underdeveloped periphery, such as Xinjiang and Tibet, as its object. Thus, the discourse surrounding the Great Western Development campaign,

which is targeted at regions such as Xinjiang, resembles a ‘civilising project’ that combines the Han centre’s perceived superiority and its commitment to raise the level of the peripheral peoples’ civilisation.

A statement from Wang Lequan, the CCP’s First Secretary in Xinjiang, in justifying the state’s emphasis on the use of Mandarin, for example, highlights this. He suggested that ‘the languages of the ethnic minorities have very small capacities and do not contain many of the expressions in modern science and technology, which makes education in these concepts impossible. This is out of step with the 21st century’.

Han hegemony and the ungrateful ‘natives’

There are, however, two major implications stemming from this imperial project which hold the potential to undermine Beijing’s grip on Xinjiang. The first is that historically civilising missions tend to generate greater ethnic consciousness among those who are being ‘civilised’. Second, the apparent success in embedding Han dominance in Xinjiang may be contributing to a collective hubris that could result in greater inter-ethnic tension and violence in Xinjiang.

In the aftermath of the riots it was common to see in Chinese and international media reports the sentiment of many Han in Xinjiang, which amounted to a bewildered and angry, ‘Why did these Uyghurs do this after all the progress we’ve brought to Xinjiang?’ This anger has also been directed outwards towards the West, and the United States in particular, with the Chinese government’s denunciation of US-based Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer raising the potential for it to become an irritant in China’s diplomacy.

Michael Clarke is a Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute. He is a widely published author on Xinjiang and China’s relations with Central Asia. His latest publication (with Colin Mackerras) is China, Xinjiang and Central Asia: History, Transition and Crossborder Interaction into the 21st Century (London: Routledge 2009).


The growth of Islamic awareness and piety in Indonesia has provided opportunities for preachers, in village communities, media organisations and local government. But, says Julian Millie, preachers walk a fine line between taking care of their own image while enhancing the credibility of their new partners.

Sermons are an ancient form of communication. In their simplest form, they require no technological mediation, just a speaker and an audience. In some ways, this has not changed much in modern times; the development of sound amplification technology has merely allowed preaching to reach larger audiences.

But this doesn’t mean oral preaching is immune to the complexities of modern social life. My current research on Islamic preaching in Bandung, West Java, shows that preaching takes forms and shapes that mirror this complexity.

In particular, preaching mirrors social realities by taking shape in scenes. Preaching scenes have formed because Bandung’s diverse social groups and settings require different things from preaching, so the city contains multiple currents of preaching activity occurring simultaneously. There is a pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) scene, for example, and scenes specifically for women. Islamic organisations create scenes that take place within their own infrastructure.

The regional government preaching scene

Indonesia’s recently implemented autonomy framework has reduced the power of the central government in key sectors, relocating it to the kabupaten (regional) level, known as kota in metropolitan regions. Kota and kabupaten leaders are now elected by the populaces of their respective regions.

Even before Indonesians began voting for their local representatives, kota and kabupaten governments realised the importance of Islamic credibility. The 1980s and 90s brought a rise in Islamic awareness and piety amongst Indonesians, and regional governments responded to this by seeking alliances with mubaligh (preachers).

Bandung’s kota government has progressively expanded its Islamic activities, and now sponsors preaching programs in the workplaces of the utilities it owns and manages. All staff of the Bandung municipal water board, for example, are required to attend a monthly sermon.

The kota government’s turn to preachers is a politicised process that can be observed in other Islamic countries. It has delivered opportunities to established preachers, but preachers who become regular contributors on the kota scene must take care of their images. Bandung’s Islamic constituencies like their leaders to be independent of politics; preachers who have become political candidates have found their popularity declining. For this reason, most preachers like to keep their distance from party politics.

Interestingly, this independence makes them even more attractive as partners for the kota government, who obtain credibility from the support of independent preachers.

Village audiences

In the rural and urban villages of West Java, life events such as circumcisions and marriages are celebrated with massive festivities. Mubaligh are often engaged to deliver sermons as part of such celebrations. The host of the celebration typically strives to create an atmosphere of exuberance and joy, and will hire a preacher who can add to this atmosphere from the stage. Not surprisingly, this class of preachers has well-developed skills in song, mimicry and humour.

In their efforts to create a festive atmosphere, the preachers of this scene mostly use the Sundanese language. This language enables them to construct Islamic texts out of the everyday realities of village life, and the results can be highly entertaining, and often coarse. But their preaching is frequently criticised by Islamic elites, for whom it frustrates the ongoing program of religious improvement that is required if Islam is to become the platform for a transformation of Indonesian society.

The phenomenon of the ‘child preacher’ expresses this problem. In recent years, da’i cilik (little preachers) have found appreciative audiences at festive events. These are children trained to mimic preaching styles of their elders, and whose popularity is based on their ‘cuteness’ value. Although their critics disapprove of such crowd-pleasing strategies, they make sense from the villagers’ perspective. The festive preachers satisfy the need for religious edification and entertainment simultaneously.

Although the village environment can appear to be resistant to social change, in fact the preachers of this scene are highly responsive to cultural developments at national level.

Life-cycle celebrations draw audiences of all ages, which can pose problems of communication for inexperienced preachers.

Contemporary Indonesian youth are familiar with national media that their parents and grandparents are unaware of. The successful preacher, therefore, keeps track of national media in order to bring the languages, stories, songs, characters and trends of national culture into his sermons, and in this way can make connections with people of all ages.

Preachers on national television

Celebrity commodity is the principle that underlies the preaching broadcast on national television. The national viewing audience recognises a small number of preachers whose profiles and recognition are high because of their media skills and the frequency of their appearances. This recognition makes them valuable to television interests, especially advertisers. In turn, well-known tele-preachers have used their celebrity to develop broader business interests: Aa Gym, Yusuf Mansur and Jefri al-Buchori are tele-preachers who have synergised their preaching reputations with diverse Islamic business activities.

These preachers differ from their predecessors in important ways. The first generation of television mubaligh were scholars and community leaders such as Hamka and E Z Muttaqien. These men, who preached through a tightly-controlled national media, had strong grounding in the traditional Islamic sciences.

In Indonesia’s recently deregulated television sphere, celebrity commodity has replaced this as a qualification for becoming a television mubaligh, and this change has generated a debate about the Islamic value of their work. This debate generates questions similar to the discourse labelled ‘postmodern’ in western societies: Does religion need to be independent from consumer capitalism? Has Indonesia arrived at the stage where there is no distinction to be made between the ‘authentic’ and the ‘fake’ in the field of religion?

The three scenes discussed above are all relevant to a question of fundamental interest to Indonesia’s Islamic society: what is the role of Islam in political and social life? For Muslims seeking an enhanced and meaningful place for Islam in public life, none of the above descriptions will bring much joy, for each of the scenes serve the needs of vested interests (village society, media organisations, local government). Rather, the above summary indicates how a simple activity—oral preaching—is shaped by the myriad complexities of modern social and political life in Indonesia.

Dr Millie, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Melbourne. His major research interest is the Islamic culture of Indonesia in general, and cultural production connected with religious gatherings in particular. Since April 2007 he has been working on a three-year Australian Research Council Fellowship for a project entitled Preaching Islam in Indonesia: Publics, Performers and Politics.

Language and literacy


Blaming systems isn’t a good enough reason to explain the fall in the number of students completing schooling in a language, including Japanese, argues Joe Lo Bianco. A material and under-appreciated factor influencing language education policy is the effects of failure, and what failed learners say to themselves, their children, neighbours and friends.

With new funding for Asian languages, positive media coverage and supportive public attitudes, this is a moment of renewed optimism for Japanese in Australian public education.

Unlike 15 years ago, we see a normalised expectation that Japanese will be taught, rather than the sense that its teaching is a temporary response to the economic emergence of a great trading economy, or a curious diversion. Japanese was the first ’truly foreign’ language many Australians found a reason to learn and came to esteem, and remains for growing numbers of Australians the first foreign language and culture whose ‘difference’ from the western canon Australian society has felt positive messages about.

These felicitous conditions have produced some good outcomes, at least numerically speaking, including the strong numbers studying Japanese at all education levels. Of the 1,401,550 students at all school levels who, during 2006, enrolled in language study, 332,943 were taking Japanese (Lo Bianco, 2009, pp 40-52) Japanese is also strong at tertiary level, being present in all states and most institutions.

Australia’s independent national capability in Japanese is perhaps our greatest achievement—the result of public investment in knowing Japan and Japanese—and was generated in a relatively short period, from when Japanese was first officially designated a language of national importance in the National Policy on Languages (Lo Bianco, 1987). That Japanese is now well embedded in our education system represents a significant national cultural achievement. The distinctively Australian character of Japan studies also represents a platform for consolidating past success, and for a leap of quality and some problem-solving activity.

Quality improvement and solving problems are key for securing the future presence and benefits of Japanese teaching, and are necessary because of considerable, occasionally acute, attrition. To some extent attrition and quality are, perversely, indicators of normalisation: for the first time we have many Australians with memories of having tried but ‘failed Japanese’. We could attribute this to having too many unsupported, low-commitment, improvised, non-articulated and discontinued programs—but this holds for all languages to some degree. Blaming systems isn’t good enough.

An under-appreciated factor is the discursive (and corrosive) effects of failure, especially its impact on future expectations of what is possible. What failed learners say to themselves, their children, neighbours and friends is a material factor influencing language education policy.

Dim but powerful memories of poor outcomes are partly the legacy of the domination of language debates by voices distant from schooling. These voices sometimes disparage schools and teaching and interpret the national interest with insufficient regard for what is realistically practical for the range of Asian and European languages we need to teach, for student and community interest in particular languages and for the scope and diversity of motivations for language study.

This is evident in the continual recourse to Year 12 enrolments, results and languages studied, compared with four decades ago. Media reporting and public debate often take Year 12 as a proxy for the entire education effort in languages, and because it looks poor this brings the entire activity into disrepute.

In 2006, only 10.3 per cent of students (see also Lo Bianco, 2009: p. 49) completed schooling with a language, compared to 44 per cent in 1968. Our focus should be on the 90 per cent of students who fail to complete schooling with a language, rather than on the choices made by those who persist, and whether these are the ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ choices.

What are the prospects for Japanese? Effective language-education policy must be premised on long-term planning, on living beyond the time of the champions and on cumulative effort backed by a widely-based remit. Now is indeed the moment to think of a long-term legitimation and related strategy for Japanese, building on the stimulus of the national curriculum, the normalisation of its teaching, and addressing problems. This should be informed by the voices of the learners—bottom-up messages perhaps serving to ‘make real’ the top-down proclamations.

A series of ethnographic studies undertaken from 2005 to 2008 in Melbourne primary and secondary schools offering Italian and Japanese showed that students were both interested and aware of what constitutes an academically serious program and were often sceptical, even cynical, about system and school commitment. The level of commitment to Japanese varied according to perceived sense of progress and judgments about school seriousness. Many committed students insist on streamed classes and the removal of the uninterested and the disruptive, while marginal students closely evaluate options according to likely ‘pay off’ (exam results, prospects for proficiency, workload, etc). Many in both groups were critical of perceived superficial commitment from ‘the system’, one declaring: ‘you know [there’s]…lots of pretending going on…’

Three recurring discourses—provisionally called Let’s Use It, Fix the Teaching and No Compulsion—were found among the students. Under the first, students are calling for much more active use of Japanese, streaming of participants into ability groupings, and overhaul of its teaching as a condition of their continuation. The second discourse was focused only on pedagogical innovation, with differing levels of intensity between waverers and the committed. The third gravitates around the idea of streaming, a cry of frustration from the committed and a call for action from waverers.

It is important to respond to student experience, especially since students are calling for more seriousness of purpose. But we also need more strategic thinking to position Japanese as ‘already successful’ and no longer ‘experimental’ to influence program design along the lines of content-based innovations emerging in some successful European language-teaching methods.

Furthermore, we need more systematic exploration of syllabus and examination reform to recognise the distinctive needs of heritage learners and new learners, and to ‘surrender value certification’ accepting high attrition rates. And we need to explore ways to describe and record what learners have gained, and replace any sense of failure with a record of achievement, hoping that this serves as an incentive for later return to study Japanese.

Mostly, the goal is to ensure waverers become committed to stay, and that the committed are rewarded for their efforts, to greatly reduce loss of numbers from initial enrolment to exam presentation.


  • Lo Bianco, J (1987), National Policy on Languages, Canberra: AGPS.

  • Lo Bianco, J (2003), Language Education in Australia: Italian and Japanese as Symbols of Culture Policy, pp 171-188, in World Yearbook of Education 2003, edited by J Bourne and E Reid, London, Kogan Page.

  • Lo Bianco, J (2004) Language Policy in Australia, Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

  • Lo Bianco, J (2009), Second Languages and Australian Schooling. AER 54, Camberwell: ACER.
Professor Lo Bianco is Chair of Language and Literacy Education, and Associate Dean (Global Relations), Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. This is an edited version of his keynote address to JSAA–ICJLE2009, a joint international conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia and the International Conference of Japanese Language Education, in Sydney on 13-16 July.



Brisbane bookseller Len Lambourne specialises in books of Asian interest and is the publisher of a weekly newsletter. His fascination with Asia extends back more than 50 years. But he sees interest in the region at the policy level declining—despite calls from leading politicians to make Australia a more Asia-literate country.

You seem to have come to selling Asian books by a roundabout route.

My father died when I was 14 and I had four younger sisters, so it was necessary for me to leave school and go to work to support the family. Which means that I didn’t complete my formal education.

My father had been a member of the ALP, so I decided to join the party as well. I was particularly interested in foreign affairs. While the focus, at that time, was on the United Kingdom and Europe, a number of dramatic things were happening in Asia—the war in Korea, Indonesian independence and Communist insurrections in a number of Southeast Asian countries, so gradually my interest became more focused on Asia.

I was involved with the international socialist youth organisation, and in 1954 I was awarded a travel scholarship to join a delegation to India and Burma. The delegation leader was an Austrian Member of Parliament. On the way back to Australia I stopped in Singapore and Indonesia. In Jakarta, I stayed at the home of Sutan Sjahrir, the first Prime Minister of Indonesia, which gave me a wonderful insight into the early years of the Republic.

In 1960, as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of the NSW ALP Youth Council, I was a member of a goodwill mission that took us to 12 Asian countries. Much later, in my job, I was posted to Singapore as Regional Manager Asia on a two-year posting and stayed nine years. I was reassigned to the corporate office in Melbourne, and after three years I had a second posting to Singapore with increased responsibilities.

When our regional office was closed I was made redundant, and my wife and I moved to Brisbane. I would browse through Brisbane city bookshops looking for ’serious’ books about Asia, but all I could find were tourist-type books, so I set up a small bookshop with a focus on Asia.

What areas of Asian studies are you particularly interested in?

My first interest has been Southeast Asia, particularly since I lived in Singapore for more than a decade. I believe that the region has an important bearing on our future economic and political relationship. North Asia, China and India are such huge areas that you would need to spend a lot of time trying to come to grips with developments in those areas, and there are lot of academics with great specialist knowledge.

Do you discern any areas of particular interest in Asia at present?

I’ve been involved in an exercise that leads me to conclude that Australian interest at the policy level is diminishing. One of our major university customers had its library budget cut, and, as a consequence, their orders have gone from several thousand dollars a month to just four book orders this year.


There was an urgent need for us to broaden our customer base to make up for this shortfall. I had read many times the Prime Minister's statements to make Australia ’the most Asia-literate country in the West’. Great! Let me contact various government departments, parliamentarians and others with a stated interest in Asia and provide information about our service.

As an example, we wrote to 35 members of Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. We received just two responses. In total, we contacted 54 'potential' customers and received just two orders. It’s made for an interesting case study, but it seems to me that we’re not really all that interested in understanding Asian culture, history, politics, and culture.

Is there a secure future in Australia for businesses like yours?

On the basis of the experience that I’ve just described I have to say that I’m not optimistic about our future. In fact, in the first half of this year we’ve survived because of orders from libraries in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Could you tell us about your weekly newsletter?

When we started our book business, The Asian Experts, we had a comprehensive web page listing about 1,000 books on Asia. We had to update it regularly and this was expensive. After a while we started to do our sums. The vast majority of hits were from overseas, but no orders. Probably 95 per cent of the books listed on the web page were published overseas and since those looking at the web page were from overseas we concluded that they would go to their local bookshop and order the book without the hassle of postage, etc. We now keep our customers informed through a weekly email newsletter. It lists about 22–25 books each week. In July we highlighted books from 28 overseas publishers.

How successful has the newsletter been?

We get positive feedback from the newsletter. One acquisitions librarian said it saves the library hours of research time looking for new books about Asia. The subjects in the newsletter are broad because of the broad nature of the interests of our customers, particularly libraries. But, again, we’re confronted with the problem that a lot of the individual recipients use their usual bookshop to order books from our newsletter, and we’re missing out.

How do you go about compiling your list of books?

It’s almost a daily routine to check the web pages of major publishers looking for new books about the region. We have a check list of more than 100 publishers in Australia, Asia, North America and Europe. As well, publishers send their announcements by email, and we also get their catalogues. The task, which I find fascinating, has become easier as we’re finding more publishers with books about Asia.

How do people subscribe?

That’s the easy part—just send an email to with subscribe in the subject line and we’ll add you to our mailing list.

I’m totally committed to a closer understanding between Australia and Asia, and our newsletters help fill this role. When I send out the newsletter, generally on Mondays, I feel good because I have done my part in reaching that objective.

Student of the month


As Timor Leste celebrates the 10-year anniversary of its referendum for independence and the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding holds for a fourth peaceful year in Aceh, Thushara Dibley explores how local and international non-government organisations (NGOs) in both places collaborate on peacebuilding projects.

As Timor Leste celebrates the 10-year anniversary of its referendum for independence and the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding holds for a fourth peaceful year in Aceh, Thushara Dibley explores how local and international non-government organisations (NGOs) in both places collaborate on peacebuilding projects.

I learnt about the idea of peacebuilding while volunteering at a local NGO in Timor Leste during a period of volatile political upheaval in 2006.

The Australian NGO that I was volunteering with, Union Aid Abroad—APHEDA, like many NGOs at the time, decided to run a peacebuilding project. I had been given access to peacebuilding training material used by another organisation and so was invited by APHEDA to run the project. I began training staff of APHEDA’s local NGO partners in conflict analysis and other peacebuilding techniques.

On returning to Australia I began to read more about the idea of peacebuilding. I discovered that peacebuilding is a relatively new body of theory that is developing through documentation of effective peacebuilding practices.

The key concepts underlying peacebuilding theory have been proposed by individuals who come from outside places where conflict is rife, with or funded by international organisations.

My experience in Timor Leste, however, was that those doing most of the peacebuilding work were local people: either staff in local organisations or individuals doing work in their own communities. I decided that it would be interesting to explore the extent to which the experiences of these local practitioners are reflected in the theories of peacebuilding that inform the work funded by international organisations.

Timor Leste was an obvious choice as a field site because of the proliferation of peacebuilding projects that were established after the 2006 crisis, but to adequately capture how different peacebuilding practices can potentially inform peacebuilding theory I thought it would be useful to also examine another site.

Aceh, the westernmost province of Indonesia, had been an area that I was curious about since studying Indonesian language during my undergraduate years at university. Through student activist networks and my lecturers at the University of Sydney, I learnt about the longstanding conflict between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian military.

A number of attempts had been made to broker peace in the province, but it was not until 2005 that any of these attempts met with long-lasting success. In August 2005, six months after the tsunami that killed close to 200,000 people in Aceh, the Government of Indonesia and GAM signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Among other things this agreement opened up the opportunity for the international organisations that had been working on post-tsunami reconstruction to begin to openly engage in post-conflict work.

I began my fieldwork in late 2008. I spent close to a month in Timor Leste and six weeks in Aceh getting a sense of which organisations were involved in peacebuilding and what activities they were doing. I am currently in my second stage of fieldwork where I am exploring in more detail the patterns I identified during my first visit to each place.

This particular research topic has opened up diverse ways of engaging with local civil society and international NGO actors. In addition to conducting interviews with various international and local NGO staff, I have also had opportunities to attend and give training on peacebuilding and research methodology.

Being able to offer something back to the organisations and individuals that participate in my research is an important part of my project. Local NGO staff are often busy and under resourced and for me it is important to be able to contribute something to the work they are doing in return for them sharing their time and knowledge with me.

I am half way through my PhD candidature and thoroughly enjoying the process. My supervisor, Dr Michele Ford, has guided me to approach doing a PhD as if it is a training exercise for being an academic. She has given me opportunities to teach in a range of different subjects at the University of Sydney and has encouraged me to take on other activities like editing an edition of the online magazine Inside Indonesia and co-convening the Indonesia Council Open Conference in 2009. I have learnt a lot from taking on these different responsibilities, but I am also really looking forward to 2010 when I plan to focus on writing up.

After I finish my PhD I plan to continue combining academic activities with engagement in the international development world. I believe that research skills are important to all areas of international development, including in the process of peacebuilding. My plan is to use my research skills and experience to continue to support NGOs, activists and researchers in countries like Timor Leste and Indonesia directly through research training or indirectly by working collaboratively on research projects.

Conference reports


The 2009 Indonesia Council Open Conference (ICOC) held at the University of Sydney in July coincided with the latest terrorist bombings in Jakarta. Honours student Elisabeth Kramer gives her perspective on the conference—and the significance of the bombings for Indonesia scholars.

For beginners, conferences can be difficult to negotiate, but ICOC provided a valuable introduction on how to make the most of the experience. Traditionally, ICOC has a very broad focus, accepting papers on topics related to Indonesian Studies.

This year’s conference allowed for researchers and students to converge from around the globe, and presented an excellent opportunity to discover what research is currently being conducted and the new direction of Indonesian Studies. Papers ranged from political issues to cultural studies on language, literature and film and everything in between, ensuring that there would be something to pique everyone’s interest.

One of ICOC’s aims is to foster new research and provide a forum for researchers of all levels to present their work, affording honours students some unique prospects for engaging and connecting with the academic world. As an honours student, the opportunity to give a paper is a rare opportunity to gain presentation experience, as well as to connect with academics in related fields.

This year’s conference offered a half-day honours and postgraduate workshop that included pertinent discussions on life after a research degree, managing supervisory relationships, and tips for negotiating academic conferences for those of us still feeling our way in the world of scholars. My own experience of ICOC was a heady mixture of enthusiasm and nerves—I was enthusiastic about and interested in viewing papers on a range of topics, but nervous about presenting my own research.

ICOC was my first experience of presenting at an academic conference, and the thought of presenting my research to the world was slightly terrifying. My current research, on the relationship between corruption and post-conflict stability in Aceh, looks at general discourse and local context, and I wondered how my conclusions would be received.

Public speaking not being my forte, I was thankful for a lectern to hide my shaking hands, but the presentation went off without any major hitches, and the questions that followed in the panel discussion verified that I could hold my own in a room full of experts, at least on this particular topic. The Q & A session got me thinking about new possible lines of inquiry for my research. I also had the opportunity to chair a session of the postgraduate workshop, and this gave me some insight into chairing a panel.

Having experienced a conference only from the audience, I had never really considered how challenging it can be for the chair—skills such as ensuring a flow of ideas and information, moving questions and conversations along and involving all panellists in the discussion are needed to keep the panel interesting and prevent it from being dominated by any one speaker or the questions of a single participant.

The breadth of research showcased at ICOC, in the face of current debates over funding for Indonesian Studies, was impressive. The significance of furthering our understanding of Indonesia was also highlighted by the announcement on the final morning of the conference that Jakarta had experienced further terrorist bombings.

While the human impact of the bombings no doubt had Jakarta reeling, the events emphasised the value of understanding the political, economic and social environment of our closest neighbour, and that the importance of researching and understanding the historical and current complexities that define Indonesia is as great as ever.

Elisabeth Kramer is an honours student in the Department of Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney.

THE FIFTH INDONESIA COUNCIL OPEN CONFERENCE hosted by the Department of Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney from 15-17 July was an enormous success, with over 170 people registered to hear the more than 100 papers presented by participants from Australia, Indonesia, the United States and Europe. Participants also had the opportunity to view Robert Lemelson’s film, Forty Years of Silence, and to attend a gala dinner generously hosted by the Indonesian Consul-General at his Rose Bay residence. The conference was preceded by a half-day workshop attended by over 50 honours and postgraduate students on topics as diverse as managing one’s supervisor, be(com)ing a public intellectual and navigating the pitfalls of the academic conference.

JSAA-ICJLE2009. The Japanese Studies Association of Australia successfully hosted JSAA-ICJLE2009, a joint international conference of JSAA and the International Conference of Japanese Language Education, in Sydney on 13-16 July. Given the joint nature of the conference, it attracted more international delegates than the usual JSAA conference and about 600 delegates from a dozen or more countries including Japan, the United States, Taiwan, Korea and China participated. The NSW Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, and the Japanese Ambassador, His Excellency Takaaki Kojima, opened the conference at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Professors Joseph Lo Bianco (University of Melbourne), Elizabeth Berry (UC Berkeley), and Jay Rubin (Harvard) gave well-received keynote speeches in their respective areas of expertise, language policy, Tokugawa history and literary translation. Another well-attended presentation was by Professor Yasuhiro Shirai (University of Pittsburgh) on second language acquisition of Japanese.

The conference theme, Bridging the gap between the Japanese language and Japanese studies, was discussed at the theme panel by international delegates from the ICJLE member countries. The outcome of the discussion will be published as a monograph. At the conference dinner. Professor Hugh Clarke, formerly of the University of Sydney, currently with Waseda University in Japan, was honoured for his substantial contribution to JSAA over the years and received the life-time membership of JSAA. ICJLE2010 will meet in Taiwan and JSAA2011 will meet in Melbourne.

CSAA CONFERENCE: ‘JIU: COMMEMORATION AND CELEBRATION IN THE CHINESE SPEAKING WORLD’ hosted at the University of Sydney from 9-11 July was attended by 180 people, including scholars, media representatives, members of the diplomatic services, and individuals. The panels and papers were of an exceptionally high standard, reiterating again the intellectual power and conceptual breadth of Chinese Studies in Australia.

Guests from Hong Kong SAR, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore also offered excellent papers and keynote sessions. A postgraduate workshop on careers in China Studies was made possible by the participation of key speakers from the Australia-China Business Council, Hong Kong University Press, and Philippa Jones. The conference received financial support from the University of Sydney Faculty of Arts, the ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network and China Node, Routledge, and the Australia Network.

Website of the month

JACAR is a digital database of Japan's historical relations in Asia and elsewhere. It provides access to official documents, dating from the Meiji era through 1945, of the Japanese Cabinet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Army and Navy. JACAR's archives contain original records, including full images of the documents, in digitised form.

Recent interesting books on Asia

Contributed by Sally Burdon of Asia Bookroom

Cultural Studies and Cultural Industries in Northeast Asia. What a Difference a Region Makes

Chris Berry, Nicola Liscutin and Jonathan D. Mackintosh (eds)

Maps, black and white illustrations, xiv + 322, notes, bibliography, index, paperback, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2009.

ISBN: 9789622099753. $45

These timely essays highlight regional cross-fertilisation of creative industries in Northeast Asia. They include analysis of gender and labour issues amid differing regulatory frameworks, and public policy concerning cultural production and piracy in Asia. This interrogation of the concept of regionalism repositions Northeast Asia from a standpoint within Asia itself, bringing the methods of Cultural Studies to bear on questions relating to cultural and creative industries such as music, film, new media, and popular culture.

Confucius from the Heart. Ancient Wisdom for Today's World

Yu Dan

187pp, paperback, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2009. ISBN: 9780330425353. $26.99

This somewhat controversial book falls more into the category of a self-help book rather than a serious discussion of Confucian philosophy. Yu Dan's interpretation of Confucius's teachings for the ordinary person has taken China by storm, selling over 10 million copies and thus having a real influence on ordinary Chinese lives. The book began as a series of television programs. The programs and the book have propelled Professor Yu Dan to star status in China.

Samurai Kids. Monkey Fist. Book 4

Sandy Fussell

Children's novel, paperback, Walker Books Australia, 2009 ISBN: 9781921150913. $14.95

This is the latest in a series of novels ideal for children in late primary to early high school. Each novel in the series is set against an East Asian background, this one being set in China, and the previous volumes in Japan. A great series for either boys or girls, packed with adventure, martial arts and more. Australian author Sandy Fussell has another of her titles Polar Boy shortlisted in the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Younger Readers this year.

Politics of the Periphery in Indonesia. Social and Geographical Perspectives

Minako Sakai, Glenn Banks and John H Walker (eds)

xvi + 343pp, bibliography, index, paperback, Singapore University Press, Singapore, 2009. ISBN: 9789971694791. $49.95

This is a thought-provoking examination of local politics and the dynamics of power at Indonesia's geographic and social margins. After the fall of Suharto in 1998 and the introduction of a policy of decentralisation in 2001, local stakeholders secured and consolidated decision-making power and set about negotiating new relations with Jakarta. The volume deals with power struggles and local-national tensions, looking among other things at resource control, the historical roots of regional identity politics and issues relating to Chinese-Indonesians. The authors develop information in ways that transcend the post-colonial territorial boundaries of Indonesia in the Malay-Indonesian archipelago, and use case studies to show how the changes described have galvanised Indonesian politics at the cultural and geographical peripheries.

Philippine Gay Culture. Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM

J Neil C Garcia

Black and white illustrations, xxv + 536pp, notes, bibliography, index, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2009.

ISBN: 9789622099852. $45

Philippine Gay Culture proposes both an empirical and a conceptual history: on one hand, a descriptive survey of popular and academic writings on and by Filipino male homosexuals, and on the other, a genealogy of discourses and performativities of male homosexuality—and the bakla and or gay identity that they effectively materialised—in the urban Philippines from the 1960s to the present. To contextualise its questions properly, this conceptual history not only engages with significant recent events in the Philippines' sexually self-aware present, but also harks back to the colonial past.

Red vs Yellow. Volume 1. Thailand's Crisis of Identity

Nick Nostitz

Maps, colour photographic plates, x + 62pp, dust jacket, White Lotus, Thailand, 2009 ISBN: 9789744801500. $59.95

Describes, both in photos and in text, the political turmoil and violent street protests that took place during the first elected administration in Thailand after the 2006–07 coup. A second volume is planned describing the events of 2009.


Southeast Asia Series

Workers and Intellectuals: NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement. NUS/Hawaii/KITLV, Singapore, 2009
Michele Ford

After decades of repression, Indonesia’s independent labour movement re-emerged in the 1990s, led by the NGO activists and students who organised industrial workers and the role of non-worker intellectuals. This fine-grained study of labour organising in a developing country will appeal to scholars of labour history, politics, and sociology, as well as spoke on their behalf. Although worker-led trade unions returned to centre stage in 1998 when Suharto’s authoritarian regime crumbled, labour NGO activists and their organisations have continued to play an influential—and often controversial—part in the reconstruction of the labour movement. Workers and Intellectuals explores how these middle-class activists struggled to define their place in a movement shaped by more than a century of fierce debate about Indonesia specialists.

Kampung, Islam and State in Urban Java
Patrick Guinness

Thailand and T’ai Lands: Modern Tai Community (in press)
Andrew Walker (ed.)

East Asia Series

Women’s History and Local Community in Postwar Japan
Anderson Gayle

Women in Asia Series

Gender Islam and Democracy in Indonesia
Kathryn Robinson

Gender Diversity in Indonesia: Beyond Gender Binaries
Sharyn Leanne Graham

Feminist Movements in Contemporary Japan
Laura Dales

Women, Islam and Everyday Life: Renegotiating Polygamy in Indonesia
Nina Nurmila

Books can be ordered through Asia Bookroom.

Awards and grants


The National Library of Australia (NLA) invites applications for its 2009–10 Japan Study Grants program. The grants are open to postgraduates, honours students, academic staff or independent researchers in Australia wishing to use the NLA’s Japanese or Japan-related collections for their research. The grants are intended to make the library’s Japanese collections better known outside Canberra and to support researchers requiring access to a large and accessible library collection on Japan

Grants are offered for periods of up to four weeks and support travel to Canberra and living costs. At least four grants are awarded each year. For full details visit the website. Applications close on 30 September 2009. Applicants will be notified by the end of November. The awards can be taken up at any time from 1 December and before 30 September 2010.

NLA Japan Fellowship

The NLA’s annual Japan Fellowship is open to established Australian and international researchers in Japanese studies to undertake extended research based on the NLA collections. Fellowships are not provided to assist with the completion of degree studies, and applications from currently enrolled students will not be considered. The fellowship funds travel to and living costs in Canberra for a 3–6 month period.

Applications for the 2011 calendar year will be accepted from February 2010 until 30 April 2010. For further information on the Japan Study Grants program, contact Amelia McKenzie, Director, Overseas Collections Management, 02 6262 1519. For enquiries about the Japanese Collection, contact Mayumi Shinozaki, Librarian, Japanese Unit, Asian Collections, 02 62621615.


Three-year, full-time scholarship with a possible six-month extension

The ANU’s Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific is seeking a suitably qualified applicant to join the research team in the department to participate in an ARC-funded research project that explores the poorly understood Islamic cultures of Eastern Indonesia (Sulawesi, Maluku and the lesser Sunda Islands). The PhD will be based around 12-months field work in an Islamic community in Maluku or the lesser Sunda islands and carries an annual stipend of $AUD20,427 (2009 rate). The department will provide fieldwork funds of up to AUD$8,500.

Applicants should have at least an honours degree or equivalent in Anthropology, Asian Studies or a related discipline, have demonstrated research capacity and be capable of conducting field research in Bahasa Indonesia. The scholar will work with Professor Kathryn Robinson, Dr Andrew McWilliam and Dr Phillip Winn.

Further information: Professor Robinson or Dr McWilliam. Applicants should complete the standard application form for admission to a research program and/or scholarship application. Please indicate on your application that you wish to be considered for the Being Muslim in Eastern Indonesia scholarship. See: or contact:

Closing date: 31 October, 2009.

Positions vacant


These sites offer career prospects for graduates and postgraduate in Asian Studies. If you know of other useful sites advertising jobs for postgrads in Asian Studies, please send them to and advertise worldwide academic posts. is a free-to-access website run by The International Studies Association. is a free service run by the United Nations to recruit for NGO jobs. has a paid subscription service providing access to jobs worldwide in the international development industry. is a US-based site with a worldwide scope. Asia-related jobs (mostly academic) come up most weeks. is the website of the Association for Asian Studies. New job listings are posted on the first and third Monday of each month. You must be a current AAS member to view job listings. The Times Higher Education Supplement

Diary dates

WAR ART IN ASIA AND THE REPRESENTATION OF WAR, workshop, Sydney, 28 August 2009. Organised by the Australian Centre for Asian Art & Archaeology, University of Sydney, and the Research School of Humanities, ANU, the workshop will be held at Mills Lecture Theatre, R C Mills Building, University of Sydney. Booking essential. RSVP and enquiries.

BOOK LAUNCH, ASAA series, Canberra, 28 September 2009. Patricia Spyer (FAS Global Distinguished Professor, New York University, and Professor of Anthropology, Leiden University) and Professor Ben White (ISS, The Hague) will launch Gender Islam and Democracy in Indonesia by Kathryn Robinson (ASAA Women in Asia Series: Routledge 2009) and Kampung, Islam and State in Urban Java, by Patrick Guinness (ASAA Southeast Asia Series, NUS 2009) at the Asia Bookroom, Unit 2, 1–3 Lawry Place, Macquarie (near Jamieson shopping centre), 6pm–8pm.

23–24 November 2009
, organised by the Japan–Korea node of the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network. Professor JAA Stockwin, University of Oxford, will chair and facilitate the workshop for postgraduates and early career researchers at the University of Adelaide. Ten to 15 speakers from Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States will discuss aspects of contemporary Japanese economy, politics, society, demography and international relations.

30 November–1 December 2009.
Organised by the Australian Council for International Development and Institute for Human Security, La Trobe University, the conference will critically engage the Millennium Development Goals and the processes or rather possibilities for change. A key aim is to bring together development practitioners, academics, policy makers and the business community. Deadline for abstracts/proposals, 14 August 2009. For more information, see the conference website.

GENDER AND OCCUPATIONS AND INTERVENTIONS IN THE ASIA PACIFIC, 1945–2009, workshop, Wollongong, 10–11 December 2009. Sponsored by the Asia Pacific Futures Research Network, CAPSTRANS and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Wollongong, this small workshop, at the University of Wollongong, will bring together for the first time established scholars, ECRs, postgraduates and community members and activists to discuss issues related to gender, occupation and intervention. A few competitive places for sponsored positions (travel within Australia only and accommodation for two nights) for postgraduates and ECRs are available. See the workshop website for more information or contact the organisers: Dr Rowena Ward or Dr Christine de Matos.

IN THE IMAGE OF ASIA: MOVING ACROSS AND BETWEEN LOCATIONS conference, Canberra, 13–15 April 2010. This interdisciplinary conference explores how ‘Asia’ has been imagined, imaged, represented and transferred visually across linguistic, geopolitical and cultural boundaries. It aims to challenge established assumptions (and consumptions) of cultural products of ‘Asia’, from arts, artefacts and film to performance. Proposals for papers should be submitted to Dr Fuyubi Nakamura or Dr Ana Dragojlovic by 11 September 2009.

ASAA BIENNIAL CONFERENCE, Adelaide, 6–8 July 2010. The 18th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia will be held at the University of Adelaide. Its theme is ‘Asia: Crisis and Opportunity’. A conference website will be launched soon to provide further details and call for papers and panels.

DISPLACEMENT, DIVISION AND RENEWAL conference, Sarawak, Malaysia, 8–9 July 2010. The Curtin University Research Unit for the Study of Societies in Change (RUSSIC), in conjunction with Curtin University in Sarawak, is calling for panel proposals for its conference, which will be held at Miri, Sarawak, as a sequel to the conference ‘Crossing Borders’, held in Sarawak in 2007. Panel submission closes on 31 August 2009, and call for papers will open on 1 October 2009. A conference website with further registration and location details will open soon. Enquiries and expressions of interest to Dr Aileen Hoath.

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


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 Allan Sharp.

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.

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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