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Student Activism in Asia

Between Protest and Powerlessness

Meredith L. Weiss

Publication Year: 2012

Since World War II, students in East and Southeast Asia have led protest movements that toppled authoritarian regimes in countries such as Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand. Elsewhere in the region, student protests have shaken regimes until they were brutally suppressed—most famously in China’s Tiananmen Square and in Burma. But despite their significance, these movements have received only a fraction of the notice that has been given to American and European student protests of the 1960s and 1970s. The first book in decades to redress this neglect, Student Activism in Asia tells the story of student protest movements across Asia.

Taking an interdisciplinary, comparative approach, the contributors examine ten countries, focusing on those where student protests have been particularly fierce and consequential: China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. They explore similarities and differences among student movements in these countries, paying special attention to the influence of four factors: higher education systems, students’ collective identities, students’ relationships with ruling regimes, and transnational flows of activist ideas and inspirations.

The authors include leading specialists on student activism in each of the countries investigated. Together, these experts provide a rich picture of an important tradition of political protest that has ebbed and flowed but has left indelible marks on Asia’s sociopolitical landscape.

Contributors: Patricio N. Abinales, U of Hawaii, Manoa; Prajak Kongkirati, Thammasat U, Thailand; Win Min, Vahu Development Institute; Stephan Ortmann, City U of Hong Kong; Mi Park, Dalhousie U, Canada; Patricia G. Steinhoff, U of Hawaii, Manoa; Mark R. Thompson, City U of Hong Kong; Teresa Wright, California State U, Long Beach.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book is the product of a collaborative research project that has been several years in the making. It began with a panel on student activism in Southeast Asia at a meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in 2004. At this panel, we first brainstormed some of the ideas that we eventually distilled in this book. ...


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: Understanding Student Activism in Asia

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pp. 1-32

The frequency with which students have been at the forefront of opposition movements in Northeast and Southeast Asia has captivated global audiences again and again, from the image of Chinese students fighting for freedom in Tiananmen Square in 1989, to that of their Indonesian peers celebrating their role in toppling the Soeharto dictatorship a decade later. ...

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1. China: Regime Shakers and Regime Supporters

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pp. 33-56

Over the past century, China’s students have experienced more dramatic changes than students in virtually any other country in the world. During this time period, China has moved from a tumultuous “Republican” government (1911–49), to radical Maoist rule (1949–76), to pragmatic yet somewhat divided Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership (1976–89), ...

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2. Japan: Student Activism in an Emerging Democracy

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pp. 57-78

While today we understand Japan as a postindustrial consolidated democracy, in the late 1940s Japan was an emerging democracy, shaking off the legacy of more than a decade of authoritarian and military rule and rebuilding a country devastated by a war it had brought upon itself. ...

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3. Hong Kong: Problems of Identity and Independence

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pp. 79-100

On June 4, 2009, tens of thousands, perhaps up to 150,000 people, attended a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong in remembrance of the violent crackdown on student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square twenty years earlier. The Hong Kong student movement, which also had participated in solidarity protests in 1989, was a leading organizer of the memorial. ...

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4. Taiwan: Resisting Control of Campus and Polity

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pp. 101-124

Relative to other Asian countries, the character and influence of student activism in Taiwan is somewhat unusual. First, student activism in Taiwan never has had a significant leftist or developmentalist phase. Further, although students in Taiwan, as in China and Indonesia, at times have identified themselves as a “pure” and “moral” force ...

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5. South Korea: Passion, Patriotism, and Student Radicalism

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pp. 125-152

Benedict Anderson notes in Imagined Communities that the idea of nation can be “the domain of disinterested love and solidarity” (1983, 131), and for this reason, nations can ask for sacrifice. Student dissenters in South Korea have frequently challenged authorities in the name of national interests and made major personal sacrifices ...

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6. Indonesia: Moral Force Politics and the Struggle against Authoritarianism

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pp. 153-180

In February 2004, T. Rizal Nurdin, the governor of the province of North Sumatra, opened a meeting of Student Executive Bodies (Badan Eksekutif Mahasiswa) from eighty campuses around the country. He gave a warm greeting to the students, noting that “history has proven that the position of university students, ...

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7. Burma: A Historic Force, Forcefully Met

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pp. 181-204

Unlike other Asian countries, Burma was under extremely repressive military-dominated governments from 1962 until 2011. However, organized opposition movements have repeatedly emerged. In most of these, Burmese university students have been in the vanguard, as one of the main social groups fighting for political, economic, and social change. ...

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8. Malaysia: More Transformed Than Transformational

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pp. 205-228

The mention of student activism in Malaysia usually meets with one of three responses. The first is dismissal: the assertion, jocular or sad, that Malaysians just are not the protesting sort. The second is earnest, even wistful, invocation of the glory days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, ...

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9. Thailand: The Cultural Politics of Student Resistance

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pp. 229-258

Students played a crucial role in Thailand’s national politics in the 1950s and became a formidable force between the late 1960s and 1970s. A democracy movement led by students culminated on October 14, 1973, when it toppled the long-standing military regime. ...

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10. The Philippines: Students, Activists, and Communists in Movement Politics

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pp. 259-280

Comparatively speaking, Philippine student activism exhibits features comparable to that of Thailand. Like their Thai counterparts, Filipino activists have seen the struggles for student rights and welfare or campus democratization as battles not simply for the benefit of the student masses. ...

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Conclusion Trends and Patterns in Student Activism in Asia

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pp. 281-296

The overarching story of student protest that emerges out of the ten accounts in this book is one of impermanence and inconstancy. Students in Asia have led dramatic moments of revolutionary upsurge, shaking regimes and sometimes bringing them down. But these peaks have punctuated long periods of low-level activism. ...


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pp. 297-298


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pp. 299-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780816682614
E-ISBN-10: 0816682615
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679683

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012