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Cult, Culture, and Authority

Princess Lieu Hanh in Vietnamese History

by Olga Dror

Princess Liễu Hạnh, often called the Mother of the Vietnamese people by her followers, is one of the most prominent goddesses in Vietnamese popular religion. First emerging some four centuries ago as a local sect appealing to women, the princess’ cult has since transcended its geographical and gender boundaries and remains vibrant today. Who was this revered deity? Was she a virtuous woman or a prostitute? Why did people begin worshiping her and why have they continued? Cult, Culture, and Authority traces Liễu Hạnh’s cult from its ostensible appearance in the sixteenth century to its present-day prominence in North Vietnam and considers it from a broad range of perspectives, as religion and literature and in the context of politics and society. Over time, Liễu Hạnh’s personality and cult became the subject of numerous literary accounts, and these historical texts are a major source for this book. Author Olga Dror explores the authorship and historical context of each text considered, treating her subject in an interdisciplinary way. Her interest lies in how these accounts reflect the various political agendas of successive generations of intellectuals and officials. The same cult was called into service for a variety of ideological ends: feminism, nationalism, Buddhism, or Daoism.

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Custodians of the Sacred Mountains

Culture and Society in the Highlands of Bali

by Thomas Reuter

Custodians of the Sacred Mountains is the first comprehensive ethnography of the Bali Aga, a large ethnic minority that occupies the island's central highlands. The Bali Aga are popularly viewed as the indigenous counterparts to other Balinese who trace their origin to invaders from the Javanese kingdom of Majapait, who have ruled Bali from the fourteenth century A.D. Although Bali remains one of the most intensely researched localities in the world, the Bali Aga have long been overshadowed by the more exotic courtly culture of the south. A closer analysis of the changing position of the Bali Aga within Balinese society provides a key to understanding the politics and social process of cultural representation in Bali and beyond. The process is marked by a blend of representational competition and cooperation among the Bali Aga themselves, among the Bali Aga and southern Balinese, and later among the island's aristocratic elites and foreign colonizers or scholars, and state authorities. The study of this process raises important issues about the establishment and maintenance of status and power structures at regional, national, and global levels. Custodians of the Sacred Mountains explores the marginalization of the Bali Aga in light of a critical theory of cultural representation and calls for a morally engaged approach to ethnographic research. It proposes an intersubjective and communicative model of human interaction as the foundation for understanding the relative significance of cooperation and competition in the cultural production of knowledge.

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The Dance That Makes You Vanish

Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia

Rachmi Diyah Larasati


Indonesian court dance, a purportedly pure and untouched tradition, is famed throughout the world for its sublime calm and stillness. Yet this unyieldingly peaceful surface conceals a time of political repression and mass killing. Between 1965 and 1966, some one million Indonesians—including a large percentage of the country’s musicians, artists, and dancers—were killed, arrested, or disappeared as Suharto established a virtual dictatorship that ruled for the next thirty years.


In The Dance That Makes You Vanish, an examination of the relationship between female dancers and the Indonesian state since 1965, Rachmi Diyah Larasati elucidates the Suharto regime’s dual-edged strategy: persecuting and killing performers perceived as communist or left leaning while simultaneously producing and deploying “replicas”—new bodies trained to standardize and unify the “unruly” movements and voices of those vanished—as idealized representatives of Indonesia’s cultural elegance and composure in bowing to autocratic rule. Analyzing this history, Larasati shows how the Suharto regime’s obsessive attempts to control and harness Indonesian dance for its own political ends have functioned as both smoke screen and smoke signal, inadvertently drawing attention to the site of state violence and criminality by constantly pointing out the “perfection” of the mask that covers it.


Reflecting on her own experiences as an Indonesian national troupe dancer from a family of persecuted female dancers and activists, Larasati brings to life a powerful, multifaceted investigation of the pervasive use of culture as a vehicle for state repression and the global mass-marketing of national identity.


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A Delicate Relationship

The United States and Burma/Myanmar since 1945

by Kenton Clymer

In 2012, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president ever to visit Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. This official state visit marked a new period in the long and sinuous diplomatic relationship between the United States and Burma/Myanmar, which Kenton Clymer examines in A Delicate Relationship. From the challenges of decolonization and heightened nationalist activities that emerged in the wake of World War II to the Cold War concern with domino states to the rise of human rights policy in the 1980s and beyond, Clymer demonstrates how Burma/Myanmar has fit into the broad patterns of U.S. foreign policy and yet has never been fully integrated into diplomatic efforts in the region of Southeast Asia.

When Burma, a British colony since the nineteenth century, achieved independence in 1948, the United States feared that the country might be the first Southeast Asian nation to fall to the communists, and it embarked on a series of efforts to prevent this. In 1962, General Ne Win, who toppled the government in a coup d'état, established an authoritarian socialist military junta that severely limited diplomatic contact and led to a period in which the primary American diplomatic concern became Burma's increasing opium production. Ne Win's rule ended (at least officially) in 1988, when the Burmese people revolted against the oppressive military government. Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as the charismatic leader of the opposition and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Amid these great changes in policy and outlook, Burma/Myanmar remained fiercely nonaligned and, under Ne Win, isolationist. The limited diplomatic exchange that resulted meant that the state was often a frustrating puzzle to U.S. officials.

Clymer explores attitudes toward Burma (later Myanmar), from anxious anticommunism during the Cold War to interventions to stop drug trafficking to debates in Congress, the White House, and the Department of State over how to respond to the emergence of the opposition movement in the late 1980s. The junta’s brutality, its refusal to relinquish power, and its imprisonment of opposition leaders resulted in public and Congressional pressure to try to change the regime. Indeed, Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to prominence fueled the new foreign policy debate that was focused on human rights, and in that climate Burma/Myanmar held particularly large symbolic importance for U.S. policy makers. Congressional and public opinion favored sanctions, while U.S. presidents and their administrations were more cautious. Clymer’s account concludes with President Obama’s visits in 2012 and 2014, and visits to the United States by Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein, which marked the establishment of a new, warmer relationship with a relatively open Myanmar.

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Deng Xiaoping's Long War

The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991

Xiaoming Zhang

The surprise Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979 shocked the international community. The two communist nations had seemed firm political and cultural allies, but the twenty-nine-day border war imposed heavy casualties, ruined urban and agricultural infrastructure, leveled three Vietnamese cities, and catalyzed a decadelong conflict. In this groundbreaking book, Xiaoming Zhang traces the roots of the conflict to the historic relationship between the peoples of China and Vietnam, the ongoing Sino-Soviet dispute, and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's desire to modernize his country. Deng's perceptions of the Soviet Union, combined with his plans for economic and military reform, shaped China's strategic vision. Drawing on newly declassified Chinese documents and memoirs by senior military and civilian figures, Zhang takes readers into the heart of Beijing's decision-making process and illustrates the war's importance for understanding the modern Chinese military, as well as China's role in the Asian-Pacific world today.

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Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom

The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850–1960

Mai Na M. Lee

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Drifting into Politics

The Unfinished Memoirs of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman

edited by Tawfik Ismail and Ooi Kee Beng

This is the unfinished autobiography of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, the medical doctor who held key government positions in the first two decades of Malaysian nation building, and who was an important early player within UMNO, the country's dominant political party. Drifting into Politics was found among the private papers that were handed over to the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in 2005 by Tun Dr Ismail's eldest son, Mohd Tawfik. The family has asked for it to be published in 2015, this year being the 100th anniversary of Tun Dr Ismail's birth. This is an apt time indeed to make his reflections on his own life available to the world. This is also the third book to come out of the Tun Dr Ismail papers which are kept at ISEAS Library. The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time, the biography written by Ooi Kee Beng and published in 2006 is ISEAS's all-time bestseller, and it brought Tun Dr Ismail back with great impact into Malaysian political analysis and discourse. It has been translated into Malay and Chinese. The second book — Malaya's First Year in the United Nations — has also been welcomed by scholars of Malaysia's foreign affairs and diplomacy. This present volume continues Malaysia's rediscovery of Tun Dr Ismail.

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Embodied Nation

Sport, Masculinity, and the Making of Modern Laos

Simon Creak

Viewing the country’s extraordinary transitions—from French colonialism to royalist nationalism to revolutionary socialism to the modern development state—through the lens of physical culture, Simon Creak’s incisive narrative illuminates a nation that has no reputation in sport and is typically viewed, even from within, as a country of cheerful but lazy people. Creak argues that sport and related physical practices—including physical education, gymnastics, and military training—have shaped a national consciousness.

Combining cultural and intellectual history, Creak draws on a creative array of Lao and French sources from previously unexplored archives, newspapers, and magazines, and from ethnographic writing, war photography, and cartoons. More than an “imagined community” or “geobody,” he shows that Laos was also a “body at work,” making substantive theoretical contributions not only to Southeast Asian studies and history, but to the study of the physical culture, nationalism, masculinity, and modernity in all modern societies.

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Escape to Manila

From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror

With the rise of Nazism in the 1930s more than a thousand European Jews sought refuge in the Philippines, joining the small Jewish population of Manila. When the Japanese invaded the islands in 1941, the peaceful existence of the barely settled Jews filled with the kinds of uncertainties and oppression they thought they had left behind. _x000B__x000B_In this book Frank Ephraim, who fled to Manila with his parents, gathers the testimonies of thirty-six refugees, who describe the difficult journey to Manila, the lives they built there upon their arrival, and the events surrounding the Japanese invasion. Combining these accounts with historical and archival records, Manila newspapers, and U.S. government documents, Ephraim constructs a detailed account of this little-known chapter of world history.

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Esoteric Buddhism in Mediaeval Maritime Asia

Networks of Masters, Texts, Icons

Edited by Andrea Acri

This volume advocates a trans-regional, and maritime-focused, approach to studying the genesis, development and circulation of Esoteric (or Tantric) Buddhism across Maritime Asia from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries CE. The book lays emphasis on the mobile networks of human agents ('Masters'), textual sources ('Text') and images ('Icons') through which Esoteric Buddhist traditions spread. Capitalising on recent research and making use of both disciplinary and area-focused perspectives, this book highlights the role played by Esoteric Buddhist maritime networks in shaping intra-Asian connectivity. In doing so, it reveals the limits of a historiography that is premised on land-based transmission of Buddhism from a South Asian 'homeland', and advances an alternative historical narrative that overturns the popular perception regarding Southeast Asia as a 'periphery' that passively received overseas influences. Thus, a strong point is made for the appreciation of the region as both a crossroads and rightful terminus of Buddhist cults, and for the re-evaluation of the creative and transformative force of Southeast Asian agents in the transmission of Esoteric Buddhism across mediaeval Asia.

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