P28. New Perspectives in Asian Studies

Session: Session 4, 8:30 – 10:00 am, Saturday 9/30

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Quad

Chair: Yangyang Liu (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Tapaswinee Mitra, Rujie Wang, Elvin Meng

Trans-ing South Asia: The Question of Sovereignty

Speaker: Tapaswinee Mitra
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Maryland-College Park
Abstract: The idea for this paper stemmed from my frustrations with the loose use of the term ‘transnational’, the same way Tuck and Yang warn us in their article “Decolonization is not a metaphor” against the metaphorical use of the term ‘decolonization’  in social justice discourses (1-40). Inderpal Grewal, et al. have also elaborated on this loss of the “political valence” of the term ‘transnational’ in their article “Global Identities” (664). As Leela Fernandes puts it in the introduction to her book Transnational Feminism in the United States (2013), “transnational knowledge in the U.S. academy arises in a specific location and historical moment within the national imagination of the United States” (10). Drawing from these contentions in my paper, I grapple with what it means to deploy the term ‘transnational’ within the socio-political context of contemporary South Asia, while not downplaying the role United States, and its differential power relations with the area, continues to play as the Empire. Neither does my use of the ‘transnational’ in South Asia discard “the nation-state as a unit of analysis” (6). My paper poses two broad questions: How do we decentre American understandings of the transnational in our feminist knowledge production, while at the same time critiquing the Empire? How can we posit the term transnational in the context of South Asia, keeping in mind some of the contemporary political religious separatist movements being mobilized in the area right now?

The State of Asian/Chinese Studies

Speaker: Rujie Wang
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: College of Wooster
Abstract: This paper discusses examples and development of “Sinological-Orientalism” as well as scholarships produced to resist it. It sites instances of Hegelian historicism in which Asians are but failed Europeans and it identifies critical approaches of those opposed to an enforced global homogeneity. These scholarly works that represent various positions in the field of Asian Studies perpetuate an imaginary cultural geography, borrowing validity for itself from such academic disciplines as East-West Studies, philosophy, history, political science, and literary and art criticism. If “The idea of Asia is not an Asian invention but a European one”, as scholar Wang Hui (汪暉) argues, then all the more reason to examine the tacit assumptions in Asian studies as a mode of knowledge in which human differences are often understood under the totalizing category of national identity to legitimate Western imperialist expansion and domination. In this geopolitical context, the Chinese, Asians, and Orientals, are often antithetical to Occidentals, the Europeans, the West. “Sinological-Orientalism” exists as one of the discursive conditions for such arguments as made in Fukuyama’s End of History that privileges Western lifestyles, the system of values, or paradigms of conduct as common or universal, as the best or even the only proper way for all societies to develop. Other approaches to the formation of cultural identities emerge from universalisms of Asian scholars critically conscious of their own racial and political biases. Their civilizational approaches, I argue, help decolonize the curriculum of China Studies and free the field from the politics of cultural domination.

Babbling in Early Modern China

Speaker: Elvin Meng
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Chicago
Abstract: This paper traces out divergent genealogies of discourse around the status of language in relation to nature and culture in second-millennium Chinese and Inner-Asian thought. Focusing on multiple interpretations of a single figure—the newborn child learning to speak—in the intertwined lineages Chinese, Mongolian, and Manchu thought, this paper suggests that divergent conceptions of babbling as an activity that straddles any tentative nature-culture divide tend to reflect divergent conceptions of “culture” in a multilingual world. Dissenting from Sinocentric conceptions of language that have relegated non-(Chinese)-speech to the realm of non-culture, an Inner-Asian lineage can be traced that mobilizes Buddhist semiotics to construct concepts of language diversity (and the natural-ness of cosmic languages) compatible with the multilingual reality of Inner-Asian empires.