Asian Studies

Picture, poem, or puzzle? The Chinese written character has been one of the most enduring obstacles to and catalysts for intercultural appreciation. When, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel wanted to demonstrate the relative backwardness of Oriental thought, he could find no better exhibit than the form of its writing. Attached as it was to ‘the sensuous image’, the putatively pictographic Chinese character forfeited access to the conceptual abstraction that afforded European thinkers their passports to the ‘free, ideal realm of Spirit’.

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In the time before festivals, writers used to attend congresses to perform their role as ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ in Shelley’s fine phrase. A who’s who of literary leftists and liberals gathered in Paris for the First International Congress of  Writers for the Defense of Culture in 1935, in solidarity against the rise of fascism across Europe. Nettie Palmer was a member of the Australian delegation. She was pleased to spend time there with her younger compatriot Christina Stead, who was living in London. Both writers were internationalists, but at different points on a spectrum.

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Shakespeare and East Asia is one of the latest titles released in the Oxford Shakespeare Topics series. Edited by Stanley Wells and Peter Holland, the Oxford University Press series is pitched at the elusive general reader who is seeking a primer on one of the many topics proliferating within the bustling industry of Shakespeare studies. Written by one of the directors of the MIT Global Shakespeares Archive, this book invites readers to think about the significance of Shakespeare’s continuing influence on cultural production in the Far East, and how Asian adaptations of his corpus participate in creating a contested image of Asia for audiences both in the region and in the Anglophone West. Assembling a varied body of cinematic and theatrical reworkings of Shakespeare from countries like Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, Joubin tells a story about Asian Shakespeares that is also a story about how a particular region has negotiated the imperatives of globalisation and the tacit anglicising effects of global culture.

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It has become a rite of passage for foreign correspondents returning home from a stint in China to pen a memoir recounting their experiences. All too often, the story begins with the said reporter crossing into mainland China at Lo Wu, having just spent time enjoying the bright lights of Hong Kong. Clearly, the Lo Wu railway station holds a certain allure for wandering Australian journalists.

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Peter Job, a former East Timor activist, has written a careful, dispassionate account of the stance of Gough Whitlam’s and Malcolm Fraser’s successive governments in relation to Portuguese East Timor. He has consulted a commendably wide range of oral and written sources, interviewing, for example, several retired senior Australian officials formerly engaged in the design and implementation of Timor policy. His story ends in 1983, with Bob Hawke’s election to office. Job should be encouraged to complete his account in the future to acquaint readers with developments up to at least the UN intervention in 1999 that gave Australian diplomacy a new role.

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The China Journals: Ideology and intrigue in the 1960s by Hugh Trevor-Roper, edited by Richard Davenport-Hines

by
November 2020, no. 426

When the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) invited Hugh Trevor-Roper, Regius Professor of History at the University of Oxford, to visit China in 1965, he jumped at the chance. It was a decision that all parties concerned came to regret. The eminent historian had a terrible time in China, ‘that land of bigots and parrots’. He didn’t meet the right people. He found no intellectual equals. The interpreters and guides assigned to the group weren’t up to the job. He nicknamed them Cement-head, Duckbottom, Smooth-face, and the Presbyterian.

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Scott Morrison does not like to explain the decisions he makes on our behalf. Sometimes he just refuses to discuss them, as he did when, as immigration minister, he simply rejected any questions about how his boat-turnback policy was being implemented at sea. At other times he is a little subtler, as he has been this year while presiding over what will probably prove to be the most consequential shift in Australia’s foreign relations in decades. The collapse in relations with our most powerful Asian neighbour and most important trading partner is not just Canberra’s doing, of course; it has resulted from decisions made in Beijing too. But Australia’s recent and current choices have certainly contributed to the chill, and our future choices will do much to determine where things go from here.

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Barely a decade ago, Australia was in the middle of much excitement about the Asian Century. Today, those heady days seem a distant memory. A growing number of pundits see the north as troubled by dangerous flashpoints and great power rivalries. On top of that is an America apparently in strategic retreat from the region ...

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The danger is complacency. Brendan Taylor cautions readers of this timely assessment of the swirling currents of power in Asia – and currents is the right metaphor, given the heavy focus on disputes at sea – not to simply have faith that everything will turn out okay. ‘The risk of major war in Asia is ...

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Marise Payne’s recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly touted Australia’s support for ‘rules’ and ‘international law’ in creating a global order that works ‘for the benefit of all nations and people’. But are these really the guiding principles of Australian foreign policy ...

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