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Abstracts of Burma-related papers delivered at the annual meetings of the Association of Asian Studies: 1996-1999

By year:

By topic:

 

 

1999

 

Session 19: Apprenticeship and Learning in Religious Communities

of Practice: Case Studies from Burma, Zangskar and Japan (FRIDAY 8:30am - 10:30am)

Organizer and Chair: Rosemarie Bernard, Harvard University

Discussant: Stanley J. Tambiah, Harvard University

Three case studies on Burmese Theravada Buddhists, Indian (Zangskari) Mahayana Buddhists, and

Japanese Shinto priests, consider how religious practitioners and ritual officiants are apprenticed in their

religious communities. Drawing inspiration from practice theory and anthropological studies of

apprenticeship, the case studies emphasize the process of learning rather than education or didactic

practices. Participation in religious communities or in ritual practice in some way calls for the

transformation of the "religious apprentice." Marginal observation, training by direct participation in social

groups and their practices, and other ways of learning are investigated as the methods through which

orientations to the world are internalized and a poetics of priestly identity cultivated by apprentices. We

consider the process of "situated learning" (Lave and Wenger, 1991) and the incumbent constitution of

political, spiritual, and aesthetic identities among religious communities and ritual officiants. The

academic training of nuns and priests does not necessarily translate directly into "practical religious

knowledge," so that apprentices not only learn, but in many cases must also unlearn, forms of

knowledge and practice. Ritual knowledge, performance and rehearsal are all arenas in which

institutional power and religious/ritual authority are contested and celebrated, on multiple registers that

may have contradictory implications for the ways in which institutions and orientations to the world are

reconstituted over time.

 

 

Lay Participation and Apprenticeship in Burmese Buddhism

Ingrid Jordt, Harvard University

In the literature on apprenticeship, there is often the distinction drawn between practical learning on the

one hand, which includes such notions as co-participation or participation frameworks, and schematized

learning or structured acquisition on the other. Both are necessary for the reproduction of the cultural life

world. In the Burmese Buddhist learning tradition one encounters a similar split between practical and

scriptural learning as described by the terms patipatti and pariyatti, respectively. In the context of a more

than half-century-long Burmese Buddhist revitalization movement, numbers of lay people have come to

participate in the most esoteric aspects of the production of the Buddha world. Because of the

conditions that have given rise to the importance of the participation of lay people in the reproduction of

the Buddha world, the practical modalities of learning have come to the fore. This paper presents an

ethnographic account of two modalities of practical learning in the apprenticeship of lay people into the

Burmese Buddha world, and thereby contributes to our understanding of how apprenticeship can be

involved in the reproduction of cultural life worlds in general.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Session 76: ROUNDTABLE: Can Federalism Work in Burma?

(Sponsored by the Burma Studies Group) (FRIDAY 1:00pm - 3:00pm)

Organizer and Chair: Maureen Aung-Thwin, Soros Foundation

Discussants: F. K. Lehman, University of Illinois; Naw May Oo, Karen Student Network Group; Mya

Maung, Boston College; Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, University of British Columbia; Pon Nya, Monland

Restoration Council; Vum Son, Engineer

January 1999 marks the fifth anniversary of the Karen ethnic rebellion, which still persists today though

in a much diminished form. The challenge to make Burma into a fair and equitable society for all of its

citizens remains the biggest obstacle to genuine national reconciliation.

Burma’s social, economic, and political crisis will not be resolved in the long run without the active and

informed participation of its diverse peoples. Absent consent of the ruled, especially non-Burmans, any

government in Burma will likely face insurmountable difficulties in marshaling the popular support and

financial resources required to address the country’s enormous problems.

There is no doubt that a competent and honest administration accountable to Burma’s populace could

more productively and rationally develop the country’s immense natural and human resources. A more

open society with genuine elections is not the only requisite. The political impasse that has led to a half

century of insurgency along Burma’s borderlands must also be addressed as a threshold to lasting

progress. Even a democratically-elected government in Burma will need to seek a broad consensus

among ethnic minority peoples to realize the peace that is a requisite for sustainable democratic

development.

The ceasefires that are in force today in much of the former battlegrounds are fragile, for the major issue

that fueled Burma’s civil wars remains basically unresolved: how to share the political, economic, and

cultural "pie" of Burma?

 

 

 

 

Session 39: Slavery on the Periphery: New Perspectives on Institutions of Bondage in the Sino-Southeast Asian Uplands

(FRIDAY 10:45am - 12:45pm)

Organizer: Magnus Fiskesjo, University of Chicago

Chair: Ann Maxwell Hill, Dickinson College

Discussant: Deborah Ellen Tooker, Le Moyne College

The focus of this panel is the slavery and bondage institutions of the highland peoples of Southwestern

China and Southeast Asia. Such institutions are better known from the context of the dominating state

societies of the region, and the presence of various forms of bondage in many highland societies is a

subject rarely touched upon today, despite the attention from Western anti-slavery campaigns earlier in

this century.

While the peripheral societies were often the passive sources of slaves captured by outsiders, some

historically raided the lowlands for slaves they kept themselves—for example, the Yi in Southwest China,

and the Wa of the Burma-China frontier; others maintained slaves of local origin. The study of such

social institutions in their various forms and complexities in their historical context has important

implications for how we understand historical process, social stratification and ideology in non-state

societies, as well as the construction of identities and the nature of relations with surrounding states.

What were the specific forms of slavery and bondage amongst the supposedly predominantly egalitarian

or anti-hierarchical uplanders? Under what circumstances does it become possible for the tables to turn

with the raiding, capturing or trading of and in people, and can we identify and explain cycles or other

variations? Also, how do these institutions and ideologies of slavery reflect on constructs of identity, if

slaves are the ultimate "other" and stand at the opposite end of the continuum from "us"? These are

some of the questions we want to address.

 

 

 

 

Captives, Victims, "Slaves": War, Sacrifice and Slave Trade in the Wa Context

Magnus Fiskesjo, University of Chicago

This paper presents an analysis of the forms of slavery and their place in the Wa society of the first half

of this century, before the Chinese pacification in the 1950s. The Wa people of the Yunnan-Burma

frontier were widely feared as fiercely independent warriors, and the threat of headhunting raids served as

a deterrent to all outsiders, as well as to internal enemies within the strife-torn Wa lands. Such acts of

war were often specifically targeted, in retaliation for an offense given against a community, but the

declared aim was always to produce at least one acceptable sacrificial victim. The raids also, however,

often yielded live victims who were captured and kept or adopted much like the other major category of

people in bondage: children sold to meet debts, etc. Like those, the war captives either might emerge,

eventually, as full members of Wa society, or, at the other extreme, they might be traded for use in

sacrifice. Chinese Marxist attempts to pinpoint the level of advancement of Wa society on an

Engels-Morganian scale stalled on the issue of presence or absence of "slavery" in Wa society, because

the search was for stable social strata where they did not exist—and Wa society was studied in

isolation. The various forms of bondage in pre-reform Wa society should instead be understood within the

larger context of the trading, raiding and sacrifice of people taking place within the framework of a

cosmology that cast the Wa predatory periphery as a center of attraction.

 

 

Session 37: Who Rules? Multiple Sovereignty in Mainland Southeast

Asia (FRIDAY 8:30am - 10:30am)

Organizer and Chair: Nicola Tannenbaum, Lehigh University

Discussants: John K. Whitmore, University of Michigan; David B. Small, Lehigh University

 

Lords of the Sunset and the Ruler on Whose Empire the Sun Never Set: Shan States and British Rule

Nicola Tannenbaum, Lehigh University

As the British extended their territorial control over upper Burma in the 1880s, they confronted a political

situation in disarray, at least from their perspective. A number of Shan States had stopped paying tribute

to Burma and some of these formed the Limbin Confederation to place the Limbin Prince on the

Burmese throne. Other states went their own ways; while still other states were paying tribute to China

or Siam and relying on them for protection from the British and the French.

In this paper, I explore the plane of relationships between the Shan States and the British colonial

empire. To do this, I first explore the tributary relationships Shan States had with each other and with the

Burmese throne and the political and ritual organization that framed these relationships. Next I examine

British understandings of sovereignty and rule to comprehend their perception of the political situation in

the Shan hills as chaotic. With this as background, I go on to explore the structure of conjunction of

Shan perceptions of politics and polity with those of the British and the consequences this had for Shan

political organization.

 

 

 1998

Roundtable: Engaging Burma, Part Two

(Sponsored by the Burma Studies Group) (see session 69)

 

 

Organizer and Chair: Maureen Aung-Thwin, Soros Foundation

Discussants: David I. Steinberg, Asia Foundation; Mark Mason, Yale University; Asda

Jayanama, Mission of Thailand to the U.N.; Ronald Finley, Independent Scholar; Maureen

Aung-Thwin, Soros Foundation

 

Burma has shed its shell forever. Almost a decade after nationwide demonstrations rocked the

country, the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) has temporarily quelled the

ethnic insurgencies, declared the economy open, invited tourism and foreign investment, and in the

summer of 1996, joined the prestigious regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian

Nations (ASEAN). Whether the changes are structural or cosmetic, whether the SLORC will

endure for another ten years or civilian rule returns, Burma can no longer live in isolation. Since 1988

Burma has been scrutinized as never before in her recent history, as a growing number of academics,

journalists, activists, and special interest groups around the globe debate how best to bring about an

enduring peace and lasting economic and political reform.

This roundtable will not dwell on what was or should have been, but rather what is and might be. A

diverse group of veteran and newer Burma watchers reflecting a range of disciplines and views will

offer insights and we hope, instigate a lively discussion with an audience that will undoubtedly include

representatives from the United States government, international financial institutions and possibly

even the Embassy of Myanmar.

 

 

 

 

 

Session 14: Socially Engaged Buddhism in Southeast Asian Contexts

  

Organizer and Chair: Susan Darlington, Hampshire College

Discussant: Donald K. Swearer, Swarthmore College

Faced with growing consumerism, secularization, environmental degradation and social problems,

new and modern forms of Buddhist practice and belief continue to emerge in a variety of Southeast

Asian contexts, including diaspora settings. Buddhists in Southeast Asia and elsewhere increasingly

view social and political activism as appropriate practice aimed at ameliorating the conditions that

produce suffering. Through anthropological and historical studies of Buddhists in Southeast Asia and

among Southeast Asian communities living in the United States, panel contributors explore social,

political, economic and religious factors that motivate or discourage socially engaged Buddhist

activism or offer alternative modes of modern Buddhist practice. The panel explores religious and

social change and its effects on individual activists and larger communities. The papers consider both

local monks and charismatic Buddhist leaders (lay and religious) as they respond to social crises in

their communities. Darlington explores networking among Thai conservationist monks in the face of

intense public scrutiny. Smith-Hefner considers forms of Buddhist practice among Khmer

communities in the U.S. where, despite pronounced social needs, many Cambodians opt for more

traditional forms of practice, including the support of religious institutions in their place of origin.

Schober contextualizes the socially engaged Buddhist visions of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese

Nobel Laureate and charismatic resistance leader. Queen examines the personal histories of three

charismatic socially engaged Buddhist leaders. While focusing on specific cases, each presentation

addresses comparative issues in the study of modern Buddhist forms in Southeast Asia and beyond

and opens broader discussion.

 

 

Contextualizing Aung San Suu Kyi’s Socially Engaged Buddhism

Juliane Schober, Arizona State University

In her recently published writings (i.e., a weekly column in a major Japanese daily newspaper and a

new book, entitled "Voice of Hope"), the Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize

Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the role of socially engaged Buddhism in her vision of a

politically plural and participatory Burmese nation state. Beyond her political appeal, her supporters

among Burmese include Buddhist monks within Burma and abroad. Yet, her charismatic, religious

appeal as a modern world renouncer akin to Mahatma Gandhi is especially strong among largely

Western converts to Buddhism. This paper presents Aung San Suu Kyi’s views on modern Buddhist

ethics, universal human rights, economic development, and political participation within an ethnically

and religiously diverse nation state. It further contextualizes her vision of socially engaged Buddhism

with: (1) the history of socially engaged action within more traditional Burmese forms; and (2) within

the broader range of socially engaged Buddhist activism as a form of modern Buddhism in Southeast

Asia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Session 166: Across the Divide: Identity and State in the Uplands of Southwest China and Southeast Asia

, Part Two: Boundaries,

Subjects/Citizens and Identity (see session 147)

 

 

Organizer: Ann Maxwell Hill, Dickinson College

Chair: Nicola Tannenbaum, Lehigh University

Discussant: Jonathan N. Lipman, Mount Holyoke College

The discussion in Part Two of this back-to-back panel centers directly on the implications of state

policies and state representations of minorities for identity formation. They all ask the question: how

has participation in states, over time and in changing polities, affected constructions of the kind of

people that "we" are, in terms of our culture, our livelihood, and our political/ethnic affiliations? The

answers are specific historical constructions of ethnic identity that demonstrate the mutability of

identity. But the answers, in the larger comparative frame set out in Part One (session 147), also

highlight contrasts between the Chinese and Thai polities, at the same time as demonstrating

commonalities: the power of origin myths as paradigms for identity, the potential of states to reify or

"canonize" particular ethnic traditions, and the changes wrought by the rise of nation-states. All

presenters are anthropologists engaged in on-going fieldwork in China and Thailand. The discussant,

Jonathan Lipman, a historian specializing in Muslims in China, is familiar with issues relating to

nationalism, an important factor in our discussion of states and ethnic identity formation.

 

 

Thai Yai, Shan, and Tai Long: Political Identity Across State Boundaries

Nicola Tannenbaum, Lehigh University

While "Thai Yai," "Shan," and "Tai Long" ostensibly refer to the same group of people, each term

reflects a different political identity. Thai Yai and Shan are terms outsiders use while Tai Long is how

they refer to themselves. Thai Yai is the Thai term while Shan is used in Burma and Western

academic writing. In this paper, I examine the political religious structures of Shan communities and

groups of communities in the recent past and go on to explore how these structures have changed

through interaction with the British colonial state, the current Burmese regime, and the modern Thai

state. I then discuss the ways these different regimes have affected how Shan see themselves as

political actors and as a kind of "people" in these multi-ethnic states.

 

Cartography and Conquest: Mapping the Frontier in Late Imperial China, 1600–1900

Mapping an Imperial Frontier into "National Territory": How Qing Officials Demarcated

the Yunnan-Burma Frontier and Helped Produce a Small Corner of China

C. Patterson Giersch, Yale University

 

It has become common to note that the Qing dynasty’s conquests provided the territorial basis for

modern China. This seemingly simple statement conceals the complex processes that produced a

sovereign modern state from a pre-modern empire. Integral to this transformation, for instance, were

changes in how territorial authority—especially on the frontier—was conceived and represented.

This paper links changing Qing dynasty (1644–1911) representations of the boundary to the creation

of the modern Chinese national state by studying the demarcation and mapping of the Yunnan

frontier during the 1890s.

First, the paper presents evidence which suggests that early and mid-Qing officials conceived of the

Yunnan frontier as divided from foreign domains by a zone, not a line. These lands in-between

harbored the indigenous ruler (tusi) domains, places ideally under Qing jurisdiction but still not

considered equal to the empire’s "internal lands." Second, it examines how British and Qing

representatives negotiated, demarcated, and mapped a linear border between most of upper Burma

and southwest Yunnan in the 1890s. This project changed how peripheral Yunnan was represented

and conceived. Finally, the paper suggests that this new representation of the Yunnan frontier,

inscribed on maps, influenced post-imperial Chinese statesmen as well as foreign powers to consider

the erstwhile frontier "zone" as a full-fledged part of modern China.

 

Session 147: Across the Divide: Identity and State in the Uplands of Southwest China and Southeast Asia, Part One: the Comparative Frame (see

session 166)

The Nuosu are not Kachin: Re-configuring Upland-Lowland Relations

Ann Maxwell Hill, Dickinson College

Among Southeast Asianists, Leach’s anthropological classic, Political Systems of Highland

Burma, has long been a wellspring of analytical models for ethnic identity and inter-ethnic relations

among groups in the Sino-Southeast Asian borderlands. This paper examines how well, or whether,

his specific insights into relations between upland groups and lowland states enlighten the

ethnography of the Nuosu, a local group of the Yi nationality in Mao Liangshan, Yunnan Province,

China. Like the Kachin, the Nuosu were an upland-dwelling Tibeto-Burman group with a long

history of contact with state society and with adjacent ethnic groups. But one looks in vain among

the Nuosu for social structures that "modeled" the lowland Han society or polity, or for intermarriage

with Han. And wealth derived from contact with Han commodity markets, unlike similar sources of

outside wealth among the Kachin, seldom translated into enhanced political status in Nuosu society.

Changes in ethnic identity among individuals, when they occurred, were characteristically from Han

to Nuosu, rather than in the other direction. So how to account for these differences between Kachin

and Nuosu and their relations to state society? The local ecology of Nuosu livelihood, Nuosu

socio-political structure and, most importantly, the border political institutions of the Chinese state

were all sources of contrast with the Kachin case in upland Southeast Asia and significant in

configuring Nuosu relations with the lowland Han Chinese.

 

 

Who We Are Depends Upon Where We Are

F. K. Lehman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

My paper will deal with Tai (Shan), Kachin and others: how their very perceptions of who they are

and what it means, culturally, to be who they are seems to change, often dramatically, depending

upon the local context of whom they address their identity to. I used to think, and I have even written

(in the Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletter over a year ago) that these very sinicised descriptions of

Shan customs the Chinese ethnographers give us came about because the work was done in

Putonghua and because the Tai felt the Chinese wanted to hear such stuff. Now I find that, the

farther North one goes in Yunnan (from Ruili towards Mangshih, say, the more Shan perceive

themselves that way, even when talking to me in Shan; the same people change their descriptions of

their customs as they move off towards the Burma border. Ho Ts’ui-P’ing describes similar

phenomena for the Zaiwa (Atsi) vis-à-vis Jinghpo and others. I want to relate this phenomenon to

the Cog Sci (Al) proposal that ‘belief’ is a very labile matter rather than a fixed mental state.

 

 

 

Session 34: Individual Papers: Politics and History in South and Southeast

Asia

The Fate of Sacrifice: Headhunting in the History of the China-Southeast Asia Frontier Area

Magnus Fiskesjo, University of Chicago

In this paper I return to the topic of the central role of sacrificial rituals of upland societies in the

borderlands between China and the Southeast Asian state societies. I present a discussion of what

might be called an "extreme" case, or (in Jonathan Friedman’s phrase), "the end of the road": a brief

account of the characteristics, history, and demise of headhunting, during the nineteenth and first half

of the twentieth century, among the Wa people of the China-Burma border area, traditionally

regarded as the most fearsome and barbarian of the region. This account builds on Chinese, British,

and other outsider’s accounts, as well as on indigenous recollections gathered during recent field

investigations in Wa areas. I will then present an analysis of historical Wa headhunting as a form of

human sacrifice, part of a system of practices developed within the context of the inter-ethnic

relations of the region and of local ecological/economic constraints, themselves conditioned by the

nature of Wa external relations. Drawing on this and on studies of other upland societies of this

region, I will discuss in what ways the pro-reform Wa sacrificial system can be regarded as a

function of those external relations, and how we might understand the history of Wa sacrifice and its

legacies in the present.

 

1997

 

Session 69: Burma as a Southeast Asian Nation During a Half Century of Independence, Part One (Sponsored by the Burma Studies Group) (see

session 87)

 

 

Organizer and Discussant: James F. Guyot, City University of New York

Chair: Lucian W. Pye, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The political and economic development of Burma during its half century of independence is set in

the context of other Southeast Asian nations that emerged from World War II. This context permits

the comparative analysis of developments in a coherent yet significantly varied set of Asian nations,

with implications for theories of political economy. Special attention is paid to inward and outward

looking economic strategies, the shifting roles of the military classes, the interactions of political and

economic elites with each other and with other segments of the national populations, and the

institutionalization of political cultures.

In order to broaden participation, the panel has drawn for paper writers on a newer generation of

Burmese Burma scholars, individuals under the age of 40 who came to the U.S. for study after the

events of 8-8-88. The writers will not read their papers, rather the discussant will summarize and

comment on them, permitting more time for exchange among the panel members and with the

audience.

 

 

Burma’s Regional Relations: From Bandung to ASEAN

Ye Myint, Northern Illinois University

Burma’s entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) marks a dramatic turn in

its relations with its Southeast Asian neighbors since the country’s independence fifty years ago.

From an initial active involvement in regional and international affairs, such as the founding of the

non-aligned movement, the country turned to isolationism under General Ne Win’s rule. With the

economic reforms of the early 1970s came a marginal opening to such multilateral organizations as

the Asian Development Bank, yet distance from ASEAN was maintained.

The emergence of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) following the

suppression of the 1988 uprising was a watershed on several dimensions, including Burma’s

blossoming relations with ASEAN. While the international community condemned the regime,

ASEAN reached out with a policy of "constructive engagement." The incentives and costs on both

sides of that engagement are analyzed.

 

 

Burma’s Economic Development During Half a Century

Naing Oo, Petroleum Industry Research Associates

While the long run economic successes of the globally integrated economies of Singapore, Malaysia,

Thailand, and Indonesia are well documented and extensively analyzed, the stumbles of Burma and

several other slow growth or retrograde economies in the region are less systematically known. The

Burma case will be examined in terms of the socio-economic factors identified by the Harvard

Institute for International Development in a report for the Asian Development Bank, with special

attention to the shifting strategies adopted by the parliamentary democracy, the Revolutionary

Council and Burma Socialist Programme Party, and the State Law and Order Restoration Council

regimes.

 

 

Socio-Economic Foundations of Military Domination in Burma

Zaw Oo, Research Group for Economic Development of Burma

Toward the end of the 20th century, the world-wide transition to democratic regimes and open

systems has brought to an end a number of regimes in which the military had played a dominant

political role despite deficiencies in economic performance, public support, or international

acceptance. A few existing military regimes such as Burma’s State Law and Order Restoration

Council now face a crisis of legitimacy and are under pressures to open up their political systems.

Since 1958, under the claim that the military were both the true defenders of Burmese traditions and

effective modernizers, the Burmese army has attempted in varying ways to monopolize the channels

of political participation while engaging both directly and indirectly with the full range of economic

tasks. This paper examines the military role in shaping and implementing economic policies and in

rent-seeking behavior as well. This examination is undertaken in the context of similar and contrasting

elements of political and economic development in Thailand and Indonesia.

Balancing economic and political goals, successive military regimes in Burma failed to secure either.

The present regime also faces a serious dilemma in strengthening the socio-economic foundations

through liberalization while seeking to secure a lasting domination in national politics. The prospects

for disengagement from political roles by the State Law and Order Restoration Council will be

addressed.

 

 

The State-Centric Analysis of Urban Bias in the Transitions to and from Socialism

Ardeth Maung, University of Wisconsin, Madison

At independence Burma began a partial transition to socialism which accelerated as the "Burmese

Way to Socialism." This course was radically reversed during the last decade, under the State Law

and Order Restoration Council. Contrary to the mainstream scholarship that emphasizes rural-led

growth policies for the former communist and socialist economies, the development processes in

Burma have been systematically biased against the countryside in both the transitions to and from

socialism. This bias is deeply embedded in a persisting political dualism which may be analyzed in

comparison to the socio-political processes at play in other Southeast Asian nations, particularly in

relation to the economic policy transformations that took place in Indonesia and Viet Nam.

 

 

 

 

 

Session 104: New Area Studies in the Global World:

Rethinking Modernity, Identity, Arts, and Post-Colonial

Desire in Southeast Asia (Sponsored by SEAC)

Globalism and Local Identity in Myanmar

Juliane Schober, Arizona State University

This paper focuses on the ways in which Burma-or now officially Myanmar-represents a limiting

case in the discussion of global and area focused frameworks for the study of Southeast Asia. After

decades of fierce economic, cultural, and political isolation, the ruling elite now actively seeks to

participate in international and global settings while reasserting the political boundaries of a modern

nation state that has been contested since its inception. The government's participation in global

economic communities is therefore closely linked to internal, nationalist interests and cultural

conceptions of power.

Burma's recent economic liberalization and its growing participation in global economics are

integrally tied to; (a) the role of transnational Burmese Diaspora communities that offer access to and

knowledge of global networks; and (b) a conscious, internal effort by the state to construct a modern

vision of national culture and identity. Myanmar's governing elite is engaged in the construction of

national culture to combat global cultural commodities perceived as "subversive" influences from the

"outside." The government's rhetoric about "otherness" reflects the concerns of a modern

nation-state. While fiercely anti-colonial in its rhetoric, Burmese public discourse nevertheless retains

many colonial clichés and constructs categories of modernity, such as national culture and the identity

of its citizenry in the authoritarian conceptions of a colonial, Victorian worldview.

Session 43: Individual Papers: Cultural Interaction and

Innovation in Southeast Asia

 

Organizer: Barbara Watson Andaya, University of Hawaii

Chair: Evelyn Blackwood, Purdue University

Suzerain and Vassal, or Elder and Younger Brothers: The Nature of the Sino-Burmese Historical Relationship

Laichen Sun, University of Michigan

The traditional "Chinese world order," which is characterized by Sinocentrism, has already been

challenged. However, there is no doubt that more detailed studies are still needed, and the

Sino-Burmese historical relationship is a perfect example. First of all, the two countries had a very

close relationship and relatively rich sources regarding their intercourses have survived. Secondly,

Burma, unlike Korea and Vietnam, used a different written language to communicate with China, and

this allows us to see how the Burmese perceived Sino-Burmese relationships by looking at Burmese

ecords. Set under a broader context of Sino-foreign relations, this paper examines the

Sino-Burmese relationship from the 9th through the late 19th centuries and means to render another

challenge to the "Chinese world order." Throughout the whole period under question, China

consistently regarded Burma as one of her vassals. Burma, however, considered herself as China's

equal and termed this relationship as one between "younger brother" (Burma) and "elder brother"

(China). Nonetheless, neither side realized, at least officially, this discrepancy, and each thought that

their own view was accepted by the other. This is because credentials from one side were so revised

and adapted based on a certain format that it would be totally acceptable to the ruler of the other

side. Last but not least, this paper reveals that while the basic concept of "younger brother" versus

"elder brother" had probably been almost always maintained by Burma, her attitude towards China

changed as her strength increased since the rise of the Toungoo dynasty in the mid-16th century.

 

 

1996

 

Session 17: Images of the Past, Realities of the Present; The Use of History in Burma Today

  

Organizer : Maureen Aung-Thwin, Soros Foundation

Chair: Michael Aung-Thwin, University of Hawai'i, Manoa

Discussant: Charivat Santaputra, Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations

Among a host of strong kings in Burma's history who were successful in unifying and expanding their

respective domains, 16th century Burmese King, Bayinnaung of the Taung-ngu Dynasty, has become

the unusual focus of attention in Burma today. A large statue of him has been erected, his palace at

Pegu is being excavated with extraordinary enthusiasm, themes associated with Bayinnaung have

seen exceptional space in the press, and young men choose Bayinnaung when asked who is their

favorite king. This has been in the context of a Burma that socially and culturally isolated itself for the

past three decades or more, has been stung by harsh, external criticism for its political policies more

recently, and has been conspicuously left behind by rapidly developing economies of several of its

neighbors, especially Thailand.

 

The papers attempt to understand the attraction of King Bayinnaung today, when there are other,

equally qualified candidates for such glorification. Why Bayinnaung and not Aniruddha or Kyanzittha

of Pagan, Thalun of the Second Ava Dynasty, Alaunghpaya, Bodawhpaya, or Mindon of the

Konbaung Dynasty? These kings did as much as, if not more than Bayinnaung to unify Burma, to

strengthen its military and administration, to enhance its religious and cultural life, and to develop its

economic resources. In other words, they were all cakravartins.

At the same time, we wish to go beyond the obvious reason that Bayinnaung was the only one to

militarily extend his kingdom into what is now Thailand and Laos, reaching Vientiane, even if briefly.

Thus, it is, first of all, more than his military prowess that is appealing to both the popular culture and

Burma's leaders today. It is also his regional and local stature, his "secular" and "modern" outlook

while accommodating religion and tradition, and his broader vision of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic

kingdom. It is, secondly, more than the past that is at issue; it is also the present. We wish to explore

these more subtle kinds of reasons for the phenomenon.

Different perspectives on the issue will be presented, as Burmese, Thai, American, and British

scholars of Burma have been asked to participate. Yet, the common ground held by the majority of

the panelists is their discipline (early Burmese history), their sensitivity to "autonomous" history, and

their focus on indigenous sources.

 

The Reconstruction of King Bayinnaung of Burma in Thai Chronicles

Sunait Chutintaranond, Chulalongkorn University

This paper examines the Thai chronicles for Thai perceptions of King Bayinnaung, and shows how

Thai historiography of Bayinnaung changed, not after Bayinnaung's conquest of Thailand in the mid

16th century (as one would expect), but after the last Burmese conquest of Ayuthia in the 18th

century by Hsinphyushin. The paper suggests that whereas Bayinnaung acted as a true cakravartin

in his conquest of Ayuthia, the kings of the next Burmese dynasty who also conquered Ayuthia, did

not. Hence, it was less the conquest per se than the behavior of the conqueror, less his ethnicity than

his stature, that mattered.

 

Bodawhpaya's Foreign Policy

Euan Bagshawe, Independent Scholar

This paper suggests that it is not Bayinnaung but Bodawhpaya that the present regime regards as

model, particularly the King's statement that the military (tatmadaw) was the backbone of society. In

this sense, this paper differs from the rest and offers a varying opinion.

 

Bayinnaung in Burmese Literature

U Saw Tun, Northern Illinois University

This paper shows the extent to which the King has been the subject of poetry, plays, novels, and

short stories. It describes how Bayinnaung's achievements as conqueror and administrative leader

are well remembered by posterity. From the years immediately succeeding the fall of his empire,

Burmese writers praised Bayinnaung so that the youth of the next generation would be inspired by

his example. This literary focus was evident, particularly in the British period as nationalist writers

reminded the colonized Burmese of their glorious past. Educators also perpetuated the theme of

Bayinnaung's accomplishments in their courses. Today, his name is heard in military marching songs,

names of school organizations, names of university halls, and so on.

 

Cakravartin Amongst Cakravartins

Michael Aung-Thwin, University of Hawai'i, Manoa

Our discussant will present "Cakravartin Amongst Cakravartins," which will provide a historical

context of the past several centuries leading to Bayinnaung's success in the 16th century, and ask the

question "why Bayinnaung?" More precisely, the paper focuses on the excavation and description of

Bayinnaung's palace and city as reported in recent Burmese newspapers and other earlier sources,

not only to demonstrate more vividly the differences between his palace and those of earlier, equally

successful monarchs, but also to suggest that the symbolism conveyed by Bayinnanung's city

expresses certain sentiments about the state found in Burma today. It will suggest how images of the

past are reinterpreted to validate concerns of the present.

 

 

Session 224: ROUND TABLE: Building Ethnic Identity in Burma

(Sponsored by the Burma Studies Group)

 

 

Organizer and Chair: Maureen Aung-Thwin, Open Society Institute

Discussants: Paul Michael Taylor, Smithsonian Institution; Christina Fink, Open Society Institute;

F. K. Lehman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; La Raw Maran, Kachinland Projects;

Rachel Cooper, University of California, Los Angeles

Since it took power in 1962, the Burmese military has followed policies that have contributed to the

systematic erasure of local cultures and histories. Yet within this constraint, ethnic scholars and

concerned individuals have managed to promote the study of their own languages and histories

through informal means. Burmese ethnic groups inside Burma as well as in war and cease-fire zones

and in exile continue to compile and write dictionaries, grammars, textbooks and histories. Ethnic

writers under British rule often wrote primarily for their own groups, whereas many of today's ethnic

writers recognize the importance of writing for all Burmese, promoting ethnic identification while

furthering pan-ethnic understanding.

Roundtable discussants will explore various issues confronting non-Burman ethnic cultures today: (1)

The changing political context of the production of local historical accounts and language materials;

(2) the web of constraints inhibiting the writing and distribution of accounts; (3) the debate regarding

"good" versus "bad" ways to intervene in ethnic minority cultures; and (4) identify ways that all

Burmese, particularly Burmans, can engage in the process

 

 

 

Session 135: Direction and Priorities of Research on Southeast Asia (Sponsored by the Southeast Asia Council)

Direction and Priorities of Research in Myanmar

Myo Myint, Mandalay University

Research directions and priorities in Burma among Burma scholars have finally acknowledged the

existence of the outside world. They now speak in terms of a "global society" with "new values and

perspectives" which challenge Burma to re-examine its national and local traditions. However, this

may be what we do not want, for part of the purpose of this panel is to uncover and discover

precisely what these "local" and "national" traditions are.

An international conference is to be held in Burma (called "The Conference on Traditions in Current

Perspective"), organized by a committee of scholars from the Universities Historical Research

Centre, to determine if traditional values are "viable" or "relevant" in contemporary society, but also

to see if there are policies and programs to sustain some of these traditions. The topics target for

discussion are the following: current views of tradition, the role of tradition in contemporary society,

social and cultural traditions that are undergoing change, social and cultural traditions with values

relevant to contemporary society, and current policies and programs related to the preservation of

traditions.

 

The above priorities and foci sound as if current society is going through enough important changes

that on the one hand, these changes are welcomed, and on the other, the Burmese do not want to

give up their past entirely. Research direction in Burma might well, for the next few decades, address

the old but still important issue of change and continuity.

 

 

Session 64: Recent Research on Burmese Art

 

Organizer and Chair: Richard M. Cooler, Northern Illinois University

The art of Burma is among the least known of the artistic traditions of Southeast Asia. Researchers

are in the process of articulating those characteristics which define Burmese art and establishing how

it developed over time. The papers in this panel use different approaches to address problems of

specifying those characteristics which set Burmese art apart during different time periods from that of

India and other Southeast Asian nations. The first paper examines the Indian origins of the art of the

early Pyu civilization and proposes that they are most similar to those for the Mon Dvaravati arts of

Thailand during the seventh century. The second paper examines the advent of a unique iconographic

type particular to the Pagan Period Reign of King Kyanzittha by setting it within its cultural milieu and

in so doing establishes a major sea change in the depiction of the Buddha in Burma. The third paper

looks at the detailed representations of events in the Buddha's life as depicted on a silver bowl and

examines the form, decoration, date, and selection of scenes in determining its particular use in

Burmese Buddhism. All three of these papers contribute to establishing the parameters of aesthetic

development in the art of Burma.

 

Kyanzittha's Standing Image of the Buddha

Richard M. Cooler, Northern Illinois University

The conservative nature of orthodox Buddhist iconography makes the advent of a new visual type an

event of major art historical importance. This paper examines the context and meaning of one such

innovation: the standing image of Gautama Buddha with his hands in the position of dharma chakra

mudra, "turning the wheel of the law," a gesture symbolizing the First Sermon. Seated images with

hands in this position are common. Standing images occur only in Burma during the reign of King

Kyanzittha-the two which occur in the Ananda temple are colossal (over 30 feet) and are among the

most highly revered and memorable at Pagan. Smaller stone examples of this rare type appear in the

Nagayon temple as well as the earlier Kyauk ku Onhmin where such an image was stolen in 1988

and recently recovered through the efforts of the Center for Burma Studies, N.I.U. This paper

examines the origins, meaning and efficacy of the image type, the emblemata of the golden age of

Pagan.

 

Telling Lives: Narrative Allegory on a Burmese Silver Bowl

Robert S. Wicks, Miami University, Ohio

Anna Barbara Grey, M.D. served as a medical missionary in Burma between 1922 and 1957. At

the end of her tenure she was presented with a large silver bowl by the Burmese Baptist Church. On

the sides of the bowl are six narrative scenes. This paper explores the relationship between the

subject of the narrative found on the bowl and the life of Dr. Grey. It also examines other examples

of Burmese narrative art which possibly served as models for the bowl.

 

 

Sources, Dates, and Relationships for the Art of the Pyu

Robert L. Brown, University of California, Los Angeles

The Pyu and the Mon had founded states in Burma during the first millennium CE, before the coming

of the Burmese. Both groups were Indianized, producing art associated with Buddhism and

Hinduism. Yet, of all the early Indianized states of Mainland Southeast Asia, these two in Burma are

the least studied and the least understood. My paper addresses two issues, the possible sources and

dates for the art of the Pyu. For sources, I look at the art in India, Sri Lanka, and the Mon Dvaravati

art of neighboring Thailand. Concentrating on sculpture from Sri Ksetra (near modern Prome), the

South Asian sources appear distressingly diverse, yet the predominant relationship is, surprisingly

considering Burma's border with Northeast India, with Southern India and, particularly, with Sri

Lanka. I then argue that the Pyu sculpture does not date earlier than the seventh century. Turning to

the east, I find that the Pyu sculpture can be related to the Mon Dvaravati of the seventh century in a

number of specifically shared Southeast Asian characteristics, suggesting that Sri Ksetra and

Dvaravati were using Indian sources in a similar manner. I end by suggesting that the seventh century

is somehow a key century for Indianized art of Mainland Southeast Asia, and that it is Sri Lanka (or

Southern India?) that supplies new artistic, religious, and cultural influences.

 

 

Session 204: The Issue of Order: History, Culture, and Politics in Postcolonial Southeast Asia

The "Birth" of Military Rule in Burma

Mary P. Callahan, Naval Postgraduate School, California

The prominence of the Burmese armed forces in postwar politics is often traced to the Japanese

occupation when, for the first time in history, a national army was created in Burma. Metaphorical

references to the army's "birth" underscore the idea of continuity with the immediate past and present

the occupation as a kind of gestational period which nurtured Burma's postwar tatmadaw. This

paper begins with an empirical argument: military rule in Burma should be assessed within a much

broader context and linked to the coercive institutions and practices of the British, beginning with the

annexation of Burmese territory in the 1820s. While colonial government granted nominal authority

to civilians, the extent of the British and Indian armies' involvement in internal security circumscribed

civilian power. The prevalence of armed force in the colonial period also clearly influenced the

policies and practices of the Japanese occupation. Having reassessed the origins of Burma's military

state, this paper concludes with a more interpretive question: why does this particular myth of origin

persist? Why do official histories consistently suppress the British antecedents of military rule and

focus, instead, on the Japanese occupation? Why is the figurative midwifery of the Japanese imperial

army politically and intellectually more appealing than the real and demonstrable links to the British

institutions of colonial times?

 

 

Session 16: Southeast Asian Protest and Social Movements

Theory: A Dialogue

The Mobilization Process in the "Four Eights" Democratic Movement in Burma

Kyaw Yin Hlaing, Cornell University

As Burma's very first nation-wide social movement, the "Four Eights" (Shiq-Lay-Lone in Burmese)

democratic movement which took place in mid-1988 is a watershed in modern Burmese history. It

brought an end to the discredited-yet-seemingly-entrenched Burmese Way to Socialism and despite

the continued military rule, shook political and economic structures of Burmese society. While there

are a plethora of journalistic accounts, these important events have not been subjected to scholarly

analysis. This paper seeks to bridge this gap by focusing attention on how Burmese people were

mobilized into the "Four Eights" movement in 1988. In so doing, I will analyze how opposition

groups and foreign media, especially the British Broadcasting Corporation aad Voice of America,

served as mobilization resources which drew both political and apolitical Burmese living in both

center and periphery into the movement. This paper will argue that the particular nature of the British

Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America (both nation-wide services based outside of

Burma) provided the movement with an organizational resource which lay beyond the control of the

state and transcended the fragmentary nature of Burmese society.