Thai-Cambodian Border Clashes – What is Fuelling them?

Memo #80 – Since the end of April 2011, fighting between the Thai and Cambodian armies along their disputed border killed 18 people, injured over 120, and displaced nearly 100,000 villagers. Since hostilities began in July 2008, border clashes have now left at least 28 dead and some 150 injured. The conflict is centred around three ancient temples built by Khmer kings nearly a thousand years ago. But most analysts contend that territory is not the driving concern, rather it is fuelled by domestic politics in both countries. Continue reading

Chinese Artist/Activist Ai Weiwei Detained

Memo #71 – Famous artist, tweeter, and critic of the Chinese authorities Ai Weiwei (艾未未) disappeared on April 3rd, 2011. This marks the latest in a series of arrests and detentions of human rights activists, bloggers, and lawyers in the Chinese government’s crackdown in response to fears of a jasmine revolution in China. Yet rather than having links to a ‘colour’ revolution, it is Ai’s self-assigned role as memory-keeper for the child victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and obsessive recorder of state-sanctioned acts of violence and surveillance that has led to his detention. Ai Weiwei has taken on the time-honoured task of Confucian historian, allocating praise or blame or imperial censor critiquing a ruler’s shortcomings. His is a modern take on ancient roles: documenting abuses and criticizing injustices by using the internet and social media. Continue reading

Literature in 21st Century China – Harvard Professor David Der-wei Wang (Video Interview)

Memo #70 – What is the status of literature in 21st century China? Harvard professor David Der-wei Wang analyzes this question in a brief video interview. He discusses the impact of the internet, which has become an important medium for the dissemination of politically sensitive works. He mentions that there has been a resurgence of genres such as science fantasy to a prominence not seen since the late Qing dynasty. He talks about the new concept of “Sinophone literature,” which redefines “Chinese literature” as a field determined by language rather than purely by geography. He further touches on important new works, such as Hu Fayun’s novel, “,” which was first serialized on the Internet but banned upon its print publication. Continue reading

Capital-islam: Spiritual Economies in Southeast Asia

Memo #68 – Is Islam compatible with capitalism? The recent uprisings in the Middle East have prompted renewed interest in this question. In his book, The Long Divergence, the eminent economist, Timur Kuran, suggests that Islam is to blame for the poor economic performance of Islamic countries. But today, a new breed of “spiritual reformers” sees Islam as a recipe for commercial success. Continue reading

Thailand’s Red-Shirts: One Year Later

Memo #60 – March 12, 2011 will mark the first anniversary of Thailand’s red-shirt protesters’ massive street campaign in Bangkok that ended in some of the worst political violence in modern Thai history. 91 people were killed and over 1,800 were injured in a military crackdown that resembled more of a civil war than a restoration of order. This was mainly due to the appearance of mysterious black-clad men on the side of the protesters who engaged the Thai army with automatic rifles and grenade launchers. Continue reading

Chinese Consumers: The Driving Force of Global Change

Memo #49 – Thanks to President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington this week, US-China trade tensions are again front page news. There are bright spots: Seattle-based Starbucks recently announced plans to triple its number of stores in China to 1,500 by 2015. And the chain plans to use its outlets there to push more consumer products, including instant coffee. Continue reading

Why Scholar-Writers Yang Jiang and Qian Zhongshu are Important to China Today

Memo #48 – In this set of interviews, Dr. Wendy Larson (Oregon), Dr. Theodore Huters (UCLA), and Dr. Christopher Rea (UBC) talk about two of modern China’s most famous scholar-writers, Qian Zhongshu (錢鍾書) (1910-1998) and Yang Jiang (楊絳) (b. 1911). They discuss why this husband-wife pair and their writings are important to China today. Continue reading

New Taxation Rules: First Steps to Building the Great Mall of China?

Memo #46 – In September 2010, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began strictly enforcing a new taxation rule. The new rule (Notice No.54 of 2010) claims to standardize and bring transparency to PRC borders. It will tax luxury items and electronics, limit quantities of popular household items purchased abroad, and, in effect, encourage middle and upper class Chinese citizens to shop at home. Continue reading

Conditions in Tibet Since 2008

Memo #41 – In this interview, Dr. Robert J. Barnett, Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University, assesses the importance of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (IATS). The IATS brings together international scholars and scholars from within Tibet and China. In August 2010, Dr. Barnett was a participant of the 12th Seminar of the IATS, which was hosted by the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. Continue reading

Asian Cultures in British Columbia

Memo #33 – Dr. Dan Overmyer, Professor Emeritus of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia speaks about his new book, Asian Religions in British Columbia (B.C.). In this interview, he describes the inspiration to compile this book. Along with Dr. Larry DeVries and Dr. Don Baker, Dr. Overmyer aimed to organize a book that would be of value to people who are interested in Asian cultures, their impact in B.C., and the changing face of B.C. society. Continue reading