AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 473

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Session 473: Perspectives on Genocide in Asia

Organizer: Charles A. Desnoyers, La Salle University, USA

Chair: Richard C. Kagan, Hamline University, USA

Discussant: Geoffrey B. Robinson, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

“Perspectives on Genocide in Asia” A Panel Proposal for the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies and International Convention of Asian Scholars Until recently, the phenomenon of genocide has been considered by legal scholars and social scientists to be a modern—indeed, a twentieth-century—Western aberration. Over the last two decades, however, these assumptions have begun to be re-thought as mass killings, ethnic cleansings, and religious persecutions of the more distant Western and non-Western past are revisited to examine afresh their circumstances and perhaps most centrally, their relationship to modernity. This panel brings together several contributors and the guest editors of a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Genocide Research devoted to genocide in Asia. As genocide studies has grown and matured into a distinct field, it appears to be increasingly dominated on the one hand by those who favor the thesis that modernity—with its exclusionary nationalism, totalistic ideologies, and open-ended faith in social perfection—is ineluctably linked to, and even the primary cause of, genocide; and on the other, scholars who see genocide as a dystopic spandrel of modernity revivifying older animosities. The role of Asia is particularly instructive in this regard because of the widely differing cultures, ethnicities and religions of the continent. Our panel proposes to look at three areas in Asia separated by time and space—China’s Taiping Rebellion; the role of Muslims in the killings of Chinese in Indonesia; war crimes and claims in the and the Bangladesh war for independence—as representative of the state of field for historians and social scientists. We would like our panel to be considered for “Border Crossing” status because of the wide spatial focus of the individual papers and because the time frame is larger than usual for genocide studies.

The Killing Fields of Jiangnan: A Perspective on Genocide and the Taiping Rebellion
Charles A. Desnoyers, La Salle University, USA

The Killing Fields of Jiangnan: A Perspective on Genocide and the Taiping Rebellion Charles Desnoyers, La Salle University Although China’s Taiping Rebellion (1851-64) is in all likelihood the bloodiest civil war human beings have ever fought—with an estimated 20-30 million dead—it has remained almost completely beyond the purview of genocide scholars. In some ways this is not surprising; it is a non-Western conflict in a pre-industrial empire, and its historiography has generally portrayed it as a “progressive” or “revolutionary” movement, whose excesses were matched or even surpassed by the Qing Empire that eventually suppressed it. Yet, in its uncompromising quest to establish an entirely new society, with a religious ideology based on the movement’s leader, Hong Xiuquan’s claims to be God’s son, radical attempts at social leveling, male-female equality, abolition of private property, extermination of the Manchus, and the complete dismantling of Confucian society, its character was unlike anything China had seen since its first empire was founded in 221 B.C.E. In all of these realms the movement incorporated older Chinese ideas of social welfare but in vital areas, particularly Hong’s putative openness to useful innovation from any quarter, and his espousal of his personal version of Protestant Christianity, aspects of nineteenth-century “modernity” appear to present themselves. This paper will explore the impact that this totalizing, eliminationist approach to societal change, though far removed from what is customarily thought of as twentieth century modernity, had on the Taiping’s all-to-often genocidal approach to warfare and pacification in the region around their capital of Nanjing. Here, an important primary source will be the eyewitness account of Li Gui (1842-1903) whose memoir of his captivity with the Taiping from 1860-2 presents a chilling portrayal of systematic destruction of families, casual torture and mayhem, forced labor and combat on a gargantuan scale, child soldiers, abuse of women, and general warfare on Confucian institutions. Perhaps most poignantly, Li’s preface to the work bears an eerie similarity to that of Elie Wiesel and others in its stated aim to bear final witness to their respective traumas.

Fashioning Consensus: Perpetrator-Eyewitness Responses During the Indonesian Mass Killings, 1965-1968
Vannessa Hearman, University of Sydney, Australia

The Indonesian military relied on civilian proxies to carry out the mass killings of 1965-66 and the repression of the Indonesian Communist Party from 1965-68. General Suharto came to power as half a million people were slaughtered and hundreds of thousands of the political left were imprisoned. This paper will discuss some preliminary findings about the logistics of the mass killings in two case studies in Bangil and Kediri in East Java, one of the worst affected provinces. East Java was also an area where the use of civilian proxies was most prevalent. In this paper, based on interviews with members of the 'implicated community' from Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, I examine responses among this community to the political upheaval of 1965-1968. I examine accounts of participation and non-participation in the killings, including how they were motivated to kill, how bodies were disposed of and others arrested who might have been neighbours and friends. The paper will examine how consensus and 'perpetrator blocs' were constructed in Bangil and Kediri to support the anti-communist cleansing operations. At the same time, the paper aims to examine notions of subjectivity in how perpetrators and their contemporaries who were non-perpetrators have understood and narrated their experiences in post-authoritarian Indonesia.

Reporting and Reflecting on the Conference: ‘Bangladesh 1971: Addressing Claims of War Crimes, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity’
Sue Gronewold, Kean University, USA

A year ago, an unprecedented conference was held at Kean University, in an area of NJ with a sizeable community of Bangladeshis , many of whom were active in independence struggles , in particular, the events of March, 1971, exactly forty years ago today, when thousands of followers of the newly elected, pro-independence Awami League were hunted down, injured, or killed. Bangladesh, with the help of India, won its independence, but there has been nearly total silence about those traumatic events, which remain unknown around the world and among many in Bangladesh. Bangladeshis along with other professors and staff held this conference to coincide with calls for justice in Bangladesh itself. The lineup at Kean was impressive, from Bangladesh’s ambassador to the US, to the director of Dakka’s Liberation War Museum, to important Bangladeshi journalists and writers, US specialists in trauma research and treatment, especially among women. Evidence was shown memorialized in photographic collections and films. Ordinary men and women told wrenching personal stories. Finally, in a series of rigorous analytical panels, legal scholars from international human rights communities explored options available to finally make the truth known and perhaps bring justice so many years later. Now the burning question is: what is next?

The Culture Collapses, The Nation Vanishes: Cambodian Art Before, During, and After Genocide
Sarah Gendron, Marquette University, USA

Prior to the mid 1970’s, the Kingdom of Cambodia was a major regional seat of artistic life and had been for centuries. From the great architectural diversity of the temples of Angkor Watt, to its traditional folktales, dances, and music, Cambodia was arguably amongst the most culturally rich countries of Southeast Asia. With the forcible coming to power of the Khmer Rouge in 1975, this heritage became threatened by Cambodian citizens. In an effort to recreate an idyllic agrarian society, the Khmer Rouge, led by its enigmatic leader Pol Pot, not only set out to destroy artistic objects and traditions related to the privileged classes, they also attempted to liquidate—among others—individuals associated with artistic practices. In the history of such mass killings, the official targeting of artists for death is unique to the Khmer Rouge-led genocide. The result was a virtual erasure of Cambodian art. The following essay traces the growth of Khmer culture, its near-extinction under Pol Pot, and contemporary efforts to both document and revive Cambodia’s cultural heritage.