AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 559

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Session 559: Regional and Transnational Networks of Trade and Diaspora in Asia (II)

Organizer: Ulises Granados, Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo De Mexico (ITAM), Mexico

Chair: Mala Rajo Sathian, University of Malaya, Malaysia

This panel seeks to examine Asia’s trading past and present, from the long-duree to contemporary times, with a focus on regional and transnational trade and diaspora networks. It hopes to capture relevant regional dynamics of trade, looking both within and beyond political national borders to include networks extended into larger economic-cultural zones operating in transnational settings. Socio-cultural linkages among cities and other regions, investors from China in Southeast Asia and vice versa, as well as the returning non-resident Indians in Southeast Asia, are just a few of these modern and contemporary manifestations of regional trade`s dynamics at play. Apart from examining traders and commodities, the panel includes aspects of navigation, migration, mobility, investment and trade by Chinese and Indian overseas diasporas, as well as identities of communities impacted by networks of trade. The first set of papers dealing with China, Japan and India addresses patterns of trade, maritime transportation and connections, as well as the role played by merchants, sojourners and ethnic-investors in trans-local, trans-regional movements of goods and in society in general. The second group of papers, geographically focused on South and Southeast Asia, explores networks of trade and communication, history of inter-Asian trade of art and iconography, as well as South Asian diaspora’ developments at connecting spaces along Southeast Asia nation-states.

5. Trade Networks of South Asian Diaspora Communities in the Thai-Malaysia Region of Southeast Asia
Mala Rajo Sathian, University of Malaya, Malaysia

This paper focuses on South Asian minority diaspora communities and their trade networks in the Thai-Malaysian region of Southeast Asia. Specifically the paper looks at some of the salient features of the mechanics of their trade and trade networks which include social and kinship organizations, ethnic based chambers of commerce, friendship associations and religious networks. Literature on South Asian diaspora communities and their minority status in the region, tend to focus on aspects of culture, community identity and their assimilation into or alienation from host communities etc. compared to their trade and associated networks existing over the decades in Southeast Asia. In glaring contrast to the literature on Chinese trading diasporas whose clan networks and chambers of commerce have been identified as positive elements to the success of their trade, little has been discussed on the social-kinship and religious networks of South Asian diaspora. By looking at some of the Chulia, Pathan, Punjabi/Sindhi clan associations operating in Thailand-Malaysia, this paper examines the link between these associations and the growth and sustenance of South Asian trading diasporas in Southeast Asia (c. 20th century).

6. The New Silk Road: Perspectives on the Asian Highway from Bangladesh
Lamia N. Karim, University of Oregon, USA

This paper focuses on the cultural-politics of the Asian Highway and its regional manifestations by taking the port-city of Chittagong in Bangladesh as an exemplar of globalization. The Asian Highway from Kunming (China) will pass through the politically volatile regions of NE India, Myanmar and SE Bangladesh to reach the deep-sea port in Chittagong. The Highway has been theorized as generating regional connectivity through an increase in trade that will bring the peripheral regions (Bangladesh, Myanmar and NE Indian provinces) into greater co-operation with the two Asian giants, India and China. Yet, the Highway is also a metaphor for new modes of communication, social identities, and dislocations in the populations living in these areas. Thus it can be argued that the Highway will not necessarily lead to a disciplining of resistance, but instead, it may collapse existing separatist movements into alliances against the Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi states for regional autonomy. While the current discourse in Bangladesh is anti-India given its long history of economic and cultural domination by Big Brother India, the Chinese presence in NE India and Bangladesh has been less theorized. Today China is the largest business partner with Bangladesh investing heavily in infrastructure, communications and the garment industry. We anticipate that the Chinese presence and its regional interests will produce antagonisms, solidarities, and social meanings, and bring the Indian and Chinese states into a conflict over regional domination and access to markets.

7. Fragile Cargo: Chinese Glass Paintings in Bangkok
Jessica L. Patterson, University of San Diego, USA

"Glass paintings" were a type of commodity produced in Chinese ports, particularly Canton (Guangzhou), and exported through maritime trade during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Artists applied paint directly to the reverse side of a pane of glass to create a picture, which was then usually framed in the European manner. Relying on subjects and styles that were calculated to appeal to foreign consumers, glass paintings bore little resemblance to the scroll paintings that are usually taken as representative of Chinese art. For several reasons, including their inherent fragility and their humble status as a form of art associated with popular rather than elite tastes, relatively few examples have survived to the present in museum collections. Little known is the fact that in nineteenth-century Siam there was a vogue for importing and displaying Chinese glass paintings in the palaces and temples of the capital, and several sets remain on display in the Thai Buddhist temples of Bangkok. These paintings provide valuable material evidence of the Sino-Thai trade, as well as hinting at the distinctive tastes of the Thai consumer. In some cases, the images from the glass paintings served as a direct inspiration for large-scale mural paintings that were adapted to the temple walls, establishing a conduit between Chinese folk traditions and the Buddhist art patronized by the Thai aristocracy.

8. Indian Trade Networks in Post-Colonial Singapore
Jayati Bhattacharya, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Migration forms a crucial part of Singapore’s past as well as the present, like most of the Southeast Asian region, and transnational networks and diasporic communities have been of critical interest to policy makers and researchers alike. For both the Chinese and the Indian communities, Singapore has been a veritable ‘contact zone’ for further outreach in Southeast Asian region and beyond. Ethnic Indians, though always a minority in the demographic status in Singapore, have played a significant role in influencing the city-state’s social architecture, trade networks and inter-ethnic spaces. This paper sets to examine the changing paradigms of Indian trade networks in Singapore since post-colonial times to the present and its reflections on the ‘lived-spaces’ in Singapore. Post-colonial Singapore bore the legacy of traditional trade networks and trading communities those that had well-coordinated business operations and links within the colonial hegemony of the British. Changes in the post-colonial era brought about disruptions in the traditional Indian networks based on clan, caste, sect, region or linguistics. The gradual rise of India as a global economic power, emergence of ‘knowledge economy’, ‘global capitalism’, new trends of entrepreneurship and gradual shift of the economic power to the East brought about further changes in transnational networks and mobilization of human resources. The changing trajectory in the current millennium synthesized in new paradigms in intra and inter-ethnic relations in Singapore, which the research attempts to bring about through the case of Indian transnational mobilities in the city-state.