ASIAN EXPANSIONS: THE HISTORICAL PROCESSES OF POLITY EXPANSION IN ASIA
12-13 May 2006
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Many of the nation states of Asia are products of territorial expansion over time. Others, although smaller today than their largest historical scales, are also products or vestiges of territorial expansion. The expansions by which Asian polities grew, however, were diverse in nature, varied in mode and of differing lengths in process.
While historical expansion by European states and European empires has been a subject of intense research in recent decades, Asian expansions is a field which remains largely unstudied. The processes of decolonization and nation-building in Asia over the last half century have produced much nationalist history posited on a long-term “natural” historical genealogy of contemporary polities. The mechanisms by which Asian polities have developed and expanded over time have thus generally been understudied and, in some areas, entirely ignored. Yet it is crucial to an understanding of the modern world that the evolution of Asian polities be explored not only in terms of political systems (the Northeast Asian bureaucratic forms versus the Southeast Asian “charisma” mandalas, for example), but also in terms of expanding territories. In looking at the emergence of modern states, the autonomous Asian processes of bureaucratization and accretion need also to be compared to those of Europe. These are very major issues in terms of how the world we know has come to be, and how the problems which face many nations have come to be created.
How has “ China”, for example, grown from a few states along the Yellow River to where it today encompasses half of Asia?
Through what processes did the kingdom of Thailand come to govern an area which extends from the Southeast Asian highlands to the northern Malay states?
What factors enabled Vietnamese polities to gradually incorporate, over 500 years, differently-constituted Cham and Khmer polities?
How did the modern states of Japan and Korea emerge as comparatively homogenous entities?
Were the maritime expansions of southern Asia (Cholas, Srivijaya, Majapahit, and later Portuguese), of a completely different order from territorial/bureaucratic expansions further north? Were they necessarily unstable?
Were the long-term state consolidations to which Lieberman draws attention on the Southeast Asian Mainland comparable to processes in China and Japan, or of a different nature?
Were Northeast Asian technologies (e.g. printing and gunpowder), and these societies’ competitive examinations and literati, conditions for polity expansion?
What were the limits and strengths of the charismatic political mechanisms of the southern Asian kind, which lay behind the expansions of Srivijaya, Majapahit and Angkor? In which category does the succession of Thai states best fit?
What role did foreign rule (Mongol, Manchu, Mughul) play in impelling further expansion of established polities? Were Chinese merchant networks necessary to Thai and Viet southward expansion?
Were overseas expansions restricted by conditions similar to those which limited overland expansions?
Victor Lieberman has recently drawn attention to processes of expansion and integration which show “strange parallels” across Eurasia, yet the Asian end of the equation remains understudied. While scholars such as Lattimore, Di Cosmo, Elvin and Purdue have investigated frontiers and expansions of the polities of China and Central Asia, comparative studies of Asian expansions are still lacking.
This workshop is intended to open a space for such comparative studies. By examining the aims, modes, mechanisms and processes of polity expansion in Asia, some generic conclusions about the nature of such expansion may well be forthcoming. Was polity expansion always accompanied by military ventures? How important was bureaucratic support for expansion? What role did environment play as an inducer of or obstacle to expansion? Was incorporation of surrounding areas into an economic network centred in the expanding polity a frequent precursor to, or perhaps a common effect, of political expansion? Was cultural affiliation a useful or desirable condition for the absorption of surrounding polities or peoples? How much active acculturation of occupied peoples did expanding polities engage in? Was control over people or territory the key concern of the rulers of historical Asian polities? How have such concerns changed? It is hoped that papers will address both specific examples of polity expansion as well as address possible patterns which might be shared with (or differ from) other examples of Asian expansions.
The issues involved in such an exploration are, admittedly, enormous and a workshop of this scale can will certainly only be a preliminary step in beginning to address some of the connections and commonalities between the diverse historical processes. It is hoped, however, that by bringing attention to the need to study the history of polity expansion in Asia, new ways of understanding historical and contemporary Asia will emerge.
It is anticipated that 15 to 18 persons will be invited to participate in this two-day workshop, providing a range of specific and comparative papers extending over Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia and, perhaps, South Asia. We are also pleased to advise that Professor Victor Lieberman of the University of Michigan, one of the most prominent of comparative Eurasianists, has agreed to present a keynote paper at this workshop.
Call for Papers
Paper proposals including a 400-word abstract and a short biography of the proposer should be sent to Ms Valerie Yeo at the following e-mail address by 6 April 2005. Those selected to participate will be advised within two weeks of this date and will be required to submit completed papers by April 2006.
Accommodation will be provided in Singapore for all participants and some travel funding will be available to those in the Asian region and others unable to fund themselves. It is anticipated that the conference will lead to a path-breaking volume in this under-explored field.
For enquiries, please contact:
Geoff Wade (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Zheng Yangwen (email@example.com)
Bruce Lockhart (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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