The Cold War in Asia: The Cultural Dimension
Date: 24-25 March 2008
Venue: Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
If much has been written over the last two decades on the cultural dimensions of the Cold War and how they impacted upon politics and diplomacy in the West, surprisingly little work has been done on the Asian side of the equation. Little attention has been paid to how Asian actors in the Cold War adhered to certain Cold War doctrines or ideologies, how they perceived each other, how their cultural perceptions predisposed them towards certain policies, or to the political engagement between states and social forces on the cultural front. Here “culture” involves not only actors’ ideologies and worldviews but also their perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs. Similarly, cultural resources involve not only formal discourses but also popular symbols and images. The missing “cultural perspective” on the Cold War in Asia is crucial to a better understanding of international history as well as of the states that produced these concepts, discourses, symbols and images and the societies that accepted them. It would be a mistake to overlook the importance and durability of these perceptions and their manifestations, as many of them are still with us today.
This conference seeks to fill this “cultural perspective” gap in Asian Cold War studies and will focus on the following possible sets of questions:
1) During the Cold War, how did Asian leaders depict or imagine themselves, their friends and their enemies? What were the cultural sources of these perceptions and to what extent did these perceptions shape their policies of alliance or non-alliance?
2) How were cultural tools and resources – basic concepts, symbols, discourses, literature, arts, school textbooks, and propaganda -- deployed by state elites to shape popular perceptions in respect of the Cold War? Who were the cultural soldiers on the two sides and what was their cultural ammunition? What were the rules of the game? What were the contentious cultural issues?
3) How were central Cold War themes such as “freedom,” “democracy,” “justice,” “development,” “modernity,” “socialist solidarity,” “imperialism,” “anti-imperialism,” “communism,” “anti-communism,” and “proletarian internationalism” justified culturally in different contexts (i.e. supported by resources that were culturally specific to each country)? More broadly, how were anticommunist ideologies, American popular culture, Soviet high modernism, and Maoist revolutionary worldviews developed or cultivated in countries that “leaned to one side”?
4) For former colonies, what role did themes such as “decolonization,” “anti-colonialism,” “national liberation,” and “national self-reliance” play in official and popular discourses? How did these cultural forces affect the politics and foreign policies of these countries during the Cold War? Similar questions may be asked in respect of the concept of “national security” in countries where the military was active in politics (e.g. South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia). What was the relationship between religious and Cold War themes, if any, in countries with a powerful organized religious hierarchy (e.g. Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and South Vietnam)? How did Cold War international politics impact inter-ethnic relations in countries with ethnic and racial tensions (e.g. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and Burma)?
5) While the state was often the dominant player in domestic contexts, the role of social actors should not be overlooked. How did these actors respond to state projects aimed at diffusing Cold War values? Did they collaborate or resist? How? Who collaborated and who resisted? What cultural and organizational resources were employed by them? How did state agents react? What were the outcomes?
6) What are the legacies of Cold War cultures, cultural projects, or cultural engagement between states and social forces? How do these legacies still shape attitudes, foreign policies and politics today?
The conference will be structured thematically, such as anti-communist cultures (South Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, and perhaps Thailand), Stalinist cultures (China, North Vietnam, North Korea, perhaps Indonesia in the early 1960s), national security cultures (Taiwan, Thailand, Burma and Indonesia under Suharto), state-society cultural and political engagement, the roles of religion and ethnicity in the Cold War, Cold War cultural legacies, etc. It is anticipated that selected papers from this conference will be edited into a volume that broadly informs about the role of cultural factors in foreign policy not only during the Cold War but also in the contemporary era.
Those interested in participating should submit a 300-word abstract and 100-word autobiographical note by 31 October 2007 to Ms Valerie Yeo at the Secretariat address noted below. Authors of accepted papers will be informed in early November. Funding will be available to accepted paper presenters from the Southeast Asian region and China, while some subsidies will be provided to those based in developed countries.
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore:
Tuong Vu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wasana Wongsurawat (email@example.com)
Ms Valerie Yeo
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
469A Tower Block, #10-01, Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259770
Tel: (65) 6516 5279
Fax: (65) 6779 1428
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