The Geopolitics of Scholarship: Asian Studies in the United States and Asia in the Postwar Period

The Geopolitics of Scholarship

Author(s):  Toho Gakkai

ISBN:          0567-7254 (ISSN)

Publisher:  The Institute of Eastern Culture

Year:           2013

Price:          $40.00

Reviewed by Kai Chen, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Zhejiang University, China.

During the postwar period (especially the Cold War), Asian studies did exist within “the structural premise of U.S. Asia policy” (p.iv). How are Asian studies in a particular country or region marked by the characteristics of this period? In The Geopolitics of Scholarship: Asian Studies in the United States and Asia in the Postwar Period, No. 104 issue of Acta Asiatica, the contributors aim at rethinking postwar Asian studies from a geo-academic perspective, and draw several thought-provoking conclusions: first, “hegemonic consciousness” should be the most essential driving force behind the United States’ persistent efforts in Asian Studies, which goes beyond the concerns of strengthening national security and promoting interests of the academic circle; second, European suzerains did have a potential impact on the development of Asian studies during the postwar period; third, the emergence of a new Asianism, which was promoted by Asian scholars.

Concerning the “hegemonic consciousness” in the United States’ investments in Asian studies, HAN Tie examines the case of Ford Foundation’s China Program, and questions the fallacies on the primary intention of Ford Foundation. In HAN’s opinion, the intelligence agencies did not shape Ford Foundation’s China Program. In fact, the scholars were allowed to “set their research priorities in the field of Chinese studies” (p.2). It was worth noting that Ford Foundation provided large proportion of the funding for Chinese studies since 1950s, when either U.S. government authorities or universities did not play effective roles. In short, “hegemonic consciousness” would serve the long-term interests of the United States, which is essential to maintain “the world system under U.S. Leadership” (p.16).

Did the U.S. dominate Asian studies during the Cold War? In the opinion of HAMASHITA Takeshi, since many parts of Asia were European colonies historically, in some cases, U.S. influence overlapped with the influence of the European suzerains in Asia. With regards to the potential impact of colonization on Asian studies, there are several tenable examples. For instance, in the case of Indonesia, KOBAYASHI Yasuko highlights that Indonesian Islam studies were “not considered in connection with the wider Islamic world” until the late 1980s, because the Indonesian academic circle broke with the tradition of “colonial studies”, and lack of knowledge about the dynamics of Islam. In addition, Asian studies in Hong Kong were also affected by colonial experiences. For example, the name “New Asia College” was mainly due to “the inferior status of Chinese intellectuals in the British colony of Hong Kong”(p.92). Moreover, “New Asia College” still suffered a setback when the British colonial government established the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and finally became a member college of the CUHK.

However, some scholars consider that the U.S. still played an important role in the academic circles of some Asian countries. As KOIZUMI Junko analyzes, the post war studies on the Chinese in Thailand were initiated by G. William Skinner (American anthropologist), and his books are still “regarded as ‘classics’ in the field of overseas Chinese studies in Thailand as well as in Southeast Asia even today” (p.19).

Finally, the contributors explain the emergence of a new Asianism in Asian studies during the Cold War. On one hand, during the Cold War, Chinese studies in the United States were ever pushed to the margins, because of the highly politicized debates over Chinese studies and “lack of sufficient data”(p.8). As HAN notes, it was not a attractive task for American scholars to undertake “a serious study of Communist China” (p.9). On the other hand, some Asian scholars devoted themselves to enlarging the world’s understanding of China. In this point, LEE Pui Tak explores the case of Ch‘ien Mu and Ōta Kōzō, who are the founders of New Asia College in Hong Kong and Asia University in Japan. As LEE concludes, Ch‘ien and Ōta insisted that the new international order of Asia should be established by Asian countries themselves, “which could sideline Western countries such as the United States” (p.98). As a result, the Asia-based foundations (e.g. Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation) gradually became the major fund providers for Asian studies in the United States.

In short, The Geopolitics of Scholarship is not only a important reading for anyone who wants to know the past and present of Asian studies, but also a helpful collection of essays for acdemic and students who are interested in Asian studies.

Suggested citation:  

Kai Chen (2014). Review of The Geopolitics of Scholarship: Asian Studies in the United States and Asia in the Postwar Period, by Toho Gakkai, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol.7, no. 3, Internet file: