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Religion and Environment in Bhutan  

Elizabeth Allison

Religion and the environment have been entangled for millennia in Bhutan. When Buddhism was introduced from Tibet in the 7th and 8th centuries, it incorporated existing animistic and shamanistic understandings of the landscape, developing a unique spiritual ecology built on long coevolution with the landscape. The notable disseminators of Buddhism in Bhutan—Songsten Gampo, Guru Rinpoche, Terton Pema Linga, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and others—sanctified specific sites on the landscape with their Buddhist teachings. The cultural forms introduced by the Shabdrung in the 17th century have been nurtured into the 21st century, providing a strong sense of cultural identity and historical continuity. Building on cultural and religious traditions, Bhutan’s leaders shaped a contemporary nation fed by a wellspring of ancient wisdom, connecting environmental policy and practice to Buddhist roots, in the context of rapid modernization and change. The guiding development model Gross National Happiness emphasizes the interdependence of economy, ecology, culture, and governance. Forest and conservation policies draw on Buddhist values for their relevance, as do waste and reuse practices. Bhutan’s 2008 constitution codifies the obligations of all Bhutanese to maintain culture, ecology, and religion. A long cultural and religious history interwoven with the landscape has created a uniquely Bhutanese Buddhist form of traditional ecological knowledge that contributes to ongoing cultural continuity and ecological resilience.

Article

The Aesthetics of Decolonization in South Asia  

Sanjukta Sunderason

Often subsumed within narratives of political “transfer of power” from colonial empires to postcolonial nation-states, decolonization was a longue durée sociocultural process that traversed the long 20th century. Its trails were global and intertwined with parallel metapolitical processes like the Cold War, and it cast long shadows that revealed the afterlives of political decolonization beyond the events that marked the arrivals of independence. South Asia is a particularly fertile ground for studying such expanded temporalities, sociocultural structures, and shadows of decolonization. While the late 1940s saw the retreat of the British Empire from India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka after 1972), as well as the climactic partition of India and creation of Pakistan, decolonization itself remained an unfolding process. It manifested in continuing struggles around cultural sovereignty and the liberation war of 1971 that birthed Bangladesh from the former East Pakistan, and continued in unresolved ethnic conflicts and regional struggles for autonomy and social democracy. The cultural field offers a unique lens for reading the more quotidian and less spectacular sites where such longue durée trails of decolonization were experienced, negotiated, and imagined via artistic forms. Aesthetics of decolonization can be read as the sensorial, imaginational, and ethical negotiations of postcolonial freedom, as well as the micropolitical and contradictory dynamics that lay therein. It can loosen the metaframe of the nation-state and the nation-form to reveal both locational and subnational differences, as well as the multiple ways in which the global itself was filtered, invoked, or negotiated from below. Aesthetics of decolonization, in other words, is the imagination of a new historiographical modality for thinking through how freedom was visualized in the postcolonies, how such visions produced new cultural modernities unique to such transitional polities, and how such modernities can be read in their transnational trails in the long 20th century.

Article

History of Shanghai  

Lena Scheen

Over the past millennium, Shanghai transformed from a relatively insignificant market town and county capital into a major global metropolis. A combination of technical advances in agriculture, waterway management, and the natural changes in the course of some rivers and the silting of others led, in 1292, to the founding of the county capital Shanghai. The town went through alternate periods of growth and stagnation, but by the mid-19th century, it was an international trading hub with a population of a quarter of a million people. One of the turning points in its history came in 1842, the year that the Treaty of Nanking was signed by the Qing Empire and the United Kingdom and the Treaty Port of Shanghai opened up. Over the following century, Shanghai was divided into three main sections, each operating under its own laws and regulations: the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the Chinese city. In the 1930s, the fate of the city fell into the hands of yet another foreign power: Japan. After Japan’s surrender on 15 August 1945, Chinese nationalists and communists continued their struggle for control of the city for another four years until the People’s Liberation Army “liberated” Shanghai on 25 May 1949.

Article

Language Reform in 19th-Century Kerala  

Ellen Ambrosone

Refashioning of the regional languages of South India occurred from the end of the 18th century throughout the 19th century and culminated, though was not subsumed, in movements of linguistic nationalism in the middle of the 20th century. The premodern literary landscape of the Malabar coast was linguistically diverse, demonstrating influence from neighboring languages, languages associated with different religious traditions, and the languages of visitors who came for trade. India’s encounter with Europe and with colonialism reshaped ideas about caste, religion, tradition, and particularly language. As European missionaries began to arrive in Kerala, they deployed print technology to produce religious tracts, grammars, and pedagogical materials that facilitated their proselytizing and civilizing interests. The British also conducted in-depth philological studies of Indian languages as a way of learning about the population and justifying colonial rule. As agents of change, Malayalis participated in the interconnected processes of language reform, which was devoted to restyling the language to suit modern tastes. Such reform included creating new print genres in an accessible Malayalam prose, establishing printing presses, revising curricula, and creating textbooks. The discourse on the modernization of Malayalam developed around questions about the history of the language, its literary landscape, and the role of the language as a medium of instruction in schools. Having looked to Tamil and Sanskrit in the past as models for grammatical and literary production, Malayalis who were engaged in language reform in the 19th century also began to look to English as a model for literary and pedagogical innovation. Though knowledge of English became important at this time, Malayalis also argued for the importance of learning Malayalam before any other language. Such arguments tempered the zeal for other languages, fostered the spread of education, and encouraged affective attachment to the language, thereby establishing the roots of protonationalism by the turn of the century.

Article

Muslim Literary Culture in Late Colonial India  

Neilesh Bose

Muslim literary production in the late colonial period of South Asia’s modern history converged with a number of layers of South Asian Muslim cultural, political, and social histories. The “late colonial” period is conventionally understood to begin in the era of British rule in India when imperial power became questioned, threatened, or challenged in various ways through mass movements, such as the Swadeshi movement of 1905–1908, the Khilafat Noncooperation movement of 1919–1921, or various political organizations and gatherings that challenged the foundations of British colonial rule in the subcontinent. The late colonial lasted until the end of the British Empire in 1947 and the creation of India and Pakistan. Decolonization as a political process did not simply start on August 14–15, 1947, but rather entailed a range of negotiations and wars (such as in Kashmir and Hyderabad) in the immediate postcolonial era as well as a process by which new constitutional states were born in India in 1950 and in Pakistan in 1956. Furthermore, the state of Pakistan transformed into two states in 1971, with what had been West Pakistan becoming Pakistan and what had been East Pakistan turning into Bangladesh after an intense civil war throughout 1971. Highlights of Muslim literary production in this time period and across the expanse of India figure in this survey of individuals active in late colonial India, such as Muhammad Iqbal and Kazi Nazrul Islam, as well as important institutions central to the creation of Muslim literary production, such as the Progressive Writers Association. Literary production featured not only widely read literary texts of enduring quality but also of social institutions as well as political speeches or articles, important reference points generated by Muslim writers in this time period. What was at stake in all writings by Muslims was an engagement with the Muslim qaum (community). Not only visible in the politics of the All-India Muslim League, concern for the qaum was seen in newspapers, speeches, books, pamphlets, and reportage of the Khilafat and Noncoperation movements.

Article

Manchu Language  

Mårten Söderblom Saarela

The Manchu language was the language of state in the Qing empire, which ruled China and large parts of Inner Asia from 1644 to 1911. For much of its history, it was used by communities in which Chinese was also spoken and written, but Manchu is a Tungusic language that is unrelated to Chinese. Its implementation in China and maintenance as the administrative language of core elements of the Qing imperial bureaucracy prompted the development of a Manchu education system and a tradition of bilingual Manchu-Chinese language pedagogy. Long before upwardly mobile individuals in China from the late 19th century onward committed to the study of the languages of the industrialized West and Japan, numerous Chinese-speaking servants of the Qing throne applied themselves to the study of Manchu. Over time, not only a voluminous government archive accrued in Manchu but also a literature in several genres that consisted largely of translations from Chinese. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Manchu ceased to be a vernacular language in many areas where it had been previously spoken. It remained in use longest on parts of the imperial periphery, even beyond the fall of the Qing empire itself. Both as an administrative language and as a vernacular, Manchu survived into the tumultuous new century. Over time, however, it was supplanted by Chinese in most places. Yet dialects of Manchu remain spoken by small communities as of the early 21st century.

Article

Museums and Exhibitionary Culture in Twentieth-Century China  

Denise Y. Ho

From the first establishment of a museum in 1905 to the early-21st-century drive to build local museums, Chinese elites and officials have recognized the role of exhibitions in shaping the modern nation. Across this long 20th century, China’s exhibitionary culture has reflected three themes: the deployment of antiquity and tradition to inculcate national consciousness, the creation of revolutionary narratives to model political participation, and the presentation of modernity to inspire a vision of national “wealth and power.” During the Republican period (1912–1949), the Nationalists protected the imperial collection and established revolutionary memorial halls, and elites built local museums while businessmen championed native goods in national product fairs. The Communist Party, which came to power in 1949, created a Museum of the Chinese Revolution while also developing a cultural bureaucracy to preserve cultural relics. During the Mao years (1949–1976), exhibitions were part of everyday life, from rural exhibits about agricultural production to propaganda displays that justified class struggle. Since China’s period of “reform and opening-up” in 1978, exhibitions have played a central role in cultural diplomacy while also serving national aims of domestic tourism and “patriotic education.” The enterprise of the Chinese museum has always had a dual aim: to make the modern nation and to serve the pedagogical state.

Article

Sufi Dynastic Families in Pre-Mughal India  

Sushmita Banerjee

In South Asia the proliferation of Muslim settlements between the 13th and the 15th centuries was accompanied by the expansion of sufi fraternities. Sufis were revered as venerable figures due to their status as the possessors of spiritual grace and intuitive knowledge. Many sufis cultivated a comportment that was endearing, avuncular, and charismatic. They also gained renown for their textual productions, some more than others. Conventional historiography classifies sufis according to their affiliation to sufi silsilahs (spiritual order): Chishti, Suhrawardi, Firdausi, Qadiri, and several others. The linear perception of a silsilah as a chain of transmission of authority from a sufi pīr (spiritual master) to his murīds (disciple) and k̲h̲alīfās (spiritual successor), and the fixed notions about precepts and praxis have conflated the heterogeneous spiritual paths of individual sufis. Most of the spiritual orders did not expand in a unilateral manner. The classification of sufi silsilahs by similitude and differences precludes the complex, multistranded evolution of sufi praxis. The perception of a homogeneous silsilah is premised on the textualization of the genealogy of sufis in the taz̠kirāt (biographical dictionary).The perception that a hegemonic spiritual order is based on a linear and exclusionary chain of transmission of authority as evident in the taz̠kirāt can be challenged by taking recourse to the discourses of individual Sufis in the malfūz̤āt (utterances). The malfūz̤āt represent the spiritual path of charismatic sufi preceptors who relied on select historical personages from an “omnipresent past” to define their praxis rather than on a linear history of sufi preceptors. By contextualizing sufi texts in their contexts, the negotiation and competition among the lineal and spiritual descendants can be traced. In the 14th century neo-eponymous sufis effortlessly transited from one sufi affiliation to another (Nizamiyya to Chishti, for instance), but in the 16th century sufi texts highlighted the simultaneous, multiple affiliations of sufis, thereby complicating the history of the sufi silsilahs.

Article

Bengali Literature of Arakan  

Thibaut d'Hubert

Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, Middle Bengali became a major idiom of literary expression in the kingdom of Arakan. It is within the domain of this coastal kingdom, which then comprised the region of Chittagong in today’s Bangladesh, that Muslim subjects of the Buddhist kings started using the courtly vernacular that was previously cultivated by Hindu dignitaries of the Ḥusayn Shāhī sultans of Bengal. By the mid-17th century, which constituted a moment of economic prosperity and maximum territorial expansion, all genres of Middle Bengali poetry were represented in the corpus of texts written by authors living in the urban and rural areas of the kingdom. The many treatises on Muslim beliefs and meditative practices, the hagiographic literature, and the courtly romances testify to the formation of a local Islamic cultural ethos. After the Mughal conquest of Chittagong in 1666, local literacy was still cultivating standards set by authors of the Arakanese period such as Saiẏad Sultān and Ālāol. In Arakan itself, Bengali Muslim literature continued to be produced and transmitted until at least the first half of the twentieth century. A large number of manuscripts was collected in the first decades of the twentieth century and these are preserved in various institutions in Bangladesh. The Bengali literature of Arakan is characterized by its Indic religious idiom and Sanskritized poetics, but also by its complex intertextuality that reflects the region’s connections with north India and the Persianate trading networks of the Bay of Bengal. Up to the 2000s, the Bengali literature of Arakan has mostly been discussed within the framework of the national literary history of Bangladesh, but subsequently scholars have relocated this corpus within the cultural domain of the Bay of Bengal and the Islamicate literary traditions of South and Southeast Asia.

Article

Print Culture and the Circulation of Knowledge in Imperial China, 8th–17th Centuries  

Lucille Chia

Print culture in imperial China spans over twelve hundred years, from the late 7th century ce to the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. During this long period, mechanical reproduction of texts and image meant primarily woodblock printing (xylography), and, to a lesser extent, typography, using movable types made of wood, metal, and ceramics. Xylography was first used for religious purposes, such as prayer sheets and scriptures, but by the late 8th century, nonreligious imprints for daily use were produced. Only in the mid-10th century, however, did the state and the literati elite begin to produce and disseminate many nonreligious works in print. Thus, the dramatic growth in the number and diversity of imprints produced by government, private, religious, and commercial publishers took off in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), due in great part to the state’s efforts to compile and publish many works. One may argue, however, that not until the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) would print culture be sufficiently widespread to be in ascendance, as evidenced by the great variety of works, the evolving page designs, and the changing attitudes of readers toward imprints. By the mid Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), printing had spread throughout the country into remote regions and throughout all levels of society. Changes in publishing culture from the 19th century onward were spurred by the adoption of new print technologies from the West, such as lithography and movable-type letterpress, which allowed for faster publication of far greater press runs, even as the traditional printing technologies continued to be used. Finally, it is important to note that a thriving manuscript culture continued to coexist with print until at least the late 19th century. The parting of the ways between print and manuscript became lasting only with the dominance of modern print technologies in the 20th century.