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Article

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

By exclusively focusing on the agency of the Dutch, colonial historiography ignored the pivotal role of indigenous middle classes in sustaining the colonial regime. Conventional nationalist historiography, on the other hand, presumes a linear development from urbanization, the rise of the indigenous middle classes, education, and the spread of modernity toward nationalism and revolution as the logical outcome of this process. This article aims to disconnect modernity from nationalism by focusing on the role of cultural citizens in the late-colonial period in the Netherlands Indies, for whom modernity was in the very first place a desirable lifestyle. The extent to which their desires, capitalist strategies, and the interests of the colonial state coincided is illustrated by a variety of advertisements and school posters, which invited members of the indigenous urban middle classes to become cultural citizens of the colony. The image of the cultural citizen was framed within the confinement of the nuclear family, which had a conservative impact on gender relationships.

Article

Hermann Kreutzmann

The Pamirs have been a contested space in different periods of time. Access to fertile pastures characterized the local economic competition between nomads and mountain farmers. International attention reached its peak when the Pamirs became a pawn in the “Great Game”; during the second half of the 19th century, Great Britain and Russia disputed control over the mountainous area. Local and regional interests took on a subordinate role. The imperial contest resulted in dividing the Pamirs among four interested parties that are nowadays independent countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and China. Since the division, separate developments have emerged in all parts that are abodes of farmers and pastoralists who share a common heritage but have experienced quite different political and social developments. Thus the Pamirs represent a focal region of similar ecological properties in which political and socioeconomic developments that originated in the 19th century have changed development paths through the Cold War period until the early 21st century. From Tsarist Russia to post-independence Tajikistan, from the Afghan monarchy to the post-Taliban republic, from British India to Pakistan, and from the Middle Kingdom to contemporary China, political interventions such as nationality policies and regional autonomy, sociotechnical experiments such as collectivization and subsequent deregulation, and varying administrative systems provide insight into external domination that has shaped separate developments in the Pamirs. In the early 21st century, the Pamirs experienced a revaluation as a transit corridor for transcontinental traffic arteries.

Article

Thibaut d'Hubert

The literary history of Bengal is characterized by a multilingual ecology that nurtured the development of Middle Bengali literature. It is around the turn of the second millennium, during the Pāla period (c. 8th–12th century), that eastern South Asia became a major region for the production of literary texts in Sanskrit and Apabhramsha. Early on, Bengal developed a distinct literary identity within the Sanskrit tradition and, despite abrupt political transitions and the fragmentation of the landscape of literary patronage, fundamental aspects of the literary culture of Pāla Bengal were transmitted during later periods. It was during the Sultanate period, from the 14th century onward that courtly milieus began to cultivate Middle Bengali. This patronage was mostly provided by upper-caste Hindu dignitaries and (in the case of lyric poetry at least) by the Sultans themselves. During the period ranging from the 15th to the early 19th centuries, vernacular literature can be divided into two broad categories: short narrative forms called padas or gītas (songs), which were often composed in an idiom derived from songs by the Old Maithili poet Vidyāpati (c. 1370–1460); and long narrative forms in Middle Bengali called pā̃cālīs, which are characterized by the alternation of the prosodic forms called paẏār and tripadī and the occasional insertion of songs. These poetic forms are the principal markers of the literary identity of Bengal and eastern South Asia (including Assam, Orissa, and Arakan). The Ḥusayn Shāhī period (1433–1486) contributed to the consolidation and expansion eastward of vernacular literary practices. Then, the political landscape became fragmented, and the multiplication of centers of literary production occurred. This fragmentation fostered the formation of new, locally grounded literary trends. These could involve the cultivation of specific genres, the propounding of various religious doctrines and ritual practices, the fashioning of new idioms fostered by either dialectal resources, classical idioms such as Sanskrit or Persian, and other vernacular poetic traditions (Maithili, Avadhi, Hindustani). The late Mughal and early colonial periods witnessed the making of new trends, characterized by a radical modification of the lexical component of the Middle Bengali idiom (i.e., Dobhāṣī), or the recourse to scripts other than Bengali (e.g., Sylhet Nagari/Kaithi, Arabic). The making of such new trends often implied changes in the way that authors interacted with Sanskrit, Persian, and other vernacular traditions. For instance, Persian played as crucial a role as Sanskrit in the various trajectories that Middle Bengali poetry took. On the one hand, Persian in Bengal had a history distinct from that of Bengali; on the other hand, it constituted a major traditional model for Bengali authors and, at times, Persianate education replaced the one based on Sanskrit as the default way to access literacy. Even if Middle Bengali poetic forms continued to be used in the context of various traditional performances, the making of a new literary language in the 19th century, the adoption of Western genres, and the development of prose and Western prosodic forms occasioned a radical break with premodern literary practices. From the second half of the 19th century, with the notable exception of some ritual and sectarian texts, access to the ancient literature of Bengal began to be mediated by philological analysis and textual criticism.

Article

Since the world in its entirety cannot be grasped through direct experience, world maps are mental constructs that serve as a radiography of a given culture’s attitudes towards its environment. Early modern Japan offers an intriguing study case for the assimilation of a variety of world map typologies in terms of pre-existing traditions of thought. Rather than topography, these maps stress topological connections between “myriad countries” and therefore embody the various mental maps of cultural agents in Japan. The maps’ materiality and embeddedness in social networks reveal connections to other areas of visual and intellectual culture of the period.

Article

An expeditionary force soldier. A jungle war survivor. A patriot who traded opportunities in the United States for a tedious journey home to the newly founded People’s Republic of China. A “counterrevolutionary.” A forced laborer who spent the last third of his life translating English and Russian literature.—A poet. Careful study of Mu Dan’s (1918–1977) poetry enables us to explore a string of moments in modern China’s transformation. Twenty-two poems by Mu Dan have been selected as a history of China from the climax of the New Culture Movement (1919) through the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1976). Fusing linguistic audacity, philosophical acumen, and historical vision, they weave a thread of themes illuminating the tortured path of a nation and an individual. Further, they span a spectrum of sentiments ranging from those of ordinary people to those of extraordinary intellectuals. To reveal the turning points in modern China’s history, the twenty-two poems have been contextualized along two axes. A vertical axis, the thread of themes, consists of eleven motifs developed and revisited by Mu Dan from 1940 through 1976; they are: Youth, War, Disillusion, Maturity, Sacrifice, Exposure, Enlightenment, Conversion, Awakening, Anguish, and Reflection. A horizontal axis, the spectrum of sentiments, exhibits Mu Dan’s contradictory attitudes toward modern China’s transformation by identifying him with his countrymen or distancing him from them as a free spirit and cultural critic. This conceptual framework assists in examining the interaction between history and literature. It demonstrates how modern China’s history informs, provokes, and shapes a poet whose life span coincides with it and, at the same time, how poetry can be and is being read as history itself. This reading allows more than new access to the historical events that mold a poet and his poetry. Reading poetry as history uncovers lost sentiments, struggles, observations, and critiques that advance our understanding of modern China.

Article

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

Robert Nichols

With an estimated thirty million or more in Pakistan, twelve million in Afghanistan, and perhaps a million or more in a global diaspora, Pashtuns or Pukhtuns comprise a complex ethno-linguistic population with a rich cultural tradition and literature, varied political and economic contexts, and diverse national and Islamic identities. Historic and literary references to communities that have been thought to identify “Afghans” date to the 10th century and, according to the source and scholar consulted, many centuries earlier. The assumption of any uniquely “Pashtun” identity as equivalent to the diverse “Afghan” cultural, religious, and ethnic identities that evolved over centuries has obfuscated a full understanding of the emergence of distinct regional Pashtun ethno-linguistic communities and the origins of frequently studied cultural idioms. Millions of Pashtuns have lived in close and daily contact with many other ethnic groups (Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Baluch, Punjabis, etc.), and color-coded maps of ethnic homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan are best seen as guides to often complex social geographies rather than absolute markers of ethnically pure settlement areas. For perhaps a thousand years, Pashtuns and regional forefathers have circulated within imperial and merchant networks connected by Silk Road pathways, Persian and north Indian trade routes, and Indian Ocean sea lanes. Pashtuns sought livelihoods as horse traders, military entrepreneurs, agrarian pioneers, and regional rulers in the northern, eastern, and Deccan regions of India. An Afghan state with variable territorial claims consolidated after 1747. Leading Pashtun clans from around Kandahar and the eastern districts took positions in the dynasties that soon ruled from Kabul and core provinces. Pashtuns between the Oxus and Indus rivers adapted to, avoided, and served 18th- and 19th-century Russian and British imperial economic and political forces. In the high European “new imperialism” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Afghan territories were framed by treaty-negotiated boundaries. Never colonized, Afghanistan became economically dependent on British–India subsidies and linkages. Into the mid-20th century, Afghanistan’s Pashtun political dynasties and Islamic and political activists on both sides of the British-Indian Durand Line offered leadership and alternative visions of the future to anticolonial and Muslim nationalists, including those in British India. In recent decades, core Pashtun homelands and diasporic communities have fully experienced the disruptions and violence that followed the partition of British India in 1947, postcolonial “national” consolidation, conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Cold War alliances and conflict, the rise and fall of the Taliban, and civil war. Like others, Pashtun lives were shaped by the transnational dynamics of economic globalization, urbanization, migration, and the international crises that traumatized the world after September 11, 2001.

Article

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.

Article

David Lelyveld

The lifetime of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (“Sir Syed”) (1817–1898) spans profound transformations introduced to India and the wider world by the twin forces industrial capitalism and British imperialism. Sayyid Ahmad’s intellectual responses to a changing world and his leadership in the establishment of educational institutions, voluntary associations, and a broad public sphere all played a significant role in defining what it means to be Muslim, especially in India and what would become Pakistan but also in wider cosmopolitan and global networks. The development, compromises, and contradictions of Sayyid Ahmad’s ideas and projects over time track the challenges he faced. If these efforts pointed the way to some sort of modernity, it was rooted in the Indo-Persian and Islamic formation of his early years and developed by selectively adopting bits and pieces of European ideologies, technologies, practices, and organizational arrangements. He has been claimed or condemned by advocates and opponents of a wide range of ideological and political tendencies under circumstances that he would barely have recognized in his own time: nationalism, democracy, women’s equality, and religious and literary modernism. At different points in his career one may find mysticism, scriptural literalism, and daring rationalism with respect to religious texts; charters for Muslim “separatism” and calls for Hindu-Muslim unity; demands for autonomy and political representation and opposition to it; bold critiques of British rulers; and proclamations of “loyalty” to the colonial state. A major figure in the advancement of the Urdu language, he later argued for the superiority of English, of which he himself had little, for the purposes of education and administration. Most of all, he helped establish an intellectual and institutional framework for contemporaries and future generations to debate and pursue collective goals based on religion, language, social status, or class interest.

Article

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

The Chinese media has been discussed either as a challenge to the authoritarian regime or as an instrument to consolidate state power in the recent debates concerning the impact of the Internet and the expansion of social media on China’s authoritarian rule. Both views have adopted the framework that was developed out of the liberal model of media in the West. In the liberal model, the news media should go through full-flown commercialization to achieve autonomy and independence from the state. The independence of the news media from the state is the precondition for the news media’s role as watchdog of the state and check on the government. However, the liberal model does not fit the actual historical experiences of the news media in China. Throughout the 20th century, state control of the media expanded in the context of state-building, war, and revolution. The Chinese media did not go through full-flown commercialization to the extent that the media would achieve complete independence from the state. Rather, in the context of state expansion, the media and the state became interdependent rather than antagonistic. In the state-dominated environment, the media did not necessarily seek independence from the state. Nevertheless, even without independence, the media can still play a significant political role within the limits and boundaries set by the state. This has important implications for understanding the resilience of the contemporary Chinese government.

Article

Craig Benjamin

The Inner Eurasian nomadic confederation known in ancient Chinese sources as the Yuezhi were probably descended from Indo-European-speaking pastoral nomads who migrated eastward away from the original homeland of all Indo-European-speakers sometime during the Bronze Ages. The ancestors of the Yuezhi may have been members of the Afanasevo culture who eventually settled in the modern Chinese provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu, and spoke the Indo-European language branch of Tocharian. The ruling dynasty (the core Yuezhi) established a wealthy semi-sedentary pastoralist confederation, based on the export of jade and horses to Zhou dynasty China, and became powerful enough to treat their militarized nomadic neighbors the Wusun and Xiongnu with “contempt.” This remained the situation until the 2nd century bce, when, according to Han dynasty annals, the resurgent Xiongnu were able to defeat the Yuezhi and force them to migrate away from their homeland. Following a thirty-year migration, the Yuezhi resettled in northern Bactria and by a century or so later they had reinvented themselves as the embryonic Kushan empire. These events were bound up with broader cultural and political developments in ancient Inner Eurasia that demonstrate the particular interconnectedness of historical processes in that region. The Yuezhi were well known to a range of contiguous peoples (generally by variants of the appellation “Tocharian”) and the events in which they found themselves involved, particularly during the 2nd century bce, were to have a profound effect on the subsequent political, military, and cultural development of much of Inner Eurasia. In particular, the “domino-effect” of their migration led to significant changes in the broader Eurasian polity, affecting the Han Chinese, Xiongnu, Wusun, Saka, Sogdians, and Bactrian Greeks. Because of these consequences, and their role in establishing the Kushan Empire, the great facilitators of Silk Roads trade and exchange, the Yuezhi must be regarded as one of the most significant of all Inner Eurasian pastoral nomadic confederations.