The Afterlife of the American War in Vietnam

by Mark Padoongpatt, author of the forthcoming Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America

As we celebrate Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month this year, we do so right as the United States is commemorating the 50th year anniversary of the “American War” in Vietnam. The war has had a profoundly deep, wide-ranging, and lasting impact on Asian/Pacific Islander America. It resulted in the death of millions of Vietnamese, Hmong, Laos, and Khmer people, including civilians, at the hands of U.S. soldiers and bombs. It generated displacement, trauma, political destabilization, and the migration of roughly 1.2 million Southeast Asians, many of them refugees, to the United States between 1975-2000 — a migration that (coupled with the 1965 Immigration Act) transformed the composition and demographics of Asian/Pacific Islander America and America as a whole.

The war, of course, is not a vestige of the past. As such it demands critical, relentless reflection if we want to understand the diversity and tensions among Asian/Pacific Islander Americans today as well as the workings of the postwar American empire. For one, the war extended beyond Vietnam and was a flashpoint (a bloody and violent one, no doubt) of a much longer period of U.S. Cold War intervention throughout Southeast Asia. The affects of U.S. empire and war also ran much deeper than combat, bombings, militarization, and state-sponsored dictatorships. America insinuated itself into the textures of everyday life via embassies, businesses, private organizations, educational programs, modernization projects, popular culture, tourism, and various other forms of cultural diplomacy, such as the Peace Corps, to win “hearts and minds” in pursuit of foreign policy objectives in the region. All of which shaped personal and group identities, relationships, worldviews, and cultural practices as people in Southeast Asia came to terms with American global power.

One way to understand the everyday life — and “afterlife” — of U.S. empire in Southeast Asia is through foodways. My book, Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America, traces how the informal postwar U.S. empire in Thailand turned Thai food into a central site of Thai American identity and community formation in Los Angeles. Though Thailand has the distinction of being the only Southeast Asian country to avoid formal Western colonization (a distinction Thais take immense pride in), after World War II, however, the United States, as a new global leader, maneuvered itself into the country more intrusively than ever before to combat the spread of communism, ushering in what Benedict Anderson has referred to as Thailand’s “American Era.” This neocolonial relationship established circuits of exchange between the two countries. It allowed thousands of U.S. citizens to go toThailand and “discover” the exciting new flavors and tastes of Thai food. Many, particularly white women, introduced Thai cuisine back in the United States by writing “Siamese” cookbooks and teaching cooking classes. When Thais arrived in Los Angeles, they reinvented and repackaged Thai food in various ways to meet America’s growing fascination with the cuisine. This led to Thais constructing their identities mainly through the perceived exoticness and sensuousness of Thai food.

The history of Thai food reveals that the American war in Vietnam was more than Vietnam, and that it lives on in mundane ways and unexpected places. Its legacy affects everything from the cuisines featured in restaurants and the identities of restaurateurs, cooks, and grocery store clerks to the contours of entrepreneurship and the look and feel of urban and suburban spaces. The experiences and stories that stem from it — though not reducible to a singular time, place, group, or narrative — stand as a reminder that, as Asian/Pacific Islander Americans, our relationship with America is rooted in and defined by dominance.


Mark Padoongpatt is Assistant Professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

His book Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai Americapublishing this September, explores the factors that made foodways central to the Thai American experience.


APA / Heritage / Month: A Problem in Three Parts

by Sharon Luk, author of the forthcoming The Life of Paper: Letters and a Poetics of Living Beyond Captivity

for Lawson Fusao Inada

1. APA (Asian Pacific American)

“Asian Americans” and “Pacific Islanders” are two different panethnic groups, each with their own history, development, and problems… for the most part, Pacific Islanders have fought to be excluded from the Asian American category.

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, Jazz — each its own variety, grouped into what we commonly call “apples” for a certain kind of efficacy.

Navel, Valencia, Blood (can Tangerines fit here?) — each its own variety, grouped into what we commonly call “oranges” for perhaps comparable purposes of reference.

If someone invited me to celebrate Apples Oranges Month, I imagine my first response might be, “Do you mean Apples and Oranges?”

In this crude analogy to Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (do you mean Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month?) I don’t assume that the “someone” who invited me to their celebration would hear my question. In many settings, they almost never feel a responsibility to answer or seek clarity.

What exactly is it, then, that we are being asked to celebrate?

2. APA Heritage

…the old poem
birthing itself
into the new
and murderous century.

Li-Young Lee

My heart goes out to the students in my Introduction to Asian American Studies class (and in this present discussion now, I’m excluding Pacific Islanders to honor their distinction). I told them this course could not in any way approach the depth and breadth of all the people who have, at one time or another, been included in the racial category “Asian/- American.” I told them it could not represent any, let alone all, particular ethnicities ortheir experiences. I told them it certainly could not reveal to anyone “who they are.” In this context, then: What is it that we are supposed to be learning?

I ask students to study the processes involved in creating an Asian/-American racial distinction. We examine specific instances in post-1865 U.S. history to question how this distinction has mediated developments in racial capitalism. The construction of nation-states. Empires. War. Survival. More war… I don’t know how to make any of this easy to digest (and now, a corollary issue — can this really be the goal?). The deeper we get into the twentieth century, the more confused students become. Their faces look at me as if to ask, so are Asian Americans good or bad?

Despite the profound constraints on their universe of reference, I think students’ confusions about the contradictions of “Asian American” distinction may still get at the crux of the dilemma the latter heritage presents. That is, what “truths” are to be found in such cycles of suffering?

3. APA Heritage Month

every word of every image is a step towards the end this
urgency dictates that the sentence as we know it no longer
an option grammar is obsolete stories once told in detailed
chapters have been reduced to a noun a verb the father dies the
lover leaves in search of his own ending perhaps now the
writing can finally begin

Truong Tran

What is a month supposed to measure? What story does this measurement tell? In whose words does that story come? What end do those words bring (or, try in vain to defer)?

Let’s assume that Asian American heritage cannot fit into those limits — nor Pacific Islander, nor any people’s heritage, for that matter. Then, the problem of heritage remains beyond what is celebrated in a month and its killing, the problem’s most urgent expressions coming in forms that at once accept their mortality and open out to the living.


Sharon Luk is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of Oregon.

Her forthcoming book The Life of Paper explores the evolution of racism and confinement in California history. Publishing this November, the book offers a wholly original and inspiring analysis of how people facing systematic social dismantling have engaged in letter correspondence to remake themselves.


America’s Past Through the Lens of Asian and Pacific Islander History

This month is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A broad term, Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. As author of American History Unbound Gary Y. Okihiro points out in the following excerpt from his introduction to the book, the term itself is elastic, and when first used, referred principally to Chinese and Japanese.

He also writes that the standard narrative of Asian American history begins with Asians immigrating to California in search of new opportunities. Indeed, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is observed in May to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants who arrived in the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad—the majority of workers being Chinese immigrants—on May 10, 1869.

In American History Unbound, Okihiro offers a rewrite of that standard narrative:

The term Asian American was invented in the late 1960s, for the purposes of political solidarity and mobilization. Asians living in America determined that a shared history of Orientalism and oppression united them and that by organizing as a group named by Europeans, they could counter white supremacy more effectively. Following the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, the literary critic Gayatri Spivak has named that argument strategic essentialism, or a temporary strategy pursued in a war of positions. Readers should think of categories such as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as temporary contrivances in the struggle against oppression—as contextual, relational, and impermanent.

Asian American is an elastic term. When first used, it referred principally, if not exclusively, to Chinese and Japanese. Some of the founding figures in the emerging field of Asian American studies insisted that it applied only to those born in the United States and not to the migrant generation born in Asia. Gradually, through the initiatives of the neglected ethnicities, it grew to embrace Koreans, Filipinos, and other Southeast Asians, along with South Asians and, most recently, West Asians, such as those from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey…

…The standard narrative of Asian American history begins with Asians, mainly Chinese, immigrating to California to escape poverty and political repression and in search of new opportunities, not unlike Europeans in the transatlantic circuit of uprooting and transplantation. Writing against this version of Asian American history, I maintain that Asians did not go to America; Americans went to Asia. I thus situate this telling within the expansion of European imperialism. The presence of Asians in America and Pacific Islanders within the U.S. orbit is a consequence of that expansion. Further, Pacific Islanders and Asians did not migrate for the same reasons as many Europeans, who were pushed by necessity and pulled by opportunities. Rather, Europe and the United States recruited Pacific Islanders and Asians as migrant laborers in the global traffic of goods and labor. Pacific Islanders, additionally, lost their lands, waters, and sovereignty to the imperial order….

…American History Unbound emerges from but also rewrites the standard narratives of nation. Through their struggles for sovereignty and the full rights of citizenship and membership, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and indeed all peoples of color in the United States, despite their discursive and material “minority” status, have transformed, and revolutionized, the nation. In that sense, American history from the fringes of the national consciousness reveals and clarifies the nation’s past and promise of equality in their fullness and entirety.

A survey of U.S. history from its beginnings to the present, American History Unbound reveals our past through the lens of Asian American and Pacific Islander history. In so doing, it is a work of both history and anti-history, a narrative that fundamentally transforms and deepens our understanding of the United States.


Finding Women in the State

by Wang Zheng, author of Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1964

This is our final guest post published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Thank you for reading!

Hundreds and thousands of Chinese women from diverse backgrounds had joined the Communist Revolution between the early 1920s and late 1940s. Like many of their male comrades, many Communist women had died in battlefields or on execution grounds in their fight against the warlords, Japanese fascists, and Nationalist government. When the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war in 1949, there were five hundred and thirty thousands women members in the CCP who now became the state power holder. Except for a few books in English presenting portraits of Chinese Communist women who endured tremendous hardship in the vicissitudes of the revolutionary journey, these women who had been an important part of the epic of the Communist Revolution curiously vanished in scholarship examining the CCP’s leadership in building a socialist country.

Parallel to the absence of Communist women in scholarship in and outside China have been the dominant narratives of how the party-state did or did not liberate Chinese women. Accomplishments or failures in advancing women’s equal rights and social economic progress have been unfailingly attributed to a monolithic abstract entity – the party-state, a patriarch paradoxically adopting many pro-women policies in the socialist period. If feminist scholars in the English speaking world since the 1980s have shown logical coherence in criticizing the Chinese patriarchal state’s failure to fulfill its revolutionary promise of women’s liberation, scholars in post-socialist China have articulated many contradictory statements without historical research, from “Chinese women have been the most liberated in the world,” to “a crime of Maoist women’s liberation was to have masculinized Chinese women.”

Based on archival research and interviews of Communist women who were officials of the socialist state at various administrative levels, my book reveals the concealed and erased history of socialist state feminists’ endeavors to materialize their visions of socialist revolution. Continuing an anti-feudalist New Culture agenda, state feminists operated in diverse fields including the film industry to transform patriarchal cultural norms and promote gender equality laws, discourse, and practices. Their conscious combat against sexism in and outside the CCP constituted a contentious “gender line” of struggle within the power structure of the Party. Excavating a hidden feminist history in the Chinese socialist revolution, my book presents the first scholarly effort to investigate the high politics of the CCP and examines the demise of a socialist revolution from a gender perspective. I also raise critical questions of methodology in scholarship dealing with specific historical moments but without a historical approach.


Wang Zheng is Professor of Women’s Studies and History and Research Scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories and the coeditor of From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, Translating Feminisms in China,  and Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era.


Last Church Standing: Resisting Demolition in Ho Chi Minh City

by Erik Harms, author of Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in New Saigon

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

Since January of this year, Ho Chi Minh City residents and intellectuals have been increasingly rallying around the fate of the Thủ Thiêm Catholic Church and the neighboring convent of the Lovers of the Holy Cross. These architecturally and religiously significant structures currently face the prospect of demolition. The church, which still fills its pews with worshippers at its regular Sunday masses, and the convent, which is still home to an active congregation of nuns who have diligently maintained their historic buildings and grounds, both stand in the middle of a major urban redevelopment scheme called the Thủ Thiêm New Urban Zone. Surrounded by the rubble of mass eviction, the story of these religious structures provides a useful counterpoint to the story of more than 14,500 individual households who have been displaced by the project over the course of more than a decade.

 

Thủ Thiêm Catholic Church and Convent of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, viewed from Ho Chi Minh City’s District One. Once surrounded by dense neighborhoods, all of which have been demolished, the church is itself threatened by demolition. Photo by Erik Harms. June 2016.

 

In 2010 the pace of eviction and demolition picked up rapidly in Thủ Thiêm as many residential areas were reduced to rubble. Photo by Erik Harms. September 2010.

 

The story of the Thủ Thiêm New Urban Zone is detailed in the recent UC Press book, Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in the New Saigon. This new urban development, which is being built directly across the Saigon River from Ho Chi Minh City’s central commercial and shopping District, has been saddled with controversy. Throughout the project’s development, the biggest dispute surrounding its construction has swirled around the amount of compensation being offered to individual households who were asked to give up their homes and land to make way for the project. Luxury and Rubble details the ways in which the compensation process itself gradually drew residents into a largely monetized mode of negotiation with project authorities. This process, in turn, transformed how people in the area conceived of land and rights. Their negotiations over land-use rights framed their understanding of rights by focusing on “money and meters,” that is, how many square meters residents would be compensated for and how much money each square meter was deemed to be worth. In the process, evicted residents learned to fight for their right to receive just compensation based on market values. But in doing so, they also started to think of land primarily in terms of its monetary value, which in turn conflates the act of fighting for one’s rights with gaining the market-based value of land.

By contrast, the fight to preserve the Thủ Thiêm Catholic Church and the convent of the Lovers of the Holy Cross employs a very different idiom. Instead of focusing on the monetary value of the land, this fight is has been framed in terms of preserving the cultural and religious value of the structures. For example, in a post to its facebook page on January 12th, the Consulate General of Canada in Ho Chi Minh City posted the question: “Do you think it’s a good idea to demolish something that is even older than Canada?” In a follow-up post on January 25th, the consulate page noted: “Nearly 100% of comments made were in favour of integrating historic buildings such as the Thu Thiem Convent and Parish Church into new urban developments.”

The fact that the Thủ Thiêm church remains standing, while all the individual houses surrounding it have been demolished, makes it worth considering what strategies might be most successful in helping to resist eviction. In this case, resistance is most successful when it rejects the marketized idioms of land compensation and instead focuses on alternative idioms of justice that cannot be calculated in terms of money and meters.


Erik Harms is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Southeast Asia Studies at Yale University and the author of Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City.

Luxury and Rubble is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory

By Valerie Stoker, author of Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory: Vyasatirtha, Hindu Sectarianism, and the Sixteenth-Century Vijayanagara Court

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

The fall of 2016 was an interesting time to publish a book on the relationship between religion, identity, and politics. As we know, the United States elected a president in November who ran on an openly Islamophobic platform and who, within the first weeks of his administration, has made dramatic changes to American immigration policy.

Trump’s election is part of a general 21st-century wave of resurgent nationalism, populism, militarism, and religious and ideological conflict that are responses to broader social and economic change. My book, Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory, looks at a time and place quite removed from our contemporary lives: the South Indian empire of Vijayanagara in the early 1500s. But, not unlike recent reality, this empire was marked by high levels of immigration, foreign trade, a rapidly changing economy, and new patterns of religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Much as in today’s world, these changes generated both anxiety and opportunity. I wrote this book in part to elucidate how Vijayanagara’s leaders managed these changes and what impact this management had on traditional social units like Hindu monasteries. How did people understand the differences between themselves and others and how did the machinations of the state affect these processes of identity formation?

To explore these issues, my research focused on the relationship between the Vijayanagara Empire’s most famous king, Kṛṣṇadevarāya, and the Hindu monastic leader, Vyāsatīrtha. In the field of Indian religious history, Vyāsatīrtha is best known as a sectarian polemicist who wrote several texts devoted solely to criticizing the views of rival religious traditions. But my work shows that he was also an agent of the Vijayanagara state who worked closely with rival religious communities on projects that helped Kṛṣṇadevarāya expand the state’s functional apparatus. This type of collaboration between religious rivals, who were often also linguistically and regionally distinct, was something the Vijayanagara court actively patronized for many reasons. Such collaboration created cosmopolitan nodes throughout the empire that became hot-beds of economic activity as well as cultural and intellectual exchange. My book re-reads Vyāsatīrtha’s polemical works as an attempt, not solely to criticize other systems of thought, but to engage with them in order to clarify both the boundaries and commonalities between different religious traditions. I argue that this very clarity provided the basis for successful collaboration in daily life.

Thus, by creating a religious cosmopolitanism that was inextricably linked to a variety of practical endeavors, Kṛṣṇadevarāya and his agents shaped a social environment that not only avoided religiously based conflict but supported socio-economic mobility in highly diverse settings. Of course, not everyone flourished within this framework. Because the Vijayanagara court’s patronage was selective, it was also exclusive. And there was plenty of militarism in Vijayanagara statecraft, directed both at rival polities to the north and recalcitrant groups within the empire. Nevertheless, the approach of the sixteenth-century Vijayanagara court to ideological and other differences provides a striking contrast to today’s political rhetoric and reminds us of the value in studying India’s past.


Valerie Stoker is Associate Professor of South Asian Religions and Director of the Master of Humanities Program at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan

by Marcia Yonemoto, author of The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

During the final month of the bruising 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Inoguchi Kuniko, a member of Japan’s parliament and former Minister of State for Gender Equality and Social Affairs, registered her disappointment at the coarseness of American political discourse, and remarked that “when the glass ceiling breaks, there are a lot of injuries that a woman must bear.”[1] This struck me as a valid but curious statement, coming as it did from a high-profile female member of the conservative wing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and staunch ally of current Prime Minister Abe Shinzō. For despite the Abe government’s vigorous endorsement of “womenomics,” its policy program to increase the number of women elected to public office, in high managerial positions in business, and in positions of authority in public life in general, Japan is still far from reaching the government’s target goals—indeed, at least by the measures of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Japan is trending downward, not upward, in terms of resolving persistent gender inequality.[2] So in speaking about the danger of shattering glass ceilings, was Inoguchi simply expressing sympathy for then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton? Was she speaking from her own perspective as one of a spate of women cabinet ministers in the Abe government, many of whose terms in office were cut short by campaign-finance and other scandals? Or was she speaking in the abstract, ruminating perhaps not about when women in Japan break the glass ceiling, but if they ever will?

These particular questions can’t be answered with any certainty, but it is clear that roles and perceptions of women in Japanese public and private life continue to evolve, to raise questions, and to spark debate. I address very similar issues in my book, The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan, except my focus is on women in the seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries. The book explores the challenges women encountered when trying to reconcile confining social norms with individual autonomy, obligations to others with desires of their own, and limited public authority with myriad forms of private power. While the early modern military state often has been viewed as authoritarian and oppressive, its social and political controls were far weaker than those enjoyed by state today. And while the government articulated cultural norms and ideals of propriety, it lacked the comprehensive authority to enforce them, and this allowed considerable latitude for women to learn, to work, to write, and to play in ways contemporary observers may find surprising.

[1] “U.S. Presidential Campaign Shocks Women Around Asia-Pacific,” Asahi Shinbun/Reuters, 10/20/2016.

[2] Japan’s overall ranking dropped from 101st out of 145 countries surveyed to 111th out of 144. By comparison, the United States’ overall ranking also went down between 2015 and 2016, dropping from 28th to 45th. See World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2015, accessed at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/ and World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, accessed at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/ . Other data, however, show some progress—a 2016 Cabinet Office poll showed that for the first time, a majority of Japanese adults (54.2%) believed that “women should continue working even after they have children.” Maiko Ito, “Majority for First Time Says Mothers Should Continue to Work,” Asahi Shinbun 11/14/2016, accessed at: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201611140005.html


Marcia Yonemoto is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of Mapping Early Modern Japan: Space, Place, and Culture in the Tokugawa Period (1603–1868).


Challenging the Notion of “Globalization” as a 21st Century Phenomenon

by George Dutton, author of A Vietnamese Moses: Philiphê Binh and the Geographies of Early Modern Catholicism

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

In the second decade of the twenty-first century it has become a truism that we have finally entered the era of the “globalized.” It takes little effort for historians to produce a wide range of evidence to suggest that this is not the case, and that the phenomenon of “globalization” is one found already in the ancient worlds. This is particularly true with respect to the various “world religions” that emerged between the 5th century BCE and the 7th century CE, each of which gradually, and occasionally rapidly, travelled to distant corners of the globe. A particularly good example is Roman Catholicism, whose initial spread was relatively modest, but which then took advantage of the sailing ships of the “Age of Discovery” to span the globe. Unlike the other world religions, Catholicism has developed an elaborated ecclesiastical hierarchy that reaches around the world with implications for local Christian communities.

Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, agents of the Christian church reached the farthest corners of Asia and slowly built up communities of local Catholics. One of these groupings was founded in the coastal reaches of the Red River in the northern part of what is today Vietnam, and was then often called Tonkin. Initiated by Portuguese Jesuits, this community of Catholics grew to several hundred thousand in less than half a century. These mission fields soon drew the attention of other orders – Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and secular mission societies – and priests from a range of nations – Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, among others.

The Christians in coastal Tonkin found themselves both served by the European priests that were in their midst, and profoundly shaped by ecclesiastical conflicts and decisions emanating from the Catholic centers of power in Rome and the Iberian Peninsula. While local Christians experienced a substantial measure of autonomy imparted by distance and the logistics of communication, they were still subject to church politics in Europe. Thus, the papal recall of all Jesuits priests in Tonkin in 1678 sent shockwaves through the community. The order to divide Tonkin into two vicariates that same year further shook the local Catholic communities, who found themselves now experiencing elements of their faith in ways shaped by differentiated approaches to ritual and emphasis. A century later the formal dissolution of the entire Jesuit Order in 1773 further rattled Tonkinese Catholics, now finding themselves subject to new ecclesiastical leadership whose dictates and expectations were often at variance with their long-standing traditions.

While those loyal to the deep rooted Portuguese Jesuit tradition defied their new overseers, this was not sustainable and in 1796 they dispatched one of their own, the recently ordained Vietnamese priest, Father Philiphê Binh, to Portugal on their behalf. This community understood the global forces of Catholicism, and the nuances of its politics. They became active participants in defense of their traditions and sending their emissary to Europe was an indication of their engagement in the church politics of the period. Vietnamese Catholics recognized, far more than most Vietnamese, the degree to which they themselves lived in an era of “globalization.” What happened beyond their borders in remote political capitals had profound and measurable impacts upon both their material and spiritual lives.

Father Binh’s emergence as a priest and representative of his community on a journey half way around the world to defend its spiritual traditions is the subject of my book. While in substantial measure it is the story of a particular man and the complex contours of his life, it is also very much a tale of the ways in which eighteenth-century religious globalization had profound repercussions for Catholics in Tonkin. It is thus a reminder that peoples in seemingly remote corners of the globe were already then active participants in a world where the reach of ideas and politics was no less extensive than in the twenty-first century, even if it travelled at the speed of sailing ships rather than fiber optics.


George E. Dutton is Professor of Vietnamese History in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A Vietnamese Moses is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


Immigration Syllabus: UC Press Edition

With last Friday’s executive order on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, along with plans to continue construction of the barrier along the US-Mexico border moving forward, the current presidential administration has brought heightened attention to immigration and American society, and with it, spurred outcry worldwide, and drawn a number of federal lawsuits.

Immigration historians from across the USA have launched #ImmigrationSyllabus, a website and educational resource to help the public understand the historical roots of today’s immigration debates; they have inspired us to follow suit.

Below is a list of UC Press suggested readings, organized in descending order from most recently published, to provide further informed, deeply researched context to the ongoing conversations around immigration reform and citizenship.

Easily and quickly request exam and desk copies online by visiting any of the books’ pages above. If you need assistance in choosing the right texts for your course, we’d be glad to help; contact us here.

Browse more of our history and immigration titles.


Worldly Affiliations Wins the 2017 Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize

We are delighted to announce that Sonal Khullar was awarded the Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize for her book, Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990 on behalf of the Association for Asian Studies’ South Asia Council.

9780520283671

The Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize each year honors outstanding and innovative scholarship across discipline and country of specialization for a first single-authored monograph on South Asia, published during the preceding year.

Published by the press in 2015, Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990 has received considerable praise from reviewers, and we’re proud that Sonal’s work has earned this significant recognition.

“Beautifully written, compellingly argued, Khullar’s book not only offers a major contribution to the study of Indian modernism, it also advances our methodological understanding of modern art at large. A vital addition to an exciting body of emerging art-historical scholarship that promises to fundamentally transform received ideas on modernism in the coming years.”—Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University

“Provocatively argued, this book is a must-read for art students, critics, and all those who are interested in modern Indian art, as well as all concerned with global modernism.”—Partha Mitter, University of Sussex