Globalization and Indigenous Culture
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Globalization and Ethnic Culture in Asia


I was very stimulated by the three presentations and made to think about a number of issues. In fact, I wanted to ask a number of in-depth questions, but almost all of them have been voiced already by Professor Bauzon, so instead, I would like to focus my remarks on the issue of how we think about these topics.

Professor Inoue's presentation, with its use of the novel expression "intellectual reversal" was quite fresh, and I took it as a new proposal to us researchers. So we began in this way from a presentation of a perspective that treated globalization as an entirely new phenomenon. On the other hand, professors Cheu and Tsao presented the issue mainly from the perspective of control of information, namely, how has globalization strengthened, or introduced changes to the relationship between nation and minority ethnic groups, or nation and individual? While the issue is argued within a traditional scheme, the discussion we were given was deeply detailed and went to the heart of the matter. I think these two papers represented quite contrasting viewpoints. And while I think Professor Bauzon's comments shared the same problem consciousness as that held by Professors Cheu and Tsao, since Professor Inoue's comments indicated a new slant on a new phenomenon, I'd like to postpone my comments there until later, and begin by commenting on the presentations of Professors Cheu and Tsao.

These two presentations have something in common that contrast to Inoue's presentation, but at the same time, they also demonstrate their own mutual differences. Namely, Professor Cheu reflects on issues relating to the promotion of the New Economic Policy advanced by the ruling Malay ethnic group, analyzing those problems from the perspective of the nation's ruling Malay ethnic group. In contrast, Professor Tsao deals with the issue of the policy of assimilation to the culture of Chinese language being advanced by the ruling Han ethnic group, and in the face of the various harms caused by this policy, he issues both criticism and new proposals, all from the standpoint of the minority ethnic groups subject to the policies. In contrast to Professor Cheu, who presents his position from the perspective of the ruler above, Professor Tsao's paper is presented from the side of oppressed minority groups, so their presentations form a sharp contrast. And to that degree, both perspectives mutually lack something. Toward the end of supplementing that lack, in a manner of speaking, I would like to offer my comments.

First, I would like to ask Professor Tsao about his comment to the effect that minority ethnic groups find themselves subjected to the condition of globalization, and the situation of mass information. As Professor Inoue noted, globalization leads to a situation in which the control of information becomes harder to achieve, resulting in the "reversal" or leakage of specialist knowledge [to other areas and people outside the field of specialization].

The process of assimilating groups into the culture of Chinese language is itself accompanied by the acquisition of written language, so it means that such peoples will be enabled to possess a variety of systems of knowledge that they previously were unable to access. So minority groups that were previously merely under passive oppression can now possess their own means of transmitting information. And in that sense, I felt that your paper may have overlooked the issue of how that fact will allow minority groups to demonstrate their own subjectivity, or their toughness as a minority ethnic group.

In my own research on the highland minorities of Thailand, I find examples in which minority groups are vigorously engaged in new culture creation, within the process of being indoctrinated to Christianity, or to Buddhism, or to mainland Thai culture. As a result, I would like to ask whether this same process may not be at work in the case of Taiwan.

Next, a question to Professor Cheu: viewed from the perspective of the New Economic Policy advanced by the Malays, the centralization of control over specialist knowledge may have the advantage of bolstering the conventional uneven distribution of information. On the other hand, among the Chinese and Indians who occupy forty percent or more of the population, or even among the same Muslim and Malay residents of Singapore, there are some who did not approve of the central government's cultural policies; as those groups acquire new media of information, what kind of advantages will they receive, how will it invigorate their activities, and what other new phenomena are occurring toward the establishment of a new multi-cultural, democratic nation? Since I personally interested in these things, I would be grateful for any remarks you could regarding them.

Finally, I would like to move to Professor Inoue's presentation, in which he confronted us with some extremely fundamental issues. Using terminology like "intellectual reversal," he spoke of the way in which religious phenomena are becoming networked, evincing "multinational" characteristics, and demonstrating patch-work kinds of characteristics, something which he called "neo-syncretism." He presented all these things --- which we have personally seen and felt around us --- in a condensed and theoretical way representing a new model that challenges those of us engaged in research to confront a substantial new set of issues.

But as suggested by the viewpoints of the other two presenters today, one wonders, on the other hand, whether the reality of an uneven distribution and centralization of information will really shift so smoothly to the phenomenon of an "intellectual reversal" of specialist knowledge. Merely because we are entering a new computer age, one wonders whether ordinary people have become capable of accessing the real core systems of knowledge. While that kind of situation may be considerably advancing, and may be more apparent in Japan and the other OECD nations, when one looks at the other nations of Asia, one still sees the same, traditional imbalance in the distribution of knowledge, or the control and monopolization of knowledge by central ruling groups. And despite the process of globalization and the revolution in science and technology, one sees signs that things are moving in a reverse direction, namely toward a greater unevenness in the distribution of knowledge, and toward stronger central control. While the "borderless" phenomenon and the disappearance of nations is advancing on the one hand, I wonder how we should understand Professor Inoue's theory when it comes to the fundamental issue of how, or in what way the state and ethnic nation are moving, or what their status is as intermediate organizations within the process of globalization, so I would like to ask him about this issue.

Next, I agree fully with Professor Inoue's suggestion regarding the increasing religious change on the popular level, but while the process itself indeed has something new about it, I cannot help but remain doubtful, as someone doing research on Southeast Asia, whether its final product will really turn out to be something new. On the level of the masses, people who until now had rarely been mobilized in culture creation or religious reforms are now experiencing recurrent convulsive upheavals. But precisely because that is happening, even people who previously received no intellectual training are now being mobilized in the initiation of various movements by a process of trial and error. And as a result, it remains doubtful whether something so new is appearing in the ideas themselves, or the intellectual framework itself.

Granted that a great deal of trial and error is occurring, but in the end, I can't help holding the suspicion that things will settle down into a number of traditional patterns. I think the points will eventually converge particularly onto fundamental issues like the sacred, death, or the end of the world, and so on. And I think there are only a limited number of intellectual models that deal with those fundamental issues. So I would like to ask for opinions regarding whether it is believed that other, new patterns will emerge in addition to these traditional models.

(Translated by Norman Havens)

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$Date: 2001/05/15 05:58:52 $