The Reading Committee ICAS Book Prizes
Kuala Lumpur 2 August 2007
For the second time the ICAS Book Prizes were awarded. Established in 2004, this global competition aims to create an international focus for publications on Asia while at the same time increasing the visibility for Asia studies worldwide. All scientific books pertaining to Asia and published in 2005 and 2006 were eligible. Four prizes were awarded: Best study in the field of the humanities; best study in the field of social sciences; best dissertation in the field of Asia studies and the Colleagues Choice Award.
The Reading Committee reviewed 80 books and 10 dissertations. The members of the Reading Committee were: Anand Yang (Chair, director Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and past president Association for Asian Studies), Jennifer Holdaway (Program Director Social Science Research Council), Christopher Reed (Associate Professor, Department of History of The Ohio State University and winner of the IBP Humanities 2004), Guobin Yang (Associate Professor, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Barnard College, Columbia University) and Paul van der Velde (Secretary, Senior Consultant IIAS and Secretary ICAS).
The prizes were awarded on the 2nd August 2007 by Deputy Prime Minister Dato'seri Najib Tun Razak, during the ICAS dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.
Madeline Zelin's, The Merchants of Zigong (Columbia University Press 2006)
This pathbreaking study of industrial enterprise in 19th and early 20th century China is based on extensive archival research. It focuses on private entrepreneurs in Zigong, the largest industrial town in its time in northern China. Zelin convincingly shows that lineage-based clan groups provided the basis for effective business organisation, capital investment, industrial management, and business innovation. This finding challenges longstanding claims about state monopoly of the salt industry in late imperial China, and it demonstrates the capacity of entrepreneurs to pool financial resources through lineage-based trusts to organise and manage their businesses through customary contracts. Magisterial in scope and subtle and intricate in historical analysis, this work forces us to rethink not only the history of economic development in modern China, but modernity itself.
Pei-Chia Lan, Global Cinderellas. Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan (Duke University Press 2006)
This is an important contribution to the sociology of international migration, globalisation and the intersections of gender and class in domestic work. Based on careful ethnographic research and interviews, Pei-Chia Lan provides a rich account of the daily life experiences of foreign guest workers in Taiwan. The analysis of the relationship between guest workers and their Taiwanese employers in the context of immigration policy sheds light on the broader picture of global inequality. The book also shows how the host society draws discriminatory boundaries against the foreign ‘other' and how foreign domestic workers, who are poor but often well-educated, negotiate their identities using their cultural capital (such as superior English language skills). The concluding part links the ethnographic story to broader issues of general theoretical concern. Well-written, and full of empathy the book will be read widely.
Karen Laura Thornber, Negotiating and Reconfiguring Japan and Japanese Lieterature in Polyintertextual East Asian Contact Zones: Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan (PhD Harvard University)
Drawing on dozens, even hundreds of works of literature and biography written in Japanese, Chinese and Korean, (as well as a vast secondary literature in multiple languages), Thornber ties together loose cultural, literary, and biographical strands held in memory with many sources she has discovered herself. The result is a polyintertextual East Asian hybridity, competition, and exchange. Never before has the Reading Committee read a dissertation so clearly destined to become an influential book (or two, since it is nearly a thousand pages long!). Starting from the stance that literature travelled widely and was frequently contested and rewritten, Thornber has composed a highly empirical account that shows Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese writers reading, borrowing from, and recasting literary vernaculars in the (semi)colonial context of the 1895-1945 years. Her accomplishment took the Reading's Committee breath away.
Colleagues Choice Award
Nordin Hussin, Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka: Dutch Melaka and English Penang, 1780-1830 (NIAS Press 2006).
Without doubt Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka is a truly pioneering study of urban history and breaks new ground in the context of Malaysian studies. It is a fine-grained social history, one that we rarely see in Southeast Asia. This study compares Melaka and Penang in the context of overall trends, namely, policy, geographical position, nature and direction of trade, morphology and society, and how these factors were influenced by trade as well as policies. The study is exhaustively researched and the arguments presented are supported by a close study of archival documents that will make new material available to other scholars. By documenting the impact of imperialist ambitions on the economy and society of two major trading centres, this book will provide a point of reference for all future research concerning the period.