Community seems to be this cohort’s binding theme. Portrayed and perceived as an actor or an entity acted upon, the community in this issue is a vibrant site and source of knowledge, political engagement, social negotiations, historical narratives and artistic conflation.
Defined as a group of people with common residence and common interests, a community may seem to be static and impermeable. But because it is a human construction, it is never free from the influences of external cultures and events. It is reactive in that it may be subjected to the vagaries of forces bigger than itself such as the state, world events, industry, natural calamities, etc. However, it is also proactive because it has always found means to protect its own, perpetuate its own and envision what future it wants for its own. Sometimes, it contends with another community. If it is powerful, it imposes. But usually, it negotiates, knowing that a symbiotic relationship with others is more productive than a contentious one.
The fourteen articles in this issue use the community as a main focus, an assumption, a backdrop or simply just a reality that is there even if not mentioned directly. Four articles deal directly with local communities, three with national ones. Two look at communities with hybrid cultures. Five focus on rural communities and the issue of poverty.
The rural community and the issue of poverty in particular countries seem to be a gnawing concern in five studies, as mentioned above. China is mentioned in four articles, India and the Philippines in one each. Four articles deal with poverty mitigation, one explains the structures of inequality. Sanjeev Kumar explains how China’s rural enterprises, known as Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs), contribute to China’s rural development through rural industrialization. The food processing sector, for instance, has raised incomes and lessened rural unemployment in some areas in China. Cheryll Ruth Soriano explains how information and communication technologies (ICTs) through village telecenters promote livelihood and reduce poverty in rural China. Satyajit Singh examines the paradigms of decentralization for drinking water supply in the Philippine province of Negros Oriental and how these can effectively distribute a valuable natural resource and at the same time alleviate poverty. Hermant Kumar Adlakha proposes political solutions to poverty. Inspired by the success of the Wenzhou experiment, the study suggests the creation of a Chinese rural civil society, perhaps a misnomer in socialist China, but an interesting and possible means of addressing rural poverty. In his study of income inequality, Heng Quan puts a theoretical face to poverty by comparing structures that create inequity in China and India. The study deals with both rural and urban inequality and this widens one’s view of income gaps and their causes.
The next four articles center on specific local communities as site and source of strategies for self-determination. Using the narrative mode, Lye Tuck Po explores the complexities of local environment knowledge, a knowledge often labeled “traditional” which suggests impermeability and belies its dynamic nature. The local communities of Cambodia show a high degree of discernment and flexibility with regard to local environment knowledge that experts and the general public sometimes fail to appreciate. How the Vietnamese communities cope with the destruction brought about by floods and water-related disasters is central to the study of Doracie Zoleta-Nantes. As government efforts prove ineffectual, the communities empower themselves by resorting to household initiatives and commune-based measures to lessen the impact of these disasters. Community-based efforts also prove effective in addressing Thailand’s mental health problems, according to the study done by Loyd Brendan Norella. A community hospital and two community institutions provide those with mental disabilities shelter/treatment while preparing them to join mainstream society. It is within the family and the local community where international labor migration is most felt. Maria Corazon Rodolfo studies the impact of migrant female worker returnees on the lives of their family and community in Java as well as how the returnees themselves are changed by their life overseas and by their return to their communities of origin.
History is often perceived as the narrative of nation but the next articles prove that it is the narrative of community as well. In fact, the smaller histories often contest the national narrative and can therefore be regarded as alternative histories that express the sentiments of those excluded from and silenced by the main narratives. In giving voice to the women, the ethnic minorities, the weaker nations, etc., the history of the community reveals the presence of parallel historical movements. These are not more or less important than mainstream history, but are indicative of a re-visioning or re-telling of what is accepted. Furrukh Khan renders a powerful study of the oral narratives of Pakistani women on the Partition. Silenced and marginalized by gender and religion, these women have never been allowed to tell their version of that historical event and the violence they were subjected to was never considered important in mainstream history. The study recuperates the narratives and allows the women to be heard. Shankari Sundararaman looks at globalization and its historical significance to the marginalized, restive communities of Aceh, Papua, Riau and Malukku in Indonesia. These communities were exploited by the state in its promotion of a homogenous nation and rapid economic development. Mongolia is a landlocked state with a strategic location and abundant natural resources. But it is also regarded as a weak state. Sharad Soni’s study shows how Mongolia has had to negotiate with stronger neighbors, Russia and China, to survive. While diplomacy has erased tensions regarding security, Mongolia today remains dependent on the largesse of China for economic survival and Sino-Mongolian relations seem to be more favorable to Beijing.
Finally, the last set of articles focus on culture, not only as it develops within a community but as it travels outside, shaping communities as it is also molded by them. In Judy Celine Ick’s masterful study of the Shakespearean play as part of colonial education in Malaya (Malaysia) and the Philippines, an English literary text imposes as it is imposed upon. On the one hand, it is a bearer of colonial culture; on the other, the colonized communities it has educated also imbues it with Malayan and Filipino elements. These elements are markers of possession by the colonized communities and inadvertently release Shakespeare from his English moorings. In the last article, the serpent god, Naga, traverses the Asian continent and manifests itself in various forms—as a religious deity, a character in folklore, a part of a staircase or a roof, an artifact, etc. It leaves its mark in various religions and cultures from India to Thailand. Its many versions also suggest that the communities that have adopted it have put their indelible mark on it.
The community remains salient in a highly globalized and transnationalized Asia, as the articles have proven. While challenged by issues of relevance, continuity, and survival, the community remains a lodestone of political affirmation and cultural certainty. As the articles also prove, the community in Asia is an animus towards self-determination. It may be shaped and reshaped but its resilience does not allow the negation of its authenticity.
Lily Rose Tope