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Contested Representations

Exploring China’s State Report

Halme-Tuomisaari and Miia

As states become parties to international human rights treaties, they undertake the obligation to provide periodic state reports to UN human rights treaty bodies. Officially, state reports are paramount vehicles of factual information of a given state’s human rights situation. Unofficially their status may be contested and their data reduced to state propaganda. This article examines this transformation through the submission of China’s first state report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The article shows how human rights documents of diverse genres join together in a continual ceremony of dialogue. It connects minute details of treaty body proceedings to more general developments in the international human rights field, and argues that beneath the veneer of diplomatic conduct accompanying human rights dialogue lays an intense struggle for representation and legitimacy. It further discusses how this struggle reflects the recent rise of Kantian theories of international law. These theories seek to re-evaluate the foundational concept of international law, namely ‘sovereign equality’, and, thus continue the mission civilisatrice that has characterized elements of international collaboration for centuries.

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The Algebra of Souls

Ontological Multiplicity and the Transformation of Animism in Southwest China

Mireille Mazard

In Nusu animism, the number and nature of a person’s ‘soul attributes’ change during his or her lifetime and after death. Drawing on Michael Scott’s study of Arosi poly-ontology, this article situates animistic personhood in a plural socio-cosmic order. Living and dead, human and non-human, Nusu and non-Nusu occupy separate, communicating domains. Meaningful exchanges across boundaries require the metamorphosis of persons and ideas. Nusu animism, continuously engaged in an ‘algebra of souls’, understands the self in terms of its multiplicity, its latent and emerging aspects. Through the ethnography of two death rituals—one ‘real’ and one staged for visiting researchers—this article shows that animism is being hyper-reflexively reinvented by Nusu animists themselves.

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Robert B. Marks

In nature, tigers have existed only in Asia. Over the millennia, Asian peoples have had much interaction with tigers, and those experiences have come to influence the patterns of everyday life, especially for villagers. In short, humans and tigers have a long history in Asia. Through case studies of China, the Malay world, and India from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, this article argues that Asian rulers used tigers—or more properly, their control of tigers—to enhance their political power, further the reach of central states, and inform their understanding of colonizing European powers.

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Shuyun Guo and Yanjun Liang

The origin and meaning of the term shaman is a fundamental question in shamanic studies. There are conflicting views on this question in academic circles in China and overseas. Based on historical Chinese documents and Manchu-Tungus ethnic linguistic chronicles, this article argues that the term shaman originated from the language spoken by the Jurchen people of ancient northern China and was transmitted through the practices of generations of Jurchen descendants of the Manchu-Tungus peoples. The term shaman, as it is commonly used, is based on the root sar, which means knowing, or understanding, in the Manchu-Tungus linguistic family. The article concludes that shaman means “a wise man who knows everything.”

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Broken Tongues

Race, Sacrifice, and Geopolitics in the Far East in Vsevolod Ivanov’s Bronepoezd No. 14-69

Roy Chan

Vsevolod Ivanov's 1922 Bronepoezd No. 14-69 spawned subsequent renditions in Russian and Chinese. The novella narrates the successful effort of a group of Red partisans in seizing an armored train delivering reinforcements in order to quell a rebellion in a Far Eastern town. This article examines the story's Chinaman (kitaets) Sin-Bin-U, a Red volunteer motivated by a desire to avenge himself against the Japanese. The most prominent marker of Sin-Bin-U's Chineseness is his tortured Russian, rendered nearly incomprehensible by his accent. Focusing on Sin-Bin-U's figuration, this article argues that Ivanov's tale and its subsequent incarnations in Russian and Chinese create a literary evocation of the complexities of linguistic hybridity, cultural contestation, and sovereign crisis in the Far East. Sin-Bin-U is thus interpreted as a paradoxical persona who oscillates between being an allegorical figuration of an internationalized Soviet subjectivity and a token of imperialist strife and victimization.

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Charles Stafford

Drawing primarily on ethnographic material from Taiwan, this article focuses on misfortune and, more especially, on the ques- tion of whether people are felt to deserve what happens to them-be it bad or good. I examine the cases of several people who have suffered misfortune in life, exploring ways in which they might actively try to make good things happen as a way of convincing others, and indeed themselves, that they are, after all, good. In considering these cases, I discuss three intersecting accounts of fate that are widely held by ordi- nary people in Taiwan and China: a cosmological one, a spirit-oriented one, and a social one.

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Making a Living

Bicycle-related Professions in Shanghai, 1897–1949

Xu Tao

The bicycle so thoroughly transformed transportation in China that the country was known as “the land of cyclists” by the late twentieth century. Concerning the global popularization of industrial products, past research mainly focused on the interaction between the introduced commodities and their nonWestern consumers. In order to take the analysis of the modern transformation beyond Western objects and passive receivers, this article explores how Chinese people came to make a living from bicycles. This investigation traces the manifold transitions of the Chinese bicycle business in Shanghai during the tumultuous half-century from 1897 to 1949.

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More Than a Two-Way Traffic

Analyzing, Translating, and Comparing Political Concepts from other Cultures

Melvin Richter

In this article, the author examines the case of the Chinese reception of Western political and social concepts as an example to discuss the substantive issues involved in the circulation of concepts between Europe and other parts of the world. Translation and adaptation are key steps in this process of circulation. The question however is not to investigate whether the transposed concept is an accurate transcription of the original, but to understand how this concept acquires new meanings and rhetorical functions within the political and ideological disputes of the society to which is has been transposed. Thus, translation should be understood as a complex, multilayered process of intercultural communication whose result is affected by inequalities of power, but still open to multiple outcomes of agency, even when exercised in colonial or semi-colonial settings.

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Kirsten Jæger and Malene Gram

This article investigates the views of quality in higher education held by two groups of international students: Chinese students at a Danish university and Danish students at Chinese universities. Given that there are no agreed international 'quality standards' in higher education, we analysed the students' understanding of the 'quality values' of their host institution and their own preferences and priorities. Representatives of the two groups participated in an interview study addressing the experience of academic quality at their study-abroad university. An intriguing trend was identified in the data. Danish students felt confident that they themselves were able to judge the academic quality of programmes, classes and lecturers both at home and abroad. The participating Chinese students tended to express themselves in slightly depreciatory terms regarding the academic quality values of their home universities. Regarding research methods and theoretical knowledge, they adopted the quality values of the Danish host university and referred to these values when evaluating their home universities.

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Anders Sybrandt Hansen and Stig Thøgersen

Recent years have seen a tremendous increase in transnational education mobility. The two trends of international integration and marketisation of higher education have made for a situation in which increasing numbers of aspiring young people worldwide seize the opportunity to study abroad as part of their higher education. No other nation sends more students abroad than China. In 2014, 459,800 students left the country to study abroad (Ministry of Education 2015); and 22 per cent of all international students enrolled in tertiary education in OECD countries in 2012 came from China (OECD 2014: 350). To explore the many dimensions of this huge wave of educational migration we hosted a conference at Aarhus University with the title Chinese Students Abroad: Reflections, Strategies and Impacts of a Global Generation in March 2014. The initial versions of the first three articles in this issue by Heidi Ross and Yajing Chen, Kirsten Jæger and Malene Gram, and Qing Gu were presented at this conference.2 The fourth article, by Naomi Yamada, examines the education of ethnic minorities inside China and thereby throws light on another, but related, effect of the marketisation of Chinese education.