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Dr. L. H. M. Ling





The “modern state” in Asia is built, literally and figuratively, on the backs of women.  Indeed, patriarchy enabled Europe’s fixed and singular notion of sovereignty to “hook” onto Asia despite the region’s historical treatment of borders as multiple, overlapping, and relational.  Both colonizing and colonized elites were vested in the physical control – territorialization – of women’s bodies.  Accordingly, Western colonialists could treat Asia as a woman, first emasculating the region’s empires, like the Qing and the Ottoman, as “the sick man of Asia,” then feminizing it with Orientalist stereotypes of passivity and decay.  And anti-colonial elites could switch easily from nationalist slogans like “Mother India” to today’s globalized frenzy for “Miss India”; indeed, postcolonial elites often resort to colonial tropes to entice trade and investment with tourism ads like “Singapore/Thai/Malaysia Girl” that match factory calls for “nimble fingers and docile natures”; and governments blatantly export female labor for “national development.”  Racialization, it seems, is acceptable to domestic elites as long as it is directed only to women.

Still, Asian women have found ways to transform their territorialization.  Some “become” men.  Others sort through hegemony by simultaneously juggling flexibility with endurance, compliance with resistance, service with solidarity.  Ultimately, both strategies transform the power relations that violate women.  Such knowledge benefits us all.  It teaches us how to transform, not reproduce, violence.  We fail to learn at our peril, especially in these times of state-targeted and state-sponsored “terror.”  

This paper will proceed in three parts.  Part I will document strategies by women in Asia to deal with hegemony and violence.  It will include both current and historical cases (e.g., Filipina overseas migrants, Malay factory workers, Korean camptown prostitutes, Vietnamese war veterans, Indonesian maids, Chinese amahs).  Part II will examine a contemporary source of socialization for such strategies: i.e., popular TV serials.  These nightly present a feminine ideal of beauty and brains, softness and steel, suffering and triumph.  Part III will place these serials within a context of longstanding tradition of female strength and inspiration in Asia, as found in goddesses (e.g., Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy; Kali, Goddess of Death), mythical figures (e.g., Rukmini and Draupadi from the Mahabharata), and literary characters (e.g., Wang Xifeng in Dream of the Red Chamber).




Lily H.M. Ling is an Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at The New School in New York City. She holds a PHD and M.S. in Political Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. in Political Science from Wellesley College. Dr. Ling’s research interests include democracy in international relations, critical security studies, transcultural politics and postcolonial discourses (race/gender/class/culture), modalities of transnationalism, ethnographies of knowledge production and international development practice, and emerging regional economies. Her geocultural area of interest centers on East, Southeast, and South Asia and its relations with the West. Her books include Postcolonial International Relations: Conquest and Desire between Asia and the West (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) and Transforming World Politics: From Empire to Multiple Worlds (London: Routledge, 2009), co-authored with Anna M. Agathangelou, York University. Dr. Ling's publications have appeared in International Feminist Journal of Politics, International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, Journal of Peace Research, Millennium, positions: east asia cultures critique, Review of International Political Economy, Review of Politics, among others, as well as various anthologies.

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