Blog #4

My thesis topic is on the Chinese community in Calcutta, India and how it was affected by the 1962 Sino-Indian Border War. What I can glean from the articles will help craft my thesis. The frameworks on the first and third papers are directly related to the topics of my thesis. The second article touches on an issue that related to me as an insider.

Article #1

Basu, Ellen Oxfeld. 1991. Profit, Loss and Fate: The Entrepreneurial Ethic and the Practice of Gambling in an Overseas Chinese Community. Modern China. 17(2) 227-259.
This paper focuses on a small group of Chinese Hakka who owned and operated tanneries in Tangra/Dhappa, the suburb of Calcutta. Basu’s fieldwork lasted two years, and she returned on several occasions for data collection. Her paper looks at the connections between gambling and culture in this 600 member community. Basu fails to situate the Tangra Hakka community within the Calcutta Hakka community and she structured her paper as though the Tangra Hakka are the only Hakka living in the Calcutta area, which is not the case, as there were more Hakka living in Calcutta Chinatown than in Tangra in the 1990s. Basu also tends to make sweeping statements, showing the Hakkas are homogeneous, as she focuses her paper upon the gambling habits of the community and their entrepreneurial desire of owning tanneries, which again, was not the case; gambling was not part of the rituals that identified the community, and, there were many more Hakka-owned shoe shops, hair dressing salons and restaurants in Calcutta.
I am aware of the omissions or misrepresentations of the Hakka because I was a member of the Calcutta/Tangra Hakka community. As an native, and an insider, I find the paper lacking in nuances: the New Year celebration Basu witnessed was actually Chinese New Year, which happens to follow the lunar calendar, and the vegetarian food, which Basu had reported as purging the body, is paying homage to the Buddhist lay tradition, namely to consume only vegetarian food during first and the fifteenth days of the lunar months. Most Hakka shortened it to the first day of the first month of the year.
As a “Western” anthropologist, I find the article a well-researched paper, but my “Native” self finds the paper imbued with western concepts and assumptions. Will my “Native” concepts and assumptions be accepted in a “Western” setting? Even assuming the Hakkas in Calcutta/Tangra are homogeneous; can I claim to be a true Hakka? After all, I was educated in a Cantonese school, and most of my friends in my formative years were non-Hakka. I will settle on being a “halfie”, as Narayan coined those who have more than one cultural identity

Article #2

Narayan, Kiri. 1993, How Native is a “Native” Anthropologist? American Anthropologist. 95(3), 671-686.
Narayan struggled with her racial identity while she was growing up, her father, who was a Guajarati, and her mother whose German father married an American woman. She does not agree with the distinction between “Native” and “Non-native” anthropologist. She feels that gender, race, educational background, sexual orientation and the contacts with others are crucial. Almost everyone has this “multiplex identity,” a “halfie” as Narayan terms someone who cannot be placed into one category, such as Native and non-native.
This paper, although published over twenty years ago, has an extensive list of names and works that cited it, and many were of recent publications. This would indicate that the “insider” versus “outsider” issue still exists. There is no clear cut division between the two, no “native” who can give me the absolute inside view of the inside. There is also no clear cut divide between the theory-driven academic and readers of stories. Narayan believes in combining narratives with analysis and the future of academic work belongs in the hybridity of narrative and analytical work. Although I agree with the last statement, but abrupt change of issue took me by surprise as I mull over the argument of abolishing the concept and assumption of “Native” and “Non-Native” anthropologists.

Article #3

Jones, Jessieca. 2010. Global Hakka: A case study. Asian Ethnicity 11(3) 343-369.
Jones defines “global Hakka” as the Hakka Chinese who left Beruas, Malaysia. She wants to convey that this group of Hakka is in transnational, on the move, and still changing. It is a survey of a group who emigrated to North America, Australia and Europe. Jones interviewed 18 persons. With such a small sample, numbers like 81% or 31% lose their meaning, and, 18 persons on 3 continents are rather vague. In order to emphasize that the Hakka previously lived in Beruas, Jones did not include the data of where her interviewees are now living.
I am confused about her definition of “Hakka”. She indicated that most of her interviewees do not speak the Hakka dialect, and that many inter-marry with non-Hakka. Jones also did not want to use food as a marker, as no-one cooked the Hakka dishes any more. She seems to have the assumption that there is a vague, homogeneous Hakka-ness, with Hakka dialect, Hakka food and Hakka religion, but that is not the case. I could not understand the Hakka spoken by the Hakka from Hong Kong. I am not familiar with the typical Hakka dish mentioned in the paper, as we developed our own “real” Hakka dishes in India, which are nothing like the Beruas Hakka dishes.
This paper is written is such a dry style with vagueness and assumptions that it did not pass my “who cares?” test.

Blog 5

Strong Article
Scheper-Huges, Nancy. 1995. The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology.” Current Anthropology. 36(3) 409-420.
Scheper-Huges considers the traditional and generally accepted role of an anthropologist as a “neutral, dispassionate, cool and rational objective observer is no longer appropriate to the world we live in.” She advocates an “active, political and moral approach.” Scheper-Huges unabashedly proposes that an anthropologist should take sides, on the side of the “good” against the “evil” – a rather black and white stance. She was in Brazil documenting the struggles of the women living in Alto do Cruzeiro, a shanty-town. Her article also covers Chris Hani, a squatter camp in South Africa where she witnesses the hanging of thieves or those who committed minor crimes. The judgement was imposed by the camp’s self governing body. Scheper-Huges believes in “Barefoot anthropology,” where the anthropologist is a responsive and “morally committed being”, who will actively “take sides” and make judgement.
Many disagree with Scheper-Huges’ views, notably Crapanzio and Harris. What I most in awe of is the total conviction of the author, it comes through in the article. There is no hedging and no dodging. She lays out her beliefs in language that cannot be misunderstand – something that is rare in academic writing. Her language, at times, is rather militant. Perhaps she could have moderate her tone, but that may diminish the impact of her message: that cultural anthropologists need to be more active in their approach to their research, especially in regard to the “other”. One critic accuses Scheper-Huges as dressing up an old argument in new language. I may disagree with her views, but her article is exceedingly strong, especially with her uncompromising beliefs and language.
Scheper-Huges’ writing style strengths her arguments: she uses the “showing” technique to illustrate her point. There are what seem to be verbatim dialogue insertions from her notes; these sections are rather short, and tense. The “showing” makes the reading easier, and gives me a chance to judge. These sections reinforce her arguments; make the reader sympathetic towards the Brazilian women or the South African squatters.
Weak Article
Guha, Ramachandra. 2011. The Dalai Lama’s War. The National Interest. 115:46-58
In contrast, Guha dodges and hedges. Nehru was an astute leader, no, he was naïve. The author regurgitated Indian government’s nationalistic rhetoric used in 1962-5, and brings nothing new to the Sino-Indian Border issues.
There are numerous literature on the 1962 Sino-Indian Border War, but very rarely did these writings directly connect the Dalai Lama with the war. When this article popped up on my search, I was elated. Unfortunately, except for a short paragraph of India giving sanctuary to Dalai Lama, the article deals mainly with Jawaharlal Nehru’s failed foreign policies.
The research question centres on how Nehru had misread China’s policies on Tibet and the border between the two countries. Guha portrays Nehru as a dreamer and idealist who believed in the slogan Hindi Chini bhai-bhai. (Chinese and Indians are like brothers) The argument does not quite hold as Guha acknowledges that there were border clashes three years before the 1962 war, and tension had existed since China marched into Tibet in 1950, and the tension increased further when the Dalai Lama sought and was granted refuge in India in 1959. Nehru could not be blind to the pressure at the border.
Guha also throws in short statements that need supporting information. One of them is that 1962 Sino-Indian Border War was initiated by Soviet Union to continue the Cold War. It is an intriguing argument, but without clarification or further discussion, it dilutes his questions on Dalai Lama’s War and Nehru’s leadership.

Blog 6

“Tracking Water Buffalo and Zehu in Southern Asia”

Lecture by Richard Meadow, Senior Lecturer, Harvard Anthropology Department, on September 12, 2014, at Anthropology Building Atrium, Harvard University.

The lecture was delivered on Anthropology Day at Harvard University, and is directed at an informed general audience. Meadow presented the data gathered from his archaeological site in Northern China; he framed his research with what he knows about the zehu cattle and water buffalo from his research on the site, and looked at human behaviour based on the bones and genetic materials of the two bovine species.
Meadow looked at human behavior through the lens of two types of cattle – the water buffalo in India and the wild Zehu cattle bones from archaeological digs in China. He speculated that the hunter-gatherers hunted the huge Zehu cattle until they became extinct. Based on ceramic figurines of humped cattle from other sites, Meadow hypothesized that human transport goods and animals to considerable distance as far back as the Neolithic period, and even travelled to Australia around 45,000 years ago. From the findings of cattle bones in Balochistan, Pakistan, the domestication of cattle may have happened around 7,000 b.c.e. in South Asia. By 2,000 b.c.e., the physical size of the animal had decreased, due to confinement for long periods and poor diet, as well as the conscious effort for humans to selectively breed smaller animals for easier handling. He pointed to the evidence that domestication happened in South Asia, and raised the future research question: if human domesticated animals in Southwest (Gujarat) and Southern (Tamil) India, and raised the question: how did the wild stock arrive in North China?

Meadow’s delivery was generally smooth. Because of his generalized audience, he included humorous photographs such as water buffalo eye-balling a small yellow rubber duck and interspersed it with maps and graphs of densely informative slides. His narrative swung from specialized Archaeological language to generalized prose and back. Meadow’s lecture started with non-Anthropologists in mind, then gradually slid into archaeology language, he would then pause and change gears.
I lacked the skill of code switching. Meadow’s lecture allowed me to at least conscious of how it can be done. His pause and then switch from Anthropologist language to general signalled a code change, and this would alert the audience of the code change.

Instead of adding definitions of anthropological terms in his talk, Meadow added the terms on charts and graphs and pictures. This method allowed him to cover an incredible amount of information, which he disclosed without appearing to hurry.

I suspect the dense material Meadow put forth was edited down from a much longer lecture, with modifications to dilute the data for general consumption. Using information on the extracted genetic material from some of his archaeological sites, he tacked on suppositions and hypothesis after the proven data. He did it so skillfully that I only realize it when I play the lecture over again. He did qualify his assumptions with words like “there is no solid evidence… but….” At the end, it was apparent, and Meadow emphasized the point, that there are works to be done on the bones of the long varnished Zehu, their connection to the modern day water buffalo and how these relate to the human behavior. Will this be a prelude to a grant application?

Although the lecture carried a hint of hurried modifications, his deliverance masked most of it. It is an art. Meadow is a polish presenter.

Blog 3

Kuipers, Joel. 2013. Evidence and Authority in Ethnographic and Linguistic Perspective. Annual Review of Anthropology, 42:399-413.

Kuipers frames his review with the notion that research conclusions are based on evidence, or authority, and the two methods are mutually exclusive; a researcher either uses authority-based or evidence-based practices to solve problems. He defines ‘authority’ as “individuals who engage in acts of speaking and acting on behalf of others,” (401) and ‘evidence’ as findings that can be evaluated and are replicable.

He structures his arguments on sources that favor using evidence or authority:
• Evidence. Einstein – “Unthinking respect to authority is the greatest enemy of truth,” (401) Dawkins – “Have you ever wondered about how we know the things that we know? The answer …is evidence.” (406) and Boyle in 17th century England who established the modern empirical tradition, where results can be tested, verified and replicated objectively. (407)
• Authority. Mead defines reality of the three societies she studied by referring to traditional authority, (402) Berstein postulates children of middle class society socialize in codes that show their positional authority, (403) and Islam, authority is paramount in regard to Shari’a law where two men or one man and two women are require as witnesses to the crime committed. (407)

In linguistic context, evidence is presented in authoritative communications as “narratives constitute crucial means of generating, sustaining, mediating and representing conflict” (407), where stories are the evidence of conflicts. Kuipers cited judges in small claim courts in the US who prefer narratives in handing out community justice. In another example, where two school children, after a scientific experiment, need to write down the description of their evidence. In the struggle to record the result of their experiment, they found that they could not communicate it as an impersonal fact, out of the context of its use.

In an anthropological context, evidence is defined as “as a construct pointing to practices that implied the ability to reduce, digest and otherwise summarize information … by which other information can be judged, proved or verified.” (409) Generally, the disciplinary politics in Anthropology adheres to the textual presentation of evidence, and often fails to appreciate the crucial decision to use one set of material over another set in understanding the matter at hand. (409)
Quoting Power, Clifford & Marcus and Hart, Kuipers goes further to say that new researchers would be forced into Anthropologically mandated textual presentation, even though “ethnographies based on numerous life experiences … could in some cases be intellectually superior.” (409) It is not a surprise that Kuipers’ project is on the Weyewa Society on the Indonesian island of Sumba, where the Weyewa considers authority to be a “process of rendering discourse authoritative.” (404)

After reviewing other researchers’ notions of evidence and authority and timidly cited authorities in religion, science and social sciences, Kuipers feels the problem is not how they are viewed – as impersonal objects. Authority and evidence are communicative practices, the process of to reveal, rather than obscure ‘truths’. Kuipers does not reveal how to achieve the evidence and authoritative communicative practices, and ends his review with abstractions and jargons that says little but says it with a lot of ink.

Final paper – update

Lan e-mailed me from her plane winging back from India to Stockholm, still 2 hours away. Shane’s flight from Miami landed in Pearson three days ago. I replaced the batteries in my tape recorder. All set to go.

This afternoon, in the Conference Workshop, Tina informed me that I need Ethics Review Board approval before I can begin my interview. I checked the forms I needed to fill out, they are ten or more pages, at least the forms I think I need to fill out. Need to figure out a plan B.

Basic outline of the final paper.

I hope to write a 20 minute paper for a conference, Moving memories: oral history in a global world. My paper will focus on one of the sub-topics: Journeys and pilgrimage. I will interview two ethnic Chinese from Kolkata: Mr. Ku and Ms. Teng, who emigrated in late 1980s, Shane Ku lives in GTA area, and Lan Teng in Stockholm, Sweden.
Shane is in his eighties. I met him at the Dragon Boat Race on Centre Island a few years ago. I was the drummer of a dragon boat that came last. At the evening banquet, I was fascinated by Shane’s story of his many annual Chinese New Year pilgrimages to thank the deities, Buddhist and Hindu, to ask for the continuing protection of him and his family. A pilgrimage in the 1970s landed him in jail. The Varanasi police arrested him as a Chinese spy. As an ‘enemy alien’, he had to apply for permission to travel outside of Kolkata, the city of his residency. His permission letter for that trip only allowed him to visit Bodh Gaya, not Varanasi. He was an ‘enemy alien’ because of the 1962 Sino-Indian Border War.
Lan is in the late forties. The purpose of her pilgrimages parallel that of Shane’s; to give thanks that her restaurant did well in spite of Sweden’s depressed economy, and asks for protection for the coming year. Although she admitted to including Buddhist temples in Kolkata in her rituals, the focus of her veneration is mainly to the ancestors in the Hakka cemetery in Kolkata. She makes offerings to her father, who died over thirty years ago, and also to Achi in Achipur, the first Chinese recorded on the East India Company’s tax rolls. He is the acknowledged collective ancestor for the Chinese in Kolkata.
Why did Shane petition the more distant deities instead of the familial ancestors? Why does Lan perceive the ancestors as more important in providing protection than the deities? Is it a division of labor in veneration practice? How does kinship fit into the pilgrimages?
Shane and Lan had agreed to talk to me about their journeys and pilgrimages. Shane is on a cruise at the moment, he will return to Toronto this week. Lan leaves for Kolkata for the Chinese New Year pilgrimage later this week, and she will be back to Stockholm on the week of January 30. I will arrange to speak to Shane next week, and Lan the first week of February, by Skype.
I hope to finish the first draft latest by the first week of March, and finish editing by the end of March. I will also put together slides for the presentation.

Reflection on Writing

Writing Workflow: writing process and a reflection of what slows you down, or where writer’s block emerges.

I find it hard to write the first post for my blog. The first paragraph is the hardest. I wrote the first sentence, change it twice, and took a tea break. Returned to the computer half-an-hour later, I deleted what I had written, and start the first paragraph again. Three hours later, I hit the return key and moved on to second paragraph. The next day, I switched on my computer and intend to start the fourth paragraph. Somehow, the cursor moved to the first paragraph. I deleted lines, I added lines and I deleted the added lines and retyped. By the end of the session, I had not advance to the fourth paragraph.

(Koerber and Allen, 2015) advise freewriting method of writing the first draft. That is, write spontaneously, with no editing. Have all the ideas transfer from the mind to, well, the computer. It is time consuming when a writer edit at the draft stage. I just prove them correct, when I edited my first three paragraphs again and again and again. Guy Allen, my writing instructor in my undergrad Professional Writing program, had tried to break me of this habit, but I am never comfortable in writing the first draft without constant editing while I am drafting. My fingers itch to judge, to delete, to add, to change. My mind keeps going back to the beginning if I do not at least change some words.

I often wonder if this habit of mine is a reflection that I do not have clear ideas to transfer to computer. So I edit and re-edit to mask the lack. Or is this a procrastination technique? In high school, I used to write my assignments at the last minute. My mother, a devout Buddhist, called it my “Hugging Buddha’s Feet” technique. She equated my frantic scribbling the night before the assignment due date as the distressed action of a desperate person, begging for divine intervention. Like Guy Allen, she tried to Somehow, I muddled through high school. Unfortunately, I did well, and writing at the last minute perpetuate.

Hugging Buddha’s Feet became my writing practice. I write my assignments at the last minute at the university. Even if I finish my work early, I habitually pull an all-nighter and rewrite. My first drafts usually seem to have a self-conscious feel about them, which means that I worry about what others would think of my writing. I constantly second-guess what my audience wants, not what I want to write. Self-consciousness often brings out writing block. In my case, stilted writing that sounds stiff and uncomfortable. Only when I run out of time to edit, my flow improves.

Of course, this is not the first draft. I doubt there is much of the first draft in this piece, maybe just a trace. I had good intention to write in advance many, many times in the past. Only time will tell if I can succeed this time.


Koerber, Duncan and Guy Allen. (2015) Clear, Precise, Direct: Strategies for Writing. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.