Monday, April 29, 2013

In the Press: Prof. Mathews Criticizes Hong Kong's Policies on Asylum Seekers

Banging African drums and chanting words such as “justice,” hundreds of asylum seekers and torture claimants marched from Central to the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai on 28 April 2013 to protest against what is deemed unjust screening procedures of UNHCR and the government.(To see the full report of the protest, please visit South China Morning Post.)Prof. Gordon Mathews and Prof. Sea-ling Cheng joined and supported the protest. 

Prof. Mathews supported the protest.
"The Hong Kong government, in its treatment of asylum seekers, is apparently trying to be humane. However, the effect of its policy is the exact opposite of what it intends, rewarding those who are most undeserving, and harming those who are most deserving." Prof Mathews diagnoses the problems of the current  system in the article Open and Shut Cases, written for South China Morning Post.

According to him, Hong Kong's policies appear to be reasonable, and they could become a model of effective, humane government, if comprehensive refugee policies were implemented, and the process was speeded up.

Prof. Sea-ling Cheng marched with asylum seekers.
One of the major problems is that the screening procedures of UNHCR and the government are inadequate, sometimes giving the undeserving refugee status, while denying the most deserving. They can also be unbelievably lengthy, taking five or more years to complete

He further points out how the current system serves for Hong Kong economy:

"The current system allows the Hong Kong government to deny permanent settlement to people it deems lack the skills to contribute to society, while providing the means to closely monitor the illegal population needed for the profit of many Hong Kong businesses.

If this is indeed the case, then it may be that the present shortcomings in policy towards asylum seekers in Hong Kong are not only matters of unforeseen consequences, but a matter of entirely foreseen intent. Could it be that the Hong Kong government actively seeks for its policy towards asylum seekers to fail?"

The current system provides the means to closely monitor the illegal population needed for the profit of many Hong Kong businesses.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Invited Seminar: Gendered State Gymnastics

WU Kaming 
Associate Professor, Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, CUHK 
"Gendered State Gymnastics: Ceremonial Usherettes, Hyper Femininity and Post-socialist China"
19 Apr 2013

The speaker talked about her research on ceremonial female usherettes. These women exist in many contexts, such as the signing ceremonies for businesses, but Wu focused only on the group of women who serve at national occasions, such as the Beijing Olympics in 2008. These ceremonial usherettes wear uniforms and have healthy bodies and beautiful faces. Their appearance manifests the cultural standard of beauty recognized by the Chinese government. They usually do not get paid. Even though it is a voluntary temporary job, these women are selected carefully. They are given a certificate after national events.

Recently, ceremonial usherettes have been under the spotlight. They appear on the news. The mass media in China creates a collective desire towards a certain female body. It reflects how a nation makes use of the female image as a symbol of China’s modernity and development. In the contemporary era, women have more opportunities to enter the economic and political realms. While it seems that women’s liberation can now be seen, the female body has also become a site of debating nation’s progress.

Women have always been seen as sex objects. They are gazed and consumed under the patriarchal order. The training of ceremonial usherettes in China is seen as hyper feminine cultivation. There was specific formula for calculating the face ratio. In one of the trainings, women were asked to practice the way of smiling. For instance, they needed to put a chopstick in between their teeth. When they smiled, they should only expose 4 to 6 teeth. They were required to practice this for an hour. Women were asked to correct each other on the number of teeth exposed. There was also training on the way ceremonial usherettes walked. A book was put on women’s heads. They were also asked to keep some distance between the arm and the waist when they were holding a tray of medals. They needed to represent the “oriental beauty” of the modern China. The training for ceremonial usherettes usually contained military elements. The women needed to learn the military style of standing and jogging. While these women acquired the prefect feminine qualities and extraordinary bodies, they also had to acquire physical skills. These women were tall, all between 165 and 178 cm.

Through the embodied practices, it showed that there was a uniformity of body shape of ceremonial usherettes. The speaker emphasized that the collectivity and uniformity of usherettes’ appearance was important in a country like China, which upheld socialist ideology. As no class difference should be seen, variations in women’s appearances and individuality should be eliminated.

The speaker then traced the history of gymnastics. During the Second World War period, gymnastics was seen as the symbol of the Nazis and the German spirit. It also represented the national culture and symbolized the patriarchal order of control of men over women. For the communist countries, gymnastics was seen as new revolutionary practice. New socialist men were created by the engagement in keeping the uniformity of the idealized body shape. The Communist party promoted gymnastics after 1949. Under the market economy, the state responds to the market’s need to “sexualize” women’s bodies. Women’s bodies have always been sites for re-inventing, debating, negotiating the meanings of “Chineseness” and Chinese femininity. Under the discourse of the state, the making process of idealized young female bodies is the “natural” way to show the traditional “Oriental” beauty of China.

In conclusion, the state displays its national power and the patriarchal order through the bodies of ceremonial usherettes. Feminists see this as a commodification and objectification of the female body. Through the selection, training and disciplining on ceremonial usherettes, these female bodies show the most desirable elegance in Chinese women. The talk in general has shown the complicated relationship between gender and the building of the nation-state.

Candy YU
M.Phil. Candidade

Friday, April 26, 2013

In the Press: Gordon Mathews Says Biased Ranking Exercise Favours Research in English

Prof. Gordon Mathews wrote an opinion piece (Academics denied their place in debate on Hong Kong) for South China Morning Post, pointing out the significant problems of the Research Assessment Exercise in Hong Kong. The exercise,  imported from Margaret Thatcher's Britain, will rank different academic departments as to their research productivity and distribute funding accordingly.

The seemingly reasonable assessment favours research written in English and for Anglo-American publishers. As a result, although unintended, it renders humanists and social scientists no more than mute technocrats and bureaucrats instead of public intellectuals and makes Hong Kong universities increasingly resemble those of Singapore and mainland China.

Prof. Mathews said: "If I were a Chinese official in Beijing, I would be very happy that the exercise keeps Hong Kong academics publishing books and articles in distant places that few people read, rather than engaging in public debate through their research and publications on Hong Kong."

To read the full article , please click here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Upcoming Seminar: “Community Forestry” Challenging “Scientific Forestry”

"‘Community Forestry’ Challenging ‘Scientific Forestry’: The Role of
Progressive Academic Forestry Scholars in the Community Forestry Movement in Indonesia"

Speaker: Mia SISCAWATI
Researcher, Sajogyo Institute, Indonesia and
Associate Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Indonesia

Time: 12:30 p.m., Friday, 26 April 2013
Venue: Room 401 Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK


This talk will examine the participation of progressive academic forestry scholars in the community
forestry movement in Indonesia, particularly during the New Order era and the early period of the
Post-New Order. As part of the wider social movements in Indonesia, the community forestry
movement facilitated networks and moments of social and political possibilities for “community
forestry” to operate as a set of alternative ideas to the dominant paradigm of state-controlled
“scientific forestry.” I will examine how the collective actions of progressive academic scholars
challenged authorities and promoted alternative concepts, departing from the conservative ways of other groups of intellectuals, such as the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals.

Feel free to bring your box lunch or sandwich to eat during the talk

Friday, April 12, 2013

Upcoming Seminar: Miss Etiquette and Post-socialist China

"Gendered State Gymnasts: Miss Etiquette and Post-socialist China"

Speaker: WU Ka Ming
Assistant Professor

Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Time: 12:30 p.m., Friday, 19 April 2013
Venue: Room 401 Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK


This talk examines the Miss Etiquette, a phenomenon of having young and attractive women serving at various national events and ceremonies, such as holding flags or standing by for medal presentation at the Beijing Olympics or the Guangzhou Asian Games in China. I argue that the Miss Etiquette phenomenon represents not a simple "re-feminization" of Chinese mainland gender culture, but a new kind of state-sponsored nationalist performance, which figures the contradictory forces of the socialist legacy of gymnastics, the military disciplinary regime, and patriarchal gaze in post-socialist China.

Feel free to bring your box lunch or sandwich to eat during the talk

How Skeptics and Believers Can Connect

T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God,”discusses on
The New York Times how
skeptics and believers can have a better "marriage."
As political scientists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell observed in the United State, “recent years have seen the sharpest points of disagreement between religious believers — of nearly all stripes — and those who denounce religious belief of all types.”(American Grace)

"Anthropologists have a term for this racheting-up of opposition: schismogenesis. Gregory Bateson developed the word to describe mirroring interactions, where every move by each side makes the other respond more negatively, like those horrible arguments with your spouse where everything you say makes the other person dig in their heels more fiercely, " Luhrmann said. " of the things that makes mutual respect between believers and nonbelievers difficult is that there is a kind of line in the sand, and you’re either on one side of it or on the other."
We are the power.
However, Luhrmann pointed out that believers and nonbelievers are not so different from one another. "When I arrived at one church I had come to study... I saw my own doubts, anxieties and yearnings reflected in those around me. People were willing to utter sentences — like 'I believe in God' — that I was not, but many of those I met spoke openly and comfortably about times of uncertainty, even doubt. Many of my skeptical friends think of themselves as secular, sometimes profoundly so. Yet these secular friends often hover on the edge of faith. They meditate. They keep journals. They go on retreats. They just don’t know what to do with their spiritual yearnings. "

Perhaps there is hope, as Luhrmann said. "Good marriages work because couples learn to repair, rather than escalate, their conflicts. Same-sex marriage and abortion should not be approached by drawing a line in the sand and demonizing everyone on the other side. We need to recognize something of what we share, and to carry on a conversation — and if we can keep the conversation going, we will, however slowly, move forward. If we can’t, we’re in real trouble. "

It applies not only to religious schismogenesis, but also political schismogenesis, and is probably relevant in other places outside America.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Job Vacancy: Half-time Research Assistant

Prof. Siumi Maria TAM is looking for an RA to start as soon as possible for her Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO) project on Indian traditions in Hong Kong. The position will be based in Hong Kong. Please note that this is a half time job, and the actual work time is negotiable.

  • Assist in research work.
  • Assist in organizing seminars and other related activities.

  • Degree holder in Social Science, preferably in Anthropology. Senior year students with enough time are also encouraged to apply.
  • Strong analytical and research skills.
  • Good command of written and spoken English and Chinese; Fluency in Cantonese.

How to Apply:

Any interested candidates, please send your resume directly to Prof. Maria TAM

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Understanding the Greek "Indignation" Anthropologically

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
What can anthropology contribute to the discussion about the financial crisis? Dimitrios Theodossopoulos at The University of Kent conducted an ethnographic study of Greek citizens during the financial crisis of 2011 in order to explore the causes and consequences of the rhetoric of discontent inspired by the austerity measures. While much of the coverage in the international media often centered on the public manifestations of the protest and the "indignation,"  the article looks at the perceptions and interpretative trajectories of ordinary Greek citizens, and their views about accountability for the country’s economic woes, which represent a persistent attempt to explain a massive crisis in locally meaningful terms.

The press-release preview of the paper in Current Anthropology commented:

"Theodossopoulos’s ethnography provides a fascinating look into the ways Greeks view themselves and others in the shadow of the crisis, and shows what an anthropological approach to contemporary economic issues can add to the international discussion by highlighting the complexity and meaningfulness of local responses to the crisis."

You can find this paper in the April issue of Current Anthropology. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Chinese Version of Ghetto at the Center of the World Hits Shelves

《世界中心的貧民窟:香港重慶大廈》, the Chinese version of Prof. Gordon Mathews's book Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong has become one of the best sellers in Hong Kong! (For more details of the book, please click here.)

In two book sharing sessions held in March, Prof. Gordon Mathews talked about his experiences with Chunking Mansions from an anthropological perspective. Nicole Yang, translator of this book and also our alumna, Prof. Simon Shen (沈旭暉) as well as some of Prof. Mathews' informants joined the discussion.

Book Sharing Session at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
From left to right: Prof. Shen, Nicole Yang, Prof. Gordon Mathews, residents in Chungking Mansions