GAS Interview with Prof. Chen Kuan-Hsing (Bandung Schools, Taipei and Hsinchu, Taiwan)
Bandung Schools, the locally grounded and internationally connected actions to change the mode of thinking and to build mutually supportive networks
—— Thanks to your talk in IASA in May, we could receive overall ideas of Bandung School and major missions.1) To leave it in this interview, could you tell us again about the main missions of Bandung Schools?
“Let me begin with this. Bandung School is still in progress and the basic strategy or goal is locally grounded rather than centralized. We have a headquarter in Bandung, Indonesia, and by now there are several places like in Bangkok, Yogyakarta, and Taipei that I already started some minimum programs or activities. The idea is actually to build these different Bandung Schools in the local but try to keep them connected. But, none of them that I mentioned has to do with the university, and some of members may have to do with the university, some may not. Because we believe, as I tried to suggest last time, university is actually the problem. Also, at this moment of the history, you cannot bypass university. So, it is a complicated relation we are trying to work out, and it is not a finished story. So, that is one of the assumptions I want to put on the table.
In terms of the goal, I think of several levels. One is trying to change the mode of thought/thinking, partially because the university does not provide that. There is no correct way of mode of thinking, but we know what the problem is. It is also an evolving process. Let me give you a couple of examples. There are the things called, ‘Chinese medicine’ and ‘Western medicine.’ It reflects the modes of thought. The Chinese medicine is accumulated across history and tried to do experiments and keep elements working alive. The so-called ‘Western medicine’ is using the deductive logic—logical reasoning, which is supposed to be universal, whereas the Chinese medicine never claims to be universal. It suggests that in different places it has its own logic. So, in that sense, we are negotiating. In other words, to claim anything universal, at least in the human sphere, is simply too simple and too easy at this point. I think this is the assumption we have to keep in mind, so in other words we are trying to work together towards that so-called ‘universal.’ Whether we can eventually reach it, we do not know. This is one level of the ultimate goal.
The second goal is very concrete. It is the leftover of Bandung Conference, suggested when African and Asian leaders met in 1995. They left over one mission; the interaction among ourselves, among Asia and Africa and maybe also Latin America and the Caribbean, to cut it short, outside so-called the West. This mission never achieved. Wherever you go, everything, I believe also in Japan, becomes defined by the notion of the West and all with reference to that. It is not a matter of good or bad, but is it possible to create another frame of reference? So, we can consult. This is our goal to achieve and we are trying to put forward. Perhaps, this is a little bit like your Global Asia project. What is global and Global Asia? I think it is not only Asia as such but how we also understand Asia in the global term. Even when we are talking about Global Asia, the certain part of Asia will be left out. So, in that sense we are trying to work towards that goal where everyone participates in the process. We do not know whether that is to be achieved. These are pretty much the agenda [of the Bandung School], and this project in some ways has some background with the university because the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies project tried to connect with different programs in Asia together. But, the university has the problem of hierarchy. That is why we are trying to create another space and to interact over there, rather than directly with the university. The Inter-Asia Cultural Studies project is still on-going.2) It has about twenty-three institutional members trying to work together, which involves teachings, summer schools and so on. In a way, it is an overlapping network of institutional groups and individuals.”
—— Thank you. We could understand that the difference of Bandung School from Inter-Asia Initiative is the circulation of resources and practices beyond academia as more community-oriented and society-wide. Since you explained that as the project in progress Bandung School started activities in Bangkok, Yogyakarta and so on, we wonder how these activities are locally grounded. Could you explain the major activities that are shared within Bandung School and that are diversified in different regions?
“For instance, in Taipei, there is a group of people who purchased a piece of land and an old building and are trying to do the activity in there. That is the first time “we” have our own real space to do whatever we want to without having to pay rent. So, one program we organize is the online study group across water. It’s in Mandarin, including members in China, Taiwan, etc. But, the members are actually not students, coming from all different backgrounds, from theater group and even a chef. It is a better way to study than the university education because there is no credit. The participants do not take it for granted and spend more time with studying together. In other words, once operating outside the university, it is less instrumental and instrumentalist. Students and the relations among students and so-called teachers, and the forms of teaching are very flexible. One time we started at 6:30 in the evening, and the class session did not finish until 3:30 in the morning. So, you can go but can also stay if you want to. That is just one example. I think in Yogyakarta it focuses on children’s education and so on. It is still on-going. Before that we were involved in curatorial work (curating project) in collaboration with Arts institution. That is also a part of the ambition or imagination. So, it depends on where you are. In Bangkok, we are trying to work together. To my understanding, the more ambitious one is in Bandung. They are trying to work into one Bandung School including the entire Indonesia, rather than locally situated. They are still trying to decide what to do, so at one point, I think we will come together to exchange experiences.
Those are some of the activities we have been doing. This study group also involves research. We started as a study group, and it involves different stages. The content of readings are actually novels. We read novels and try to collect the materials and edit them together. This also involves the publication project. We have many publications and publisher friends. Publication also means, for instance, the publication from the student study group. At the end of semester, they present the material, and all these are involved in publication. We already have the academic journal, both international and local, but how to expand this, also including translation project, is a very difficult project. For instance, imagining what the Global Asia project is involves tremendous amount of work, in terms of translation. Otherwise, it would not work.”
—— Are there specific topics or focus of the activities and research in different areas of Bandung Schools?
“There is a particular study group who I am talking about. We read two novelists over the past two years. So, the first one is Chen Yingzhen, a Taiwanese novelist and the main theme is actually about the Third World, the Third World psyche and so on. The second one is Cao Zhenlu, a mainland Chinese novelist, and he wrote about the Cultural Revolution for instance and, based in Shenzhen, the new international cooperation moving in and changing the situations. We invited experts to explain how the industrialization was related and so on. All these involve research and also the comparison of research material. The school has not developed its own research yet, but we have the ambition, for instance, Digital Studies and so on. All these will be involved slowly, but that is more easily done because the university connection network is already there. And, the Inter-Asia Cultural Conference just finished in India has already evolved into research cluster. So, the research topic is emerging and already going-on.”
—— Thank you. From previous interviews, we realized that different institutions on Global Asia Studies have their focused topics that are closely connected to each locality or positionality within Asian Studies. Because Bandung School is across different regions, we were wondering if there are any common topics that are shared within Bandung Schools. As you mentioned that Bandung Schools are still on-going projects, emerging voluntarily in different areas, could you tell us about your thoughts on the potentials or constraints that Bandung School has faced or found through its experience so far?
“One of the constraints we have is, of course, funding. We can’t use support from different kinds of international project, unlike the university. We are all self-funded. So, this is one of the constraints, but maybe also the advantage. If we want to develop the project, maybe funding can be solved. But, our research project will be more movement-oriented.”
—— Could you share your thoughts on the concept of Global Asia? How do you evaluate the capacity of this notion, or the pitfalls to use Global Asia or Global Asian Studies from your perspective?
“It is very difficult to comprehend the notion of Global Asia. One way to understand is institutional. It is actually to connect different Asian Studies Institutions together. Another way is trying to globalize this thing called Asian studies located in Asia. But, that is more difficult. There are more Asian Studies outside Asia than in Asia, I think. We have been doing, in some ways, Asian Studies, but we do not know very much of the history of Asian Studies. For example, your institute, the Institute of Advanced Studies on Asia has a long history and has a name to it. I have been asking around my friends, what the characteristic of this is, and they say that University of Tokyo has too many interrelated projects like this, Asian Studies related programs, and it is very difficult to pin down. So, I guess, it depends on who is where to do what.
If you want to ask what I think, you mentioned about the relation with Japan, in relation to Asia, I think that is a very important issue, politically (not only intellectually) now. Because Japan is very important at this moment in history. If Japan changes, the whole world may change. If Japan is leaning on the side of East Asia, rather than on the U.S, the map will be changed. But, that is the political ideas rather than academic thought. I do not know if the institute has something to do with the think tank, but, at least, I guess my assumption is, if the intellectuals do not think about this issue, they will follow the politician. If the intellectual has something to say, this is the moment. Japan has to reposition itself. Otherwise, the danger will be unthinkable. Because if war happens, it’s not going to be any of the wars before. So, I think the Global Asia project should emphasize the Japanese component. But, how do you do that? I do not know. How does that operate so far? How do you look at Japan and Asia on the global point of view, rather than separately, rather than from the point of view from Japan, or from Asia, but from the global point of view where Japan is located, where Asia is located? What would be the relation between these two? If I have a right to make some suggestions, I would suggest that.”
—— Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Through previous interviews with other institutes, we also learnt that the initiative might really depend on who participates on what kind of issues.
“What in so far is the Global Asia project, and what stage is it on?”
——It is in progress as well. We are trying to talk to various scholars and researchers in different locations to understand that we all have diverse positionalities within our own situation. This kind of relativizing our own experience is what we are trying to gather from this type of interviews. Also, we are inviting overseas scholars as lecturers or for book talks to listen to their own research or ideas in relation to Global Asian Studies. We are trying to build an intellectual network of both graduate student level and researcher level. We are in the moment of building our own network and sharing experiences to discuss what Global Asian Studies can be. So, we are also in the beginning.
“What about the research project?”
—— For example, we had a collaborative joint workshop with NTU in March. As a kickoff workshop, we were open to explore the topics under the theme of East Asian connectivity. It was more like an open setting in which every participant was encouraged to figure out what they want to discuss within the frame of Global Asian Studies or Global Asia. In a sense, we are adjusting ourselves to make some balances between the framework of Global Asia and our own research topic(s). To add one more thing, you are very right saying the very complicated impact of using the public money for their own activities. We have to make our platform as much open as possible while we have to have some cohesiveness, which is very difficult to handle. So, we are preparing some key words, one of which is Asian connectivity. Sometimes, humanities are connected, also information connected, but we try to look at how Asia is connected or disconnected in different forms or different times. This is again a very broad perspective rather than a very specific research question. If we may, we have one more question. Could you tell us about your outlook, plans or vision, of Bandung Schools beyond the constraints that you have faced.
“I think the outlook would be that, I hope, different places will take roots and we can begin to work together, and we slowly change certain modern knowledge. And, if we can manage to do a small portion of it, that would be enough. It is not easy, we know that. But, Bandung School, in some ways, is a symbolic unit. Also, it has to carry through with this task. We hope others would be interested or influenced by this idea, individually or institutionally. That’s what we try to do. We hope we can contribute minimal to this agenda.”
—— Thank you. We understand why you as a senior professor who has a lot of networks with other international scholars think of promoting the idea of Bandung School. Probably, we guess, you are annoyed by the same disease, social disease that almost the universities in Asia are affected, that is, the impact of global ranking. Global Ranking functions not only in the institutional level but also at the professor level. There are some huge gaps between the ideal that senior professors promote and very concrete incentives that junior professors need. We also think it is a good idea for you to provide more publication opportunities for young scholars, but we want to hear your ideas about what kinds of incentives you have in mind in recruiting, encouraging, empowering young scholars who might be supporting your project.
“Our experience with the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies project is one. It has evolved into, I would not say a huge network, but mutually supportive network. On the daily level, people support each other. The journal itself actually backs up a lot of young scholars. In that sense I think, the Global Asia project will have to develop publication. Also, I do not like Global Ranking because people need to be ranked but not by the way it is now. That’s the problem. In certain places like in China it used to be the case that three pieces of Chinese writings equal one English writing. That kind of situation [is problematic]. But, if we can turn around and force the university to realize that national languages are as important as international language, this is another ideal. I think we already realize that. To my knowledge, China already stopped joining the Global Ranking. So, not only Global Ranking, like the Bandung School, there is a social implication to our projects, like social services you provide and so on. So, in that sense, I think the key is we have already been very successful in developing a huge network. The key is publication.
Also, the network, friendship network. That is the most important thing. I think now the conventional academic framework or associations become competitive against each other. Ours are a mutually supportive network, precisely because we do not build this competitive component into it. As a senior faculty, I have to find ways. I do not want to get into details, but I can tell you that all the referee systems are different from others. We try to help, rather than competing each other but to help younger scholars to develop better, write better, and do better research. Rather than being competitive on your own. A lot of these can be done, but most of the senior faculty do not usually care. As to the so-called senior faculty, we became really close and good friends, supporting each other, supporting the younger ones. I seldom see this in other fields of study, probably because we grew up together when we were young. But now, twenty some years now, the younger ones already became friends, and their networks are also emerging, so they are becoming supporting each other. I give you one concrete example. I remember in wintertime we congregated in Taiwan for a camp to teach young faculty how to survive and to share our own experience about what to be done and the necessary things you need to do to prepare yourself inside academic institution. I have never heard any other disciplines have done that. So, these can be done. The thing is, as you know the senior faculty actually have more time. You should have done more to serve the younger ones, so you need to produce younger ones rather than doing nothing. So, this is one of the difficulties working inside the university, which has nothing to do with Global Ranking, but Global Ranking is sort of forcing to do it. That’s all I can say.”
—— Thank you. You mentioned before that “how we proceed the concept of Global Asia depends on how we look at Japan from the global point of view.” And, we want to ask you back, how do you view the strength of Japan from the global point of view? From your view what is the strength of Japan that our institute can utilize in your view, and what is your expectation to our institute and promoting this concept of Global Asia?
“I think one direction Global Asia needs to go is that it is actually to be truly globalized. If you want to really globalize, you need to incorporate all different elements into the project. It’s not like national representation, but they need to be incorporated and taken care of so that you can do more productive things. Another direction is to take the advantage of the location of Japan, globally. Japan plays an important role, for example, of war. But, it can also be dangerous if it becomes Japan-centric. So, in that sense I think you need to incorporate more and more people into the project. By the location of Japan, I mean not only academic positions but also intellectual position(s). For instance, Japan has been the largest industry of translation on Earth. But, I think the project needs to do the other way around: how do you translate the material from Japan to outside, not only in English but also to other languages? That’s one of the projects I think very important. It needs to be developed systematically. If I were in charge, I would work with global publishers. At least to develop one English journal and book series and other major languages publishers like French, Spanish and Arabic. This needs to be in place; otherwise, with no such infrastructure, I think it’s very difficult. But also politically, where is the location of Japan, what can you do to support the rest of the world, especially with East Asia? I think it needs to be situated in East Asia and work more actively with Northeast Asians like Korean and Chinese. I think, that way, the project would have future. If it is only an academic project, trying to develop new projects in order to have new funding and so on, things will not succeed. It needs an intellectual agenda.”
—— Thank you so much. Our institute has our own English journal as well: International Journal of Asian Studies (IJAS). And, as the new agenda and direction that we are pushing from this year, we just started another initiative to write a book review about the book written in Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. We are very glad to hear that you also have this idea. Also, despite the difficulties of translation and funding for it, we fully understand what you mentioned. Unless we try to take an inside-out approach, unless we try to transform our local knowledge into the more global accessible knowledge, our future is not promising.
“Let me make one suggestion. I think the publication needs to be taken to the university level. University of Tokyo has produced the most thinkers in the world, compared with any other. For instance, Mizoguchi Yuzo is a very important thinker, but none of his books is translated into English. UTokyo should systematically develop translation mechanism to translate their famous thinkers into English, which needs to be specially funded. Otherwise, a lot of these important Japanese thinkers produced even by UTokyo itself would not be translated. Not to mention the institute itself, I think the university has the responsibility to do that, but I know it is difficult to convince them. But I think, if you can develop this way, it will also increase the global ranking. If you go work with the Cambridge University Press for example, jointly with University of Tokyo Press, the target would be the first wave of the modern thinkers and then important thinkers within the institute. These are the people who need to be supported. And to promote not only publishing in Japanese but also in English, in book format, I think is one of the strategies that needs to be done.”
—— That is a rather huge project. One of the obstacles is, we can hardly find successors, which is kind of a contradiction we are facing. That is why we promoted Global Japan Studies and set a kind of an intellectual series, titled Intellectual Giants at the University of Tokyo.3) But, finding appropriate lecturers is really difficult because of discontinuity of the great thinkers in Japan.
“One last thing. By now actually translation is not as difficult as you imagine, because of the AI. But, I think the university leadership needs to understand what that means, and using the momentum of Global Ranking will help UTokyo. And it will actually help Japan at large because there are so many important thinkers there that are not translated yet.”
—— Thank you very much. Not only about the Bandung School, but we all had a lot of ideas and inspiration from you today. We cannot agree more to the importance of mutually supporting networks among colleagues as well as collective endeavors to one another in order to live in this academic world, also as an individual in the society. We appreciate this inspiring interview today.
1) You may refer to the following articles to grasp the overarching ideas of the Bandung Schools.
Kuan-Hsing Chen, Miao Lu, Jack Linchuan Qiu (2022) Back to Bandung for the Future: The Never-Ending Project of De-imperialization, Communication Theory, 32:2, 281-288, https://doi.org/10.1093/ct/qtac004
Kuan-Hsing Chen (2023) “Let us build the world anew” here and now: from Sukarnoism to Bandung School, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 24:1, 181-182, https://doi.org/10.1080/14649373.2023.2156131
2) For the further information of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies project, please check the following link: http://culturalstudies.asia
3) You may find further information of this project from the following link: https://gas.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/reports/booklet-gjs-vol-4/