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2023 | Book

Asia in the Old and New Cold Wars

Ideologies, Narratives, and Lived Experiences

Editor: Kenneth Paul Tan

Publisher: Springer Nature Singapore


About this book

This is a collection of essays marking the 30th anniversary of the historic Cold War’s formal conclusion in 1991. It enriches Cold War studies—a field dominated by Political Science, International Relations, and History—with insights from Sociology, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, and Film and Media Studies. Through critical analysis of newspaper and magazine articles, films, novels, art exhibits, museums, and other commemorative sites that engage with the themes of conflict, violence, trauma, displacement, marginalization, ecology, and identity, the book provides rich and diverse perspectives on the complex relationship between the historic Cold War and its legacies on the one hand and, on the other, their impact on Asia, its plural histories and peoples, and their shifting identities, ideological beliefs, and lived experiences.
Today, we often speak of an ‘Asian century’ and witness intensifying concerns over ‘new cold wars’ or ‘Cold War 2.0’. A United States in decline and a China on the rise create conditions for a new superpower rivalry, with a trade war already being fought between the two competitors. Russia continues to flex its geopolitical muscles, launching a full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in 2022, as its strongman leadership yearns nostalgically for the good old days of the USSR. As grand narratives and strategies of the Cold War jostle to make sense of high-level geopolitical events, this book descends to the level of lived experience, zooming in on ordinary and marginalized peoples, whose lives and livelihoods have been affected over the decades by the Cold War and its legacies.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Interpreting the Cold War and the New Cold War in Asia
The Cold War dominated the twentieth century and its effects have been felt in almost every part of the world, even until today. Current issues and debates in global affairs are, for instance, often explained by notable personalities in foreign policy, academia, journalism, and the arts in terms of a “New Cold War”, though not without some scepticism. The New Cold War, it might seem to many, follows the same basic narrative of the original Cold War’s script, but is performed to different audiences, by different actors, on different stage sets, and dressed in different costumes. For instance, in the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were rival superpowers in a bipolar world, where China was a major power; in the New Cold War, the United States is seen to be a declining superpower and China a rising superpower in a new geo-political rivalry, where Russia continues to play a major role. This chapter discusses how the Cold War and the New Cold War may be viewed as historical phenomena; as manifestations of ideological struggle; as a set of narratives featuring storytelling techniques and formats disseminated through film, television serials, books, news, and commemorative sites; and as lived experiences of ordinary and marginalized peoples in Asia.
Kenneth Paul Tan
Chapter 2. Curating Memory: Cold-War Narratives in Museums and Memorials in Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, and Cambodia
In many East and Southeast Asian countries, the Cold War remains alive through places of memory that capture parts of the Cold War’s legacy. This essay explores the topic of the visual and experiential language of the Cold War as expressed in these places of memory, where governments, civil society organizations, and individuals continue to recast and adapt their official and unofficial narratives of the Cold War and its enduring legacies. This article is based on a series of trips that the author took while in graduate school to places of memory in Taiwan (Kinmen Island, its war museums and memorials, and Cold War souvenir industry), Vietnam (Cu Chi and various museums in Ho Chi Minh City), South Korea (the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul), and Cambodia (the Cambodia Landmine Museum, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and Choeung Ek Killing Fields) and subsequent research. It weaves together the visitor’s immediate experience as a foreigner and tourist with an understanding of how each place situates its narrative in the historical mainstream. Places of memory are focal points for experiencing countries’ Cold War histories, especially for foreign travelers, but must also contend with preconceived Cold War narratives obtained from Western media, creating tension in determining which representation is more authentic and whether the local museum may be as full of propaganda as the international movie. Throughout all of the selected places of memory, there remain unaddressed questions of identity — who we are, what we did, what was done to us, who we want to be — that spur visitors to reflect on these questions for places of memory relevant to their own countries and selves.
Giacomo Bagarella
Chapter 3. Ecology as a Cold-War Scale: Lau Kek Huat’s Absent Without Leave and Ha Jin’s War Trash
At the end of Lau Kek Huat’s documentary, Absent Without Leave (2016), the narrator’s father wanders around his childhood home, seemingly lost. His corporeality is emphasized by a series of shuffling steps, as he is unable to pinpoint his exact location. This inability to recognize his home, which is now a plantation, represents a larger issue, concerning the exilic remnants of the rural ethnic Chinese in the Cold-War conflict known as the Malayan Emergency. Specifically, the documentary depicts communist fighters exiled from modern-day Malaysia, showing the impact of the Cold War through their corporeal displacement from the Malayan ecology. The documentary’s shots of the Malayan landscape and jungle are visual depictions of the land, which commemorate the past homes of these documented subjects.
Zhou Hau Liew
Chapter 4. Where Is My Homeland? Mainland Chinese Refugees and Hong Kong Tenement Films During the Cold-War Era
This chapter is the first in-depth study of Hong Kong tenement films as the embodiment of opposing Cold-War political and ideological forces, scrutinizing the cultural dimension of Cold-War conflicts in Hong Kong. It combines textual analysis with archival research to closely analyze several Hong Kong tenement films of the 1950s, including Home, Sweet Home (1950), The Show Must Go On (1952), The Dividing Wall (1952), Halfway Down (1955), and The Mandarin’s Bowls (1956). The portraits of tenement life in these films reveal a range of sociohistorical problems encountered by the diasporic Chinese communities in post-war Hong Kong. They include war, displacement, mass unemployment, housing shortage, abject poverty, class struggle, gender oppression, left-right ideological confrontations, and the historical traumas and collective memories associated with them. The chapter aims to make clear how the production, circulation, and reception of a series of tenement dramas in 1950s’ Hong Kong cinema were strongly shaped by the ongoing impact of global Cold-War politics and British imperial politics, reflecting Hong Kong’s crucial geopolitical position as a locale of Chinese diaspora and a battlefront of the psychological warfare in Cold-War Asia. It contends that the renderings of refugee experiences, the tales of exile, and the contentious claims of “homeland” were not simply cinematic representations of Hong Kong’s social reality in the 1950s, but strategic narratives and cultural manifestations of political and ideological allegiance, which served a larger political end for the identity politics of overseas Chinese amid the Cold War.
Linda Huixian Ou
Chapter 5. Grand Strategies and Everyday Struggles Under the New Cold War and COVID-19: A Sociological Political Economy
The ongoing geopolitical tensions and conflicts between China and the United States on various fronts including trade, technology, and national security have marked an escalating “New Cold War” (or “Warm War”) in the current global superpower competition between a rapidly rising power in the East and an established but declining incumbent in the West. Further, both the geopolitical tensions and people’s living conditions have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected and will continue to shape the superpower rivalry and the post-COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery in China, the United States, and many places in-between.
John Wei
Chapter 6. The Cold-War Structure of Feeling: Revisiting the Discourse of “Dalumei” (Mainland Little Sister) in Taiwan
This chapter examines how cross-Strait relations between mainland China and Taiwan are interwoven with a Cold-War sentiment in Asia. It looks into the ways the cultural imagery of “dalumei” (mainland little sister) perpetuates the Cold-War structure of feeling in “post-Cold War” Taiwan. To do so, this chapter discusses an affective paradox that shapes cross-Strait intimacy between mainland China and Taiwan by studying the representation of dalumei in popular texts, such as cross-Strait guidebooks, TV serials, and movies. Finally, through ethnographic work in the erotic tea parlours in Taipei, this chapter proposes possibilities of de-Cold War, shifting the feminist paradigm from an impasse between “gold-digging” and victimisation to the politics of redistribution and the mainland Chinese hostesses’ “sisterhood” in the erotic spaces.
I-ting Chen
Chapter 7. China’s Health Diplomacy in the “New-Cold-War” Era: Contrasting the Battle of Narratives in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa
In a keynote speech delivered from Beijing to the World Economic Forum on 17 January 2022, President Xi Jinping declared that “We need to discard the Cold War mentality and seek peaceful coexistence and win–win outcomes”. This statement is illustrative of the heightened geopolitical tensions between China and the West, particularly the United States. The 180-degree turn from “Chimerica” (a neologism coined in 2006 to describe the economically symbiotic relationship between China and the United States) to the “New Cold War” has resulted in a “clash of empires” in the 2010s and 2020s. This chapter examines how the creeping “Cold-War mentality” has spilled over to the global public health sector in the form of cold-war battles of narratives about China and COVID-19.
Emilie Tran, Yahia H. Zoubir
Chapter 8. Hungary and the New-Cold-War Narrative on China
In early 2021, a harsh Cold-War rhetoric appeared in Hungarian oppositional media with the announcement of plans to build a Chinese university in Budapest. The oppositional media presented the proposed “Fudan Hungary” as a national choice between East and West. The sudden and sharp polarization of Hungarian media discourse over Fudan Hungary demonstrated how the global Cold-War narrative firstly creates a basic, dominant frame for newly emerging issues, and secondly can be instrumentalized for domestic political gains. This chapter analyses how the New-Cold-War narrative on China interacts with questions about the history and identity of the Hungarian nation, placing the Fudan Hungary case in wider domestic, historical, and political contexts. The chapter applies a constructivist approach and uses frame analysis, as it opens a space to investigate underlying dimensions and power struggles. The author argues that the Cold-War narrative is detrimental for society and democracy. Within a war narrative, there remains no space for public debate, and the lack of this debate disempowers the people and undermines the very idea of a public sphere.
Ágota Révész
Chapter 9. Haunted History: Exorcising the Cold War
The historic Cold War may have formally ended in the early 1990s, but its influence continues to weigh heavily on much of our imagination today. In one sense, the Cold War has been a highly generative source of creativity, invention, and optimism in the human ability to surpass our natural limitations. But in quite another sense, the Cold War continues to constrain our thinking and behaviour, locking us into what seems like an eternally repetitive cycle of division, binarism, polarization, competition, othering, fear, conflict, violence, and trauma. Cold War ideological struggles have not abated, continuing to filter down into—and be modulated by—the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people. While high-level events and the Cold War strategies and narratives that continue to frame and control their significance are certainly important for critical analysis, we should also descend from the lofty considerations of geopolitics, foreign policy, and international relations to focus, at the level of lived experience, on how people and their communities, especially the marginalized, have been affected by Cold War legacies, including its modes and styles of reasoning and feeling. The Cold War has been a major source of trauma affecting so many people around the world. They lived under brutal regimes and witnessed—or were even forced into committing indescribable atrocities. They lost their homes or were forcefully dislocated from their homelands, living as refugees or in exile, forgotten by their families and communities. They moved in search of opportunities and settled in places where they faced discrimination, exploitation, and marginalization. And as China rises and challenges the global pre-eminence of the United States, the international system has come under more strain, raising the likelihood of war. And so, the cycle of violence and trauma continues. The Cold War legacy—its modes and styles of reasoning and feeling—will continue to stand in the way of progress in the name of social justice, democracy, and peace around the world.
Kenneth Paul Tan
Asia in the Old and New Cold Wars
Kenneth Paul Tan
Copyright Year
Springer Nature Singapore
Electronic ISBN
Print ISBN