New generation of Asia scholars feature at NZASIA conference

Prize winners at the NZASIA conference
Postgraduate students Meera Muralidharan (Wellington) and Bolin Hu (Auckland) who won NZASIA prizes, with Jasmine Edwards (Wellington) who won support from the Asia NZ Foundation.

The New Zealand Asian Studies Society held its 23rd Biennial Conference at Victoria University of Wellington from 24–27 November. Attended by over 150 delegates from around the world as well as from New Zealand, with participants coming from Australia, North America, Europe and Asia itself, the conference was a great success.

The conference opened with greetings and addresses from Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, and former ambassador to China and former executive director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation John McKinnon. The conference dinner was held in the Grand Hall at Parliament House and was hosted by the Hon Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education. Wellington was in fine form throughout the conference, offering good weather. Participants expressed tremendous satisfaction with the conference, with a lot of feedback about both the high quality of intellectual contribution. Many were especially impressed by contributions from the new generation of scholars of Asia, and the equally positive level of collegiality and simple fun.

Keynote speakers included Emeritus Professor Anthony Reid (Australian National University, and a Victoria University of Wellington alumnus), who gave the Nicolas Tarling lecture: “New Zealand and Southeast Asia: A Semi-Autobiographical Academic Half-Century, 1950-2000”; Professor Timothy Oakes (University of Colorado, Boulder, and director of the Henry Luce-funded project ‘China Made: Asian Infrastructures and the 'China Model' of Development’), who gave the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre lecture: “Infrastructure Maniac (基建狂魔): The Techno-Politics of the ‘China Model’ of Development”; and Professor Mrinalini Sinha (Alice Freeman Palmer Professor in the Department of History and Professor in the Departments of English and Women's Studies of the University of Michigan), who gave the NZ India Research Institute lecture: “Anatomy of a Protest: The Abolition of Indian Indentured Labor in the British Empire.”

A striking feature of this year’s conference was the strong presence of postgraduate students, the majority of whom presented papers at both the Pre-conference Postgraduate Workshop and in one of the mainstream conference panels. Of the 43 students who participated in the Workshop, nineteen were from New Zealand universities (ten from Wellington); the others travelled from Australia, India, China, Japan, and Taiwan. The focus was on research skills and methodologies, the art of thesis writing, and how to get academic writing published. Discussions were facilitated by two experienced academics at each of the six workshop panels, and by publishers and authors at a final session on academic publishing. Workshop conversations among the students themselves, and between the students and senior scholars, carried over into the mainstream conference, an aspect of the whole ‘conference experience’ that the postgraduate participants particularly appreciated.

New Zealand Asian Studies Society presented two postgraduate prizes: first prize went to Meera Muralidharan (Victoria University of Wellington) for her paper “Hortus Malabaricus: The Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Production of Natural History Knowledge in Malabar (1678–1693)”; second prize went to Bolin Hu (University of Auckland), “Reporting China: Chinese-language Newspapers and Community Identity in Australia, 1931–1937”. The AsiaNZ Foundation prize for the best paper from emerging scholars went to Lucy West, currently at Griffith University's Asia Institute, for her paper “Disrupting the 'Rule of Law': Public Integrity Mechanisms in Cambodia.” There were two book launches: China in Australasia: Cultural Diplomacy and Chinese Arts Since the Cold War, edited by James Beattie, Richard Bullen, and Maria Galikowski; and two volumes presented as “Chinese Millennial Poetry,” with bilingual readings by Dai Weina, Liang Yujing, and Luo Hui.