East Asia Scholarship on Display at CUGS

Faculty and Students present research in Global Vantage Point Series

East Asia doesn’t often generate the same level of attention as many other parts of the world, such as Russia, the Middle East, and the Eurozone. The list goes on. But for several Trinity researchers – students and faculty alike – East Asia is a rich source of scholarship: a fact that was on display last week at Trinity’s Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS).

Reo Matsuzaki, assistant professor of political science, presented his work on state-building in a Common Hour talk entitled, “Imposing Authority: Colonial Taiwan, Philippines, and the Paradox of State-Building.” Based in part on his dissertation written at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Matsuzaki examined the factors that contributed to the relative strength of once-occupied states Taiwan and the Philippines.

Matsuzaki defined state strength as “the ability of the central government to effectively fulfill functions that are central to the state’s survival and prosperity.” These functions, he argues, are coercion, the provision of public goods, tax collection, mobilization, and data collection and surveillance. In comparing Taiwan and the Philippines, Matsuzaki effectively measured state strength by examining internal revenue and cholera deaths in the early 20th century, both reflections of those vital functions of the state. These revealed a significantly stronger state in Taiwan than the Philippines.

Three primary factors in state building lead to a state’s strength, Matsuzaki said. They are the background conditions in the state, intensity of the state-building effort, and the design of institutions. Comparing Taiwan and the Philippines, Matsuzaki found that he effectively controlled for background conditions and the intensity of the state-building effort by Japan and the United States, respectively. The difference in state strength came down to a question of design, he argued, which entailed building bureaucratic capacity and political authority.

In Taiwan, rather than governing through large bureaucratic institutions, the Japanese built both capacity and political authority by relying on the local systems of self-rule known as hokō. Hokō is a system that organizes communities into groups of about 100 households. Each group had a representative in the local branch office of the police department. This increased the level of political authority and legitimacy of the state-building Japanese leadership.

In the Philippines, however, the American state-builders – looking to remake the Philippines in the American image – were focused on bureaucratic reform and lawmaking. They built an effective bureaucracy with sufficient capacity, but failed to make the colonial government authoritative. This problem was caused, Matsuzaki said, by the desire of colonial authorities to create institutions and law that legitimized the occupation in the eyes of the American public.

Today, Matsuzaki said, the same obstacles to effective state-building remain. In the eyes of Western donors and political leaders, modern looking bureaucracies seem more legitimate, and officials with the United Nations and World Bank are committed to following the “best practices” that lead to repeating the mistakes made in the Philippines.

Matsuzaki’s presentation was the latest in CUGS’ Global Vantage Point Series, which gives both faculty and students a forum to present their research. Earlier in the week, Trinity students Tram Luong ’14, and Gaurav Toor ’14, shared their work in a Common Hour called “Vietnamese ‘Outsiders’ and Chinese ‘Insiders.’”

Luong, a Tanaka Grant recipient, researched the phenomenon of statelessness in Cambodia. During her research, she stayed in a village of about 500 Vietnamese families living on the Tonlé Sap, a lake in Cambodia. In particular, Luong studied the way that the Vietnamese in Cambodia are made to feel invisible and dehumanized.

A Trinity senior from Vietnam, Luong attested to the fact that Vietnamese students learn little about the complicated history between Vietnam and its neighbor to the west. She said that the enslavement of Cambodians and Vietnam’s seizure of Cambodian land over many years have been largely erased from the Vietnamese consciousness. They are, however, crucial stories in Cambodian folklore, and Cambodian officials have taken advantage of this reality.

Cambodia’s ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party, is known to exploit the undocumented status of Vietnamese immigrants and Cambodia’s lax election laws in order to guarantee success at the ballot box. Because these Vietnamese immigrants vote in strong numbers for the Cambodian People’s Party, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party stokes anti-immigrant sentiment in Cambodia for its own political purposes. Coupled with their existing history, this leads to the disenfranchisement of the Vietnamese: the “other” in the eyes of many Cambodians.

Toor, another Tanaka Grant recipient and senior from India, studied the fall of Chinese politician Bo Xilai, who served as the secretary of the Communist Party’s Chongqing Committee. Xilai took his party’s traditional style and drenched it in ideology. This made him incredibly popular in the interior municipality of Chongqing.

Under Xilai, Chongqing thrived. Once plagued by gangs, outmigration, and apathy as development took place almost exclusively along China’s coast, Xilai transformed Chongqing. His outward embrace of deeply ideological Communism masked his underlying capitalist instincts.

In his research, Toor conducted a series of interviews with residents of both urban Chongqing and the more rural outer regions of the municipality. Respondents confirmed the successes of “the Chongqing Experiment,” and the region’s turnaround.

Though Xilai resigned his post in 2013 and was incarcerated for corruption a year later, many of the programs he initiated continue. Much like Xilai espoused Communism while embracing capitalism, his successors have been critical of Xilai while continuing the direction he led Chongqing.

 The Global Vantage Point Series continues on April 22 with a Common Hour presentation by Abbas Kazemi, visiting scholar of sociology, called, “Ideological Spaces and Walking Policy in Tehran.” The lecture is free and open to the public.