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New Reviews from NewBooks.Asia

Strong Soldiers, Failed Revolution: The State and Military in Burma, 1962-88
Yoshihiro Nakanishi

General Ne Win’s state reformation in the name of the “Burmese Way to Socialism” contributed to the expansion of the political role of the Myanmar Armed Forces, the tatmadaw, but the underlying dynamics of this change remain poorly understood. Drawing on propaganda publications, profiles of the country’s political elites, and original documents in Burma’s military archives, Yoshihiro Nakanishi offers a fresh look at the involvement of the tatmadaw in Burma’s ideological discourse and civil-military relations.

The tatmadaw’s anti-communist propaganda during the 1950s was a key element in state ideology under the Ne Win regime, and the direct participation of tatmadaw officers in the Burma Socialist Programme Party and government ministries at the national and local level transformed the political party system and civilian bureaucracy. Personal relationships – between Ne Win and the tatmadaw officer corps, and within the military – were central to the growing influence of the military, and to the outcome of the political crisis and subsequent military coup d’état in 1988.

Nakanishi’s discussion of these processes reveals many heretofore-unknown facts about this “dark age” in the country’s political history, and highlights its institutional legacy for the post-1988 military regime and the reformist government that succeeded it. His thought-provoking conclusions are significant for Southeast Asia specialists and for students of politics generally, and his insights will be useful for anyone seeking to engage with Myanmar as it comes to terms with an outside world it once kept at arm’s length.

More InformationNewBooks.Asia Review

Metamorphosis: Studies in Social and Political Change in Myanmar
Renaud Egreteau (Editor) and François Robinne (Editor)

With a young population of more than 52 million, an ambitious roadmap for political reform, and on the cusp of rapid economic development, since 2010 the world’s attention has been drawn to Myanmar or Burma.

But underlying recent political transitions are other wrenching social changes and shocks, a set of transformations less clearly mapped out. Relations between ethnic and religious groups, in the context of Burma’s political model of a state composed of ethnic groups, are a particularly important “unsolved equation”.

The editors use the notion of metamorphosis to look at Myanmar today and tomorrow—a term that accommodates linear change, stubborn persistence and the possibility of dramatic transformation. Divided into four sections, on politics, identity and ethnic relations, social change in fields like education and medicine, and the evolutions of religious institutions, the volume takes a broad view, combining an anthropological approach with views from political scientists and historians. This volume is an essential guide to the political and social challenges ahead for Myanmar.

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Religion and Nationalism in Southeast Asia
Joseph Chinyong Liow

Religion and nationalism are two of the most potent and enduring forces that have shaped the modern world. Yet, there has been little systematic study of how these two forces have interacted to provide powerful impetus for mobilization in Southeast Asia, a region where religious identities are as strong as nationalist impulses. At the heart of many religious conflicts in Southeast Asia lies competing conceptions of nation and nationhood, identity and belonging, and loyalty and legitimacy. In this accessible and timely study, Joseph Liow examines the ways in which religious identity nourishes collective consciousness of a people who see themselves as a nation, perhaps even as a constituent part of a nation, but anchored in shared faith. Drawing on case studies from across the region, Liow argues that this serves both as a vital element of identity and a means through which issues of rights and legitimacy are understood.
Chinese Encounters in Southeast Asia: How People, Money, and Ideas from China Are Changing a Region
Pal Nyiri (Editor) Daniell Tan (Editor), and Gungwu Wang (Foreward)

This is the first book to focus explicitly on how China’s rise as a major economic and political actor has affected societies in Southeast Asia. It examines how Chinese investors, workers, tourists, bureaucrats, longtime residents, and adventurers interact throughout Southeast Asia. The contributors use case studies to show the scale of Chinese influence in the region and the ways in which various countries mitigate their unequal relationship with China by negotiating asymmetry, circumventing hegemony, and embracing, resisting, or manipulating the terms dictated by Chinese capital.

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