Glocal Asian Studies Lecture Series: Lecture 7 | Shooting an Elephant: Order, Rebellion, and Animals in Colonial Burma

On December 7, 2019, Prof. Maitrii Aung-thwin from the National University of Singapore, Associate Professor Jonathan Saha from the University of Leeds and Ren Chao, doctoral candidate from the University of Michigan brought the 7th session of the seventh lecture of theGlocal Asian Studies Lecture Series, with the theme of “Shooting an Elephant: Order, Rebellion, and Animals in Colonial Burma”, to doctoral students at the Institute of International and Area Studies (IIAS) of Tsinghua University.

First of all, Professor Aung-thwin introduced his research on the trial of the Saya San Rebellion (occurred between 1930-32) by the British Burmese authorities and the narratives of the incident. He found that the British colonial authorities’ rapid promulgation of decrees, special courts and accumulated precedents to quickly quell the “rebellion” provided a template for subsequent handling of related incidents. He believed that as a member of post-colonial historians, his findings should indicate how these narratives were shaped by the laws of the time, and then reveal the colonial thinking behind these narratives.

Afterwards, Dr. Saha summarized the biopolitics in Burma during the British colonial period, and illustrated all living things as subjects, objects, and recipients with examples of literature written from the perspective of dogs and rabies prevention and treatment. The different states of Abject pointed out that the British colonial authorities used biopolitical imperatives to divide races, promote public health policies, and the reproduction of viable capital (biopolitical imperatives), foster new lives, or disallow lives.

Later, Ren Chao’s research focused on a multi-party game in Myanmar’s oil industry in 1908. He pointed out that this incident can also be discussed from the perspectives of the development of the global oil industry, discuss the multi-faceted relationship between government and enterprises in the colonies (including the interaction between British colonial rule technology and enterprises; in addition, it can also compare the colonial rule of different countries), and land value creation.

Finally, the three speakers discussed issues related to order and disorder in British Burma with young scholars and doctoral students on site.

The Glocal Asian Studies Lecture Series hosted by IIAS of Tsinghua University was launched in Fall 2019. It aims to provide scholars participating in the events with a platform of dialogue and learning with top scholars studying Asia history and culture from all over the world. China’s area studies have been vigorously developed in the context of the “Belt and Road” Initiative in recent years. However, the current area studies are often a rigid superposition of country studies and lack intra-regional and inter-regional connections and comparative studies. The root cause is the missing of a long-term historical/cultural perspective in current area studies in China. The lecture series will invite top-notch and young scholars in the field of Asia studies at home and abroad to give special lectures on their latest research findings and communicate with participants. This will serve as an opportunity to cultivate area researchers’ transnational and global perspectives, and encourage them to reflect on the traditional research paradigm based on country.

By Wang Lingqi & Cheng Yao