Research Achievements

GIARI & Social and Cultural Field

Research:Publications:Working Papers FY2008(english-27,japanese-4)

Imaginings, Identity, Integration: Asia in the Minds of Singapore Students / Tan Ern Ser, Gloria Arlini, and Fairoz Ahmad


Working Papers

Excellent papers on Asian regional integration, which are prepared mainly by young researchers such as GIARI members, co-researchers, research fellows, and research assistants, will be published as working papers. Contributed papers, written in English or in Japanese, will be reviewed and examined by the editorial committee before publication. GIARI donates published papers to the libraries of Waseda and other related universities, research organizations, etc.

GIARI Working Paper Vol.2008-E-25


The Idea of Asia

What do we mean by ‘Asia’? In other words, what does the idea of ‘Asia’incorporate? Geographically, there exists a continent bounded by the Pacific, Arctic and Indian Oceans that is called ‘Asia’ but sociologically, politically and historically; the idea of ‘Asia’ has always been contested. The extra-geographical conceptions of ‘Asia’ have always been a source of conceptual disunity.

Sociologically, Edwardes (cited in Kausikan, 1971:12) writing in 1962, a period of rapid decolonization and where perceptions of geopolitics were driven by Cold War considerations, concludes that ‘Asia’ has no meaning, although he admits that the word tends to be commonly employed as if it has a precise meaning Politically, Asia is often defined within the context of colonialism as the repository of everything inferior (Kausikan, 1971:12; see also Said 1979). Hence, Buszynski (2004:138) defines Asia as a “geographical concept representing a vast stretch of territory comprising diverse traditional cultures and civilizations that has been colonized by the West. The idea of Asia is a product of contact with the West.”

Specifically, Asia comes from a Greek word first used by Herodotus to describe the land belonging to the Persian Empire, in opposition to the lands called Greece and Egypt. Historically however, not all civilizations living in the continent we call ‘Asia’ has always conceptualized space the same way. China used to view itself as ‘Chung Kuo’ –the middle kingdom (Kausikan, 1971:29). The idea of being at the centre of all civilizations implies the rejection of the idea that China is part of ‘Asia’. Muslims, the majority of whom live in the continent called ‘Asia’ also have a different conceptualization of geography. One aspect in classical Muslim thought divides the world into Dar as-Salam and Dar al-Harb (see Sherwani, 1985). This division is based broadly on the idea of religious security, rather than absolute space. The former defines countries where a Muslim can practice their religion freely while
the latter is its anti-thesis.

If we agree that one of the basic questions of ontology deals with the relationship between the properties of an object and the object itself (see Hyde 2007), then we can agree that the idea of ‘Asia’ is an ontological problem that expresses itself in geographical, political, sociological and historical modes of analyses and thinking. These ontological problems however, do not prevent elites of various ideological backgrounds from continuing to construct their own ideas of ‘Asia’. Thus, for instance, from the 1970s until the late 1990s, we come across a vast array of intellectual output, thinking and rhetoric on ideas like the ‘Asian Values’ (see for instance Chen, 1976; Nury, 1996) and ‘Asian Renaissance’ (see for instance Anwar 1996, Francois 1996). The latest attempt towards constructing Asia takes the form of the East Asian Community (EAC).

GIARI Working Paper Vol.2008-E-25

Imaginings, Identity, Integration: Asia in the Minds of Singapore Students

Tan Ern Ser, Gloria Arlini, and Fairoz Ahmad
National University of Singapore

February 2009
[489KB]PDF File


East Asian Community (EAC)
Regionalism and regionalization
Profile of Respondents
PART I The Idea of Asia: Singapore students’ perspectives
PART II Regionalism and Identity
Sense of Identity and Belonging
Part III Regionalism and Integration
Security Cooperation