Magazines delve into ‘Asian-ness’Is it possible for a single book or magazine to cover issues that pertain to 47 nations under a common theme? In fact, can “Asia” be considered a realistic way to distinguish a region with common themes of history and culture from other parts of the world, say, Latin America or Africa?
Yes and no. Yes, because in much of the 20th century Asia was repeatedly defined by the West as a subject of imperial ambition and a testing ground for war, colonization and ideological battles. No, because Asians still have many barriers between them, such as language, history, politics and culture.
The editors of Asia and SangSaeng, two English-language quarterlies dealing with themes of Asian literature and culture, envision their ideals of Asia as a mitigated “yes.”
Bang Hyun-seok, the editor of Asia, sees the potential for the publication to gradually grow into what he calls a “mental free trade zone.” Kim Jong-hun, the chief editor of SangSaeng, which literally means “living together” in Korean, attempts to view Asia through common concerns with peace, human rights and globalization. Both journals are printed in Korea, and re-examine the values and struggles of contemporary Asia.
Asia covers short stories, poems and literary essays by writers from various parts of Asia who share their fears and worries about the dilemmas of living and writing in our time.
The book delves into the hopes and traumas of Asian writers as a result of social and political changes, such as the trauma of poverty, famine, war and colonization. Often there is an apparent awareness of the “West” as a colonizer in the writings in Asia, almost as a gesture of reclaiming identity, which in the words of Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, comes down to the term “literature of the wounded.”
“I could not refer to the West, the dominating power of the twentieth century, for my mirror,” writes Mr. Bang in his literary essay “Hanoi-Seoul-Cape Town.” “I felt that we needed different coordinates and imagination than those of the 20th century, if the 21st century would be different from the 20th century. I wanted to see the dreams of the conquered rather than the greed of the conquerors, and the wisdom and imagination of the people who endured oppression rather than the logic of the oppressors. I wanted to discover the aesthetic order of nature rather than the aesthetic order based on the appearances of the conquerors.”
“Convex Lens,” a section of the the journal, carries an interview and short story “Inem” by Pramoedya, a veteran writer who is dubbed the “conscience of Indonesia” (He died shortly after the interview). In his “As a Japanese Writer, As an Asian Writer,” Makoto Oda, a writer and peace activist, recalls Japan’s imperialist past in Asia in relation to today’s modernization, which he equates with Westernization.
Other collections of poems and short stories in the journal include “The Secret of the Water,” by the popular Vietnamese writer Bao Ninh and “Aquarium,” by L. Ulziitugs (Mongolia).
In “The Idea of Asian Community and Identity Fusion,” dissident poet Kim Ji-ha writes, “It is my belief that I must think, write and act not merely as a Korean poet but as an Asian, or a world poet.”
SangSaeng is a quarterly publication by the Asia-Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding, which focuses on “Desertification” as a critical issue in Asia.
The magazine, which often delves into cultural and social issues in Asia, focuses on revealing statistics on the magnitude of the threat desertification poses to Northeast Asia today. It also features an interview with photojournalist Agostino Pacciani who uses a personal account of his experience in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia to document images of women in post-tsunami Asia.
by Park Soo-mee