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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 5. 1964.

Asian Studies

Asian Studies


"Indonesia Week" sponsored by the International Affairs Committee of the Victoria University Students Association has just concluded. No doubt from the point of view of many members of the staff, students, and public the Week was an enlightening one and a success; in so far as the Week did manage to focus attention on our relations with S.E. Asia this is so. As a week intended to provide informed analysis and a knowledgeable appraisal of Indonesia and its neighbours it has—I feel—been a distinct failure. This stems from two causes; lack of an informed student body, and a seeming inability on the part of those lecturing to provide a functional analysis; particularly of Indonesia's economic and political ailments.

The lectures suffered from a high degree of generality and were descriptive with little attempt at synthesising divers factors into a unified picture of Indonesia. An attentive reader of local newspapers would have derived little that was new' from the series of lectures—with the exception of these on Indonesia's cultures. This situation is hardly surprising, however. The number of people in this university who can be called Asian experts in their respective fields can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. This in view of New' Zealand's geographical and political situation is little short of a disgrace.

In light of the shortage of Asian experts the policy of this university is hard to understand. In 1957 Asian Studies was introduced as a subject at Victoria University; this was an act of foresight and imagination; one can only wonder where this pioneering spirit has gone. At present disciplines providing a basis for advanced study of Asia are severely restricted or do not exist at all. Sociology for example is offered at stages I and 2 only. Anthropology, a discipline of the utmost importance to all of social science was supposedly to be introduced this year (1964) but has failed to emerge. This new science could have provided a central stem about which active, small social—and Asia research teams could have worked. Perhaps the most important and relevant-social study subject in the university, Asian Studies is not in a happy situation.

At the moment Asian Studies appears to be existing on a most tenuous basis; yet its very right to existence is contested by other departments dealing only incidentally with Asian affairs. Asian Studies is unique in this country yet the department is restricted and perhaps faces extinction.

Money, difficulty in obtaining lecturers and administrative considerations may be held out as compelling reasons for not having done more in this field. These problems can all be ironed out at a suitably high level; Victoria University could play the leading role in this field if only some member of staff with influence would champion, and be prepared to fight for the expansion of Asian Studies and kindred disciplines. If some other Departments' activities must suffer temporarily this could only be regretted. Is the "Anglo-Saxon atmosphere" at our university so inimical to this important new field of inquiry that we must sacrifice what little lead we now have?

Wayne Robinson