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Cultures at War: The Cold War and Cultural Expression in Southeast Asia

Cultures at War
Tony Day and Maya H. T. Liem, eds.
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The Cold War in Southeast Asia was a many-faceted conflict, driven by regional historical imperatives as much as by the contest between global superpowers. The essays in this book offer the most detailed and probing examination to date of the cultural dimension of the Cold War in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian culture from the late 1940s to the late 1970s was primarily shaped by a long-standing search for national identity and independence, which took place in the context of intense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, with the Peoples' Republic of China emerging in 1949 as another major international competitor for influence in Southeast Asia.

Based on fieldwork in Burma, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, the essays in this collection analyze the ways in which art, literature, film, theater, spectacle, physical culture, and the popular press represented Southeast Asian responses to the Cold War and commemorated that era's violent conflicts long after tensions had subsided. Southeast Asian cultural reactions to the Cold War involved various solutions to the dilemmas of the newly independent nation-states of the region. What is common to all of the perspectives and works examined in this book is that they expressed social and aesthetic concerns that both antedated and outlasted the Cold War, ones that never became simply aligned with the ideologies of either bloc.


Tony Day is a Visiting Professor of History at Wesleyan University. Previously, he taught Southeast Asian and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, and was a Fellow of the National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Maya H. T. Liem co-headied, with contributor Jennifer Lindsay, an international research project on Indonesian cultural history from 1950–65, and is co-editor of that project’s  volume of essays. A graduate of Leiden University’s Department of Cultures and Languages of Southeast Asia and Oceania, her PhD thesis, “The Turning Wheel of Time: Modernity and Writing Identity in Bali 1900–1970,” focused on the literary history of Bali between 1900–70. Since 1994 she has been translating Indonesian novels into Dutch.


Francisco B. Benitez, University of Washington; Bo Bo, Burmese writer (SOAS, University of London); Michael Bodden, University of Victoria; Simon Creak, Australian National University; Tony Day (ed.); Gaik Cheng Khoo, Australian National University; Rachel Harrison, SOAS, University of London; Barbara Hatley, University of Tasmania; Boitran Huynh-Beattie, Asiarta Foundation; and Jennifer Lindsay, Australian National University

What the reviewers are saying …

This book has made a significant contribution and must be taken seriously by anybody who wants to [understand how much the Cold War has shaped the region politically and culturally].—Manneke Budiman, Bijdragen

Cultures at War signals the beginning of a new cold war historiography. This is a seminal work, which pulls together the contributions of area studies’ regional perspectives and cultural studies’ ideological critique. … the overall picture that emerges of regional politics is definitely illuminating. For scholars of area studies, the book highlights the connections between culture and politics, and the discursive complexity of cold-war politics.—Melani Budianta, Wacana


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