Monthly Archives: October, 2017

 
 

The fantastic, fanatic ‘cult’- run Japanese idol group

Adina Darbyshire

Society and culture | East Asia

 

Meet the newest Japanese idol group composed entirely of so-called cult members: anjewel.

The idol group - a commercially manufactured pop group, typically of young girls - represents Happy Science. The religious organisation has temples in Japan, Brazil, Hawaii, and Australia. Founder Ryuho Okawa purports to be the incarnation of El Cantare: a supreme God manifesting the spiritual leaders of all major religions. Okawa also claims to channel the guardian spirits of famous people, gracing us with a series of 'spiritual interviews', those with Keira Knightley and Donald Trump being two of many examples.

The idol group released its first single in July, featuring lyrics about bidding a soul-mate farewell before reincarnating onto another planet, to a deceptively upbeat instrumental track and rosy music video. To better acquaint fans with the group, Happy Science prepared several POV videos where you 'go on a date' with these girls. In one video, a group member takes you to a private spot in your high school, expresses her love for you, and then asks you to join her for a Happy Science lecture meeting attended by angels and aliens.

Japanese idol groups amass massive popularity worldwide, from AKB48 to Nogizaka46. However, three months have passed since anjewel's debut single, and its catchy pop beats and provocative videos have garnered little attention. Luckily for them, this is not their only gimmick. Happy Science also created its first high-budget anime in 1997, founded a political party in 2009, and established its own university in 2015.

[caption id="attachment_6515" align="aligncenter" width="552"] Happy Science University[/caption]

There is some unease about the gradual expansion of the Happy Science in view of Japan's recent past. In 1984, two years before the founding of Happy Science, Aum Shinrikyo emerged as a religious movement. It founded a political party in 1989, created its first anime series in 1991, and went onto orchestrate a terrorist attack in 1995 by releasing sarin gas on a crowded Tokyo subway.

Aum Shinrikyo's successors, Aleph and Hikari no Wa, manage to operate legally as religious organizations. The 1995 atrocity and the continued existence of these groups is a reminder that we must remain vigilant of the conducts and recruitment methods of 'new religions'. While the Happy Science has no known connections to Aum or its descendants, their expansion into countries like Australia, Hawaii, and Brazil offers few reasons to be cheerful.

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To choose or not to choose: That is the question for Myanmar

Liam Brewin Higgins

Politics | Southeast Asia

 

The low sonorous murmurs of Buddhist prayer rising above the sea of twinkling golden stupas becomes distant and distorted, as the startling bright lights of gleaming shopping centres engulfs the crammed streets of downtown Yangon.

Myanmar, like many countries, is a place of contrasts, challenges and complexity.  As an undergraduate student taking part in the ‘Political Economy of Myanmar Course’ this year and a first-time traveller to Myanmar, I became increasingly aware of the great importance of the multi-dimensional relationship between Myanmar and China. From lively karaoke in Naypyidaw, to the green mountain tops of the Shan mountains and to the smallest villages in between, the cultural and geographical diversity of this country should not be underestimated.

Despite intensifying Chinese economic and strategic interests and considerable support from the USA for Myanmar’s ongoing political transition, Myanmar has engaged on a higher pragmatic bilateral level with China. Myanmar as an emerging Asia Pacific state cannot afford direct and confrontational great power competition manifesting into a potentially dangerous Sino-USA rivalry in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has thus sought to navigate the complexities of the increasing Sino-USA competition in the Asia Pacific Region, by continuing her father’s overarching post-Second World War emphasis on an independent, pragmatic and non-aligned foreign policy for Myanmar.

[related_article align="right" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Should we boycott Myanmar?"]

Since the victory of the National League of Democracy in the 2015 elections, Suu Kyi as foreign minister and state counsellor has pragmatically intensified Myanmar’s paukphaw ‘cousin’ relationship with China amid growing uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific. Prior to the NLD’s landslide victory, relations between the Thein Sein government and Beijing cooled because of the stalling of the billion dollar Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State, in what Jürgen Haacke has described as the military’s fear of ‘...undue military, political or economic dependence on China.’ Indeed, Myanmar’s experience of exploitative British colonialism has a created a strong and ‘pervasive’ nationalistic sentiment that sustains much of the Tatmadaw’s hypersensitivity to foreign interests in Myanmar.

Geographically, China is a key and influential actor in Myanmar’s border regions and peace process.  In a recent New York Times article Jane Perlez highlighted China’s continued indirect support of ethnic armed organisations such as the United Wa Army, despite China’s extensive investment in infrastructure projects in Myanmar. The United Wa Army is believed to have the military capabilities to rival or at least challenge the Tatmadaw, with an estimated 20,000 active soldiers, as well as an arsenal of helicopters and tank destroyers allegedly supplied by China. The Wa region is virtually a self-administered area that has more cultural ties with China, rather than with Myanmar. Its close proximity to the border and an association with the illegal narcotics trade in China has even resulted in the circulation of Chinese currency instead of the Burmese Kyat.

President Xi Jinping’s extensive Belt and Road initiative, including the Kyaukphyu oil, and gas pipelines originating in Rakhine State are geostrategic and economic projects that Beijing has focused on in Myanmar. The Kyaukphyu pipeline is considered as economically and strategically significant because it allows Beijing to transport large amounts of oil and natural gas overland from Rakhine State and transport it into Yunnan Province, where it is processed and sent to power the industrial centres further east. The pipelines are currently in operation, allowing China to source energy from the Bay of Bengal without it having to pass through the highly-contested and geostrategically significant Malacca Straits, currently controlled by Singapore. China has also begun constructing a number of deep-sea ports in Myanmar, as part of the ‘string of pearls strategy’, that has also seen China building ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.  The People’s Liberation Army Navy is attempting to exercise influence on the waters to China’s East and also in the Indian ocean, making China what Steinberg refers to as a ‘two ocean country.’  China’s economic interests in Myanmar have been focused primarily in terms of developmental investment and these have rarely come into conflict with the interests of the USA.

Under the de facto leadership of the state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar will continue to attempt to pursue a foreign policy that isn’t solely reliant on a foreign actor. It is very probable however, that Myanmar’s desire for democratic reform, greater state unity and foreign investment in a wider regional context of great power competition is going to be increasingly difficult to pursue. Especially given the present situation in Rakhine state which has seen, according to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, over 300,000 Rohingya refugees escaping violence and fleeing to Bangladesh since the 25th of August 2017.

Particular moments in Myanmar stand out to me as being intensely provocative. Standing at the base of the Shwedagon Pagoda the low hum of afternoon prayers still resonating, I realised the great extent to which the challenges facing Myanmar are inter-connected and intricate. Soaring above thunderous monsoon clouds over the Bay of Bengal, I reflected how wonderful it was to live and breathe research and understand how even the simplest human narratives can create a burning desire to explore and to investigate.

5 minute read

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China’s internal migrants: Flowing into big cities – but ending up with disappointment?

Ruiying Zheng

Politics

 

When I first talked to Xiao Zhang he was packing his bag in a tiny, shabby room near a construction site where he worked. He has lived there with his wife and other fellow workers since he came to this city.

“I fled from a remote village in Guangxi province to Shenzhen to change my life three years ago.” He said. “But now I realise it is much harder than I expected. I could never actually become part of this city, so I am planning to leave.”

In fact, Xiao Zhang is just one of more than 280 million migrant workers in China. There are also a great number of fresh graduates and office workers moving from rural or less developed areas to large cities.

Today, China’s internal migration is characterised by a flow of people, especially the youth, moving into first-tier cities located in developed provinces in search of fortune, status and a higher quality of life. Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are their main destinations.

It is of great significance to raise people’s awareness of the current situation confronted by rural migrants as a disadvantaged group, and tackling the issues arising from this mass migration. It also helps China’s government to improve essential services that these rural migrants risk losing when they move to the big cities.

[caption id="attachment_6466" align="aligncenter" width="511"] Source: 'The Impact of Chinese Migration', The Economist, 2012[/caption]

The importance of studying urban migration in China
China’s rural-to-urban migration is a good case study for people who are interested in or doing development studies. The phenomenon of population movement is an important indicator of urbanisation in the modern world.

Regional migration also changes the spatial distribution of China’s population, thereby posing challenges to urban land use such as expanding overall built land and increasing proportion of residential land. It also results in the expansion of urban infrastructure systems. This increasing demand on land and urban facilities could lead to potential environmental disturbance that goes against principles of building resilient and sustainable cities.

[caption id="attachment_6471" align="aligncenter" width="540"] Source: 'Land-use change in China,' National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2004 - 2010[/caption]

Additionally, demographics of a country plays an essential role in its economic, political, cultural and societal domains. Studying urban migration helps the government to formulate appropriate policies and regulations for the society as a whole

 
New attitudes and reforms needed
Since many rural migrants are under great pressure due to the barriers they come across in terms of housing, job seeking, and education for children, is it really worthwhile for people to leave their hometown and struggle in big cities?

While it may be better for them to weigh the opportunities and difficulties of their migration rather than blindly following the trend, the government is still responsible for reforms that aim to assist and support these rural migrants.

For those studying China’s phenomena of rural to urban migration, there are key points to consider when making recommendations for effective policies that can mitigate the threats rural migrants face during their resettlement.

The government is expected to construct affordable and low-rent houses. For example, the average housing price in Beijing is more than 50,000 in RMB (nearly 10,000 in AUD) per square meter which is too expensive for low-income migrants. They can hardly afford their accommodation if there are no alternatives provided.

Relaxation of institutional barriers to civil rights is also crucial. Social welfare systems in China are largely based on the Hukou (known as the household registration system) which limits rural migrants’ access to equal rights such as voting and medical insurance.

Another big concern is their children’s education, so the implementation of preferential schooling policies for their children is required. Left-behind children in rural China has become a social concern because the lack of parental accompany and care has profound impacts on their future outcomes.

It is also helpful to provide subsidies for their transportation costs. China’s great migration during the lunar New Year is the largest movement in the world. It is reported that some poor migrants have to travel approximately two thousand kilometers by motorcycle to head home for reunions.

The most difficult factor can be the changes in Chinese society’s attitudes towards these rural to urban migrants because of prejudices they face in decision-making processes as a marginalised community. They sometimes receive disrespect or even discrimination from citizens, which leads to disharmony in society.

The study of China’s rural to urban migration can help to motivate the Chinese government and China’s general public to pay more attention to this imperative issue. It also contributes to eliminating the potential problems that come with the inequality suffered by these rural migrants who seek only to live a better life.

4 minute read

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