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ICAS 8 stimulates Macau-related studies

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image From left to right: Wim Stokhof, Paul van der Velde and Alex McKay

The 8th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS 8) successfully wrapped up its four-day conference yesterday at the Venetian Macao. Founding members of ICAS, Professor Wim Stokhof (WS) and Paul van der Velde (PV), as well as ICAS Book Prize committee member Alex McKay (AM) told the Times that ICAS is an international undertaking that requires a global insight into Asian studies and ICAS is giving more opportunities to young scholars across the world to offer novel insights on Asian studies. The scholars also said that the convention will stimulate more studies in Macau’s unique character as a gaming city with a special mix of different cultures.

MDT: What role is ICAS playing in stimulating the development of Asian studies?
WS: ICAS gathers scholars from many backgrounds and areas of interest each with different point of views and approaches that make the studies themselves enjoyable and interesting.
 PV: It’s what we call a “loosely aggregated network”. It’s a vibrant network gathering scholars of Asian studies in the humanities and social sciences and technology as well as other fields The central feature of ICAS is to get people in Asian studies together.
WS: We also want to make Asian scholars more aware that they are part of the dialogue and that they should know more about each other’s areas of interest. It’s about how to find knowledge and how to bring people closer and that’s great.
MDT: What are the latest developments by scholars at ICAS?
AM: Asia is changing and so are Asian studies. This is reflected in the books we get for the book prize. As you move from one ICAS conference to another, you can see the shift not just in the number of books we receive for the prize but also the regional focus, how much more of these studies are on China, and that many of them are written by Asian scholars. 
WS: New themes are coming out of ICAS. One thing we want to improve is the number of young scholars involved. In addition to professors and doctorate scholars, we would like to have new faces such as master’s degree students to showcase new and interesting ideas, new moves and new fashion. For example, in future ICAS conferences each professor will be able to invite one or two master’s degree students to come in, walk around, listen and talk during the biannual event. We want to involve different people from different countries and backgrounds as well as age groups to nurture debate relating to general approaches, general paradigms, and global insights in Asian studies.

MDT: What are the most important recent issues in Asian studies?
PV: Japanese studies have been consistently strong but studies on India have reached a plateau in comparison to studies on China. A very high percentage of the books submitted for the prize and papers presented at the ICAS conference are about China. It’s absolutely a major focus, if not the major focus. China and the future of Asia and its relationship with the world has been the focus of many books, films and papers. There’s no doubt that China is a most important subject in Asian studies.
AM: And obviously a controversial country like North Korea is also attracting an increasing number of books as well. We gave the ICAS book prize to a book on the history of the Japanese post office. What the ICAS book prize acknowledges and encourages is the development of new fields of studies. The prize does reflect contemporary Asia and the relationship between Asia and other parts of the world. We have an increasing number of books, around 6 or 8, about China’s presence in Africa. What I haven’t seen are books about China’s presence in South America yet. Perhaps at the next ICAS conference we will see something like that. If you’re a beginning student or a professor of this subject you will learn something from these books.
WS: For Macau, ICAS is an international get-together that provides a meeting point for brainstorming and initiating different ideas.
PV: One of the top five finalists of the ICAS book prize is Paul A. Van Dyke’s Merchants of Canton and Macao. It’s an outstanding study of Macau through the prism of its early colonial records. There’s been a number of new books on Macau. Scholars are always looking for new ideas and originality and so by holding the conference in Macau I think it will boost studies in Macau and we can expect to see more of such works in whatever fields because people who are here would be informed by being here and aware of the sources and will work on it in the future.
WS: Cities like Macau recognize the advantages of hosting ICAS because the event is a chance for the city to develop itself and boost its relations with the outside world.

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