The title of my essay comes from a lecture topic that Alessandro Russo assigned to me two years ago. I will use this topic to generalize, because it well summarizes the praxis of positions.
positions was established in 1993. But we can say that it was a birth that took place on the threshold of the twenty-first century, because it is clear that this is the time that the twentieth century was expiring and that the process of expiration had already begun. China studies and Asian studies were part of the postwar area studies, and they had an inextricable relation to the Cold War. No matter whether one took the conservative or the radical, cultural studies or social science position, area studies faced an important turning point, and people from all parts of the spectrum had a premonition that although something was coming, it was not clear then what direction change would take. It was here that positions pioneered and took [End Page 385] area research in a certain theoretical direction. positions laid the groundwork for reflexive study of area studies and opened up a space of debate over contemporary theory. After twenty years of change, we might say in summary that the orientation of positions not only materialized a sort of border-smashing effort, it allowed the emergence of a form of internationalism that integrated theoretical language and historical cultural studies.
It was in 1990 that I and some friends with the help of friends in Japan began the arduous job of publishing Scholars magazine. The first issue of that journal was published in 1991. The origin of the establishment of Scholars lay in the post-1989 political context. Almost no one foresaw changes that occurred over the next few years in China and we merely felt the real need to act and the call for sustained research. From the defeat of the 1989 student social movement, we reflected on China's history of thought and the history of scholarship. In this way one can say that we and positions seemed very different.
In the spring of 1993, I met Tani and Donald in California for the first time. It was the first time that I had ever met a scholarly journal editor in the United States. In the fall of that year just before I returned home, Don and Tani met me at the airport and greeted me in their van, dropped by the school to pick up a recorder, and in their warm house we began our dialogue. Tani spoke in English and I spoke in Chinese (since each of us understood well in the other's language but did not feel comfortable with self-expression in the language of the other) and Don popped in and out of both. I recall that Tani explained the acute importance of the theories of positions, and I explained the importance of history for Scholars, but eventually we discovered that such a differentiation between theory and history implies the possibility for dialogue, but it required each of us to delve into our respective contexts to understand the significance of our different choices, which was the precondition to creating a real dialogue. [I still have that little tape, trans.]
From that time on, and during the time I edited Scholars, I was a corresponding editor of positions. Before that I had no idea or experience with and did not know of the existence of this sort of organized editorial group pattern in the post-Cold War context, and positions was likely the first Western scholarly journal to consciously invite non-Western scholars to join [End Page 386] in editorial work, and the only journal to engage the process of translation and publication of the theoretical work of Asian-based scholars. Asian studies, strictly speaking, was from its inception a wholly Western domain of scholarship; in this domain, Asia and the Asia area scholarship, and its thought and the actual people involved, were the object of Asian studies research. In terms of the significance of that, this endeavor of positions was not to simply enlarge the readership of the journal but rather to change the connotation of what Asian studies was: it not only ought to include the work of people from Asia, but it ought to reflect on the connotation of the West and of scholarship of the West from the perspective of Asia. positions is a magazine of US scholarship and research, and according to its theoretical aspirations, to a large degree it has succeeded in changing US Asia studies, but it has, moreover, extended itself out of the US area to become the journal of scholars in Japan, Korea, People's Republic of China, and Taiwan, as well as Asia generally.
Given this transregional linkage, the theoretical language of positions has a significance that is different from the theoretical language produced in other US academic spaces. The theory and scholarly discourse of positions and its critical intellectual politics are intimately fused. In this regard, Tani Barlow, Alessandro Russo, Claudia Pozzana, and I collectively posed the question and organized the project of "Rethinking Twentieth-Century China." Twentieth-century China is an important topic in Asian studies, but "Rethinking Twentieth-Century China" was a means of establishing a topic that aimed at re-creating critical thinking in a context of post-Cold War and globalization. Under this rubric we have already met three times, on three different questions: "Is [a History of the] Cultural Revolution Possible?" "The Cold War and China," and "Culture and Politics in Twentieth-Century China." After the end of the Cold War and the new tidal wave announcing the advent of neoliberal globalization in politics, culture, scholarship, and even social movements, there is a deepening and expanding "depoliticization" and even at times of crisis, it was difficult for a critical politics to form.
positions has dedicated itself to "critical Asian studies." What is critical Asian studies? I think critical Asian studies at the very least includes two essential points. First, it breaches the Cold War area studies' basic preconditions, [End Page 387] not just in the direction thinking takes but also in the composition of those who make up the community of critical Asian studies people. It has formed a kind of intellectual community unlike the Cold War context of specialists, in which Asia is not merely an object of study, but rather, it becomes a dynamic subject with its own multilayered voices. Second, its theory of critical discourse does not simply stop at criticizing the apparatus that produced the US or the Western academy's language; it also strives hard to create a critical language available to all critical intellectuals so that theoretical and historical becomes also organic components of a broader cultural politics. Such a critical Asian studies inevitably takes the creation of a new internationalism as its precondition and responsibility. The twenty years of praxis of positions has evinced the possibility of a new internationalism. [End Page 388]