Organized Panel Session
This panel analyzes the shifting political significance of humanitarianism in Asia since WWII. As part of a recent body of scholarship connecting humanitarianism to imperialism, historians have argued that the expansion of Western aid programs across Asia after WWII primarily served the geopolitical interests of Western powers. In these narratives, Asia serves as the setting for humanitarian action, and Asians feature as the objects of rescue, but the key actors and institutions are typically Euro-American. In contrast, this panel highlights how the practitioners, recipients, and critics of humanitarianism in Asia shaped its political uses for their own purposes.
The panel makes two interrelated interventions into scholarship on humanitarianism in Asia. First, it illustrates how the Asian beneficiaries and administrators of humanitarian aid reshaped humanitarian programs to serve their own political projects. Joanna Simonow analyzes how Indian social reformers and politicians utilized the humanitarian response to the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 to build political and economic networks across provincial, national, and imperial boundaries. Jack Neubauer examines international child sponsorship programs in post-1949 China to show how Chinese child welfare workers attempted to secure ideological and material support for the Chinese Communist Revolution abroad. Second, the panel traces the emergence of Asian alternatives to Western models of international aid. Dongxin Zou investigates Mao-era Chinese medical missions to Algeria as a form of “revolutionary humanitarianism” that challenged the Western-dominated humanitarian regime. Finally, Mark Frost uncovers how Japan’s post-WWII overseas aid to Southeast Asia shaped the politics of ethnic integration in “multicultural” Singapore.