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Anxious Nation: Australia and the rise of Asia 1850-1939
Informing many recent studies of the West's understanding of Asia, certainly since the publication in the late 1970s of Edward Said's immensely influential analysis of 'Orientalism', is the fascination with 'otherness'. What conditions produced 'Asianness' and what constituted 'Asia'? For much of the period covered in this study, a good deal of energy was·invested in the task of establishing that Australia was neither Aboriginal nor Asian. Yet the business of creating a boundary which divided Australia from its 'other' created a heightened unease over invasion and violation. There was also a growing fear that the will to maintain distinctiveness might weaken to the point of collapse. Viewed in this light, Australia was simultaneously threatened with disappearance at the hands of aggressive outsiders and from decadent forces at work within the nation.
This book explores some of the many points at which 'Asia' was introduced into speculations about Australia's future. It examines the cultural meanings that have attached to Asia through a formative period in our history and it documents a culturally rich, often contradictory, demonology of the 'East' along with an extensive and varied discourse on each of the major societies of the region; India, China and Japan and, to a lesser extent, what was once the Netherlands East Indies and is now Indonesia. It proposes that a range of Asia-related discourses, many of which sought to reveal the truth or essence of Asia, were disseminated through Australian society from the 1850s. It argues that from the late nineteenth century there was a growing belief that developments in Asia would have an increasing impact upon Australia. By the 1930s, despite the already familiar complaint that Australians knew too little of the outside world, there was, nonetheless, a sustained commentary on Asia-Pacific themes, not least the merits of forming closer political, economic and cultural ties with the region.