YASMIN SAIKIA. Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971.The American Historical Review


N. Nair
Archaeology / History / Museology


Rape in marriage

Lee H. Bowker, o̊Dean of the Graduate School and Research

Max born medal and prize

The Institute of Physics


churian homeland as they moved into China proper in 1644; and the refusal of the Manchu bannermen to return to Manchuria from the early nineteenth century, having become accustomed to life in China. Of tremendous interest is the author’s bifurcated treatment of the

Manchu’s Manchurianization and their de-Manchurianization after 1911. Overthrown and expelled by Han revolutionaries, some Manchu finally returned to their homeland, only to find themselves marginalized in Japanese-foundedManchoukuo from 1932 to 1945. The revival of Manchu territorial identity was, Shao argues, more a work of the Chinese racial nationalists who had sloganeered their expulsion from China proper into their rightful ethnic homeland of Manchuria. Shao is at his best when he contrasts Sun Yat-sen’s secret plan to lease Manchuria to Japan to finance his nationalist cause with the subsequent impassioned Chinese nationalist drive to “recover” Manchuria for China in the wake of the Japanese creation of Manchoukuo. After the war, criminalized and punished for their association with the Japanese, the Manchus not only lost their homeland but were largely deprived of minority nationality rights to territorial autonomy in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The discussion of territorialization and de-territorialization is carefully interwoven with a sophisticated analysis of Manchu ethnic identity. The book starts with the Manchu eight-banner identity, whose complexity is compounded by the Qing institutions of two other “ethnic” eight banners: the Mongol eight banners and the

Hanjun eight banners, the latter largely composed of

Han people. Shao documents the tortuous relationship between the Manchu and Hanjun eight banners, and their eventual merger into a “banner” ethnic identity called Qizu at the beginning of the Republican period, and then finally a Manzu or Man(chu) nationality in the

PRC. Shao acutely captures the irony of the Manchu ethnic identity dilemma by noting that it was the Manchu who initiated their de-ethnicization by promoting the inclusivist notion of the Chinese nation (zhongguo ren), but the Chinese distinction of Han and barbarian ultimately ethnicized the Manchu. A highlight of the book is Shao’s nuanced study of the postwar trial and execution of a Manchu royal woman, Aisin-Gioro

Xiangyu, also a Japanese national, for treason against

China. Her execution was legally justified by imposing on her a Chinese national identity. Thus what we have is a picture of the Manchu who experienced modernity as a twice-punished people: as their empire crumbled, the bannermen were killed en masse by revanchist Chinese nationalists for being alien intruders. After World

War II, however, they were charged with treason by the

Chinese, not for their Manchu identity but for their


This richly textured and historically sensitive book is a welcome contribution to the current debate about

Manchu identity politics. It nevertheless suffers from several drawbacks. First, despite the rich content and various approaches, drawing on anthropology, history, geography, postcolonial and cultural studies perspectives, the book is undertheorized. Second, there is scant explanation provided for people’s preference for a

Manchu/Manzu ethnic identity given its recent history of stigma in contemporary China. And third, the Mongol eight banners have never been brought into the equation with the Manchu and Hanjun eight banners; indeed there is a conflation of Mongol eight banners with Mongol zasag banners. This omission, in my view, limits the book to a rehearsal of the mainstream view of the Qing pivoting around the relationship between the Manchu and Han alone. Given that the Mongols were once an important ally of the Manchu, that half of

Manchuria was and remains Mongolian territory, and that half of Mongolia ultimately declared independence from the (Manchu) Qing in December 1911,

Mongolia’s exclusion from the analysis of Manchu identity politics and the transformation of China deserves a more careful explanation than accorded in this book.

That is perhaps a subject for another project.


University of Cambridge

YASMIN SAIKIA. Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. 2011. Pp. xviii, 311. Cloth $89.95, paper $24.95.

Yasmin Saikia’s new book, replete with heart-searing testimonies of women’s sufferings, raises concerns about the 1971 civil war in Bangladesh and its long shadow over some women’s lives. How can a retelling of the war from the perspective of its most vulnerable victims contribute toward lessening conflict in the present? Can the willful silencing of women’s stories and the gradual misrepresentation of birangonas (victims of sexual violence who were termed “brave women” by the new government in Bangladesh) be forgiven? Can forgiveness of some individual perpetrators, now repentant, take the place of a collective accounting of war crimes? What does it mean to be human?

Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh opens with a critique of official Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi representations of the 1971 conflict. The author expresses her hope that new retellings of the war, with women’s narratives at the forefront, might enable the work of healing to begin. Indeed Saikia goes further: she draws on the “concept of forgiveness by presenting the Islamic concept of huquq al-ibad (rights of humans) and individual responsibility to suggest closure for the traumatic violence of 1971” (p. xii). In addition to collecting over a hundred testimonies of women in Bangladesh and meeting over a hundred military personnel in Pakistan, Saikia has searched for records of the war in local archives across Bangladesh.

While some archives proved to be absolutely bereft of any evidence, others, such as the Women’s Welfare Department in Sylhet, are unexpectedly rich. (The book’s bibliography, however, bears no references to local archives.)