Organized Panel Session
While piracy is commonly understood as an indicator of state weakness, scholars of piracy have criticized such a state-centered approach and examined the features of its specific “littoral-scapes” to theorize its rise and demise at different times. To trace the commonalities and divergence of piracy in Asia and thus to explore an interregional Asian history of piracy, this panel examines different conceptual frameworks to illuminate the various, and sometimes competing, natures of littoral-scapes of piracy in China, Southeast Asia, and South Asia in the early modern and modern periods. Lakshmi Subramanian employs the notions of contested authorities and archival contradiction to examine the relationships of western Indian littoral piracy with the local coastal states and European imperial powers in the eighteenth century. With the lens of frontier, Gary Luk elucidates the reshaping of power equilibrium between pirates, Qing officials, British imperial agents, and other armed Westerners and Chinese in the three decades during and after the Opium War (1839-42). Jennifer Gaynor advocates for a critical and concretized analysis of “interstitial,” and an understanding of Southeast Asian piracy in relation to littoral social networks, interpolity relations, and both Asian and inter-imperial legal frameworks. Adopting a longue-durée approach, Robert Antony argues that many littoral people in Guangdong regarded the South China water world as a highly feminized space closely associated with pirates, prostitutes, and goddesses, which constituted an antithesis to the male-dominated and terra-based society. In sum, this panel demonstrates the importance of piracy for understanding Asian littoral history, society, and culture.