Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women's Literature

By Leslie Bow | Go to book overview

Five

The Gendered Subject of Human Rights

DOMESTIC INFIDELITY IN IRRAWADDY TANGO
AND THE SCENT OF THE GODS

Sister Katherine said that just because something was imaginary did not mean it could not have consequences in the real. She told us to write that down, and that when we were older we would understand.

(Fiona Cheong, The Scent of the Gods)

IN 1995, the New York Times pronounced the emergence of a new South Africa, this time, in Asia. 1 Burma, now known as Myanmar, was reported to be the target of an international divestment campaign on the basis of its human rights and environmental abuses. 2 This shift from South Africa to Burma as recipient of the dubious honor of greatest human rights abuser arose from the events of 1988, in which the military fired on a crowd of prodemocracy demonstrators, culminating in the detention of an estimated three thousand political prisoners, including the house arrest of the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in 1989. 3

Although the events of the 8/8/88 democracy movement in Yangon (Rangoon) were displaced in the American media by reports of the massacre in Tiananmen Square the following year, the Burmese democracy movement gave the media one thing that the Chinese movement did not: a living and breathing goddess of democracy in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Western-educated daughter of assassinated national independence leader Aung San. Like the papier-maché goddess erected in Tiananmen Square, Aung San Suu Kyi quickly became the emblem of what Burma lacked and a potent symbol of the collective desire of a people. After casting about for an appropriate analogy for Aung San Suu Kyi (Bhutto? Aquino?), the British press hit upon “Burma's Gandhi” in an attempt to describe a platform familiar to the West: nonviolent protest, democracy, human rights (Kreager 1991, 321).

These representations of Burma in the 1990s reinforce what has consistently been taken as Asia's difference from the West. Just as Rey Chow

-137-

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