Inadvertent naturalistic calligraphic tendencies of literati colour-field non-figuration whose outcomes exemplify not the expression of the individual or its cult but serve the collective documentation, curation and advancement of ascetic-arts knowledge.

AMONG THE SOUTHERN MIN: An identity drama (Draft proposal for a Singapore Gallery)

I. FACIAL GRACILIZATION AMONG THE SOUTHERN MIN (民南): Ethnographic notes on the interfaciality of a tenuous people (1981-1985)

1. We propose an exhibition that is all at once conceptual, didactic, ornamental, and ethnological.

2. We begin with 30 small-format facial matrices (watercolour, ink, and mixed media on paper) defined as a gathered set of visual documents, ethnographic finds. Each is original. Provenance: undetermined.

3. We yield to the wish for transculturalisation via digital morphology and semiotic heightening.

4. By yet decided processes we print reproductions on large 2 x 2 metre sheets of paper mounted on support and re-touched with pigment. The unique operations imbue each face with the charm and authority to speak for them selves.

II. A CONCEPTUAL ART SHOW THAT RESEMBLES A JOKE? (Then a joke that's better left unexplained)

1. Ponderation is likely to emerge from the Chinese schooled with regard to the neologistic ethnonym Min Nan (民南), or Southern Min,[1] and all that that might evoke and insinuate. But it goes many ways; depending on any given audience's background.

2. There is thus no way of predicting the allusions imbedded in the relevant living tongues that we consider. These are Arabic, Bugis, Burmese, Cantonese, English, Filipino, Hakka, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Jawi, Khmer, Korean, Melayu, Mandarin, Persian, Ryukyu, Sanskrit, Sinhala, Sundanese, Tamil, Teochew, Thai, Vietnamese, et al.

3. Shifting suppositions of a Southern Min identity illuminate convergences of cultural hybridity apparent among the varied multiplicities.

4. Accompanying texts may examine the findings: one per people or language group.[2]


Southern Min is clearly not an easily collapsible ethnic moniker or appellation, nor a culturally constructed identity marker mined from colonial census lexica. We offer four terse evaluations as examples:

1. Arabic: Jawi

2. Japanese: minami minzoku (南民族)
Min as in the Japanese compound min-zoku (民族) unbegrudgingly facilitates settled discourse, historical and imagined, confiscated and shared. And in this way the "southern" min, or more pointedly conjectured "minami minzoku" (南民族) as a proto-min'nan (民南), denoted by way of a compass point, is plainly handled when plucked from its milieu and subsumed nonchalantly by a greater regime. Ambiguities surrounding its uncertain impressions leave it difficult to handle theoretically extrinsic to indigenous descriptive typologies.[4]

3. Melayu: bawah angin ('the lands below the winds')
Early mariners used the expression bawah angin, literally "below the winds" or "leeward" to describe the region 'south of the typhoon belt.' It was locally assumed to be a very long-standing and widespread description of the largely Malyo-Muslim maritime community that stretched from North Sumatra to the Moluccas. But bawah angina it is physically attested only from the end of the 15th century in texts that describe affairs from the 14th and 15th centuries. These texts are the Hikayat Raja-raja Pasai and the Sulalat al-Salatin.

4. Mandarin: Mǐn Nán (閩南)

In Sinitic usage there is curious resistance to any kind of countable or localized min (民) when considered as an "ethnic group" or a "people," let alone a particularised "Min of the South." In fact, min has a tough time going it alone there from where huge numbers have historically emigrated. Nonetheless in Mandarin the ethnonym Mǐn Nán (閩南) holds a very different connotation.[3]

5. Persian: Zîrbâdî
From as early as the 9th to 13th centuries the Malay expression 'below the winds' was recognised beyond its native region. The Persian word Zîrbâd (ﺪﺎﺒﺮﻴﺰ) is attested in `Abd al-Razzâq Samarqandî's 1442 account. Its adjectival form Zîrbâdi mirrors the older Arabic Jâwî as a term that designates ethno-religious identification of people vis-à-vis Jawa or Java (Indonesia). In the late 17th century the Zîrbâd form was expanded to the regional category 'below the winds' or Zîrbâdât (ﺢﻴﺮﻠا ﺖﺤﺘ) attested by Iranian Muhammad Rabî' (b. Muhammad Ibrâhîm).

[1] In the present regard, Min Nan (民南), "Southern Min," is both homonymous and polysemic to "Min Nan (閩南)" as in reference to the language Min Nan Hua (閩南語).
[2] A single cogent statement should suffice each language group who embody intrinsic narratological powers to negotiate between the centre and the periphery.
[3] Is Mandarin Mǐn Nán (閩南) an early Middle Kingdom pejorative construction? Min (閩) by itself means "Fujian province, a river, or a tribe." Etymologically, 門 ('gate, door, opening, entry') provides the sound (mĕn) while (chóng, hui) [Kangxi radical 142] suggests a meaning: 'snake, insect, worm.' In contrast, the min (民) of our Min Nan neologism is rendered as 'people, inhabitants, folk.'

[4] Clouds stands ready to include further findings on an extended range of relevant language groups as listed above.

Works consulted

  • Boomgaard, Peter, 2006. Southeast Asia: An Environmental History (Nature and Human Societies).
  • DeBernardi, Jean, 1991. "Linguistic Nationalism: The Case of Southern Min." Sino-Platonic Papers, 25 (August).
  • Ibrahim, Muhammad Rabî' ibn, 1972. The Ship of Sulaiman, trans. J. O'Kane.
  • Laffan, Michael, 2005. Finding Java: Muslim nomenclature of insular Southeast Asia from Śrîvijaya to Snouck Hurgronje,
  • Reid, Anthony, 1988. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce: The lands below the winds.
Scheduled research
  • Father Tongue hypothesis
  • Nanyang (region) (南洋)
  • Nusantara
  • Sundaland

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