The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

My Intellectual Journey with IIAS

Tak-Wing Ngo

On an ordinary day in 1994, I received a phone call from someone I did not know, asking if I was interested in taking up a postdoc position in the Netherlands. At that time telephone scams were rare, so I agreed to set up a meeting in London, where I was doing my PhD at SOAS. It so happened that shortly after its inauguration in 1993, IIAS launched its first research project on the Chinese diaspora – the Qiaoxiang Project – and was recruiting postdocs. I was thrilled by the opportunity but eventually did not take up the position. My first encounter with IIAS ended, but my long intellectual journey with IIAS had begun.

Even though I did not join IIAS, I still ended up in Leiden after I accepted a lectureship in Chinese politics at Leiden University. On the very first day that I reported for duty in January 1995, I was told that I would be representing IIAS in organizing a joint conference in Copenhagen with NIAS, the Nordic counterpart of IIAS, on the theme of Asian values and democracy. The conference was a big success, with numerous follow-up activities. I also established a long-term relationship with NIAS by taking over a book series editorship with NIAS Press on Democracy in Asia.

From the day IIAS projected its presence uninvitedly onto my path, my academic life has been intimately shaped by it. In the next two decades, IIAS supported nearly a dozen international workshops under my convenorship. They included initiatives to study the state and state-making in Asia, alternative modes of resource flows and allocations including rent-seeking and the shadow economy, and institutional voids in developmental governance. Taking full advantage of the organizational resources of IIAS, I carried out many of my own research activities under its name. Thanks to the open-mindedness and flexibility of IIAS, I was spared from wasting time writing up funding proposals and going through tedious procedures. In the bureaucratic academic world, IIAS is a breath of fresh air. Throughout these years since its inception, IIAS has remained active, innovative, and entrepreneurial. In fact, it is a dream institution for researchers, one that combines everything in the academic production chain: funding, research support, workshop logistics, conferences, publicity, and publications!

Cover of Shadow Exchanges along the New Silk Roads, co-edited by Eva P.W. Hung and Tak-Wing Ngo in 2020 for the Global Asia series at IIAS/Amsterdam University Press.


My career took a new turn in 2008, when IIAS surprised me again by nominating me for its endowed chair. I became the IIAS Professor of Asian History at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Shortly before that, I established the IIAS Centre for Regulation and Governance, the first national research centre in the Netherlands devoted to the study of regulatory governance in Asia. In these positions, I recruited new PhDs, postdocs, and visiting fellows to expand research activities both for IIAS and for myself.

My link with IIAS did not weaken after I moved to the University of Macau in 2011. As soon as I had settled down in Macau, I began organizing for ICAS 8. Subsequently, ICAS 8 successfully took place in 2013, in a casino resort hotel with a huge turnout. It was worth my hair loss for the event. The following year I started a new IIAS book series with Amsterdam University Press, under the theme of Global Asia. More than a dozen books have appeared under the series. The series is still going strong, receiving many proposals each year.

Scholars gather in Macau for ICAS 8, which Tak-Wing Ngo helped organize with IIAS.


In retrospect, my intellectual path would have been quite different without IIAS. For me, IIAS is not only a source of intellectual inspiration, funding support, and institutional backing, but also a training ground for a wide range of academic skills including academic administration, conference organizing, editing, and publishing. It has been my privilege to be associated with IIAS in all these years; I can also proudly say that I have contributed to the activities and development of this institute. Go on IIAS, happy anniversary!

Tak-Wing Ngo, University of Macau