New Books in East Asian Studies
Summary: Discussions with Scholars of East Asia about their New Books
Barak KushnerView on AmazonBarak Kushner's new book considers what happened in the wake of Japan's surrender, looking closely at diplomatic and military efforts to bring "Japanese imperial behavior" to justice. Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice (Harvard University Press, 2015) focuses on the aftermath of the Japanese war crimes, asking a number of important questions: "How did the Chinese legally deal with Japanese war crimes?" and "What were the Japanese responses, and [how] did these processes shape early Cold War Sino-Japanese relations?" Two ways of reconsidering history shape the study. First, Kushner reframes Japan as a decolonizing empire, not just a defeated country. At the same time, he looks at the "shifting landscape of the concept of law in East Asia" and its impact on relations in the region during this period, especially in terms of international law and associated notions of accountability. These two broad historiographical re-orientations motivate an extraordinarily thoughtful and detailed treatment of the ways that conflict between the KMT and the CCP, and relations of both with other global powers, shaped the notion and history of war crimes trials. It's a clearly written and compellingly argued account that's also a pleasure to read! To hear our conversation about Barak's previous book Slurp!: A Social and Culinary History of Ramen – Japan's Favorite Noodle Soup, see here.
View on AmazonKorea presents a fascinating chapter in the history of Christianity. For instance, the first continuous Christian community in the peninsula was founded by Koreans themselves without any missionaries coming into the country. In their new book, A History of Korean Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 2014), Sebastian C. H. Kim and Kirsteen Kim provide the first English-language study that covers the history of Christianity, including Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy, from its beginnings in the peninsula to the present day. This thoroughly-researched work skillfully weaves together such subjects as church-state relations, spirituality, and the global impact of Korean Christianity, into a narrative that is easy for someone unfamiliar with the subject to follow, but deep enough that experts in the field will gain much from a careful reading.
View on AmazonJonathan M. Reynolds's new book looks carefully at how photographers, architects, and others wrestled with a postwar identity crisis as they explored and struggled with new meanings of tradition, home, and culture in modern Japan. Building on the work of Walter Benjamin, Allegories of Time and Space: Japanese Identity in Photography and Architecture (University of Hawaii Press, 2015) takes readers into a range of media in which writers and artists engaged with these questions. From photographs of rural inhabitants of the Snow Country of northern Japan to photobooks on Japanese architecture to special structures built to serve young female nomads in Tokyo, the objects of Reynolds's study all served their makers as spaces for working through problems of identity, Japaneseness, and their transformations. It's a fascinating study that beautifully integrates images as an integral part of the text, and it is well worth reading.
Barry AllenView on AmazonWhat is knowledge, why is it valuable, and how might it be cultivated? Barry Allen's new book carefully considers the problem of knowledge in a range of Chinese philosophical discourses, creating a stimulating cross-disciplinary dialogue that's as much of a pleasure to read as it will be to teach with. Taking on the work of Confucians, Daoists, military theorists, Chan Buddhists, Neo-Confucian philosophers, and others, Vanishing into Things: Knowledge in Chinese Tradition (Harvard University Press, 2015) looks at the common threads and important differences in the ways that scholars have attempted to conceptualize and articulate what it is to be a knowing being in the world. Some of the major themes that recur throughout the work include the nature of non-action and emptiness, the relationship between knowledge and scholarship, the possibility of Chinese epistemologies and empiricisms, and the importance of artifice. Allen pays special attention to the ways that these scholars relate knowledge to a fluid conception of "things" that can be "completed" or "vanished into" by the knower, and to their understanding of things as parts of a collective economy of human and non-human relationships. The book does an excellent job of maintaining its focus on Chinese texts and contexts while making use of comparative cases from Anglophone and European-language philosophy that brings Chinese scholars into conversation with Nietzsche, Latour, Deleuze and Guattari, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and beyond.
Emily T. YehView on AmazonEmily T. Yeh's Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development (Cornell University Press, 2013) is an award-winning critical analysis of the production and transformation of the Tibetan landscape since 1950, construing development as a "state project that is presented as a gift to the Tibetan people" especially as it works to territorialize Tibet. Focusing on Lhasa and its environs, Yeh takes readers through three key transformations that each formed an important stage in this territorialization and motivates the focus of one part of the book. Part I ("Soil") looks at the introduction of state farms and communes in the 1950s and continuing through the early 1980s, paying careful attention to the ways that Tibetan laborers & commune members produced "a new socialist landscape" by working the soil. Part II ("Plastic") looks at development and market reforms in the 1990s that allowed large numbers of Han Chinese to migrate into Tibet. These Han migrants quickly came to dominate economic activities that included, notably, greenhouse vegetable cultivation, producing a "peri-urban landscape" covered in plastic. Part III ("Concrete") looks at the urbanization and expansion of the built environment in the 2000s, marking a new stage of development that further transformed the landscape into a patchwork of new buildings that were framed as gifts of the state. The chapters alternate with short textual interludes that offer perspectives and moments from Yeh's own research and experience in Tibet. This is a moving, powerful, and compellingly argued book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in modern China, Tibet, development, and/or urban studies.
Kurtis R. SchaefferView on AmazonKurtis R. Schaeffer's new translation of Tenzin Chögyel's The Life of the Buddha (Penguin Books, 2015) is a boon for teachers, researchers, and eager readers alike. Composed in the middle of the eighteenth century, The Life of the Buddha (or more fully rendered, The Life of the Lord Victor Shakyamuni, Ornament of One Thousand Lamps for the Fortunate Eon) takes the form of twelve major life episodes that collectively provide a "blueprint for an ideal Buddhist life," as readers follow the Bodhisattva from early pages teaching the gods in the heavenly realm of Tushita, to a descent to the human realm and birth into the world as a prince, his education and general frolicking, his escape from the palace and vanquishing of a demon army, his eventual enlightenment and Buddhahood, and ultimately his death. Tenzin Chögyel, a prominent leader in the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism in Bhutan during the golden age of Bhutanese literature, intended to tell a good story, and tell a good story he did. The account is by turns gripping and exceptionally moving, with a particularly affecting scene toward the end of the work as the Buddha's son Rahula comes to term with his father's impending death. The translation is thoughtful and quite beautiful, with the sentences likely to remind a careful reader of the rhythm and pacing of a Cormac McCarthy novel. The book will make an excellent addition to undergraduate syllabi in a wide range of courses (listen to the interview for details!) at all levels.
Winnie Won Yin WongView on AmazonReading Winnie Wong's new book on image production in Dafen village will likely change the way you think about copying, China, and the relationship between them. Based on fieldwork that included artist interviews, studio visits, and participant observation alongside local officials, bosses, interpreters, foreign artists, buyers, and traders, Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade (University of Chicago Press, 2014) takes readers into the production of images in a village in Shenzhen. After establishing what we're talking about when we talk about "copying" and "copies" in this context, Wong guides us through a series of media and spaces that collectively upend several assumptions that are often brought to understanding Dafen and its painters specifically, and copying and creativity in China more broadly. Indeed, understanding what Dafen painters are not is a crucial first step toward understanding what is happening in their work and home lives. Dafen painters, we learn, are not "especially unfree victims" of global capitalism or of totalitarian communism in a way that prevents them from making original and creative art. (In fact, Wong challenges us to think again about what and where "creativity" is, and how and by whom it is produced as a value.) Dafen painters do not work on a typical mass assembly-line. And their paintings are not simply "forgeries" of Western masterpieces. After coming to understand this, we learn about the painters and their work by visiting their workshops, reading about their life trajectories and the different sorts of training they receive, exploring propagandistic TV dramas and documentaries about them, and peering into some of the ways that artists working outside of Dafen (in Beijing, in Germany, in Amsterdam, and beyond) have understood and engaged with Dafen painting practices. It is an arresting and masterfully argued study and should be required reading for anyone interested in labor, art, and/or the history of authenticity and copying in modern China.
Julie SzeView on AmazonJulie Sze's new book opens by bringing readers into the wetlands of Dongtan, introducing us to an ambitious but unrealized project to create the "world's first great eco-city." Fantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis (University of California Press, 2015) considers Dongtan, the Chongming Island eco-development, suburban real estate developments, and other fantasies of wild and urban lives to explore the nature of eco-desire in contemporary China. Sze suggests that three factors undergird Chinese eco-desire: a technocratic faith in engineering, a reliance on authoritarian political structures to enable environmental improvements, and a discourse of "ecological harmony" between man and nature. The chapters of Fantasy Islands trace these phenomena as they have manifest in the context of the 2008 Olympics, the opening of a Tunnel-Bridge Expressway in 2010, the planning of an eco-city, the marketing of "Thames Town" and other European-oriented novelty towns on the outskirts of Shanghai, and the 2010 World Expo. It's a fascinating story for readers interested in modern China, urban history, and global studies of ecology and the environment!
Lu ZhangView on AmazonChina's automobile industry has grown considerably over the past two decades. Massive foreign investment and an increased scale and concentration of work spurred the creation of a new generation of autoworkers with increased bargaining power. At the same time, China entered the global competition in mass-producing automobiles at a stage when the level of that competition was very high and profit margins were very thin. The state, as a consequence, has restructured the industry and increased competition since the late 1990s, and this has forced Chinese automakers to move toward a "leaner & meaner work regime," according to Lu Zhang's new book. The result for autoworkers has been an increased intensity of work, reduced job security, stagnant wages, a lack of opportunities to advance, and an inferior status in a very hierarchical factory social order. Inside China's Automobile Factories: The Politics of Labor and Worker Resistance (Cambridge University Press, 2015) explores one important consequence of this transformation, the emergence of "labor force dualism" (a divide between formal and temporary workers) as a central component of labor relations in the Chinese auto industry. Lu Zhang's book is the fruit of 20 months of ethnographic research inside seven large auto assembly factories in six cities in China between 2004-2011 – spending at least two months in each factory – in addition to interviews with a range of workers and managers from those factories and archival research. She reminds us of the importance of reading this ethnography with a sensitivity to the specificity of China's condition as a "state-led, late-industrializing nation with strong revolutionary and state-socialist legacies." Tracing the roots and mechanics of labor unrest as it has emerged from those conditions, the book argues that widespread grassroots protests among autoworkers in China have succeeded, on some level: they've won workers wage increases, improved conditions on the shop floor, and pressured the government into enacting new labor laws and policy changes. Still, there is work to be done, and the book concludes by considering possible future scenarios for Chinese auto labor relations in the context of labor force dualism.
John K. NelsonView on AmazonIn his recent book, Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2013), John K. Nelson delves into the historical circumstances that have led to the declining fortunes of Japanese Buddhism and explores recent and ongoing attempts by Japanese Buddhist clerics to render Buddhism relevant to Japanese society once again. Based on extensive fieldwork, interviews, and the author's own participation in some of the innovative programs featured in the book, Experimental Buddhism features forty-five temples and some of the experiments that they are undertaking. Shingon monks chanting in a jazz club in Tokyo, a female cabaret dance troupe performing in front of the massive seated Buddha of the twelve-and-a-half-century-old Tōdaiji, a priest-run counseling center located in a covered shopping arcade, and a suicide prevention group run by priests are but a few of the fascinating examples that Nelson identifies as a part of a new trend within Japanese Buddhism, albeit a minor one as of yet. Rather than simply being another transformation within Japanese Buddhism that has developed over time, the experimental Buddhism at the center of Nelson's work arises from individual agency, a type of personal freedom that was absent in previous eras, and new communication technologies. From priest-run bars where monks-cum-bartenders serve cocktails with Buddhist names and look for chances to chat with patrons about the middle way (or about the patrons' personal woes), to a Nichiren temple in Tokyo where sutras were transformed into rap lyrics set to a beat, the experiments described here are carefully thought-out attempts made by clerics who recognize that in the modern period Buddhist institutions and teachings have largely failed to address the problems that most concern the Japanese laity. Before presenting us with specific case studies, Nelson spends the first third of the book clarifying the larger social context in which experimental Buddhism should be understood. Central here is the rapid modernization that Japan experienced beginning in the 1950s and the heightened importance and freedom of the individual in Japanese society. As Japanese felt increasingly free to choose their religious beliefs, practices, and affiliations, many terminated the relationship between family and temple that had been a central feature of Japanese Buddhism since 1635. Besides this gradual loss of parishioners, other factors directly impacting Buddhism include the 1946 land reforms whereby temples lost most of their leasable lands and were thus driven to even greater economic reliance on funerals and memorial services, the negative public image of the Buddhist priest in Japanese society, and a refusal by a large percentage of Buddhist clerics to recognize the deteriorating relationship between Buddhist institutions and Japanese society. In asking how Japanese Buddhism might make itself relevant once again, Nelson points out that the sectarianism common in Japanese Buddhism means that each institution is structured to focus on perpetuating itself rather than asking about the health of Japanese Buddhism more broadly. Because of this, ecumenical collaboration and a willingness to introspect and ask difficult questions are vital if Japanese Buddhism is to survive as more than cultural and architectural heritage. Concerning this point, Nelson discusses two groups that are attempting such a feat, and here, as throughout the book, his research is lent an extra dimension by his own participation in the program in question. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the current state of Japanese Buddhism and Japanese religion more broadly. However, while readers will be skillfully led through Japan's own complicated web of historical contingencies that led to the current state of affairs, the book addresses dynamics and quandaries that religions have faced the world over during the past [...]
View on AmazonMichael Nylan and Griet Vankeerberghen have produced a landmark volume. Chang'an 26 BCE: An Augustan Age in China (University of Washington Press, 2015) collects 19 essays (plus an Introduction and an Afterword) devoted to exploring the built environment and archaeology of Han Chang'an, sociopolitical transformations in the late Western Han, and leading figures of the period. Equally significant as a contribution to Chinese studies and to the fields of urban and empire studies more broadly conceived, Chang'an 26 BCE is remarkable for its success in bringing together the work of Chinese and US scholars, and all in a series of very clear and engaging discussions of a wide range of topics, from the provisioning of Western Han Chang'an with food and water, to the figure of Chengdi as a ruler and his relationships with high-ranking princes, to potential comparisons and differences between the city and Rome, to tomb structures and murals, amid much else. This is a book that will be on researchers' shelves for repeated consultation – and on teachers' shelves for excerpting and assigning – for many many years to come. It is an astounding achievement, as well as a beautifully illustrated object.
Stuart YoungView on AmazonIn Conceiving the Indian Buddhist Patriarchs in China (University of Hawai'i Press, 2015), Stuart Young examines Chinese hagiographic representations of three Indian Buddhist patriarchs–Aśvaghoṣa (Maming), Nāgārjuna (Longshu), and Āryadeva (Sheng tipo)–from the early fifth to late tenth centuries, and explores the role that these representations played in the development of Chinese Buddhism's self-awareness of its own position within Buddhist history and its growing confidence that Buddhism could flourish in China despite the distance between the middle kingdom and the land of the Buddha. On the one hand, this project traces these three legendary figures as they are portrayed first as exemplars of how to revive the Dharma in a world without a Buddha, then as representatives of a lineage stretching back to Śākyamuni, and finally as scholar types who transmitted the Dharma to China via their exegetical and doctrinal works. More broadly, however, Young uses this transformation as an index of changing views of medieval China's relationship to Śākyamuni's India, and of Chinese Buddhists' confidence in their own ability to realize the Buddhist soteriological path and firmly establish the Indian tradition on Chinese soil. One theme running throughout the book is the way in which these three patriarchs bridged the Sino-Indian divide. This was particularly important for those Chinese Buddhists who were unsettled by the geographical and historical distance that separated them from the India of Śākyamuni's times. The Chinese found Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, and Āryadeva particularly attractive because while their Indian origins lent them authority, they were, like the Chinese who peered down the well of history at them, living in a time without a Buddha and thus faced a dilemma not so dissimilar from the predicament in which medieval Chinese found themselves. Unlike the arhats, who experienced Śākyamuni's ministry first-hand, and unlike the celestial bodhisattvas, who were not bound by history, these three Indian patriarchs occupied a temporal position between Śākyamuni's India and medieval China. In addition, as Young shows, the Chinese attributed qualities to and highlighted aspects of these Indian patriarchs that were in accord with the values of Chinese literati, Buddhist and otherwise. In so doing, the Chinese rendered the Indian patriarchs familiar and made them into models that Chinese literati could realistically and willingly emulate. This point is related to another theme linking the chapters together: the Chinese Buddhist appropriation of Indian Buddhist and Chinese religious elements so as to claim them as their own. Young notes, however, that even as the patriarchs developed into models to be emulated, they were also transformed into objects of veneration. Besides being scholarly-types who sat around writing doctrinal treatises, Nāgārjuna came to be associated with Pure Land thought and practice (and even had his own pure land, according to some,) and was worshipped for his apotropaic powers and ability to provide this-worldly benefits, while Aśvaghoṣa became a silkworm deity and served as the protagonist in myths that provided a Buddhist justification for the killing of silkworms, to give but a few examples. And in a final chapter, Young shows how Buddhists co-opted Chinese conceptions of sanctity and sainthood so as to show that these qualities that were in reality of Chinese provenance were in fact Indian and Buddhist through-and-though. Readers will thus learn not only the details of Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, and Āryadeva's Chinese careers over a five-and-a-half-century period, but also the way in which these careers reflect changing Chinese conceptions of Buddhist history and of China's own position within that history. The book will be of particular interest to those researching Chinese perceptions of India, religious aspects o[...]
Albert L. ParkView on AmazonChristians, like other religious people, have to manage the relationship between their belief in supernatural forces and an afterlife on one side, and how those beliefs impact their daily life on the other. This was especially difficult for Korean Protestant Christians (and members of an indigenous religion influenced by Christianity, Ch'ŏndogyo) during the Japanese Colonial period (1910-1945), when Christians faced a repressive government, growing criticism of religion, and the social and cultural dislocations caused by the continued onrush of modernity into the peninsula. In his thorough and well-researched book, Building a Heaven on Earth: Religion, Activism, and Protest in Japanese Occupied Korea (University of Hawaii Press, 2015), Albert L. Park examines how Korean Protestant Christians (as well as members of Ch'ŏndogyo) dealt with these challenges by developing theologies that found the source of renewal and Korean national identity in the countryside. Through a sensitive and careful interrogation of the thought and efforts of these activists, Park unearths a largely ignored aspect of Korean religious history, leading to a book that will be of interest to both scholars of Christianity as well as students of religious responses to modernity.
David Hull's new translation of Mao Dun's Waverings (Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2014) (Research Centre for Translation, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2014) is both a beautiful literary work and a boon for scholars and teachers working in the field of modern Chinese studies. Waverings is the second work in the Eclipse trilogy, three books that were published serially in The Short Story Magazine beginning in 1927. These are the first works of fiction written by Shen Yanbing, the man who would later take on the pseudonym Mao Dun. Waverings offers readers a perspective on the 1926-1927 revolution – and problems of labor and women's rights therein – but that perspective shifts depending on which version of the text that the reader encounters: while the first version was written very quickly in 1927 while the author was in hiding in Shanghai, another 1954 revision of the text is, in many ways, quite different. In his prefatory remarks, Hull thoughtfully reflects on how to navigate this and other challenges for the modern translator. Hull's translation beautifully renders the powerful illusions and visions that recur throughout the story, and movingly give life to some extraordinarily powerful fictional characters. It's a boon for lovers of stories, for teachers, and for scholars of the modern world.
View on AmazonTwo new books have recently been published that will change the way we can study and teach Tibetan studies, and Gray Tuttle and Kurtis Schaeffer were kind enough to talk with me recently about them. The Tibetan History Reader (Columbia University Press, 2013), edited by Tuttle and Schaeffer, is a chronologically-organized set of essays that collectively introduce key topics and themes in Tibetan history from prehistory all the way through the twentieth century. It collects and in some cases excerpts key works in Tibetan political, social, and cultural history from the last three decades that were originally published elsewhere, making them accessible in a new way. Sources of Tibetan Tradition (Columbia University Press, 2013), edited by Tuttle, Schaeffer, and Matthew T. Kapstein, collects translations of key works in Tibetan literature, including more than 180 selections from a wide range of genres and forms from medieval Tibetan empire through modernity. Both texts will be on my bookshelf for many years to come: they are exceptionally useful not only for research, but also for teaching a wide range of courses in East Asian history, religious history, diaspora history, and literary studies, to name just a few fields that these texts contribute to. Historians of medicine and science, take note! The Sources volume especially contains some great work that's assignable in global science/medicine courses.