New Books in East Asian Studies
Summary: Discussions with Scholars of East Asia about their New Books
David A. PietzView on AmazonDavid A. Pietz's new book argues that China's water challenges are historically grounded, and that these historical realities are not going to disappear anytime soon. Using a careful history of water and environmental management to inform our understanding of water-related challenges in contemporary China, Yellow River: The Problem of Water in Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2015) asks, how did China reach its current state of water insecurity, and what might it mean for both China and the broader global community that it's part of? After a helpful introduction to the ecology and natural history of the Plain – a region that has shaped China's economy and been transformed by human action – Pietz charts a narrative with important anchoring points in the sixteenth century of Pan Jixun (1521-1595), who was later known as the "greatest water hero in Chinese history," and in the nineteenth century, when a major famine and a course change of the Yellow River occasioned a change in statecraft as well. Yellow River pays special attention to the Maoist period (1949-1979), a time when the struggle to build communism transformed the landscape, and especially the development of water resources on the North China Plain. Though the Maoist technology complex had profound impacts on China's waterscape that persist today, compounded by the effects of pollution and global warming, Pietz is careful to show that the challenges facing contemporary are not only based in Mao's "war on nature," but instead have historical roots that reach much further back in time. This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in modern China, the histories of ecology and environment, and contemporary policy.
Emily AndersonView on AmazonWhen one thinks of the connection of religion and imperialism in Japan, one automatically thinks first of Shintō and second of Buddhism. Christianity does not usually figure into that story. However, Emily Anderson, in her new book Christianity and Imperialism in Modern Japan: Empire for God (Bloomsbury, 2014), shows how and why it must be included. Through her detailed and rich study of Japanese Protestants, particularly Congregationalists, Anderson illustrates the disparate ways these Christians related to empire. Some fully supported the Japanese empire, believing that through it Japanese Christians could both solve the problems faced by Western Christianity and bring "civilization" and Christianity to Chinese and Koreans. Others, through the dissemination of Christian understandings of anarchist and socialist ideas, challenged the very idea of empire and called for a small Japan. Anderson's eye for detail and her careful presentation of these different views make this a must-read for anyone interested in Asian Christianity and the relationship between religion and empire.
Agnieszka Helman-WaznyView on AmazonAgnieszka Helman-Wazny's new book is a fascinating contribution to both book history and Tibetan studies, bringing these fields together through careful attention to the physicality of print and manuscript materials. The Archaeology of Tibetan Books (Brill, 2014) explores a wide range of printed works and manuscripts in Tibetan, focusing especially on the nearly 50 Tibetan manuscripts from the Dunhuang "Library Cave," early printed editions of Tibetan Kanjurs, and illuminated manuscripts from Western and Central Tibet. Based on deeply interdisciplinary research in libraries, museums, and private collections, along with interviews with Tibetan artisans and personal experience in "experimental manuscriptology," Helman-Wazny's book focuses on the material components of Tibetan books, including the fiber composition and molding of the paper, the preparation of leaves before writing/printing, the production of inks and pigments, and the format of the most important types of Tibetan books. The Archaeology of Tibetan Books also explores the relationship between manuscript and print culture in Tibet, and guides readers through the stages of production of massive projects like the Tibetan Buddhist Canon. A final chapter discusses the particular challenges posed to the conservation of Tibetan books due to the significance of these books as sacred and ritual objects, where "preserving" the object for one group of people may look like "destroying" it to another. This will reward the attention of anyone interested in the history of and with Tibetan books.
Tanya StorchView on AmazonTanya Storch's recent book, The History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography: Censorship and Transformation of the Tripitaka (Cambria, 2014), focuses on the development of Chinese Buddhist catalogs from their first appearance in the third century to the eighth century, when printed editions of the canon took over the catalog's role of identifying and delimiting the Chinese Buddhist canon. Storch has written this work with two goals in mind, which correspond to two different audiences she is targeting. On the one hand, she aims to present the first-ever English-language overview of Chinese Buddhist bibliography, a feat she accomplishes through an examination of catalogs in their chronological order of appearance (chapters 2-5). Along the way she highlights a number of important points and developments: the way in which Sengyou (445-518) was indebted to earlier catalogs other than Daoan's, Buddhist appropriation of the organizing principles used in catalogs of Confucian texts, the unprecedented production of catalogs of Buddhist texts during the short-lived Sui dynasty (581-618), the growth of the sutra section of the canon and simultaneous shrinking of the Vinaya section, and the reasons for the eventual decline of the catalog's authority, to name but a few to name but a few of the issues that Storch addresses. The extraordinary number of names of people and texts appearing in these chapters would be overwhelming for readers not prepared for such detail were it not for the tables that Storch has thoughtfully included at the end of each of these four chapters, in which she lays out the contents and structure of the various catalogs discussed therein. This is in addition to a very helpful seventeen-page table appended to the end of the book that provides in table format an overview of the first five centuries of Chinese Buddhist bibliography. Storch's second goal is to make Chinese Buddhist bibliography accessible to non-specialists. Because discussions of the Chinese Buddhist canon are written in Japanese or Chinese, or, if in a Western language, they are written for other Sinologists or scholars of Chinese Buddhism, the Chinese Buddhist canon has been consistently absent from academic treatments of canon formation and sacred scripture in comparative perspective. (Incidentally, scholarship on the corpus of Confucian classics has been more accessible, and thus this body of texts has not suffered the same fate.) Lamenting this fact, Storch hopes to make the Chinese tripiṭaka a "household name." To this end, she devotes chapter 7 to a comparison of the Chinese canon and Chinese Buddhist canonical authority to the development of the New Testament and Hellenistic catalogs of texts. She considers, for example, the way in which both Chinese catalogers and those attempting to delimit the boundaries of the New Testament both attempted to verify the authenticity of a given text by verifying the authenticity of the transmitter of that text, the transmitter being the translator in the case of Chinese Buddhism and the apostle in the case of the New Testament. In this way, Storch's book will be of great value not only to those attempting to understand the notions of canon, orthodoxy, and religious authority in the context of Chinese Buddhism (and Chinese textual culture more generally) but also to those examining these concepts in cross cultural perspective, particularly with regard to the past evaluations of sacred scripture and corpora of such texts.
View on AmazonEugene N. Anderson's new book offers an expansive history of food, environment, and their relationships in China. From prehistory through the Ming and beyond, Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) pays careful attention to a wide range of contexts of concern with nature and its resources. Readers of Anderson's book will find fascinating discussions of rice agriculture and fermentation, the etiquette of food and eating, concerns with deforestation in classical literature, the emergence of principles and practices of environmental management, and much more. Throughout the book, Anderson situates China within a larger frame of Central Asian history, with extensive discussions of the Silk Road and the importance of Mongol empire for the movement and circulation of food- and environment-related materials and practices. Though the main part of the book ends with the Ming Dynasty, a final chapter considers the themes of the book as they thread through modern and contemporary China. Two appendices offer further introductions to related themes – "Conservation Among China's Neighbors" and "An Introduction to Central Asian Food." Enjoy!
View on AmazonByonghyon Choi's new book makes a key document of Korean and world history available in English in a volume that will be tremendously useful for both scholarship and teaching. The Annals of King T'aejo: Founder of Korea's Choson Dynasty (Harvard University Press, 2014) translates an important excerpt from The Veritable Records of the Choson Dynasty, a historical record that documents important events and historical developments from the first 472 years of the Choson period in Korean history, into English. Compiled in 1409 and completed in 1413, the annals of King T'aejo – founder of the Choson Dynasty – include a wealth of information about both domestic and foreign affairs in the fifteenth century. Readers will find much of interest to inform broader histories of weather, animals, clothing, envoy relations, architecture, urban studies, family studies, and much, much more. A substantial volume of more than 1,000 pages, the translation can also be usefully excerpted for the purpose of teaching courses at all levels on the histories of Korea, East Asia, early modernity, and global history, among others. Enjoy!
Ken SwopeView on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Military History] Our interview with Kenneth M. Swope about his book, The Military Collapse of China's Ming Dynasty, 1618-44 (Routledge, 2014), published through Routledge, is an effort to address an oversight in how New Books in Military History has generally overlooked both early modern history and works that have an exclusively non-Eurocentric focus. Swope's book presents a very detailed assessment of the many challenges that underlie the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in China in the seventeenth century. More importantly, though, he challenges many previously held suppositions about Chinese military capabilities, culture, and society — restoring the Ming to their appropriate place as one of the most well-organized and equipped armies of the early modern era (at least in theory, that is . . . .) Steeped in rare Chinese sources and rich in analysis, this book is an important contribution by one of the field's most important experts.
Charlotte EubanksView on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Buddhist Studies] In Miracles of Book and Body: Buddhist Textual Culture and Medieval Japan (University of California Press, 2011), Charlotte Eubanks examines the relationship between Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras and the human body, using Japanese tale literature (setsuwa) as a lens through which to understand this particular aspect of Buddhist textual culture and the way in which text and body are not as separate as we usually assume. Two of the questions she wants to answer are "What do sūtras want?" and "What do sūtras get?" She examines Buddhist scriptures of continental origin to answer the former, while she turns to Japanese tale literature (setsuwa) to answer the latter. Two ideas central to the book are that bodies can become texts, and that texts can become bodies. Concerning the first, through reciting, reproducing, and in some sense embodying a sutra, an individual can in effect turn his or her body into the text itself (a result that the sūtras themselves encourage through various admonishments, a move that can be seen as their own quest for survival). As for the second–the idea that texts can become bodies–Eubanks shows that in the Japanese context sūtras literary materialize, becoming independent actors in their own right. While it was largely through setsuwa and other such filters that medieval Japanese understood Buddhist scripture, the ease with which sūtras and bodies moved back and forth along what Eubanks terms "the text-flesh continuum" was dependent upon Mahāyāna sūtras' concealment of their authorship. Indeed, certain sūtras went so far as to suggest that their origins are to be found prior to the Buddha himself, the figure who in traditional Buddhism would have been considered the author of these texts. This move allowed Mahāyāna sūtras to claim agency for themselves, and thus for Japanese setsuwa to later depict sūtras as willful, motivated actors rather than mere containers for the teachings of the Buddha. Besides using setsuwa as a source for understanding the Japanese reception of Buddhist sūtras, Eubanks examines the prefaces and colophons of setsuwa collections in order to understand how the compilers or authors of these tales intended this didactic literature to interact with human bodies (e.g., as food or medicine), showing that in the ideal relationship between setsuwa and reader/listener, the latter not only received ideas and ethical norms but also came to embody (both literally and figuratively) those very ideas and norms. Beside being rewarded with a stimulating reinterpretation of the way in which sūtras and setsuwa make their messages heard and felt, the reader will be treated to a plethora of fascinating accounts from nine medieval setsuwa collections. In addition, Eubanks addresses gender at various points throughout the work, showing how Japanese and non-Japanese scholars alike have treated this genre as an erotic object, and the way in which setsuwa were conceived by their own authors and compilers as elderly female matchmakers (to give but two examples). And in the final chapter Eubanks discusses the relationship between material form and the practice of reading, seeking to understand the development of the revolving sūtra library and the persistence of the scroll in East Asian Buddhism long after the codex has come into use. This book will be of particular interest to those researching medieval Japanese Buddhism, Mahāyāna sūtras as a genre, setsuwa, Buddhist textual culture, gender symbolism in Japanese Buddhism, medieval traditions of preaching and proselytization, and the body in religious thought and practice.
Tamara T. ChinView on AmazonTamara Chin's new book is a tour de force and a must-read for anyone interested in early China, the history of economy, or inter-disciplinarity in the humanities. Focusing on the reign of Han Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 BCE), Savage Exchange: Han Imperialism, Chinese Literary Style, and the Economic Imagination (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) carefully considers how this earliest period of expansion of China's markets and frontiers inspired scholarly debates over the relationships of frontier, market, word, and world. In a series of three chapters that each treat a discursive genre (philosophical dialogue, epideictic fu, and historiography) and two chapters that look at social practices (kinship and money), Savage Exchange traces the literary innovations that emerged within contexts of political economic debate. Chin's story reads Han literary texts in a way that uncovers and traces multiple, sometimes conflicting narratives instead of the kind of linear story that often accompanies traditional readings of these works. The book shows that the "savagery of imperialism," for many, was not about borders between the civilized and the barbarian, but instead was about modes and rituals of exchange across boundaries of gender, morality, numeracy, kinship, and materiality. Chapter 5 will be of particular interest to historians of money, and the final chapter of the book is a special treat for readers interested in the broader implications of Chin's methodology, as it covers the importance of literary scholars engaging with the materials and texts produced by frontier archaeology, of comparative literature engaging with premodern histories of contact, and of the historiography of world systems engaging a broader set of approaches to documents and data.
R. Keller KimbroughView on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Buddhist Studies] In his recent book, Wondrous Brutal Fictions: Eight Buddhist Tales from the Early Japanese Puppet Theater (Columbia University Press, 2013), R. Keller Kimbrough provides us with eight beautifully translated sekkyō 説経 and ko-jōruri 古浄
Paola IoveneView on AmazonPaola Iovene's new book is a beautiful exploration of visions of the future as they have shaped a range of texts, genres, and editorial practices in Chinese literature from the middle of the twentieth century through the beginning of the twenty-first century. Tales of Futures Past: Anticipation and the Ends of Literature in Contemporary China (Stanford University Press, 2014) traces two different and related ideas of the future through children's books, popular science, science fiction, poetry, fiction, and other kinds of text and practice: destination (defined in the book as "a condition of higher perfection, a time and place that is better than the present"), and anticipation (rendered as "the expectations that permeate life as it unfolds" and emergent in various ways throughout the book). The first three chapters focus on editorial and authorial strategies, and the last two chapters offer close readings of texts by Wang Meng and Ge Fei that themselves are concerned with literature and its uses. The chapter offers thoughtful reflections on science fiction in China and its relation to ideas of labor, embodied practices of composition and performance, literary translation as a mode of cultural exchange, the beginnings of an idea of "world literature" in modern China, the editorial strategies and modes of collaboration responsible for the emergence of Chinese avant-garde fiction, the surprising links between Tang poetry and contemporary fiction in China, the importance of fog or haze as a literary medium of toxicity, and much else. It's a wonderfully provocative book, both for specialists of Chinese literary studies and for non-specialist readers looking for a glimpse into some wonderfully inventive works of modern Chinese literature that haven't received much critical attention in English-language scholarship.
Joseph D. HankinsView on AmazonJoseph D. Hankins's marvelous new ethnography of the contemporary Buraku people looks at the labor involved in "identifying, dismantling, and reproducing" the Buraku situation in Japan and beyond. Taking readers on a journey from Lubbock, Texas to Tokyo, India, and back again, Working Skin: Making Leather, Making a Multicultural Japan (University of California Press, 2014) brings a diverse range of ethnographic experiences to bear on understanding the conception, management, recognition, and experience of the burakumin, a "contagious category" of minority identity in today's Japan. In three major sections that each advance a particular argument, Hankins's book considers the production and non-production of signs of modern Buraku identity. These fascinating chapters offer thoughtful accounts of the making and remaking of bodily markers and ties of kinship, occupation, and residence that can be mobilized to make Buraku identity, the political strategies and embodied practices through which abstract ideals like "multiculturalism" and "human rights" are produced in that context, and the ways that international legal standards and political solidarity have been mobilized in the course of the labor that produces Buraku selfhood and otherhood. Working Skin also pays special attention to the ways that an impulse toward multiculturalism disciplines the subjects and objects of contemporary representations of social difference in Japan.
Rian ThumView on AmazonIn his fascinating new book, Rian Thum explores the craft, materiality, nature, and readership of Uyghur history over the past 300 years. The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History (Harvard University Press, 2014) argues that understanding Uyghur history in this way is crucial for understanding both Uyghur identity and continuing relationships with the Chinese state. Rather than writing a narrative of "Xinjiang," Thum instead crafts his history as a story of the shifting spaces of Altishahr, an Uyghur name for "six cities" and a term "used by people who are denied the political power to draw maps." In Thum's hands, Altishahr ceases to be a frontier or marginal area: instead, it moves to the center along with the broader field of Uyghur history and historiography. After describing the textual landscape of Altishahri manuscripts as of the beginning of the twentieth century and introducing the genre of the tazkirah as a major vehicle for popular local history, Thum considers the importance of orality to the experience of Altishahri texts, the significance of shrines as spaces of history-making in Altishahr, the ways that the pilgrimage tradition has maintained a shared Altishahri regional identity and view of the past, and the ways that historical fiction and newspapers have helped shape a modern Altishahri historical tradition. Ultimately, Thum also shows how analyzing historical traditions in so-called "marginal" societies can help us understand the nature of history as a practice more broadly conceived.
Joshua S. MostowView on AmazonIn pre-modern Japan, Ise monogatari (also known as the Ise Stories or Tales of Ise) was considered to be one of the three most important works of literature in the Japanese language. Joshua S. Mostow's new book focuses on the reception and appropriation of these stories from the twelfth through seventeenth centuries. Paying special attention to the relationship of image and text in these works, Courtly Visions: The Ise Stories and the Politics of Cultural Appropriation (Brill, 2014) expertly interprets the Ise images to understand the very different ways that the stories were understood in different contexts. Courtly Visions pays careful attention to how different ways of framing class, gender, and religion shaped pre-modern reading and imaging of Ise, from a predominantly male salon in the ninth century, to aristocratic female readers of the Heian period, to a medieval courtier's poems about a love affair, to a pair of imperial lines wrestling for power, to Noh theater, and beyond. The book is gorgeously illustrated with color images that are not only an immense pleasure to look at, but also serve as an important aspect of the book's argument as Mostow guides us through visual readings of them.
Ernest P. YoungView on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Christian Studies] In theory, Christian missionaries plan only on working in a country until an indigenous leadership can take over management of the church. Theory is one thing, but practice is quite another, as Dr. Ernest P. Young shows in his fascinating exploration of this issue in his Ecclesiastical Colony: China's Catholic Church and the French Religious Protectorate (Oxford University Press, 2013). In this well-researched work, Dr. Young shows why many Catholics missionaries, including those who were not French, were willing to look to French protection in China, and how that impeded the growth of an indigenous, acculturated church. Dr. Young also tells the fascinating story of how a few missionaries, sympathetic to Chinese aspirations and wishing to build a truly Chinese Catholic Church, worked with the Vatican in an attempt to undermine the French Protectorate. As readers of this fine book will find, the merely partial success of this project has echoes that still reverberate in China today.