New Books in East Asian Studies
Summary: Discussions with Scholars of East Asia about their New Books
Globalization is locally specific: global connectivity looks different from place to place. Given that, how are global connections made? And why do they happen so differently in different places? In Environmental Winds: Making the Global in Southwest China (University of California Press, 2013), Michael J. Hathaway explores these questions in a rich study of Yunnan’s engagement with environmentalism and the World Wildlife Fund. As celebrated in the book’s title, Hathaway introduces the notion of changing “environmental winds” as a tool for understanding the transformative power of social formations in Yunnan and beyond. The narrative emphasizes the agency of many different kinds of actors in the co-creation of environmentalism in Yunnan, from humans to elephants, and pays special attention to the importance of Chinese intellectuals and local Yunnan people in incorporating China into a global conservation circuit. The story ranges from the global 1960s, touching on China’s role in the anticolonial movement in Africa and feminist movement beyond, through the establishment of the first transnational conservation efforts in Yunnan in the 1980s, and into the shaping of global environmental efforts by an indigenous rights movement in the 1990s. It is a fascinating story that will be of interest to both Chinese and environmental studies. Enjoy!
By any measure, David Tod Roy’s translation The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei, Vol. 1-5 (Princeton University Press, 1993-2013) is a landmark achievement for East Asian Studies, translation studies, and world literature. Comprising 100 chapters rendered across five volumes, including more than 800 named characters and supported by more than 4,000 endnotes, Roy’s work is a massive accomplishment of textual analysis, writing, research, and translation. Luckily for readers, it’s also a huge pleasure to read. If you, Gentle Reader, are anything like me, you will regularly pause in your poring over the pages of The Plum in the Golden Vase to admire the subtlety and deftness with which Roy has chosen render vernacular Chinese into corresponding English prose, whether one of the characters is claiming to be “a real dingdong dame” or another is being called a “ridiculous blatherskite.” (Blatherskite!) Yes, there is a great deal of explicit sexual description in the work, but it’s a treasure-house of so much more than that, including detailed descriptions of aspects of daily life in the late 16th century that cover everything from food preparation to medicinal recipes to funerary procedures. It was a deep honor, and a pleasure, to talk with David Roy about his masterwork. I hope you enjoy listening to him and reading his translation as much as I did.
Thinking about “Noise” in the history and practice of music means thinking in opposites. Noise is both a musical genre, and is not. It both produces a global circulation and emerges from it. It has depended on the live-ness of embodied performance while flourishing in the context of “dead” recordings. In Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation (Duke University Press, 2013), David Novak offers a wonderfully engaging and subtle narrative of noise, Japan, and their confluence. A series of chapters each bring the reader into a crucial scene of the production of “Japanoise,” from the No Fun Fest to the Nihilist Spasm Band, in each case using an exploration of the history and culture of noise to think carefully about conceptual tools that potentially extend well beyond the binding of the book, including the model of “circulation” as an explanatory frame, the importance of feedback, the spaces and experiences of listening and producing, and the intimacies of human and machine. It is a fascinating story and has changed the way I think about listening, making, and sound. Enjoy!
[Cross-posted from New Books in History] The story opens with a closing and closes with an opening. The closing is the sale of the map of Martin Waldseemüller, “America’s birth certificate,” for $10 million to the Library of Congress. The opening is the illumination of a grave as you, the reader, turn on a light to read the sunken stone. In the space between these two moments, each centered on a thing displayed (a map on a wall, a body under your feet), the story of a third object emerges from amid the threads of the people, languages, relationships, wars, and seas with which it has been entangled for more than 400 years. Mr. Selden’s Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer (Bloomsbury, 2013) explores the secrets of a map in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. In a beautifully written historical mystery, Timothy Brook follows the map from its arrival at the Library after the death of a late owner, a scholar who helped found the field of international law and found himself jailed by two kings along the way. Brook takes us backward through the historical currents that informed the visible features of this map, those features including a compass rose, a gourd with Coleridgian resonances, a network of sea routes, a pair of Gobi Desert butterflies, and much more. As it changes hands among a host of characters that include a business man trading in cloves and pornography from Japan to England, an unlikely teacher and student of the Chinese language, Samuel Purchas of Purchas his Pilgrimage, and a trouble-making layer, the map traces a global history of the seagoing world before it comes to rest on a wall next to the flayed tattooed skin of a Pacific Islander, and ultimately on two library tables before the gaze of a curious historian. It is a wonderful story and a fascinating mystery.
Before the twentieth century, opera was a kind of cultural glue: it was both a medium of mass-communication, and a powerful shaper and reflector of the popular imagination in the way TV and film are today. In Opera and the City: The Politics of Culture in Beijing 1770-1900 (Stanford University Press, 2012), Andrea S. Goldman explores the history, urban culture, and gender dynamics of opera in the Qing capital of Beijing (a locality with empire-wide influence) from about 1770 to 1900. Goldman's book traces the ways that the state and different urban populations manipulated opera performances as a means to various ends, including pleasure, moral education, and political commentary. Along the way, Goldman offers sensitive close readings of some fascinating historical sources, including a form of hybridized connoisseurship-cum-city guidebooks ("flower registers," or huapu) and playwrights' desk copies of operas. In this extraordinarily rich and carefully-wrought story, we learn of the spaces and markets of operatic performance and the varied attempts (some successful, others not) at state regulation of late Qing opera. We learn of the intricate tracings of gender and class in the selective staging of scenes from literary operas on the commercial stage, as this selective performance could dramatically change the meanings that audiences gleaned form operatic performances. In this book full of brothers, adulterous women, boy actresses, and sugar daddies, Goldman has managed to make the social and cultural history of opera feel not just relevant, but deeply necessary for understanding the politics and society of the Qing. Enjoy!
In global narratives of modern legal history, Asia tends to fall short relative to Europe and the US. According to these narratives, while individuals in the West enjoyed political participation and protection, people in Japan did not, and this was due largely to the absence of a distinction between public and private law. In Public Law, Private Practice: Politics, Profit, and the Legal Profession in Nineteenth-Century Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2013), Darryl E. Flaherty upends this narrative in a fascinating story of nineteenth century legal culture in Edo Japan. Early nineteenth-century Edo society already had a vibrant legal culture of engaged private practitioners, and by the late century they had paved the way for a codification of public and private law, and a transformation in the social meaning of law in Japan. Flaherty guides readers through the spaces of private legal practice in pre-Meiji society, and the careers of individual legal advocates who practiced in the midst of a transforming legal landscape in the early Meiji period and worked to reconcile their notions of morality and law. The book traces the formation of a legal profession in the nineteenth century, the ways that associations of legal advocates paved the way for the first political parties, and the emergence of the first private universities and law schools in Japan. It is a carefully wrought story that informs both the history of Japan and the global history of law. Enjoy!
A new understanding of animals was central to how Japanese people redefined their place in the natural world in the nineteenth century. In The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo (University of California Press, 2013), Ian Jared Miller explores this transformation and its reverberations in a fascinating study of the emergence of an “ecological modernity” at the Ueno Zoo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Miller considers how imperialist expansion reshaped what the “natural world” was and how it was represented in the context of the zoo. He also looks carefully at the transformations of the zoological garden in wartime, when the core mission of the Ueno Zoo shifted from public education and imperial entertainment to mobilization for total war, including a “Great Zoo Massacre” in which the zoo’s most famous and valuable animals were systematically slaughtered in the summer of 1943. The zoo was reimagined in the postwar period, including the establishment of a new children’s zoo and a repopulation with gift animals from China, the US, and beyond. In addition to its compelling arguments and affecting narratives of Japan’s modern animal ecologies in the context of empire and beyond, The Nature of the Beasts also offers a paper bestiary of dancing bears, Bactrian camels proudly displayed as war trophies, horses that served as “animal soldiers” in wartime, a chimpanzee named Suzie who met the emperor, pandas who functioned as “living stuffed animals” and biotechnologies, and two beloved elephants that were deliberately starved to death as part of a series of wartime animal sacrifices. It is a wonderful book and it was a pleasure to talk with Ian about it. Enjoy!
We tend to understand the modernization of Japan as a story of its rise as a techno-superpower. In East Asia: Technology, Ideology, and Empire in Japan's Wartime Era, 1931-1945 (Stanford University Press, 2013), Aaron Stephen Moore critiques this account in a study of the relationship between technology and power in the context of Japanese fascism and imperialism. Moore traces the emergence of a “technological imaginary” in wartime Japan, exploring how different groups (including intellectuals, technology bureaucrats, engineers, and state planners) invested the term “technology” with ideological meaning and power in the course of discussing and shaping national policy. Paying careful attention to the ways that technological and colonial development co-produced and challenged each other, Moore’s story respects the archives of both text and practice: the book deeply cuts into into the intellectual history of technology in the context of Japanese empire, while also following the activities, material difficulties, and large-scale products of many thousands of engineers as they traveled to Korea, Taiwan, Manchukuo, and China to build roads, canals, ports, dams, cities, irrigation, sewage and water works, and electrical and communications networks. It is a fascinating case study that informs a larger global historiography of the modern technosciences, while also using the social study of technology to extend the historiography of Japanese empire.
For a patient choosing among available forms of healing in the medical marketplace of mid-20th century South Korea, the process was akin to shopping. In Reconstructing Bodies: Biomedicine, Health, and Nation-Building in South Korea Since 1945 (Stanford University Press, 2013), John DiMoia explores emergence of that marketplace in the context of a confluence between biomedicine, bodies, and the nation in South Korea since the last half of the 20th century. In a series of case studies that range from quarantine efforts after the arrival of the U.S. Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) to plastic surgery in today’s South Korea, DiMoia traces a number of themes through his history of biomedicine and healing: the gradual transition from German/Japanese academic medicine to American and international models of medicine; a corresponding embracing of diverse forms of bodily intervention; and the ultimate adoption of private models of health care in modern South Korea. We meet several fascinating characters in the course of the narrative, from practitioners of traditional Korean medicine, to groundbreaking vascular surgeons, to men and women whose bodies became the testing grounds for reform in birth control technologies. DiMoia’s account introduces public health practices that included spraying of human bodies with DDT, surgical practices that transformed the spaces and bodies of medicine mid-20th century South Korea, and antiparasitic practices that saw thousands of children bring stool samples to school. It is a rich account of a hybrid medical ecology with moments that would collectively make up a riveting fictional novel if they weren’t all true. Enjoy!
This cat has a complicated history. In addition to filling stationery stores across the globe with cute objects festooned with little whiskers and bowties, Hello Kitty has inspired tributes from Lisa Loeb and Lady Gaga, and artistic renderings from Hello Kitty Nativity to Hello (Sex) Kitty: Mad Asian Bitch on Wheels. In Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific (Duke University Press, 2013), Christine Yano offers a fascinating study of Hello Kitty as a global commodity and “world idol.” Focusing on the period from 1998-present, the book considers the iconic spread and transformation of Sanrio’s character in the context of marketing strategies based on creating an ideal of “happiness” sustained through gift-mediated sociality and the production of nostalgia. Yano considers the Hello Kitty phenomenon as a process of “pink globalization” in which Kitty becomes a cultural “wink,” an invitation to play, a friend, a mediator of the realms of childhood and adult desire. The narrative is grounded in a series of ethnographic accounts of fans and critics of the global icon, including artists, collectors, Sanrio employees, and others. Enjoy!
John Osburg’s new book explores the rise of elite networks of newly-rich entrepreneurs, managers of state enterprises, and government officials in Chengdu. Based on extensive fieldwork that included hosting a Chinese TV show and spending many evenings in KTV clubs with businessmen who were entertaining clients, partners, and state officials, Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich (Stanford University Press, 2013) looks at the masculinization of private business and deal-making in modern China. Osburg also considers the challenges this masculinization has posed for women, including women entrepreneurs in Chengdu and the new class of women arising from a growing “beauty-economy.” The book argues that these phenomena are crucial for understanding economic inequality, gender discrimination, and many aspects of the political configuration as they emerged in the reform era and continue to characterize contemporary society. Osburg sheds new light on the importance of social networks and the hybrid business/pleasure nature of relationships in modern China by placing gender at the center of his ethnography. Enjoy!
James A. Milward’s new book offers a thoughtful and spirited history of the silk road for general readers. The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013) is part of the Oxford “A Very Short Introduction” series. The book is organized into six chapters that each take a different thematic approach to narrating aspects of silk road history from 3000 BCE to the twenty-first century, collectively offering a kind of snapshot introduction to major conceptual approaches to world history writing. In the course of learning about the Xiongnu and the history of dumplings, then, the reader simultaneously gets a crash course in environmental, political, bio-cultural, technological, and artisanal historiographies. Millward has filled the pages of this concise and very readable text with evocative (and sometimes very funny) stories, vignettes, and objects from the historical routes of Central Eurasia, weaving together the histories of lutes, horses, and silkworms with a sensitive and critical reading of the modern historiography of the Eurasian steppe. Enjoy!
T. J. Hinrichs and Linda L. Barnes have produced a volume that will change the way we learn about and teach the history of health and healing in China and beyond. Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History (Harvard University Press, 2012) collects ten chronologically-organized chapters that each explore practices of health and healing in a specific historical period, ranging from oracle bones in the pre-Han period to modern McDonald’s restaurant décor. Each chapter is supplemented by short vignettes that introduce noteworthy texts, important concepts, or examples relevant to and contemporary with the material in the chapter. Taken together, the resulting volume can be used and enjoyed by a wide range of readers, from instructors and students in a university classroom to interested browsers on a Sunday afternoon in the park. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment and makes for an enjoyable and compelling read. In the course of our conversation, we talked about a wide range of issues germane to the volume, the research and writing of each of the editors, and the wider field of medicine and healing in China. Enjoy!
Matthew Mosca’s impressively researched and carefully structured new book maps the transformation of geopolitical worldviews in a crucial period of Qing and global history. From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China (Stanford University Press, 2013) traces a shift in the Qing state’s external relations from a “frontier policy” at the height of the Qianlong Emperor’s power in the middle of the eighteenth century, to a “foreign policy” by the time Qing scholars, officials, and rulers of the mid-nineteenth century perceived the weakness of their empire when faced with European rivals. At the crux of this change, Mosca demonstrates, was a major shift in the way the empire collected and interpreted information about the world both within and beyond Qing borders. With Qianlong’s death, private Qing scholars who began to take an interest in the empire’s administration transformed the geographical epistemology of the empire, creating a standardized geographical lexicon, a means of reconciling diverse place names in many different languages, and a way of comparing different local reports on major events that were impacting the state. Mosca illustrates this history by taking the Qing understanding of India (and British activities therein) as a case study, but the book is absolutely not limited to the case of India in the scope of its arguments and the potential reach of its conclusions about Qing geopolitics. Readers from beyond the field of Chinese studies will find useful discussions here of multiple Qing modes of cartography, geography, and lexicography that inform a broader historical epistemology of the early modern world. Enjoy!
Beverly Bossler’s new book will be required reading for anyone interested in women and gender in China’s history. Covering nearly five centuries of transformations, it also offers a fascinating rethinking of the histories of neo-Confucian thought, of commercialization, and of the family in China. Courtesans, Concubines, and the Cult of Female Fidelity (Harvard-Yenching Institute, 2013) explores transformations in gender relations in China from the tenth through the fourteenth centuries by carefully considering courtesans, concubines, and faithful wives and widows, three categories of women that both intersected and mutually shaped one another. The book is divided into three main parts set in the Northern Song, Southern Song, and Yuan periods, respectively. Parts One through Three each consist of three chapters devoted to close studies of the three main categories of women discussed in the book. Bossler’s work is exhaustively researched, her argument carefully considered, and her narrative clearly structured, with most chapters giving special attention to the nature of the sources that make up her evidentiary base. In addition to offering macrohistorical views of the political, philosophical, literary, economic, and material consequences of the growth of commerce and expansion of an elite class from the Northern Song through the Yuan periods, each chapter also offers literary and historical snapshots of some of the individual women who populate the narrative. Bossler ultimately argues that the Song and Yuan periods “set the foundation for the gender order of Late Imperial China,” making her work important for those of us who study or otherwise simply enjoy reading and learning about later periods of Chinese history as well. It is an important and thoughtful book, and it was as much a pleasure to read Courtesans, Concubines, and the Cult of Female Fidelity as it was to talk with Beverly about it. Enjoy!