New Books in East Asian Studies
Summary: Discussions with Scholars of East Asia about their New Books
Early Korea is a resource like no other: in an ongoing series of volumes produced by the Early Korea Project at the Korea Institute of Harvard University, the series provides surveys of Korean scholarship on fundamental issues in the study of early Korean history, archaeology, and art history. The volumes, produced with full-color illustrations and biographies of each of the contributing authors, each contain a thematic focus section and several auxiliary essays that cover various aspects of the study of early Korean history and archaeology, notes from the field, and key primary sources in translation. Collectively, the contributions to each volume provide a representative picture of the state of the field of various aspects of early Korean studies in Korea today. This is an incredible resource for specialists in Korean studies, for non-specialists who want to incorporate attention to early Korea into their teaching or research, and for interested general readers. Early Korea 3: The Rediscovery of Kaya in History and Archaeology (University of Hawaii Press, 2012) is the latest volume in the series, and it explores the history of Kaya, an ancient polity centered on a region in the southernmost part of the Korean peninsula. Though I was unfamiliar with this particular aspect of Korean history before reading the volume, I quickly found that Kaya history offered a fascinating example through which to reconsider some of the most fundamental issues that face all historiography: the challenges of reconstructing a story from a conflicting, multilingual, and partial textual record; the use of ancient records to justify modern political and imperial interests; and the ways that incorporating attention to archaeological evidence can profoundly transform historical accounts of a region. I spoke with its editor, Mark Byington, about both the broader context of the Early Korea Project and the specific historical and thematic focus of this most recent offering.
Zograscope. Say it with me: zograscope. ZooooOOOOOoooograscope. There are many optical wonders in Maki Fukuoka’s new book The Premise of Fidelity: Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in 19th-Century Japan (Stanford University Press, 2012), the zograscope not least among them. The book opens with Fukuoka’s account of stumbling upon a manuscript of a botanical work called the Honzo shasin (1826) while on a trip to Leiden to see a Japanese zograscope, a device that enhanced the sense of depth when looking through it at otherwise flat pictures. Much of the book centers on the history and work of a small community of nineteenth-century scholars called the Shohyaku-sha, the group that produced the Honzo shashin and were interested in the study of materia medica. This focused case study allows Fukuoka to simultaneously stay anchored while opening up to an expansive history of transformations in modes of understanding visuality and evidence of knowledge of the natural world in Tokugawa Japan. As the book guides readers through the changing meanings of the word shashin, a term used to mean “photography” in contemporary Japanese, it demonstrates how knowledge of the spheres of textual knowledge, visual illustration, and physical plant specimens mutually reinforced one another while practitioners of the visual arts sought to define and secure relationships of “fidelity” among these very different media. This fundamentally trans-disciplinary book offers much of interest to historians of East Asia, of science, and of art: histories of public exhibitions, of natural history, of photography, of anatomical dissection, of translation and typography, and much more can be found within the pages of The Premise of Fidelity. And if I haven’t already mentioned it, there’s also a zograscope. What more reason would you need to read it?
I like to think of Sherman Cochran and Andrew Hsieh’s new book as Downton Abbey: Shanghai Edition. It is that gripping, and will keep you turning the pages that eagerly. At the same time, The Lius of Shanghai (Harvard University Press, 2013) is also an important, innovative, and timely intervention into the historiography of families, institutions, and the politics of modern China. The book is a family history of an exceptionally prominent (and exceptionally fascinating) business family in China during the first half of the twentieth century. Emerging from a cache of letters written between the late 1920s and early 1950s and held at the Center for Research on Chinese Business History in the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the project ultimately expanded to incorporate an archive of roughly 2,000 family letters that chronicle the relationships, educations, careers, romantic and political entanglements, and physical and emotional health of all of the members (literate and not) of this large and growing family. Sherm and I talked about the arc of the story in the context of the broader political transformations of modern China, his own narrative choices in structuring the book, and the larger significance of the book for reshaping the way we think about power relationships and the history of Chinese families. It is a wonderfully gripping and masterfully written model of the historian’s craft, and I hope you enjoy the conversation and the book as much as I did!
[Cross-posted from New Books in History] It’s a classic historical question: Why the West and not the Rest? Answers abound. So is there anything new to say about it? According to Prasannan Parthasarathi, there certainly is. He doesn’t go so far as to say that other proposed explanations are flat out wrong, it’s just that they don’t really focus on the narrow forces that, well, forced English business men to innovate in the 18th century. In Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Parthasarathi says that those forces were economic. English textile merchants were getting trounced by imported Indian cotton. They found that they couldn’t produce cotton goods in the same way the Indians did for all kinds of reasons. So, they had to create a new, more efficient, production process. They did. According to Parthasarath, the “Industrial Revolution” was born out of economic competition and innovation (with, of course, a helping hand from the state). That makes a lot of sense.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Military History] Historian David Silbey returns to New Books in Military History with his second book, The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China (Hill and Wang, 2012). The popular uprising known as the Boxer Rebellion has long only been vaguely understood, with Hollywood playing as great a role in shaping common perception of the event as historians have. The result has been a generally misplaced understanding of the event, focusing more on the besieged Western consulates and t he relief expeditions than on the complex interactions between the Boxers and the Chinese Court, both between themselves and individually and together against the West. Silbey has written a very accessible account of the Boxer Rebellion that also conveys the complexity of these relationships and the often successful resistance Chinese forces raised against the advancing relief columns. As the West imposed its will over the Manchu court, the stage was set for the nation’s first halting steps into the modern era, setting in motion a long history of exploitation and conflict that would end with the rebirth of China as a world power. An interesting study in the nexus between imperialism, racial ideology, and military history, Silbey’s book again provides the reader with a window onto a misunderstood and often ignored incident that remains relevant even now.
The history of modern China is bound up with that of student politics. In Behind the Gate: Inventing Students in Beijing (Columbia University Press, 2010), Fabio Lanza offers a masterfully researched, elegantly written, and thoughtful consideration of the emergence of “students” as a category in twentieth-century China. Urging us to move away from a kind of historical view that takes the trans-historical existence of categories (like “students”), places (like cities or universities), and communities for granted, Lanza argues that it was only after and as a result of the May Fourth Movement and the events of 1919 that “students” emerged as a coherent notion connected with the specific spaces of the city of Beijing, Beijing University, and Tiananmen Square. The parts of the book successively introduce different sorts of space that were both produced by and helped generate the history that unfolds here, including everyday lived spaces, intellectual spaces, and political and social spaces. Lanza argues that new forms of everyday, lived practice in these spaces allowed student activism to emerge in the gaps where politics was separated from the state, and that the category of “students” as a signifier of a politics outside the state ended only with the government intervention ending the Red Guards in the late 1960s. In the course of this wonderfully readable history, we are offered glimpses into the classrooms and dorms of Beijing University, the bodily practices of early Beida students, and the streets of early twentieth-century Beijing. Enjoy!
Japanese artist Akasegawa Genpei was prosecuted in the 1960s for producing work that imitated money. His single-sided, monochrome prints of the 1,000 yen note generated a wide-ranging set of debates over the nature of obscenity, the definition of counterfeiting, and the freedom of artists amid significant transformations in Japanese state, society, and politics. In Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan (Duke University Press, 2013), William Marotti situates Akasegawa’s work within an ecology of the everyday in a wonderfully transdisciplinary study of avant-garde artistic production in postwar Japan. Marotti’s narrative combines close readings of literary, visual, and performative works with a careful political history of Occupation Japan, opening up a conversation about the politics of art in the global 1960s. Readers will find fascinating examples of experimental artistic production in these pages, in media ranging from collages to exhibitions to train trips to musical improvisations to waste materials of various sorts, and including the guillotines of the book’s title. Also included are explorations of the changing figure of the emperor in 1960s Japan, considerations of the police order of Rancière, and conversations about quarantine and scientific observation of the everyday world. Enjoy!
Rhythm, metaphor, politics: these three features of language simultaneously enable us to communicate with each other and go largely unnoticed in the course of that communication. In An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics (Harvard University Press, 2013), Perry Link mobilizes more than three decades of reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the service of a profoundly transdisciplinary exploration of the particular anatomy of the Chinese language within the larger species of human language more generally. It is a bold and ambitious project, but one that never strays far beyond the specific archive of carefully chosen examples, cases, and utterances from the history of and in Chinese speech and writing. Link integrates a wide range of sophisticated methodological instruments from cognitive science, philosophy of mind, prosody, music theory, politics, linguistics, and other fields into a narrative argument that avoids getting mired in the professional jargon that often plagues attempts at synthetic and highly original theoretical work. He is notably careful to avoid creating a generalizing and essential “Chinese language” in these pages, emphasizing the importance of a perspective that recognizes the historical and contemporary existence of different registers of language use, from different forms and idiolects of informal Chinese to political language game-playing: sometimes by very different users, and sometimes by the same individual in the course of performing the different roles demanded by daily life. It is clear, it is imaginative, it is at turns funny and inspiring (often at the same time), and it made me read, speak, and hear Chinese in a new way. It was an absolute pleasure to talk with Perry about it, and I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
You may come for the Astro Boy or Afro Samurai, but you’ll stay for the innovative ways that Ian Condry’s new book brings together analyses of transmedia practice, collaboration, and materialities of democracy. The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story (Duke University Press, 2013) is based on ethnographic fieldwork in a range of spaces of anime production that include studios, toy factories, fan conventions, and online communities. What results is a fascinating exploration of how the social aspects of media generate successful anime tv programs and films, forms of labor, and ways of thinking about masculinity, love, and modern life. Condry argues that collaborative creativity has been central to producing the social energy necessary for the global success of Japanese anime. For Condry, it also helps explain a broader “globalization from below” whereby new forms of media emerge from local and grassroots efforts to appeal to and impact a diverse range of audiences. Through a series of case studies that observe contemporary and historical anime production practices from different angles, readers of The Soul of Anime are offered a window into the many forms of labor necessary to produce the many different media that collectively make up anime production, from the painstaking production of handmade storyboards to the conceiving of innovative characters and worlds that serve as platforms for the creation and circulation of anime stories. In addition to all of this, there are little boy samurais with wind-up keys in their heads, gods that speak only in rap, egg-shaped characters that get hard-boiled when stressed out, mega-robots, men who want to marry 2D anime character-ladies, and a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson. Enjoy!
Erica Fox Brindley’s recent book explores the centrality of music to early Chinese thought. Making broad use of both received and newly excavated texts, Music, Cosmology, and the Politics of Harmony in Early China (SUNY Press, 2012) offers readers a history of harmony in early China. Brindley shows how the concept was integral to integrating what might otherwise be considered disparate areas – music, the body, and the cosmos – into a system that had ramifications for politics, ethics, and health. Pt. I of the book focuses on the connection between music and the state. Crucially, music was not just reflective of state health in early China, but could causally influence the health of the state and the cosmos. It was treated as a civilizing tool and a mode of cultural unification. Pt. II looks at relationships between music, politics, and religion, paying special attention to how music influenced the emotional, moral, and physical health of individuals. The concept of “music” here is expansive, incorporating many aspects of sound and the sonic. It is a wonderfully thoughtful work that contributes to a number of fields in redirecting our collective attention to the sensorium of early China and its impact on the textual archive.
There is much to love about Jonathan Abel’s new book. Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan (University of California Press, 2012) brilliantly takes readers into the performance of different modes of censorship in the early and mid-twentieth century. Some practices of censorship by Japanese writers, readers, and authorities left traces that now rest in a transnational and multi-sited archive of marks, symbols, and conspicuous absences. In extended sections of the book that treat the preservation, production, and redaction of censors’ traces as they emerge from this translocal archive, Abel considers how the structures and processes of a textual archive (broadly defined) offer an architecture for building a history of censorship. Along the way, we are offered insights into the kinds of texts in which the history of the censor is inscribed, the kinds of texts and subjects that most invited the censor’s hand (whether the “censor” was an author self-editing or an authority figure coming to a text after its completion), and the capacities of censorship to generate new forms of literary production. At several points in the book (and especially in Pt III) Abel is wonderfully self-reflexive, experimenting with narrative forms to embody the kinds of textual practices that he writes about in his own writing style. The book closes with a coda that looks at information restriction in mid-twentieth century Japan and critically considers prevailing attitudes toward historicization in the disciplines of Asian studies. Redacted is full of contributions to fields that might not be obvious from the title: readers interested in archive studies, histories of the body, studies of translation, and histories of observation and violence will find inspiration here. Enjoy!
The name of the group is deceptively simple: Samul (“four objects”) + Nori (“folk entertainment”) = SamulNori. Nathan Hesselink’s new book traces the transformations of this complex contemporary Korean drumming ensemble from its first concert in a cramped Seoul basement in 1978 through the 1990s, by which time they had become a prominent media presence in Korea and abroad. Framing the story within the larger discourse of Pŏpko ch’angshin (preserving the old while creating the new), SamulNori: Contemporary Korean Drumming and the Rebirth of Itinerant Performance Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2012) introduces readers and listeners to the wider history of Korean percussion music. Hesselink locates the roots of SamulNori in itinerant performance culture in Korea, focusing in particular on the namsadang wandering minstrels and their acrobatics, puppetry, and other performing arts in what reads as a wonderful contribution to the broader history of movement and itinerancy in world history. (Fans of the film The King and the Clown [Wang ui namja, 2005] will recognize this category of namsadang performers!) A CD is included with the book, allowing readers to listen in on some of the major SamulNori works in Hesselink’s account. (My particular favorites were the songs produced by the collaboration between SamulNori and the Euro-American jazz quartet Red Sun.) Readers who are already acquainted with traditional Korean percussion will find much of interest in this history, and others will find a new world of music to explore. Enjoy!
Aminda M. Smith’s fascinating new book traces the history of transformations in the way that the PRC understood social control, deviance, and thought reform. Thought Reform and China’s Dangerous Classes: Reeducation, Resistance, and the People (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013) excavates the histories of thieves, prostitutes, and beggars from a wide range of letters, diaries, novels, films, memoirs, oral histories, media accounts, and classified government documents. Reintegrating vagrants into the history of reeducation changes how we understand the scope and nature of the Chinese Communist thought reform project. Smith takes us into the reeducation centers that served as laboratories where the rapidly changing ideas about the relationships between thought reform, labor, and individuals were worked out over the course of the early twentieth century. Taking readers from the countryside into urban centers and ultimately into Beijing, the book traces the emergence and metamorphosis of notions of the “People” over the course of this history, paying special attention to the central role that marginal figures of society played in definitions of this crucial concept. In addition to introducing some of the fascinating individuals that populate Smith’s account, in the course of our conversation we also talked about the opportunities and challenges of accessing those stories from an archive of “official sources.” Enjoy!
There are some books that are so fundamental to work in an academic field that practitioners refer to them simply by the author’s last name. Many of us had respectfully and affectionately referred to Endymion Wilkinson’s Chinese History: A Manual, Revised and Enlarged (2000) simply as “Wilkinson” (or, “The Yellow Book,” as opposed to an earlier blue-covered version of the text), and have had well-worn and dog-eared copies of it on hand at all times. I purchased my own copy shortly after beginning my doctoral program, and immediately understood why the encyclopedic guide to research in Chinese history had been so formative and so indispensible for so many people. It was in every way an essential text for anyone studying or practicing the history of China. The recent publication of Wilkinson’s Chinese History: A New Manual (Harvard University Asia Center, 2012) was and remains a major event. The manual quickly sold out (within a month of its publication!), and Wilkinson has already submitted revisions for a second printing. Chinese History: A New Manual is in many ways an entirely new organism that is quite different from its predecessors. It incorporates a million new words of text and substantially new material on everything from Chinese archaeology to environmental history. Its seventy-six chapters range from the basics of the Chinese language to the nuances of historical bibliography, incorporating detailed accounts of topics that are fundamental to understanding China and its culture (geography, literature, food and drink, etc.), as well as chronologically-organized research guides to individual periods of Chinese history. Scattered throughout the text are insets on a wide range of material, from nonverbal salutations to the mariner’s compass, that together comprise a wonderful kind of miscellany. The book is, in every way, absolutely indispensible to work in Chinese history. In the course of our conversation, we talked about many aspects of the genesis of and research strategies that produced Wilkinson’s project. We also talked about the present state and possible futures of Chinese history, and the qualities that might make a work into a lasting contribution to that field. Enjoy!
Anyuan was a town of coal miners. It was a place where local secret societies held power, where rebellion and violence were part of the life of local laborers, and where the Chinese Communist revolution was experienced especially early and particularly intensely. In her meticulously researched and elegantly narrated new book, Elizabeth J. Perry explores the significance of Anyuan both as a cornerstone of Mao’s revolutionary mobilization efforts, and as an emblem that was appropriated and re-appropriated by different groups with different agendas after Mao’s death. Anyuan: Mining China’s Revolutionary Tradition (University of California Press, 2012) carefully traces how Communist leaders deployed a range of cultural tropes and resources in the service of political persuasion. As a result of a sustained and successful effort at cultural positioning in Anyuan via the visual, verbal, ritual, and performance arts, Communist leaders like the charismatic Li Lisan and the disciplined Liu Shaoqi translated the social resources and labor infrastructure of China’s “Little Moscow” into an engine of revolution. Perry takes readers into the classrooms, textbooks, and discussion groups that helped make this possible. She also chronicles the changing significance of Anyuan in the context of the transformation of the Chinese Communist revolution from a proletarian to a peasant movement, exploring the very different roles that militarization and violence played in this new revolutionary environment, and the later role of Anyuan as an emblem variously wielded by authors, painters, filmmakers, and others who constructed very different versions of a revolutionary tradition. It is a book well worth reading, both as a window into a crucial period and space of Chinese history and as a model of careful narrative argument.