New Books in East Asian Studies
Summary: Discussions with Scholars of East Asia about their New Books
View on AmazonJames Farrer and Andrew D. Field bring their respective areas of sociological and historical expertise to a new study of cosmopolitan nightlife in modern Shanghai. The fruit of two decades of collaborative work, the co-authored Shanghai Nightscapes: A Nocturnal Biography of a Global City (University of Chicago Press, 2015) explores continuity and change over a century of singing, dancing, drinking, playing, and otherwise cavorting in Shanghai's twentieth century and beyond. The book focuses on the ways that urban nightlife transformed alongside major historical, political, and social changes from the 1920s through the 1990s, but also traces its major threads through later developments in the twenty-first century. Its pages take readers into the cabarets and dance halls of Jazz Age Shanghai in the 1930s and 1930s, secret at-home dance parties, dancing and drinking clubs where revelers first experienced Hong Kong-style DJs or new forms of social drinking, jazz clubs, and nightlife transzones that were crucibles of social change. It's a fascinating study of modern China, and its urban cultures.
Christopher ReaView on AmazonChristopher Rea's new book explores five kinds of laughter that emerged from the tumultuous first decades of China's twentieth century: jokes, play, mockery, farce, and humor. The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (University of California Press, 2015) takes a playful approach to approaching play – it's not every book of Chinese history and literature that comes with a blurb by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, after all – and simultaneously offers readers a useful lens into modern Chinese history and a pleasurable introduction to some fascinating primary sources. Rea's book situates the history of laughter within broader stories of early Republican print history, the Shanghai popular press, cinema, early amusement parks, photography, hoaxes, and much more. The epilogue considers the resonance of these issues in the context of twentieth-century digital humor, and in light of controversies over and celebrations of the recent Nobel Prizes of Mo Yan and Liu Xiaobo. Enjoy!
Nanxiu QianView on AmazonNanxiu Qian, professor at Rice University, discusses her new book Politics, Poetics, and Gender in Late Qing China: Xue Shaohui and the Era of Reform (Stanford University Press, 2015). Qian argues that the role women played in the late Qing reform movements has heretofore been overlooked by historiography. Leading reformer Xue Shaohui was a critical poet, prose writer, educator, translator, and journalist. Xue married the literary traditions and scientific and technological advances of China and of the West. Her culturalist vision of women also married the writing-women tradition with her forward beliefs in gender equality. No subservient wife, Xue Shaohui played a central role in the reform networks of women and men and in the vibrant culture of debate that planted the seeds for women's education and women's visible role in public life in China.
Roberta WueView on AmazonRoberta Wue's new book brings readers into the world of late Qing Shanghai, a center of art, culture, and entertainment. As artists fled to the city after the Taiping Rebellion, they helped create new ways of being an artist that emerged from new kinds of relationships between them, their audiences, and their work. Art Worlds: Artists, Images, and Audiences in Late 19th-Century Shanghai (University of Hawaii Press, 2014) focuses on Ren Bonian (1840-1895), a celebrated painter of the Shanghai School, and his circles and audiences. The chapters each use a particular medium or format to explore the changing landscape of the arts in Shanghai, from painted fans and fan shops, to advertisements and mass media (including an interesting account of art world activism around famine relief), to illustrated books and periodicals (including inserts accompanying the Dianshizhai huabao), to portraits of members of the art world (including a truly amazing image of a man about to butcher a dog). It is a fascinating and beautiful book.
Peter van der VeerView on AmazonWhat are the differences between religion, magic, and spirituality? Over time, these categories have been articulated in a variety of ways across differing cultures. However, many assume that the multiple understandings are merely derivative of western assertions about secular modernity. In The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India (Princeton University Press, 2013), Peter van der Veer, director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, explores how Chinese and South Asians interpreted western discourses about religion and spirituality. Through his work he demonstrates that cross-cultural comparison provides us with a complex interactional history, where non-western participants shape their own visions of society, nation, and self, often in dialogue with westerners but not dependent on them. In our conversation we discussed scholarly conceptualizations of Asian traditions, secularism, European imperialism, Mohandas Gandhi, nationalism, modern interpretations of Buddhism and Daoism, Christian Missionaries, political spirituality, religious minorities and the state, and Chinese and Indian modernities.
Ping FoongView on AmazonInk landscape painting was distinctive to the Song dynasty, and the Northern Song period was a special time for the medium. By the tenth century, this kind of painting emerged as a "scholars' category" whose "values were especially worthy of support" in critical scholarly discourse, according to Ping Foong's fascinating new book. Bringing together paintings, poems, colophons, texts about painting, and other sources, Efficacious Landscape: On the Authorities of Painting at the Northern Song Court (Harvard University Asia Center, 2015) looks carefully at the imperial establishment's efforts "to cultivate the genre of ink landscape painting and its iconography as a dynastic project." In a story that focuses on Shenzong's favorite painter: Guo Xi (after 1000-ca. 1090), Part I of The Efficacious Landscape brings readers into the spaces of the Song imperial city and their political connotations, from a careful exploration of the political import of the paintings decorating the walls of the Hanlin Institute, to a reading of unusually-juxtaposed works by Guo Xi and Li Gonglin as political commentaries on contemporary ritual and reform, to an argument about the court's imbrication in creating a particular lineage of ink landscape painters. Part II looks at the significance and outcome of a century of the court investing in ink landscape as a cultural medium as it gained new social status and dimensions, due in part to the appearance of intimate landscape painting scenes inspired by the work of Guo Xi. This part of the book features a wonderful and surprising reading of the Metropolitan Museum of Art handscroll by Guo Xi, Old Trees, Level Distance that places a careful analysis of the scroll into conversation with the poetry of Su Shi and his colleagues. This part of the book also shows how intimate landscape paintings became socially acceptable outlets of expression, as they were used as private communications between scholars and forms of social currency exchanged on particular social occasions. The book concludes by reconsidering Guo Xi's legacy under Huizong.
Linda Rui FengView on AmazonLinda Rui Feng's beautiful new book shows us the Tang city of Chang'an as we've not seen it before. City of Marvel and Transformation: Chang'an and Narratives of Experience in Tang Dynasty China (University of Hawai'i Press, 2015) remaps Chang'an as a lived space and a city created by wandering and dislocation. Feng draws on letters, epitaphs, poems, and story collections to create an archive of the literatus as wayfarer, a liminal figure making and remaking himself in the context of an urban environment pulsing with information and desire. As the examination system began requiring annual visits to Chang'an, the city was transformed by the journeying of exam candidates who were eager to make their names there, and the colleagues, courtesans, swindlers, and emperors who helped create and traverse the spaces of the city along with them. Feng's book brings us into those spaces and its stories, and offers a wonderful view of the city as skyline, theater, labyrinth, and more. It's a wonderfully interdisciplinary contribution to history and literary study of cities, space, and China.
Joseph R. DennisView on AmazonIn late imperial China, how did local elites connect with and influence the central government? How was local information made and managed? How did the state incorporate frontier areas into the empire? How were books produced and read, and by whom? In his new book, Joseph R. Dennis helps answer these questions and more by studying the genre of local gazetteers. Focusing on the Ming period, Writing, Publishing, and Reading Local Gazetteers in Imperial China, 1100-1700 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2015) argues that gazetteers were "important points of intersection between the central government and local societies and one of the main vehicles for transmitting local information to central government officials." In seven chapters that collectively move readers through the life cycle of a gazetteer, Dennis's story informs the histories of the frontier, the state, kinship, the law, material culture, and the book industry. It will be a must-read for all scholars and students of late imperial Chinese history.
View on AmazonEric Tagliacozzo, Peter C. Perdue, and Helen F. Siu's "Asia Inside Out" project is a model for interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship in all kinds of ways. Planned as a trilogy, the first two volumes were released this year. Asia Inside Out: Changing Times (Harvard University Press, 2015) collects essays by historians, art historians, and anthropologists that each take a particular year as an inflection point when "certain major cultural processes changed direction." These include key turning points in religious, economic, and political formations across land and sea since the sixteenth century, and they bring us into a wide range of localities from Macau to the Dutch East Indies to Yemen, Japan, Bangalore, and beyond. Asia Inside Out: Connected Places (Harvard University Press, 2015) gathers essays that collectively emphasize connectedness and motion by moving beyond regional and national boundaries to look at a series of "spatial moments" that were shaped by colonialism, nationalism, and post-modernity. In the course of our brief conversation we talked about the genesis of the project, what's to come in the third volume, and how others might take inspiration from the project to think anew about where we might go from here.
Leonard CassutoView on AmazonThe discontented graduate student is something of a cultural fixture in the U.S. Indeed theirs is a sorry lot. They work very hard, earn very little, and have very poor prospects. Nearly all of them want to become professors, but most of them won't. Indeed a disturbingly large minority of them won't even finish their degrees. It's little wonder graduate students are, as a group, somewhat depressed. In his thought-provoking book The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It (Harvard University Press, 2015), Leonard Cassuto tries to figure out why graduate education in the U.S. is in such a sad state. More importantly, he offers a host of fascinating proposals to "fix" American graduate schools. Listen in.
Minghui HuView on AmazonMinghui Hu's new book takes Dai Zhen as a case study to look at broader transformations in classical scholarship, technical methodologies, politics, and their relationships in the Qing period. This story of Dai Zhen begins before his birth and ends after his death, extending from a moment in which the Jesuits were denounced as "seditious foreigners" in 1664, to around 1800, when Dai's classical vision was used by the Qing state as a kind of political-scientific legitimation of their rule. Dai Zhen's methodology became the groundwork for a new political philosophy, and China's Transition to Modernity: The New Classical Vision of Dai Zhen (University of Washington Press, 2015) takes that methodology and Dai's technical accomplishments seriously. Hu's book embeds a history of Dai's work and legacy within a broader treatment of the work of European scholars and their legacy in shaping eighteenth and nineteenth century discourse, and it offers a fascinating window into an important aspect of the history of Qing science, scholarship, and politics.
Chuck WooldridgeView on AmazonNineteenth-century Nanjing was a "city of virtues," the raw material out of which a series of communities in China built the time and space of their utopian visions. Chuck Wooldridge's beautifully written and thoughtfully composed new book City of Virtues: Nanjing in an Age of Utopian Visions (University of Washington Press, 2015) uses Nanjing as a lens with which to explore some critical questions. Why did utopian movements proliferate in the nineteenth century? What tactics did utopians use to make their actions in the city seem to resonate in empire and cosmos? What kinds of urban change resulted? What does this nineteenth century story tell us about the emergence of the ideals of republicanism and citizenship in the twentieth century? Adherents of different utopian visions made aspects of the past available for use in the present through a combination of three practices: construction, writing, and ritual. The first chapter lays a foundation for the rest of the study by helping readers understand the forms of space created by the Qianlong Emperor during his six tours of southern China in the eighteenth century and the ways that those tours helped inaugurate an age of utopian visions in the century that followed. The book then traces utopian projects by literati and others before, during, and after the Taiping occupation of Nanjing. It's a focused, disciplined, clearly argued, and beautifully wrought study of an important topic.
Gordon H. ChangView on Amazon"There was China before there was an America, and it is because of China that America came to be." According to Gordon H. Chang's new book, the idea of "China" became "an ingredient within the developing identity of America itself." Written for a broad audience, Chang's Fateful Ties: A History of America's Preoccupation with China (Harvard University Press, 2015) traces the intertwined relationships of the US and China from the eighteenth century to today. Moving roughly chronologically, Fateful Ties explores this long history from the point of Americans' eighteenth century entry into the China trade, paying attention to the contemporary "Chinomania" of Ben Franklin and other prominent Americans as well as the significance of China for America's westward expansion. The story continues with the travel of American missionaries to China and Chinese students, intellectuals, and laborers to America. Chang looks at the establishment and implications of the Open Door policy, American responses to revolution in China, and the growing interest and appreciation that prominent figures in the American art world had for China in the nineteenth century. As the story moves into the twentieth century and beyond, hot and cold wars raged as prominent US figures clashed over responses to Communist and Nationalist agendas, and the book looks at the commonalities and divergences in the approach to US-China policy of several recent US presidents and the popularity of recent notions of a "Chinese Dream" to rival the American one. Throughout the story, Chang pays special attention to the "sentimentality and emotionalism" that Americans developed toward China, and includes the stories of many fascinating individuals who helped chart the path toward today's US/China relations.
Paul A. ChristensenView on AmazonPaul A. Christensen's new book is a thoughtful ethnography of drinking, drunkenness, and male sociability in modern urban Japan. Focusing on two major alcohol sobriety support groups in Japan, Alcoholics Anonymous and Danshukai, Japan, Alcoholism, and Masculinity: Suffering Sobriety in Tokyo (Lexington Books, 2014) explores the ways that admitting to and living with alcoholism in Japan challenges prevailing norms of masculinity and sociability, and looks carefully at its profound consequences for the individual sufferer. After a brief history of alcohol and drunkenness in Japan, Christensen considers the ubiquitous coding of alcohol as fun and leisurely in mass media, and directs our attention to the difficulties that this framing creates for male alcoholics. The book then moves to a discussion of historical shifts in notions of addiction in Japan, as well as contemporary debates over treatment methodologies and the ways that methodologies transplanted into Japan from the US map – or not – onto local cultural and religious realities. Christensen follows this with detailed accounts of the major support groups available to sufferers in Tokyo, the languages and bodies of alcoholic experience, and much else. Throughout the study, Christensen offers an extraordinarily sensitive treatment of the struggle of individual men to build a new selfhood while their sense of masculinity, and of a place in society, have been dismantled.
View on AmazonParks M. Coble's new book is a wonderful study of memory, war, and history that takes the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945 and its aftermath as its focus. China's War Reporters: The Legacy of Resistance against Japan (Harvard University Press, 2015) is organized in two major parts. The first part (Ch. 1-5) look closely at writing done by journalists and intellectuals during the war, focusing especially on those who were associated with the National Salvation Movement. Here we find a fascinating account of Chinese journals, newspapers, and war reporters that pays special attention to the political and ideological motivations behind wartime writers' choices of what to report and how to report it. The distinctions here between rural and urban experiences and knowledge of the war are especially striking. The second part (Ch. 6-7) looks at the "re-remembering" of the war, including the consequences of communist rule for Salvation Movement writers in the immediate aftermath of the war, the disappearance of their legacy from public memory, and the refiguring of their work in the context of post-Mao "new remembering" of the war. Coble also considers the consequences of an increasing emphasis on nationalism in China for the re-remembering of the war in academic and popular media. Collectively, the chapters of China's War Reporters argue that the particular way that the war has been remembered in China has distorted and constrained historical scholarship. It's an exceptionally clear and well-written history.