New Books in East Asian Studies
Summary: Discussions with Scholars of East Asia about their New Books
Melek OrtabasiView on AmazonMelek Ortabasi's new book explores the work of Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962), a writer, folk scholar, "eccentric, dominating crackpot," "brilliant, versatile iconoclast" and much more. The Undiscovered Country: Text, Translation, and Modernity in the Work of Yanagita Kunio (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) expands how we understand and evaluate his work by contextualizing it in terms of translation studies, simultaneously informing how we think about (and with) translation. Translation was a method of resistance for Yanagita, offering a way to work against a "homogenizing national narrative" in the first half of Japan's twentieth century. Ortabasi considers Yanagita's work as a poet, a travel writer, a folk studies scholar, a linguist, and a pedagogue: in every case, whether literally or figuratively, Yanagita was also acting as a translator. The Undiscovered Country takes us into some amazing texts that include a collection of oral tales from a rural castle town in northern Japan, travelogues, methodological introductions to academic fields, works on regional dialectical names for snails (snails!), language-maps, glossaries, children's literature (including a history of fire!), a television show, and much more. It's a fascinating study for readers interested in both modern Japan and translation studies alike. Enjoy!
Kathleen LópezView on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Latin American Studies] Successive waves of migration brought thousands of Chinese laborers to Cuba over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The coolie trade, which was meant to replace waning supplies of slaves, was but the first. In the twentieth century, a sugar boom in Cuba facilitated the entry of thousands more. Many of these itinerant workers stayed, and this book uses Chinese and Spanish languages sources and microhistorical methods to trace their lives as they married, raised children, formed associations and ran businesses. Kathleen López's book Chinese Cubans, A Transnational History (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) asks questions about belonging and offers a nuanced interpretation of the ways people of Chinese descent could proffer loyalties to Cuba even as they were embedded in transnational Chinese networks. There are surprising stories here, about race, family and work. Next time you encounter a Chinese-Cuban restaurant, you'll know a little more about how it got there.
Wai-yee LiView on AmazonWai-yee Li's new book explores writing around the Ming-Qing transition in seventeenth-century China, paying careful attention to the relationships of history and literature in writing by women, about women, and/or in a feminine voice. In a series of chapters that showcase exceptionally thoughtful, virtuosic readings of a wide range of texts, Women and National Trauma in Late Imperial Chinese Literature (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) considers how conceptions of gender mediate experiences of political disorder. The first two chapters trace, in turn, the appropriation of feminine diction by men via a poetics of indirectness, and the use of masculine diction by women as a means of creating a space for political and historical engagement. The book continues from there to consider tropes of avenging female heroes, courageous concubines and courtesans, poet-historians and female knight-errants, chastity martyrs and abducted women, massacre and redemption. The conclusions to each chapter follow these seventeenth-century threads of discourse as they continue to weave themselves into the literature of modern China. It is a thoughtfully conceived and elegantly written study that serves simultaneously as a compellingly argued story and a reference packed with detailed readings of gorgeously translated primary texts.
View on AmazonMichael Gibbs Hill's new translation renders into English, for the first time, the introduction and overview to Wang Hui's 4-volume Rise of Modern Chinese Thought (Xiandai Zhongguo sixiangde xingqi, 2004). China from Empire to Nation-State (Harvard University Press, 2014) thus makes available to an English-reading audience a fascinating perspective on the history and historiography of modern China in the context of a larger global frame. Hill's translation offers a view of Chinese history that's very different from some dominant contemporary approaches to the modern, early modern, colonial, and imperial histories of China. In doing so, it opens up a more richly textured way of thinking about modern China, and offers a tool for creating useful dialogue among local historiographies of empire, nation-state, modernity, and much more. In the course of our conversation Hill and I also discussed his craft as a translator, so this interview will be of particular interest to listeners engaged with practices and histories of translation. Enjoy!
Chun-fang YuView on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Buddhist Studies] Chün-fang Yü's new book, Passing the Light: The Incense Light Community and Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Taiwan (University of Hawaii Press, 2013), focuses on a community of nuns in Taiwan founded in the early 1980s, and discusses the appearance and development of this community within the context of rapidly changing social and economic circumstances in Taiwan during the last half of the twentieth century. Based on extensive fieldwork and numerous interviews conducted between the mid-1990s and 2013, Yü provides the reader with a vivid picture of daily life in the seminary and a close examination of the Buddhist education classes for laypeople taught by the nuns. Along the way she explores the appearance of Buddhist seminaries in China during the late Qing and Republican periods, the transformation of Taiwanese nuns from individuals devoted to Buddhist ritual and personal salvation into religious teachers of the Buddhist laity, the changing demographics of the Taiwanese Buddhist nunnery, and the development of curricula that incorporate both traditional Buddhist subjects (e.g., study of the Vinaya) and secular ones (e.g., business management). Through Yü's detailed presentations of the instructional materials used to educate both nuns and laypeople, the reader begins to understand the vision that informed the activities of the Incense Light Community as well as the way in which one particular community of nuns dealt with modernization and its concomitant challenges to traditional Buddhist education, practice, and belief. However, perhaps the most compelling aspect of this work is its ability to draw the reader into the lives of individual nuns and the complex social realities of life as a Taiwanese nun during the past half-century. This book will be of particular interest to those researching or interested in issues of Buddhist modernization, Buddhist and Chinese views of gender, female monasticism, and Buddhist education.
View on AmazonRobert Stolz's new book explores the emergence of an environmental turn in modern Japan. Bad Water: Nature, Pollution; Politics in Japan, 1870-1950 (Duke University Press, 2014) guides readers through the unfolding of successive eco-historical periods in Japan. Stolz charts the transformations of an "environmental unconscious" lying at the foundation of modern social and political thought. Bad Water begins by describing the establishment of the autonomous individual as a political unit, tracing the relationship between the Meiji liberal subject and the environment beginning in the 1870s. With the emergence of toxic flows that penetrated the body, and in light of the Ashio Copper Mine incident as Japan's first experience with industrial-scale pollution, nature and politics were increasingly difficult to keep separated. Stolz looks closely at the work of Tanaka Shōzō – Japan's famous "first conservationist" – in this context, from Tanaka's jikiso appeal to the Meiji Emperor in 1901 through an environmental turn in which he conducted river pilgrimages and developed an ecological philosophy of "flow" (nagare) and "poison" (doku). Bad Water also considers the work of anarchist Ishikawa Sanshirō (1876-1956) and Snow Brand Dairy founder Kurosawa Torizō (1885-1982), two thinkers who took up the issue of the relationship between nature, the individual, and society after Tanaka's death in 1913. It is a fascinating and important study that will be of wide interest to scholars and readers of the histories of Japan, environmentalism, hygienic modernity, and ecology. Enjoy!
Jolyon ThomasView on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Religion] The worlds of cinema and illustrated fiction are replete with exciting data for the historian of religion. Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (University Of Hawai'i Press, 2012), by author Jolyon Thomas, sets up a robust theoretical model for examining how the concept of religion is deployed in these mediums. Thomas outlines how the category religion can be understood within the Japanese context and various reasons why religious markers and themes are reproduced in manga and anime culture. His detailed illustration of the typologies of the manga/anime/religion nexus is achieved through both narrative analysis of illustrated fiction and film, as well as ethnographies of digital and material environments. In our conversation we discussed the production and marketing elements of manga, its uses for proselytization, some ritualized responses of audiences, famous authors and their works, such as Tezuka Osamu's Buddha, religious movements derived from manga and anime culture, the religiously nationalistic elements of Kobayashi Yoshinori's On Yasukuni and On the Emperor, the filmic career of Miyazaki Hayao, and the role of manga in Aum Shinrikyo's rise and fall.
Gregory SmitsView on AmazonIn two recent books, Gregory Smits offers a history of earthquakes and seismology in Japan that creates a wonderful dialogue between history and the sciences. Seismic Japan: The Long History and Continuing Legacy of the Ansei Edo Earthquake (University of Hawai'i Press, 2013) is a deeply contextualized study of the 1855 Ansei Edo earthquake and its reverberations into the twenty-first century, arguing that the quake not only played an important role in shaping ideas about politics, religion, geography, and the sciences in Japan, but also generated new ways of thinking about human agency and earthquakes that continue to be influential today. When the Earth Roars: Lessons from the History of Earthquakes in Japan (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) is a synthetic account of earthquakes along the Sanriku coast of Japan from early modernity to now, offering a deep contextualization of the 3/11 disaster and some important lessons for how we might cope with the possibilities of further seismic activity (in Japan and beyond) in the future. Both books build on Smits' expertise in the documents of Japanese history to inform and create a history of science that speaks beautifully to contemporary issues of profound global importance. Enjoy!
Tine M. GammeltoftView on AmazonTine Gammeltoft's new book explores the process of reproductive decision making in contemporary Hanoi. Haunting Images: A Cultural Account of Selective Reproduction in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2014) develops an anthropology of belonging, paying special attention to the ways that women and their communities understand and make decisions based on ultrasound imaging technologies. In the course of making life-and-death decisions, the subjects of Gammeltoft's book confronted ethically demanding circumstances through which they forged moral selves. Inspired by the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Haunting Images considers their reproductive choices as acts of collective belonging, producing the subjectivities of both mother and fetus. The book considers these choices in light of the extended repercussions of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the local specificity of biopower, national concepts of "population quality," and the precarity of individual attachments to social collectives. The second half of the book follows the experiences of women who were informed via 3D ultrasound scans that the children they expected would be anomalous, tracing their choices, questions, contexts, and encounters with childhood disability. It is a powerful and deeply affecting study
Christina LaffinView on AmazonKnown primarily as a travel writer thanks to the frequent assignment of her Diary in high school history and literature classes, Nun Abutsu was a thirteenth-century poet, scholar, and teacher, and also a prolific writer. Christina Laffin's new book explores Abutsu's life and written works, taking readers in turn through her letters, memoirs, poems, prayers, and travel diary, among others. Each chapter of Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women: Politics, Personality, and Literary Production in the Life of Nun Abutsu (University of Hawai'i Press, 2013) looks at one of Abutsu's literary products and considers how and why the document was produced and what it can tell us about the literary environment for thirteenth century Japanese women. Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women is careful to read these sources not as transparent guides to fact, but instead as narrative forms that were shaped by conventions of their respective genres. From the diary Fitful Slumbers to the poetry manual The Evening Crane and beyond, Laffin also pays special attention to Abutsu's scholarly interpretations of The Tale of Genji. Laffin's book is a fascinating and carefully-wrought story, and in re-situating Abutsu's work within Japanese literary studies it also opens a space for renewed attention to medieval women's writing more broadly conceived.
James CarterView on AmazonJay Carter's new book follows the life of one man as a way of opening a window into the lived history of twentieth-century China. Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth-Century Monk (Oxford University Press, 2011; paperback edition 2014) is less a traditional biography than a life of an emergent modern nation as told through the experiences of a single individual whose relationships embodied the history of that nation in flesh, bones, and blood. Born in 1875 as Wang Shouchun, the man who would become Tanxu worked various jobs as laborer, minor government official, fortune-teller, and pharmacist before finding his calling, leaving his family, and setting off on a journey to become a Buddhist monk. His travels spanned the physical and spiritual worlds – one of his earliest voyages took him beyond death to the underworld and back. After leaving home, Wang experienced treaty-ports in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War, the Boxer uprising, and Russo-Japanese tension over Manchuria. His life unfolded in a series of Chinese cities that were administered by foreigners, and the transformative power of Sino-foreign relations in this period becomes a recurring trope throughout his story. Ranging north and south, he eventually studied to become a Buddhist monk and, as Tanxu, helped to found temples across China. Carter's own travels took him from the Bronx (to meet with a Dharma heir disciple of the monk) through more than a dozen Chinese cities, taking Tanxu's own memoir and itinerary as guidebook and route-map. The resulting book is a beautifully written, historiographically self-reflexive, and humane account of the lived history of modern China.
Stephen R. PlattView on AmazonStephen R. Platt's new book is a beautifully written and intricately textured account of the bloodiest civil war of all time. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War (Vintage Books, 2012) is a deeply international history of the Taiping Civil War that situates the story of modern China within a broader, global history of civil war in the US and beyond. Platt refocuses our gaze on the crucial role of a cast of characters who shaped the war and its aftermath but are often overlooked in its histories. Rather than echoing previous accounts of the Taiping that focus on the visionary Hong Xiuquan, Platt thus highlights Hong's lesser-known cousin, Taiping "Shield King" and keeper of pickles Hong Rengan; the long-haired and wily Frederick Townsend Ward with his tight-fitting black uniform and army of filibusters; and the reluctant and toothache-suffering general Zeng Guofan and his "Confucian scholar's vision of an army." (Though he appears only briefly, look out also for Queen Victoria's unfortunately-named dog "Looty.") Platt is equally at home when bringing readers into the theater of sieges and political treaties, and while developing very affecting and humane accounts of men and women in the midst of making very difficult decisions in exceptionally challenging circumstances. This award-winning book is well worth reading, both as a masterful history of modern China and a model of evocative and gripping historical writing. Enjoy!
View on Amazon[Cross-posted from New Books in Education] Robert A. Rhoads, Xiaoyang Wang, Xiaoguang Shi, Yongcai Chang are the authors of China's Rising Research Universities: A New Era of Global Ambition (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). Dr. Rhoads is the Director, Globalization and Higher Education Research Center at UCLA. Dr. Wang is Director of the Higher Education Institute at Tsinghua University. Dr. Shi is Director of the Center for International Higher Education Research in the Graduate School of Education at Peking University. Dr. Chang is Professor of Comparative Education and Cultural Anthropology and Psychology in the School of Education at Minzu University. In this book, the authors explore the Chinese universities system, keying on research institutions and professor experience in this rapidly changing higher education environment. While the book provides an overview and history of the entire Chinese higher education sector, the research focuses on four universities–Tsinghua University, Peking University, Renmin University, and Minzu University. Beginning in the late 90s, the Chinese government began a concerted effort to create "world-class" universities by pumping funding into a select group of universities, through Project 211 and Project 985. All of the listed institutions were included in the funding projects, which have led to wide reform and transformations. Extensive faculty interviews were conducted at the four universities, providing an insight into the change, pressures, and culture at each institution. Dr. Rhoads joins the podcast to talk about this collaborative project.
Anne AllisonView on Amazon"[All] I want to eat is a rice ball." This was the last entry in the diary of a 52-year-old man who starved to death in an apartment he had occupied for 20 years. His is just one of many voices of the precarity of everyday life and death that populate Anne Allison's new ethnography of pain, struggle, and hope in modern Japan. Precarious Japan (Duke University Press, 2013) considers the transformations of the relationship between work and life in Japan that followed its social and economic fall after the financial bubble burst in 1991. The structural unit of the family and the meaning and spaces of "home" were consequently reconfigured. In her study of the spaces and voices of the resulting "precarity" of contemporary Japan, Allison introduces us to a broad range of people working to help themselves and others cope with the consequences of these social transformations, from hikikomori (youths who withdraw into solitary existences), to men and women staving off loneliness in collective meeting spaces like the "Nippon Active Life Club, " to performers and activists working to help the young and old avoid poverty and suicide. A palpable materiality of this socially precarious existence emerges from Allison's chapters, the pages of which are sprinkled with mothers' bones and robot hearts, liquid and chocolate. In a particularly arresting opening and closing, she shares her experience volunteering after the 3.11 tragedy, suggesting a new sense of hope and belonging that has blossomed in the mud of the disaster. It is an important, thoughtful, and moving ethnography that deserves the attention of a wide audience.
Xiaojue WangView on Amazon1949 was a crucial year for modern China, marking the beginning of Communist rule on the mainland and the retreat of the Nationalist government to Taiwan. While many scholars of Chinese literature have written 1949 as a radical break, Xiaojue Wang's new book takes a different approach. Modernity with a Cold War Face: Reimagining the Nation in Chinese Literature across the 1949 Divide (Harvard University Asia Center, 2013) offers a new perspective on mid-twentieth century Chinese literature by situating it within the international context of the Cold War. After introducing the cultural and political policies of the 1940s and 1950s as espoused by Mao Zedong, Chiang Kaishek, and the New Confucianists, Wang guides readers through a series of chapters that each explore the work of an author who was busily imagining a modern nation while writing from mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. These case studies introduce a collection of fascinating writer-characters that include a historian who had a job writing labels for museum collections, a born-again revolutionary whose feminist writing had material consequences that followed her (and her corpse) after death, a translator of Rilke and Goethe, a compulsive re-writer who created a Nightmare in the Red Chamber, and many more. In the culmination of the study, Wang suggests a "de-Cold War criticism" as a way of thinking beyond the typical boundaries of literary history. Enjoy!