Episodes

  • The “diva” is a common trope when we talk about culture. We normally think of the diva as a Western construction: the opera singer, the Broadway actress, the movie star. A woman of outstanding talent, whose personality and ability are both larger-than-life.
    But the truth is throughout history, many cultures have featured spaces for strong female artists, whose talent allows them to break free of the gender roles that pervaded their societies. In Three Asian Divas: Women, Art and Culture in Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou (Abbreviated Press: 2020) David Chaffetz briefly explores how these “Asian divas” could be seen as some of the first recognizably “modern women''.
    In this interview, David and I talk about the three different cultures of Three Asian Divas: Shiraz, Delhi and Yangzhou. We discuss what it meant to be a diva in these historical contexts, and what they say about gender roles in these historic Asian societies.
    After studying Persian, Turkish and Arabic in college, David Chaffetz worked on the publication of the Encyclopedia Iranica and is also the author of A Journey through Afghanistan, a study of its varied people, social classes and religious sects. He has lived in Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, and travelled extensively in Asia. After a forty-year break working in the technology industry, he returned to writing with “Three Asian Divas.”
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
    Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
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  • Much is known about the Qing sartorial regulations and how the Qing conquerors forced Han Chinese males to adopt Manchu hairstyle and clothing. But what happened on the stage? What did Qing performers wear, not only when they performed as characters in the Han past, but also when they appeared as subjects in the Manchu present? Reading dramatic works against Qing sartorial regulations, Staging Personhood: Costuming in Early Qing Drama (Columbia University Press, 2020) explores a two-sided question: how did the Ming-Qing transition influence costuming as theatrical practices and how, in turn, did costuming enable the production of different types of personhood in early Qing China?
    With readings of several early Qing theatrical works, from the canonical Peach Blossom Fan (Taohua shan) to the lesser-known A Ten-Thousand-Li Reunion (Wanli yuan), combined with visual and performance records and historical documents, Staging Personhood provides a new and interdisciplinary perspective on the cultural dynamics of early Qing China. Not only does this book turn an interdisciplinary lens to the entanglements between Chinese drama and nascent Manchu rule, it contains a plethora of fascinating moments from early Qing plays—from double-cross-dressers to fake queues—touching on issues of class, gender, ethnicity, and conceptions of time.
    Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a PhD candidate in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard. She works on Manchu language books and is interested in anything with a kesike.
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  • In Creativity in Tokyo: Revitalizing a Mature City (Palgrave, 2020), Heide Imai and Matjaz Ursic focues on overlooked contextual factors that constitute the urban creative climate or innovative urban milieu in contemporary cities. Filled with reflections based on interviews with a diverse range of creative actors in various local neighborhoods in Tokyo, it offers a rare glimpse into the complex set of elements that provide long-term, physical, and sociocultural support to urban creativity. The authors highlight the interplay between physical and soft (social) factors in the process of place-making and explore how a city’s creativity is influenced by financial support and accessible infrastructure, as well as the sets of informal networks, services, and tacit, locally embedded knowledge that provide the basic layers of stimuli needed for creativity to fully develop. The authors show how the future development of creativity and the overall development of a city depend not only on the (top-down) planning strategies of formal authorities, but also on the appropriate (bottom-up) inclusion of heterogeneous elements that are provided and embedded within the small, hidden context of city spaces. 
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  • Rachel Silberstein’s book A Fashionable Century: Textile Artistry and Commerce in the Late Qing (University of Washington Press, 2020) reveals how Qing fashion was produced at the intersection of commerce and culture. Drawing on a wide array of visual and textual sources, from pattern books and gazetteers to embroidered jackets and a sample book of ribbons, Silberstein both challenges the myth of the absence of fashion in China — perpetuated in large part, as is shown in the book, by museum narratives and collection practices — and presents women as active consumers, participants, and producers in Qing fashion.
    A Fashionable Century is not only deft in its writing and visual analysis, but this well-written book is itself a beautiful object itself. Woven throughout the chapters are numerous paintings, photographs, prints, and objects, all of which bring the vibrant world of Qing fashion into vibrant (and well-trimmed) relief.
    Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a PhD candidate in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard. She works on Manchu language books and is interested in anything with a kesike.
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  • Intertwining autobiography and ethnography, Clara Han’s touching new book Seeing Like a Child: Inheriting the Korean War (Fordham University Press, 2020) asks how scholarship can be transformed from a child’s perspective. Through a critique of anthropological practices that assume fully formed “I” in its emphasis on self-reflexivity as well as the prioritization of pre-established epistemological categories in the scholarship on transgenerational trauma, Han shows how distinction between historical and ordinary events breaks down as the violence of war is seeped into everyday lives. The make-believe world interlocks with mundane details of the everyday as a child constructs the world around them through languages that are differently encoded with trauma and joy from the legacy of the war.
    Divided into four parts, “Part I: Loss and Awakenings” enters into how the trauma of father’s isan kajok (dispersed families) intersect with the memories of illness and affliction of Han’s mother. “Part II: A Future in Kinship, a Future in Language” depicts the process of reconnecting with kin through language while “Part III: The Kids” discusses how sibling relations play an integral role in the inheritance of the Korean War. “Part IV: Mother Tongue” delves into Han’s daughter’s learning about death, loss, and affliction through Han’s father. “Epilogue” further asks how the process of inheriting the trauma of war is gendered and how self-knowledge can lead to anthropological knowledge. Han’s beautifully written and insightful work will be helpful for scholars who are thinking critically about boundaries of knowledge and disciplines, transgenerational trauma and war, and the formation of diasporic communities.
    Clara Han is Associate Professor of Anthropology at John Hopkins University. Her research interests include care and violence, the catastrophic and the everyday, and kinship relations in Chile and South Korea.
    Da In Ann Choi is a PhD student at UCLA in the Gender Studies department. Her research interests include care labor and migration, reproductive justice, social movement, citizenship theory, and critical empire studies. She can be reached at dainachoi@g.ucla.edu.
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  • One of the most well regarded of non-Western film directors, responsible for acknowledged classics like Tokyo Story (1953), Ozu Yasujiro worked during a period of immense turbulence for Japan and its population. In The Cinema of Ozu Yasujiro: Histories of the Everyday (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), Woojeong Joo offers a new interpretation of Ozu's career, from his earliest work in the 1920s up to his death in 1963, focusing on Ozu's depiction of the everyday life and experiences of ordinary Japanese people during a time of depression, war and economic resurgence. Firmly situating him within the context of the Japanese film industry, Woojeong Joo examines Ozu's work as a studio director and his relation to sound cinema, and looks in-depth at his wartime experiences and his adaptation to post-war Japanese society. Drawing on Japanese materials not previously examined in western scholarship, this is a ground-breaking new study of a master of cinema.
    In this interview, I asked Woojeong a series of questions concerning the operative notion of the "everyday" in the works of Ozu. It seems that the ordinary and oft-repetitive experience of the "present" enabled Ozu to create a space in which one could resist the nationalistic dictum of the "Japanese spirit" in 1930–40s Japan. Despite the fact that there is a certain continuity between his pre-war and post-war works (just like the works of the Kyoto School philosophers that the book cites), and despite the limitations Ozu's works inherently contain for a contemporary audience, his films are saturated with acute social commentaries, and offer insight into the emergence of different social "everday"s in modern Japan. Woojeong's interpretation of "feminity" in the works of Ozu also demonstrates his cross-cultural and cross-generational sensitivity, which is necessary for understanding the significance of "femininity" in the wider intellectual and historical context of feminist philosophy and Gender studies. 
    I ended with a question about Ozu's signature technique of the "low height" angle. Is there anything that we should know about this distinct technique? What did Ozu intend to achieve with this peculiar viewpoint? Woojeong's informed answer, just like this book, will no doubt make us feel like watching the Ozu films again.
    Woojeong Joo received his PhD degree from University of Warwick. He has worked at the University of East Anglia as a postdoctoral research assistant for the AHRC-funded project "Manga to Movies" and is currently teaching in the Japan-in-Asia Cultural Studies Program at Nagoya University, Japan.
    Takeshi Morisato is philosopher and sometimes academic. I specialize in comparative and Japanese philosophy but I am also interested in making Japan and philosophy accessible to a wider audience.
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  • Heroin first reached Gejiu, a Chinese city in southern Yunnan known as Tin Capital, in the 1980s. Widespread use of the drug, which for a short period became “easier to buy than vegetables,” coincided with radical changes in the local economy caused by the marketization of the mining industry. More than two decades later, both the heroin epidemic and the mining boom are often discussed as recent history. Middle-aged long-term heroin users, however, complain that they feel stuck in an earlier moment of the country’s rapid reforms, navigating a world that no longer resembles either the tightly knit Maoist work units of their childhood or the disorienting but opportunity-filled chaos of their early careers. Overcoming addiction in Gejiu has become inseparable from broader attempts to reimagine laboring lives in a rapidly shifting social world. Drawing on more than eighteen months of fieldwork, Nicholas Bartlett explores how individuals’ varying experiences of recovery highlight shared challenges of inhabiting China’s contested present. Recovering Histories: Life and Labor after Heroin in Reform-Era China (University of California Press, 2020) is an important intervention contributing to cultural and medical anthropology and to the field of China studies.
    Suvi Rautio is a part-time Course Lecturer at the Social & Cultural Anthropology discipline at University of Helsinki.
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  • With its infamously packed cars and disciplined commuters, Tokyo’s commuter train network is one of the most complex technical infrastructures on Earth. In An Anthropology of the Machine: Tokyo's Commuter Train Network (University of Chicago Press, 2018), Michael Fisch provides a nuanced perspective on how Tokyo’s commuter train network embodies the lived realities of technology in our modern world. Drawing on his fine-grained knowledge of transportation, work, and everyday life in Tokyo, Fisch shows how fitting into a system that operates on the extreme edge of sustainability can take a physical and emotional toll on a community while also creating a collective way of life—one with unique limitations and possibilities. An Anthropology of the Machine is a creative ethnographic study of the culture, history, and experience of commuting in Tokyo. At the same time, it is a theoretically ambitious attempt to think through our very relationship with technology and our possible ecological futures. Fisch provides an unblinking glimpse into what it might be like to inhabit a future in which more and more of our infrastructure—and the planet itself—will have to operate beyond capacity to accommodate our ever-growing population.
    John W. Traphagan, Ph.D. is Professor and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor in the Program in Human Dimensions of Organizations.
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  • The classic Chinese novel The Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan) tells the story of a band of outlaws in twelfth-century China and their insurrection against the corrupt imperial court. Imported into Japan in the early seventeenth century, it became a ubiquitous source of inspiration for translations, adaptations, parodies, and illustrated woodblock prints. There is no work of Chinese fiction more important to both the development of early modern Japanese literature and the Japanese imagination of China than The Water Margin.
    In The Japanese Discovery of Chinese Fiction: The Water Margin and the Making of a National Canon (Columbia UP, 2019), William C. Hedberg investigates the reception of The Water Margin in a variety of early modern and modern Japanese contexts, from eighteenth-century Confucian scholarship and literary exegesis to early twentieth-century colonial ethnography. He examines the ways Japanese interest in Chinese texts contributed to new ideas about literary canons and national character. By constructing an account of Japanese literature through the lens of The Water Margin’s literary afterlives, Hedberg offers an alternative history of East Asian textual culture: one that focuses on the transregional dimensions of Japanese literary history and helps us rethink the definition and boundaries of Japanese literature itself.
    Jingyi Li is a PhD Candidate in Japanese Cultural and Literary History, University of Arizona
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  • Immigrant Japan? Sounds like a contradiction, but as Gracia Liu-Farrer shows in Immigrant Japan Mobility and Belonging in an Ethno-nationalist Society (Cornell University Press, 2020), millions of immigrants make their lives in Japan, dealing with the tensions between belonging and not belonging in this ethno-nationalist country. Why do people want to come to Japan? Where do immigrants with various resources and demographic profiles fit in the economic landscape? How do immigrants narrate belonging in an environment where they are "other" at a time when mobility is increasingly easy and belonging increasingly complex? Gracia Liu-Farrer illuminates the lives of these immigrants by bringing in sociological, geographical, and psychological theories—guiding the reader through life trajectories of migrants of diverse backgrounds while also going so far as to suggest that Japan is already an immigrant country.
    In this interview we talked about what has contributed to the formation of "ethno-nationalism" in the history of modern Japan and how the growing population of immigrants and the complex reality of their lives offer us a more comprehensive understanding of "belonging" and "displacement" in contemporary Japanese society. After discussing the problems that prevent us from clearly seeing Japan as an immigrant country I asked Gracia two questions about the present and the future of this country:

    "Does the COVID19 pandemic introduce any new problems that fall outside the purview of this book, or does the book provide any new insights into current situation?"

    "What could people do to create a robust sense of belonging that is inclusive of everyone in Japan?"

    Her answers were as insightful and salient as her analysis of the relationship between migration and belonging in Japan.
    Gracia Liu-Farrer is Professor of Sociology at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, and Director of Institute of Asian Migrations, Waseda University, Japan. She is the author of Labor Migration from China to Japan and coeditor of the Routledge Handbook of Asian Migrations.
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  • Baseball has been Japan's most popular sport for over a century. In The Sportsworld of the Hanshin Tigers: Professional Baseball in Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2018), anthropologist William Kelly analyzes Japanese baseball ethnographically by focusing on a single professional team, the Hanshin Tigers. For over fifty years, the Tigers have been the one of the country’s most watched and talked-about professional baseball teams, second only to their powerful rivals, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Despite a largely losing record, perennial frustration, and infighting among players, the Tigers remain overwhelming sentimental favorites in many parts of the country. 
    This book analyzes the Hanshin Tiger phenomenon, and offers an account of why it has long been so compelling and instructive. Professor Kelly argues that the Tigers represent what he calls a sportsworld —a collective product of the actions of players, coaching staff, management, media, and millions of passionate fans. The team has come to symbolize a powerful counter-narrative to idealized notions of Japanese workplace relations. The Tigers are savored as a melodramatic representation of real corporate life, rife with rivalries and office politics familiar to every Japanese worker. And playing in a historic stadium on the edge of Osaka, they carry the hopes and frustrations of Japan’s second city against the all-powerful capital.
    John W. Traphagan, Ph.D. is Professor and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor in the Program in Human Dimensions of Organizations.
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  • The 1930s-40s expansion of the Japanese empire was marked by significant interest among Japan-based scholars and policy-makers in China’s Muslim population and how best to write them into a new pan-Asian story. At the very same time, as Kelly Hammond shows in China's Muslims and Japan's Empire: Centering Islam in World War II (UNC Press, 2020), members of this longstanding community of Sino-Muslims were themselves engaged in numerous complex debates over culture and identity, and their place in an emerging post-dynastic China and a wider Islamic world. Choosing to reciprocate Japanese interest was thus just one possible path.
    Expertly navigating the multi-layered, transnational concerns which are brought into focus by the twentieth-century encounter between Japanese Empire, Chinese Nationalism and Sino-Muslims, Hammond reframes our understanding of wartime East Asia. From global developments stretching as far afield as Central Asia, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to the more intimate everyday experiences of Sino-Muslims caught between imperial spaces, the author offers a rich and little-told account of a particularly febrile period of recent history, as well as charting developments which continue to resonate in international relations and domestic minority policies to this day.
    Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.
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  • John Wei’s book Queer Chinese Cultures and Mobilities: Kinship, Migration, and Middle Classes (Hong Kong University Press, 2020) studies queer cultures and social practices in China and Sinophone Asia. Young queer people in Asia struggle under the dual pressures of compulsory familism and compulsory development, that is, to marry and continue the family line and to participate successfully in the neoliberal development of Asia. Compulsory development often necessitates migration for education and work. Wei explores how queer people grapple with kinship, home, and developing queer communities under these conditions. Using his training in film and media studies, he analyzes films by queer Chinese-language filmmakers and discusses the creation of gay communities in cafes, queer film clubs, online social media platforms, and mobile social media. Thoroughly grounded in theory, Wei contributes new metaphors of stretched kinship and gated communities to understand movements of queer cultures and social practices.
    Laurie Dickmeyer is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University, where she teaches courses in Asian and US history. Her research concerns nineteenth-century US-China relations. She can be reached at laurie.dickmeyer@angelo.edu and on Twitter @LDickmeyer.
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  • The Blakiston’s fish owl is the world’s largest living species of owl, with larger females of the species weighing as much as ten pounds. It lives in the Russian Far East and Northern Japan. It is also endangered: global populations are estimated to be around 1500 owls in total.
    The story of one conservationist’s efforts to save these owls is told in Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2020), the first book by Jonathan Slaght. The book traces Jonathan’s many trips to the territory of Primorye in the Russian Far East, as part of his research into where the fish owls live and hunt. In the dead of the Russian winter, Jonathan and his Russian compatriots survey the forests, listen for fish owl duets, investigate nests and capture owls in an attempt to learn more about these creatures.
    Jonathan Slaght is the Russia and Northeast Asia coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, where he manages research projects on endangered species and coordinates avian conservation activities along the East Asia–Australasian Flyway from the Arctic to the tropics. You can follow him on Twitter at @JonathanSlaght.
    Owls of the Eastern Ice has won widespread acclaim, including being longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
    In this interview, Joanthan and I discuss his research project, and how he turned it into a book. We also delve a little deeper into the ways we think about conservation, and what else needs to be done. 
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
    Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
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  • In this revisionist history of the eighteenth-century Qing Empire from a maritime perspective, Ronald C. Po argues that it is reductive to view China over this period exclusively as a continental power with little interest in the sea. With a coastline of almost 14,500 kilometers, the Qing was not a landlocked state. Although it came to be known as an inward-looking empire, Po suggests that the Qing was integrated into the maritime world through its naval development and customs institutionalization. In contrast to our orthodox perception, the Manchu court, in fact, deliberately engaged with the ocean politically, militarily, and even conceptually. The Blue Frontier: Maritime Vision and Power in the Qing Empire (Cambridge UP, 2018) offers a much broader picture of the Qing as an Asian giant responding flexibly to challenges and extensive interaction on all frontiers - both land and sea - in the long eighteenth century within the Indian Ocean World.
    Dr. Ronald C. Po is an Associate Professor in the Department of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
    The co-host Mohammed al-Sudairi is the Head of Asian Studies at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Hong Kong Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. He tweets @MohammedSudairi.
    Ahmed Yaqoub AlMaazmi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University. His research focuses on the intersection of law and the environment across the Western Indian Ocean. He can be reached by email at almaazmi@princeton.edu or on Twitter @Ahmed_Yaqoub. Listeners’ feedback, questions, and book suggestions are most welcome.
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  • This edited volume is the first book-length study of Buddhist tourism in contemporary Asia in the English language. Featuring chapters from diverse contributors from religious studies, anthropology, and art history, Buddhist Tourism in Asia (University of Hawaii Press, 2020) explores themes of Buddhist imaginaries, place-making, secularization, and commodification in three parts. The first part, Buddhist Imaginaries and Place-Making features four interesting chapters on how Buddhism is marketed and promoted to domestic and international tourists, as well as how these imaginaries “sediments” over time. The chapters in Part II, Secularizing the Sacred, reveal interestingly that Buddhist tourism tends to create alliances with secular forces as strategies to promote their traditions and sacred sites. Part III of the volume shifts to discussions of commodification in Buddhism and its consequences. Here, contributors show that commodification is not necessarily at odds with Buddhism nor is it a new phenomenon. Covering a wide range of Buddhist sites across Asia and their multi-layered participants in Buddhist tourism, this book uses the unique lens of tourism to offer fresh perspectives on Buddhist spaces, identities, and practices.
    Courtney Bruntz is Assistant Professor, Philosophy & Religious Studies, at Doane University
    Brooke Schedneck is Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, at Rhodes College
    Daigengna Duoer is a PhD student at the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. Her dissertation researches on transnational and transregional Buddhist networks connecting twentieth-century Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Republican China, Tibet, and the Japanese Empire.
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  • David Fedman's Seeds of Control: Seeds of Control: Japan’s Empire of Forestry in Colonial Korea (University of Washington Press, 2020) is hard to categorize. In a good way. Put simply, it is a broad but sharp look at the history of Japanese forest management in the Korean peninsula, 1910-1945. In this sense, Fedman’s book is an environmental history, to be sure, but also a material history of empire, science, and industry. It is a history of Japan and Korea, but also of transnational networks of knowledge and power. In other words, Seeds of Control is positioned at the intersection of environmental, imperial, and material histories, but it also contributes to studies in the history of science and other fields. Fedman problematizes the ideologies and practices of forest conservation and regeneration (“greenification”) within the asymmetric politics of colonial rule. Part 1 sets the stage with an overview of the institutional transformations of Japanese forestry across the Tokugawa-Meiji divide and the ways that Japanese “stories about the land… were mobilized in service of settler colonialism.” Part 2 begins with the reform of land rights under imperial rule. Fedman then delineates the histories of the Forest Experiment Stations, the timber industry (especially in the Yalu River basin), and the state-led project of civic forestry and the place of Forest Owners Associations. Finally, Part 3 looks at wartime (1937-1945), starting with the uses of “forest-love thought” as an “ideological lubricant” for mobilization and finally the spectacular denuding and exploitation of the Korean peninsula’s forests in support. Because of its transdisciplinarity, this book will appeal to a wide range of academic audiences.
    Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese and East Asian history in the Graduate School of Humanities, Nagoya University.
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  • Paul Goldin's book The Art of Chinese Philosophy: Eight Classical Texts and How to Read Them (Princeton UP, 2020) provides an unmatched introduction to eight of the most important works of classical Chinese philosophy--the Analects of Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Sunzi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi. Combining accessibility with the latest scholarship, Paul Goldin, one of the world's leading authorities on the history of Chinese philosophy, places these works in rich context as he explains the origin and meaning of their compelling ideas.
    Because none of these classics was written in its current form by the author to whom it is attributed, the book begins by asking, What are we reading? and showing that understanding the textual history of the works enriches our appreciation of them. A chapter is devoted to each of the eight works, and the chapters are organized into three sections: Philosophy of Heaven, which looks at how the Analects, Mozi, and Mencius discuss, often skeptically, Heaven (tian) as a source of philosophical values; Philosophy of the Way, which addresses how Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Sunzi introduce the new concept of the Way (dao) to transcend the older paradigms; and Two Titans at the End of an Age, which examines how Xunzi and Han Feizi adapt the best ideas of the earlier thinkers for a coming imperial age.
    In addition, the book presents clear and insightful explanations of the protean and frequently misunderstood concept of qi--and of a crucial characteristic of Chinese philosophy, nondeductive reasoning. The result is an invaluable account of an endlessly fascinating and influential philosophical tradition.
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  • Asymmetrical Neighbors: Borderland State-Building Between China and Southeast Asia (Oxford UP, 2019) explains the variations in state building across the borderland area between China, Myanmar, and Thailand. It presents a comparative historical account of the state and nation-building processes in the ethnically diverse and geographically rugged borderland area where China meets Southeast Asia. It argues the failure of the Myanmar state to consolidate its control over its borderland area is partly due to the political and military meddling by its two more powerful neighbors during the Cold War. Furthermore, both China and Thailand, being more economically advanced than Myanmar, have exerted heavy economic influence on the borderland area at the cost of Myanmar’s economic sovereignty. 
    The book provides a historical account of the borderland that traces the pattern of relations between valley states and upland people before the mid-twentieth century. Then it discusses the implications of the Chinese nationalist KMT troops in Burma and Thailand and Burmese and Thai communist insurgencies since the mid-1960s on attempts by the three states to consolidate their respective borderland areas. The book also portrays the dynamics of the borderland economy and the dominance of both China and Thailand on Myanmar’s borderland territory in the post-Cold War period. It further discusses the comparative nation-building processes among the three states and the implications for the ethnic minority groups in the borderland area and their national identity contestations. Finally, the book provides an updated account of the current ethnic conflicts along Myanmar’s restive borderland and its ongoing peace negotiation process.
    Enze Han is an Associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Hong Kong.
    Victoria Lupașcu is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Asian Studies at University of Montréal. Her areas of interest include medical humanities, visual art, 20th and 21st Chinese literature and Global South studies.
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  • Today I talked to Yuen Yuen Ang, a Professor of political science and China expert at the University of Michigan. We spoke already in summer 2019 to discuss her previous book: How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. In that book she anticipated the theme of this book: corruption. She explains that 'contrary to conventional wisdom, rich nations became rich by first eliminating corruption, the real history is that corruption was never eliminated, it changes in form and structure as an economy becomes richer.' We started our conversation with a definition of corruption and her typologies: petty theft, grand theft, speed money, access money.
    The argument in China's Gilded Age: The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption (Cambridge University Press, 2020) has been widely taken out of context, as ‘corruption is good for growth’. I asked Yuen to clarify. She believes that not all types of corruption carry the same harm and have the same impact on growth. She explained this with the analogy of types of drugs.
    Corruption is a complex phenomenon. She argues that we fail to understand it when we adopt one-dimensional measures. Some countries appear free of corruption but instead they are just characterized by more sophisticated forms of corruption. Yuen gave us a short outlook on the state of research in the field of corruption and her contribution.

    The book, 150 pages organized in seven chapters, is rich of tables and pictures. Yuen created a database with hundreds of party leaders and bureaucrats, and their fate. We learn about tigers and flies, in the terminology of Xi’s campaign against corruption. 
    In your previous book, she described the strange case of China’s meritocracy. Despite absence of democracy and freedom of press, since Deng, in most cases, the Chinese Communist Party has been selecting a good ruling elite. Overall, the promotion of local cadres and their careers from village level to Zhongnanhai has been based on their ability to meet objective, measurable targets. To some extent, corruption is the opposite of the ideal of meritocracy. I have asked what is the interplay between the two in China.
    In the section Chinese Bureaucracy 101, Yuen argues that we commonly use public administration theories that are based on ahistorical and wester-centred principles. This is not helpful to understand China she concludes.
    The book ends with conclusions in the form of five questions. In fact, the very end is a final, timely, note on the risk of a new cold war between the USA and China. Yuen argues that stereotypes and misunderstandings are dangerously fueling commercial and political confrontation. Her study on corruption, and the parallel between China’s and the American Gilded age, is an example of how perhaps China is not that exceptional, exotic and hence dangerous to us. 
    This is a great new book that contributes to the study of corruption in two ways: with a methodological innovation and with a comparative historical analysis. It is a must have for the libraries of economists, sociologists, political scientists and much more. It is also accessible to non specialists and a pleasure to read.
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