Episodes

  • Sidney Lu’s The Making of Japanese Settler Colonialism: Malthusianism and Trans-Pacific Migration, 1868-1961 (Cambridge 2019) places the concept of “Malthusian expansionism” at the center of Japanese settler colonialism around the Pacific. For Japan’s imperial apologists and the discursive architecture they disseminated, alleged overpopulation―or more precisely, a critical imbalance between surplus population and insufficient land and resources―justified expansionism. Simultaneously, both population growth and expansion were signs of national power and prestige. From the colonization of Hokkaido to the realization of a “migration state” in the 1920s and into the postwar period, The Making of Japanese Settler Colonialism challenges the conceptual division between settler colonialism and migration, with implications beyond Japanese history.
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  • After the end of the Maoist era in the People's Republic of China, the rise of queer communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has generated growing public and academic attention. Drawing on over a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in northwest China, Casey James Miller offers a novel, compelling, and intimately personal perspective on Chinese queer culture and activism. 
    In Inside the Circle: Queer Culture and Activism in Northwest China (Rutgers UP, 2023), Miller tells the stories of two courageous and dedicated groups of queer activists in the city of Xi’an: a grassroots gay men’s HIV/AIDS organization called Tong’ai and a lesbian women’s group named UNITE. Taking inspiration from “the circle,” a term used to imagine local, national, and global queer communities, Miller shows how everyday people in northwest China are taking part in queer culture and activism while also striving to lead traditionally moral lives in a rapidly changing society. The queer stories in this book broaden our understandings of gender and sexuality in contemporary China and show how taking global queer diversity seriously requires us to de-center Western cultural values, historical experiences, and theoretical perspectives.
    Casey James Miller is Assistant Professor of anthropology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He receives his PhD degree in anthropology from Brandeis University. His work focuses on the intersections between queer anthropology, medical anthropology, and the anthropology of Chinese culture and society.
    Yadong Li is a PhD student in anthropology at Tulane University. His research interests lie at the intersection of the anthropology of state, the anthropology of time, hope studies, and post-structuralist philosophy. More details about his scholarship and research interests can be found here.
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  • In this beautiful new book, Dr. Youngna Kim draws on her vast understanding of Korean art to provide an overview of the peninsula’s contemporary art scene. Korean artists have become increasingly active at an international level, with many being invited for residencies and exhibitions all over the world. Nonetheless, for various reasons, the general understanding of Korean contemporary art remains insufficient.
    Korean Art since 1945: Challenges and Changes (Brill, 2024) is volume 9 in the series Modern Asian Art and Visual Culture. The book draws on primary sources to discuss the ideological stakes that affected the art world, modernist art vs. political art, and the fluidity of concepts such as tradition and national identity. Moreover, the book also has a chapter on the art of North Korea. The book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in Korean studies or contemporary art.
    Dr. Youngna Kim is Professor Emerita of the Department of Archaeology and Art History at Seoul National University and was the Director of the National Museum of Korea from 2011 until 2016. Dr. Kim received her bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College and her Ph.D. in the History of Art from The Ohio State University. She has many publications to her name about Korea’s ever-evolving art scene.
    Buy Youngna Kim’s new book about Korean art before independence (only available in Korean) here.
    Leslie Hickman is a translator and writer. She has an MA in Korean Studies from Yonsei University and lives in Seoul, South Korea. You can follow her activities at https://twitter.com/AJuseyo.
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  • The United States was an upside-down British Empire. It had an agrarian economy, few large investors, and no territorial holdings outside of North America. However, decades before the Spanish-American War, the United States quietly began to establish an empire across thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean.
    While conventional wisdom suggests that large interests – the military and major business interests – drove American imperialism, The Price of Empire: American Entrepreneurs and the Origins of America's First Pacific Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2024) argues that early American imperialism was driven by small entrepreneurs. When commodity prices boomed, these small entrepreneurs took risks, racing ahead of the American state. Yet when profits were threatened, they clamored for the US government to follow them into the Pacific.
    Through novel, intriguing stories of American small businessmen, this book shows how American entrepreneurs manipulated the United States into pursuing imperial projects in the Pacific. It explores their travels abroad and highlights the consequences of contemporary struggles for justice in the Pacific.
    Our guests today are: Miles M. Evers, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut; and Eric Grynaviski, who is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.
    Our host is Eleonora Mattiacci, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Amherst College. She is the author of "Volatile States in International Politics" (Oxford University Press, 2023).
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  • What roles did Americans play in the expanding global empires of the nineteenth century? In The China Firm: American Elites and the Making of British Colonial Society (Columbia University Press, 2024), Thomas M. Larkin examines the Hong Kong–based Augustine Heard & Company, the most prominent American trading firm in treaty-port China, to explore the ways American elites at once made and were made by British colonial society. Following the Heard brothers throughout their firm’s rise and decline, The China Firm reveals how nineteenth-century China’s American elite adapted to colonial culture, helped entrench social and racial hierarchies, and exploited the British imperial project for their own profit as they became increasingly invested in its political affairs and commercial networks.
    Through the central narrative of Augustine Heard & Co., Larkin disentangles the ties that bound the United States to China and the British Empire in the nineteenth century. Drawing on a vast range of archival material from Hong Kong, China, Boston, and London, he weaves the local and the global together to trace how Americans gained acceptance into and contributed to the making of colonial societies and world-spanning empires. Uncovering the transimperial lives of these American traders and the complex ways extraimperial communities interacted with British colonialism, The China Firm makes a vital contribution to global histories of nineteenth-century Asia and provides an alternative narrative of British empire.
    Thomas Larkin in Assistant Professor of History at the University of Prince Edward Island. Twitter. Website.
    Brian Hamilton is chair of the Department of History and Social Science at Deerfield Academy. Twitter. Website.
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  • For two centuries, the Xiongnu people–a vast nomadic empire that covered modern-day Siberia, Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang—were one of the Han Dynasty’s fiercest rivals. They raided the wealthy and prosperous Chinese, and even forced the Han to treat them as equals—much to the chagrin of those in the imperial court.
    There’s not much known about the Xiongnu: Even their name is in Chinese, which literally translates to “"fierce slave", which is unlikely to be what the actual people called themselves. But writer and historian Scott Crawford set himself the challenge of writing about the over two-centuries of politics, alliances and conflict between Han China and the Xiongnu empire, in his book The Han-Xiongnu War, 133 BC–89 AD: The Struggle of China and a Steppe Empire Told Through Its Key Figures (Pen & Sword, 2023).
    In this interview, Scott and I talk about the Xiongnu people, the threat they presented to Han China, political shenanigans at the imperial court, and just how far geographically the conflict expanded.
    Scott is a novelist and historian. He wrote the historical novel Silk Road Centurion (Camphor Press, 2023) and numerous articles and works of fiction exploring relations between China and its steppe neighbors.
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of The Han-Xiongnu War. Follow on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
    Nicholas Gordon is an editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at@nickrigordon.
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  • In Seeking Truth in International News: China, CGTN and the BBC (Routledge, 2023) Dr Vivien Marsh analyses the differences between journalistic traditions in China and the West, and extent to which this impacts the ability of news media to hold power to account. This facilitates a fascinating account of the role of journalists in seeking truth from facts, and the way that public narratives of events are constructed. The book has extensive global coverage, and readers will come to understand the significance of both what is reported, and also the significance of scrutinising what is left out. 
    Dr Vivien Marsh is an independent academic researcher at The University of Westminster, UK. She is a former global news editor, reporter and writer. 
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  • With a focus on Robert Morrison, Protestant Missionaries in China: Robert Morrison and Early Sinology (U Notre Dame Press, 2024) evaluates the role of nineteenth-century British missionaries in the early development of the cross-cultural relationship between China and the English-speaking world. As one of the first generation of British Protestant missionaries, Robert Morrison went to China in 1807 with the goal of evangelizing the country. His mission pushed him into deeper engagement with Chinese language and culture, and the exchange flowed both ways as Morrison—a working-class man whose firsthand experiences made him an “accidental expert”—brought depictions of China back to eager British audiences. Author Jonathan A. Seitz proposes that, despite the limitations imposed by the orientalism impulse of the era, Morrison and his fellow missionaries were instrumental in creating a new map of cross-cultural engagement that would evolve, ultimately, into modern sinology. Engaging and well researched, Protestant Missionaries in China explores the impact of Morrison and his contemporaries on early sinology, mission work, and Chinese Christianity during the three decades before the start of the Opium Wars.
    Byung Ho Choi is a Ph.D. candidate in the History and Ecumenics program at Princeton Theological Seminary, concentrating in World Christianity and history of religions. His research focuses on the indigenous expressions of Christianities found in Southeast Asia, particularly Christianity that is practiced in the Muslim-dominant archipelagic nation of Indonesia. More broadly, he is interested in history and the anthropology of Christianity, complexities of religious conversion and social identity, inter-religious dialogue, ecumenism, and World Christianity.
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  • History has tended to measure war's winners and losers in terms of its major engagements, battles in which the result was so clear-cut that they could be considered "decisive." Marathon, Cannae, Tours, Agincourt, Austerlitz, Sedan, Stalingrad--all resonate in the literature of war and in our imaginations as tide-turning. But were they? As Cathal J. Nolan demonstrates in The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost (Oxford University Press, 2019), victory in major wars usually has been determined in other ways. Even the most legendarily lopsided of battles did not necessarily decide their outcomes. Nolan also challenges the hoary concept of the military "genius," even of the Great Captains--from Alexander to Frederick and Napoleon--mapping instead the decent into total war.
    The Allure of Battle systematically recreates and analyzes the major campaigns among the Great Powers, from the Middle Ages through the 20th century, from the fall of Byzantium to the defeat of the Axis powers, tracing the illusion of "short-war thinking," the hope that victory might be swift and conflict brief. Such as almost never been the case. Even one-sided battles have mainly contributed to victory or defeat by accelerating erosion of the other side's defenses, resources, and will.
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  • Discover everything you’ve ever wondered about the legendary spirits, creatures, and figures of Japanese folklore including how they have found their way into every corner of our pop culture from the creator of the podcast Uncanny Japan.
    Welcome to The Book of Japanese Folklore: An Encyclopedia of the Spirits, Monsters, and Yokai of Japanese Myth (Adams Media, 2024): a fascinating journey through Japan’s folklore through profiles of the legendary creatures and beings who continue to live on in pop culture today.
    From the sly kitsune to the orgrish oni and mischievous shape-shifting tanuki, learn all about the origins of these fantastical and mythical creatures. This gorgeous package is complete with stained edges and stunning four-color illustrations. With information on their cultural significance, a retelling of a popular tale tied to that particular yokai, and how it’s been spun into today’s popular culture, this handsome tome teaches you about the stories and histories of the beings that inspired characters in your favorite movies, animes, manga, and games.
    Thersa Matsuura is an American expat who has lived in Japan for over thirty years. Her fluency in the language allows her to explore her favorite part of Japanese culture: all the myths, legends, folktales, and superstitions. Thersa retells these Japanese folktales and ghost stories on her popular podcast Uncanny Japan. Thersa has also published two short story collections, including A Robe of Feathers and Other Stories and The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Tales, a collection of horror stories inspired by Japanese folktakes, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in 2017.
    Morteza Hajizadeh is a Ph.D. graduate in English from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His research interests are Cultural Studies; Critical Theory; Environmental History; Medieval (Intellectual) History; Gothic Studies; 18th and 19th Century British Literature. YouTube channel. Twitter.
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  • In this episode, Jenna Tang shares with us her translation of Lin Yi-Han's Fang Si-Chi's First Love Paradise: A Novel (HarperVia, 2024), one of the most iconic works of Taiwan's #MeToo movement.
    Thirteen-year-old Fang Si-Chi lives with her family in an upscale apartment complex in Taiwan, a tightknit community of strict yet doting parents and privileged children raised to be ambitious, dutiful, and virtuous. She and her neighbor Liu Yi-Ting bond over their love of learning and books, devouring classic works--Proust, Gabriel García Márquez, the very best Chinese writers. Yet, it is their lack of real-world education that makes them true kindred spirits. Si-Chi's innocence is irresistible to Lee Guo-hua, a revered cram literature teacher and serial predator who lives in her building. When he offers to tutor the academic-minded girls for free, their parents--unaware of Lee's true nature--happily accept. While Yi-Ting's studies with Lee are straightforward, Si-Chi learns about things no one teaches them in school--lessons about sex and love that will change the course of her life. Confused and uncertain, Si-Chi turns to her beloved books for guidance. But literature tells her nothing honest about rape or how to cope with the trauma of abuse. For her own salvation, the young girl begins to think of her personal hell as her "first love paradise," where the power of love, no matter how twisted, gives her the strength to survive. 
    One of the biggest books to come out of Taiwan in the last decade, Fang Si-Chi's First Love Paradise is a chilling tale of grooming and its lingering trauma, and the power structures that allow it to flourish. Insightful, unsettling, emotionally raw, it is a staggering work of literature that reverberates across cultures and forces us to confront painful truths about the vulnerability and strength of women and those who use and hurt them.
    Jenna Tang is a Taiwanese writer, educator, and translator who translates between Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, and English. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her translations and essays are published in The Paris Review, Latin American Literature Today, AAWW, Catapult, Mcsweeney’s, and elsewhere. She translated Lin Yi-Han’s novel, Fang Si-Chi's First Love Paradise.
    Linshan Jiang is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she also obtained a Ph.D. emphasis in Translation Studies. Her research interests include modern and contemporary literature, film, and popular culture in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan; trauma and memory studies; gender and sexuality studies; queer studies; as well as comparative literature and translation studies.
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  • In People's Diplomacy: How Americans and Chinese Transformed US-China Relations During the Cold War (Cornell UP, 2024), Kazushi Minami shows how the American and Chinese people rebuilt US-China relations in the 1970s, a pivotal decade bookended by Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China and 1979 normalization of diplomatic relations. Top policymakers in Washington and Beijing drew the blueprint for the new bilateral relationship, but the work of building it was left to a host of Americans and Chinese from all walks of life, who engaged in "people-to-people" exchanges. After two decades of estrangement and hostility caused by the Cold War, these people dramatically changed the nature of US-China relations. Americans reimagined China as a country of opportunities, irresistible because of its prodigious potential, while Chinese reinterpreted the United States as an agent of modernization, capable of enriching their country and rejuvenating their lives. Drawing on extensive research at two dozen archives in the United States and China, People's Diplomacy redefines contemporary US-China relations as a creation of the American and Chinese people.
    Kazushi Minami is Associate Professor at the Osaka School of International Public Policy, Osaka University. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Texas at Austin before joining OSIPP in 2019. Drawing on English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean sources, his research investigates various aspects of international relations in East Asia to foster a deeper understanding of the region from both historical and policy perspectives.
    Nick Zeller is an independent scholar working on China’s international relations and the history of radical politics in Asia. He has held faculty positions in History at the University of South Carolina and Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in Modern Chinese History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2021.
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  • In December 1948, a panel of 12 judges sentenced 23 Japanese officials for war crimes. Seven, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, were sentenced to death. The sentencing ended the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, an over-two-year-long trial over Imperial Japan’s atrocities in China and its decision to attack the U.S.
    But unlike the trials at Nuremberg, now seen as one of the touchstones of modern international law, the trials at Tokyo were a messy affair. The ruling wasn’t unanimous, with two judges dissenting. Indian judge Radhabinod Pal even chose to acquit everybody. The judges couldn’t agree on anything, the prosecution made significant mistakes, and the defense constantly complained about not having enough time and resources.
    Gary Bass tells the entire story of the trials at Tokyo—from their formulation at the end of a long World War by a triumphant yet weary U.S., to the eventual decision to let many sentenced defendants out on parole as Japan became a close Cold War ally of Washington—in his book Judgment at Tokyo: World War II on Trial and the Making of Modern Asia (Knopf: 2023)
    Gary Bass is also the author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissenger and a Forgotten Genocide (Vintage: 2014), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction and won the Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations, among other awards. He is the William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics of Peace and War at Princeton University. His previous books are Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group: 2008) and Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton University Press: 2002). A former reporter for The Economist, Bass writes often for The New York Times and has written for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, and other publications.
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books. Including its review of Judgment at Tokyo. Follow on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
    Nicholas Gordon is an editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
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  • The Handbook of Modern and Contemporary Japanese Women Writers (MHM Limited and Amsterdam University Press, 2022) offers a comprehensive overview of women writers in Japan, from the late 19th century to the early 21st. Featuring 24 newly written contributions from scholars in the field—representing expertise from North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia—the Handbook introduces and analyzes works by modern and contemporary women writers that coalesce loosely around common themes, tropes, and genres. Putting writers from different generations in conversation with one another reveals the diverse ways they have responded to similar subjects. Whereas women writers may have shared concerns—the pressure to conform to gendered expectation, the tension between family responsibility and individual interests, the quest for self-affirmation—each writer invents her own approach. As readers will see, we have writers who turn to memoir and autobiography, while others prefer to imagine fabulous fictional worlds. Some engage with the literary classics—whether Japanese, Chinese, or European—and invest their works with rich intertextual allusions. Other writers grapple with colonialism, militarism, nationalism, and industrialization. This Handbook builds a foundation which invites readers to launch their own investigations into women’s writing in Japan.
    Professor Rebecca Copeland is a professor of Japanese literature at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Copeland’s research and teaching interests include modern and contemporary women’s writing in Japan, modern literature and material culture, and translation studies. She is the author of The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo (1992) and Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan (2000), the latter of which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2001. She is the editor of Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women's Writing (2006) and co-editor of The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father (2001) and Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan (2006), and Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History (2018). Professor Copeland also translates one of the most well-known Japanese woman writer, Kirino Natsuo’s Grotesque (2007) and Joshinki (The Goddess Chronicles, 2012). The Goddess Chronicles won the 2014-15 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature. Professor Copeland is also a creative writer and her debut novel, The Kimono Tattoo, was published in 2021.
    Linshan Jiang is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she also obtained a Ph.D. emphasis in Translation Studies. Her research interests include modern and contemporary literature, film, and popular culture in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan; trauma and memory studies; gender and sexuality studies; queer studies; as well as comparative literature and translation studies. Her primary research project focuses on female writers’ war experiences and memories of the Asia-Pacific War, entitled Women Writing War Memories. Her second research project explores how queerness is performed in Sinophone queer cultural productions. She has published articles about gender studies and queer studies in literature and culture as well as translations of scholarly and popular works in Chinese and English. She has been making a podcast named Gleaners with her friends for more than ten years and she is also a host of the East Asian Studies channel for the New Books Network.
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  • In December 1937, Bernhard Sindberg arrives at a cement factory outside of Nanjing. He’s one of just two foreigners, and he gets there just weeks before the Japanese invade and commit the now infamous atrocities in the Chinese city.
    As the writer Peter Harmsen notes, Bernhard’s background isn’t particularly compelling: He’s bounced from job to job, and is known for butting heads with his colleagues and superiors. But as Harmsen explains in his book Bernhard Sindberg: The Schindler of Nanjing (Casemate: 2024), the Danish man ends up doing something extraordinary: Setting up a refugee camp and using every ounce of political capital and sheer bullheadedness to protect tens of thousands of Chinese trying to escape the fighting.
    In this interview, Peter and I talk about Bernhard, his less-than-illustrious path to China, and what his deeds in Nanjing tell us about the nature of heroism.
    Peter Harmsen is the author of Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze (Casemate: 2015) and Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City (Casemate: 2015), as well as the War in the Far East trilogy. He studied history at National Taiwan University and has been a foreign correspondent in East Asia for more than two decades.
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of Bernhard Sindberg. Follow on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
    Nicholas Gordon is an editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
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  • Xuanzang (600/602–664) was one of the most accomplished and consequential monks in the history of East Asian Buddhism. Celebrated for his sixteen-year pilgrimage from China to India, his transmission and translation of hundreds of Buddhist texts, and his training of a generation of masters in China, Korea, and Japan, Xuanzang’s life and legacy are the stuff of legend. In the centuries after his death, stories of his epic adventures and extraordinary accomplishments circulated in texts, images, songs, and plays. These mythic accounts recast the erudite pilgrim, translator, and court cleric as a magical monk who traveled not between China and India but between heaven and earth. Beset by bloodthirsty demons, this deified version of Xuanzang navigates the perilous paths of the netherworld to reach a pure land in the west. His purpose is to acquire a cache of sacred scriptures with the power to safeguard the living and deliver the dead. Along the way, he is guided and protected by a mischievous monkey, a lazy pig, a demonic monk, and a dragon horse. This imaginative and compelling tale received its fullest and most influential treatment in the famous sixteenth-century novel Journey to the West. 
    In this engaging exploration of the confluence of myth, narrative, and ritual, Benjamin Brose uncovers the hidden histories of Xuanzang’s many afterlives. Beginning in the eleventh century and continuing to the present day, devotees have summoned Xuanzang and his band of misfit pilgrims to perform exorcisms, guide the spirits of the dead, and possess the bodies of insurgents. Embodying Xuanzang: The Postmortem Travels of a Buddhist Pilgrim (U Hawaii Press, 2023) traces the postmortem travels of China’s greatest pilgrim and reveals the narrative and performative roots of China’s best-known novel.
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  • Christine Tan argues that the most fruitful way to read the Zhuangzi, if one is seeking political and ethical insight, is through the Jin Dynasty commentator Guo Xiang. In Freedom’s Frailty: Self-Realization in the Neo-Daoist Philosophy of Guo Xiang’s Zhuangzi (SUNY Press, 2024), she lays out her reasoning for this position, offering her interpretation of Guo’s conception of freedom in relationship to Anglo-European philosophers like Isaiah Berlin. Explaining what she calls Guo’s “logic of convergence,” on which opposites are brought together, Tan unpacks Guo’s hermeneutic approach to the Zhuangzi and his use of self-realization (zide) as a tool to bring about political transformation.
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  • Indoctrinating the Youth: Secondary Education in Wartime China and Postwar Taiwan, 1937-1960 (U Hawaii Press, 2024) examines how the Guomindang (GMD or Nationalists) sought to maintain control of middle-school students and cultivate their political loyalty over the trajectory of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, and postwar Taiwan. During the Sino-Japanese War the Nationalists managed middle-school refugee students by merging schools, publishing and distributing updated textbooks, and assisting students as they migrated to the interior with their principals and teachers. In Taiwan, the China Youth Corps (CYC) became a symbol of the regime’s successful establishment. Tracing Nationalist efforts to indoctrinate ideology and martial spirit, Jennifer Liu investigates how GMD leaders Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo tried to build support among young people in their efforts to stabilize Taiwanese society under their rule. By comparing two key youth organizations—the Three People’s Principles Youth Corps in China, and the CYC on Taiwan—Liu uses education as a lens to analyze state-building in modern China.
    Liu’s careful analysis of the inner workings of GMD youth organizations also illuminates the day-to-day operations of military training in gender-segregated upper-middle schools—including how the government selected instructors and the skills taught to students. According to Liu, mandatory military training contributed to preventing major protest against the government but the policy was not without critics. Intellectuals, parents, and students voiced their dissent at what they perceived as excessive control by a repressive government and a waste of resources interfering with academics. The government-mandated civics curriculum, including government-approved textbooks and standards, reveals the characteristics and duties GMD officials believed modern citizens of the next generation should possess. Through provisions for refugee students, youth organizations, military training, and civics classes, GMD secondary education policy played a critical role in the process of state building in both modern China and Taiwan.
    Skillfully combining archival work in Nanjing and Taipei, along with oral interviews with former students and CYC administrators, instructors, and members, Liu offers a unique perspective toward a balanced assessment of Nationalist Party rule.
    Jennifer Liu is associate professor of East Asian history at Central Michigan University. She specializes in the political and social history of twentieth-century China, particularly education, youth culture, studen​t protest, and ethnic identity.
    Li-Ping Chen is a teaching fellow in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Southern California. Her research interests include literary translingualism, diaspora, and nativism in Sinophone, inter-Asian, and transpacific contexts.
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  • During the Republican period (1912–1949) and after, many Chinese Buddhists sought inspiration from non-Chinese Buddhist traditions, showing a particular interest in esoteric teachings. What made these Buddhists dissatisfied with Chinese Buddhism, and what did they think other Buddhist traditions could offer? Which elements did they choose to follow, and which ones did they disregard? And how do their experiences recast the wider story of twentieth-century pan-Asian Buddhist reform movements?
    Based on a wide range of previously unexplored Chinese sources, Esoteric Buddhism in China: Engaging Japanese and Tibetan Traditions, 1912–1949 (Columbia UP, 2023) explores how esoteric Buddhist traditions have shaped the Chinese religious landscape. Wei Wu examines cross-cultural religious transmission of ideas from Japanese and Tibetan traditions, considering the various esoteric currents within Chinese Buddhist communities and how Chinese individuals and groups engaged with newly translated ideas and practices. She argues that Chinese Buddhists’ assimilation of doctrinal, ritual, and institutional elements of Tibetan and Japanese esoteric Buddhism was not a simple replication but an active process of creating new meanings. Their visions of Buddhism in the modern world, as well as early twentieth-century discourses of nation building and religious reform, shaped the reception of esoteric traditions. By analyzing the Chinese interpretation and strategic adaptations of esoteric Buddhism, this book sheds new light on the intellectual development, ritual performances, and institutional formations of Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth century.
    To understand the broader forces that shaped the debates about esoteric Buddhism in modern China, please also check Wu Wei's article, "Buddhism and Superstition: Buddhist Apologetics in the Anti-Superstition Campaigns in Modern China," which is open access and can be found here.
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  • South Korea is sometimes held as a dream case of modernization theory, a testament to how economic development leads to democracy. Seeds of Mobilisation: The Authoritarian Roots of South Korea's Democracy (University of Michigan Press, 2024) by Dr. Joan E. Cho takes a closer look at the history of South Korea to show that Korea’s advance to democracy was not linear. Instead, while Korea’s national economy grew dramatically under the regimes of Park Chung Hee (1961–79) and Chun Doo Hwan (1980–88), the political system first became increasingly authoritarian. Because modernization was founded on industrial complexes and tertiary education, these structures initially helped bolster the authoritarian regimes. In the long run, however, these structures later facilitated the anti-regime protests by various social movement groups—most importantly, workers and students—that ultimately brought democracy to the country.
    By using original subnational protest event datasets, government publications, oral interviews, and publications from labour and student movement organisations, Dr. Cho takes a long view of democratisation that incorporates the decades before and after South Korea’s democratic transition. She demonstrates that Korea’s democratisation resulted from a combination of factors from below and from above, and that authoritarian development itself was a hidden root cause of democratic development in South Korea. Seeds of Mobilization shows how socioeconomic development did not create a steady pressure toward democracy but acted as a “double-edged sword” that initially stabilised autocratic regimes before destabilising them over time.

    This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose new book focuses on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.
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