Episodes

  • The 2024 Solomon Islands elections were surprisingly peaceful. The deepening economic inequalities, widespread corruption, rogue demagogues manipulating the mob, and other aspects such as the heated debate about the increasing presence and influence of China, did not result in the kind of riots that hit this Pacific Island country twice in the previous decade. In an attempt to explain why, Julie Yu-Wen Chen talks to Rodolfo Maggio, a senior researcher at the University of Helsinki to understand Sino-Pacific relations, based on his ethnographic research conducted in Marovo Lagoon, Malaita, and Honiara in 2024.
    Rodolfo Maggio is a social anthropologist of moral and economic values in the Asia-Pacific region. At the University of Helsinki, he is working on an ERC-funded project “properties of units and standards”. Maggio’s ethnographic research takes a grassroots perspective on a topic that, in recent years, has been investigated only from a top-down, geopolitical perspective: is the Pacific becoming increasingly Chinese? While recognizing the coloniality implicit in such a question, he argues that increasingly sophisticate intercultural relations by young leaders enabled the difficult transition from conflict to peace. His argument is supported by the analysis of artifacts, newspapers, interviews, performances, and data collected with participant observation in Marovo Lagoon, Malaita, and Honiara. Previously, Maggio had an episode on Kiribati in the Chinese Pacific with Nordic Asia Podcast that might interest listeners.
    Julie Yu-Wen Chen is Professor of Chinese Studies at the Department of Cultures at the University of Helsinki (Finland) and visiting professor at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia at Mahidol University (Thailand). Since 2023, she has been involved in the EUVIP: The EU in the Volatile Indo-Pacific Region, a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe coordination and support action 10107906 (HORIZON-WIDERA-2021-ACCESS-03).
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  • In Tip of the Spear: Land, Labor, and US Settler Militarism in Guåhan, 1944–1962 (Cornell University Press, 2023), Dr. Alfred Peredo Flores argues that the US occupation of the island of Guåhan (Guam), one of the most heavily militarised islands in the western Pacific Ocean, was enabled by a process of settler militarism. During World War II and the Cold War, Guåhan was a launching site for both covert and open US military operations in the region, a strategically significant role that turned Guåhan into a crucible of US overseas empire. In 1962, the US Navy lost the authority to regulate all travel to and from the island, and a tourist economy eventually emerged that changed the relationship between the Indigenous CHamoru population and the US military, further complicating the process of settler colonialism on the island.
    The US military occupation of Guåhan was based on a co-constitutive process that included CHamoru land dispossession, discursive justifications for the remaking of the island, the racialization of civilian military labour, and the military's policing of interracial intimacies. Within a narrative that emphasises CHamoru resilience, resistance, and survival, Dr. Flores uses a working class labour analysis to examine how the militarization of Guåhan was enacted by a minority settler population to contribute to the US government's hegemonic presence in Oceania.
    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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  • Recent proposals to revive the ancient Silk Road for the contemporary era and ongoing Western interest in China’s growth and development have led to increased attention to the concept of pan-Asianism. Most of that discussion, however, lacks any historical grounding in the thought of influential twentieth-century pan-Asianists. In Pan-Asianism and the Legacy of the Chinese Revolution (U Chicago Press, 2023), Viren Murthy offers an intellectual history of the writings of theorists, intellectuals, and activists—spanning leftist, conservative, and right-wing thinkers—who proposed new ways of thinking about Asia in their own historical and political contexts. 
    Tracing pan-Asianist discourse across the twentieth century, Murthy reveals a stronger tradition of resistance and alternative visions than the contemporary discourse on pan-Asianism would suggest. At the heart of pan-Asianist thinking, Murthy shows, were the notions of a unity of Asian nations, of weak nations becoming powerful, and of the Third World confronting the “advanced world” on equal terms—an idea that grew to include non-Asian countries into the global community of Asian nations. But pan-Asianists also had larger aims, imagining a future beyond both imperialism and capitalism. The fact that the resurgence of pan-Asianist discourse has emerged alongside the dominance of capitalism, Murthy argues, signals a profound misunderstanding of its roots, history, and potential.
    Viren Murthy is a Professor of History in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His previous book include Zhang Taiyan: The Resistance of Consciousness and The Politics of Time in China and Japan: Back to the Future. His current project concerns how East Asian intellectuals drew on G.W.F Hegel to uncover logics to Chinese and Japanese history, which culminate in a new world order inspired by their respective cultures.
    Nick Zeller is a senior program associate for The Carter Center's China Focus initiative and managing editor of the English-language U.S.-China Perception Monitor. Prior to joining China Focus, Nick was a Visiting Assistant Professor of World History in Kennesaw State University’s Department of History and Philosophy, Visiting Assistant Professor of Asian History in the University of South Carolina’s Department of History, and an NSEP Boren Fellow at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He received his Ph.D. in modern Chinese history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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  • The Collapse of Heaven: The Taiping Civil War and Chinese Literature and Culture, 1850-1880 (Harvard UP, 2024) investigates a long-neglected century in Chinese literature through the lens of the Taiping War (1851–1864), one of the most devastating civil wars in human history. With the war as the pivot, Huan Jin examines the manifold literary and cultural transformations that occurred from the 1850s to the 1880s. The book analyzes a wide range of writings—proselytizing pamphlets, diaries, poetry, a full-length novel, drama, and short stories—with a particular emphasis on the materiality of these texts as well as their production and dissemination. 
    Tracing allusions to political turbulences across many genres, Jin discusses how late imperial Chinese literary and cultural paradigms began to unravel under conditions of extreme violence and tracks the unexpected reinventions of literary conventions that marked the beginning of Chinese literary modernity. In addition to making a significant contribution to Chinese studies, this book offers an important comparative perspective on the global nineteenth century and engages with broad scholarly discussions on religion, violence, narrative, history, gender, theater, and media studies.
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  • The notion of beauty is inherently elusive: aesthetic judgments are at once subjective and felt to be universally valid. In Beauty Matters: Modern Japanese Literature and the Question of Aesthetics, 1890-1930 (Columbia UP, 2024), Anri Yasuda demonstrates that by exploring the often conflicting yet powerful pull of aesthetic sentiments, major authors of the late Meiji (1868–1912) and Taishƍ (1912–1926) periods illuminated themes and perspectives that resonated broadly in modern Japanese society. This approach presents an alternative to conventional accounts in which Japanese literature before the modernist turn of the 1920s has tended to be defined by an insular focus on subjective representation and autobiographical realism.
    Yasuda investigates how Natsume Sƍseki, Mori Ogai, Mushanokƍji Saneatsu and his peers at Shirakaba magazine, and Akutagawa RyĆ«nosuke sought to identify the aesthetic properties of literature through comparisons with the visual arts. They also considered the position of Japanese cultural sensibilities within the Eurocentric imperial world order. Their stories featuring painters and paintings weigh the fundamental challenge of representing anything when the conditions of knowledge are in flux, and their stories about cross-cultural encounters display both hope and ambivalence about the prospect of cosmopolitanism. Yasuda shows how thinking about beauty and art enabled these authors to surpass purely “literary” concerns. By tracing the wide-reaching significance of aesthetic affect in literary thought, Beauty Matters destabilizes received conceptions of literature’s parameters and affirms literature’s continued potential to intervene in cultural discourses in Japan and beyond.
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  • In Waiting for the Cool Moon: Anti-Imperialist Struggles in the Heart of Japan's Empire (Duke UP, 2024) Wendy Matsumura interrogates the erasure of colonial violence at the heart of Japanese nation-state formation. She critiques Japan studies’ role in this effacement and contends that the field must engage with anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity as the grounds on which to understand imperialism, colonialism, fascism, and other forces that shape national consciousness. Drawing on Black radical thinkers’ critique of the erasure of the Middle Passage in universalizing theories of modernity’s imbrication with fascism, Matsumura traces the consequences of the Japanese empire’s categorization of people as human and less-than-human as manifested in the 1920s and 1930s, and the struggles of racialized and colonized people against imperialist violence. She treats the archives safeguarded by racialized, colonized women throughout the empire as traces of these struggles, including the work they performed to keep certain stories out of view. Matsumura demonstrates that tracing colonial sensibility and struggle is central to grappling with their enduring consequences for the present.
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  • Counter-Cartographies: Reading Singapore Otherwise (Liverpool UP, 2024) draws from a body of Anglophone and multilingual cultural texts created in contemporary Singapore and in its diasporic communities. From banned documentaries to award-winning graphic novels, flash fiction collections to conceptual art, there is a vibrant, growing body of transmedial, multi-genre resistance to an overmapped, hyper-planned, and ecologically destructive postcolonial development.
    The author proposes methods of cultural analysis and close reading that are “counter-cartographical” --- reading in resistance to and yet pressed up against the regulations of a (post)colonial map. To excavate, wayfind, circumvent, and confabulate in these spaces enables us to understand the contours and pressures of authoritarian governance and reveal the insidious aspects of biopolitical power in the (post)colonial city. These four spatial and theoretical movements deliberately enmesh the space of everyday life in a complex awareness of time: in historical contexts, in ongoing social relations, in contemporary political realities, and the imagined possibilities of literary spaces.
    In a global political context that is increasingly marked by a return to authoritarianism, cultural production from Singapore provides an intense, microcosmic view of the conditions of art-making an overdetermined urban space, under duress and censorship. It further lays bare the ecological and human costs of unbridled postcolonial extraction and development.
    Joanne Leow is an Associate Professor of English and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University.
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  • In 1971, the New York Times called the Taiwanese-Chinese chef, Fu Pei-Mei, the “the Julia Child of Chinese cooking.”
    But, as Michelle T. King notes in her book Chop Fry Watch Learn: Fu Pei-Mei and the Making of Modern Chinese Food (Norton, 2024), the inverse–that Julia Child was the Fu Pei-Mei of French cuisine–might be more appropriate. Fu spent decades on Taiwanese television, wrote three seminal cookbooks on Chinese cuisine, ran a famous cooking academy and even provided important culinary advice to those making packaged food and airline meals.
    And this all starts from humble beginnings, when she was an amateur–and not very good–home cook arriving in Taiwan from mainland China.
    In this interview, Michelle and I talk about Fu Pei-Mei, her humble beginnings and rise to the heights of Chinese cooking, and what Fu’s work tells us about Chinese cuisine.
    Michelle T. King is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she specializes in modern Chinese gender and food history. She can be followed on Instagram at @michtking.
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of Chop Fry Watch Learn. 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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  • Asians on Demand: Mediating Race in Video Art and Activism (University of Minnesota Press, 2023) explores a multilingual archive of contemporary queer and feminist videos by Asian diasporans in North America, Europe, and East Asia. It grapples with the pressing question of how media representation can critique and advance social justice for racialized minorities in the wake of today’s unprecedented rise of onscreen diversity.
    Feng-Mei Heberer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University. She is also a faculty affiliate of the department’s Asian Film and Media Initiative. Her research interests lie at the junctures of labor, transnational migration, and Asian diaspora, and her work draws heavily on the insights of ethnic studies, queer studies, feminist studies, and critical area studies. In addition, she researches and works in film curation and community arts and culture organizing.
    Ailin Zhou is a PhD student in Film & Digital Media at University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research interests include transnational Chinese cinema, Asian diasporic visual culture, contemporary art, and feminist and queer theories.
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  • Building a Nation at War: Building a Nation at War: Transnational Knowledge Networks and the Development of China during and after World War II (Harvard UP, 2022) argues that the Chinese Nationalist government’s retreat inland during the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), its consequent need for inland resources, and its participation in new scientific and technical relationships with the United States led to fundamental changes in how the Nationalists engaged with science and technology as tools to promote development.
    The war catalyzed an emphasis on applied sciences, comprehensive economic planning, and development of scientific and technical human resources—all of which served the Nationalists’ immediate and long-term goals. It created an opportunity for the Nationalists to extend control over inland China and over education and industry. It also provided opportunities for China to mobilize transnational networks of Chinese-Americans, Chinese in America, and the American government and businesses. These groups provided technical advice, ran training programs, and helped the Nationalists acquire manufactured goods and tools. J. Megan Greene shows how the Nationalists worked these programs to their advantage, even in situations where their American counterparts clearly had the upper hand. Finally, this book shows how, although American advisers and diplomats criticized China for harboring resources rather than putting them into winning the war against Japan, US industrial consultants were also strongly motivated by postwar goals.
    J. Megan Greene is Professor of History at the University of Kansas. Her field of study is the history of the Republic of China under the KMT both in China and on Taiwan. She is also the author of The Origins of the Developmental State in Taiwan: Science Policy and the Quest for Modernization (Harvard University Press, 2008), a study of industrial science policy in China and Taiwan under the KMT.
    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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  • In 2009, Fudan University launched China’s first MFA program in creative writing, spurring a wave of such programs in Chinese universities. Many of these programs’ founding members point to the Iowa Writers Workshop and, specifically, its International Writers Program, which invited dozens of Mainland Chinese writers to take part between 1979 and 2019, as their inspiration.
    In her book, The Transpacific Flow: Creative Writing Programs in China (Association for Asian Studies, 2024), Jin Feng explores why Chinese authors took part in the U.S. programs, and how they tried to implement its teaching methods in mainland China–clearly, a very different political and cultural environment.
    In this interview, Jin and I talk about the Iowa Writers Workshop, the Chinese authors that attended, and the surprising links between U.S. and Chinese academia.
    Jin Feng is Professor of Chinese and Japanese and the Orville and Mary Patterson Routt Professor of Literature at Grinnell College, USA. She has published four English monographs: The New Woman in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction (Purdue University Press: 2004), The Making of a Family Saga (SUNY Press: 2009), Romancing the Internet: Producing and Consuming Chinese Web Romance (Brill, 2013), and Tasting Paradise on Earth: Jiangnan Foodways (University of Washington Press, 2019), three Chinese books such as A Book for Foodies and numerous articles in both English and Chinese.
    You can read an excerpt of The Transpacific Flow here.
    You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of The Transpacific Flow. 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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  • How do Chinese citizens make sense of digital surveillance and live with it? What narratives do they come up with to deal with the daily and all-encompassing reality of life in China? What mental tactics do they apply to dissociate themselves from surveillance? Ariane Ollier-Malaterre explores these questions in her book Living with Digital Surveillance in China (Routledge, 2023).
    Ariane Ollier-Malaterre, Professor of Management and Canada Research Chair on Digital Regulation at Work and in Life at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada talks with Joanne Kaui about her research that investigates Chinese citizens’ imaginaries about surveillance and privacy from within the Chinese socio-political system.
    Based on in-depth qualitative research interviews, detailed diary notes, and extensive documentation, Ariane Ollier-Malaterre attempts to ‘de-Westernise’ the internet and surveillance literature. In the book, she shows how the research participants weave a cohesive system of anguishing narratives on China’s moral shortcomings and redeeming narratives on the government and technology as civilizing forces.
    Although many participants cast digital surveillance as indispensable in China, their misgivings, objections, and the mental tactics they employ to dissociate themselves from surveillance convey the mental and emotional weight associated with such surveillance exposure.
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  • In early modern Japan, upper status groups coveted pills and powders made of exotic foreign ingredients such as mummy and rhinoceros horn. By the early twentieth century, over-the-counter-patent medicines, and, more alarmingly, morphine, had become mass commodities, fueling debates over opiates in Japan's expanding imperial territories.
    The fall of the empire and the occupation of Japan by the United States created conditions favorable for heroin use, followed, in time, by glue sniffing and psychedelic mushroom ingestion.
    By illuminating the neglected history of drugs, Drugs and the Politics of Consumption in Japan (Brill, 2023) highlights both the transnational embeddedness and national peculiarities of the "politics of consumption" in Japan.
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  • How is Buddhism seen and practiced in Taiwan? And how do neighbouring countries influence Taiwanese Buddhism? In this episode we explore the religious landscape of Taiwan in conversation with Dr. Yushuang Yao, a leading expert on religion in contemporary Taiwan.
    Yushuang Yao is an Associate Professor at Fo Guang University, Taiwan, specializing in contemporary religions of Taiwan. She is also a research fellow at Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, and currently professorial fellow at the University of Tartu with "Taiwan Studies Programme”.
    Heidi Maiberg, the host of the episode, is the Head of Communication at the University of Tartu Asia Centre.
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  • If ancient Kyoto stands for orderly elegance, then Tokyo, within the world’s most populated metropolitan area, calls to mind–– jam-packed chaos. But in Emergent Tokyo: Designing the Spontaneous City (Oro Editions, 2022), Professor Jorge Almazán of Keio University and his Studio Lab colleagues ask us to look again—at the shops, markets, restaurants and tiny bars in back alleys, side streets and underneath highway bridges and rail lines. Within walking distance of a commuter rail station, small wood frame detached houses on tiny lots define a cohesive neighborhood. The order underlying a seemingly chaotic cityscape makes for an eminently livable city. Finishing this remarkable study, the reader may ask—have we been overlooking under-utilized space in my town? Why not little houses on small lots? Why can’t we walk to a shop around the corner? If Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities opened your eyes, then consider Emergent Tokyo. With Dr. Almazán as our guide, Tokyo has much to teach.
    James Wunsch, Emeritus Professor of Historical Studies, Empire State College (SUNY)
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  • Chinese philanthropic foundations navigate a uniquely challenging terrain shaped by authoritarian governance. The Governance of Philanthropic Foundations in Authoritarian China: A Power Perspective (Routledge, 2022) examines these complexities, delivering a novel multilevel analysis of the power dynamics that underpin the governance of nonprofit organizations within an authoritarian context.
    Chinese philanthropic foundations, with their distinct democratic culture, grapple with a unique set of challenges. The government’s evolving methods of control often lead to stringent regulations that limit the foundations’ autonomy. Foundations that heavily rely on individual donations are particularly vulnerable to these pressures, potentially transforming into conduits of authoritarianism rather than champions of democratic values.
    This book offers a comprehensive and, at times, bleak picture of the conditions under which Chinese foundations operate, offering critical insights into the future trajectory of the nonprofit sector in China.
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  • With the ever-greater shift of the balance of global power towards the Pacific region, what does this have implications for the geopolitics of the region? How should the rest of the world, especially Europe, address the growing power and influence of the Pacific region? How does the complex interplay of cultural, civilizational, economic, legal, environmental, and political factors affect the Pacific region? These and other questions are the subject of 21st Century as the Pacific Century. Culture and Security of Oceania States in Great Power Competition (Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2023) edited by Dr. Joanna Siekiera.
    This publication, which is the result of a conference of the same title, aims to explain to the readers culture, political relations and climate conditions in the region of the South Pacific. The authors point to cause and effect relationships, provide figures and in-depth analyses of political, economic and social forces operating in Southeast Asia and Oceania and the influence countries of the region exert on the whole modern world.
    Dr. Joanna Siekiera is an international lawyer, Doctor of Public Policy from Poland. She is a fellow at the United States Marine Corps University and works as a legal advisor to various military institutions, primarily NATO.
    Dr. Siekiera did her postdoctoral research at the Faculty of Law, University of Bergen, Norway, and Ph.D. studies in New Zealand, at the Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington.
    She is the author of over 100 scientific publications in several languages, various legal opinions for the Polish Ministry of Justice, as well as the book Regional Policy in the South Pacific, and the editor of 8 monographs on international law, international relations, and security. Her areas of expertise are Law of armed conflict (Lawfare, Legal Culture in Armed Conflict, NATO legal framework) and the Indo-Pacific region, Pacific law, Maritime Security.
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  • In China's Galaxy Empire: Wealth, Power, War, and Peace in the New Chinese Century (Oxford University Press, 2024), authors Dr. John Keane and Dr. Baogang He, target a development of enormous significance: China's return, after two centuries of decline and subjugation, to a position of prominence in world affairs. The daring thesis is that China is a newly rising empire of a kind never before witnessed: a galaxy empire. The first to be born of the digital communications era, this young empire is economically and politically powerful, and heavily armed. Its gravitational, push-pull effects are impacting every continent--and even outer space, where China is competing with the United States, India, and Europe to become the leading power.
    The galaxy empire interpretation rejects clichéd misdescriptions of China as a "big power" or monolithic "autocracy", and it explains why China defies older definitions of land, sea, and air-based empires. The book charts the developments that have made its rising empire so novel, including the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, the rapid rise of a global Chinese middle class, and internal colonialism in Tibet and Xinjiang. The book notes the protean, shapeshifting qualities of this young empire. It therefore warns against the political and military perils of simple-minded, friend-versus-enemy thinking and "Big China, Bad China" politics. But it also proffers a forewarning to China's rulers: while every rising empire aims to shift the balance of power in its favour, no empire lasts forever, and some are stillborn, because they indulge illusions of greatness and reckless power adventures.
    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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  • 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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