The daughter of a Jewish Azerbaijani father and a Russian mother, Sophia Shalmiyev grew up in 1980s Leningrad hearing her grandmother recite anti-Semitic jingles, ruffling Sophia’s hair as if this act of act of affection could erase the sting of her words.
Many potential readers of James Griffiths’s new book well have had direct experience of the “Great Firewall of China” of the title. But that doesn’t mean they won’t find the book useful. Griffiths stitches events and issues, most of which are—individually—reasonably well-known, into a coherent narrative. The result is a readable, well-documented history of the internet in China.
Expat memoirs set in a plane-ride away in Asia have, well, taken off. Some, like Peter Hessler’s River Town, Michael Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing, and Michael Levy’s Kosher Chinese, are written by former Peace Corps volunteers. Others like Rachel DeWoskin’s Foreign Babes in Beijing and Susan Jane Gilman’s Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven address the sometimes harrowing experiences of American women in China. And Tracy Slater’s The Good Shufu and Lisa Fineberg Cook’s unfortunately-titled Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me relay family struggles when these American writers follow their husbands to Japan.
To attempt a revisionist history of Western imperialism in just over 150 pages is, to say the least, ambitious. It has largely been an article of faith that the West “won” history. Even those whom the West presumably defeated didn’t usually take much issue with the conclusion. Seeking to turn conventional wisdom about Western global expansion on its head, Sharman argues in Empires of the Weak not only that the reasons normally given for it don’t hold up, but that this “victory” was largely illusory.
Film can tell a lot about a place and time, but not many film industries have gone through as much change as China’s. Not only has the Chinese film industry transformed as the politics of the country have changed from the years of silent movies to the Communist era, but records of the pre-Mao era largely succumbed to political movements like the Cultural Revolution, which outlawed everything old and western. It’s a miracle that film advertisements and movie magazines from the period survived at all, and in his new book, film critic and historian Paul Fonoroff presents a stunning collection of 590 illustrations, mainly movie magazine covers, that he found in Hong Kong and in flea markets around Southeast Asia.
Wisdom has it that forgetting the past risks repeating it. The old must remind both themselves and the young where they came from, what happened to them and why, and who was responsible.
“Greatest novelist.” I’ve never been much of a fan of someone being dubbed the “greatest” anything, as it assumes there can never have been anyone better and perhaps never will be.