It somehow always feels in season to ponder when the Chinese Communist Party will have to grapple with a real challenge to its rule, and to cogitate over whether democratic governance is in China’s future. In Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis, Jiwei Ci, a philosophy professor at the University of Hong Kong, constructs an elaborate but cogent argument about how the CCP will only overcome its illegitimacy, along with other tears in the national fabric, by choosing to usher in political democracy, a change that Ci declares is “of dire necessity rather than moral luxury.”

It was 1675, and Londoners were eager to see the King’s Company production of the latest play by John Dryden, playwright and Poet Laureate. Aureng-Zebe, for so it was titled, was a heroic verse-drama written in rhyming couplets based on near-contemporary events in India. It featured an exotic combination of eastern despotism, lust and dynastic rivalry, together with an invented love-story, all of which was bound to satisfy an audience still in the throes of an “oriental” craze.

Dressed like Rajput princesses in bangles, rhinestones and brocade tightly fitted over their svelte bodies, the young women created a stir when they entered the elevator of our nondescript apartment block in Singapore. Only later did I learn that these were bar dancers, dispatched by their needy families in rural Bihar to earn 200 hundred dollars a week in the clubs on Circular Road. 100 years earlier these women might have aspired to become elite entertainers, tawaifs, for the aristocrats of Benares or Lucknow. Saba Dewan’s magistral work explains the decline and fall of this storied tradition.