Many cultures under, or in the shadow of, an empire sometimes make use of that empire’s language to express themselves. Latin was used throughout Europe, while for a couple of centuries after the Norman conquest, the dominant written language in England was French. China exerted a similar cultural pull over its neighbors: Japanese poets would write kanshi and Koreans hansi, both terms being probably derived from the word Han, referring to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) in China. For both, using written Chinese was to make a cultural statement, indicating that these writings were for an elite class of people. Furthermore, despite the invention of hangul, an optimized Korean script, by king Sejong in the 15th century, classical Chinese—both the language and the script—remained the preference of Korean literati for several centuries. Hangul did not in fact hit its stride until well into the 19th century; and, given their acute sense of class-consciousness, Koreans may simply have felt more comfortable reading their stories in classical Chinese. 

The 19th-century Indian poet Mirza Ghalib always evoked strong opinions about his literary worth. An early 20th-century critic proclaimed, “India has just two scriptures or divine gospels, the holy Vedas and the poetry of Ghalib.” Meanwhile an anonymous Delhiwallah  quipped: “I get the verse of Mir[1]Mir Taqi Mir 1725-1810, Ghalib’s most illustrious predecessor but Mirza’s just too odd. Maybe he gets himself, or maybe only God.”

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1. Mir Taqi Mir 1725-1810, Ghalib’s most illustrious predecessor

In 1929, a young woman sailed from Manila to New York to reunite with an older man who begged her to join him in the United States. Twenty years old at the most—her actual birth year was never clear—she was born from a Filipina mother and a former American soldier previously stationed in the Philippines. The man for whom she was about to stay cooped up in a Washington, DC hotel room for several years was none other than General Douglas MacArthur, three decades her senior and soon to be the Chief of Staff of the US Army. 

The title promises racy South Asia noir: what happened, who did it, and whether they got away with it. But Samira Shackle’s Karachi Vice actually concerns the lives of five people in that city, as violence—criminal and political—consumes everything around them. They receive no protection from the state as they go about their daily lives. Through their lives we understand this city, one where criminals fight it out while people around them simply try to survive. This is a book about the after-effects of many crimes.

“Do androids dream of electric sheep?” famously asked science fiction writer Philip K Dick, obliquely hinting at a universal—and longstanding—human obsession with dreams and our relationship with them. Robert Ford Campany, in his The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE-800 CE, approaches the subject of dreams—as do many other people—in terms of personal psychology. It is difficult to overstate how influential Freud and Jung have been in framing our modern understanding of dreams as expressions of our anxieties, fixations and unconscious drives. 

Unlike the ever-changing silhouettes of western dress, the iconic cut of the Japanese kimono, a straight-seamed T-shaped robe, was developed in the Heian period (794 -1185) and has remained relatively unchanged through modern times. Central to almost all ensembles in traditional Japanese dress, kimono designs were seen as intimate reflections of the wearer’s identity. Newly available in paperback, Kimono: The Art and Evolution of Japanese Fashion is a vibrant showcase of objects in the world-renowned Khalili Collections in London. Edited by Anna Jackson, Curator of Japanese Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it thoroughly explores how this wearable art changed over time technically and aesthetically, often as a response to the cultural context in which it was produced.