In 1865, the eminent American journalist and abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a lecture called “Pictures and Progress”, in which he discussed the role of photography in exposing the evils of racism and slavery. Referring to Louis Daguerre, he pointed out that “men of all conditions and classes can now see themselves as others see them, and as they will be seen by those who come after them,” and that “man is the only picture-making animal in the world. He alone of all the inhabitants of earth has the capacity and passion for pictures.”

The name Taikoo—or Taigu in Mandarin—means “great and ancient” and was adopted by John Swire & Sons in China in the 19th century when the UK company was relatively new and still minor. Historian Robert Bickers’s latest book tells the story of how this Liverpool trading house that initially dealt in cotton, apples and turpentine from America became an international conglomerate centered in Asia.

In Chinese history, the Tang and Song dynasties are often contrasted for their attitude to the foreign: a cosmopolitan Tang, its late turn to xenophobia, succeeded by a proto-nationalist Song. Changes in attitude tend to be explained by political events, most frequently by the dynasties’ brushes with foreigners. In The Way of the Barbarians, Shao-Yun Yang wants to detach intellectual history from this political determinism.

As it does to our lives at present, death—virulent, episodic, unbidden—haunts Yan Lianke’s memoir Three Brothers. First published in 2009, and rendered into English by translator and Sinologist Carlos Rojas, it is an elegiac homage to the people and places no longer present for Yan (at least not physically), who has spent the better part of his life oscillating (both physically and emotionally) between city and countryside in search of home.

Pale skin is valued in Asia: cosmetics to whiten skin such as “White Perfect” and “Fair & Lovely” are widely advertised. To Americans, and Asian-Americans, however, promotion of skin-whitening products appears to be racist and “colorist”, as people of color in the US have suffered from discrimination by the white majority. Whiter is a new anthology of essays by Asian-American women on skin color and “colorism”, edited by Nikki Khanna, a sociologist whose previous work has focused on biracial identity.

Ideology grappled geography in a civil war with no end. As the Korean War froze along the trenches and barbed wire entanglements, harbingers of the final line of control that was to divide North from South for a lifetime, the United States fought and sought a political triumph as a surrogate for military failure on the battlefield. Armistice talks in May 1951 started, hiccuped, stopped and then were reborn and recycled as Washington stubbornly—to the chagrin and incredulity of its own negotiators—refused to abide by the 1949 Geneva Convention requiring the simple repatriation of prisoners of war (POWs) at the end of military conflict.