Guo Xiaolu has always been a writer who has worn both her heart and her integrity on her sleeve, whether tearing pages from her own life for her novels, experimenting publically with form or writing in what is for her an entirely foreign language (something which is the cause for astonishment when an English-language writer even attempts it). So it is hardly a surprise that her recent memoir, Once Upon a Time in the East: A story of growing up, is by turn raw, intelligent, compelling, sad, uncompromising and reticent.
Richard Kirkby’s China memoir Intruder in Mao’s Realm has a hint of the nineteenth century about it: frank and scrupulous in recording quotidian detail, it is a refreshingly unrefined book, in the manner of those accounts returned by Victorian missionaries and travellers after visits to unknown lands.
Apart from on the Peninsula itself and in the vernacular, the Korean War is framed by a chronology between June 1950 and July 1953. Su-kyoung Hwang’s Korea’s Grievous War challenges that common perception by pushing its opening salvos back to shortly after the Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial occupation in August 1945.
Jack Weatherford has a clutch of informed, and impassioned, books on the Mongols to his credit. In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, he argued that the Mongols were the precursors of modern economic globalization:
The Mongols displayed a devoutly and persistently internationalist zeal in their political, economic, and intellectual endeavors. They sought not merely to conquer the world but to institute a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet.
He credits them with universal paper money, primary school education and a unified calendar.
Macau is endlessly fascinating in no small part because it is so anomalous. Dating back to the “Age of Exploration”, it was the only Iberian possession in East Asia that survived as such into the 20th century—and two years longer than Hong Kong. In spite of all the recent development, it is still a city of baroque churches, blue tiles and black-and-white pavements; streets are “ruas”; a local Portuguese patois unique to the city still just barely hangs on.
A century ago China was at the height of its warlord period. The nascent Republic of China had 26 prime ministers in 12 years as one warlord after another gained ascendency in their internecine struggles.
Little wonder, then, that China remained neutral as the First World War raged, signing up with the Allies only in the last year of the conflict. The Japanese too, though formally allied with the Entente powers, provided little practical assistance. Japan invaded Tsingtao and defeated the German garrison in one of the war’s first battles, but after that Japan declined to provide much support when importuned by its hard-pressed allies. Late in the war, once the defeat of the Central Powers seemed likely, Japan supplied some war materiel under the terms of secret treaties assuring British and French support for its colonial ambitions after the war. Its aim was to be anointed Germany’s successor in control of its Pacific colonies, including continued occupation of Tsingtao.
In The People’s Money, Chatham House’s Paola Subacchi discusses the internationalization, or relative lack thereof, of the renminbi. The subject can be rather like a room of mirrors if one does not follow developments in international currencies, but for those that do, the book serves as a clear overview of the history and the issues, both in general and those facing Chinese policy-makers in particular.