Between September and Christmas 1964, the Dutch sinologist Erik Zürcher undertook a three month visit to China organized by the state travel agency Luxingshe. It was official and exceptional. China was closed for business, isolated and angry at history. Barely more than a decade previously, Dutch troops in UN Command had been fighting the Chinese People’s Volunteers on the Korean Peninsula.

Most of us in our 20s or above remember where we were on 1 January 2000, when the planet welcomed the new year, decade, century and millennium. (Pedants however never tire of pointing out that the correct date should have been one year later.) Lijia Zhang’s Lotus begins with the title character facing a rather grim start to the year—on that January day, Lotus is arrested for suspicion of prostitution as she’s sitting shore side in Shenzhen, contemplating the turns of her 23 years of life.

There are few recent books as deeply anchored in both global and urban history as Su Lin Lewis’s exploration of urban life in early-twentieth-century Southeast Asian port cities. Combining a keen interest in the consequences of the world’s growing connectedness during the tail end of the age of steam, a thorough familiarity with the places it studies, and painstaking archival research, the book showcases how two subfields of history can be merged to great benefit. While Lewis speaks to recent debates in global history, she successfully eschews the now familiar charge that the field’s practitioners have veered too far from concrete, empirical studies of the local. The elegantly presented results of her research therefore should be read by a wide range of historians.