This year Singapore celebrates its bicentennial, or rather, the 200th anniversary of the founding of the colonial city. Because of this milestone, there has been considerable soul-searching about the role of history in creating a people and WW2 naturally comes to mind. The war was not only one of the most traumatic episodes in the city’s history, but it was also one that catalyzed the unraveling of empire resulting in both independence and the trajectory it took.
The ban on Arabic script at halaal restaurants in Beijing last month is a somewhat small, yet unnerving reminder of China’s illiberal relationship with its various minority populations. More serious has been the reported detainment of a million-plus Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang over the past couple of years. Similarly, the on-going detention of many Tibetan Buddhists—as well as a near universal ban of foreign travel for individuals living in the Tibetan region—also indicate a tense relationship between the single-party People’s Republic of China (PRC) and many minority populations.
History has a way of inspiring quirky fanfiction. Back in the 1980s, Terry Johnson’s play (later Nicolas Roeg’s film) Insignificance imagined an evening where Marilyn Monroe (or as she was called simply, “The Actress”) finds herself thrown together with Albert Einstein (“The Scientist”), Joseph McCarthy (“The Senator”) and Joe DiMaggio (“The Ballplayer”), who collectively spin an intriguing rumination about the meaning of fame in America. Johnson’s dialogue rather deviated from historical record, but hearing The Actress explain relativity to The Scientist was a hoot.
The image of Central Asia in the minds of many in the West is that of an exotic, distant land ruled by evil despots—its entrenched culture of corruption and repression both eternal and intractable. However, in Dictators without borders: Power and Money in Central Asia, academics Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw aim to refresh and reframe our understanding of the region.
Two famous Englishmen, two hundred years or so apart, tried to emigrate to America and failed. One was Oliver Cromwell, who in 1634 found himself in so much debt that he sold up much of his property and decided to sail off to Connecticut for a life in the New World. Unfortunately, he was denied permission to leave England, and never got on the boat, leaving historians to wonder what would have happened (or wouldn’t have) had he been issued a passport. The other was Rudyard Kipling, who fared rather better.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two Jewish cartoonists brought the term “graphic novel” to the mainstream. Will Eisner’s A Contract With God tells the story of poor Jewish immigrants in New York tenements while Art Spiegelman’s Maus depicts two storylines that center around the Holocaust. These books address heavy subjects and differ from the lighter fare in comic books, which are usually thinner, magazine-like publications. The term graphic novel has come to refer to non-fiction, not just fiction.
Seoul 1954. The Korean War armistice has been signed less than a year ago. Millions are dead and a shattered country struggles to rise from the rubble. There is little food and even less hope. Seoul teems with ghosts.