The Opium Wars are probably the only actual shooting wars in history that are named after a drug. They may be the only major wars between countries that are named after a commodity of any kind. Britain and Iceland had their cod war, but that hardly counts. The United States had a Whiskey Rebellion and Australia had a Rum Rebellion. France and Mexico fought a desultory Pastry War in 1838 that cost Santa Anna his left leg and catapulted the rest of him to dictatorship. But the Opium Wars set the trajectory of the East Asian interstate system for 100 years and resonate in historical memory to this day.
Kevin Kwan is a Singaporean relocated to New York, and Rich People Problems is the third of his rollicking romps of money and status in Asia. The first, Crazy Rich Asians, a brilliant title, and a brilliant idea, was a smash-hit success. It is currently being made into a movie which seems certain to be a riot. The three novels follow a core cast of characters, but each can be read as a stand-alone title.
Clearly targeting a female audience, this epic of love and sedition nevertheless offers far more than the average chick-lit romance with its carefully investigated and balanced view of the struggle for Indian independence in the years before and during World War II.
“Once you have decided to have your photograph taken,” Matsuzaki Shinji wrote in 1886, “you should clean your entire person, comb your hair, shave your face (while those with long beards should wash them thoroughly), and take care that no dirt is attached to the face or the rest of your body.” He followed this up with twenty-five more “dos and don’ts” for the customer.
The “Asia Rising” story has been written and reported about so often that it has almost come to be accepted as truth. Driven by the rise of China and more recently, that of India and Southeast Asia, the combination of massive populations, rising economies and rapid modernization means Asia is set to become the new center of the world. Even China’s recent economic slowdown has not prevented Asia bulls from maintaining their positive forecasts. Scholar and academic Michael Auslin provides a rare voice of dissent with The End of the Asian Century.
When the end came, it came quickly and, for most of the Japanese inhabitants of occupied Manchuria, unexpectedly. Kiku Kyuzo, protagonist of Beasts Head for Home, was of one of the great many Japanese left behind when Manchuria fell to the Soviet Army in August 1945.
The ASEAN Miracle observes that Southeast Asia is the world’s most diverse region. Although obvious once mentioned, it still seems novel. Southeast Asia’s history is a mix of Chinese, Indian and Islamic influences, with sizable populations of several of the world’s major religions. Yet despite this and its complicated colonial and postcolonial history, Southeast Asian countries have fought no major wars between them over the past half-century. The most significant war in Southeast Asia, the Vietnam War, involved an extra regional power: namely, the United States.