It is not unusual for journalists from leading publications to turn their hand to books, but it is less usual for such books to have started off in Chinese. Jin Xu is senior editor and chief financial commentator at the Financial Times Chinese and her 2017 monetary history of China, Empire of Silver, has just been released in English in a translation from the well-regarded Stacy Mosher.

Catherine Menon’s debut novel, Fragile Monsters, is a beautifully written story of one Indian Malaysian family’s history, entwined with secrets and hidden heartbreak, told through the fractious relationship of Durga and her Ammuma, her grandmother Mary. When Durga, a mathematics lecturer returns home to rural Pahang after ten years away in Canada and in Kuala Lumpur, to spend Diwali with Mary, the pair are forced to untangle the mystery of their past. “Stories twist through the past like hair in a plait,” Durga says.

From its more mainstream, business-focused and business-friendly “Lean In” variants, to more radical, critical and intersectional understandings of feminism, the past decade has seen a flourishing of discussion from those proposing and critiquing different schools of thought for the way we think about gender in society.

Many cultures under, or in the shadow of, an empire sometimes make use of that empire’s language to express themselves. Latin was used throughout Europe, while for a couple of centuries after the Norman conquest, the dominant written language in England was French. China exerted a similar cultural pull over its neighbors: Japanese poets would write kanshi and Koreans hansi, both terms being probably derived from the word Han, referring to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) in China. For both, using written Chinese was to make a cultural statement, indicating that these writings were for an elite class of people. Furthermore, despite the invention of hangul, an optimized Korean script, by king Sejong in the 15th century, classical Chinese—both the language and the script—remained the preference of Korean literati for several centuries. Hangul did not in fact hit its stride until well into the 19th century; and, given their acute sense of class-consciousness, Koreans may simply have felt more comfortable reading their stories in classical Chinese. 

The 19th-century Indian poet Mirza Ghalib always evoked strong opinions about his literary worth. An early 20th-century critic proclaimed, “India has just two scriptures or divine gospels, the holy Vedas and the poetry of Ghalib.” Meanwhile an anonymous Delhiwallah  quipped: “I get the verse of Mir[1]Mir Taqi Mir 1725-1810, Ghalib’s most illustrious predecessor but Mirza’s just too odd. Maybe he gets himself, or maybe only God.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Mir Taqi Mir 1725-1810, Ghalib’s most illustrious predecessor
The Religious Ethic and Mercantile Spirit in Early Modern ChinaYing-shih Yü, Yim-tze Kwong (trans), Hoyt Cleveland Tillman (ed.) (Columbia University Press, March 2021)
The Religious Ethic and Mercantile Spirit in Early Modern China, Ying-shih Yü, Yim-tze Kwong (trans), Hoyt Cleveland Tillman (ed.) (Columbia University Press, March 2021)

Why did modern capitalism not arise in late imperial China? One famous answer comes from Max Weber, whose The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism gave a canonical analysis of religious and cultural factors in early modern European economic development. In The Religions of China, Weber contended that China lacked the crucial religious impetus to capitalist growth that Protestantism gave Europe.