Chinese Internet companies are uniquely innovative but are perceived by outsiders as mere copycats: Baidu is the “Chinese Google”, Alibaba is the “Chinese Amazon”. Yet this simple picture does not capture the reality of how Chinese internet companies have become intrinsic people’s lives. To call WeChat a messaging service, as if it is merely a WhatsApp knockoff, is to misunderstand it. WeChat is WhatsApp plus Facebook plus Instagram plus Paypal plus Apple Pay plus Wattpad plus Uber plus Visa plus Fidelity Investments.

But there may be another reason for these companies’ success other than circumstance: simply, they are Chinese.

One might be forgiven for thinking “Oh no, not another book on modern China… What could anyone possibly have left to say about it?” But Alexandre Trudeau does not simply write about what he observes, but, like all good travel-writers, shows us what effect the journey had on him. And he does so without thrusting himself into the foreground; there is no large talking head loudly proclaiming “look at me” in the foreground and with tiny buildings in the background incidentally pointing to a foreign location.

For a book targeted at children, Division to Unification in Imperial China has a ponderous title. Parents and teachers might wish to cover this over with masking tape so that young readers instead concentrate on the handsome black, white and ochre illustration that otherwise adorns the cover.

China and the United States did most of the heavy lifting in defeating Japan during the Pacific war. After the war neither was much interested in running prisoner of war camps, and most captured Japanese were quite quickly repatriated. Two groups who did not return promptly were those captured by the Red army in Manchuria as they delivered the coup de grâce at the war’s end, and a few soldiers defending Japan’s Pacific islands who were neither killed, captured nor committed suicide when the islands fell. The Soviet Union shipped its captives to work camps in the Soviet Far East and set them to work mining, logging and building railroads, releasing them only years later. Some of the holdout island defenders lived on in the jungle for decades, nominally as guerilla fighters though in fact struggling to survive.

An article in the most recent Economist was subtitled “China’s newest export hit is classical music” with a lede about the China Philharmonic Orchestra on tour in New York.

 

Once, classical music generally travelled from the West to the rest. Now China is reversing the exchange, not merely performing Western classical music in China, but exporting it.

 

But China has been “exporting” individual performers of demonstrable world-class stature for quite some time: pianists Wang Yujia and Li Yundi and opera singers soprano He Hui and tenor Shi Yijie are just a few Chinese artists in demand worldwide. Hong Kong had the privilege to hear one of the others this weekend, classical guitarist Yang Xuefei, playing Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Manila was not the best place to be on New Year’s Eve 1941. US General Douglas MacArthur had withdrawn to Corregidor and had declared Manila an “open city”, not that the Japanese forces—literally at the city gates and expected to enter the next morning—were paying much attention to that.

But Melville Jacoby, a journalist for TIME and LIFE, was still there holed up in the Bay View Hotel, together with Annalee, his wife of a few weeks, and thirty other reporters.