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.

Shaw Kuzki’s middle-grade novel Soul Lanterns begins in August 1970. A generation earlier, an atomic bomb leveled Hiroshima. Nozomi and her friends have grown up attending yearly memorials and learning about “the flash” in their peace studies class. When a much-loved art teacher takes an unexpected leave of absence, Nozomi begins to wonder about how the war really affected the adults in her life.

In 1929, a young woman sailed from Manila to New York to reunite with an older man who begged her to join him in the United States. Twenty years old at the most—her actual birth year was never clear—she was born from a Filipina mother and a former American soldier previously stationed in the Philippines. The man for whom she was about to stay cooped up in a Washington, DC hotel room for several years was none other than General Douglas MacArthur, three decades her senior and soon to be the Chief of Staff of the US Army. 

The title promises racy South Asia noir: what happened, who did it, and whether they got away with it. But Samira Shackle’s Karachi Vice actually concerns the lives of five people in that city, as violence—criminal and political—consumes everything around them. They receive no protection from the state as they go about their daily lives. Through their lives we understand this city, one where criminals fight it out while people around them simply try to survive. This is a book about the after-effects of many crimes.