It is that time of the year again. The day after Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights loudly celebrated with an army of firecrackers, Delhi residents wake up with something that is worse than a hangover: a cloud of toxic fumes stubbornly sitting on the face of the Indian capital, choking it to a slow death. In her book, Choked: Everything You Were Afraid to Know about Air Pollution, Indian writer Pallavi Aiyar dissects the airpocalypse that has spread to India’s major cities over the past few decades.
Predictions for the future of Southeast Asia on the whole follow two different narratives. On the one hand, ASEAN is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and forty years of interstate peace along with it. The region’s economy is growing at breakneck speed, led by countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. Yet, on the other hand, news reports are filled with stories about scandal and crisis, from Malaysia’s continuing 1MDB scandal, Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial drug war, or the ethnic strife in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, by journalist Ian Johnson, is an infectious, celebratory book about the state of religion in mainland China since the 1980s. Framed around the lives of various religious devotees in China—ranging from solitary seekers to associations to experts —Johnson explores different aspects of Chinese religion and spirituality, as well as the “import” religion of Christianity, as living practices in China today. He wants to understand what motivates religious believers in a time of greater material comforts, and what their beliefs mean to them.
Whether the casts for this week’s Aida are the best ever assembled for opera in Hong Kong—they have some competition from Hong Kong Arts Festival productions, including a Simon Boccanegra with Roberto Frontali, Michele Pertusi, Giorgio Berrugi and Erika Grimaldi, and a Traviata with Carmen Giannattasio and José Bros—is the sort of thing opera-goers love to debate. But these others have been traveling productions from overseas operas rather than something developed and produced by a local company.
In mid-19th century China, after suffering multiple humbling defeats by imperial powers, a movement to modernize China’s military developed. The idea was that the national essence or culture of China could be better defended with superior Western methods and technology than outdated Chinese methods—seen as the extension of a static political culture. That the methods and technology were Western did not matter—they were not tied to the imperial aims which produced them; they could be adapted by anyone, and were essentially culture-less.
Tony Banham has produced a very clear and detailed account of the civilian evacuations from Hong Kong in July of 1940. His extensive detail makes it clear that the evacuation’s potentially complicated logistics in fact went off much more smoothly than might have been expected. Less than half of Hong Kong’s British population was evacuated, and the officials and the general public in Manila and Australia were extremely welcoming, resettling the refugees quickly. Nevertheless, the entire operation generated persistent complaints right up to the eventual Japanese invasion.
Late Ming China didn’t have the “Nigerian advance-fee scam”, but if Zhang Yingyu’s contemporary The Book of Swindles is any indication, it had just about every other con ever tried. This collection of short cautionary tales is, according to translators Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, “said to be the first Chinese story collection focused explicitly on the topic of fraud.”