On 26 April 1895, the trial of Oscar Wilde began at the Old Bailey. He was there because he had attempted to prosecute the marquess of Queensberry for libel, an action which had led to unforeseen revelations about Wilde’s sexuality (Queensberry, whose command of spelling didn’t equal Wilde’s, had called Wilde a “somdomite” [sic]), forced him to abandon his suit, and himself face trial for gross indecency and homosexuality. If Wilde had read of a trial which had happened in far-off India two years earlier, he might have thought twice about suing Queensberry. The trial in question, here ably presented and carefully analyzed by Benjamin Cohen, was, like Wilde’s, a long, salacious saga of sex and lies. There was, of course, no videotape, but a nude photograph which no one seemed able to produce was verbally offered in evidence. Like Queensberry, the defendant was acquitted and, like Wilde’s, the plaintiff’s life, as well as that of his wife, completely ruined, although neither ended up doing two years’ hard labor. The Hyderabad incident serves, particularly in retrospect, to reveal some of the British Raj’s nastier sides, involving questions of race, gender, bourgeois morality and, to a somewhat lesser extent, religion.
There always comes a time when, as people age, events move from being “within living memory” to “history”. There is even more urgency to capture these voices in a place like China where, for reasons of war and turmoil, fewer voices were, on the whole, captured at the time.
Julius Caesar wrote that “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” So too is Anna Fifield’s The Great Successor.
On 13 April 1919, British and Imperial troops under the command of General Reginald “Rex” Dyer gunned down between 400 and 600 Indian protestors at Jallianwala Bagh, a garden near the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar in the Punjab state of India. Many more protestors were wounded. The shooting lasted for ten minutes. Many were shot as they ran for cover. Some were killed as they tried to scale high walls. The Amritsar Massacre, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons, was a “slaughter”, a “monstrous event”, “an episode … without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British Empire.” British historian AJP Taylor wrote that the massacre was “the decisive moment when Indians were alienated from British rule.”
While the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is perhaps the figure most associated with the development of modern Thailand, two-time Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun has had a large influence on the country’s development. Anand stands out as an upstanding, liberal figure who steered well clear of corruption and scandals. As Thailand embarks on a new era under a new king, Dominic Faulder’s recent biography of Anand provides timely background.
It may come as a surprise to Indians, although perhaps it should not, that were colonizers who were less than comfortable with the entire project of colonization. With the advantage of hindsight, and the availability of archives, the new writing about the empire has begun to disrupt the boundaries the colonized and the colonizers as mutually exclusive categories. One new book in this vein is Kief Hillsbery’s The Tiger and the Ruby: A Journey to the Other Side of British India, the account of a clerk who came to Calcutta to make a career but soon sabotaged it by getting himself transferred to a provincial city, and later on disappeared from India but did not return to England.
Under Red Skies is being plugged as the first English-language memoir by a Chinese millennial, which already sets it apart from other books about China’s younger generation. Books like Alec Ash’s Wish Lanterns or Zak Dychtwald’s Young China, for all of their merits, were written by expats. In contrast, Chinese-born Karoline Kan tells the story of her life from its beginning in her own words.