The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon. When Tosca sings in Giacomo Puccini’s opera of devoting her life to art and love, she speaks not just for herself but for a tradition of divas connecting Rome’s Teatro Argentina to Shiraz’s mystical soirées, to the pleasure pavilions of Delhi, to the entertainment quarter of Yangzhou.
The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon. Wherever poetry, music and mime have been practised with virtuosity, great women performers always take centre stage. Traditional Asian divas are however less well known and understood among English language readers than the great divas of Mozart and Puccini. Whether from Shiraz at the court of the Injuids, from Delhi during the twilight of the Moghuls, or from Yangzhou under the last Ming emperors, these Asian divas constitute the first identifiably modern women.
Globalization usually means manufacturing. But globalization reaches into other realms, even waste disposal as Adam Minter wrote in his debut book, Junkyard Planet. In his new book, Secondhand, he investigates what happens to material goods we donate after we’re done using them and travels throughout North America, Asia, and Africa to explore how different countries reuse discarded items.
With the exception of Eileen Chang to whom she is often compared, few writers have become as synonymous with Shanghai as Wang Anyi. Although born in Nanjing, Wang was brought to Shanghai at the age of one by her mother, noted writer and Shanghai native Ru Zhijuan, and her quest to know the city over the years in spite of its protean elusiveness (as well as Wang’s intermittent absences) has become something of an elegiac obsession for the celebrated author.
At the dawn of the Ming Dynasty, the emperor will do anything to ensure the future of his empire. Building the Forbidden City in fulfillment of his father’s dreams is only the beginning. But few people share the emperor’s vision.
In his introduction to this new biography of Yuan Shikai, Patrick Fuliang Shan makes reference to the long-held view of Yuan as a stereotypical historical villain—or, in Chinese, fanmian lishi renwu. The Chinese phrase is perhaps the more apposite, as one literal translation would be “a person on the wrong side of history”. Whatever one’s view of Yuan Shikai, who rose to governmental and military power in the late 19th century before becoming China’s first permanent president in 1912, it is fairly uncontroversial to assert that he ended up, on a few occasions, on what would later come to be viewed as the “wrong side” of various historical moments.
In the introduction to her new book, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, Jung Chang writes that she originally set out to research a book on Sun Yat-sen to see if he really warranted the status of “Father of Modern China”. But the stories of Sun’s wife Soong Ching-ling and her two sisters ended up out-shining his, so Chang decided to write about them instead. What results is a book with two intertwined narratives: one on the sisters of the title and one about Sun.