“Once you have decided to have your photograph taken,” Matsuzaki Shinji wrote in 1886, “you should clean your entire person, comb your hair, shave your face (while those with long beards should wash them thoroughly), and take care that no dirt is attached to the face or the rest of your body.” He followed this up with twenty-five more “dos and don’ts” for the customer.

The Musha Incident is a dark moment in Taiwan’s colonial history (1895-1945), as well as a long-forgotten one. On 27 October 1930, the indigenous Atayal people decapitated 134 Japanese soldiers. Japanese revenge was brutal, bringing the Atayal tribe to the edge of extinction. Later, the Nationalist government labeled the Incident a heroic retaliation against Japanese invasion, but condemned the Atayal’s primal ritual of headhunting.

Taiwanese writer Wu He was not satisfied with this highly superficial and politicized discourse and determined to uncover the truth of this period of history and its legacy. The result is this novel.

The rise of China in the wake of the slow relative decline of the United States has been the overarching narrative of global studies since the beginning of this century. Is this narrative correct? China’s growth is slowing as it reaches middle income status and the United States is still overwhelmingly more wealthy and powerful than China. If China will someday “overtake” the United States, it will not happen for decades or centuries, depending what is meant by overtaking. But even this more guarded account of US decline is colored by an outdated, state-centric view of human society. The twenty-first century world-system is centered on the United States but not contained within it; individuals all over the world participate in hierarchies of distinction that are fundamentally American in ideology and orientation. Whether or not they agree with US policy, support the US president, or are even able to enter the United States, success-oriented individuals choose to live in an American world—or accept global social exclusion. This is just as true in China as anywhere else, and perhaps even more true for Chinese individuals than for anyone else.

“Finance is the lifeblood of the modern economy” has become something of a stock phrase for Chinese policymakers over recent years, uttered most recently by Xi Jinping as part of his speech to the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in mid May. Although this sounds like a capitalist mantra, what precisely might be meant by this phrase requires more in-depth understanding of China’s economy and its financial system. At the heart of that system still lie China’s banks, in spite of the rapid emergence of other financial institutions and instruments over the last decade.