The ban on Arabic script at halaal restaurants in Beijing last month is a somewhat small, yet unnerving reminder of China’s illiberal relationship with its various minority populations. More serious has been the reported detainment of a million-plus Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang over the past couple of years. Similarly, the on-going detention of many Tibetan Buddhists—as well as a near universal ban of foreign travel for individuals living in the Tibetan region—also indicate a tense relationship between the single-party People’s Republic of China (PRC) and many minority populations.
Amid early twentieth-century China’s epochal shifts, a vital and prolific commercial publishing industry emerged. Recruiting late Qing literati, foreign-trained academics, and recent graduates of the modernized school system to work as authors and editors, publishers produced textbooks, reference books, book series, and reprints of classical texts in large quantities at a significant profit. Work for major publishers provided a living to many Chinese intellectuals and offered them a platform to transform Chinese cultural life.
The image of Central Asia in the minds of many in the West is that of an exotic, distant land ruled by evil despots—its entrenched culture of corruption and repression both eternal and intractable. However, in Dictators without borders: Power and Money in Central Asia, academics Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw aim to refresh and reframe our understanding of the region.
French investigative journalist Roger Faligot has been writing about Chinese spying and intelligence for more than thirty years. His encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Communist China’s intelligence services is on full display in his book Chinese Spies, originally published in France in 2008 (and later updated in 2015) and now in an English translation by Natasha Lehrer.
It can be difficult to remember today, but before 1978—the beginning of the reform era—famines struck China with depressing regularity. Many (or perhaps most) of them were human-induced. That certainly goes for the terrible famine of 1959-1961, which resulted from Mao Zedong’s so-called “Great Leap Forward” economic development program. A key element of this murderous social experiment was the forced collectivization of farmers into enormous People’s Communes consisting of thousands of households. Intended to bring about food security and income levels approaching those of the United Kingdom (the Soviet Union wanted to surpass the US, so Mao targeted the UK), it led instead to the starvation of some 20-50 million people. No one knows the true number.
There is sometimes a feeling—it may even be a sort of implied ASEAN policy—that Southeast Asia will, or at least should, converge: that the countries of the region will develop economically and differentials in standards of living will lessen, that the military will ease itself out of politics, that civil society will strengthen. This has, if seen with a perspective of decades, been a trend largely born out if far from completed.
Geography used to be considered destiny, but this once-popular notion that terrain and climate drove history has gone out of fashion. Now a new generation of environmental historians are bringing hard, physical materiality back into mainstream history with a more nuanced approach, looking at the historically situated interaction between people and their physical environments.