Contemporary Chinese literature can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, whether due to heavy doses of politics or surrealism; the subject might be obscure or the author self-consciously literary. However worthy these works may be, it comes as something of a relief, then, that Su Tong—of Raise the Red Lantern fame—stuck to good, old-fashioned storytelling in Petulia’s Rouge Tin, a novella just out as a Penguin Special.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its relatively small size, Taiwan has had a turbulent and diverse history that has seen it endure dictatorship during the 20th century, Japanese colonization, and being a minor part of the Qing Dynasty. But before all this, the island, then known as Formosa, was the prize of a mighty struggle between the Dutch and a Ming Dynasty pirate-nobleman almost 400 years ago. Lord of Formosa—first published in Dutch in 2015—is the story of Koxinga, or Zheng Chenggong, the son of a Chinese nobleman and a Japanese woman, and how he won Taiwan from the Dutch.

White Chrysanthemum memorializes Korean comfort women—women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese occupying forces during World War Two. In her debut novel, London-based Korean-American writer Mary Lynn Bracht explores the effects of these women’s abductions on their families and on wider society, and celebrates the power of women to survive horrific circumstances.

Here we have planted the British flag among the ruins of the ancient capital of Singapura, the City of the Lion! Here we will advance the interests of the East India Company and raise the Malay people to their former glory.

 

Sir Stamford Raffles is the man most often associated with Singapore’s colonization, and John D Greenwood attributes these words to him in this new novel.