Among all European countries, Russia’s relations with China are unique in that the two countries—empires for most of their relevant histories—shared a border. Trade between the two was, on the whole, carried out by caravan rather than ship; there were border garrisons a stone’s throw from each other. People and information transited the border along with goods.

In this extended essay, David Chaffetz, a scholar of Persian and related literary traditions who has lived for years in China and Southeast Asia, zeroes in on erasures in the history of these traditions: the brilliant and highly trained women virtuosos—poets, singers, and dancers—who cut a swath through the opulent courts of Iran, India, and China.

The mid-20th century comic strip Terry and the Pirates, as cringeworthy as its artless racism is, tells us as much about the Americans of the era as it does about the Chinese. In a similar way, the Longstreets’ Geishas and the Floating World is a delightful artifact for seeing Japan through the 1960s American, more especially male, gaze—so ineluctably male, in fact, it can be hard to identify what Ethel’s contributions might have been. Stephen Longstreet is the perfect American to reflect on the Yoshiwara pleasure district. A painter, jazzman, Hollywood screenplay writer, at home in both Saint Germain des Prés’s Tabu and Harlem’s Cotton Club, he instinctively identifies Yoshiwara as the Chrysanthemum Vie de Bohème as he effortlessly conjures the kaleidoscope of senses which Yoshiwara offered its male visitors. Geishas is one of a hundred books Longstreet wrote, so one does not read it for either the literary insight of Donald Keane’s translations or the erudition of Ivan Morris’s The World of the Shining Prince.

The first two decades of the 20th century saw the emergence of urbanism in sociology and philosophy: Georg Simmel wrote about the metropolis and mental life, and Walter Benjamin penned portraits of Western cities like Paris and discussed the work of Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe in the context of the flâneur,  the dandy who roamed the streets to observe the city and the people.

What Kosal Path calls the “Third Indochina War” resulted from Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 and China’s subsequent invasion of Vietnam in February 1979. For Vietnam, it was a “protracted two-front war”, that drained the country’s economic resources and imperiled the ruling Communist Party. Path contends that throughout the war, the decision-making of the Vietnamese political leadership was shaped more by domestic economic factors and a realist view of national security interests than ideological abstractions. The war and its aftermath, he believes, also set the stage for Vietnam’s economic and national security reform policies called Doi Moi (renovation), and Vietnam’s improved relations with Western powers.

Geishas and the Floating World: Inside Tokyo's Yoshiwara Pleasure District, Stephen Longstreet, Ethel Longstreet, Stephen Mansfield (intro)
Geishas and the Floating World: Inside Tokyo’s Yoshiwara Pleasure District, Stephen Longstreet, Ethel Longstreet, Stephen Mansfield (intro) (Tuttle, March 2020)

Stephen and Ethel Longstreet bring the reader on an in-depth tour of the original and most infamous red-light district in Japan—the Yoshiwara district of old Tokyo.