Unlike other forms of disaster—such as earthquake, flood or hurricane—famine is a distinctly political occurrence. Most often they are the product of political action that deprives people of food, either through neglect or targeted victimization. Such was the case for the nation-wide famine inflicted upon the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic—now the modern-day Central Asian state of Kazakhstan—from 1930-33.

For those who wring their hands over unpredictable voting results—for a nation’s president or a potential split from a political and economic union—the fixed expectations of Chinese elections may be oddly calming. Joshua Hill’s new book, Voting as a Rite: A History of Elections in Modern China, offers a tour of Chinese elections going back over a century, arguing that influential policy makers have favored the notion that voters should be unencumbered by real choices and, armed with an understanding of their political station, essentially head to polls in a “rite” that serves the state’s interests.

For decades, the Hong Kong Police has been known as “Asia’s finest”. Before the handover, the Royal Hong Kong Police (RHKP) helped Hong Kong become one of the safest cities in the world. But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the mid-1970s, corruption had become so serious that after several failed attempts, Hong Kong finally found a way to clean up the police force with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The police force didn’t just suddenly change overnight, as Nigel Collett shows in his new history book, A Death in Hong Kong.

To attempt a revisionist history of Western imperialism in just over 150 pages is, to say the least, ambitious. It has largely been an article of faith that the West “won” history. Even those whom the West presumably defeated didn’t usually take much issue with the conclusion. Seeking to turn conventional wisdom about Western global expansion on its head, Sharman argues in Empires of the Weak not only that the reasons normally given for it don’t hold up, but that this “victory” was largely illusory.

Iran, Islam and Democracy: The Politics of Managing Change, Ali M. Ansari (Gingko, Fenruary 2019)
Iran, Islam and Democracy: The Politics of Managing Change, Ali M. Ansari (Gingko, February 2019)

The most comprehensive account of the politics of reform in contemporary Iran. The surprise election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013 and his re-election in 2017 has focused attention on the dynamics between Islam and democracy in Iran after the hiatus of the Ahmadinejad presidency. With comparisons being drawn between Rouhani and his predecessor but one, the reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), there has never been a better time for a review and detailed analysis of the rise and fall of the reform movement in Iran.

Film can tell a lot about a place and time, but not many film industries have gone through as much change as China’s. Not only has the Chinese film industry transformed as the politics of the country have changed from the years of silent movies to the Communist era, but records of the pre-Mao era largely succumbed  to political movements like the Cultural Revolution, which outlawed everything old and western. It’s a miracle that film advertisements and movie magazines from the period survived at all, and in his new book, film critic and historian Paul Fonoroff presents a stunning collection of 590 illustrations, mainly movie magazine covers, that he found in Hong Kong and in flea markets around Southeast Asia.