The Halberd at Red Cliff: Jian’an and the Three Kingdoms, Xiaofei Tian (Harvard University Press, June 2018)
The Halberd at Red Cliff: Jian’an and the Three Kingdoms, Xiaofei Tian (Harvard University Press, June 2018)

The turn of the third century CE—known as the Jian’an era or Three Kingdoms period—holds double significance for the Chinese cultural tradition. Its writings laid the foundation of classical poetry and literary criticism. Its historical personages and events have also inspired works of poetry, fiction, drama, film, and art throughout Chinese history, including Internet fantasy literature today. There is a vast body of secondary literature on these two subjects individually, but very little on their interface.

Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770, Dorothy C Wong (NUS Press, July 2018)
Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770, Dorothy C Wong (NUS Press, July 2018)

The period ca. 645-770 marked an extraordinary era in the development of East Asian Buddhism and Buddhist art. Increased contacts between China and regions to both its west and east facilitated exchanges and the circulation of ideas, practices and art forms, giving rise to a synthetic art style uniform in both iconography and formal characteristics. The formulation of this new Buddhist art style occurred in China in the latter part of the seventh century, and from there it became widely disseminated and copied throughout East Asia, and to some extent in Central Asia, in the eighth century.

To take a photograph, Susan Sontag tells us, “is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—and, therefore, like power.” A photograph also preserves evidence and exposes the human condition, which the viewer then appropriates. Old photographs preserve worlds that are gone, but they also bring them back, because the moment which they record is there forever, and cannot be moved in time either backwards or forwards. David Bellis knows this, and he has given us a glimpse of a world that is still present in photographs, a world which contains stories that are also preserved.

A Tokyo Romance is a memoir of living in Japan from 1975 to 1981 that immerses the reader in a world of avant-garde theatre and film. It serves as an interesting look at a time when Japan, not China was taking the world by storm. The author, Ian Buruma, currently editor of the New York Review of Books, meditates on living in Japan as a foreigner and how to approach being a perennial outsider. For Buruma, the experience is liberating and Japan is a catalyst for finding his own artistic voice.

Uncertainty, Anxiety, Frugality: Dealing with Leprosy in the Dutch East Indies, 1816-1942, Leo van Bergen (NUS Press, May 2018)
Uncertainty, Anxiety, Frugality: Dealing with Leprosy in the Dutch East Indies, 1816-1942, Leo van Bergen (NUS Press, May 2018)

In the early 19th century, the Dutch administration simply removed sufferers from public view: campaigns targeted anyone “looking ugly”. Towards the end of the century, colonial science considered leprosy a hereditary disease of tropical subjects, and therefore undeserving of the colonial government’s limited resources. The leprosariums were emptied.