Richard Kirkby’s China memoir Intruder in Mao’s Realm has a hint of the nineteenth century about it: frank and scrupulous in recording quotidian detail, it is a refreshingly unrefined book, in the manner of those accounts returned by Victorian missionaries and travellers after visits to unknown lands.
Apart from on the Peninsula itself and in the vernacular, the Korean War is framed by a chronology between June 1950 and July 1953. Su-kyoung Hwang’s Korea’s Grievous War challenges that common perception by pushing its opening salvos back to shortly after the Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial occupation in August 1945.
Jack Weatherford has a clutch of informed, and impassioned, books on the Mongols to his credit. In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, he argued that the Mongols were the precursors of modern economic globalization:
The Mongols displayed a devoutly and persistently internationalist zeal in their political, economic, and intellectual endeavors. They sought not merely to conquer the world but to institute a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet.
He credits them with universal paper money, primary school education and a unified calendar.
Macau is endlessly fascinating in no small part because it is so anomalous. Dating back to the “Age of Exploration”, it was the only Iberian possession in East Asia that survived as such into the 20th century—and two years longer than Hong Kong. In spite of all the recent development, it is still a city of baroque churches, blue tiles and black-and-white pavements; streets are “ruas”; a local Portuguese patois unique to the city still just barely hangs on.
A century ago China was at the height of its warlord period. The nascent Republic of China had 26 prime ministers in 12 years as one warlord after another gained ascendency in their internecine struggles.
Little wonder, then, that China remained neutral as the First World War raged, signing up with the Allies only in the last year of the conflict. The Japanese too, though formally allied with the Entente powers, provided little practical assistance. Japan invaded Tsingtao and defeated the German garrison in one of the war’s first battles, but after that Japan declined to provide much support when importuned by its hard-pressed allies. Late in the war, once the defeat of the Central Powers seemed likely, Japan supplied some war materiel under the terms of secret treaties assuring British and French support for its colonial ambitions after the war. Its aim was to be anointed Germany’s successor in control of its Pacific colonies, including continued occupation of Tsingtao.
Vietnam is often featured in Western media and culture as the battleground where the US actually lost a war in the 20th century. This is unfortunate because it obscures a fascinating Southeast Asian nation that is now on the cusp of significant economic growth and prosperity. Vietnam: A New History presents a more comprehensive account of the country by explaining how it came about, originating as a collection of tribal entities in the north over two thousand years ago that coalesced into kingdoms that gradually expanded, combined, and suffered colonization by the French before becoming united in the 20th century after a brutal war with the US.
Chinese Internet companies are uniquely innovative but are perceived by outsiders as mere copycats: Baidu is the “Chinese Google”, Alibaba is the “Chinese Amazon”. Yet this simple picture does not capture the reality of how Chinese internet companies have become intrinsic people’s lives. To call WeChat a messaging service, as if it is merely a WhatsApp knockoff, is to misunderstand it. WeChat is WhatsApp plus Facebook plus Instagram plus Paypal plus Apple Pay plus Wattpad plus Uber plus Visa plus Fidelity Investments.
But there may be another reason for these companies’ success other than circumstance: simply, they are Chinese.