Bluntly and simply, this is a very scholarly book about twenty-one tombstones with Arabic and Persian inscriptions on them, epitaphs commemorating people whom most of us have never heard of. Every one of them is carefully photographed front and back, the texts transcribed and translated in the lengthy appendix. A second appendix describes “The Islamic Stelae of Hangzhou”.
It’s perhaps a stretch to consider Spanish history “Asian”. Yet a large portion of what we now call Spain, and for at least a couple centuries most of it, was part of the Muslim world, with a dynasty whose founder was the last remaining scion of the overthrown Umayyad dynasty in Damascus. Europe, Asia, East and West had, if they were defined at all, rather different meanings in the Middle Ages than than they do today.
The German political geographer Friedrich Ratzel once wrote that “Great statesmen have never lacked a feeling for geography… When one speaks of a healthy political instinct, one usually means a correct evaluation of the geographic bases of political power.”
Asia has a long history of the printing and dissemination of news. In his book on origins of modern journalism in India, Andrew Otis mentions bulletins published by the Chinese, handbills by the Japanese and newsletters distributed by runners. Ever since the introduction of the printing press in India in the 16th century by the Portuguese Jesuits, the European colonists and missionaries used the technology to print their newsletters.
War, Clausewitz wrote, is the continuation of politics by violent means. War also breeds revolution. It is no accident, as Marxists are wont to say, that communism gained power in Russia and China in the midst and the aftermath of world wars and civil wars.
If any reader has ever thought about Indian magic, those thoughts would likely conjure up (pun intended) images of snake-charmers, levitation, rope tricks, jugglers and people taking afternoon naps on beds of nails.
Anton Chekhov, it appears, was not the first Russian literary luminary to visit Hong Kong. Chekhov had stopped off in October 1890 and wrote about its “wonderful bay”. English-language literature had to wait until Somerset Maugham came through more than a quarter-century later. But Chekhov was beaten to the punch by Ivan Goncharov who stopped by in 1853.