On 6 July 6 1998, the last flight took off from Kai Tak International Airport, marking the end of an era for Hong Kong aviation. For decades, international flights flew over the roofs of Kowloon apartments, before landing on Kai Tak’s runway, extending out into the harbor. Kai Tak—frankly, a terrible place for one of the world’s busiest international airports—is a good symbol of the story of Hong Kong’s aviation, as told in Hong Kong Takes Flight: Commercial Aviation and the Making of a Global Hub, 1930s–1998 by John D Wong.

Steve Kemper’s Our Man in Tokyo is the second book in three years to deliver fulsome praise on the untiring yet unsuccessful effort by Joseph Grew, the US Ambassador to Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s, to avoid a war between the US and Japan. Like Lew Paper’s 2019 In the Cauldron, Kemper’s book depicts Grew as an unheralded diplomatist trying to avoid armageddon, while portraying policymakers in Tokyo and Washington as stubbornly blundering into war. 

A moving work of exceptional scholarship, Gwangju Uprising: The Rebellion for Democracy in South Korea was commissioned in an era of rising fake news to combat false narratives that had become popular on the internet, not the least of which was the idea that the events of the Gwangju Uprising were sparked by North Korean spies and agents provocateurs. 

“Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of India’s destiny. Thy name rouses the hearts of the Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maratha, of the Dravida, Orissa and Bengal.” Thus begins Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana. In 1939, Jawaharlal Nehru traveled to Calcutta and received Tagore’s blessing to make it India’s national anthem. That meeting took place in the home of Prasant Chandra Mahalanobis. Equal parts flawed, driven, and brilliant, Mahalanobis went on to steer the Five-Year Plans that promised to catapult India into modernity. Nikhil Menon’s new book Planning Democracy: Modern India’s Quest for Development captures this technocrat in full: how he amassed and exerted influence, and how reality fell short of his ambitions.

In early 1992, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave a public statement about the dark years of World War 2, namely that Korean comfort women kept Singapore women from suffering the same sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military. This one statement, as Nanyang Technological University professor Kevin Blackburn writes in his new book, The Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory, was not only inaccurate but further cemented an unwelcoming environment for former Singapore comfort women to break their silence about the trauma they experienced during WW2.

Material Contradictions in Mao's China, Jennifer Altehenger (ed), Denise Y Ho (ed), (University of Washington Press, December 2022)
Material Contradictions in Mao’s China, Jennifer Altehenger (ed), Denise Y Ho (ed), (University of Washington Press, December 2022)

The growth of markets and consumerism in China’s post-Mao era of political and economic reform is a story familiar to many. By contrast, the Mao period (1949-1976)—rightly framed as a time of scarcity—initially appears to have had little material culture to speak of. Yet people attributed great meaning to materials and objects often precisely because they were rare and difficult to obtain.

The protagonist of this book deserves to be much better known than he is. When we think of great early western scholars of Asia, Thomas Manning’s name does not come up in the same sentence as William Jones or Champollion. Yet Thomas Manning pursued fame with relentless self-confidence and energy. In the end, fame didn’t so much elude him as cease to interest him.