It is worth periodically remembering—as the tsunami of news of China’s momentous economic and political developments rushes past—that China has not always been “Chinese” in the quite the way it is, or can be presented to be, today.
In January 1980 a young police officer named John MacLennan committed suicide in his Ho Man Tin flat. His death came mere hours before he was to be arrested for committing homosexual acts still, at that point, illegal in Hong Kong. But this was more than the desperate act of a young man, ashamed and afraid; both his death and the subsequent investigation were a smokescreen for a scandal that went to the heart of the establishment.
Nigel Collett’s A Death in Hong Kong: The MacLennan Case of 1980 and the Suppression of a Scandal has won the 2017 Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong History Book Prize.
Americans have been present in the Pacific since the dawn of the Republic. At the time of George Washington’s inauguration in 1789, the country consisted of just 13 states huddled along the Atlantic seaboard, but in the geography of sail navigation Boston and New York were just as close to China as were London, Liverpool, and other European ports. More importantly, the United States was by far the largest whaling country in the world, and with the Atlantic increasingly “fished” out, the whales were in the Pacific. The “Canton trade” with China and the whaling grounds of the northern Pacific made the nascent United States the second most important trading country in Asia (after England).
The tsunami in question is of course the one generated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake—the one which destroyed 650km of Japan’s coastline, killed about 18,500 and swamped the Fukushima power station. It was a disaster by any standard. But Parry has a rather different take. He emphasizes how well-prepared Japan was, and he certainly makes a convincing case that the death and destruction would have been much worse in any other nation.
In his new book Asia Betrayed, John Bell Smithback sets out to prove that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (with the connivance of US President Franklin Roosevelt) through treachery and deceit lured the Japanese militarists to attack and invade British, Dutch and American possessions in the Far East so that the United States could become a full belligerent with Britain against Germany.
The West tends to think and speak of ancient India as a spiritual lot, as a place and time which gives extraordinary importance to religion, and other dimensions of otherworldliness. The poet R Parthasarthy goes to the texts, different from the usual epics, that engage with love in all its corporeality.