Bandes dessinées are a francophone tradition; to call them “comic books” is do to them a disservice. The English term “graphic novel” isn’t quite right either, since a bande dessinée might, as is this one, be non-fiction; and while the artwork in contemporary English-language comics is not as dire as it once was, the emphasis is, as the term implies, as often as not on “graphics” rather than work in traditional media.
The title of Daniel Kurtz-Phelan’s new book about US General George Marshall’s efforts to bring about peace between the Nationalists and Communists in China after the end of the Second World War should be “The Impossible China Mission”. Marshall’s ill-fated mission was the product of wishful thinking and hubris on the part of policymakers in the Truman administration.
According to the ancient Indian Hindu scriptures called the Puranas, the Earth is shaped like a disc and it rests upon different animals in different versions—the cobra, the elephant or the turtle. In her new book Terrestrial Lessons, historian Sumathi Ramaswamy says that in the process of signing treaties and carrying out diplomatic negotiations with the rulers of the various small kingdoms in the subcontinent from 18th century onwards, the officials of the British East India Company saw an interesting opportunity in these myths.
Now in her 10th decade, it would be understandable if Jan Morris could no longer cope with the amount of research she once so enjoyed. But she has not abandoned her craft. In her most recent work she has undertaken to memorialize the sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato, a subject which she says has fascinated her since childhood.
John Richard Duffy, whom his friends knew as “Richard” or just “Duffy”, was a successful thirty-three-year-old solicitor and businessman who in 1978 had been working in Hong Kong for eleven years. He was a man who elicited both hatred and affection, and has been described as “a Robin Hood character”. He was openly bisexual, with, if anything, a preference for youths, a man who took innumerable sexual partners and who was contemptuous of the legal restrictions placed upon homosexuals in Hong Kong. In this, and some alleged in perhaps other areas also, he sailed very close to the line, but he did so with much warmth of character and a visible twinkle in his eye. He was, therefore, a popular man to many, although not in the police force, at whom he cocked a continual snook. He had friends across all segments of Hong Kong society, and didn’t mind whether he mixed with taipans, barristers, high officials, or the poverty stricken, as long as he found them amusing.
A Village With My Name sounds unpromising as a title. Could this be one of those “finding my roots” tales of little interest to anyone beyond the author himself? It could have been, but happily Scott Tong uses the family tree that he uncovers to relate a worm’s-eye view of 20th century Chinese history.
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.