The first diplomatic mission from Brazil to China took place from 1879-1882; it also included Brazil’s first circumnavigation of the globe (sailing east in this case). An account—Primeira circum-navegação brasileira e primeira missão do Brasil à China (1879) by Marli Cristina Scomazzon and Jeff Franco—has recently been published. This excerpt about the delegation’s stop-over in Hong Kong and Macau has been translated from the original Portuguese and is published with permission.

In 1973, the Philadelphia Orchestra boarded a Pan Am 707 plane in Philadelphia for a once-in-a-lifetime journey: a multi-city tour of Maoist China, months after Nixon’s history-making visit. There was drama immediately after they landed in Shanghai. Chinese officials asked for a last-minute change to the program: Beethoven’s Sixth. After protests that the Orchestra didn’t bring scores with them, officials returned with copies haphazardly sourced from across the country, with different notations and different notes, forcing the orchestra to make do.

In the early 1970s, sports may have sparked a thaw in Sino-US relations, but it was classical music that had more lasting influence and would bring Chinese and American musicians together for the first time in the People’s Republic. In 1973, Zhou Enlai invited the Philadelphia Orchestra to perform in Beijing and Shanghai, thus becoming the first American symphony to play in China in a quarter of a century. At the time of Zhou’s invitation, the US table tennis team had already made the term “ping pong diplomacy” a household name and Nixon had already made his secret trip to China. As Jennifer Lin writes in her new book, Beethoven in Beijing: Stories from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Historic Journey to China, this trip not only marked a turning point in Sino-American relations, but also helped set the future direction of classical music in China and around the world.

In Burmese Haze (a reference to George Orwell’s classic novel), former US official Erin Murphy gives a personalized history of the past fifteen years of Myanmar history, with particular focus on, if not always from the perspective of, US policy towards this often opaque Southeast Asian country. Murphy was herself in the thick of it, either supporting US policymakers or, for the last decade, in the private sector working to assist US-Myanmar trade and investment relations.

Although Gideon Defoe’s An Atlas of Extinct Countries, described by the publisher as “Prisoners of Geography meets Bill Bryson”, is glib and on occasion snarky, it overlays a serious and topical point: what is a country, what are borders and who says so? “Treating nation states with too much respect is maybe the entire problem with pretty much everything,” he writes. “Countries are just daft stories we tell each other. They’re all equally implausible once you get up close.”