Russia is once again much in the news, although the focus has been mostly westward-looking with the occasional southerly diversion to the Middle East. It’s worth remembered that Russia is the only major power other than the US which straddles a continent, giving it a physical presence that faces east as well as west. Here is an overview of some the books we have reviewed which cover Russia and East Asia.

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.

The principal argument of Terence Roehrig’s new book is that the United States will not and should not use nuclear weapons to defend Japan or South Korea. The US nuclear umbrella, he contends, has been little more than a bluff because the threat to use nuclear weapons, even in response to a nuclear attack, is not credible or necessary.

Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770, Dorothy C Wong (NUS Press, July 2018)
Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770, Dorothy C Wong (NUS Press, July 2018)

The period ca. 645-770 marked an extraordinary era in the development of East Asian Buddhism and Buddhist art. Increased contacts between China and regions to both its west and east facilitated exchanges and the circulation of ideas, practices and art forms, giving rise to a synthetic art style uniform in both iconography and formal characteristics. The formulation of this new Buddhist art style occurred in China in the latter part of the seventh century, and from there it became widely disseminated and copied throughout East Asia, and to some extent in Central Asia, in the eighth century.

A Tokyo Romance is a memoir of living in Japan from 1975 to 1981 that immerses the reader in a world of avant-garde theatre and film. It serves as an interesting look at a time when Japan, not China was taking the world by storm. The author, Ian Buruma, currently editor of the New York Review of Books, meditates on living in Japan as a foreigner and how to approach being a perennial outsider. For Buruma, the experience is liberating and Japan is a catalyst for finding his own artistic voice.

When George F Kennan was named director of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (PPS) in 1947, he had little knowledge of, or interest in, the Far East. Kennan’s diplomatic experience was limited to Eastern and Central Europe and Russia. His influence in policy-making circles in Washington stemmed from his authorship of the “Long Telegram” from the US Embassy in Moscow in February 1946, and “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in the journal Foreign Affairs (using the pseudonym “X”) in 1947.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1886-1965) was a major Japanese author and a finalist for the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature. A prestigious award, the Tanizaki Prize, was established to honor his contributions to Japanese literature. Many of his works have been adapted for film. So, it came as a surprise that one of his novels discovered in a collection of his works had never been translated.