To call the hundred years that straddle the 19th- and 20th-centuries as a radical period of change for China is an understatement, moving from the Imperial period, through the Republican era, and ending in the rise of the PRC. Dr Elizabeth LaCouture’s Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860–1960 explores this history by looking at Tianjin: a city divided into nine foreign concessions, and perhaps, at the time, the world’s most cosmopolitan—and colonized—cities. With a focus on family and the home, Dr Lacouture explores the interplay between these massive political changes and the lives of ordinary people.

Tianjin has always seemed to play second fiddle to the more prominent Beijing. By the same token, during the late-Qing and Republican periods, Shanghai has been held up as China’s most cosmopolitan city, attracting people from around the world. Elizabeth LaCouture, in her new book, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860-1960, shows that Tianjin became more prosperous than Beijing after the Nationalist government left the north for Nanjing and that it was more of an international city than Shanghai.

Pale skin is valued in Asia: cosmetics to whiten skin such as “White Perfect” and “Fair & Lovely” are widely advertised. To Americans, and Asian-Americans, however, promotion of skin-whitening products appears to be racist and “colorist”, as people of color in the US have suffered from discrimination by the white majority. Whiter is a new anthology of essays by Asian-American women on skin color and “colorism”, edited by Nikki Khanna, a sociologist whose previous work has focused on biracial identity.

From being targets of American soft-power, a significant service export and a major financial prop for institutions of higher-learning suffering from uncooperative demographics and withdrawal of government funding, Chinese students in the US have recently come to be seen—in certain quarters, anyway—as vehicles for Chinese government influence. Yingyi Ma’s new study—based on data collected mostly in what were still the halcyon days of 2013-16—does not deal with these issues. But it attempts to explain what Chinese students in the US think about themselves and their journey, and might therefore usefully inform the rising debate.

They Told Us To Move: Dakota—Cassia, by Ng Kok Hoe, The Cassia Resettlement Team (Ethos Books, February 2019)
They Told Us To Move: Dakota—Cassia, Ng Kok Hoe, The Cassia Resettlement Team (Ethos Books, February 2019)

Dakota Crescent was one of Singapore’s oldest public housing estates and a rental flat neighbourhood for low-income households. In 2016, its residents—many of whom are elderly—were relocated to Cassia Crescent to make way for redevelopment. To help them resettle, a group of volunteers came together and formed the Cassia Resettlement Team.

Academic integrity sometimes requires revising theoretical perspectives as a situation changes and new evidence comes to light. Mobo Gao, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Adelaide, finds himself in that position. In 1998 he wrote Gao Village, an anthropological study of life in a very poor Chinese village during the latter half of the 20th century. He was thoroughly qualified to do so, because he was born and raised there in abject poverty. He frankly recounts how qualifying for a university education from such a background, in addition to intellectual gifts, required a combination of luck, guanxi and a bit of cheating.