Whether Jeremy Tiang chooses the books to translate or the books choose him, his name on the cover nigh guarantees that the novel is extremely good, remarkable or, in the case of Zhang Yueran’s Cocoon, a triumph.
How the world has changed in a few years. When Rong Xinjiang first published the papers collected in this volume, between 2002 and 2015, China’s Belt and Road Initiative had captured the world’s imagination. A flurry of scholarly research rediscovered historical ties between China and its western neighbors. Nowadays managing Covid is China’s highest priority. Deepening relations with neighbors is both less important and more difficult to pursue in the circumstances. Revisiting the flowering of the Silk Road has some echoes of and lessons for what is happening in China today.
Active in the 13th century, poet Matsuo Basho has been a cornerstone of literature globally since the late 19th century when the word haiku was used to cover traditional “haikai” and “hokku” (more about which further down). Largely due to 19th-century Realism, Western onlookers and practitioners have made much of direct personal experience in haiku; DT Suzuki, Alan Watts and the Beat poets in turn exaggerated the influence of Zen on haiku, lauding their depth of truth and presence. Haiku has since become the world’s most prevalent poetic form, with Basho the standard bearer.
The region of Northeast China best known as “Manchuria” has long held a special place in the global imagination. Its geopolitically important location near the borders of Russian, Korea and Japan have seen it inspire Hollywood films and countless spy novels.
The Sasanians ruled an empire stretching from the Mediterranean to the Aral Sea. Under them, the Zoroastrian religion developed its most subtle metaphysics. Greek philosophers flocked to their capital in Ctesiphon, while in Babylon, the Jewish Talmud ripened. Iranian painting, metalwork and music were received enthusiastically in China and India.
“History has not been kind to Himalaya,” writes historian and travel writer John Keay in his latest book Himalaya: Exploring the Roof of the World. The region, nestled between India, China and Central Asia, has long been subject to political and imperial intrigue–and at times violent invasion. But the region also provided a wealth of scientific information, like geographers puzzling over how these tall peaks were thrust upwards by plate tectonics.
At first glance, Lawrence Osborne’s latest novel, On Java Road, seems to focus on the 2019 political climate in Hong Kong, but it soon becomes apparent that this serves more as a setting for what is a story of friendship, betrayal and, perhaps, redemption. The book, indeed, could possibly have been set at any time in Hong Kong’s modern history. The city has had its share of upheaval over the decades; Osborne’s story isn’t dependent on his choice of the most recent. He is a master of noir and it’s the atmosphere and place that are at the heart of this book.