“The fall of the Ming dynasty,” writes Timothy Brook in his fascinating new monograph The Price of Collapse: The Little Ice Age and the Fall of Ming China, “has traditionally been narrated as a period of political factionalism, failed administration, dwindling tax revenues, and rural rebellion, all of which has been shrouded by the larger judgment of moral failure.” Attaching this transformational event instead to the Little Ice Age—a centuries-long cold snap that intensified in the early 1600s—is, after a moment’s thought, pretty self-evident. The contribution of the book is not so much the correlation (which has been noted before) given in the (admittedly engaging) title, but rather Brook’s systematic and rigorous use of price data to build a picture of what was going on.
The venerable Charles Allen left perhaps his most contentious subject for his last (and posthumously-published) book. The Aryans: The Search for a People, a Place and a Myth is a wide-ranging discourse on history, science, archaeology, linguistics, the history of all four, interleaved with commentary on some two centuries of highly-objectionable politics and political discourse: he opens with a chapter titled: “The Rise and Fall of Superman: Aryanism and the Swastika”.
If there were ever a question regarding the role of regional “indie” publishers, Unseen Burma should answer it. Who else but Bangkok-based River Books would bring out a book with a local collector’s century’s worth of photographs of this usually out-of-sight, out-of-mind country?
Among the current surfeit of books that claim to explain China, Terminus: Westward Expansion, China, and the End of American Empire, a new treatise on Sino-American relations, distinguishes itself by placing the current bilateral tensions in the context of almost two and half centuries of American expansion (“imperial expansion” as author Stuart Rollo puts it) which, it argues, had China as its target and which have reached its limit (hence “Terminus”).
Although originally conceived as an oratorio, Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah (1846) has in recent years been staged, on occasion at any rate, as an opera. Last night’s semi-staged performance by The Bel Canto Singers showed why: whatever the libretto may lack in theatricality is made up for by the drama in the music, sung by operatically-sized cast of a dozen named characters and a large chorus.
“In the early summer of 1819, a British hunting party was heading through thick jungle near Aurangabad when the tiger they were tracking disappeared into the chasm of a deep ravine.” With that romantic and somewhat Indiana Jones-like opening, William Dalrymple begins his Foreword to this new and updated edition of Benoy K Behl’s classic The Ajanta Caves: Ancient Buddhist Paintings of India.
Pierangelo Valtinoni is a contemporary Italian composer best-known, among other things, for his operas for children. The Snow Queen (La regina delle nevi), originally commissioned by the Komische Oper Berlin, was given its Asian debut (in English translation) at Hong Kong’s Shatin Town Hall 14-15 October.