In 1480, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople fewer than three decades earlier, sat for a portrait by the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini. Bellini had been sent to Istanbul to fulfill a request for a “un bon depentor que sapia retrazer”—“a good painter who knows how to paint portraits”. The Sultan apparently wanted his portrait done.
The Peruvian-Mexican Mario Bellatin is one of the most acclaimed of the current generation of writers in Spanish. Mrs Murakami’s Garden, recently released in English, is at first glance a novella set in Japan about a widow who sets about dismantling her garden in reaction to her husband’s death.
Works of literature that feature the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian taiga are extremely rare; the only ones that immediately come to mind are The Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian, about Evenki along the Heilongjiang-Russian border, and the (true) story of Dersu Uzala, a Nanai introduced to the world in Vladimir K Arsenyev’s now century-old Across the Ussuri Kray: Travels in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains.
Once a relatively obscure topic, the Manila Galleon—in essence a commercial shipping line that connected Asia to the Americas from the 16th to early 19th centuries and arguably the key building block in the development of what we have since recognized as “globalization”—is now the subject of an increasing number of studies. In the latest, Portuguese Merchants in the Manila Galleon System, 1565-1600, former Mexican diplomat Cuauhtémoc Villamar looks at the involvement of Portuguese merchants—and by extension Macau—in the Galleon’s first few decades.
Timor-Leste has been just about the most geographically and politically remote corner of East Asia, a distant second to Macau in Portugal’s one-time East Asian possessions, diminutive compared to the Dutch East Indies and later Indonesia. And the Chinese community there, as far as the Chinese diaspora goes, one of the less substantial. Perhaps for those reasons, the development of Cina Timor—the Timorese Chinese—offers a case study in intra-Asian immigration and identity.
This curious little book by Japanese technologist Ishiguro Hiroshi, now available in a very readable English translation by Tony Gonzalez, nominally discusses what robotics research teaches us about what it means to be human. But one can’t help but be left with the impression that what it really shows is just how different Japan can at times be from other parts of the world.
This year’s 75th anniversary of the end of WW2 and, in particular, the end of the War in the Pacific, has coincided with a number of books, some broad, some focusing on individuals. But few perhaps look at what is—at first glance—as unlikely a corner as Kelly A Hammond’s China’s Muslims & Japan’s Empire.